Friday, December 17 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, December 17, including a couple bonus links on Wikileaks, an extra report on Julian Assange, and an additional Irish story, are:

Most Americans don’t think Afghan war was worth fighting

Differing agendas of Obama, Pentagon, Karzai in Afghan war

CIA station chief flees after Pakistani files drone deaths lawsuit

US thinks India’s labs’ lax security could spell bioweapons

Western media’s Wikileaks reports banned in Saudi Arabia

Assange: US “does not appear to be following rule of law”

Vatican tried to stop Irish church from defrocking rapist

Kisssinger: “Jews in gas chambers … not an American concern”

Lack of transparency raises concern over ‘dumb money’

Most Americans don’t think Afghan war was worth fighting

Poll: Assessment of Afghanistan War Sours

A record 60 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting, a grim assessment — and a politically hazardous one — in advance of the Obama administration’s one-year review of its revised strategy.

Public dissatisfaction with the war, now the nation’s longest, has spiked by 7 points just since July. Given its costs vs. its benefits, only 34 percent in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say the war’s been worth fighting, down by 9 points to a new low, by a sizable margin.

Negative views of the war for the first time are at the level of those recorded for the war in Iraq, whose unpopularity dragged George W. Bush to historic lows in approval across his second term. On average from 2005 through 2009, 60 percent called that war not worth fighting, the same number who say so about Afghanistan now. (It peaked at 66 percent in April 2007.)

Differing agendas of Obama, Pentagon, Karzai in Afghan war
The New York Times

Afghan Report Exposes a Split Over Pullout Timelines

The White House report on Afghan strategy released Thursday was notable as much for what it did not say as for what it did.

It reports some real military gains, but acknowledges that they remain fragile and that NATO troops will need more time to achieve their goals. However, that progress has come only by adding more troops in key areas, and the fierce debate to come will be over whether any troops can be subtracted without undermining that progress.

Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of a third more casualties among NATO forces this year.

Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.

Afghanistan, and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at …

In the WikiLeaks cables released in the past several weeks, diplomats described pitched efforts to retain an effective governor in Helmand Province over the objections of President Hamid Karzai, who wanted to replace him with a tribal power broker with unsavory connections. The governor, Gulab Mangal, kept his job but only because of a concerted effort by the British, backed up by NATO allies.

A fundamental conundrum, unmentioned in the report, is that the United States and its NATO allies constantly speak of Mr. Karzai and his government as an ally and a partner and try to shore up his image as the leader of his people. Yet many Afghans view his government as a cabal of strongmen, who enrich themselves and their families at the expense of the country.

By identifying themselves with Mr. Karzai, the United States risks being seen as endorsing the culture of warlords and approving of the enrichment of a privileged few while much of the rest of the country lives in penury.

As September’s parliamentary elections suggested, many Afghans are so disillusioned with the government that they harbor doubt that even the idea of a government — any government — is worth supporting.

Fewer than a third of eligible voters cast ballots in the elections, and there was so much fraud that the proportion is likely to have been even lower. The candidates that Mr. Karzai supported did less well than expected, raising further questions about whether he is losing his base — and by extension, whether the United State is losing its.

A recent American military focus on blacklisting Afghan contractors who officials believe are paying bribes is an important change that could put the United States on the side of more respected actors rather than those viewed as swindlers, several military experts said.

One of the blacklisted contractors, Al Watan Risk, a security company that is owned by two cousins of Mr. Karzai’s, is alleged to have paid Afghan officials and Taliban commanders to keep routes safe for NATO supply convoys.

If so, that meant that American taxpayer dollars helped to finance the Taliban. By halting the security contract, the United States sent a signal that it is willing to draw a line that even relatives of the president would not be allowed to cross …

Also largely glossed over in the report is the extent and implications of pervasive corruption. Bribery and nepotism remain a feature of daily life for the vast majority of Afghans, and nowhere is it more clear than in the judicial system.

