Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Dollar’s Not Almighty Anymore: Facing a Free Fall in China?

By; Dave Llindorff

Shanghai – I was talking yesterday with the chief financial officer of a US-based drug firm that operates here in China, producing for the Chinese market, and got an up-close look at how bad things are for what used to be called the Almighty Dollar.

The company in question, a joint venture between a very profitable U.S. drug company and a local Chinese company, is quite profitable itself.

The guy was explaining to me that his firm needed to add another factory, because the one they had was running full-tilt and couldn’t keep up with demand. That might sound like a simple problem, and one that most enterprises would be happy to confront, but the shrinking US dollar, and concerns in China about inflation, complicate things.

You would think that it would be a simple matter of the parent company’s sending over the $50 million or so that it would cost to build the new plant and that would be that, but it turns out that the dollar is falling so fast against the Renminbi (RMB), the Chinese local currency, that no contractors or other vendors necessary for setting up a new facility are willing to accept it as payment. That means the company has to try and come up with the construction costs in local currency.

I won’t go into the arcane machinations that involves, except to say that because Chinese financial authorities and the country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), aren’t letting local banks or foreign-owned banks with offices in China lend money without going through a tough approval process, the outcome of which is iffy, and they are setting interest rates at 6.5% for those loans they do approve, which is a pretty stiff rate to have to live with.

The important point here is that the dollar is being viewed here in China the way people in the U.S. have typically viewed Mexican pesos or Chinese RMB.

(The dollar doesn’t buy as many RMB as it used to, and now nobody even wants it in China)

I remember back when I was a Fulbright professor at this city’s elite Fudan University, back in 1991-92, people wanted dollars so badly that you had to be crazy to go to a bank to change them at the official rate of about 8 RMB to the dollar. Practically anyone you met, even strangers on the street, were willing to swap you their RMB bills at a rate of 9 or even 10 RMB to the dollar. I had an American friend who told me he was riding his bike into the city, and was on a crowded street packed solid with slowly moving bicyclists when everyone was forced to press to the side to allow a bus to pass. His bike ran up against a neighboring cyclist and the handlebar cut a gash in the man’s wrist, apparently severing a small artery, which began gushing blood. My friend, who like me spoke Chinese, began apologizing profusely, and was getting off his bike to offer help when the man began asking, “Change money? Change money?”

Today, if you’ve got dollars nobody wants them, but I’ve been told that if you have RMB, you will find the reverse situation, with just about everyone having dollars they are stuck with that they’re desperate to unload at way above the official exchange rate of 6.35 RMB to the dollar.

That should tell us Americans all we need to know about what is being done to our own economy and to our standard of living. According to Business Week magazine, Americans will spend about $1.7 trillion on consumer goods, including gasoline and oil, this year. More than half of this amount is imported, meaning that we Americans are spending about $1 trillion a year on imported goods. As the dollar sinks — and it’s sinking because of the deliberate policies of the government and the Federal Reserve Bank — the cost of those goods rises (actually the costs of many other goods, seemingly locally produced, also rises because so many of the components–for example the parts that go into a supposedly US-made car–are imported from abroad).

For most of those goods — particularly oil and gas, but in fact most others too, from computers to televisions to small fuel-efficient cars to clothing — there are no domestic substitutes, because other deliberate government policies, such as the latest international trade pact President Obama and Congressional Democrats and Republicans reached with South Korea, have pushed or driven manufacturing overseas, effectively de-industrializing the United States. So we Americans have little choice but to pay more for the products we want or need. Either that or we cut back on our standard of living.

This is happening of course in a time of 20+ percent unemployment or underemployment, when wages are being hammered by greedy employers taking advantage of the desperate desire for jobs, and of the severely weakened labor union movement.

No wonder Americans are taking to the streets to protest Wall Street, and the bought-and-paid elected officials who have been stripping the economy like a demolition crew in a condemned building before the arrival of the wrecking ball!

Meanwhile, here in China, where the country has been vacuuming up American dollars like an Orick TV commercial, people, at least in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, are looking incredibly well off. HuaiHai Road, a major east-west thoroughfare I remember from as late as 1996 as having been a drab street lined with dismal-looking noodle shops and stores selling shoddy tools and drab, poorly made clothing for the local market, and street vendors selling produce, is lined with top-of-the-line fashion stores thronged by women seeking the latest look and restaurants that charge almost New York prices.

Instead of fleets of bicycles, or even the motor scooters that throng streets in much of Asia, Shanghai’s streets are filled with new cars, many of them costly Toyotas, BMWs and Mercedes sedans. Of course the wealth gap in China is enormous — roughly what it has become of late in the U.S. — but even the working class here, at least in the cities, feels generally better off, because of where they’ve come from, while we in the U.S. are seeing ourselves sink.

All those dollars (and euros) pouring into China, and especially into cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou in the south, are also being put to use raising the standard of living in other more collective ways. Friends of mine here in Shanghai who used to live in cramped one or at best two-room bare concrete walled and floored flats, often with no bath and a shared community kitchen, are today ensconced in four-room apartments, nicely appointed, with tiled full bathrooms, spacious kitchens, and wood parquet floors. When they travel into the center of town, instead of riding a bike for two hours, they hop on a modern subway–part of a city-wide system completed in some 15 years’ time that now rivals the Paris Metro or the London tube, only with all glistening new stations and cars. There’s even a mag-lev segment to take people to the airport.

Schools have also received a tremendous amount of funding, from grade school through college. I could barely recognize Fudan’s modern campus with its towering new buildings and surrounding well-groomed parks and campus grounds.

I don’t want to overstate China’s progress. This country and its people face huge challenges. The environment has been raped and in many parts continues to be raped, there are beggars sleeping on the sidewalks, prostitutes proposition foreigners even on the better streets of Shanghai, and the air in this city, while perhaps a bit cleaner than I remembered, has me coughing and clearing my burning throat constantly after only a week here. It also continues to be a police state.

But the point is that despite all that, this remains a country that is improving the lot of its citizens, while the U.S. is clearly moving in the opposite direction. More importantly the impoverishing of Americans is happening, clearly, by design, as U.S. politicians act not in the interests of the many, but of the 1% who own them.

China’s political system is at least as corrupt as the U.S. system, but what is different is that the Chinese elite has a healthy fear of the wrath of the public. The violent risings of the Chinese masses, in the revolution that installed the Communist Party, and in the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the peaceful but determined 1989 Tiananmen protests and the growing wave of rural and urban unrest by peasants, workers and even over-taxed shopowners, have all made rulers here acutely aware that they can only cling to power if they keep trying to improve broader living standards for the majority.

Just this week, for example, a mob of hundreds of angry shop-owners and residents of Zhili, a town near Huzhou in Zhejiang Province, rioted over extortionate tax collections by local officials, overturning and burning several police cars and reportedly injuring some police officers and local officials — this according to local published news reports. Such events are not uncommon and serve to keep officials on their toes.

In the U.S. there is, or at least for decades has been, no such fear in the hearts of America’s ruling elite and their craven politician servants.

Perhaps with the advent of the Occupation Movement sweeping the country, this will change, though it remains to be seen whether a purely peaceful protest movement, with demonstrators passively accepting mass arrests by local police, will create enough fear in those avaricious hearts to bring an end to the current economic and political system of oligarchy, greed and exploitation that characterizes today’s United States.

*Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He runs his blog: thiscan’tbehappening

The above article was posted at his SITE under a different title.

Is Imran Khan the New Deal for Punjab?

By: Yasmeen Ali

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf(PTI) upstaged Pakistan Muslim League  Nawaz Group(PML – N), in Lahore. A remarkable feat in the hometown of the once stronghold of PML N. Who would have thought that PML N will hear the death knell by none other than Imran Khan’s fledgling party? A  Death Knell it is. By a rough estimate, near a 100K or more are seen on Live TV. The numbers swell as I write.

However, parties clamoring for removal of the current political dispensation are playing in the hands of vested interests, bent to destabilize Pakistan. Are not the political parties doing exactly what they have accused the Army of doing? Removing governments in power? One forgets the number of times, one hears these very politicians stating that governments MUST be allowed to complete their tenures & only then, with time, the “system will cleanse itself”.

