2009-11-30T01:30:08.472+00:00Taken form the Independent, UK, Sunday, 29 November 2009By Brian BradyTony Blair will be quizzed over a devastating official memo warning him that war on Iraq would be illegal eight months before he sent troops into Baghdad, it was claimed last night.The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war will consider a letter from Lord Goldsmith, then Mr Blair's top law officer, advising him that deposing Saddam would be in breach of international law, according to a report in The Mail on Sunday.But Mr Blair refused to accept Lord Goldsmith's advice and instead issued instructions for his long-term friend to be "gagged" and barred from cabinet meetings, the newspaper claimed. Lord Goldsmith apparently lost three stone, and complained he was "more or less pinned to the wall" in a No 10 showdown with two of Mr Blair's most loyal aides, Lord Falconer and Baroness Morgan. Mr Blair also allegedly failed to inform the Cabinet of the warning, fearing an "anti-war revolt".Lord Goldsmith allegedly threatened to resign over the issue, but was "bullied" into backing down. He eventually issued carefully drafted qualified backing for the invasion.But according to The Mail on Sunday, his advice was radically different in July 2002, when ministers were allegedly told the US and UK planned "regime change" in Iraq. Then Lord Goldsmith reportedly wrote a letter to Mr Blair on 29 July, flagging up the legal difficulties of the plan of campaign he had apparently thrashed out with President George Bush. The letter pointed out: (1) Although UN rules permitted "military intervention on the basis of self-defence, they did not apply in this case as Britain was not under threat from Iraq; (2) While the UN allowed "humanitarian intervention" in certain cases, that too was not relevant to Iraq; (3) It would be very hard to rely on earlier UN resolutions in the Nineties approving the use of force against Saddam.Lord Goldsmith ended by saying "the situation might change" – although, in legal terms, it never did. The advice, and the decision to commit it to an official record, reportedly caused great friction between the two men, as it was feared publication of the details could undermine the case for war and damage Mr Blair's credibility.The revelations follow testimony from a series of by figures at the Chilcot inquiry who have questioned Mr Blair's judgement and honesty, and the legality of the war. The Independent on Sunday understands, after only four days of testimony, the former prime minister was already furious that his reputation could be "shredded" by senior civil servants taking revenge on him during the inquiry into the Iraq conflict, it emerged last night.Mr Blair has been appalled by the high-profile evidence given by mandarins who have appeared before the Chilcot inquiry since the first round of public hearings began last Tuesday, close friends have revealed. His image has taken a battering over the past six days, as a series of current and former public servants have given evidence that conflicts with the Government's account of the intelligence assessment of Iraq's weapons capability before the invasion in March 2003.Among the devastating details presented to the inquiry was the revelation that British spies reported 10 days before the invasion that Iraq had "disassembled" what chemical weapons it had – but Mr Blair went ahead and sent troops into battle. Britain's former ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, claimed Mr Blair and Mr Bush had signed a secret deal "in blood" to remove Saddam almost a year before the invasion. He said the agreement in effect left officials scrabbling to find "a smoking gun" to justify going to war.Mr Blair's friends claimed last night that he has found some of the evidence given so far "distasteful", and potentially damaging to his reputation. "It is clear that the headlines so far have not been helpful to him," a former minister said. "But more troubling is the sense that some of the people involved are so keen to stick the knife in. It is quite distasteful."Another Blair ally said the former leader had[...]
2009-11-22T18:01:24.935+00:00Peruvian police arrest suspects who allegedly drained their victims and sold liquid as an anti-wrinkle treatmentTaken form The Guardian, UKBy Rory Carroll, Friday 20 November 2009A Peruvian gang that allegedly killed people and drained fat from their corpses for use in cosmetics may have been inspired by a grisly Andean legend.Hilarió Cudeña Simon, the alleged ringleader, linked the crimes to tales of demonic assassins, known as Pishtacos, who purportedly waylaid victims in pre-Columbian times, police said.Peru reacted with revulsion and horror to reports that scores of peasants may have been butchered by the gang, which was said to have operated in Huánuco, a rural province dotted with Inca temples between the jungle and Andean peaks.Colonel Jorge Mejia, chief of Peru's anti-kidnapping police, said Cudeña and three other suspects were in custody and that another seven gang members were being hunted. The jailed men have confessed to killing five people, but police suspect the number of victims is far higher, with 60 people reported missing in Huánuco this year alone. Two of the suspects were arrested at a bus station in the capital, Lima, carrying bottles of liquid fat which they claimed were worth up to £36,000 a gallon. At a news conference police displayed two bottles of fat, which laboratory tests confirmed were human. "The fat was extracted from the thorax and thighs," said Eusebio Felix Murga, chief of police of Dirincri district. Police also showed a photo of the rotting head of a 27-year-old male victim discovered last month in a coca-growing valley. Police said they received a tip four months ago about a trade in human fat, which exported the amber liquid to Europe as anti-wrinkle cream. In addition to the alleged ringleader the suspects were named as Segundo Castillejos Agüero, Marcos Veramendi Princípe and Enadina Estela Claudio. They have been charged with homicide, criminal conspiracy, illegal firearms possession and drug trafficking. The alleged plot has evoked comparisons to Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume in which a killer distills the essence of his victims into a jar. Others compare it to the film Fight Club in which a character played by Brad Pitt steals bags of human fat from a liposuction clinic to make soap. The gang have been nicknamed the Pishtacos after the ruthless assassins of indigenous Quechua legend who ambushed solitary victims and drained their fat as an offering to gods to make the land fertile. Another version depicts them as cannibal bandits who ate the skin and sold the fat. The stories date back to before the European conquest. The suspects allegedly would sever victims' heads, arms and legs, remove organs and suspend torsos from hooks above candles, which warmed the flesh as the fat dripped into tubs below. Members claimed other gangs were engaged in similar killings. Medical experts said human fat had cosmetic applications to keep skin supple, but were sceptical about an international black market. "It doesn't make any sense, because in most countries we can get fat so readily and in such amounts from people who are willing to donate," Adam Katz, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Virginia medical school, told the Associated Press. Peruvians expressed shock that grisly Andean legends they heard from their grandparents could turn out to have a modern twist. "It's really incredible that killers like this could exist today," said one contributor to the newspaper Peru21.-------------------------------------------------I just hope these sickening people get cought and punsied for their actions. All this in the name of beauty![...]