In most of Afghanistan, the police, prosecutors, judges and jailers can be bought. The government talks about the need to wipe out corruption, but at the highest levels it has done little since last summer when Mr. Karzai became infuriated by the efforts of an Afghan anticorruption task force to prosecute his chief of administration for the national security council.

Taken together, the lack of justice remains a major recruiting tool for the Taliban. And, according to a report released this week by Chatham House, a British research institute, corruption is “also implicated in the increasing spread of the insurgency outside its southern Pashtun base.”

The elephant in the room is that whatever the trajectory of the war, the Afghan government does not envision a defeat of the Taliban, but a negotiated peace. Unmentioned in the report is what the Americans may be looking for in such a deal, and what they are willing to do to bring that peace.

CIA station chief flees after Pakistani files drone deaths lawsuit
The New York Times

Top U.S. Spy Flees Pakistan After His Name Is Revealed

The top American spy in Pakistan left the country on Thursday amid threats to his life after his name was revealed in a lawsuit over alleged American drone attacks, United States intelligence officials said Friday.

The C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad is perhaps the agency’s most important undercover assignment overseas because that person oversees its secret war in Pakistan using armed drones that target Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The suit that named the C.I.A. station chief, who was working undercover and whose name is classified, was filed over attacks that killed at least two Pakistanis.

The breach of security comes as attacks attributed to American drones in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas continued to intensify, with three strikes on Friday killing 26 militants, news agencies and local media reported.

The threats against the station chief “were of such a serious nature that it would be imprudent not to act,” according to one American intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity …

Mirza Shahzad Akbar, the lawyer who brought the suit that named the station chief, said in an interview that he did not believe security was the reason for the C.I.A. agent’s leaving. “Obviously, his name had come out in the open and maybe he feared police action or an action by the Supreme Court,” Mr. Akbar said.

Lawyers for Mr. Khan registered a criminal complaint with police in Islamabad against the C.I.A. station chief earlier in the week.

Mr. Akbar, who said the case would continue despite the station chief’s absence, is representing Kareem Khan, a resident of North Waziristan who claimed that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike. The lawsuit also named Leon Panetta, the agency director, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Mr. Khan, a resident of Mir Ali in North Waziristan, which has often been a target of drone strikes, is seeking $500 million as compensation for the deaths, accusing the C.I.A. officer of running a clandestine spying operation out of the United States embassy in Islamabad. He also alleged that the C.I.A. officer was in the country on a business passport.

“My brother and son were innocent,” Mr. Khan had said in a recent interview. “There were no Taliban hiding in my house.”

US thinks India’s labs’ lax security could spell bioweapons
The Associated Press

WikiLeaks: US fears bioweapons from India labs

U.S. officials fear lax security at Indian laboratories could make the facilities targets for terrorists seeking biological weapons, according to comments in a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable made public Friday.

The cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in June 2006 said Indian government officials regarded the chances of a bioterror attack here as extremely small. Regardless, India’s surveillance system and its public health system were ill-prepared for the possibility, the cable said.

But a greater concern appeared to be the danger that terror groups could take advantage of weak security at Indian laboratories to steal “bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins” for use in attacks elsewhere, according to the 2006 cable.

“Terrorists planning attacks anywhere in the world could use India’s advanced biotechnology industry and large bio-medical research community as potential sources of biological agents,” the cable read. “Given the strong air connections Delhi shares with the rest of the world and the vulnerabilities that might be exploited at airports, a witting or unwitting person could easily take hazardous materials into or out of the country.”

The cable, marked confidential, was obtained by WikiLeaks and posted Friday on the Website of the British newspaper The Guardian.

“Getting into a facility to obtain lethal bio-agents is not very difficult here,” one expert, whose name was redacted from the cable, told U.S. diplomats.

A second expert said that academic research facilities maintain only very loose security procedures. “The harsh reality is that you can bribe a guard with a pack of cigarettes to get inside,” the expert was quoted as saying.

