Friday, April 30, 2010

Peace activists can hasten an end to the U.S. war in Afghanistan by demanding a timetable for U.S. military withdrawal. A bill in the U.S. Congress introduced by Representatives McGovern and Jones, requires such a timetable. In the Senate, a similar bill has been introduced by Senator Feingold. Arguments in favor of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan should include readiness to examine disturbing patterns of misinformation regarding U.S./NATO attacks against Afghan civilians.

It is worth noting that even General McChrystal acknowledges that U.S. forces have killed civilians who meant them no harm. During a biweekly videoconference with US soldiers in Afghanistan, he was quite candid. "We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force," said General McChrystal. "To my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it."

Those families and individuals that General McChrystal refers to should be our primary concern. We should try to imagine the sorrow and horror afflicting each individual whose tragic story is told in the "timetable" of atrocities committed against innocent people. How can we compensate people who have endured three decades of warfare, whose land has been so ravaged that, according to noted researcher Alfred McCoy, it would cost $34 billion dollars to restore their agricultural infrastructure. We should notify our elected representatives that the $33 billion dollar supplemental funding bill sought by the Obama administration to pay for U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could be directed toward helping Afghanistan replant its orchards, replenish its flocks, and rebuild its irrigation systems. We should insist on an end to atrocities like those which follow.

The list below describes, in part, the suffering and agony that people in Afghanistan have endured since April, 2009. To focus on this list doesn’t excuse atrocities committed by Taliban fighters. It does indicate our own responsibility to urgently educate others and ourselves about a deeply disturbing pattern: U.S./NATO officials first distribute misleading information about victims of an attack and later acknowledge that the victims were unarmed civilians.

Date: April 9, 2009

Place: Khost Province, Ali Daya

Circumstances: U.S. forces were positioned on the rooftop opposite the home of Brigadier Artillery officer Awal Khan. In a night raid, U.S. forces burst into Awal Khan’s home. Awal Khan was away from home. His family members ran to the rooftop, believing that robbers had entered the home. When they emerged on their rooftop, U.S. forces on the opposite roof opened fire, killing Awal Khan’s wife, his brother, his 17 year-old daughter Nadia, and his fifteen year-old son, Aimal and his infant son, born just a week earlier.

U.S. /NATO initial response: April 9, 2010, coalition forces issue a statement that the four people killed by troops were "armed militants." Later that same day another statement admits that further inquiries "suggest that the people killed and wounded were not enemy combatants as previously reported."

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: The Times of London reported the following, on April 11, 2009:

The US military conceded that its forces killed the civilians in error during the night-time raid that targeted the neighboring compound of a suspected militant. The father of the dead family is a lieutenant-colonel in the Afghan Army fighting the Taliban in the restive province of Ghazni.

The US military reported that two males, two females and an infant were believed to have died in the incident, and two other women were wounded. A relative of the dead family told reporters that the dead infant was a boy born last week. "This was a terrible tragedy," a US spokesman, Colonel Greg Julian, told The Times.

Date: December 26, 2009

Place: Kunar Province

Circumstances: In a night raid, U.S. forces, claiming to attack a bomb-making factory, attacked a house where eight youths, aged 11–18, were sleeping. They pulled the youngsters out of their beds, handcuffed them, and executed them. Villagers said that seven of those killed were students and one was a neighboring shepherd.

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: February 24, 2010 — U.S. forces issued an apology, admitting that the U.S. had killed seven schoolboys and a neighboring shepherd.

Date: February 2010

Place: Helmand Province

During this month, U.S./NATO forces launched a military offensive against three hamlets in the Marja district. Researcher Prof. Marc Herold presents a detailed summary and analysis of Afghan civilians killed directly by U.S./NATO forces during this particular month.

Date: February 12, 2010

Place: Paktika Province

Circumstances: In a night raid, U.S. forces attacked a home where 25 people, 3 of them musicians, had gathered for a naming celebration. A newborn was being named that night. One of the musicians went outside to relieve himself. A flashlight shone in his face. Panicked, he ran inside and announced that the Taliban were outside. A police commander, Dawoud, the father of the newborn, ran outside with his weapon. U.S. forces opened fire, killing Officer Dawoud, a pregnant mother, an eighteen year old, Gulaila, and two others.

U.S. / NATO initial response: February 12, 2010 — U.S. forces claimed that the women had been killed earlier, in an honor killing. NATO’s initial press release bore the headline: "Joint Force Operating in Gardez Makes Gruesome Discovery." The release said that after "intelligence confirmed militant activity" in a compound near a village in Paktika province, an international security force entered the compound and engaged "several insurgents" in a firefight. Two "insurgents" were killed, the report said, and after the joint forces entered the compound, they "found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed."

March 16, 2010 — The UN issued a scathing report, stating that the U.S. had killed the women. Villagers told Jerome Starkey, reporting for the Independent, that U.S. troops tried to tamper with evidence by digging bullets out of the women’s bodies and out of the walls.

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians:

April 6, 2010 — Almost two months later, the Pentagon was finally forced to admit that international forces had badly bungled the raid that night in Paktika, and that U.S. troops had, in fact, killed the women during their assault on the residence. One of the women was a pregnant mother of ten, and the other was a pregnant mother of six children.

Date: February 21, 2010

Place: Convoy en route to Kandahar

Circumstances: U.S. aerial forces attacked a three-car convoy traveling to a market in Kandahar. The convoy had planned on continuing to Kabul so that some of the passengers could get medical treatment. At least three dozen people were passengers in the three cars. The front car was an SUV type vehicle, and the last was a Land Cruiser. When the first car was hit by U.S. air fire, women in the second car jumped out and waved their scarves to indicate that they were civilians. U.S. helicopters continued to fire rockets and machine guns, killing 21 people and wounding 13.

