Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Can Anyone Pacify the World's Number One Narco-State? The Opium Wars in Afghanistan

Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Afghanistan as a Drug War

A front-page New York Times article by Rod Nordland on the aftermath of a recent U.S. Marine offensive in Helmand Province, opium poppy-growing capital of the planet, began this way: “The effort to win over Afghans on former Taliban turf in Marja has put American and NATO commanders in the unusual position of arguing against opium eradication, pitting them against some Afghan officials who are pushing to destroy the harvest.” Given the nature of Afghanistan -- the planet’s foremost narco-state -- such conundrums are only likely to multiply as war commander General Stanley McChrystal implements his strategy for pushing back the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and securing the embattled southern city of Kandahar and its environs.

Since Afghanistan now grows the opium poppies that provide more than 90% of the world’s opium, the raw material for the production of heroin, it’s not surprising that drug-trade news and war news intersect from time to time. More surprising is how seldom poppy growing and the drug trade are portrayed as anything but ancillary to our Afghan War. Fortunately, TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy has been focused on the drug trade -- and the American role in fostering it -- in Southeast, Central, and South Asia for a long time. In the Vietnam era, the CIA actually tried to suppress his classic book (since updated with a chapter on Afghanistan), The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. He’s been following the story ever since, and now for TomDispatch he offers what may be the first full-scale report that puts the drug trade in its proper place, right at the center of America’s 30-year war in Afghanistan. It’s a grim yet remarkable story, full of surprises, that makes new sense of the bind in which the U.S. military now finds itself in that country. (And check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which McCoy discusses just who is complicit in the Afghan opium trade by clicking here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom

Can Anyone Pacify the World's Number One Narco-State?
The Opium Wars in Afghanistan
By Alfred W. McCoy

In ways that have escaped most observers, the Obama administration is now trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and death in Afghanistan from which there is neither an easy end nor an obvious exit.

After a year of cautious debate and costly deployments, President Obama finally launched his new Afghan war strategy at 2:40 am on February 13, 2010, in a remote market town called Marja in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. As a wave of helicopters descended on Marja's outskirts spitting up clouds of dust, hundreds of U.S. Marines dashed through fields sprouting opium poppies toward the town's mud-walled compounds.

After a week of fighting, U.S. war commander General Stanley A. McChrystal choppered into town with Afghanistan's vice-president and Helmand's provincial governor. Their mission: a media roll-out for the general's new-look counterinsurgency strategy based on bringing government to remote villages just like Marja.

At a carefully staged meet-and-greet with some 200 villagers, however, the vice-president and provincial governor faced some unexpected, unscripted anger. "If they come with tractors," one Afghani widow announced to a chorus of supportive shouts from her fellow farmers, "they will have to roll over me and kill me before they can kill my poppy."

For these poppy growers and thousands more like them, the return of government control, however contested, brought with it a perilous threat: opium eradication.

Throughout all the shooting and shouting, American commanders seemed strangely unaware that Marja might qualify as the world's heroin capital -- with hundreds of laboratories, reputedly hidden inside the area's mud-brick houses, regularly processing the local poppy crop into high-grade heroin. After all, the surrounding fields of Helmand Province produce a remarkable 40% of the world's illicit opium supply, and much of this harvest has been traded in Marja. Rushing through those opium fields to attack the Taliban on day one of this offensive, the Marines missed their real enemy, the ultimate force behind the Taliban insurgency, as they pursued just the latest crop of peasant guerrillas whose guns and wages are funded by those poppy plants. "You can't win this war," said one U.S. Embassy official just back from inspecting these opium districts, "without taking on drug production in Helmand Province."

Indeed, as Air Force One headed for Kabul Sunday, National Security Adviser James L. Jones assured reporters that President Obama would try to persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to prioritize "battling corruption, taking the fight to the narco-traffickers." The drug trade, he added, "provides a lot of the economic engine for the insurgents."

Just as these Marja farmers spoiled General McChrystal's media event, so their crop has subverted every regime that has tried to rule Afghanistan for the past 30 years. During the CIA's covert war in the 1980s, opium financed the mujahedeen or "freedom fighters" (as President Ronald Reagan called them) who finally forced the Soviets to abandon the country and then defeated its Marxist client state.

In the late 1990s, the Taliban, which had taken power in most of the country, lost any chance for international legitimacy by protecting and profiting from opium -- and then, ironically, fell from power only months after reversing course and banning the crop. Since the US military intervened in 2001, a rising tide of opium has corrupted the government in Kabul while empowering a resurgent Taliban whose guerrillas have taken control of ever larger parts of the Afghan countryside.

These three eras of almost constant warfare fueled a relentless rise in Afghanistan's opium harvest -- from just 250 tons in 1979 to 8,200 tons in 2007. For the past five years, the Afghan opium harvest has accounted for as much as 50% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and provided the prime ingredient for over 90% of the world's heroin supply.

The ecological devastation and societal dislocation from these three war-torn decades has woven opium so deeply into the Afghan grain that it defies solution by Washington's best and brightest (as well as its most inept and least competent). Caroming between ignoring the opium crop and demanding its total eradication, the Bush administration dithered for seven years while heroin boomed, and in doing so helped create a drug economy that corrupted and crippled the government of its ally, President Karzai. In recent years, opium farming has supported 500,000 Afghan families, nearly 20% of the country's estimated population, and funds a Taliban insurgency that has, since 2006, spread across the countryside.

To understand the Afghan War, one basic point must be grasped: in poor nations with weak state services, agriculture is the foundation for all politics, binding villagers to the government or warlords or rebels. The ultimate aim of counterinsurgency strategy is always to establish the state's authority. When the economy is illicit and by definition beyond government control, this task becomes monumental. If the insurgents capture that illicit economy, as the Taliban have done, then the task becomes little short of insurmountable.

Opium is an illegal drug, but Afghanistan's poppy crop is still grounded in networks of social trust that tie people together at each step in the chain of production. Crop loans are necessary for planting, labor exchange for harvesting, stability for marketing, and security for shipment. So dominant and problematic is the opium economy in Afghanistan today that a question Washington has avoided for the past nine years must be asked: Can anyone pacify a full-blown narco-state?

The answer to this critical question lies in the history of the three Afghan wars in which Washington has been involved over the past 30 years -- the CIA covert warfare of the 1980s, the civil war of the 1990s (fueled at its start by $900 million in CIA funding), and since 2001, the U.S. invasion, occupation, and counterinsurgency campaigns. In each of these conflicts, Washington has tolerated drug trafficking by its Afghan allies as the price of military success -- a policy of benign neglect that has helped make Afghanistan today the world's number one narco-state.

CIA Covert Warfare, Spreading Poppy Fields, and Drug Labs: the 1980s

Opium first emerged as a key force in Afghan politics during the CIA covert war against the Soviets, the last in a series of secret operations that it conducted along the mountain rim-lands of Asia which stretch for 5,000 miles from Turkey to Thailand. In the late 1940s, as the Cold War was revving up, the United States first mounted covert probes of communism's Asian underbelly. For 40 years thereafter, the CIA fought a succession of secret wars along this mountain rim -- in Burma during the 1950s, Laos in the 1960s, and Afghanistan in the 1980s. In one of history's ironic accidents, the southern reach of communist China and the Soviet Union had coincided with Asia's opium zone along this same mountain rim, drawing the CIA into ambiguous alliances with the region's highland warlords.