Far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders yesterday lost a legal bid to stop his pending trial for inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims. “The Attorney-General is of the opinion that there are no grounds” for a further appeal, the Dutch Supreme Court said in a statement.
Lawyers for Wilders had sought to overturn a ruling by the Amsterdam appeals court in January that he should be prosecuted for a series of public anti-Muslim statements, particularly for comparing Islam to Nazism.
“It is a political process,” Wilders responded in a statement on the website of his Freedom Party (PVV), which has nine out of 150 seats in parliament.
“I am being prosecuted for saying about Islam what millions of Dutch think. Freedom of expression is at risk of being offered at the altar of Islam.”
The January appeals court judgment had followed numerous complaints from citizens over the prosecution service’s initial refusal to press charges against Wilders.
Wilders, 45, is the maker of a 17-minute film, Fitna, which has been called “offensively anti-Islamic” by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The screening of the film in the Netherlands last year prompted protests in much of the Muslim world including Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan.
Wilders has called for the banning of the Holy Qur’an in the Netherlands, calling it “fascist.”
In June last year, the prosecutor’s office said Fitna, though offensive to Muslims, did not give rise to a punishable offence. It dismissed dozens of complaints received from around the country, saying Wilders’ utterances were made in the context of public debate.
But the appeals court ruled six months later that politicians, given their special responsibility, ought not to be permitted to make “statements which create hate and grief,” and ordered the prosecution to put Wilders on trial.Source: AFP/ The Hague
2009-03-20T09:41:28.335+00:00Taken from the Toronto Star, Mar 20, 2009By Oakland RossJERUSALEM–Israeli soldiers killed unarmed Palestinian civilians without provocation or warning and vandalized their property during this country's January offensive in Gaza, say some of the soldiers who fought there.The soldiers blamed the behaviour on poor discipline, lax rules of engagement, and a low estimation of the value of Palestinian life.The Israel Defense Forces said it had no prior knowledge of the sometimes shocking comportment of its troops, described by the soldiers themselves in a group discussion last month that followed a course they took at an Israeli college.The IDF said yesterday it would investigate the accounts, which were published yesterday in the Israeli newspapers Haaretz and Maariv.Haaretz said it would print additional reports in coming days, recounting more acts of serious misconduct by Israeli soldiers during the Gaza operation."We have the most moral army in the world," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio yesterday."I say to you that, from the chief of staff down to the last soldier, the most moral army in the world stands ready to take orders from the government of Israel. I have no doubt that every incident will be individually examined."In one incident, Israeli soldiers apparently herded a Palestinian family into a single room of their house and left them there, while the troops took positions upstairs and also set up a sniper's post on the roof.Several days later, soldiers instructed the family to leave the house, directing them to depart the area by heading to the right. They neglected to inform the sharpshooter on the roof what they were doing.One mother and her two children mistakenly turned to the left and were promptly shot dead by the rooftop sniper."He shot them straight away," the squad leader said during the college discussion."I don't think he felt too bad about it, because, after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given."The same squad leader reported a general attitude of contempt for Palestinian civilians, a mindset that enabled Israeli soldiers to engage in callous or sometimes lethal behaviour."I don't know how to describe it," he said. "The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers."So, as far as they are concerned, they can justify it that way."In another incident, a company commander is said to have ordered his troops to shoot and kill an elderly woman walking past them at a distance of about 100 metres."You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it – to write `Death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can," said a squad leader who opposed the order."I think this is the main thing: to understand just how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."Other soldiers described widespread abuses of property."We would throw everything out the windows to make room and order," said one soldier."Everything in the house was tossed out the windows – refrigerators, plates, furniture. The order was to throw all of the house's contents outside."Human rights groups have harshly criticized the Israeli military for its conduct of the war in Gaza – including the use of white phosphorus, a chemical harmful to humans – but the reports published here yesterday were the first documented accounts by Israeli soldiers themselves about widespread abuses.According to the most recent Palestinian figures, 1,417 Gazans died during the three-week conflict, more than 920 of them civilians.At least one Israeli organization, the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, puts the civilian death toll much lower.The college course at which the soldiers related their experiences was taught by Danny Zamir, who said he was "shocked" by what he heard and decided to publish a transcript of the discussion in a newsletter [...]
2009-03-08T19:13:34.036+00:00Taken fro Al-Jezeera News Agency, Friday, March 06, 2009
2009-03-08T19:09:18.227+00:00US companies are queuing up as the president moves to ease restrictions on travel and trade, raising hopes of warmer relations and an end to the embargoTaken from the Observer, UK, Sunday 8 March 2009 By Rory CarrollPresident Barack Obama is poised to offer an olive branch to Cuba in an effort to repair the US's tattered reputation in Latin America.The White House has moved to ease some travel and trade restrictions as a cautious first step towards better ties with Havana, raising hopes of an eventual lifting of the four-decade-old economic embargo. Several Bush-era controls are expected to be relaxed in the run-up to next month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago to gild the president's regional debut and signal a new era of "Yankee" cooperation.The administration has moved to ease draconian travel controls and lift limits on cash remittances that Cuban-Americans can send to the island, a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of families."The effect on ordinary Cubans will be fairly significant. It will improve things and be very welcome," said a western diplomat in Havana. The changes would reverse hardline Bush policies but not fundamentally alter relations between the superpower and the island, he added. "It just takes us back to the 1990s."The provisions are contained in a $410bn (£290bn) spending bill due to be voted on this week. The legislation would allow Americans with immediate family in Cuba to visit annually, instead of once every three years, and broaden the definition of immediate family. It would also drop a requirement that Havana pay cash in advance for US food imports."There is a strong likelihood that Obama will announce policy changes prior to the summit," said Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programmes at the Inter-American Dialogue and author of The Cuba Wars. "Loosening travel restrictions would be the easy thing to do and defuse tensions at the summit."Latin America, once considered Washington's "backyard", has become newly assertive and ended the Castro government's pariah status. The presidents of Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala have recently visited Havana to deepen economic and political ties. Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is expected to tell Obama on a White House visit this week that the region views the US embargo as anachronistic and vindictive. Easing it would help mend Washington's strained relations with the "pink tide" of leftist governments.Obama's proposed Cuba measures would only partly thaw a policy frozen since John F Kennedy tried to isolate the communist state across the Florida Straits. "It would signal new pragmatism, but you would still have the embargo, which is the centrepiece of US policy," said Erikson.Wayne Smith at the Centre for International Policy, Washington DC, said: "I think that the Obama administration will go ahead and lift restrictions on travel of Cuban Americans and remittance to their families. He may also lift restrictions on academic travel."There are some things that could be done very easily - for example it's about time we took Cuba off the terrorist list. It's the beginning of the end of the policies we have had towards Cuba for 50 years. It's achieved nothing, it's an embarrassment."Wayne Smith, a former head of the US Interest Section in Havana, famously said Cuba had the same effect on American administrations as the full moon had on werewolves.Cuban exiles in Florida, a crucial voting bloc in a swing state, sustained a hardline US policy towards Havana even as the cold war ended and the US traded with other undemocratic nations with much worse human rights records.To Washington's chagrin, the economic stranglehold did not topple Fidel Castro. When Soviet Union subsidies evaporated, the "maximum leader" implemented savage austerity, opened the island to tourism and found a new sponsor in Venezuela's petrol-rich president, Hugo Chávez.When Fidel fell ill [...]