PML-N, today demanding an end to the government, has been as much a part of government as the PPP. They have unfortunately, nothing to show for their years in power in this tenure. Even when they have chosen to be not a part of government, as Opposition, they have failed to play a positive role. The years of incompetence will be tough to erase from the public’s memory by crying “wolf”, at the twilight of the 5 year span of mandate awarded by them.

Accepted, Imran Khan’s party, has so far not been able to come forth with any strategy to deal with the multidimensional issues facing Pakistan. A failing that hounds most main stream parties in Pakistan.

What is, however, happening in front of our eyes, is the birth of a new phenomenon. The coming of age of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Unfortunately, the cause it chose, is all wrong. Pointing a finger is easy. Suggesting well thought out actions to resolve issues is not.

Those at the rally on the 30th of October, are not just members of the party, they are people hailing from all walks of life, young and old, people of both genders. Shahzad Roy’s performance on the rally had people clapping, waving flags, on their feet. As night falls, my TV screen is lit with multitudes refusing to move, listening to leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf in spite of having been on their feet for many, many hours. A show marred by personal attacks by Imran Khan on politicians.

What does this show of strength prove?

It proves one and one thing only.

It proves that a new contender is born for PML N in it’s once impregnable fort. It shows that PML N has failed it’s people, leaving them to turn to the first option that comes their way. The advantage is on PTI’s side. Most of her supporters argue that Imran must be given a chance to replace the jaded and corrupt politicians. This, is exactly the disadvantage of PML N. Too much corruption, too much bad governance. The fight in the next elections will not be, in Punjab, between PML N & PPP, where traditionally PML N has won, but between PML N & PTI. In the ensuing fight, it will not be surprising to see PML N being beaten at their home turf.

It leaves PPP stronger, if anything with PML N vote bank eroding in her very hometown, leaving the latter fighting for their survival. Division of vote bank between Pakistan Muslim League(Nawaz Group) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf. There are 11 urban seats for Lahore,3 from Faisalabad,1 from Gujranwala and 1 from Islamabad. Will Imran be able to convert this support into votes?

That PTI just conducted a coup against the PML N, of that there is no doubt. The question which is to be answered is; Is Imran Khan the New Deal for Punjab?

The writer is a lawyer & university professor based in Lahore. She can be reached at yasmeen.a.9@gmail.com

Reversing the Lens on Pakistan

Common Ground on US Withdrawal

By:  CONN HALLINAN
“Terrorism is not a statistic for us.”
—Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan
This is a Pakistani truism that few Americans understand. Since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, Pakistan has lost more than 35,000 people, the vast bulk of them civilians. While the U.S. has had slightly over 1800 soldiers killed in the past 10 years, Pakistan has lost over 5,000 soldiers and police. The number of suicide bombings in Pakistan has gone from one before 2001, to more than 335 since.
For most Americans, Pakistan is a two-faced “ally” playing a double game in Central Asia, all while siphoning off tens of billions of dollars in aid. For Pakistanis, the spillover from the Afghan war has cost Islamabad approximately of $100 billion. And this is in a country with a yearly GDP of around $175 billion, and whose resources have been deeply strained by two years of catastrophic flooding.
Washington complains that its $20.7 billion in aid over the past nine years has bought it very little in the way of loyalty from Islamabad, while Pakistan points out that U.S. aid makes up less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s yearly GDP, what Zahid Hussain, author of a book on Islamic militants, says comes out to “the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut” for each Pakistani. In any case, much of the civilian aid—the bulk, $14.2 billion, goes to the military—has yet to be disbursed.
Both countries’ opinions of one another are almost mirror images: According to a U.S. poll, 74 percent of Americans do not consider Pakistan to be an ally, while the Pew Research Center found that six in 10 Pakistanis consider the Americans an “enemy,” and only 12 Percent have a favorable view of the U.S.
How did this happen? In part the answer is mistakes and misjudgments by both countries that date back to the 1979-89 Russian occupation. But at its heart is an American strategy that not only runs counter to Pakistan’s interests, but will make ending the war in Afghanistan a far more painful procedure than it need be.
If Pakistan is a victim in the long running war, it is not entirely an innocent one. Pakistan, along with the U.S., was an ally of the anti-Communist, right wing Mujahideen during the 1980s Afghan war.
Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan has always been multi-faceted. Islamabad is deeply worried that its traditional enemy, India, will gain a foothold in Afghanistan, thus essentially surrounding Pakistan. This is not exactly paranoid, as Pakistan has fought—and lost—three wars with India, and tensions between the two still remain high.
Over the past six years, India has conducted 10 major military exercises along the Pakistani border, the latest—Viajyee Bhava (Be Victorious)—involved 20,000 troops and what New Delhi military spokesman S.D. Goswaim called “sustained massed mechanized maneuvers.” Pakistan is the only potential enemy in the region that “massed” armored formations could be aimed at. India has the world’s fourth largest army, Pakistan’s the 15th.
By aligning itself with Washington during its Cold War competition with the Soviets in Afghanistan, Islamabad had the inside track to buy high performance American military hardware to help it offset India’s numerical superiority. Indeed, it did manage to purchase some F-16s fighter-bombers.
But in Central Asia, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When Pakistan allied itself with the Taliban, India aligned itself with the Northern Alliance composed of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, who opposed the Pashtun-dominated Taliban. Pashtuns are a plurality in Afghanistan’s complex mix of ethnicities, and traditionally they dominated the Kabul government.
Islamabad has always been deeply concerned about the Pashtuns, because the ethnic group makes up some 15 percent of Pakistan’s population, and Pashtuns do not recognize the colonial period border—the so-called Durand Line—that forms the current boundary between the two countries. A long-time fear of Islamabad is that Pakistani Pashtuns could ally themselves to Afghani Pashtuns and form a breakaway country that would fragment Pakistan.
From Islamabad’s point of view, the American demand that it corral the Taliban and the Haqqani Group that operate from mountainous Northwest Frontier and Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan might stir up Pashtun nationalism, one of those things that goes bump in the night for most Pakistanis. In any case, the task would be beyond the capabilities of the Pakistan military. In 2009, the Pakistani Army used two full divisions just to reclaim the Swat Valley from local militants, a battle that cost billions of dollars, generated two million refugees, and inflicted heavy casualties.
Current U.S. strategy has exacerbated Pakistan’s problem by putting the Northern Alliance in power, excluding the Pashtuns from any meaningful participation, and targeting the ethnic group’s heartland in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan. According to Hussain, this has turned the war into a “Pashtun war,” and meant, “The Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”
The U.S has also remained silent while India moved aggressively into Afghanistan. On Oct. 4, Kabul and New Delhi inked a “strategic partnership” which, according to the New York Times, “paves the way for India to train and equip Afghan security forces.” The idea of India training Afghan troops is the equivalent of waving a red flag to see if the Pakistani bull will charge.
One pretext for the agreement was the recent assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Afghan High Peace Council, whom the Karzai government claims was killed by the Taliban under the direction of the Pakistani secret service, the ISI. But evidence linking the Taliban or Pakistan to the hit is not persuasive, and the Taliban and Haqqani Group—never shy about taking the credit for killing people—say they had nothing to do with it.
Pakistan’s ISI certainly maintains a relationship with the Afghan-based Taliban and the Haqqani Group, but former Joint Chiefs of Staff head, Admiral Mike Mullen’s charge that the latter are a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI is simply false. The Haqqanis come from the powerful Zadran Gaum Pushtun tribe based in Paktia and Khost provinces in Afghanistan, and North Wazirstan in Pakistan’s Tribal Area. It was one of the most effective military groupings in the war with the Russians, and is certainly the most dangerous group of fighters in the current war.
When their interests coincide the Haqqanis find common ground with Islamabad, but the idea that Pakistan can get anyone in that region to jump to attention reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the deeply engrained cultural and ethnic currents that have successfully rebuffed outsiders for thousands of years. And in the border region, the Pakistan Army is as much an outsider as is NATO.
There a way out of this morass, but it will require a very different strategy than the one the U.S. is currently following, and one far more attuned to the lens through which most Pakistanis view the war in Afghanistan.
First, the U.S. and its allies must stand down their military offensive—including the drone attacks—against the Taliban and Haqqani Group, and negotiate a ceasefire.
Second, the U.S. must open immediate talks with the various insurgency groups and declare a plan for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The Taliban—the Haqqanis say they will follow the organization’s lead—has indicated they will no longer insist on a withdrawal of troops before opening talks, but they do want a timetable.
Third, recognition that any government in Kabul must reflect the ethnic make-up of the country.
Fourth, Pakistan’s concerns over Indian influence need to be addressed, including the dangerous issue of Kashmir. President Obama ran on a platform that called for dealing with Kashmir, but subsequently dropped it at the insistence of New Delhi. The issue needs to be put back on the table. The next dust-up between Pakistan and India could go nuclear, which would be a catastrophe of immeasurable proportions.
Pakistan and the U.S. may have profoundly different views of one another, but at least one issue they agree: slightly over 90 percent of Pakistanis would like U.S. troops to go home, and 62 percent of Americans want an immediate cut in U.S. forces. Common ground in this case seems to be based on a strong dose of common sense.
NOTE:This is a cross post.