Washington's first Afghan war began in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded the country to save a Marxist client regime in Kabul, the Afghan capital. Seeing an opportunity to wound its Cold War enemy, the Reagan administration worked closely with Pakistan's military dictatorship in a ten-year CIA campaign to expel the Soviets.

This was, however, a covert operation unlike any other in the Cold War years. First, the collision of CIA secret operations and Soviet conventional warfare led to the devastation of Afghanistan's fragile highland ecology, damaging its traditional agriculture beyond immediate recovery, and fostering a growing dependence on the international drug trade. Of equal import, instead of conducting this covert warfare on its own as it had in Laos in the Vietnam War years, the CIA outsourced much of the operation to Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), which soon became a powerful and ever more problematic ally.

When the ISI proposed its Afghan client, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as overall leader of the anti-Soviet resistance, Washington -- with few alternatives -- agreed. Over the next 10 years, the CIA supplied some $2 billion to Afghanistan's mujahedeen through the ISI, half to Hekmatyar, a violent fundamentalist infamous for throwing acid at unveiled women at Kabul University and, later, murdering rival resistance leaders. As the CIA operation was winding down in May 1990, the Washington Post published a front-page article charging that its key ally, Hekmatyar, was operating a chain of heroin laboratories inside Pakistan under the protection of the ISI.

Although this area had zero heroin production in the mid-1970s, the CIA's covert war served as the catalyst that transformed the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands into the world's largest heroin producing region. As mujahedeen guerrillas captured prime agricultural areas inside Afghanistan in the early 1980s, they began collecting a revolutionary poppy tax from their peasant supporters.

Once the Afghan guerrillas brought the opium across the border, they sold it to hundreds of Pakistani heroin labs operating under the ISI's protection. Between 1981 and 1990, Afghanistan's opium production grew ten-fold -- from 250 tons to 2,000 tons. After just two years of covert CIA support for the Afghan guerrillas, the U.S. Attorney General announced in 1981 that Pakistan was already the source of 60% of the American heroin supply. Across Europe and Russia, Afghan-Pakistani heroin soon captured an even larger share of local markets, while inside Pakistan itself the number of addicts soared from zero in 1979 to 1.2 million just five years later.

After investing $3 billion in Afghanistan's destruction, Washington just walked away in 1992, leaving behind a thoroughly ravaged country with over one million dead, five million refugees, 10-20 million landmines still in place, an infrastructure in ruins, an economy in tatters, and well-armed tribal warlords prepared to fight among themselves for control of the capital. Even when Washington finally cut its covert CIA funding at the end of 1991, however, Pakistan's ISI continued to back favored local warlords in pursuit of its long-term goal of installing a Pashtun client regime in Kabul.

Druglords, Dragon's Teeth, and Civil Wars: the 1990s

Throughout the 1990s, ruthless local warlords mixed guns and opium in a lethal brew as part of a brutal struggle for power. It was almost as if the soil had been sown with those dragons' teeth of ancient myth that can suddenly sprout into an army of full-grown warriors, who leap from the earth with swords drawn for war.

When northern resistance forces finally captured Kabul from the communist regime, which had outlasted the Soviet withdrawal by three years, Pakistan still backed its client Hekmatyar. He, in turn, unleashed his artillery on the besieged capital. The result: the deaths of an estimated 50,000 more Afghans. Even a slaughter of such monumental proportions, however, could not win power for this unpopular fundamentalist. So the ISI armed a new force, the Taliban and in September 1996, it succeeded in capturing Kabul, only to fight the Northern Alliance for the next five years in the valleys to the north of the capital.

During this seemingly unending civil war, rival factions leaned heavily on opium to finance the fighting, more than doubling the harvest to 4,600 tons by 1999. Throughout these two decades of warfare and a twenty-fold jump in drug production, Afghanistan itself was slowly transformed from a diverse agricultural ecosystem -- with herding, orchards, and over 60 food crops -- into the world's first economy dependent on the production of a single illicit drug. In the process, a fragile human ecology was brought to ruin in an unprecedented way.

Located at the northern edge of the annual monsoon rains, where clouds arrive from the Arabian Sea already squeezed dry, Afghanistan is an arid land. Its staple food crops have historically been sustained by irrigation systems that rely on snowmelt from the region's high mountains. To supplement staples such as wheat, Afghan tribesmen herded vast flocks of sheep and goats hundreds of miles every year to summer pasture in the central uplands. Most important of all, farmers planted perennial tree crops -- walnut, pistachio, and mulberry -- which thrived because they sink their roots deep into the soil and are remarkably resistant to the region's periodic droughts, offering relief from the threat of famine in the dry years.

During these two decades of war, however, modern firepower devastated the herds, damaged snowmelt irrigation systems, and destroyed many of the orchards. While the Soviets simply blasted the landscape with firepower, the Taliban, with an unerring instinct for their society's economic jugular, violated the unwritten rules of traditional Afghan warfare by cutting down the orchards on the vast Shamali plain north of Kabul.

All these strands of destruction knit themselves into a veritable Gordian knot of human suffering to which opium became the sole solution. Like Alexander's legendary sword, it offered a straightforward way to cut through a complex conundrum. Without any aid to restock their herds, reseed their fields, or replant their orchards, Afghan farmers -- including some 3 million returning refugees -- found sustenance in opium, which had historically been but a small part of their agriculture.

Since poppy cultivation requires nine times more labor per hectare than wheat, opium offered immediate seasonal employment to more than a million Afghans -- perhaps half of those actually employed at the time. In this ruined land and ravaged economy, opium merchants alone could accumulate capital rapidly and so give poppy farmers crop loans equivalent to more than half their annual incomes, credit critical to the survival of many poor villagers.

In marked contrast to the marginal yields the country's harsh climate offers most food crops, Afghanistan proved ideal for opium. On average, each hectare of Afghan poppy land produces three to five times more than its chief competitor, Burma. Most important of all, in such an arid ecosystem, subject to periodic drought, opium uses less than half the water needed for staples such as wheat.

After taking power in 1996, the Taliban regime encouraged a nationwide expansion of opium cultivation, doubling production to 4,600 tons, then equivalent to 75% of the world's heroin supply. Signaling its support for drug production, the Taliban regime began collecting a 20% tax from the yearly opium harvest, earning an estimated $100 million in revenues.

In retrospect, the regime's most important innovation was undoubtedly the introduction of large-scale heroin refining in the environs of the city of Jalalabad. There, hundreds of crude labs set to work, paying only a modest production tax of $70 on every kilo of heroin powder. According to U.N. researchers, the Taliban also presided over bustling regional opium markets in Helmand and Nangarhar provinces, protecting some 240 top traders there.

During the 1990s, Afghanistan's soaring opium harvest fueled an international smuggling trade that tied Central Asia, Russia, and Europe into a vast illicit market of arms, drugs, and money-laundering. It also helped fuel an eruption of ethnic insurgency across a 3,000-mile swath of land from Uzbekistan in Central Asia to Bosnia in the Balkans.

In July 2000, however, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar suddenly ordered a ban on all opium cultivation in a desperate bid for international recognition. Remarkably enough, almost overnight the Taliban regime used the ruthless repression for which it was infamous to slash the opium harvest by 94% to only 185 metric tons.