One source told the diplomats that India’s thousands of biological scientists also could pose a problem.

“Recruitment of Indian scientists by anti-U.S. extremists, either for ideological brotherhood or for commercial gain, could pose a significant threat,” the cable read.

  • The Guardian reveals more Wikileaks in, “India accused of systematic use of torture in Kashmir”:
    US officials had evidence of widespread torture by Indian police and security forces and were secretly briefed by Red Cross staff about the systematic abuse of detainees in Kashmir, according to leaked diplomatic cables.
    The dispatches, obtained by website WikiLeaks, reveal that US diplomats in Delhi were briefed in 2005 by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees.
    Other cables show that as recently as 2007 American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions.
  • While this isn’t India-related it is worth mentioning that in The Guardian, past This is Hell! guest Mark Weisbrot reports, “WikiLeaks’ lesson on Haiti”:
    One area of US foreign policy that the WikiLeaks cables help illuminate, which the major media has predictably ignored, is the occupation of Haiti. In 2004, the country’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown for the second time, through an effort led by the United States government. Officials of the constitutional government were jailed and thousands of its supporters were killed.
    The Haitian coup, besides being a repeat of Aristide’s overthrow in 1991, was also very similar to the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002 – which also had Washington’s fingerprints all over it. Some of the same people in Washington were even involved in both efforts. But the Venezuelan coup failed – partly because Latin American governments immediately and forcefully declared that they would not recognise the coup government.
    In the case of Haiti, Washington had learned from its mistakes in the Venezuelan coup and had gathered support for an illegitimate government in advance. A UN resolution was passed just days after the coup, and UN forces, headed by Brazil, were sent to the country. The mission is still headed by Brazil, and has troops from a number of other Latin American governments that are left of centre, including Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay. They are also joined by Chile, Peru and Guatemala from Latin America …
    The participation of these governments in the occupation of Haiti is a serious political contradiction for them, and it is getting worse. The WikiLeaks cables illustrate how important the control of Haiti is to the United States …
    This is why Washington funded the recent “elections” that excluded Haiti’s largest political party, the equivalent of shutting out the Democrats and Republicans in the United States. And this is why Minustah is still occupying the country, more than six years after the coup, without any apparent mission other than replacing the hated Haitian army – which Aristide had abolished – as a repressive force.
    People who do not understand US foreign policy think that control over Haiti does not matter to Washington, because it is so poor and has no strategic minerals or resources. But that is not how Washington operates, as the WikiLeaks cables repeatedly illustrate. For the state department and its allies, it is all a ruthless chess game, and every pawn matters. Left governments will be removed or prevented from taking power where it is possible to do so; and the poorest countries – like Honduras last year – present the most opportune targets. A democratically elected government in Haiti, due to its history and the consciousness of the population, will inevitably be a left government – and one that will not line up with Washington’s foreign policy priorities for the region. Thus, democracy is not allowed.
    Thousands of Haitians have been protesting the sham elections, as well as Minustah’s role in causing the cholera epidemic, which has already taken more than 2,300 lives and can be expected to kill thousands more in the coming months and years. Judging from the rapid spread of the disease, there may have been gross criminal negligence on the part of Minustah – that is, large-scale dumping of fecal waste into the Artibonite river. This is another huge reason for the force to leave Haiti.

Western media’s Wikileaks reports banned in Saudi Arabia

How Arab governments tried to silence WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks may be breaking new ground to promote freedom of information by releasing leaked US diplomatic cables, but Arab governments have been resorting to old tricks to ensure that nothing too damaging reaches their subjects.

Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Morocco have all tried to stem the flow of Wiki-revelations, whether the subject is corruption, authoritarianism or simply the embarrassment of having private exchanges with American interlocutors enter the public domain.

There is certainly an appetite for reading state secrets.

Stories about the business interests of the king of Morocco and the nepotism of the unpopular president of Tunisia – both countries normally attract little interest in Britain – generated heavy traffic on the Guardian website.