Americans: Awash In Spin

 

 

 

 

 

By:Dr Paul Craig Roberts

I have come to the conclusion that Big Brother’s subjects in George Orwell’s 1984 are better informed than Americans.

Americans have no idea why they have been at war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa for a decade. They don’t realize that their liberties have been supplanted by a Gestapo Police State. Few understand that hard economic times are here to stay.

On October 27, 2011, the US government announced some routine economic statistics, and the president of the European Council announced a new approach to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. The result of these funny numbers and mere words sent the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to its largest monthly rally since 1974, erasing its 2011 yearly loss. The euro rose, putting the European currency again 40% above its initial parity with the US dollar when the euro was introduced.

On National Public Radio a half-wit analyst declared, emphatically, that the latest US government statistics proved that the recovery was in place and that there was no danger whatsoever of a double-dip recession. And half-brain economists predicted a better tomorrow.

Europe is happy because the European private banks, the creditors of the European governments, have agreed to eat 50% of Greece’s sovereign debt and to be recapitalized by public money handed to them by the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund. The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, thinks that Greece’s debt is the only sovereign debt to be written down and that the debt of Italy, Spain, and Portugal will somehow be bailed out through other means, including a Chinese contribution to the EFSF rescue fund. Obviously, if all EU sovereign debt has to be cut by 50% as well, the rescue fund would not be up to the job.

For our corrupt financial markets, any news that can be spun as good news can send stocks up. But what are the facts?

For facts one has to turn to serious people, not to the presstitute media. Among those who give us real facts is John Williams of shadowstats.com. In his October 27 report, Williams exposes the happy second quarter 2011 economic growth figure of 2.5% as nonsense. Every other economic indicator contradicts the spin.

For example, personal consumption is reported to have increased 1.7%, but this surge in consumption took place despite a 1.7% collapse in consumer disposable income! In other words, if there was an increase in personal consumption, it come from drawing down savings or from incurring higher consumer debt.

A country’s consumers cannot forever draw down savings or go deeper into debt. For an economy to recover, there must be growth in consumer income. That growth is nowhere to be seen in the US. A large percentage of the goods and services sold to Americans by American corporations are now produced abroad by foreign labor. Thus, Americans no longer received incomes from the production of the goods and services that they consume. The American consumer market is on its way out.

The Dow Jones rose 339.51 points on the phony good news, but consumer sentiment is in the basement. John Williams reports that “consumer confidence hit the lowest levels ever recorded in 2008 and 2009” and that consumer confidence has now “fallen back to that 2008 level.” But the stock market boomed. Somehow a population 23% unemployed with debt up to its eyeballs is going to spark an economic recovery.

Recovery can only happen in the delusional world created for us by the concentrated media. No longer permitted to utter one world of truth, the presstitutes proclaim non-existent recoveries and weapons of mass destruction and demonize Washington’s chosen opponents.

The sovereign debt crisis in Europe has distracted Americans from the much worst crisis in their country. After two decades of exporting US manufacturing and middle class jobs, and after a decade of consumer debt growth that has resulted in millions of foreclosed homeowners and massive credit card and student loan debt that cannot be paid, consumers have no income growth or borrowing capacity with which to fuel an economy based on consumer demand.

European banks, already ruined by purchases of Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s AAA ratings of junk derivatives, now find themselves threatened by sovereign debt. Greece’s debt crisis, caused with Goldman Sachs’ help in hiding the true debt of the country as was done for Enron, has brought to light that Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain, in addition to Greece, have more debt than the governments can service.

In the EU, unlike the US and UK which have their own central banks that can create new money to bail out the over-indebted governments, the EU central bank is prohibited by treaty from printing money in order to purchase bonds from member states that cannot be redeemed.

Regardless of the treaty prohibition, the EU central bank has been lending Greece the money to pay its bond holders. The imposed austerity that is part of the deal created political instability in Greece.

Now that European Council President Herman Van Rompuy has announced a 50% write-off by private banks of Greek sovereign debt, can the same treatment be denied Portugal, Italy, and Spain?

The European Central Bank is following the lead of the Federal Reserve and creating new money to bail out debt. The cost will be paid in inflation and flight from the euro and the dollar. As an indication of the future, despite the positive spin on the news and the rise in US stocks, on October 27 the Japanese yen rose to a new high against the US dollar.

Paul Craig Roberts was an editor of the Wall Street Journal and an Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

NOTE:THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM INFORMATION CLEARING HOUSE.

Libya: Apparent Execution of 53 Gaddafi Supporters

Bodies Found at Sirte Hotel Used by Anti-Gaddafi Fighters

By Human Rights Watch

October 24, 2011 — ” HRW” – (Sirte) – Fifty-three people, apparent Gaddafi supporters, seem to have been executed at a hotel in Sirte last week, Human Rights Watch said today. The hotel is in an area of the city that was under the control of anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata before the killings took place.

Human Rights Watch called on Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to conduct an immediate and transparent investigation into the apparent mass execution and to bring those responsible to justice.

“We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings. “This requires the immediate attention of the Libyan authorities to investigate what happened and hold accountable those responsible.”

(Bodies of persons lie in the garden of the Mahari Hotel in Sirte, immediately after they were put into body bags by local residents. At the time of their killing the hotel was apparently controlled by anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata. 53 persons were apparently executed at the site.

 

© 2011 Peter Bouckaert/Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights Watch saw the badly decomposed remains of the53 people on October 23, 2011, at the Hotel Mahari in District 2 of Sirte. The bodies were clustered together, apparently where they had been killed, on the grass in the sea-view garden of the hotel.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters from Misrata had held that area of Sirte since early October, according to witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. On the entrance and walls of the hotel Human Rights Watch saw the names of several brigades from Misrata.

The condition of the bodies suggests the victims were killed approximately one week prior to their discovery, between October 14 and October 19, Human Rights Watch said. The bloodstains on the grass directly below the bodies, bullet holes visible in the ground, and the spent cartridges of AK-47 and FN-1 rifles scattered around the site strongly suggest that some, if not all of the people, were shot and killed in the location where they were discovered, Human Rights Watch said.

All the bodies were in a similar stage of decomposition, suggesting they were killed at the same approximate time. Some of the bodies had their hands tied behind their backs with plastic ties. Others had bandages over serious wounds, suggesting they had been treated for other injuries prior to their deaths.

About 20 Sirte residents were putting the bodies in body bags and preparing them for burial when Human Rights Watch arrived at the hotel. They said they had discovered the bodies on October 21, after the fighting in Sirte had stopped and they returned to their neighborhood. They identified four of the dead as residents of Sirte: Ezzidin al-Hinsheri, allegedly a former Gaddafi government official, a military officer named Muftah Dabroun, and two Sirte residents, Amar Mahmoud Saleh and Muftah al-Deley.

Those preparing the bodies said they believed most of the victims were residents of Sirte, some of them Gaddafi supporters. They said that some of the victims had most likely tried to flee from District 2, the last stronghold of Gaddafi loyalists as anti-Gaddafi forces attacked the city. Other victims were possibly released from Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte, they said, after being treated for conflict-related injuries. The claim that some of the victims had been released from the hospital is consistent with the discovery of bandaged wounds on some of the bodies, Human Rights Watch said.

The Hotel Mahari was apparently in the hands of anti-Gaddafi forces from Misrata before the killings, and it remained in their control until the fighting in Sirte stopped on October 20, Human Rights Watch said.

Anti-Gaddafi forces are organized in brigades whose primary loyalty is to their city of origin. Many Libyan cities have numerous brigades, small groups of fighters who operate semi-independently during battles. More than 100 brigades (katiba) operate in the city of Misrata alone.