2009-03-02T23:34:01.390+00:00Catholic Church stung by autobiography recounting harassment and abuseTaken from The Independent, UK, 20 February 2009By Andrew BuncombeA former nun's tell-all story which details illicit relationships, sexual harassment and bullying in the convent where she spent three decades is causing ructions in the Catholic Church in the south Indian state of Kerala.In Amen – an autobiography of a nun, Sister Jesme says when she became a nun she discovered priests were forcing novices to have sex with them. There were also secret homosexual relationships among the nuns and at one point she was forced into such a relationship by another nun who told her she preferred this kind of arrangement as it ruled out the possibility of pregnancy."I did not want to make this book controversial. I want to express my feelings and to explain what happened to me... I want people to know how I have suffered," she told The Independent last night, speaking from the town of Kozhikode. "People say that everything is OK, but I was in the convent and I want them to know what goes on. I have concerns for others."Sister Jesme, who quit last year as the principal of a Catholic college in Thrissur, alleges senior nuns tried to have her committed to a mental institution after she spoke out against them.In her book, she says that while travelling through Bangalore, she was once directed to stay with a purportedly pious priest who took her to a garden "and showed me several pairs cuddling behind trees. He also gave me a sermon on the necessity of physical love and described the illicit affairs that certain bishops and priests had". The priest took her to his home, stripped off his clothes and ordered her to do the same.She also alleges that while senior staff turned a blind eye to the actions of more experienced nuns, novices were strongly punished, even for minor transgressions. She was not allowed to go home after she learnt her father had died. "I was able to see [the body of] my father barely 15 minutes before the funeral," she writes. "The [response] of the superiors was that the then senior sisters were not even lucky enough to see the bodies of their parents."When she resigned as a college principal, she claimed convents had become "houses of torture", saying: "The mental torture was unbearable. When I questioned the church's stand on self-financing colleges and certain other issues, they accused me of having mental problems. They have even sent me to a psychiatrist. There are many nuns undergoing ill-treatment from the order, but they are afraid of challenging it. The church is a formidable fortress."The allegations are not the only controversy to rock the Catholic Church in Kerala. Last summer, a 23-year-old novice committed suicide and left a note saying she had been harassed by her Mother Superior. Reports suggest there have been a number of similar suicides. And in November, police in Kerala arrested two priests and a nun in connection with the killing of Sister Abhaya in a notorious 1992 murder.Last night, a spokesman for the Syro-Malabar order of the Catholic Church, Dr Paul Thelakkat, dismissed Sister Jesme's allegations as a "book of trivialities". "It's her experiences, but these are things that might creep into a society of communal living," he said. Asked if the church would be shocked by the allegations, he replied: "Absolutely not. The church knows about these things."[...]
2009-03-01T12:25:30.212+00:00Taken from Yahoo News, 01/03/09 (via ITN news)Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines do not work on children under 12 and can even cause side effects, a review has found.The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found "no robust evidence" that popular remedies such as Lemsip powders, Day Nurse and Sudafed work when given to youngsters.The MHRA added that the possible side effects - although not dangerous - could include sleep disturbance, allergic reactions and hallucinations.Many can no longer be sold for use on children under six and pharmacists will be issued with new advice to give to parents about which medicines can be used safely.Pain relief preparations and remedies used to lower a child's temperature, such as Calpol, are unaffected by the new rules.For children under six, the MHRA recommends parents stick to simple remedies like keeping their child's temperature down and simple honey and lemon mixtures to ease a cough.However, the agency identified a list of eight medicines that do work and are safe to use on children under six. They include Beechams Veno's Honey and Lemon, Benylin Tickly Coughs and CalCough TicklyCare Glycerin Lemon & Honey with Glucose.None should be given to babies under one year old.Director of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines at the MHRA, Dr June Raine, said: "Coughs and colds can be distressing for both you and your child but they will get better by themselves within a few days. Using simple measures to ease symptoms is likely to be most effective."Over-the-counter medicines used to treat coughs and colds have been used for many years. However they came into use when clinical trials were not required to demonstrate that they worked in children. This means they were not specially designed for children."It is not right to assume safety and efficacy based on children being 'small adults'. Children should have access to medicines that are acceptably safe and designed for their use."The MHRA said parents should not worry if they have used the medicines in the past and shop shelves will not be cleared of current stocks.The following is a list of medicines which the MHRA says there is "no robust evidence" on whether they work.Labels on the remedies in the second group will now be changed to indicate they should not be given to children under six.The MHRA says it is still safe to give all the medicines listed to children over the age of six, if they feel they will benefit.* Medicines which can be given to under sixes *Baby Meltus Cough LinctusBeechams Veno's Honey and Lemon (not to be given under 12 months)Benylin Children's Tickly Coughs (not to be given under three months)Benylin Tickly Coughs (non-drowsy) (not to be given under 12 months)CalCough TicklyCare Glycerin Lemon & Honey with Glucose (not to be given under 12 months)Lemsip Cough DryTixylix Baby Syrup (not to be given under three months)Pain relief products such as Calpol are not affected by the new advice* Medicines whose current labelling will be changed under the new guidance *Beechams Veno's ExpectorantBeechams Veno's Honey & LemonBenilyn Childrens Chesty CoughsBenilyn Childrens Coughs and ColdsBenilyn Childrens Night CoughsBenylin Children's Dry CoughCalcoldCalcough ChestyCalpol NightCare Glycerin lemon & honey with IpecacCofsed LinctusFamily Meltus Chesty Coughs Honey and Lemon FlavourGalenphol LinctusGalenphol Paediatric LinctusGalpseud linctusGalsudJuniorMeltus Chesty Coughs with CatarrhJunior Meltus Dry Coughs with CongestionJunior Meltus Dry Coughs with CongestionLemsip Cough and Cold Chesty Cough MedicineLemsip Cough ChestyMedised for ChildrenMulti-Action ActifedMulti-Action Actifed Chesty CoughsMutli-Action Actifed Dry CoughsNon- Drowsy Sudafed ChildrensNon Drowsy Sudafed ExpectorantNon Drowsy Sudafed LinctusOtrivine Childrens Nasal DropsRobitussin Chesty Cough MedicineRobitussin Chesty [...]