U.S./NATO initial response: February 22, 2010 — The day after the attack, the U.S.-led military coalition said that NATO forces had fired on a group of "suspected insurgents" who were thought to be on their way to attack Afghan and coalition soldiers a few miles away. When troops arrived after the helicopter strike, they discovered women and children among the dead and wounded.

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians:

Feb 24, 2010 — General Stanley McChrystal delivered a videotaped apology.

Date: April 12, 2010

Place: Kandahar

Circumstances: According to the New York Times, "American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near Kandahar on Monday morning, (April 12)." The attack killed five civilians and wounded 18.

Initial U.S./NATO response: A statement issued by the American-led military command in Kabul said that four people were killed. It said "an unknown, large vehicle" drove "at a high rate of speed" toward a slow-moving NATO convoy that was clearing mines.

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians: April 12, 2010 — "ISAF deeply regrets the tragic loss of life in Zhari district this morning. According to ISAF operational reporting, four civilians were killed, including one female, and five others were treated for injuries at the scene of the incident today. Upon inspection, NATO forces discovered the vehicle to be a passenger bus."

April 13, 2010 — The New York Times reported that "a military spokeswoman confirmed that a convoy traveling west, in front of the bus, opened fire, but said the second convoy was traveling east toward the passenger bus. She also said the driver of the bus was killed. A survivor, however, identified himself as the driver and said he did not violate any signal from the troops. ‘I was going to take the bus off the road,’ said the man, Mohammed Nabi. ‘Then the convoy ahead opened fire from 60 to 70 yards away,’ he said."

Date: April 20, 2010

Place: Khost Province

Circumstances: A NATO military convoy attacked a car approaching a checkpoint, claiming that the car sped up after being warned to stop. Four young men were killed. According to the New York Times, "The shooting Monday night in Khost province sparked an immediate outcry from the victims’ family, who insisted that all four were civilians driving home from a volleyball game. ‘The youngest boy was just 13,’ said Rahmatullah Mansour, whose two sons and two nephews were killed in the shooting. Mansour said that the victims in Monday’s shooting were his sons Faizullah, 13, and Nasratullah, 17; and nephews Maiwand and Amirullah, both 18. He said all were students except Amirullah, who was a police officer."

Initial U.S. / NATO response: April 21, 2010 — From the New York Times: "Without offering proof, NATO described the dead as two insurgents and their "associates." In a statement on Tuesday, NATO said the vehicle ignored warning shots and accelerated toward the military convoy. But the statement did not challenge the Afghan account that no weapons were found in the vehicle."

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the people killed were unarmed civilians:

April 22, 2010 — NATO acknowledged Wednesday that four unarmed Afghans who were killed this week when a military convoy opened fire on their vehicle were all civilians, correcting an earlier claim that two of the dead were ”known insurgents.”

Date: April 28, 2010

Place: Surkh Rod district, near Jalalabad

Circumstances: According to Safiya Sidiqi, a member of the Afghan parliament, dozens of Afghan and U.S. soldiers entered her family home, blindfolded and handcuffed men and women, and killed her brother-in-law, Amanullah, a 30 year old car mechanic with five children. "They shot him six times. In his heart, in his face, in his head," Sidiqi said on Thursday, April 29th. Both legs were broken.

Initial U.S./NATO response: April 29, 2010 — An Afghan-international security force killed one armed individual while pursuing a Taliban facilitator in Nangarhar last night.

U.S. /NATO acknowledgement that the person killed was an unarmed civilian: None, as yet. The case is still under investigation.

by Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson
US Military Escalates Its Dirty War In Afghanistan
...a secret area of a prison facility at Bagram Air Base is being used to subject detainees to beatings, sleep deprivation and psychological stress, as part of an interrogation regime
By James Cogan

Afghan protesters shout anti-American slogans during a protest in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, April 12, 2010. International troops opened fire on a bus carrying Afghan civilians early Monday, killing four people and setting off anti-American protests in a southern city that is a hotbed of the Taliban insurgency. (Photo: AP)The New York Times reported Sunday that American special forces units are operating in and around the Afghan city of Kandahar, assassinating or capturing alleged leaders and militants of the Taliban resistance ahead of the major US-NATO offensive scheduled for June.

Suggestive of the sinister and murderous character of such operations, the Times noted that the “opening salvos of the offensive are being carried out in the shadows”. It reported that “elite” units had been “picking up or picking off insurgent leaders” for the past several weeks.

A “senior American military officer” boasted that “large numbers of [the] insurgent leadership based in and around Kandahar have been captured or killed”, but that it was “still a contested battle space.”

The Times reported that “more than a dozen military and civilian officials directly involved in the Kandahar offensive” had agreed to speak about the special forces’ activities because it would help “scare off insurgents” before the bulk of American troops move into Taliban-held areas of the city. This claim is either patent nonsense or deliberate deception. The Taliban do not require an article in the American media to inform them that “large numbers” of their fighters are being killed or captured.

The real motive for the article is to introduce the audience of the New York Times and broader public opinion to the reality of the dirty war that the Obama administration is presiding over in Afghanistan. Assassination, or alternatively, detention without trial under the harshest conditions, is the preferred method of the US military to suppress resistance to the neo-colonial agenda of US imperialism.

The commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is applying the same tactics that he used during the Bush administration’s “surge” in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, when he was serving under General David Petraeus as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

A teacher from the area, Mohammed Sharif, told the New York Times, “People are fed up with these night raids and wilful operations. They are raiding houses during the night, killing innocent people. Sometimes they kill opposition people as well, but usually they are harming ordinary and innocent people.”, Apr. 29, 2010JSOC units are drawn from the Army’s Delta Force and Ranger battalions, the Navy Seals and specialized units of the Air Force. Regular Marine and Army battalions were used during the battles for Karbala, Najaf and Fallujah in 2004. The Iraq “surge” was marked by the use of JSOC, aided by local collaborators, to kill or capture suspected insurgents ahead of the deployment of larger formations into resistance-held areas.

The secretive mass killings and stories of brutal imprisonment generated terror in urban centers like Ramadi, Baqubah, Mosul, Basra, Amarah and the suburbs of Baghdad. It is credited by sections of the US military as playing an equally decisive role in subduing resistance as the parallel policy of bribing insurgents to cease fighting in exchange for amnesty and cash.

The coming assault on Kandahar is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s plan to shatter the Afghan insurgency and finally impose American control over the country. Kandahar and the neighboring province of Helmand have been the main support bases of the Taliban movement since the mid-1990s. Large swathes of both provinces have remained under its influence since the US invasion in 2001. The majority of the predominantly ethnic Pashtun population is virulently opposed to the presence of foreign forces. They do not accept the authority of the thoroughly corrupt Afghan puppet government headed by President Hamid Karzai.

The bulk of the 30,000 additional troops ordered to Afghanistan this year by Obama are being deployed to either Kandahar or Helmand. Reflecting the views of the White House and the Pentagon, the New York Times referred to the coming operation as a “make-or-break offensive”.

Thousands of troops have been positioned to cut off the possibility of reinforcements to or escape from Kandahar. According to the Times’ sources, American units have established “several dozen” positions guarding the roads in and out of the city. A 12,000-strong US, British and Canadian force and 10,000 Afghan government soldiers will eventually be involved in the assault.

Before they are moved in, however, JSOC’s death squads have been unleashed.

An unnamed US official told the Los Angeles Times last month that a number of JSOC’s units had been transferred to Afghanistan under the Obama administration because “hunting season is over in Iraq”. According to the LA Times’ sources, JSOC currently has 5,800 personnel at its disposal in Afghanistan—double the number used during the Iraq surge. They are conducting assassination or snatch missions across the country, assisted by Special Forces units from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and some NATO states.

There is no concrete figure as to how many alleged insurgents have been assassinated in Kandahar or elsewhere in Afghanistan. JSOC operations take place under the cloak of total censorship. Nor does the US military provide any details as to the criteria used by JSOC to determine its choice of victims. It is not known, for example, if the killings are limited to armed combatants, or extends to anyone who provides political or material support to the insurgency. There is also no accountability as to how the identity of targets is verified, given that most operations take place in the dead of night, or over how many civilians are being killed or injured in the process.

There is a litany of recorded cases in which non-combatants were massacred during operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the most recent example, raids last Friday and Saturday night on alleged Taliban in the eastern Afghan province of Logar resulted in the death of the local school principal and religious leader. The killing provoked an eruption of anger. A crowd of Afghans surrounded and set ablaze a column of 12 trucks carrying fuel to a nearby NATO base.

A teacher from the area, Mohammed Sharif, told the New York Times, “People are fed up with these night raids and wilful operations. They are raiding houses during the night, killing innocent people. Sometimes they kill opposition people as well, but usually they are harming ordinary and innocent people.”

Alleged insurgents who are detained disappear into various US and Afghan government-run prisons. The British Broadcasting Corporation reported on April 15 that a secret area of a prison facility at Bagram Air Base is being used to subject detainees to beatings, sleep deprivation and psychological stress, as part of an interrogation regime. The allegations were based on interviews or signed statements by nine former inmates. The charges were predictably denied by the US military.

JSOC also works closely with the CIA’s “Special Activities Division”, which is particularly involved in the assassination of alleged Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militants in the remote tribal agencies of North West Pakistan. The main method currently used for the killings is Hellfire missiles launched from remotely flown Predator drones. According to the Pakistani military, such strikes have slaughtered well over 700 innocent civilians since Obama took office, fueling support in the border region for the anti-occupation insurgency. On the weekend, two more Predator attacks were carried out in the agency of North Waziristan, killing at least 12 people.

An article in Monday’s New York Times detailed the latest innovations of the CIA to carry out its remote-controlled assassinations. They include the coffee-cup-sized, 35-pound “Small Smart Weapon” that can be “fitted with four different guidance systems that allow it to home in on targets as small as a single person in complete darkness” and a “small thermobaric warhead, which detonates a cocktail of explosive powders on impact to create a pressure wave that kills humans but leaves structures relatively intact”.

Justified in 2001 as a “war on terrorism”, the Afghan occupation has always been an attempt to impose US dominance over a strategic area of Central Asia. The only change in the conduct of the war from the Bush to the Obama White Houses has been the escalation of the number of troops involved and the greater use of a secretive apparatus of assassins to carry out the murderous repression of the Afghan people.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Well the personal responsibility goes as far as, we are a part of the system that injured this Iraqis. That have injured thousands of Iraqis, you know, we want everybody to see that, that this one video is not just an isolated incident, that these things are war. There is, there is no difference between that day or any other day in Iraq other than that one was caught on video and the world got to see it."

--ETHAN MCCORD, one of the soldiers depicted in the Wikileaks video, to Lateline at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, today.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Irish Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Everything not hunky-dory as crisp advertisements accused of being sexist
The ads which attracted complaints. Chief executive of Largo Foods Raymond Coyle said: "Everything is so serious and gloomy now and we want to inject a little bit of fun into things."The ads which attracted complaints. Chief executive of Largo Foods Raymond Coyle said: "Everything is so serious and gloomy now and we want to inject a little bit of fun into things.