On the walls of the Hotel Mahari, Human Rights Watch saw the names of five known Misrata-based fighting groups, who had apparently based themselves in the hotel. At the entrance, as well as on the inside and outside walls, was prominently written the “Tiger Brigade” (Al-Nimer). In numerous places on other walls were written the “Support Brigade” (Al-Isnad), the Jaguar Brigade (Al-Fahad), the Lion Brigade (Al-Asad), and the Citadel Brigade (Al-Qasba).

There is no direct evidence that these five brigades were involved in the executions, but their apparent presence in the hotel requires immediate investigation, Human Rights Watch said.

“The evidence suggests that some of the victims were shot while being held as prisoners, when that part of Sirte was controlled by anti-Gaddafi brigades who appear to act outside the control of the National Transitional Council,” Bouckaert said. “If the NTC fails to investigate this crime it will signal that those who fought against Gaddafi can do anything without fear of prosecution.”

At a separate site in Sirte, Human Rights Watch saw the badly decomposed bodies of 10 people who had apparently also been executed. The bodies had been dumped in a water reservoir in District 2 of the city. The identity of the victims was unknown, and it was not possible to establish whether Gaddafi forces or anti-Gaddafi fighters were responsible. From the state of decomposition of the bodies, it appears they were killed prior to October 12.

Medical officials in Sirte told Human Rights Watch that pro-Gaddafi forces had carried out executions in the city. They said that medical teams and anti-Gaddafi fighters found at least 23 bodies, their hands bound, between October 15 and October 20.

The executions at the Mahari Hotel came to light just days after the still unexplained deaths of Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatassim Gaddafi while in the custody of fighters from Misrata. Both men were captured alive in Sirte on October 20.

At the site where Muammar Gaddafi was captured, Human Rights Watch found the remains of at least 95 people who had apparently died that day. The vast majority had apparently died in the fighting and NATO strikes prior to Gaddafi’s capture, but between six and ten of the dead appear to have been executed at the site with gunshot wounds to the head and body.

To date, the NTC has failed to conduct a serious investigation into the killing of the former rebel military commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah Younes, who was killed with two aides on July 28 after being detained by opposition fighters, apparently after NTC officials had issued a warrant for his arrest.

Violence of any kind, and in particular murder, inflicted during an armed conflict on combatants who have laid down their arms or are in detention, is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC has jurisdiction in Libya for all crimes within its mandate committed since February 15, 2011. Under the court’s treaty, criminal liability applies to both those who physically commit the crimes and to senior officials, including those who give the orders and those in a position of command who should have been aware of the abuses but failed to prevent them or to report or prosecute those responsible.

“This latest massacre seems part of a trend of killings, looting, and other abuses committed by armed anti-Gaddafi fighters who consider themselves above the law,” Bouckaert said. “It is imperative that the transitional authorities take action to rein in these groups.”                    NOTE:THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM INFORMATION CLEARING HOUSE:http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article29509.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the West won Libya

By Pepe Escobar

They are fighting over the carcass as vultures. The French Ministry of Defense said they got him with a Rafale fighter jet firing over his convoy. The Pentagon said they got him with a Predator firing a Hellfire missile. After a wounded Colonel Muammar Gaddafi sought refuge in a filthy drain underneath a highway – an eerie echo of Saddam Hussein’s “hole” – he was found by Transitional National Council (TNC) “rebels”. And then duly executed.

Abdel-Jalil Abdel-Aziz, a Libyan doctor who accompanied Gaddafi’s body in an ambulance and examined it, said he died from two bullets, one to the chest, one to the head.

The TNC – which has peddled lies, lies and more lies for months – swears he died in “crossfire”. It may have been a mob. It may have been Mohammad al-Bibi, a 20-year-old sporting a New York Yankees baseball cap who posed to the whole world brandishing Gaddafi’s golden pistol; his ticket perhaps to collect the hefty $20 million dangled as the bounty for Gaddafi “dead or alive”.

It gets curioser and curioser when one remembers that this is exactly what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her lightning visit to Tripoli, had announced less than 48 hours before; Gaddafi should be “captured or killed”. The Fairy Queenie satisfied Clinton’s wishes, who learned about it by watching the screen of a BlackBerry – and reacting with the semantic earthquake “Wow!”

To the winners, the spoils. They all did it; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Pentagon and the TNC. From the minute a United Nations resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya became a green card to regime change, plan A was always to capture and kill him. Targeted assassination; that’s Barack Obama administration official policy. There was no plan B.

Let me bomb you to protection 
As for how R2P (“responsibility to protect” civilians), any doubters should cling to the explanation by NATO’s secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen; “NATO and our partners have successfully implemented the historic mandate of the United Nations to protect the people of Libya.” Anyone who wants to check NATO’s protection of civilians just needs to jump on a pick-up truck and go to Sirte – the new Fallujah.

Reactions have been quite instructive. TNC bureaucrat Abdel Ghoga went Colosseum in the Roman Empire, saying, “The revolutionaries have got the head of the tyrant.”

United States President Barack Obama said the death of Gaddafi means “we are seeing the strength of American leadership across the world”. That’s as “we got him” as one can possibly expect, also considering that Washington paid no less than 80% of the operating costs of those dimwits at NATO (over $1 billion – which Occupy Wall Street could well denounce would be more helpful creating jobs in the US). Strange, now, to say “we did it”, because the White House always said this was not a war; it was a “kinetic” something. And they were not in charge.

It was up to that majestic foreign policy strategist, US Vice President Joe Biden, to be starkly more enlightening than Obama; “In this case, America spent $2 billion and didn’t lose a single life. This is more the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has in the past.”

World, you have been warned; this is how the empire will deal with you from now on.

Feel my humanitarian love 
So congratulations to the “international community” – which as everyone knows is composed of Washington, a few washed-up NATO members, and the democratic Persian Gulf powerhouses of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This community, at least, loved the outcome. The European Union (EU) hailed “the end of an era of despotism” – when up to virtually Thursday they were caressing the helm of Gaddafi’s gowns; now they are falling over themselves in editorials about the 42-year reign of a “buffoon”.

Gaddafi would have been a most inconvenient guest of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as he would have relished recalling all the hand-kissing, the warm embraces and the juicy deals the West was begging to clinch after he was promoted from “Mad Dog” (Ronald Reagan) to “our bastard”. He would also relish detailing all the shady backgrounds of those opportunists now posing as “revolutionaries” and “democrats”.

As for the concept of international law, it lies in a drain as filthy as the one Gaddafi was holed up in. Iraqi dictator Saddam at least got a fake trial in a kangaroo court before meeting the executioner. Osama bin Laden was simply snuffed out, assassination-style, after a territorial invasion of Pakistan. Gaddafi went one up, snuffed out with a mix of air war and assassination.

Power vultures are congesting the skies. London-based Mohammed El Senussi, the heir to the Libyan throne (King Idris was overthrown in 1969) is ready for his close-up, having already established that he “is a servant to Libyan people, and they decide what they want”. Translation; I want the throne. He’s obviously the favorite candidate of the counter-revolutionary House of Saud.

And what about those Washington think-tank donkeys mumbling that this was the Arab Spring’s “Ceausescu moment”? If only the Romanian dictator had improved his country’s standard of living – in terms of free healthcare, free education, incentives for the newlywed, etc – by a fraction of what Gaddafi did in Libya. Plus the fact that Nicolae Ceausescu was not deposed by NATO “humanitarian” bombing. v Only the brain dead may have swallowed the propaganda of NATO’s “humanitarian” 40,000-plus bombing – which devastated Libya’s infrastructure back to the Stone Age (Shock and Awe in slow motion, anyone?). This never had anything to do with R2P – the relentless bombing of civilians in Sirte proves it.

As the top four BRIC members knew it even before the voting of UN Resolution 1973, it was about NATO ruling the Mediterranean as a NATO lake, it was about Africom’s war against China and setting up a key strategic base, it was about the French and the Brits getting juicy contracts to exploit Libya’s natural resources to their benefit, it was about the West setting the narrative of the Arab Spring after they had been caught napping in Tunisia and Egypt.