2009-03-01T12:12:50.831+00:00Taken from BBC News, 23 February 2009
2009-02-16T14:30:51.890+00:00Taken from Yahoo News, 16 February 2009By Karin Laub, Associated PressJERUSALEM – Israel has taken control of a large chunk of land near a prominent West Bank settlement, paving the way for the possible construction of 2,500 settlement homes, officials said Monday, in a new challenge to Mideast peacemaking.Successive Israeli governments have broken promises to the United States to halt settlement expansion, defined by Washington as an obstacle to peace. Ongoing expansion is likely to create friction not only with the Palestinians, but with President Barack Obama, whose Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, has long pushed for a settlement freeze. Obama has said he'd get involved quickly in Mideast peace efforts.The composition of Israel's next government is not clear yet following inconclusive elections last week. However, right-wing parties are given a better chance to form a ruling coalition, with hardline leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm.Netanyahu supports settlement expansion and has derided peace talks with the Palestinians as a waste of time, saying he would focus instead of trying to improve the Palestinian economy. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed Netanyahu's approach as a non-starter, and his aides said recently that peace talks can only resume after a settlement freeze.At the center of the latest expansion plans is Efrat, a settlement of about 1,600 families south of Jerusalem.The mayor of Efrat, Oded Revivi, said the Israeli military designated 425 acres (172 hectares) near Efrat as so-called state land two weeks ago at the end of a lengthy appeals process. He said nine appeals were filed by Palestinian landowners, adding that eight were rejected and one was upheld.Revivi said Efrat plans to build 2,500 homes on that land, but that several steps of government approval would still be needed before construction could begin — a process that could take years. Eventually, Efrat is to grow to a city of 30,000 people, he said.The settlement is situated in one of the three major settlement blocs that Israel expects to hold on to in any final peace deal. Palestinian reaction to the latest development was not immediately available.Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's peace partner, warned that continued settlement expansion would cripple peace talks."We oppose settlement activity in principle and if the settlement activity doesn't stop, any meetings (with the Israelis) will be worthless," Abbas said.Nearly 290,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements today, or 95,000 more than in May 2001 when Mitchell first called for a settlement freeze. At the time, he led a fact-finding mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories to find a way to end months of violence and resume peace talks.Mitchell called on the Palestinians to halt attacks on Israelis and demanded that Israel halt construction in settlements.----------------------------------------------------------------So much for peace efforts if one country deliberately builds more settlements in areas it shouldn't - denying Palestinians places to build their future homes, continously forcing Palestinians off thier homes and into regufee camps - so as to give more places to so called Jews from New York, Moscow, London who have no connection to Israel. No doubt nothing will be done by the US or the UK on this newspiece.[...]
2009-03-01T19:30:45.644+00:00Taken from Al-Jazeera News Agency, January 30, 2009Blackwater, a US private security firm, has been barred from providing security for US diplomats in Iraq for its alleged involvement in the deaths of at least 17 civilians in 2007. The Iraqi interior ministry on Thursday said the measure followed the firm's "improper conduct and excessive use of force"."It is because of the shooting incident in 2007 ... [Blackwater] came to us and applied and we refused them. They tried by all means to stay here and we said 'no'," General Abdel Karim Khalaf, an interior ministry spokesman, told AFP.Five former Blackwater guards are awaiting trial in the US for the incident that took place in September 2007.One Blackwater guard has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and attempt to commit manslaughter over that incident.A US embassy official in Baghdad and Khalaf gave no exact exit date for Blackwater employees.They also did not clarify whether the Blackwater guards would be allowed to continue guarding US diplomats until a date is decided."We don't have specifics about dates. We are working with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision," the US embassy official said.Immunity strippedBlackwater employees who have not been implicated in the 2007 shooting incident will be allowed to work with a different employer in Iraq.The security contracting company deny any misconduct over the shooting. They say guards opened fire after coming under attack when a car in a US state department convoy broke down in Baghdad's Nisoor Square.Erik Prince, Blackwater's founder, acknowledged that the loss of the contract would hurt the company, but said that the company's exit from Iraq would also endanger the diplomats it has protected."Our abrupt departure would far more hurt the reconstruction team and the diplomats trying to rebuild the country than it would hurt us as a business," he said.The decision not to renew the Blackwater contract comes in the wake of a US-Iraqi security agreement approved in November which gives Iraq the right to decide which Western security companies can work in Iraq.Gary Jackson, Blackwater's president, said it will remove its nearly two dozen aircraft and 1,000 security contractors from Iraq within 72 hours of receiving an order to leave.Up until the beginning of this year, Western security contractors enjoyed blanket immunity from Iraqi law.This has since been reversed to allow security contractors to be prosecuted in Iraq.----------------------------------------------------------The case has also been complicated because, at the time of the attack, private contractors like Blackwater operated without any clear legal oversight and it could be argued they did not have to answer either to Iraqi or US laws.Under the deal Blackwater had with the US government, it was allowed to repair the vehicles involved in the attack before investigators saw them, taking away key forensic evidence. - source: Al-Jazeera 08 December, 2008 When you have contractors with immunity from being prosecuted then there is something wrong somewhere.[...]