By then, however, Afghanistan had become dependent on poppy production for most of its taxes, export income, and employment. In effect, the Taliban's ban was an act of economic suicide that brought an already weakened society to the brink of collapse. This was the unwitting weapon the U.S. wielded when it began its military campaign against the Taliban in October 2001. Without opium, the regime was already a hollow shell and essentially imploded at the bursting of the first American bombs.

The Return of the CIA, Opium, and Counterinsurgency: 2001-

To defeat the Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11, the CIA successfully mobilized former warlords long active in the heroin trade to seize towns and cities across eastern Afghanistan. In other words, the Agency and its local allies created ideal conditions for reversing the Taliban's opium ban and reviving the drug traffic. Only weeks after the collapse of the Taliban, officials were reporting an outburst of poppy planting in the heroin-heartlands of Helmand and Nangarhar. At a Tokyo international donors' conference in January 2002, Hamid Karzai, the new Prime Minister put in place by the Bush administration, issued a pro forma ban on opium growing -- without any means of enforcing it against the power of these resurgent local warlords.

After investing some three billion dollars in Afghanistan's destruction during the Cold War, Washington and its allies now proved parsimonious in the reconstruction funds they offered. At that 2002 Tokyo conference, international donors promised just four billion dollars of an estimated $10 billion needed to rebuild the economy over the next five years. In addition, the total U.S. spending of $22 billion for Afghanistan from 2003 to 2007 turned out to be skewed sharply toward military operations, leaving, for instance, just $237 million for agriculture. (And as in Iraq, significant sums from what reconstruction funds were available simply went into the pockets of Western experts, private contractors, and their local counterparts.)

Under these circumstances, no one should have been surprised when, during the first year of the U.S. occupation, Afghanistan's opium harvest surged to 3,400 tons. Over the next five years, international donors would contribute $8 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, while opium would infuse nearly twice that amount, $14 billion, directly into the rural economy without any deductions by either those Western experts or Kabul's bloated bureaucracy.

While opium production continued its relentless rise, the Bush administration downplayed the problem, outsourcing narcotics control to Great Britain and police training to Germany. As the lead agency in Allied operations, Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department regarded opium as a distraction from its main mission of defeating the Taliban (and, of course, invading Iraq). Waving away the problem in late 2004, President Bush said he did not want to "waste another American life on a narco-state.'' Meanwhile, in their counterinsurgency operations, U.S. forces worked closely with local warlords who proved to be leading druglords.

After five years of the U.S. occupation, Afghanistan's drug production had swelled to unprecedented proportions. In August 2007, the U.N. reported that the country's record opium crop covered almost 500,000 acres, an area larger than all the coca fields in Latin America. From a modest 185 tons at the start of American intervention in 2001, Afghanistan now produced 8,200 tons of opium, a remarkable 53% of the country's GDP and 93% of global heroin supply.

In this way, Afghanistan became the world's first true "narco-state." If a cocaine traffic that provided just 3% of Colombia's GDP could bring in its wake endless violence and powerful cartels capable of corrupting that country's government, then we can only imagine the consequences of Afghanistan's dependence on opium for more than 50% of its entire economy.

At a drug conference in Kabul this month, the head of Russia's Federal Narcotics Service estimated the value of Afghanistan's current opium crop at $65 billion. Only $500 million of that vast sum goes to Afghanistan's farmers, $300 million to the Taliban guerrillas, and the $64 billion balance "to the drug mafia," leaving ample funds to corrupt the Karzai government in a nation whose total GDP is only $10 billion.

Indeed, opium's influence is so pervasive that many Afghan officials, from village leaders to Kabul's police chief, the defense minister, and the president's brother, have been tainted by the traffic. So cancerous and crippling is this corruption that, according to recent U.N. estimates, Afghans are forced to spend a stunning $2.5 billion in bribes. Not surprisingly, the government's repeated attempts at opium eradication have been thoroughly compromised by what the U.N. has called "corrupt deals between field owners, village elders, and eradication teams."

Not only have drug taxes funded an expanding guerrilla force, but the Taliban's role in protecting opium farmers and the heroin merchants who rely on their crop gives them real control over the core of the country's economy. In January 2009, the U.N. and anonymous U.S. "intelligence officials" estimated that drug traffic provided Taliban insurgents with $400 million a year. "Clearly," commented Defense Secretary Robert Gates, "we have to go after the drug labs and the druglords that provide support to the Taliban and other insurgents."

In mid-2009, the U.S. embassy launched a multi-agency effort, called the Afghan Threat Finance Cell, to cut Taliban drug monies through financial controls. But one American official soon compared this effort to "punching jello." By August 2009, a frustrated Obama administration had ordered the U.S. military to "kill or capture" 50 Taliban-connected druglords who were placed on a classified "kill list."

Since the record crop of 2007, opium production has, in fact, declined somewhat -- to 6,900 tons last year (still over 90% of the world's opium supply). While U.N. analysts attribute this 20% reduction largely to eradication efforts, a more likely cause has been the global glut of heroin that came with the Afghan opium boom, and which had depressed the price of poppies by 34%. In fact, even this reduced Afghan opium crop is still far above total world demand, which the U.N. estimates at 5,000 tons per annum.

Preliminary reports on the 2010 Afghan opium harvest, which starts next month, indicate that the drug problem is not going away. Some U.S. officials who have surveyed Helmand's opium heartland see signs of an expanded crop. Even the U.N. drug experts who have predicted a continuing decline in production are not optimistic about long-term trends. Opium prices might decline for a few years, but the price of wheat and other staple crops is dropping even faster, leaving poppies as by far the most profitable crop for poor Afghan farmers.

Ending the Cycle of Drugs and Death

With its forces now planted in the dragon's teeth soil of Afghanistan, Washington is locked into what looks to be an unending cycle of drugs and death. Every spring in those rugged mountains, the snows melt, the opium seeds sprout, and a fresh crop of Taliban fighters takes to the field, many to die by lethal American fire. And the next year, the snows melt again, fresh poppy shoots break through the soil, and a new crop of teen-aged Taliban fighters pick up arms against America, spilling more blood. This cycle has been repeated for the past ten years and, unless something changes, can continue indefinitely.

Is there any alternative? Even were the cost of rebuilding Afghanistan's rural economy -- with its orchards, flocks, and food crops -- as high as $30 billion or, for that matter, $90 billion dollars, the money is at hand. By conservative estimates, the cost of President Obama's ongoing surge of 30,000 troops alone is $30 billion a year. So just bringing those 30,000 troops home would create ample funds to begin the rebuilding of rural life in Afghanistan, making it possible for young farmers to begin feeding their families without joining the Taliban's army.

Short of another precipitous withdrawal akin to 1991, Washington has no realistic alternative to the costly, long-term reconstruction of Afghanistan's agriculture. Beneath the gaze of an allied force that now numbers about 120,000 soldiers, opium has fueled the Taliban's growth into an omnipresent shadow government and an effective guerrilla army. The idea that our expanded military presence might soon succeed in driving back that force and handing over pacification to the illiterate, drug-addicted Afghan police and army remains, for the time being, a fantasy. Quick fixes like paying poppy farmers not to plant, something British and Americans have both tried, can backfire and end up actually promoting yet more opium cultivation. Rapid drug eradication without alternative employment, something the private contractor DynCorp tried so disastrously under a $150 million contract in 2005, would simply plunge Afghanistan into more misery, stoking mass anger and destabilizing the Kabul government further.