But Le Monde, whose Francophone audience cares far more about the Maghreb, found its print edition banned from Morocco.

Spain’s El Pais, another of the five media partners in the WikiLeaks enterprise, was banned too. So was Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the independent London-based pan-Arab daily which has been following up on the stories from the start.

Elaph, a Saudi-run website, was mysteriously hacked when it ran a piece about King Abdullah’s sensational calls on the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme.

Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar , a leftist and pro-Hizbullah paper, pulled off quite a trick: it somehow obtained unauthorised leaks from the WikiLeaks cache, posting 250 US cables from eight Arab countries on its website – only to find that it was cyber-attacked (and replaced by a shimmering pink Saudi girl chat room) when it published one of two devastatingly frank documents about President Ben Ali of Tunisia, who reinforced his country’s reputation as the most internet-unfriendly in the region. “This is a professional job,” said publisher Hassan Khalil, “not the work of some geek sitting in his bedroom” …

So in Egypt, for example, there was little coverage of WikiLeaked material about the presidential succession, the role of the army and Hosni Mubarak’s hostility to Hamas – all highly sensitive issues, though the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm did run some cables that were passed on by Al-Akhbar in Beirut.

In Syria, where newspapers are state-controlled, and the only privately owned paper is owned by a wealthy and powerful regime crony, one official insisted there was nothing discomfiting in WikiLeaks because “what we say behind closed doors is exactly the same as what we advocate publicly”.

That’s true enough when it comes to fierce hostility to any criticism of Syria’s domestic affairs and its support for the “resistance” in Lebanon and Palestine. But the cables did show President Bashar al-Assad bluntly denying all knowledge of Scud missile deliveries to Hezbollah in the face of what the Americans called “disturbing and weighty evidence to the contrary”.

Pro-western Jordan escaped serious embarrassment but Yemen’s government faced awkward questions in parliament about its private admission of lying about US air strikes against al-Qaida – as well as concern that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s fondness for whisky would give ammunition to his Islamist critics. No one knew quite what to make of a document showing he had asked the Saudi air force to target the HQ of a senior Yemeni army commander.

Assange: US “does not appear to be following rule of law”

Julian Assange: WikiLeaks faces ‘very aggressive’ investigation by US

WikiLeaks faces a “very aggressive” and secretive investigation by US authorities stung by a perceived loss of face following the release of thousands of secret American diplomatic cables, the organisation’s founder, Julian Assange, said today.

Speaking to reporters outside Ellingham Hall, the Norfolk house at which he is staying on bail following his release from prison, Assange said WikiLeaks faced “what appears to be an illegal investigation … certain people who are alleged to be affiliated to us have been detained, followed around, had their computers seized and so on”.

He said he believed it was “80% likely” that the US authorities were seeking to prepare an attempt to have him extradited there to face charges of espionage.

He added that he was reliant on public opinion to rein in “a superpower that does not appear to be following the rule of law”.

“I would say that there is a very aggressive investigation, that a lot of face has been lost by some people, and some people have careers to make by pursuing famous cases, but that is actually something that needs monitoring,” he said …

“That is something that actually needs monitoring, it needs scrutiny,” he said. “We have seen this with the Swedish prosecutor in representations to the British government here, and the British courts say that it did not need to provide a shred of evidence – said this three times – and in fact has provided nothing, not a single shred of evidence in its extradition hearings, in the hearings that ended up putting me in solitary confinement for 10 days.

“Similarly, in the United States, what appears to be a secret grand jury investigation against me, or our organisation – not a single comment about what is actually going on” …

“Over 85% of our economic resources are spent dealing with attacks – dealing with technical attacks, dealing with political attacks, dealing with legal attacks, not doing journalism,” he said. “And that, if you like, is attack upon investigative journalism.”