2009-03-01T12:20:17.404+00:00Taken from Yahoo News (via ITN News) 01.02.2009
2009-01-27T18:18:30.985+00:00Extracted from Daily Mail, UK, 27.01.09In the his first major interview with an Arabic television station, President Obama also told Dubai-based satellite TV station Al Arabiya that it was his job to tell the Muslim world: 'Americans are not your enemy'.He spoke as his new Middle East envoy arrived in Cairo today on a tour to kick off the new administration's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and shore up a shaky Gaza truce.George Mitchell, a former U.S. senator, was due to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tomorrow at the start of a week-long trip that will also take him to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, France and Britain.'Sending George Mitchell to the Middle East is fulfilling my campaign promise that we're not going to wait until the end of my administration to deal with Palestinian and Israeli peace. We're going to start now,' Mr Obama told Al Arabiya.'He's going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.'He added that he had told Mitchell to 'start by listening'.'Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.'What I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith - and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers - regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.'And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives.'My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.'He praised Saudi King Adbullah for putting forward an Arab plan for peace in the Middle East.He said: 'It is impossible for us to think only in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and not think in terms of what's happening with Syria or Iran or Lebanon or Afghanistan and Pakistan.These things are interrelated.'Mr Obama said his administration had begun to fulfill his campaign promises by naming former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as a Middle East peace envoy and sending him to the region within days of becoming president. Mr Mitchell was travelling to the region on Monday evening.He added: 'Ultimately we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what is best for them.'But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realise that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people.'And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table.'The President urged people in the Muslim world to judge him by his actions, pointing to the decision to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, where detainees in the U.S. war on terror are being held. He said he also would begin to follow through on his pledge to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq.[...]
2009-01-22T22:21:35.137+00:00Taken from the Independent, UK, 21 January 2009By Jeffrey Heller, ReutersIsrael said it completed a troop pullout from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip today, starting its relationship with US President Barack Obama by quitting Palestinian land devastated by its 22-day offensive."As of this morning, the last of the Israel Defence Forces soldiers have left the Gaza Strip and the forces have deployed outside of Gaza and are prepared for any occurrences," an army spokesman said, about 13 hours after Obama's inauguration.Israel had withdrawn most of its forces before Obama was sworn in on Tuesday, in a move analysts saw as an attempt to avoid any early tensions with his administration that could cloud the start of a new era in a key alliance.Obama's predecessor, George Bush, endorsed Israel's right to defend itself against rocket fire by the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas Islamists. Obama, before taking office, declined to comment in detail on the Gaza crisis.Israel's attacks in an offensive it launched on Dec. 27 killed some 1,300 Palestinians and made thousands homeless. Gaza medical officials said the Palestinian dead included at least 700 civilians. Israel says hundreds of militants died. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians, hit by cross-border rocket fire, were killed in the conflict.The United Nations, whose secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, toured Gaza's rubble-strewn streets on Tuesday and described the destruction he witnessed as heartbreaking, has estimated some $330 million is needed for urgent aid in the coastal enclave.Reconstruction, if it can be launched in light of the frost between Hamas and the West, may cost close to $2 billion, according to Palestinian and international estimates.Although aid agencies said they planned a massive inflow of supplies through Israeli crossings, help will be complicated by the Western boycott of Hamas as a "terrorist" organisation and an Israeli blockade on many items, including building materials, that can be used to make weapons.Hamas, announcing a ceasefire on Sunday - hours after an Israeli-declared truce went into effect - had demanded Israeli troops quit the territory within a week.The group held what it termed victory rallies in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, but many Palestinians have returned to their homes only to find they had been reduced to piles of rubble."We've won the war. But we've lost everything," said Nabil Sultan, commenting on Hamas's V for Victory signs as he surveyed the wreckage of his home on the outskirts of the city of Gaza. "This was my house," he shrugged, by a pile of smashed concrete.In his inaugural speech, Obama promised to reach out to Muslims worldwide and "seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect".Sources familiar with the matter said in Washington that Obama would move quickly to name a Middle East envoy, possibly former Sen. George Mitchell, who had tried on behalf of the Clinton and Bush administrations to bring about an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence.In a 2001 report, Mitchell called for a freeze in the construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land and for the Palestinians, who were waging an uprising, to stop attacks on Israelis.Hailing Obama's election as "a change of historic significance", Israeli President Shimon Peres said: "What can be expected of the new president is a winning team to really rout violence from the Middle East and move the peace process forward."Bush's efforts, late in his second term, to reach at least a framework peace deal in renewed talks between Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, fell short of any agreement.Immediate diplomatic steps were likely to focus on turning the Gaza truce into a long-term c[...]