So the choice is clear enough: we can continue to fertilize this deadly soil with yet more blood in a brutal war with an uncertain outcome -- for both the United States and the people of Afghanistan. Or we can begin to withdraw American forces while helping renew this ancient, arid land by replanting its orchards, replenishing its flocks, and rebuilding the irrigation systems ruined in decades of war.

At this point, our only realistic choice is this sort of serious rural development -- that is, reconstructing the Afghan countryside through countless small-scale projects until food crops become a viable alternative to opium. To put it simply, so simply that even Washington might understand, you can only pacify a narco-state when it is no longer a narco-state.

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, which probes the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over half a century. His latest book, Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, explores the influence of overseas counterinsurgency operations on the spread of internal security measures at home. To check out the latest TomCast audio interview in which McCoy discusses just who is complicit in the Afghan opium trade, click here or, if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Alfred W. McCoy

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Welcome to Glennbeckistan Where the Tea Party Rules and Tea-hadis Roam

In the as-yet-unwritten history of the Tea Party movement, the events of the past week brought to a close its opening chapter, the “Battle of Obamacare.” On Sunday, March 21st, the Tea Partiers lost the fight against the president’s sweeping health-care overhaul -- one of the sparks to light the fuse of this burgeoning movement to “reclaim” America -- when the House of Representatives passed the bill by a narrow majority. Several days later, President Obama triumphantly signed it into law.

Not that the Tea Partiers went down without a fight. Last weekend, they swarmed Capitol Hill in a last-gasp revolt, flags flying, chants ringing, placards held aloft, throwing everything in their arsenal at triumphant Democratic lawmakers. That included racist and homophobic slurs, leveled at Democrats like civil-rights icon Rep. James Lewis (D-GA), and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a gay congressman and one of the most powerful figures on the Hill. An impromptu march of key Democrats to the Capitol to pass their bill took on the feel of a hate-riddled gauntlet, as the darker undercurrents of the Tea Party (egged on by some knucklehead Republican congressmen) rose to the surface. Someone even spit on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO). So it was that when the going got tough, the Tea Party got ugly.

They may have lost the Battle of Obamacare, but the weekend’s depravity foreshadowed the possible future of this loosely knit network of malcontents and rebels. Indeed, health care is only likely to embolden them; and behind them stands a nation in which, according to a recent Harris Poll, 24% of Republicans consider the president “the Antichrist,” 38% believe that he is “doing many of the things that Hitler did,” and 45% agree with the Birthers that he was “not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president.” Already in certain parts of the country, as TomDispatch regular Chip Ward explains in his latest piece, the Tea Party and its spiritual leader, Glenn Beck, essentially rule -- and like those protests in Washington, the story on the ground ain’t pretty. (Don’t forget to check out Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview with Ward discussing what can be done to fight the excesses of Tea Party-ism and its tea-hadis by clicking here, or if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.) Andy

Welcome to Glennbeckistan
Where the Tea Party Rules and Tea-hadis Roam
By Chip Ward

What if the Tea Party ruled? Imagine a land, let’s call it Glennbeckistan, where white, patriarchal, religiously zealous, Tea Party-type patriots hold a super-majority in both houses of the legislature, sit in the governor’s mansion, and control most local governments. It’s a place so out of sync with the rest of the nation that states’ rights and even secession are always on the agenda. It’s a place where gun-ownership trumps all other rights, climate change is considered an insidious socialist conspiracy, and a miscarriage can be investigated as a potential crime. Welcome to Utah.

Our rightwing red-state legislature just finished its annual 2010 session. So-called message bills challenged the federal government’s right to govern federal lands, enforce gun controls, legalize abortion, and mandate health reform. In addition, Utah’s lawmakers cut the education budget, raised tuitions, and slashed services to the disabled. In fairness, state legislators across the nation, faced with disastrous drops in revenue, have likewise slashed social services and balanced budgets on the backs of the poor. In Utah, however, they also shelved pensions for public employees. That they could take such draconian action is instructive -- organized labor is weak here, unions being another manifestation of creeping socialism. Utah’s history of labor organizing, or grass roots and civil rights organizing for that matter, is anemic compared to most of America. This is the place, after all, where IWW radical Joe Hill was arrested and executed.

Although Utah may be unique in some ways, Republican leaders here want the rest of the nation to be more like us. In fact, a survey of the 2010 Utah legislative session could be considered a trailer for a movie the national Republican base would like all Americans to star in. This movie would be for the Tea Party movement what Avatar is to tree huggers.

Hot-Tubbing With a Naked Fifteen-Year-Old

Before we get to this movie’s best scenes, let’s identify some of the actors: The posse that goes after the bad guys -- the black-hatted Obamacrats -- are easy to identify. They wear white hats (and skins). They also wear their superior principles like shiny badges, and they claim to be the underdogs in this script, even while acting like schoolyard bullies. And the bad guys? In our state, they’re nowhere in sight unless you’re looking at Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.

Demonizing opponents is a creative activity for the posse and paranoia comes in endless variations, so the bad guys could be tax-and-spend liberals, illegal immigrants, gays (or at least those following “the gay agenda”), non-Republican blacks, federalists, socialists, environmentalists, pornographers, feminists, or those nature worshippers who believe in evolution. The cast of evil-doers changes each year. So this year, for example, immigrants and gays got a break. Proposed bills to scuttle Salt Lake City’s new nondiscrimination ordinances were shelved until a future session of the state legislature -- the Utah-based Mormon church is already catching enough flack for its support of Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage in California. Further antagonizing the national gay community just now was deemed unwise. Immigrants were beaten up enough in last year’s session.

The good guys are easy to recognize because they’re the ones constantly telling the audience how good they are. Sadly, as is so often the case with holier-than-thou-heroes, there are visible stains on the white hats. In fact, the 2010 session was bookended by scandal. As the doors opened, Sheldon Killpack, the State Senate majority leader and an outspoken proponent of tougher drunk-driving laws, was busted for… drunk-driving. He promptly resigned.

On the last night of the session, Kevin Garn, the House majority leader, dramatically stood before packed chambers and declared that years earlier he had shared a hot tub with a naked fifteen-year-old and then paid her $150,000 to keep quiet. He could no longer “live a lie,” he insisted, and so was confessing and apologizing -- as it happened, right after the young woman reneged on that deal and went public. His colleagues were “shocked,” but gave him a prolonged standing ovation anyway. Apparently, they find honesty inspiring, even from pedophiles. Hey, at least he wasn’t a polygamist.

So the white hats are a bit soiled, but by now that’s an old story -- hypocrisy seems to be the evil twin of self-righteousness. Recent examples are too numerous to list.

Miscarriage Cops

Perhaps the most outrageous legislative move the posse made this year was to turn miscarriage into a crime. State Representative Carl Wimmer’s bill was admittedly directed at a very specific case of miscarriage. In 2009, a woman who had been abused by her boyfriend and feared his reaction if he discovered she was pregnant paid some dirt bag $150 to beat her up so she’d abort.