Listen to the barbaric whimpers 
Welcome to the new Libya. Intolerant Islamist militias will turn the lives of Libyan women into a living hell. Hundreds of thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans – those who could not escape – will be ruthlessly persecuted. Libya’s natural wealth will be plundered. That collection of anti-aircraft missiles appropriated by Islamists will be a supremely convincing reason for the “war on terror” in northern Africa to become eternal. There will be blood – civil war blood, because Tripolitania will refuse to be ruled by backward Cyrenaica.

As for remaining dictators everywhere, get a life insurance policy from NATO Inc; Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh were clever enough to do it. We all know there will never be R2P to liberate the Tibetans and Uyghurs, or the people in that monster gulag Myanmar, or the people in Uzbekistan, or the Kurds in Turkey, or the Pashtuns on both sides of the imperially drawn Durand Line.

We also know that change the world can believe in will be the day NATO enforces a no-fly one over Saudi Arabia to protect the Shi’ites in the eastern province, with the Pentagon launching a Hellfire carpet over those thousands of medieval, corrupt House of Saud princes.

It won’t happen. Meanwhile, this is the way the West ends; with a NATO bang, and a thousand barbaric, lawless whimpers. Disgusted? Get a Guy Fawkes mask and raise hell.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

NOTE :THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM ASIA TIMES.

Mission Accomplished in Libya?

By: Ron Paul

Even as a major hurricane hit America’s eastern seaboard, the administration was determined to expand the war in Libya while threatening the regime in Syria. Is there any limit to government’s appetite to create more problems for our nation and economy?

Americans may be tempted to celebrate the apparent victory of U.S.- and NATO-backed rebels in Libya, since it seems the Gadhafi regime is overthrown. But I believe any enthusiasm for our Libyan misadventure is premature.

The Obama administration attacked Libya without a constitutional declaration of war, without congressional authorization, without meaningful consultation with Congress — and without a dollar being authorized from the House or Senate.

It was a war started by a president who turned to the United Nations for its authority and ignored the authority of the U.S. Congress.

Are we better off as a nation by ignoring and debasing our Constitution? Are we better off having spent more than a billion dollars attacking a country thousands of miles away that had not threatened us? Are we more financially sound having expanded the empire to include yet another protectorate and probable long-term military occupation? Are we more admired throughout the world for getting involved in yet another war?

Still, many will claim that getting rid of Libyan ruler Gadhafi was worth it. They will say that the ends justify the means. As the civilian toll from NATO bombs adds up in a war started under the guise of protecting a civilian population, even the initial argument for intervention is ridiculous.
We should not forget that there were no massacres taking place in Libya before the NATO attack. The attack was dubbed a preventive humanitarian intervention. But as soon as NATO planes started bombing, civilians started dying.
Gadhafi may well have been a tyrant, but as such he was no worse than many others whom we support and count as allies.
Disturbingly, we see a pattern of relatively secular leaders in the Arab world being targeted for regime-change with the resulting power vacuum being filled by much more radical elements. Iraq, post-Saddam, is certainly far closer to Iran than it was before the U.S. invasion. Will Libya be any different?

We already see grisly reprisals from the U.S.-backed rebels against their political opponents. There are disturbing scenes of looting and lawlessness on the part of the rebels. We know that some rebel factions appear to be allied with Islamic extremists, and others seem to have ties to the CIA. They also appear to have a penchant for killing each other as well as supporters of the previous regime.

The tribal structure of Libyan society all but ensures that an ongoing civil war is on the agenda rather than the Swiss-style democracy that some intervention advocates suggest is around the corner.

What is next after such a victory? With the big Western scramble to grab Libya’s oil reserves amid domestic political chaos and violence, does anyone doubt that NATO ground troops are not being prepared for yet another occupation?

Neoconservatives continue to dominate our foreign policy, regardless of the administration in power. They do not care that we are bankrupt, as they are too blinded by their desire for empire and their affection for the entangling alliances we have been rightly counseled to avoid. They have set their sights next on Syria, where the U.S. moves steadily toward intervention in another domestic conflict that has nothing to do with the U.S.

Already the U.S. president has called for regime-change in Syria, while adding new sanctions against the Syrian regime. Are U.S. bombers far behind?
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Ron Paul is a U.S. Congressman from Texas. He ran for President of the United States in 1988 as the nominee of the Libertarian Party. 
Note: Libya has the largest, proven oil reserves in Africa. On the UNDP, Human Development Index, Libya ranked #1 in Africa.

NOTE:This is a cross post from Antiwar.Com

America’s Secret Empire of Drone Bases: Its Full Extent Revealed for the First Time

A ground-breaking investigation examines the most secret aspect of America’s shadowy drone wars and maps out a world of hidden bases dotting the globe.

By Nick Turse                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            They increasingly dot the planet.  There’s a facility outside Las Vegas where “pilots” work in climate-controlled trailers, another at a dusty camp in Africa formerly used by the French Foreign Legion, a third at a big air base in Afghanistan where Air Force personnel sit in front of multiple computer screens, and a fourth that almost no one talks about at an air base in the United Arab Emirates. 

 

And that leaves at least 56 more such facilities to mention in an expanding American empire of unmanned drone bases being set up worldwide. Despite frequent news reports on the drone assassination campaign launched in support of America’s ever-widening undeclared wars and a spate of stories on drone bases in Africa and the Middle East, most of these facilities have remained unnoted, uncounted, and remarkably anonymous — until now.

Run by the military, the Central Intelligence Agency, and their proxies, these bases — some little more than desolate airstrips, others sophisticated command and control centers filled with computer screens and high-tech electronic equipment — are the backbone of a new American robotic way of war.  They are also the latest development in a long-evolving saga of American power projection abroad — in this case, remote-controlled strikes anywhere on the planet with a minimal foreign “footprint” and little accountability.

Using military documents, press accounts and other open source information, an in-depth analysis by AlterNet has identified at least 60 bases integral to U.S. military and CIA drone operations.  There may, however, be more, since a cloak of secrecy about drone warfare leaves the full size and scope of these bases distinctly in the shadows.

A Galaxy of Bases

Over the last decade, the American use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has expanded exponentially as has media coverage of their use.  On September 21st, the Wall Street Journal reported that the military has deployed missile-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones on the “island nation of Seychelles to intensify attacks on al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Somalia.”  A day earlier, a Washington Post piece also mentioned the same base on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago, as well as one in the African nation of Djibouti, another under construction in Ethiopia, and a secret CIA airstrip being built for drones in an unnamed Middle Eastern country (suspected of being Saudi Arabia).

Post journalists Greg Miller and Craig Whitlock reported that the “Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen.”  Within days, the Postalso reported that a drone from the new CIA base in that unidentified Middle Eastern country had carried out the assassination of radical al-Qaeda preacher and American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi in Yemen.

With the killing of al-Aulaqi, the Obama Administration has expanded its armed drone campaign to no fewer than six countries, though the CIA, which killed al-Aulaqi, refuses to officially acknowledgeits drone assassination program.  The Air Force is less coy about its drone operations, yet there are many aspects of those, too, that remain in the shadows.  Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes recently told AlterNet that, “for operational security reasons, we do not discuss worldwide operating locations of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, to include numbers of locations around the world.”

Still, those 60 military and CIA bases around the world, directly connected to the drone program, tell us a lot about America’s war-making future.  From command and control and piloting to maintenance and arming, these facilities perform key functions that allow drone campaigns to continued expanding as they have for more than a decade.  Other bases are already under construction or in the planning stages.  When presented with our list of Air Force sites within America’s galaxy of drone bases, Lieutenant Colonel Haynes responded, “I have nothing further to add to what I’ve already said.”

Even in the face of government secrecy, however, much can be discovered .  Here, then, for the record is a AlterNet accounting of America’s drone bases in the United States and around the world.

The Near Abroad

News reports have frequently focused on Creech Air Force Baseoutside Las Vegas as ground zero in America’s military drone campaign.  Sitting in darkened, air conditioned rooms, 7,500 miles from Afghanistan, drone pilots dressed in flight suits remotely control MQ-9 Reapers and their progenitors, the less heavily-armed MQ-1 Predators. Beside them, sensor operators manipulate the TV camera, infrared camera, and other high-tech sensors on board. Their faces lit up by digital displays showing video feeds from the battle zone, by squeezing a trigger on a joystick one of these Air Force “pilots” can loose a Hellfire missile on a person half a world away.