2009-01-22T22:11:06.340+00:00Taken from the Independent, UK, 18 January 2009
2009-03-01T20:00:35.153+00:00Taken from The Times, UK, December 31, 2008By William SieghartLast week I was in Gaza. While I was there I met a group of 20 or so police officers who were undergoing a course in conflict management. They were eager to know whether foreigners felt safer since Hamas had taken over the Government? Indeed we did, we told them. Without doubt the past 18 months had seen a comparative calm on the streets of Gaza; no gunmen on the streets, no more kidnappings. They smiled with great pride and waved us goodbye.Less than a week later all of these men were dead, killed by an Israeli rocket at a graduation ceremony. Were they “dangerous Hamas militant gunmen”? No, they were unarmed police officers, public servants killed not in a “militant training camp” but in the same police station in the middle of Gaza City that had been used by the British, the Israelis and Fatah during their periods of rule there.This distinction is crucial because while the horrific scenes in Gaza and Israel play themselves out on our television screens, a war of words is being fought that is clouding our understanding of the realities on the ground.Who or what is Hamas, the movement that Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, would like to wipe out as though it were a virus? Why did it win the Palestinian elections and why does it allow rockets to be fired into Israel? The story of Hamas over the past three years reveals how the Israeli, US and UK governments' misunderstanding of this Islamist movement has led us to the brutal and desperate situation that we are in now.The story begins nearly three years ago when Change and Reform - Hamas's political party - unexpectedly won the first free and fair elections in the Arab world, on a platform of ending endemic corruption and improving the almost non-existent public services in Gaza and the West Bank. Against a divided opposition this ostensibly religious party impressed the predominantly secular community to win with 42 per cent of the vote.Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because it was dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel or because it had been responsible for waves of suicide bombings that had killed Israeli citizens. They voted for Hamas because they thought that Fatah, the party of the rejected Government, had failed them. Despite renouncing violence and recognising the state of Israel Fatah had not achieved a Palestinian state. It is crucial to know this to understand the supposed rejectionist position of Hamas. It won't recognise Israel or renounce the right to resist until it is sure of the world's commitment to a just solution to the Palestinian issue.In the five years that I have been visiting Gaza and the West Bank, I have met hundreds of Hamas politicians and supporters. None of them has professed the goal of Islamising Palestinian society, Taleban-style. Hamas relies on secular voters too much to do that. People still listen to pop music, watch television and women still choose whether to wear the veil or not.The political leadership of Hamas is probably the most highly qualified in the world. Boasting more than 500 PhDs in its ranks, the majority are middle-class professionals - doctors, dentists, scientists and engineers. Most of its leadership have been educated in our universities and harbour no ideological hatred towards the West. It is a grievance-based movement, dedicated to addressing the injustice done to its people. It has consistently offered a ten-year ceasefire to give breathing space to resolve a conflict that has continued for more than 60 years.The Bush-Blair response to the Hamas victory in 2006 is the key to today's horror. Instead of accepting the[...]
2009-03-01T20:13:19.974+00:00Taken from The Independent, UK, Tuesday, 30 December 2008How easy it is to snap off the history of the Palestinians, to delete the narrative of their tragedy, to avoid a grotesque irony about Gaza which – in any other conflict – journalists would be writing about in their first reports: that the original, legal owners of the Israeli land on which Hamas rockets are detonating live in Gaza.That is why Gaza exists: because the Palestinians who lived in Ashkelon and the fields around it – Askalaan in Arabic – were dispossessed from their lands in 1948 when Israel was created and ended up on the beaches of Gaza. They – or their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren – are among the one and a half million Palestinian refugees crammed into the cesspool of Gaza, 80 per cent of whose families once lived in what is now Israel. This, historically, is the real story: most of the people of Gaza don't come from Gaza.But watching the news shows, you'd think that history began yesterday, that a bunch of bearded anti-Semitic Islamist lunatics suddenly popped up in the slums of Gaza – a rubbish dump of destitute people of no origin – and began firing missiles into peace-loving, democratic Israel, only to meet with the righteous vengeance of the Israeli air force. The fact that the five sisters killed in Jabalya camp had grandparents who came from the very land whose more recent owners have now bombed them to death simply does not appear in the story.Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn't worry the world.Well, the world should worry now. Crammed into the most overpopulated few square miles in the whole world are a dispossessed people who have been living in refuse and sewage and, for the past six months, in hunger and darkness, and who have been sanctioned by us, the West.Gaza was always an insurrectionary place. It took two years for Ariel Sharon's bloody "pacification", starting in 1971, to be completed, and Gaza is not going to be tamed now.Alas for the Palestinians, their most powerful political voice – I'm talking about the late Edward Said, not the corrupt Yassir Arafat (and how the Israelis must miss him now) – is silent and their predicament largely unexplained by their deplorable, foolish spokesmen. "It's the most terrifying place I've ever been in," Said once said of Gaza. "It's a horrifyingly sad place because of the desperation and misery of the way people live. I was unprepared for camps that are much worse than anything I saw in South Africa."Of course, it was left to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to admit that "sometimes also civilians pay the price," an argument she would not make, of course, if the fatality statistics were reversed. Indeed, it was instructive yesterday to hear a member of the American Enterprise Institute – faithfully parroting Israel's arguments – defending the outrageous Palestinian death toll by saying that it was "pointless to play the numbers game". Yet if more than 300 Israelis had been killed – against two dead Palestinians – be sure that the "numbers game" and the disproportionate violence would be all too relevant. The simple fact is that Palestinian deaths matter fa[...]
2009-03-01T20:17:21.406+00:00Taken from The Independent, Monday, 29 December 2008The world isn't just watching the Israeli government commit a crime in Gaza; we are watching it self-harm. This morning, and tomorrow morning, and every morning until this punishment beating ends, the young people of the Gaza Strip are going to be more filled with hate, and more determined to fight back, with stones or suicide vests or rockets. Israeli leaders have convinced themselves that the harder you beat the Palestinians, the softer they will become. But when this is over, the rage against Israelis will have hardened, and the same old compromises will still be waiting by the roadside of history, untended and unmade.To understand how frightening it is to be a Gazan this morning, you need to have stood in that small slab of concrete by the Mediterranean and smelled the claustrophobia. The Gaza Strip is smaller than the Isle of Wight but it is crammed with 1.5 million people who can never leave.They live out their lives on top of each other, jobless and hungry, in vast, sagging tower blocks. From the top floor, you can often see the borders of their world: the Mediterranean, and Israeli barbed wire. When bombs begin to fall – as they are doing now with more deadly force than at any time since 1967 – there is nowhere to hide.There will now be a war over the story of this war. The Israeli government says, "We withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and in return we got Hamas and Qassam rockets being rained on our cities. Sixteen civilians have been murdered. How many more are we supposed to sacrifice?" It is a plausible narrative, and there are shards of truth in it, but it is also filled with holes. If we want to understand the reality and really stop the rockets, we need to rewind a few years and view the run-up to this war dispassionately.The Israeli government did indeed withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005 – in order to be able to intensify control of the West Bank. Ariel Sharon's senior adviser, Dov Weisglass, was unequivocal about this, explaining: "The disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."Ordinary Palestinians were horrified by this, and by the fetid corruption of their own Fatah leaders, so they voted for Hamas. It certainly wouldn't have been my choice – an Islamist party is antithetical to all my convictions - but we have to be honest. It was a free and democratic election, and it was not a rejection of a two-state solution. The most detailed polling of Palestinians, by the University of Maryland, found that 72 per cent want a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, while fewer than 20 per cent want to reclaim the whole of historic Palestine.So, partly in response to this pressure, Hamas offered Israel a long, long ceasefire and a de facto acceptance of two states, if only Israel would return to its legal borders.Rather than seize this opportunity and test Hamas's sincerity, the Israeli government reacted by punishing the entire civilian population. It announced that it was blockading the Gaza Strip in order to "pressure" its people to reverse the democratic process. The Israelis surrounded the Strip and refused to let anyone or anything out. They let in a small trickle of food, fuel and medicine – but not enough for survival. Weisglass quipped that the Gazans were being "put on a diet". According to Oxfam, only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza last month[...]