The crime was as rare as it was horrific and didn’t need its own bill. A rational person might reason that if the woman had access to affordable healthcare, including abortion, or if she had alternatives to living with an abusive partner, she might never have taken such drastic measures. Not Representative Wimmer, who was frank about his desire to challenge and “whittle away” at Roe v. Wade. Every year some Utah legislator takes a shot at limiting abortion or making women who get abortions feel guilty and scared.

The bill was, in the end, amended to ensure that only a woman who repeated the specific act that generated Wimmer’s concern could be prosecuted. Lawmakers, however, seemed oblivious to the fact that, although only a self-arranged, beating-induced miscarriage could land a woman in jail, all women who miscarry are potentially subject to investigation. If you miscarry in Utah, you’d better be sure you have an alibi ready. So much for keeping the damn guvmint off our backs.

Health Reform and Climate Change Banned

It looks like that woman will wait a long time for access to health care. Legislators passed a bill aimed at preventing Obamacare, as it is popularly known here, from coming to Utah without their explicit permission, no matter what the U.S. Congress does. They made it clear that if Utah’s citizens are required to buy insurance, the state will challenge the federal government’s right to mandate that in court. Opposition to health care reform is a centerpiece in a broader “states’ rights” campaign that even includes the weather.

So anti-climate change resolutions passed despite pleas from Brigham Young University and University of Utah professors to heed an overwhelming scientific consensus on the subject. Representative Mike Noel, a rancher, was successful in convincing his colleagues that global warming is just a hoax. They called on the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress to avoid carbon dioxide regulation until “a full and independent investigation of climate change science” is conducted. Give them some credit: language was stripped from the resolution accusing global warming advocates of “conspiracy” because, hey, they don’t want to come across as nuts.

Another resolution called on Governor Gary Herbert to pull Utah out of the Western Climate Initiative, organized by a group of governors concerned about how climate change might affect fragile Western ecosystems. Then the posse passed another bill to protect utilities and energy producers from potential lawsuits claiming damage from greenhouse gasses. And they warned those pesky professors to shut up, too.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Wolves… or Stinkin’ Rangers Either

Legislators also tried to ban wolves. There is little evidence wolves have migrated south from Idaho or Wyoming into Utah -- but they might. And if they do: bang! The lawmakers were actually using the assault on the (prospective) wolves to aim at another Big Bad Wolf, the federal government, which reintroduced the dang critters up north, protects them, and obviously cares more for the animals, fish, and reptiles on the endangered species list than it does for real human beings with guns and jeeps that will be more or less useless if pointy-headed Beltway types are allowed to boss the good people of Utah around. Advised by their lawyers that their wolf bill was clearly unconstitutional, they turned it into a strongly worded letter to the Interior Department instead.

Another bill challenged the power of federal law enforcement on roads running through federal lands, like our newest national monument, Grand Staircase Escalante. Local commissioners are still ticked off at President Bill Clinton for declaring a monument in southern Utah and so locking up large coal deposits owned by a foreign corporation that wanted to dig it up and send it to Asia.

And if telling forest rangers to take a hike wasn’t enough, yet another bill aimed to take over federal lands altogether, wielding the right of eminent domain. They know many consider that one laughable, but they’ve vowed to fight for it all the way to the Supreme Court, if they have to. Some $3 million was designated for lawyers in a year that saw education budgets slashed. You can look forward to oil derricks in national parks if they win.

Each region of Tea Party Nation has its own peculiar reasons for feeling oppressed. Westerners complain that they are bullied by big, distant bureaucracies like the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service that oversee most of their open lands. Law enforcement on public lands is intermittent and timid. Under Bush, the federal agencies kowtowed to local politicians. Nevertheless, rangers are right up there with the IRS on the posse’s most-wanted list. Oddly enough, Utahans did not object when, during the Cold War era, the military bombed, poisoned, and irradiated their vast land holdings in the Great Basin Desert.

Mr. Browning’s Holiday and the Ghost of Patrick Henry

It’s only right in a culture that celebrates guns for John Browning, the inventor of the automatic rifle, to get his own holiday, especially since he was born in Utah. State lawmakers originally intended to make his holiday the same as Martin Luther King’s -- so they’d feel better about taking the day off, I suppose. Knowing that would cause controversy, though, they finally moved the date. In a more substantive show of support for gun owners, they just officially declared that guns made in Utah were not subject to federal regulation. So there. That one is also headed for the courts. (After all the lawyers are paid, we’ll be lucky if we have funds left over to pay teachers, but at least we have our priorities straight.)

Utah’s states-rights advocates even have their own caucus now. They call it the Patrick Henry Caucus, and they have a website with videos extolling their own patriotism and love of liberty (unless you miscarry, are gay, or enjoy the idea of a future benign climate). Also featured is a Glenn Beck interview of Representative Wimmer, a self-described “9/12er,” who proudly declares, “no doubt we’re going to add to that terrorist watch list.” It isn’t clear if he is talking about the potential actions of the caucus’s most militant supporters or if he wants to label his opponents as terrorists. Another featured video shows Beck interviewing a Texas state legislator who describes a project to pass “sovereignty” legislation and, like Utah, declare federal gun control null and void in the state.

The Ghost of Lester Maddox

The last time we witnessed such a hyperbolic states’ rights rebellion, it was led by strident segregationists like George Wallace and Lester Maddox. As Alabama’s governor, Wallace blocked the integration of the University of Alabama, and Maddox, who was later elected governor of Georgia, closed his restaurant rather than serve black customers. Back then, states’ rights was clearly a cover for shameful racism. Maddox was not a constitutional scholar -- he ran a fried-chicken joint. Advocating states’ rights was the means to resist federal mandates to integrate restaurants, swimming pools, and schools. Is today’s talk of states’ rights and secession a response to the integration of the White House?

Proponents howl with indignation when that charge is made, but the Tea Party crowd that hurled racial epithets at a civil rights icon and spit on a Black congressman the day before the big vote on healthcare reform made mincemeat of such claims of innocence. Clearly, some of them see health-care reform as a scheme to make white taxpayers pay for services to blacks. Their resentment taps into old hatreds and fears from the days of Maddox and Wallace. Let’s hope that it doesn’t also tap into the old violence and terror that went with them.

Usually, however, the prejudice is subtler. For several years, Utah’s lily-white legislature defiantly insisted on opening its session on Martin Luther King Day, which they refused to call by its name (substituting “Civil Rights Day” instead). There are no powerful black leaders here in our state, where African Americans were excluded from the dominant Mormon church until 1978, and our miniscule population of African Americans is not a significant voting block, so politicians who disdained Dr. King felt unconstrained. And unguarded: last year, Representative Chris Buttars stood on the floor and denounced a bill he opposed as a “black baby -- a dark and ugly thing.”

The states' rights movement here is also rife with “Birthers” who understand that saying Barack Obama can’t be president because he wasn’t born here is a more socially acceptable stance than saying a black man cannot be president because he is… well, black. If you take Birthers at face value -- that their complaint is constitutional in nature and not merely bigoted -- then it is fair to ask: Were they also outraged in 2000 when George Bush lost the popular vote, tied in the Electoral College, and won by one vote among Supreme Court judges appointed by his daddy? No, at that time they were counseling Democrats to be good losers and quit whining. The question is: If not racism, why the double standard?

Fightin’ Words!