Assange said he was worried about the prospect of being sent to the US, adding: “There have been many calls by senior political figures in the United States, including elected ones in the Senate, for my execution, the kidnapping of my staff, the execution of the young soldier Bradley Manning … that’s a very, very serious business.

“The United States has shown recently that its institutions seem to be failing to follow the rule of law. And dealing with a superpower that does not appear to be following the rule of law is a serious business” …

Targeting him personally would not stop the work of WikiLeaks, Assange pledged. “People like to present WikiLeaks as me and my backpack. It is not true. We are a large organisation.

“It is resilient. It is designed to withstand decapitation attacks, and our publication rate actually increased during the time I was in solitary confinement.”

  • Meanwhile, The Independent runs the story, “Freed on bail – but US steps up efforts to charge Assange with conspiracy,” which includes claims of a secret grand jury (with mad props to Congressman John Conyers):
    US authorities have stepped up their efforts to prosecute Julian Assange by offering Bradley Manning, the American soldier allegedly responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents, the possibility of a plea bargain if he names the Wiki-Leaks founder as a fellow conspirator.
    The development follows claims by Mr Assange’s supporters that a grand jury has been secretly empanelled in northern Virginia to consider indicting the WikiLeaks chief. But the US Justice Department has refused to comment on any grand jury activity …
    At a first hearing on the WikiLeaks affair by the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, John Conyers, a leading Democrat, cautioned against a rush towards prosecuting Mr Assange. He said: “Many feel that the WikiLeaks publication was offensive. But being unpopular is not a crime and publishing offensive information is not, either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable.”

Vatican tried to stop Irish church from defrocking rapist
The Associated Press

Vatican tried to keep Irish child rapist as priest

A previously censored chapter from Ireland’s investigation into church cover-ups of child abuse says the Vatican tried to stop Irish church leaders from defrocking a particularly dangerous pedophile priest.

The chapter, released Friday, details how Dublin leaders ordered Catholic priest Tony Walsh defrocked in 1993 following 15 years of child-abuse complaints. But the Vatican overruled the verdict and ordered him sent to an Irish monastery instead.

Rome relented in 1996 after police opened a criminal probe and Walsh attacked a boy in a pub restroom following a family funeral.

Walsh was imprisoned for raping boys last week.

  • In other Irish news, The New York Times reports on the continuing impact of joining the EU in, “European Court Rules Against Irish Abortion Law”:
    Ireland, where it is virtually impossible to obtain a legal abortion, will most likely have to rewrite its laws after a European court ruled Thursday that it had violated its own Constitution by failing to provide abortion services to a pregnant woman who had cancer.
    Ireland has one of Europe’s most stringent anti-abortion laws, holding that abortion is illegal in every circumstance except where there is a “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life. But the court, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said that in practice the Irish government made it impossible for women to get medical advice or abortions in such cases.
    The ruling came in the case of a Lithuanian woman who had a rare form of cancer and was living in Ireland. She went to Britain to have an abortion when she found doctors in Ireland unwilling even to tell her if her health was being jeopardized by her pregnancy. After finding Ireland at fault for denying the woman an “effective or accessible procedure” to establish her right to a lawful abortion and thus violating her constitutional rights, the court ordered the Irish government to pay her 15,000 euros, about $20,000.
    The ruling will probably force the Irish government, for the first time, to enact legislation setting out how and in what circumstances women with life-threatening conditions can get abortions.

Kisssinger: “Jews in gas chambers … not an American concern”
The New York Times

Nearly 40 Years Later, Kissinger’s Words Stir Fresh Outrage Among Jews

Richard M. Nixon has long been the Freddy Krueger of American political life. You know in your bones that he is destined to keep returning.