2009-03-01T19:49:02.498+00:00Taken from BBC News, Wednesday, 24 December 2008
2009-01-22T21:59:45.882+00:00Channel 4 of the U.K. broadcasted an alternative to the Queens Speech - this one by Dr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran giving a short message of hope and prosperity for Christmas.
2008-12-25T20:39:58.460+00:00Ex-chairman of Nasdaq is charged over £33bn 'Ponzi' scamTaken from Daily Mail, UK, 12th December 2008By Bill CondieFormer Nasdaq chairman Bernard Madoff has been charged with running a $50billion (£33.7billion) fraudulent investment scam.Madoff, a long-time powerful Wall Street figure, told staff at his investment firm that a hedge fund he ran was 'all just one big lie' and that it was 'basically, a giant Ponzi scheme' with estimated investor losses of about $50billion, according to a criminal complaint against him.A Ponzi scheme is a pyramid-type scam in which very high returns are promised to early investors, who are paid off with money put up by later ones.The $50billion allegedly lost by investors would make Madoff's fund one of the biggest frauds in history.When Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, one of the largest at the time, it had $63.4billion in assets.Prosecutors charged Madoff, 70, with a single count of securities fraud, for which he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $5million if convicted.Lev Dassin, acting Attorney General for the Southern District of New York, said: "Madoff stated that the business was insolvent, and that it had been for years."His lawyer, Dan Horwitz, said outside the manhattan court where Madoff was charged: "He is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry. We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events."Madoff stared at the ground as reporters asked questions. He was released after posting a $10million bond secured by his Manhattan flat.-------------------------------------------------------------Well you couldn't make this up. So much for the American regulators of financial markets.Below is list of the banks and financial institutions affected so far (taken from Telegraph, UK, 19.12.08), all information had been sourced from company statements and agency reports:Access International Advisors said some of its funds were invested with Bernard Madoff. The New York-based investment firm said it was working with counsel to assess the situation, describing it as "a shocking development".Insurer Axa said that it faced losses because of the Madoff scandal, but said that its exposure amounted to less than €100m (£90m).Spain's Banco Santander, which owns Abbey and Alliance and Leicester, said its hedge fund unit invested €2.33bn (£2bn) of client funds with Bernard Madoff.The Geneva-based Banque Benedict Hentsch Fairfield Partners SA said its exposure is 56m Swiss francs (£32m) of client assets.Spain's second-largest bank, BBVA, said it could potentially lose €300m (£270m) in the alleged scam run by New York trader Bernard Madoff.Boston philanthropist Carl Shapiro’s charitable foundation - $145m (source Boston Globe).Bramdean Alternatives Ltd - 9.5pc of its assets, according to a company statement.BNP Paribas, France's biggest listed bank, said it could face a potential €350m (£313) loss from an exposure to Bernard Madoff's investment activities.EIM Group - $230m (£153m) (source Reuters, citing Le Temps Newspaper).EFG International, the Swiss private bank whose largest shareholder is the Latsis family, said some of its clients have investments worth $130 million in funds managed by Bernard Madoff’s investment-advisory business.Elise Wiesal Foundation for Humanity - undetermined ( source Wall Street Journal).Fairfield Greenwich Group - $7.5bn, according to a company statement.Fix Asset Management - $400m (£266m), according to a company statement.GMAC chairman Jacob Ezra Merkin's Ascot Partners[...]
2009-03-01T20:28:16.503+00:00Taken from Haaretz, Israel, 15/12/2008
2008-12-25T21:46:43.926+00:00Shoey to go W!If Youtube video doesn't work then click here!Don't shoe forget about me!In the middle of the news conference with Mr Maliki, Iraqi television journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi stood up and shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," before hurling a shoe at Mr Bush which narrowly missed him.Showing the soles of shoes to someone is a sign of contempt in Arab culture.With his second shoe, which the president also managed to dodge, Mr Zaidi said: "This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq."Mr Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, was then wrestled to the ground by security personnel and hauled away.The World would like to thank Muntadar al-Zaidi - you sir have definitely left a rememberable event in the legacy of George W Bush's reign.------------------------------------------------------------------A few updates...(1) 15/12/08 - according to BBC news - Thousands of Iraqis have demanded the release of a local TV reporter who threw his shoes at US President George W Bush at a Baghdad news conference. Crowds gathered in Baghdad's Sadr City district, calling for "hero" Muntadar al-Zaidi to be freed from custody.(2) 15/12/08 - according to Daily Mail - The Iraqi journalist was given a bravery award by a Libyan charity. The Waatassimou group gave Muntazer al-Zaidi the courage award because it said 'what he did represents a victory for human rights across the world'.(3) 16/12/08 - According to the Guardian Newspaper - It was claimed by the brother of Muntadar al-Zaidi that he has been beaten in custody. Dargham, told the BBC today that al-Zaidi had suffered a broken hand, ribs, suffered internal bleeding and sustained an eye injury.According to the BBC, after the incident, al-Zaidi was detained by Iraqi authorities under the command of national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, who also said the 28-year-old will be prosecuted under Iraqi law.(4) 17/12/08 - According to Reuters - An Egyptian man said he was offering his 20-year-old daughter in marriage to Iraqi journalist Muntazer. The daughter, Amal Saad Gumaa, said she agreed with the idea. "This is something that would honor me. I would like to live in Iraq, especially if I were attached to this hero," she told Reuters by telephone. Her father, Saad Gumaa, said he had called Dergham, Zaidi's brother, to tell him of the offer. "I find nothing more valuable than my daughter to offer to him, and I am prepared to provide her with everything needed for marriage," he added. Amal is a student in the media faculty at Minya University in central Egypt. Zaidi's response to the proposal was not immediately clear.(5) 22/12/08 - according to BBC news- Muntadar al-Zaidi is due to face trial on 31 December accused of "aggression against a foreign head of state", which carries a jail sentence of up to 15 years.(6) 22/12/08 - according to BBC news - Istanbul-based Baydan Shoes claims it made the shoes that the journalist threw at President Bush. They say that they have tens of thousands of orders from around the world - including from the US and Iraq. The shoe was called Model 271 but has been renamed Bush shoe, the firm said. However, the brother of shoe-throwing journalist Muntader al-Zaidi says he believes the shoes were Iraqi-made. Durgham al-Zaidi criticised people he said were trying to exploit his brother's actions for commercial gain. "The Syrians claim the shoes were made in Syria and the Turks say they made them. Some say he[...]