There was little talk of secession in this session of the legislature, but the rural newspapers and talk-radio shows that fan Tea Party sentiments in the state regularly entertain the notion that we should go our own way. Such talk is delusional. Utah is a net recipient of federal largesse. We can’t pay for our kids’ education by ourselves; we certainly couldn’t afford all those dams and pipelines that bring us life-giving water. Forget about maintaining the highways that run over a vast horizon. Most rural communities have fire stations, water tanks, community centers, and medical clinics made possible by federal grants. Utah’s economy is wedded to jobs generated by Hill Air Force Base. Why, then, so much animosity towards the hand that feeds us?

Because feeding from that hand radically contradicts our cherished image as independent, self-reliant, freedom-loving cowboys who don’t need stinkin’ handouts. We are proud to embody an American way of life that is seen mostly in the rear-view mirror, John Wayne westerns on Netflix, and in our own imaginations. The worst thing you can call a cowboy is a “welfare rancher,” especially when it’s true.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

Utah’s legislators are self-conscious about their image. For example, a bill sponsored by Chris (“Black Baby”) Buttars a few years ago to force the teaching of creationism was killed, not because his colleagues didn’t share his anti-evolution beliefs but because they feared more ridicule. After all, our Mormon majority has already suffered the embarrassment of Jon Krakauer’s best selling Under the Banner of Heaven and an ongoing, less than flattering television series, Big Love, about modern day polygamy.

Although it’s easy to scoff at the state’s buffoonish legislators, it would be a mistake to look at their shenanigans, outrageous as they are, and think: it can’t happen here. Maybe not all of it, but if the Republican base and its Tea Party allies can get their hooks into your state or local government, some of it will come your way, too. Utah, after all, is where the right wing shows its hand. Right-wing jihadis get their training in Glennbeckistan and then march off to places like California to battle gay marriage.

Guess where polluters will go if Utah exempts itself from environmental laws that the rest of the country decides are reasonable to protect your health? If Utah-made guns are exempt from federal regulation, guess where guns will be made? And that’s the idea -- to create “nullification sanctuaries” where congressional laws and presidential directives cannot be enforced. Asserting state rights is not simply a way of pursuing regional independence and expressing differences, it is a means of avoiding and undermining the national consensus on any number of important issues.

States-rights legislators are not shy about their long-range goals. Representative Keith Grover said of the 2010 session, “It doesn’t end at midnight.” Members of the Patrick Henry caucus have already contacted lawmakers in Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, Texas, Arizona, and Virginia to trade ideas and strategies. South Dakota and Wyoming have also declared their gun-makers exempt from federal law, and Oklahoma’s legislature will also try to block health-care reform.

Better pay attention: tea-hadi warriors from the Republic of Glennbeckistan could be coming soon to a legislative theater near you.

Chip Ward puts up with Utah’s distorted political culture because his state is drop-dead gorgeous. A TomDispatch regular and former organizer and librarian, he is the author of Canaries on the Rim and Hope’s Horizon. To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview with Ward discussing what can be done to fight the excesses of Tea Party-ism and its tea-hadis, click here, or if you prefer to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Chip Ward

The McCain-Lieberman Police State Act - by Stephen Lendman

If enacted, it will advance what this writer addressed in a December 2007 article titled, "Police State America - A Look Back and Ahead," covering numerous Bush administration laws, Executive Orders (EOs), National and Homeland Security Presidential Directives, edicts, and various illegal acts targeting designated domestic and foreign adversaries, dissent, civil liberties, human rights, and other democratic freedoms.

Straightaway post-9/11, George Bush signed a secret finding empowering the CIA to "Capture, Kill or Interrogate Al-Qaeda Leaders." He also authorized establishing a covert global gulag to detain and interrogate them without guidelines on proper treatment.

Other presidential directives ordered abductions, torture and indefinite detentions. In November 2001, Military Order Number 1 empowered the Executive to capture, kidnap or otherwise arrest non-citizens (and later citizens) anywhere in the world for any reason and hold them indefinitely without charge, evidence, due process or judicial fairness protections of law.

The 2006 Military Commissions Act authorized torture and sweeping unconstitutional powers to detain, interrogate and prosecute alleged suspects and collaborators (including US citizens), hold them (without evidence) indefinitely in military prisons, and deny them habeas and other legal protections.

Section 1031 of the FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act contained the 2009 Military Commissions Act, listing changes that include discarding the phrase "unlawful enemy combatant" for "unprivileged enemy belligerent." More on that below.

Seamlessly, Obama continues Bush administration practices and added others, including:

-- greater than ever surveillance;

-- ruthless political persecutions;

-- preventively detaining individuals ordered released - "who cannot be prosecuted," he said, "yet who pose a clear danger to the American people;"

-- a secret "hit list" authorizing CIA and Pentagon operatives to kill US citizens abroad based on unsubstantiated evidence they're involved in alleged plots against America or US interests;

-- weaker whisleblower protections;

-- state secrets privilege to block lawsuits by victims of rendition, torture, abuse or warrantless wiretapping; and

-- other anti-democratic measures.

Now, the March 4 S. 3081: Enemy Belligerent, Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 to interrogate and detain "enemy belligerents who commit hostile acts against the United States to establish certain limitations on the prosecution of such belligerents, and for other purposes."

On the Senate floor, John McCain explained it, saying "we still don't have a clear mechanism, legal structure, and implementing policy for dealing with terrorists who we capture in the (alleged) act of trying to bring about attacks on the United States and our national security interests at home and abroad."

These suspects have no right to "Miranda warnings and defense lawyers. Instead, the priority and focus must be on isolating and neutralizing the immediate threat and collecting intelligence to prevent" any attacks.

"I (also) believe we must establish a system for long-term detention of terrorists who are too dangerous to release, but who cannot be tried in a civilian court" because no evidence exists to convict them.

At a March 4 press conference, Senator Joe Lieberman told reporters:

"These are not common criminals. They are war criminals. Anyone we capture in this war should be treated as a prisoner of war, held by the military, interrogated for information that will protect Americans and help us win this war and then where appropriate, tried not in a normal federal court where criminals are tried but before a military commission."

S. 3081 Provisions

The bill imposes harsh police state measures, including:

-- targeting anyone worldwide, including US citizens, "suspected of engaging in (or materially supporting) hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners through an act of terrorism, or by other means...;"

-- placing such individuals "in military custody for purposes of initial interrogation and determination of status in accordance with the provisions of this Act;"

-- transporting them to intelligence officials for more interrogation;

-- determining who may be a "high-value detainee (HVD);"

-- further interrogating those individuals by a "High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HVIG)....utiliz(ing) military and intelligence personnel, and Federal, State, and local law enforcement personnel....;"

-- having HVIGs submit their determination to the Defense Secretary and Attorney General after consulting with the Directors of National Intelligence, FBI, and CIA. "The Secretary of Defense and Attorney General (will then) make a final determination and report (it) to the President and the appropriate committees of Congress. In the case of any disagreement between the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General, the President will make the determination;"

-- designating seized individuals "unprivileged enemy belligerent(s);"

-- denying them Miranda rights:

-- deciding on a "Final (status) Determination" within 48 hours, "to the extent practicable;"

-- letting the President establish HVD interrogation group operations and activities, including whether detainees "meet the criteria for treatment as a high-value detainee for purposes of interrogation....," including the potential threat held individuals pose:

(1) for an attack against America, its citizens, US military personnel or facilities;

(2) their potential intelligence value;

(3) membership in or affiliation with Al Qaeda; and

(4) "such other matters as the President considers appropriate."