AN ADVERTISING campaign for Hunky Dory crisps which features women in revealing tops playing rugby under straplines such as “Are you staring at my crisps?” and “Tackle these” has attracted a large number of complaints to the advertising watchdog since it was launched on Monday.

The Largo Foods campaign, which cost €500,000, has been branded sexist and depressing, while the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) said it had sent the company a solicitor’s letter demanding the campaign be pulled because of a reference to the crisps as a “proud sponsor of Irish rugby”.

Susan McKay of the National Women’s Council said it was “really tiresome to see companies resorting to this kind of old style sexism when the world is full of so many imaginative possibilities”. She described it as “depressing” not least because the “company will get masses of publicity for this”.

IRFU marketing director Pádraig Power said the ads were “in very bad taste” and he described the campaign’s “blatant exploitation of women” as “tasteless and base, and quite simply unacceptable”.

He said the sponsorship claim “implies that the company is a significant sponsor of the game in this country. . . This is absolutely untrue and a cynical ploy in an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the game.”

There was a huge volume of criticism of the campaign on Twitter and the Advertising Authority for Ireland received over a dozen complaints in writing about the ads yesterday alone.

The authority’s committee meets every two months to discuss complaints but it can take interim action to have a campaign withdrawn.

Raymond Coyle, chief executive of Largo Foods expressed surprise at the negative reaction and said the feedback he had received personally had been very positive. “I don’t think the ads are at all sexist but if people do think that then I apologise to them,” he said. “Everything is so serious and gloomy now and we want to inject a little bit of fun into things.”

Mr Coyle claimed that the reference to Irish rugby alluded to the fact that Largo Foods sponsors the Navan rugby team.
From today's Australian.

AFGHAN refugees are returning in unexpectedly high numbers to their war-ravaged homeland, with more than 22,000 fleeing Pakistan's rising insurgency and employment squeeze for an uncertain future across the border in the past month.
Close to 1000 Afghans a day have filed through the UNHCR's two reprocessing centres -- in the restive Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Quetta -- since the UN refugee agency reopened its voluntary repatriation program late last month.

The latest figures come just a fortnight after the Australian government announced it was suspending all Afghan and Sri Lankan refugee visa applications to try to dissuade a growing number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. That decision is unlikely to have been a motivating factor for the thousands of families who have chosen to return to Afghanistan.

The UNHCR said that, over the past month, returning refugees had cited rising living costs, fewer jobs and the difficult security situation in Pakistan as key reasons to go back to Afghanistan.

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A far smaller number said they were encouraged by the improving security situation in Afghanistan.

More than 70 per cent of all Afghan returnees are from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province), on the border with Pakistan's tribal areas, where the military is waging a fierce battle with Taliban and al-Qa'ida militants for control.

UNHCR Pakistan spokesman Mengesha Kebede said: "Whatever their specific reasons, the 22,000 people who opted to return in the past month -- marshalling their families through our repatriation centres and loading their worldly possessions on to huge trucks -- will need all the resilience they've shown as refugees to rebuild their lives at home.

"Afghanistan has absorbed one-fifth of its population in returning refugees over the past nine years and many still face shortages of housing, jobs, schools, and clinics as well as security problems."

More than five million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban government in late 2001, increasing the population by more than 20 per cent.

Only a fraction of that number has done so since 2006, when security again deteriorated.

Many who did return faced violent struggles over land, an increasing scarcity of resources and jobs and a Taliban insurgency that now threatens to topple the state if the US and NATO military surge fails to halt its advance.

In its latest assessment, the UNHCR warned that "while reconstruction and development efforts have advanced, security has become more problematic and Afghanistan's capacity to absorb more returns is limited without further targeted support".
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Here is a story about the widening war in Afghanistan.

More than 300 foreign soldiers have been killed since January, making 2009 the deadliest year since operations began eight years ago. The war's also taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians.

More than 1,000 have died this year, many of them children. On Friday, six civilians were among 54 people killed in a NATO air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban.

NATO's currently investigating the incident, but it's reignited concern among ordinary Afghans about civilian casualties.

For a frontline view, the ABC's South Asia correspondent Sally Sara spent 24 hours in the emergency room of one of the busiest combat hospitals in Afghanistan.

But first a warning: this report contains material which some viewers may find distressing.

SALLY SARA, REPORTER: It sits only metres away from one of the busiest runways in the world. The Role Three hospital in Kandahar looks non-descript from the outside, but inside it contains state-of-the-art medical facilities.

The staff are bracing themselves for another busy night. 14 patients are scheduled to arrive, including US soldiers hit by a suicide bomb and children with shrapnel wounds from another blast.

MARC DAUPHIN, OFFICER-IN-CHARGE: Lost his eyes, lost a leg, lost a hand. This one shot in the foot. This one shot in the head.

SALLY SARA: Do you normally keep a track on your hand?

MARC DAUPHIN: Well, they don't issue us with pads, you know. It's the Canadian Government ... (Laughs).

SALLY SARA: The officer-in-charge is Canadian Major Marc Dauphin. He's been a trauma doctor for more than 30 years and has no desire to quit.

MARC DAUPHIN: I'm an old guy; I should be retired now, and I spend my time in Afghanistan doing this crazy work. So, you have to do it for the love of your brothers in arms and to try and help the people here.

SALLY SARA: The Role Three hospital is staffed by more than 100 doctors, nurses and medics from around the world. Although it's a military hospital, almost half the patients here are civilians.

11-year-old Abdul has been severely injured by an improvised explosive device, or IED - a homemade bomb laid by the Taliban.