Sure enough, though dead 16 years, Nixon is back onstage, with the release of a fresh batch of tapes from his Oval Office days. They show him at his omni-bigoted worst, offering one slur after another against the Irish, Italians and blacks. Characteristically, he saved his most potent acid for Jews. “The Jews,” he said, “are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

But Nixon’s hard-wired anti-Semitism is an old story. What has caused many heads to swivel is a recording of Henry A. Kissinger, his national security adviser. Mr. Kissinger is heard telling Nixon in 1973 that helping Soviet Jews emigrate and thus escape oppression by a totalitarian regime — a huge issue at the time — was “not an objective of American foreign policy.”

“And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union,” he added, “it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

In New York, the epicenter of Jewish life in the United States, some jaws are still not back in place after dropping to the floor.

Bad enough that any senior White House official would, without prodding, raise the grotesque specter of Jews once again being herded into gas chambers. But it was unbearable for some to hear that language come from Mr. Kissinger, a Jew who as a teenager fled Nazi Germany with his family, in 1938. Had he not found refuge in this country and in this city — the Kissingers settled in Washington Heights — he might have ended up in a gas chamber himself.

“Despicable,” “callous,” “revulsion,” “hypocrite,” “chilling” and “shocking” were a few of the words used this week by some leaders of Jewish organizations and by newspapers that focus on Jewish matters …

Even some who deplored Mr. Kissinger’s remarks tempered their criticism. The Anti-Defamation League called the recorded statements “outrageous,” but said they did not undermine “the important contributions and ultimate legacy of Henry Kissinger,” including his support of Israel. The American Jewish Committee described the remarks as “truly chilling,” but suggested that anti-Semitism in the Nixon White House might have been at least partly to blame.

“Perhaps Kissinger felt that, as a Jew, he had to go the extra mile to prove to the president that there was no question as to where his loyalties lay,” the committee’s executive director, David Harris, said in a statement.

There was no hedging in editorials by Jewish-themed newspapers like The Forward and The Jewish Week. Separately, in a Jewish Week column, Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a New York lawyer who is active in Holocaust-related issues, dismissed Mr. Kissinger as “the quintessential court Jew.” And J. J. Goldberg, a Forward columnist, wrote, “No one has ever gone broke overstating Kissinger’s coldbloodedness.”

Lack of transparency raises concern over ‘dumb money’

Special Report: For Wall Street, dumb money pays

Yan Qin is a freelance consultant and do-it-yourself stock trader who works out of her apartment in Queens, New York. From the comfort of her living room, she keeps one eye on the business TV network CNBC, the other on a laptop computer, where her E*Trade account shows the best prices down to the penny, flickering moment to moment.

She presses a button and the trade is done in less than a second, costing her only $9.99 — a mark of the easiest and cheapest era yet for individuals to participate in U.S. capital markets.

Qin, 40, who describes her strategy as “impulsive,” said she recently purchased 300 shares of Bank of America. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, the amateur trader likely got a tad better deal on the stock than even the most sophisticated Wall Street traders.

How did she manage that? E*Trade, rather than shipping her order directly to the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq, routed it to a large firm known as a market maker, which sold Qin the stock at a slightly cheaper price — probably a 10th of a penny.

The market maker also paid E*Trade Financial Corp a small stipend, and in return got a chance to profit from what the industry considers “uninformed” trades — or dumb money, to use the term of art.

This little-known circle of compensation, called “payment for order flow,” has provided a steady source of income for a select few firms for decades, but lately has again come under scrutiny.

A growing number of critics say that the arrangement segregates the public from the public marketplace. They also say it fuels anonymous and lightly supervised “dark” trading, and hamstrings the exchanges’ ability to set prices that reflect an increasingly large spectrum of buyers and sellers.

Of course, none of this is even remotely illegal. Some with a stake in the industry say the arrangement helpfully insulates amateurs from professionally-set share prices — and the high-frequency trading firms that establish them. Others say it helps nonprofessional traders avoid what they call the punitive trading fees levied by exchanges.

Still, the lack of transparency is a big reason critics are casting a wary eye. “The reason it smells bad is that you hire a broker as your agent to get you the best execution and best possible pricing, and he’s on the take,” said James Angel, associate professor of finance at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.