Pending final determination, detainees "shall be treated as unprivileged enemy belligerent(s)," defined as:

"An individual, including a citizen of the United States (to) be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities."

An "unprivileged enemy belligerent" means anyone (with or without evidence) suspected of "engag(ing) in (or materially supporting) hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners," including alleged Al Qaeda members.

Raised Concerns

Designating individuals "unlawful enemy combatants" or "unprivileged enemy belligerents" places them in legal limbo, contrary to international law, the Constitution, and three recent Supreme Court decisions:

-- Rasul v. Bush (2004) establishing US court system jurisdiction to decide if Guantanamo-held non-US citizens were wrongfully imprisoned;

-- Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) granting US citizen Yaser Hamdi and other Guantanamo detainees habeas rights to challenge their detentions in federal courts; and

-- Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) denying Guantanamo military commissions "the power to proceed because (their) structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949."

Obama-ordered preventive detentions (against uncharged persons) and S. 3081 violate international law, the Constitution, and the above Supreme Court decisions.

Writing for the Jurist Legal News & Research, University of Utah Law Professor, Amos Guiora, calls the proposed bill "the latest example of panic-based legislation" in the wake of the (false flag) December airplane bombing and whether alleged 9/11 suspects will be tried in federal or military courts - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others falsely charged based on tortured-extracted confessions.

Holding detainees through "end of hostilities in the terrorism paradigm is a euphemism for indefinite detention....subject(ing) an extraordinarily broad group of persons" to cruel and inhumane treatment based on unsubstantiated charges, and denying them due process and judicial fairness.

Guiora calls the proposed law:

"a fundamental miscarriage of justice created by the unconstitutional denial of the right to counsel, the right to remain silent, the right to be free from arbitrary, let alone indefinite detention, and the right to a day in court." Unfortunately, too often "legitimacy and justification take a back seat" to expediency and the political climate of the times.

As a result, innocent victims are unjustly arrested, called terrorists, interrogated, tortured, indefinitely detained and denied all rights despite constitutional and international law protections.

"Republicans and Democrats alike have failed to articulate, create and implement a lawful interrogation, detention and trial regime for post-9/11 detainees. That is shameful and reflects negatively on two Presidents, the Congress and the Supreme Court."

The major media also. Their reports hype the threat, pre-determine guilt, and influence public opinion to believe government-charged individuals are dangerous, guilty, and should be confined to deter "terrorism."

Yet the Constitution's Fifth Amendment states:

"No person deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law....;" and

The 14th Amendment reads:

No "State (may) deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Yet in a climate of fear and intimidation, everyone is potentially vulnerable to legislative lawlessness if congressional timidity lets S. 3081 pass in an election year.

According to Guiora, it comes down to "the rule of law or the rule of fear." Protecting American citizens and national security is one thing. Discarding core legal principles to do it reflects the worst elements of police state justice.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Palestinian Political Prisoners - by Stephen Lendman

The numbers vary but range at any time from over 7,000 to 12,000 or more. In April 2008, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel cited 11,000, including 345 children and 98 women. Over 1,000 suffered from chronic or other diseases. Around 150 were seriously ill from heart disease, cancer, and other diseases, and 195 or more Palestinians died or were killed in prison since 1967.

As of January 2009, Adalah said about "22,500 individuals were imprisoned or detained in Israeli prisons; around 70% (or 15,750 are) Arabs." Included are 9,735 Palestinians, nearly 80% classified as "security." Of these, 570 were administrative detainees, uncharged by order of an administrative official, not a judge.

Another 20 were so-called "unlawful combatants" under Israel's Unlawful Combatants Law (UCL), saying they're not entitled to POW status under international law because they either took part in hostilities against Israel (directly or indirectly) or belong to a force carrying them out. No proof is needed, only "a reasonable basis for believing" the designation is accurate, and under UCL, detentions can be permanent, without trial or judicial fairness.

According to the Addameer Prisoners' Support and Human Rights Association, since 1967, "over 650,000 have been detained by Israel," about 20% of the total Occupied Territory (OPT) population and 40% of the male population. Most are held in Palestine, but many thousands in Israeli civil and military prisons, in violation of numerous Fourth Geneva provisions, including Article 49 stating:

"....forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons (including prisoners) from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive."

This applies to OPT prisoners, most of whom are political victims of militarized oppression, or in other words, guilty of being Palestinian. In addition, Fourth Geneva states protected persons shall be detained in the occupied territory and, if convicted, serve there sentences therein.

OPT arrests and detentions come under about 1,500 military regulations for the West Bank and over 1,400 for Gaza. The IDF commander issues orders, but new ones aren't revealed until implemented because they're issued any time for any reason, often arbitrarily and capriciously.

Israeli prisons and military detention facilities are mainly located within Israel's 1948 borders. They include five interrogation centers, six detention/holding facilities, three military detention camps, and about 20 prisons where OPT Palestinians are held.

A secret Facility 1391 at an unknown location is notorious for using severe torture. Gilboa Prison, north of the West Bank, is also believed to administer extreme treatment.

"The location of prisons within Israel and the transfer of detainees to locations within the occupying power's territory are illegal under international law and constitute a war crime."

On June 7, 1967, Military proclamation No. 1 justified them "in the interests of security and public order," weasel words meaning anything. Since then, over 2,900 orders were issued, gravely harming Palestinians' welfare. "These orders serve as justification every time the Israeli authorities arrest a Palestinian...."

They can be held for extended periods, interrogations lasting up to six months, during which time torture, abuse and other degrading treatment is commonplace, against the great majority in custody.

After interrogation, Palestinians can be detained administratively without charge or tried in military courts where "military orders take precedence over Israeli and international law."

Under Military Order 1530, months may elapse between being charged and trial. The entire process is structured to deny due process and judicial fairness, unlike for most Jews in civil courts.

Activists, protestors and human rights defenders are especially at risk. In July 2008, Israeli authorities, by military order, closed the Nafha Society for the Defense of Prisoners and Human Rights. It's one of several organizations representing Palestinian detainees in Israeli courts and advocates for them in prisons and detention centers.

Currently, Israeli security forces, politicians and extremist groups are targeting human rights groups in response to their support for the Goldstone Commission report. Among those affected are:

-- B'Tselem

-- Adalah

-- Breaking the Silence

-- the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)

-- Yesh Din

-- the Centre for the Defence of the Individual

-- the Public Committee Against Torture in Israeli (PACTI)

-- the Israel Religious Action Centre

-- Physicians for Human Rights - Israel

-- Rabbis for Human Rights, and

-- the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) that condemned the practice in a February 8 press release stating:

PCHR "condemns the continued persecution of international human rights defenders in the West Bank....and the deportation of international activists from the country."

On February 7, PCHR learned that Israeli security forces entered Ramallah and al-Bireh, storming an al-Bireh apartment building and arresting Spanish journalist Ariadna Jove Marti and Australian student Bridgette Chappell. They were taken to Ofer Prison pending their deportation, citing expired visas as pretext. The two women are International Solidarity Movement activists known, according to an IDF spokesman, "for being involved in illegal riots that obstruct Israeli security operations."