PHILIPPE PARENT, TRAUMA DOCTOR: Half of his jaw was taken off, I didn't see his ear. It didn't seem to touch his brain, but you never know with IED blasts; they get frags everywhere.

SALLY SARA: Doctors scan Abdul's head looking for shrapnel and bleeding. The explosion was so powerful it killed his brother instantly, but doctors are hoping that Abdul's jaw and not his brain has taken the force of the blast.

PHILIPPE PARENT: If his brain is not affected, his prospects are quite good. We have (inaudible) facial surgery over here, so they're very good at reconstruction. The rest of his body seemed to be alright.

SALLY SARA: Although Abdul's face is still covered in the dirt from the explosion, his outlook is promising. It's some much-needed good news on a grim night.

This is where the civilian cost of the war is counted. Mortuary workers have just taken out the body of a 10-year-old boy who was killed in a mine explosion this morning.

He was so small that the body bag was folded in half like a suit pack, and that's how his life was carried out from this hospital.

The dead boy's baby sister has stitches in her head, her tiny feet are bandaged. The boy's brother lays bewildered, his arm amputated. Anxious relatives don't want their faces shown; they're frightened the Taliban will kill them if they speak out.

They've lost so much, but fear they could lose more. The suffering of the children leaves Major Dauphin barely able to speak.

MARC DAUPHIN: It's a war. Women and children always pay. That's what's worse. That's all.

SALLY SARA: Although the hospital looks after civilians, its priority is the military. The staff treat Coalition and Afghan soldiers and Taliban insurgents.

ACCURSIA BALDASSANO, CRITICAL CARE NURSE: I try not to relate it too much, because then it becomes too personal. So, you know, we just do our best to take care of them all. At the end of the day, if you've done your best, that's all we can do.

SALLY SARA: US Navy critical care nurse Lieutenant Accursia Baldassano doesn't wear her real name on her uniform; she has a nickname instead.

The medical staff protect their identities when they're treating Taliban patients because of fears of possible reprisal attacks against their families. For many of the doctors, caring for the enemy stirs up conflicting emotions.

PHILIPPE PARENT: I just don't understand their cause. I mean, we're in two different worlds and those people seem to be living 1,000 years before what we're doing right no.

So they're on their own planet, their own world and I just can't understand this.

SALLY SARA: The medicos are not insulated from the dangers of war. Even the severely injured are checked in case they have been booby trapped by the Taliban.

But for 11-year-old Abdul, there's a long journey ahead. He's been in surgery for several hours. He has 55 stitches on the side of his face, but his condition has improved and he appears to be out of danger.

PHILIPPE PARENT: He should be waking up today and I think he had a CV scan this morning, which I assume was probably normal because he's doing better, and he will be transferred to the ward today.

So tonight we'll probably be eating on his own and going home tomorrow.

SALLY SARA: The next day, Abdul is doing well and breathing on his own. The doctors say he's stable. But less than an hour after we filmed these pictures he suffered a massive brain haemorrhage.

Abdul died the following morning. Hospital staff found his father just in time so he could hold his son's hand.

KRISTINE DESJARDINE, CRITICAL CARE NURSE: He was explaining to me he had four children - two daughters.

And he said, "Can you please try everything to do - to save my son. This is my last son. This is my only hope." So he was quite sad.

SALLY SARA: Abdul's father lost his second son in two days. Abdul's empty bed will soon be filled by another patient fighting for life and another family will be plunged into uncertainty.

MARC DAUPHIN: We cannot feel the pain that these people have. We can try to imagine it, but we can't feel it.

LEIGH SALES: Sally Sara reporting there from Kandahar.

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..the bill is actually sponsored by Feingold, McGovern, and Jones.

A Year of War Would Pay for Local Jobs Bill
Submitted by robert naiman on 23 April 2010 - 3:01pm

Sometime between now and Memorial Day, the House is expected to consider $33 billion more for war in Afghanistan. This "war supplemental" is largely intended to plug the hole in Afghanistan war spending for the current fiscal year caused by the ongoing addition of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, whose purpose is largely to conduct a military offensive in Kandahar that 94% of the people there say they don't want, preferring peace negotiations with the Taliban instead.

Of course, by itself the number $33 billion is totally meaningless. To make it meaningful, we need to compare it to something - what else could we do with $33 billion?

A recent missive from the AFL-CIO gives a compelling answer: we could use $33 billion to put America back to work:

If the Local Jobs for America Act (H.R. 4812) becomes law, it will create or save more than 675,000 local community jobs and more than 250,000 education jobs, according to the latest estimates from the House Education and Labor Committee.

According to the House Education and Labor Committee, the bill includes $75 billion over two years for local communities to hold off planned cuts or to hire back workers for local services who have been laid-off because of tight budgets. The bill also includes $24 billion, already approved by the House in December, to help states support 250,000 education jobs, put 5,500 law enforcement officers on the beat, and retain, rehire, and hire firefighters.

Let's therefore put the two year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act at $100 billion, or $50 billion a year.

Now, in order to compare apples and apples, we need to convert the $33 billion for war in Afghanistan to an annual figure - note that the $33 billion just pays for the Afghanistan war through the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. There's some debate about when the Pentagon will actually finish burning through the money it's already been given; let's start our count on June 1. In that case, $33 billion pays for four months of war in Afghanistan, for an annualized cost of $99 billion. In other words, the cost of the Local Jobs for America Act is half of the cost of continuing the war in Afghanistan.

Or we could look at it this way: supposed we decided to pay the two-year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act by shortening the war in Afghanistan. By how much time would we have to shorten the war? We'd have to shorten it by at least a year.

Now, if only there were a bill in Congress that would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least a year.