While Creech gets the lion’s share of attention — it even has its own drones on site — numerous other bases on U.S. soil have played critical roles in America’s drone wars.  The same video-game-style warfare is carried out by U.S and British pilots not far away at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base, the home of the Air Force’s 2nd Special Operations Squadron (SOS).  According to a factsheet provided to AlterNet by the Air Force, the 2nd SOS and its drone operators are scheduled to be relocated to the Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field in Florida in the coming months.

Reapers or Predators are also being flown from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, March Air Reserve Base in California, Springfield Air National Guard Base in Ohio, Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, Ellington Airport in Houston, Texas, the Air National Guard base in Fargo, North Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, New York.  Recently, it was announced that Reapers, flown by Hancock’s pilots, would begin taking off on training missions from the Army’s Fort Drum, also in New York State.  While at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, according to a report by theNew York Times earlier this year, teams of camouflage-clad Air Force analysts sit in a secret intelligence and surveillance installation monitoring cell phone intercepts, high altitude photographs, and most notably, multiple screens of streaming live video from drones in Afghanistan — what they call “Death TV” — while instant-messaging and talking to commanders on the ground in order to supply them with real-time intelligence on enemy troop movements.

CIA drone operators also reportedly pilot their aircraft from the Agency’s nearby Langley, Virginia headquarters.  It was from here that analysts apparently watched footage of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, for example, thanks to video sent back by the RQ-170 Sentinel, an advanced drone nicknamed the “Beast of Kandahar.”  According to Air Force documents, the Sentinel is flown from both Creech Air Force Base and Tonopah Test Range in Nevada.

Predators, Reapers, and Sentinels are just part of the story.  AtBeale Air Force Base in California, Air Force personnel pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned drone used for long-range, high-altitude surveillance missions, some of them originating from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam (a staging ground for drone flights over Asia).  Other Global Hawks are stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, while the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio manages the Global Hawk as well as the Predator and Reaper programs for the Air Force.

Other bases have been intimately involved in training drone operators, including Randolph Air Force Base in Texas and New Mexico’s Kirtland Air Force Base, as is the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona which is home to, according to a report by National Defensemagazine, “the world’s largest UAV training center.”  There, hundreds of employees of defense giant General Dynamics train military personnel to fly smaller tactical drones like the Hunter and Shadow.  The physical testing of drones goes on at adjoining Libby Army Airfield and “two UAV runways located approximately four miles west of Libby,” according to Global Security, an on-line clearinghouse for military information.

Additionally, small drone training for the Army is carried out at Fort Benning in Georgia while at Fort Rucker, Alabama — “the home of Army aviation” — the Unmanned Aircraft Systems program coordinates doctrine, strategy, and concepts pertaining to UAVs. Recently, Fort Benning also saw the early testing of true robotic drones – which fly without human guidance or a hand on any joystick.  This is considered, wrote the Washington Post, the next step toward a future in which drones will “hunt, identify, and kill the enemy based on calculations made by software, not decisions made by humans.”

The Army has also carried out UAV training exercises at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and, earlier this year, the Navy launched its X-47B, a next-generation semi-autonomous stealth drone, on its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  That flying robot — designed to operate from the decks of aircraft carriers — has since been sent on to Maryland’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River for further testing.  At nearby Webster Field, the Navy worked out kinks in its Fire Scout pilotless helicopter, which has also been tested at Fort Rucker, Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, and Florida’s Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station.  The latter base was also where the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aerial system was developed and is now, along with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State, based.

Foreign Jewels in the Crown

The Navy is actively looking for a suitable site in the Western Pacific for a BAMS base, and is currently in talks with several Persian Gulf states for one in that region, as well.  It already has Global Hawks perched at its base in Sigonella, Italy.

The Air Force is now negotiating with Turkey to relocate some of the Predator drones still operating in Iraq to the giant air base at Incirlik next year.  Many different UAVs have been based in Iraq since the American invasion of that country, including small tactical models likeRaven-B’s  that troops launched by hand from Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Shadow UAVs that flew from Forward Operating Base Normandy in Baqubah Province, Predators operating out of Balad Airbase, miniature Desert Hawk drones launched from Tallil Air Base, and Scan Eagles based at Al Asad Air Base.

Elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, according to Aviation Week, the military is launching Global Hawks from Al Dhafra Air Base in theUnited Arab Emirates, piloted by personnel stationed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, to track “shipping traffic in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Arabian Sea.”  There areunconfirmed reports that the CIA may be operating drones from that country as well.  In the past, at least, other UAVs have apparently been flown from Kuwait’s Ali Al Salem Air Base and Al Jaber Air Base, as well as Seeb Air Base in Oman.

At Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, the Air Force runs an air operations command and control facility, critical to the drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The new secret CIA base on the Arabian peninsula, used to assassinate Anwar al-Aulaqi, may or may not be an airstrip in Saudi Arabia whose existence a senior U.S. military official recently confirmed to FOX News.  In the past, the CIA has also operated UAVs out of Tuzel, Uzbekistan.

In neighboring Afghanistan, drones fly from many bases including Jalalabad Air Base, Kandahar Air Field, the air base at Bagram, Camp Leatherneck, Camp Dwyer, Combat Outpost Payne, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Edinburgh and FOB Delaram II, to name a few.  Afghan bases are, however, more than just locations where drones take off and land.

It is a common misperception that U.S.-based operators are the only ones who “fly” America’s armed drones.  In fact, in and around America’s war zones, UAVs begin and end their flights under the control of local “pilots.”  Take Afghanistan’s massive Bagram Air Base.  After performing preflight checks alongside a technician who focuses on the drone’s sensors, a local airman sits in front of a Dell computer tower and multiple monitors, two keyboards, a joystick, a throttle, a rollerball, a mouse, and various switches and oversees the plane’s takeoff before handing it over to a stateside counterpart with a similar electronics set-up.  After the mission is complete, the controls are transferred back to the local operators for the landing. Additionally, crews in Afghanistan perform general maintenance and repairs on the drones.

In the wake of a devastating suicide attack by an al-Qaeda double agent that killed CIA officers and contractors at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost in 2009, it came to light that the facility was heavily involved in target selection for drone strikes across the border in Pakistan.  The drones themselves, as the Washington Post noted at the time, were “flown from separate bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Both the Air Force and CIA have conducted operations in Pakistani air space, with some missions originating in Afghanistan and others from inside Pakistan.  In 2006, images of what appear to be Predator drones stationed at Shamsi Air Base in Pakistan’s Balochistan province were found on Google Earth and later published.  In 2009, the New York Times reported that operatives from Xe Services, the company formerly known as Blackwater, had taken over the task of arming Predator drones at the CIA’s “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Following the May Navy SEAL raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, that country’s leaders reportedly ordered the United States to leave Shamsi.  The Obama administration evidently refused and word leaked out, according to the Washington Post, that the base was actually owned and sublet to the U.S. by the United Arab Emirates, which had built the airfield “as an arrival point for falconry and other hunting expeditions in Pakistan.”

The U.S. and Pakistani governments have since claimed that Shamsi is no longer being used for drone strikes.  True or not, the U.S. evidently also uses other drone bases in Pakistan, including possibly PAF Base Shahbaz, located near the city of Jacocobad, and another base located near Ghazi.

The New Scramble for Africa

Recently, the headline story, when it comes to the expansion of the empire of drone bases, has been Africa.  For the last decade, the U.S. military has been operating out of Camp Lemonier, a former French Foreign Legion base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti. Not long after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it became a base for Predator drones and has since been used to conduct missions over neighboring Somalia.

For some time, rumors have also been circulating about a secret American base in Ethiopia.  Recently, a U.S. official revealed to theWashington Post that discussions about a drone base there had been underway for up to four years, “but that plan was delayed because ‘the Ethiopians were not all that jazzed.’” Now construction is evidently underway, if not complete.

Then, of course, there is that drone base on the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  A small fleet of Navy and Air Force drones began operating openly there in 2009 to track pirates in the region’s waters.  Classified diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks, however, reveal that those drones have also secretly been used to carry out missions in Somalia.  “Based in a hangar located about a quarter-mile from the main passenger terminal at the airport,” thePost reports, the base consists of three or four “Reapers and about 100 U.S. military personnel and contractors, according to the cables.”