2009-03-01T20:48:57.489+00:00Taken from The New York Times, December 13, 2008By JAMES GLANZ and T. CHRISTIAN MILLERBAGHDAD — An unpublished 513-page federal history of the American-led reconstruction of Iraq depicts an effort crippled before the invasion by Pentagon planners who were hostile to the idea of rebuilding a foreign country, and then molded into a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.(for original PDF Document - Click here!)The history, the first official account of its kind, is circulating in draft form here and in Washington among a tight circle of technical reviewers, policy experts and senior officials. It also concludes that when the reconstruction began to lag — particularly in the critical area of rebuilding the Iraqi police and army — the Pentagon simply put out inflated measures of progress to cover up the failures. WATER Students used water from a faucet at the Khulafa al-Rashideen school in Baghdad in October. Access to potable water plummeted after the 2003 invasion. In one passage, for example, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is quoted as saying that in the months after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department “kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! ‘We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.’ ”Mr. Powell’s assertion that the Pentagon inflated the number of competent Iraqi security forces is backed up by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former commander of ground troops in Iraq, and L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator until an Iraqi government took over in June 2004. Among the overarching conclusions of the history is that five years after embarking on its largest foreign reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, the United States government has in place neither the policies and technical capacity nor the organizational structure that would be needed to undertake such a program on anything approaching this scale.The bitterest message of all for the reconstruction program may be the way the history ends. The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed. COMMUNICATION Landline phone service plunged after the invasion, forcing Iraqis to rely on cellphone companies, above. By mid-2008, the history says, $117 billion had been spent on the reconstruction of Iraq, including some $50 billion in United States taxpayer money. The history contains a catalog of revelations that show the chaotic and often poisonous atmosphere prevailing in the reconstruction effort.When the Office of Management and Budget balked at the American occupation authority’s abrupt request for about $20 billion in new reconstruction money in August 2003, a veteran Republican lobbyist working for the authority made a bluntly partisan appeal to Joshua B. Bolten, then the O.M.B. director and now the White House chief of staff. “To delay getting our funds would be a political disaster for the President,” wrote the lobbyist, Tom C. Korologos. “His election will hang for a large part on show of progress in Iraq and without the funding this year, progress will grind to a halt.”[...]
2008-12-08T13:58:44.337+00:00Taken from Al-Jazeere News Agency, 08 Dec 2008Five security guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad are expected to hand themselves over to federal authorities in the United States.Exact details of the charges against the employees of the Blackwater private security firm are expected to be made public on Monday after they have surrendered.Click here for Video!However, it is known that the five military veterans were indicted for manslaughter offences in Washington DC on Thursday.On Sunday they were given 24 hours to surrender themselves to the FBI.The Associated Press news agency reported that the men would hand themselves over in the US state of Utah on Monday, possibly sparking a legal battle over where the trial should be heard.Any dispute over where the trial should be held would delay proceedings and further frustrate the relatives of the Iraqis killed in Baghdad's al-Nisoor Square in September 2007.'Fair judgment'Mohammed Al-Kinani, whose son was killed in the shooting, said: "We hope to see a fair judgment that will impose the maxium penalty for them, not only the guards but the director who gave them the authority, weapons, vehicles and immunity."But Dr Haythem Al-Rubaie, who lost his wife and son in the al-Nisoor Square shootings, said there was "no credibility" in the US judiciary."But let me be optimistic and I hope that the judge will be a fair one since there are many innocent people who were killed in the attack and there should be a fair judge who will not respond to pressures."We hope that his word is a fair word, the result will show us credibility," he said.The five men's identities and the nature of the charges against them had been kept secret for more than a year, but were also released on Sunday.They were named as Evan Liberty and Donald Ball, both 26-year-old former marines, Dustin Heard, a 27-year-old ex-marine, Nick Slatten, 25, an ex-army sergeant, and Paul Slough, a 29-year-old army veteran.The men are all decorated war veterans who were contracted to protect US diplomats in Iraq.A sixth guard, who has not been named, has reached a plea bargain deal with prosecutors to avoid a mandatory 30-year prison sentence.'Unjustified deaths'Blackwater said that the guards were returning fire after their convoy was shot at in Baghdad's al-Nisoor Square.The head of Blackwater appeared before the US Congress shortly after the incident, saying that the men acted responsibly.However, FBI investigators found in late 2007 that most of the 17 deaths had been unjustified.Steven McCool, a lawyer for Ball, confirmed that his client would surrender in his home state of Utah."Donald Ball committed no crime,'' McCool said. "We are confident that any jury will see this for what it is: a politically motivated prosecution to appease the Iraqi government."The incident created a furore about the perceived ability of private guards to act with impunity in Iraq.An Iraqi government spokesman has said that they believed that the attack were tantamount to deliberate murder.Ali Al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, told Al Jazeera that Baghdad would maintain the victims' right to a fair trial and would not accept anything less than "normal standards available in such cases".The case has also been complicated because, at the time of the attack, private contractors like Blackwater operated without any clear legal oversight and it could be argued they did not ha[...]