Fortunately, there is. Last week, Senator Feingold and Representative McGovern introduced companion legislation "to require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan." This legislation requires the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Since the current deadline for U.S. military withdrawal is nonexistent, I think it's fair to say that if this bill becomes law, the war is likely to be shortened by at least a year.

If you want your representatives in Congress to support the Local Jobs for America Act, and they say, "that's a great idea, but we have to pay for it," then encourage them to support the Feingold-McGovern bill.
I always enjoy a good debate vis-a-vis modesty.

So when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation recently censored my remarks in one such debate yesterday, and didn't allow me to respond to a detractor, I was disappointed.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where is the CBC?

I don't know if the CBC will publish my comments, or moderate them, but they deserve to be seen.

The time has come to ask why the halls of power resound with platitudes about Afghanistan and why only these are verily scrutinised with a magnifying glass.

Two pregnant women were killed last week by NATO, the bullets dug out of their bodies, and then recast as victims of some other accident that was locally caused. There was a sense of the- dare I say it- commonplace about this incident. A feeling that this had happened before, and would happen again, to some nameless, faceless scrap of unheralded womanhood, and all because the victim was Afghan, Afghan, Afghan, that benighted ethnicity, cursed for thirty weary, war wracked years.

There was nary a mention from the CBC. Every day the bombs fall, the bodies pile in the heat and the flesh and the stink of Kandahar; every day the sun beats, every day the dogs stroll by. No CBC as the victims trickle blood, no CBC as trafficked young women lie down to service the troops for a scrap of food, no mention even when army officers spirit a prostitute into their quarters and put it on our erstwhile American allies payroll.

No CBC when Afghan children are killed every day in Herat, in Kandahar, in the North and the bombed South, no CBC- as people, girls and boys, men and women, lose their limbs in the most heavily mined country in the world.

Where is the CBC? It is in the House, discussing persnickety little details of a sales tax, it is celebrating with athletes even as bodies are blown a world away in a grisly show that is no less awe inspiring, but better quibble over French being spoken at some never remembered ceremony than whether a little Afghan girl will have half of her face melted off by phosphorous, hair singed, teeth knocked out of her face, her face a permanent stamp, an irremediable mask- of Canada's shame.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Demand an Afghanistan Exit Strategy
posted by Katrina vanden Heuvel on 04/26/2010 @ 11:11am

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern, Republican Congressman Walter Jones, and Democratic Senator Russ Feingold have introduced legislation demanding an exit strategy and timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. The bill reads, "Military operations in Afghanistan have cost American taxpayers more than $200,000,000,000 in deficit spending since 2001." Over 1000 American soldiers have been killed and more than 5,600 wounded. In 2009 alone, 2400 Afghan civilians were killed according to the UN, and tens of thousands have lost their lives since the war began.

The Senate and House bills--S. 3197 and HR 5015 , respectively--would require President Obama to provide a plan and a timetable for withdrawal of all US forces and military contractors, and identify any contingencies that might require changes to that timetable. It would demand an exit strategy--long overdue--from a war that has already cost us too much in treasure and lives, and isn't in the interest of US national security.

"Basically, what the bill is is a rejection of an open-ended military commitment in Afghanistan," said Rep. McGovern, on a conference call with NGOs, activists, and media organized by Peace Action last week. "This bill is a signal to the President that we want him to come up with an exit strategy, and we want the details."

Last year, McGovern introduced a similar amendment to an Afghanistan war-funding bill that also called for an exit strategy. It garnered more than 100 cosponsors and received 138 votes. He hopes the current legislation will be attached to an upcoming Afghanistan supplemental--within as soon as two weeks--and that it will hopefully receive even greater support. The House bill already has 36 cosponsors, including Republican Congressmen Jones, John Duncan of Tennessee, and Tim Johnson of Illinois; also Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, and Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner.

"This is an incredibly important time," said McGovern. "The more cosponsors we can get in the next couple of weeks--the more we're going to be able to exert some pressure when the supplemental comes up, [and] the more we're going to send a signal to the Administration that they need to pay attention to those of us who are saying that we need to rethink Afghanistan. What we want to make clear is that the concern about our involvement in Afghanistan is increasing, that it is deep, that a lot of people and members of Congress from all the over country--have a concern about this. So, it's important that all of us work to try to get members of Congress as cosponsors."

While McGovern notes that Obama has said he will begin redeploying troops in July of next year--a statement which immediately received some pushback from Defense Secretary Gates--that's insufficient.

"It's not only important to know when the first soldier is to be redeployed or brought home," he said, "it's important to know when the last soldier is as well."

McGovern--who served as a staffer to Congressman Joe Moakley for 14 years prior to his election to Congress in 1997--said that phone calls, emails, and letters are all important to members.

"I have to tell you as a former staffer and as a member of Congress-- pressure works, grassroots pressure works. It really makes a difference here," he said. "And when many people do it it's a movement. And what we need to create here in a very short period of time is a movement to try to change course on Afghanistan."

He suggested that people ask their representatives for a written response to "force them to think about what you discuss with them and see whether you can influence their position."

For McGovern, the reasons we need to withdraw from Afghanistan are clear. And it begins with the mission itself.

"This mission--whatever it is--is not clear," he said. "And I don't think by any measure it is something that we should be investing so much in terms of human life and American taxpayer dollars."

He noted that the war began as a response to those responsible for 9-11, but those perpetrators are no longer there. Al Qaeda, too, is establishing itself in other parts of the world like Yemen, not in Afghanistan . In fact, focusing so many resources on Afghanistan hinders our ability to fight Al Qaeda.