The U.S. has also recently sent four smaller tactical drones to the African nations of Uganda and Burundi for use by those countries’ own militaries.

New and Old Empires

Even if the Pentagon budget were to begin to shrink in the coming years, expansion of America’s empire of drone bases is a sure thing in the years to come.  Drones are now the bedrock of Washington’s future military planning and — with counterinsurgency out of favor — the preferred way of carrying out wars abroad.

During the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, as the U.S. was building up its drone fleets, the country launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and carried out limited strikes in Yemen,Pakistan, and Somalia, using drones in at least four of those countries.  In less than three years under President Obama, the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  It maintains that it has carte blanche to kill suspected enemies in any nation (or at least any nation in the global south).

According to a report by the Congressional Budget office published earlier this year, “the Department of Defense (DoD) plans to purchase about 730 new medium-sized and large unmanned aircraft systems” over the next decade.  In practical terms, this means more drones like the Reaper.

Military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Reaper “can fly 1,150 miles from base, conduct missions and return home… the time a drone can stay aloft depends on how heavily armed it is.” According to a drone operator training document obtained by AlterNet, at maximum payload, meaning with 3,750 pounds worth of Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 or GBU-30 bombs on board, the Reaper can remain aloft for 16 to 20 hours.  Even a glance at a world map tells you that, if the U.S. is to carry out ever more drone strikes across the developing world, it will need more bases for its future UAVs.  As an unnamed senior military official pointed out to aWashington Post reporter, speaking of all those new drone bases clustered around the Somali and Yemeni war zones, “If you look at it geographically, it makes sense — you get out a ruler and draw the distances [drones] can fly and where they take off from.”

Earlier this year, an analysis by TomDispatch.com determined that there are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases scattered across the globe — a shadowy base-world that provides plenty of existing sites that can, and no doubt will, host drones.  But facilities selected for a pre-drone world may not always prove optimal locations for America’s current and future undeclared wars and assassination campaigns.  So further expansion in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia is likely.

What are the Air Force’s plans in this regard?  Lieutenant Colonel John Haynes was typically circumspect.  “We are constantly evaluating potential operating locations based on evolving mission needs,” he said.  If the last decade is any indication, those “needs” will only continue to grow.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso).This article marks another of Turse’s joint Alternet/TomDispatch investigative reports on U.S. national security policy and American empire.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Is the National Security Complex Too Big to Fail?

TARPing War 
By Tom Engelhardt
Think of Iraq as the AIG of wars — the only difference being that the bailout there didn’t involve just three payouts.  More than eight years after the Bush administration invaded that country, the bailout is, unbelievably enough, still going.  Even as the U.S. military withdraws, the State Department is planning to spend billions more in taxpayer dollars to field an army of hired-gun contractors to replace it.  Afghanistan?  It could have been the Lehman Brothers of conflicts, but when Barack Obama entered the Oval Office he chose the Citigroup model instead, and surged troops in twice in 2009.  In other words, he double-TARPed that war, and ever since, the bailout money has been flooding in.
Until now — as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations make clear — “too big to fail” has meant only one set of institutions: the plundering financial outfits that played such a role in driving the U.S. economy off a cliff in 2008, looked like they might themselves collapse in a heap of bad deals and indebtedness, and were bailed out by Washington.  Isn’t it finally time to expand the too-big-to-fail category to include the Pentagon, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and more generally the National Security Complex?
There is, of course, one major difference between those bailed-out financial institutions and the Complex: however powerful the banks may be, however much money financial outfits and Wall Street sink into K-Street lobbyists and theelection campaigns of politicians, however much influence the U.S. Chamber of Commerce may wield, when too-big-to-fail financial institutions totter, they have to come to the federal government hat (and future bonuses) in hand.
For the Pentagon and the National Security Complex, it’s quite another matter.  These days it’s only a slight exaggeration to claim that they are Washington and that their very size, influence, and power protects them from the consequences of failure.
In the last decade, as “the troops” became sacrosanct, the secular equivalent of religious icons, they also helped ensure that no Congress could afford not to pour money into the Pentagon.  (Pay no attention to the much-touted $450 billion that institution is expected to trim over the next ten years.  That sum will largely come from “cuts” in future projected growth and anything more will be strongly resisted.)  In that same decade — thanks largely to two hijacked planes that damaged New York beyond al-Qaeda’s wildest dreams — “American safety” (narrowly defined as “from terrorists”) became the mantra of the moment.  Soon enough, it was the explanation of choice for any expenditure: the latest drones, surveillance equipment, high-tech motion sensors, or peeping-Tom technology at airports.
“The troops” translated into a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Pentagon, and it worked like a charm.  In the three years since the economy melted down, when so much that mattered to most Americans was being cut back or deep-sixed, that budget was still merrily expanding.  In the meantime, there were those constant infusions of fear for “American safety,” helped along by terror plots generally too inept to do the slightest damage.  All this ensured that an already massive crew of intelligence outfits would morph into a labyrinthine bureaucracy of stupefying proportions.
That same phrase fertilized the Department of Homeland Security, the homeland security state that went with it, and animmensely lucrative homeland-security-industrial complex that went with that — all growing at a remarkable clip.
An Insurance Policy for the National Security Complex
Imagine for a second that, at the height of the Cold War, someone had told you of a future in which the U.S. faced no armed great power (not one!) and at most a few thousand terrorists scattered across the planet, as well as modestly armed minority insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Imagine that person making this prediction as well: in budget and size, the National Security Complex of that moment would put its Cold War predecessor in the shade.
Without a doubt, you would have dismissed him as a madman.  If someone had proposed such a future to those running the Cold War back then, they would have called it victory.  And yet that’s exactly our reality today, while victory itself has become the rarest of vintages, no longer stocked anywhere in our American world.
The dimensions of the National Security Complex now beggar the imagination.  In fact, everything about it should make it the global yardstick for “too big to fail.”  The Pentagon budget is, for instance, about 50% higher today than the Cold War average and accounts for nearly half of all military expenditures globally. And yet it has kept right on growing; and if bailed-out bankers continue to take home their bonuses as thanks for practically sinking the country, top Pentagon types continue to take home their golden pensions with future revolving-door opportunities in the military-industrial complex always available.
If you really want to grasp the enormity of the National Security Complex, just consider this stat: today, 4.2 millionfederal workers and employees of private contractors have security clearances — about, that is, the population of New Zealand or Lebanon.
Whatever Washington turned over to the banks, the Complex has it so much easier.  After all, its managers essentially pay themselves more or less what they desire in the name of supporting the troops and promoting American safety.  Yes, our congressional representatives officially dole out the money, but they have little choice when it comes to offering less than what’s asked of them.  And presidential election campaigns always lock candidates into yet more of the same.
So here’s a basic American reality in the second decade of the twenty-first century: the Complex has an insurance policy unavailable to other Americans, while a vast blanket of secrecy in the name of national security ensures that most Americans have no idea what’s being done with their money.  The Complex’s funding is safe and its employees areabove the law, no matter what acts they may commit.  Notoriously, the Pentagon has never even passed an audit.  By default, we guarantee the Complex that, whatever happens to other Americans, its institutions and employees will remain safe.  That’s the real definition of American security — and doesn’t it sound something like the banks and bankers who just can’t fail?
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell  
In such circumstances, cost is no object.  To pick a random example, one of the — count ‘em — 17 outfits that make up the U.S. Intelligence Community is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  Of course, like 99.9% of Americans, you’ve never heard of it, and yet it has 16,000 employees, a “black budget thought to be at least $5 billion per year,” and a new, nearly Pentagon-sized headquarters complex in Virginia that’s cost you, the taxpayer, a nifty $1.8 billion.
And what does it do?  Protect you, of course.  Ensure your safety, naturally.  Beyond that, don’t ask how it uses your money.  As writer Gregg Easterbrook explains, that’s highly classified information.  The agency does claim to provide “timely, relevant, and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security.”  Be satisfied.
And that’s no anomaly.  Your taxes regularly bail out the Complex.  You ensure its wellbeing, and no one even bothers to give you an explanation.  In 2008, economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes did the numbers and offered a “conservative” estimate of the ultimate costs of the Iraq War: $3 trillion.  Now that Washington increasingly looks like it’s giving up hope of keeping any significant number of troops stationed in Iraq, you might ask just what that phenomenal sum bought Americans.  But no answer will be forthcoming.  On Iraq, mum’s the word, nor will anyone in Washington be held accountable.
Oh, and don’t bother to ask, because no one who matters thinks you need to know.  Meanwhile, talking about golden parachutes, the president who took us into Iraq and kept us there is overseeing the creation of a library named after him and by last accounting had already raked in $15 million on the lecture circuit at $100,000 to $150,000 a pop; the vice president, who was a key player in the decision to invade and the war that followed, took home more than $2 million for his bestselling memoir; the national security adviser, who offered her keenest advice to the president on the subject of Iraq, garnered a guaranteed $2.5 million on a three-book contract and now charges up to $150,000 an appearance for speaking engagements, while settling into posts at Stanford University and the Hoover Institute; and the secretary of state who went to the U.N. to infamously defend the coming invasion with a pack of lies has pulled in a similar $150,000($5,000 a minute) for his lectures — and those are just the first few names on a far longer list.
By the way, in case you think it’s over in Iraq, think again.  Washington’s stimulus bill for that country is still in effect.  Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren writes at the Huffington Post that the State Department is now asking Congress for $5 billion over five years to create jobs for police officers — Iraqi police officers, that is.
A recent report from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimated that the ultimate cost of both the Afghan and Iraq wars could range up to $4.4 trillion (with another vast stimulus package going to the Afghan police and military for years to come).  And keep in mind that those trillions don’t include the global war on terror or spending on the rest of the national security complex.
Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project did the math for TomDispatch and found — again, a conservative estimate — that American taxpayers are shelling out at least $1.2 trillion a year for the vast military, intelligence, and homeland security combine that operates in their name.