Other activists were also arrested, Israel now issuing tourist visas only to 150 selected NGOs operating in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including Oxfam, Save the Children, and Doctors Without Borders. However, they'll be excluded from Area C under Israeli control, comprising 60% of the West Bank, thus hampering their work and imposing additional hardships on Palestinians.

PCHR condemned the action and recommends that international civil society and human rights organizations, bar associations, and international solidarity groups continue exposing suspected Israeli war criminals and pressuring their governments to prosecute them according to provisions of international law.

The extremist Netanyahu government won't tolerate criticism or censure nor its expansionist West Bank plans, including making all Jerusalem exclusively Jewish.

His cabinet introduced a Knesset bill prohibiting organizations from receiving funding from foreign political institutions unless registered with the Registrar of Political Parties.

They must then provide details about all "foreign political entity" donations, the source, amount, purpose, commitment made for its use, and more, as a way to harass and make the process more cumbersome.

The bill's susposed purpose is to:

"increase the transparency and to correct lacunas (empty spaces or missing parts) in the law regarding the funding of political activity in Israel by foreign political entities (where such activity is defined as being) aimed at influencing public opinion in Israel or one of the branches of government in Israel regarding any element of Israel's domestic or foreign policy."

In fact, it's to stifle free expression, dissent and activism, the way police states do it, how Israel always treats Palestinians, now increasingly toward outspoken Jews and international human rights organizations as well.

Conditions in Israeli Prisons

Israel willfully and systematically violates international humanitarian law, including Common Article 3 applying to the four Geneva Conventions, requiring:

"humane treatment for all persons in enemy hands, specifically prohibit(ing) murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment (and) unfair trial(s)."

Fourth Geneva's Article 4 calls "protected persons" those held by parties to a conflict or occupation "of which they are not nationals." They must "be treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed by the present Convention." They're entitled to full Fourth Geneva rights. Prisoners of war under Third Geneva have the same rights and those under Common Article 3.

Israel willfully denies them. Under the 1971 Israeli Prison Ordinance, no provision defines prisoner rights. It only provides binding rules for the Interior Minister who can interpret them freely by administrative decree. For example, it's legal to intern 20 inmates in a cell as small as five meters long, four meters wide and three meters high, including an open lavatory, and they can be confined there up to 23 hours daily.

An April 2009 PCHR press release said thousands of Palestinians "continue to suffer in Israeli jails" under horrific conditions, including:

-- severe overcrowding;

-- poor ventilation and sanitation;

-- no change of clothes or adequate clothing;

-- sleeping on wooden planks with thin mattresses, some infested with vermin; blankets are often torn, filthy and inadequate; hot water is rare and soap is rationed;

-- at the Negev Ketziot military detention camp, threadbare tents are used, exposing detainees to extreme weather conditions; in summer, vermin, insects, scorpions, parasites, rats, and other reptiles are a major problem;

-- Megiddo and Ofer also use tents; in addition, Ofer uses oil-soiled hangers;

-- for some, isolation in tiny, poorly ventilated solitary confinement with no visitation rights or contact with counsel or other prisoners;

-- no access to personal cleanliness and hygiene; toilet facilities are restricted, forcing prisoners to urinate in bottles in their cells;

-- inadequate food in terms of quality, quantity, and dietary requirements;

-- poor medical care, including lack of specialized personnel, mental health treatment, and denial of needed medicines and equipment; as a result, many suffer ill health; doctors are also pressured to deny proper treatment, some later admitting it;

-- extreme psychological pressure to break detainees' will;

-- widespread use of torture, abuse, cruel and degrading treatment;

-- women and children are treated the same as men;

-- NGOs like Physicians for Human Rights - Israel and the ICRC are deterred from aiding detainees;

-- denied or hindered access to family members and counsel;

-- imposed conditions link visits:

"with the overall security situation, requiring that prisoners must not be security prisoners and that persons applying for visits must not have a security record, requiring that visitors be first-degree relatives and that brothers or sons applying for visits must be under the age of 18."

Treatment of Gazans Arrested During and After Operation Cast Lead

On January 28, 2009, a complaint to Israel's Military Judge Advocate General, Brigadier General Avichai Mandelblit, by seven Israeli human rights organizations, cited degrading and appalling conditions in which detainees, including minors, were held.

Before transfer to the Israel Prison Service, they were held for many hours or days in pits dug in the ground, handcuffed and blindfolded, under extreme weather conditions. No sanitation was provided and limited amounts of food. Some, in fact, were held in combat areas, in violation of international law prohibiting their exposure to danger.

After removal from pits, some were held overnight in a truck, handcuffed, with one blanket for two people in winter. Others were kept for extended periods in the rain with little food or water. Incidents of extreme violence and humiliation were also reported that continued after prison transfers.

Legal Department Director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PACTI), Bana Shoughry-Badarne, said:

"Israel's indifference to its moral and legal obligations to detainees is particularly objectionable in view of the fact" that the IDF completely ignored "the basic rights of the detainees and captives" under international law, violations committed against every detainee held.

Since July 2007, Gazan families have been denied access to their relatives in Israeli prisons. Non-Israeli Palestinian lawyers can't represent them in military courts. Travel restrictions impede all lawyers. Meetings with their clients aren't confidential, and most prisoners have no access to an attorney.

In 2006, B'Tselem issued a report titled, "Barred from Contact: Violation of the Right to Visit Palestinians Held in Israeli Prisons," citing obstacles families face to visit their relatives. They include difficulties obtaining required permits and "grueling journeys" of up to 24 hours, the result of long distances through numerous checkpoints plus delays.

This "arbitrary and disproportionate policy not only infringes the right to family visits, it also results in violation of other rights and principles of international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as domestic Israeli law."

In January 2010, Adalah addressed the same issue stating:

On December 9, 2009, "Israel's Supreme Court (HCJ) decided that the state has no obligation to allow family visits for Gazans detained in Israel." Writer Grietje Baars, a UK lawyer, said the HCJ rejected petitions by detainees, their relatives and Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, claiming that "Israel's rights as a sovereign state" lets it deny "foreigners" entry in violation of international law - a clear act of persecution.

Under Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (HCJ), crimes against humanity include:

"Persecution (meaning) the intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity."

In a previous decision, the HCJ held that:

"It is a firmly established precept that the human rights to which a person is entitled simply by being human remain even when he is detained or imprisoned, and the fact that he is incarcerated cannot serve to deprive him of any right."

Denying them defies that ruling, and the fact that hundreds of Gazan detainees in Israel are held indefinitely without trial, are in virtual isolation, and can only send their families occasional messages through ICRC representatives.

Petitioners call banning visits "collective punishment" under Fourth Geneva's Article 33 stating:

"No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties....are prohibited."

Doing so (along with torture and other forms of abuse) aims to break their spirit to get them to cooperate or confess to crimes they didn't commit.

Baars concluded:

"Aside from the right to have their rights hououred and protected, and to live their lives in dignity and freedom, the Gazans and the Palestinians in general, have the right to an effective judicial remedy. Without domestic enforcement of international law, the onus is on the international community to fulfill these rights and uphold the rule of law, internationally, for the benefit of all."

The international community's failure to comply with international law lets Israel violate its provisions freely. Unless changed, Israel's lawlessness will continue unchecked, a no longer to be tolerated grim prospect.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Also visit his blog site at and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.