"Now we're engaged in this prolonged nation-building--get rid of the Taliban mission--that is not clearly defined, and quite frankly, is not working," he said. "If you go to war, you should have a clearly defined mission--a beginning, middle, transition period, and an end. I don't know what that is here. I can't tell you what success in Afghanistan means. I don't think the Administration can either."

McGovern says one of the biggest obstacles advocates for this bill face is the "fear" legislators have that they will be vulnerable to the charge that they are "soft" on terrorism. But he argues that this war isn't making the country safer.

"I believe it's having the opposite effect," he said. "We're draining our Treasury. We're putting our young men and women in uniform's lives at risk defending a corrupt leader. With each civilian casualty, more and more resentment grows towards the American forces and the Allied Forces that are there."

The Congressman spoke of his August visit to Afghanistan and the "widespread outrage" among US government representatives on the ground who were "horrified over the way Karzai conducted the election."

"But that outrage did not translate to our policy makers here in Washington," he said. "Basically we've given Karzai a pass. Supporting corrupt, incompetent governments--that's not the way US policy should proceed. I've seen this movie before--and you have too--it doesn't have a happy ending."

But McGovern is also quick to point out that he isn't advocating that the US abandon Afghanistan, "nor should anybody." He said some of most successful development in Afghanistan has occurred without a significant military footprint.

"Maybe we should learn from that," he said. "The cost of one American soldier for one year in Afghanistan is equal to the cost of building thirty schools in Afghanistan. If you want to win the hearts and minds I think thirty schools is a pretty big deal. Helping the people of Afghanistan--in a way that makes a real difference to them--is a fraction of the cost of what we're doing right now."

And that cost of continuing this war isn't lost on McGovern or other advocates of this legislation. (In fact, if this legislation shortens the war in Afghanistan by a year, that would pay the two-year cost of the Local Jobs for America Act .

"The hundreds of billions of dollars we spend over there on war.... All that--mostly borrowed money--means that we're not investing at home. It means our roads and our bridges aren't being fixed. It means our schools aren't being fixed. It means we're not investing in healthcare, and a whole range of other things that we need to do to get our economy back on track," he said. "When we talk about national security, that definition needs to be enhanced to include jobs, and the quality of education that we offer our people, and healthcare, and infrastructure, and roads and bridges, and the purity of our environment. All those things are a part of our national security."

McGovern also draws from history to inform his thinking--something too rare among our representatives. Referring to Time of Illusion, by The Nation's peace and disarmament correspondent Jonathan Schell, he said: "[Schell] talked about this doctrine of credibility where policymakers in the 1960s all agreed that this Vietnam War was a loser, that our policy was wrong, but they were all worried about saving face. So they continued the war for several years before they ended it, probably on the same terms they could have ended it in the 1960s. But it was all about saving face and all about credibility.... I don't want to here 10 years from now, having this conversation, and having all of us say 'We could have done this ten years ago.'"

History also serves as a guide when it comes to the challenge we face in trying to get Congress and this Administration to rethink Afghanistan and change course.

"Lyndon Johnson had a great line after he left the White House," said McGovern. "He said, 'It's easy to get into war. It's hard as hell to get out of war.' Even when you know that war is wrong, or we need to readjust our policy. This is not an easy thing for this Administration to do. The only way things are going to change is through grassroots pressure--people working their members of Congress, getting him or her on HR 5015 , and making the case that they take a leadership role in trying to change our policy."

McGovern called the task at hand "politically delicate", but that "at some point I think doing what's right has to prevail."

This is the time for all of us to do what's right. A vote could come up in the next two weeks. Contact your Representative and Senators--whether Democrat or Republican--and tell them now is the time for them to cosponsor this bill.
What would it take to get this article posted on the ABC? Come on, Australia :)

KABUL, April 26 (AFP) - On walls around Afghanistan's scrappy capital, where million-dollar mansions line rutted roads, anonymous graffiti artists are daubing their disapproving take on the devastating cost of war.

Styled after the anonymous British vandal-artist Banksy, Kabul's streetwise stealth stencillers go by the moniker "Talibanksy", a reference to the Islamist Taliban who have been waging war in Afghanistan for almost nine years.

The street art forms a commentary on the cost in blood and treasure of the war, which has brought 126,000 US and NATO troops to Afghanistan and kills about 2,000 Afghan civilians a year, according to the UN.

Black, spray-painted silhouettes of soldiers and dollar signs, poppies, helicopters and tanks, and children running hand-in-hand began appearing in downtown Kabul a few months ago.

Some show the shadow of a helmeted soldier holding an assault rifle, inside a red circle with a line through it. Others have a silhouetted gun-toting trooper and a dollar sign joined by an equals symbol.

Or simply the words: Cost Of War.

Financially the war is estimated to cost some 100 million dollars a day, according to US media reports.

The human cost to foreign forces so far this year is close to 170, according to the website which keeps tally and says that of the 1,737 who have died since the war began in 2001, 1,051 were Americans.

The people behind the anti-war graffiti call themselves Combat Communications, and claim to be "a small anonymous group of international artists founded last year with the sole aim of advocating/promoting free expression".

According to a statement, they wish to remain anonymous and call their work "social and politically driven graphics".

"This form of self-expression is open to anyone. The youth of Kabul have no real outlet for artistic expression," it says, adding: "Do they want it?"

The Westerners behind Combat Communications declined to speak to AFP, saying they wanted to keep a low profile while they developed their strategy.

Their graffiti appear across the central residential and commercial districts of Kabul, alongside spray-painted advertisements for translation services, real estate agents, plumbers, septic tank cleaners and roofers.

Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan has begun moving towards democracy -- with the second parliamentary election set for September -- and freedom of expression is protected by the constitution.