All of this to keep you safe from the next underwear bomber.  Of course, if you live in Topeka or El Paso or Sacramento or Juneau, you have about the same chance of being endangered by a terrorist as meeting an angel.  Which means that whoever’s safety net that money is going to, it’s not yours.  Those trillions don’t secure your home from going “underwater,” or your income from falling off a cliff, or your pension from evaporating, or your job from going down the drain or overseas, or the teachers in your community (not to speak of the police) from being given pink slips, or the library in your neighborhood from closing, or that “extra” firehouse in your vicinity from being shut down.
Too Safe to Fail?
When a country spends “more on defense than the next 17 top-spending countries combined” and can’t win a war, you should know that something’s wrong, and that “too big” and “fail” do stand in some relation to each other.  Washington, however, doesn’t.
Right now, the United States is still involved in conflicts, declared or undeclared, overt or covert, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.  Only last week, President Obama upped the ante, by announcing that he wouldsend the (first) 100 Green Berets on an armed “advise and assist mission” to Uganda and three other African countries that most Americans couldn’t locate on a map.
They are to help ferret out the Lord’s Resistance Army, a grim, if small, guerrilla force that has been doing terrible things for years (but has in no way endangered the United States).  This is, in part, payback for the way Ugandan troops have helped advance the American war on terror in Somalia.  Whatever else it may be, it also threatens to be yet another small-scale conflict without end — and of course another potential payday for the National Security Complex.
The only problem: unless you’re inside that Complex or involved in making weapons or other equipment for it, it’s not your payday, just your payout.  You, the taxpayer, bailed out AIG, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and a host of other tottering financial firms.  You saved their skins and their bonuses (and got nothing in return).  The only bright spot: those were one-time, two-time, or three-time deals.
The Complex is forever (at least as its managers see it).  Despite modest rumblings in Washington about the Pentagon and intelligence budgets and the deficit, it’s not just considered too big to fail, but generally too big to question, and too deeply embedded to think much about.
No wonder TARPing war has become a Washington pastime.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.
NOTE:THIS IS A CROSS POST 

Pakistan, a failed state, has suddenly acquired all the cards in the Great Game

By: Ghulam Muhammad

If one has to find the last straw that broke the camel’s back, we might turn up with several straws that finally forced Pakistan’s ‘establishment’ to call it a day. World was aghast when Pakistan’s demure doll of a foreign minister came out with a challenging statement that had no parallel in the history of Pakistan, since its creation by British and US to cater to their strategic and military needs in one of the world’s most strategic regions. And lo and behold, when the chips were in place, the world could make out that Hina Khar was not spouting an empty threat. Arrogant America was still not willing to concede that its game is up in the region and it can no longer dictate to Pakistan. When US Military Chief Mike Millen blamed Pakistan’s ISI to be in cahoots with terrorists that lay siege to US embassy in Kabul and demanded that Pakistan should destroy Haqqani Talibans; Pakistan refused US demands for the first time and that too in public. There never such a humiliating moment for the arrogant Americans to be so boldly defied by their supposedly hired mercenary state.

Pakistan wasted no time in getting China and Saudi Arabia into the loop, as it could easily make out the final break with US is more or less scripted. When possibly for the first time, Pak planners took stock of their options and alternatives, they suddenly found they do have leverages that could work in favor of a more robust, more independent foreign policy. Their equations with US, China, India and Afghanistan were all working in their favor and they found a ray of hope that once out of America’s war games, they can build up a viable economy for their people, without having to be in the pay of America’s military warlords and remain shackled to a violent and warring mode of living that was forced on them.

America has been making a big and continuous song and dance about 20 billion dollars aid to Pakistan. The other day Imran Khan on BBC Hard Talk, countered that according to Pakistan analysts, Pakistan has suffered a loss of 60 billion dollars in missed opportunities during this period.

America has suffered a big defeat in Afghanistan and its 140,000 troops are now hostage to not only Taliban but even Pakistan. A few days of stoppage of supplies through Pakistan to Afghanistan, had given a taste of what US can expect if it tries to bully Pakistan. The Pakistan establishment does not have to make any move. Anti-Americanism is so deep-rooted in Pakistan, that it is the people that would make life difficult for Americans, if they behave as if they are still dealing with a paid servant of a country of 150 million people.

America’s pitch for democracy appears hollow when it routinely maneuvers its stooges in the ruling position and tries to run the victimized country as a department of its State Department. It has put Karzai in the hot seat and had invested a lot to give Afghanistan a semblance of a ‘modern’ state. It however has not been successful in destroying the spirit of freedom and independence from Afghanistan’s real power that will inevitably repeat the same civil war scenario that Afghanistan witnessed earlier on American pull-out. It is wishful of US planner to think otherwise. The historical forces work in Afghanistan like a force of gravity. Sooner or later, water will find its level. America should have tried old British style diplomacy rather than brute forces to come to terms with people of Afghan. Threats, ultimatums, invasion, bombings and droning, will hardly turn the tide in favor of America or NATO. Already analysts in the US are increasing in numbers openly admitting that America’s war on Iraq and Afghanistan has been unnecessary and hugely cost-ineffective. Its time US realizes, discretion is better part of valor.

India’s haste in receiving Karzai and signing in strategic agreements with a stooge regime that can hardly last for any length of time, is one of the compulsion of India’s action/reaction foreign policy. There are signs that India has developed some spine and had been able to chart an independent line of action, resisting US pressures at several levels. However, India should have remained neutral in Afghanistan, whatever pressure US would have brought in. It is laudable that US was not able to force or convince India to send troops into Afghanistan and some US analysts are holding India on that count. In fact, gone were the colonial days, when a million Indians fought in First World War to save the King/Queen. India, a free country, has no need to fight other’s wars on any pretext. Even now, India should have waited for another decade to see the final denouncement of the US/Afghanistan imbroglio, before making itself available to take part in any role offered by a settled government in Afghanistan within the ambit of SAARC neighborhood references. India should have avoided the kind of involvement that Indian forces in Sri Lanka suffered and that is a natural corollary of India’s current engagement with Karzai regime.

As the prime country in the subcontinent, India should boldly come out with a peace plan for the entire region, without any tutelage from the US that has designs in the interest of its own people and country. India should take lead in bringing all SAARC countries together to fashion a new future of economic development through regional integration. It should keep US out of any such plans, as US hardly bothers to even take recognizance of other countries’ special interest in war and peace. It is difficult for India to reform the American hotheads; but it is quite possible and essential for India to start presenting its own interest and interest of its people, before granting any quarters to US and its allies, especially when they bring in spurious and over exaggerated self-serving subject of global security.

NOTE:The writer is based in Mumbai. This is a cross post from Media Monitors. Original publishing link: http://world.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/90398

 

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