Yet as the insurgency moves deep into its ninth year and the US-led counter-insurgency revs up with foreign troop numbers set to peak by August at 150,000, Kabul remains a city scarred by war and corruption.

Open drains run alongside the main roads, few sidestreets are paved, traffic control is derisory and public transport virtually non-existent.

Two-metre-high concrete blast walls surround most public buildings and embassies, and residential neighbourhoods feature the "narco-tecture" of garishly-tiled, multi-storey mansions most believe are built with the proceeds of the three-billion-dollar-a-year illicit drugs trade.

A cloud of filth from diesel-powered vehicles sits atop a city surrounded on three sides by the peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains, and piles of garbage are picked over by beggars and animals alike.

Consumer price inflation is said to be around 20 percent, helicopter gunships provide an almost constant overhead clatter, and Afghans desperate to leave their country for a new life form long queues at visa offices.

Into this harsh landscape, the sudden appearance of modern street art has added a touch of colour and controversy -- and the blast walls provide the perfect canvas.

Talibanksy's tags are not yet as ubiquitous as Banksy's guerilla art became in London and other British cities over the last decade.

Nor is it as sophisticated, so far presenting little more than simple anti-war messages and slogans, in contrast to the infinitely more clever, caustic and creative Banksy murals.

And whereas Banksy branched out to the US, Australia and the Middle East, becoming an international phenomenon and wealthy in the process, Combat Communications appears to be starting out with more modest ambitions.

The statement contains an anti-capitalist message, hitting out at the massive billboards that dominate city intersections, advertising telecommunications firms or warning against involvement in the drugs trade.

"'Selling the peace' AKA (also known as) winning the war, has also become a big industry. Propaganda is everywhere from counter-narcotic campaigns to counter-terrorism to army recruitment. You can't move without some form of visual purposeful persuasion burning a hole in your soul," it says.

"Social and politically driven graphics, AKA street art, can evoke thought and stimulate discussion.

"Watch your public space," the statement says. (By Lynne O'Donnell/ AFP)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Call to the Ways Untrod

There’s a quiet revolution happening on the nation’s school and college campuses. While the students still live in a sex-saturated culture, and while researchers claim that at least 75 percent of college students are part of the “hook-up” generation, more and more students are opting out of the sex scene. It is far too early to declare a new trend, but there are encouraging signs of a new respect for abstinence and dating, instead of recreational sex.

Part of the change of attitude and behavior comes from college students seeing the consequences and repercussions of recreational sex.

College counselors report that they are seeing a dramatic increase in sex-related problems on campuses. A just-published article in Professional Psychology reveals over three-quarters of clinic directors (77.1 percent) noted increases in “severe psychological problems.”
Over the past decade, counselors report that depression cases doubled, suicidal students tripled and sexual assault cases quadrupled.
Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant in a culture where it is not uncommon for students to have sex with several partners; they call it “concurrency.” About one in four women and about one in five men have HPV. Other STDs, like Herpes, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia, are also common among students — an estimated two-thirds of STDs occur among those under age 25.
The prevailing message about abortion is that it is a “choice,” but far too many of today’s college women have seen a friend be abandoned by a guy or coerced to have an abortion when he finds out she is pregnant.

Wonderful books are available and are having impact with college students and young careerists. Wendy Shalit’s book, The Good Girl Revolution: Young Rebels with Self-Esteem and High Standards, and her original book on modesty, A Return to Modesty, are having profound influence. Miriam Grossman’s Unprotected lays out the consequences of promiscuity. Carol Platt Liebau’s, Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls, reveals the “minefields” that today’s students have to navigate in their sexually “ramped up” world. Julie Klausner warns smart women not to be reckless with their hearts or bodies in I Don’t Care about Your Band. Joe McIlhaney, Jr., and Freda McKissic Bush have written a book of scientific data on casual sex, New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting our Children. Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both, describes the shift of “power” away from women in the hook-up culture and noted that many young women cannot handle the physical and emotional battering that they suffer in the new hook-up landscape. Meg Meeker’s Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens Our Sons and Daughters is also a no-holds-barred treatise about consequences. In her book, Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, Kathleen Bogle writes about how co-eds long for a return to traditional dating. All these books, and numerous others, are being read by today’s generation of students, and they are having a positive impact on student behavior.

Plus, there are some very savvy outreach programs gaining popularity on college campuses. Foremost among them is the Love and Fidelity Network, which currently has chapters on about two dozen high-profile campuses, including Princeton, Harvard, and Notre Dame. This very popular program, with distinguished Princeton professor Robert George in leadership, provides well-attended forums and discussion groups promoting abstinence, sexual integrity, and marriage. The Ruth Institute, headed by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, provides speakers for campus events and quality research on the benefits of marriage.

In addition, there are some pop cultural changes afoot with pop stars sending countercultural messages. Lady Gaga created a media frenzy recently when she told the press that she was going celibate and suggested that others do the same. Former American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson released a song, “I Don’t Hook Up,” where she declared that she didn’t hook up and she didn’t “come cheap.” On Facebook, there’s a girls’ group called “Bring Dating Back” for girls who want guys to take them out on a real date rather than head straight for a bed.

But arguably, the most influential cultural statement lately among the youngest teens was a few subtle lines in a #1 hit song, “Fifteen.” Taylor Swift, one of the most popular of today’s country music stars, sang poignantly about “realizing bigger dreams” than the high school boyfriend, and about crying with Abigail “who gave everything” to a boy who “changed his mind.” She said in a recent interview, “I wouldn’t be a party girl even if I wasn’t doing this [songwriter and performer]; that’s just not the way I live my life.”

At last, our young people are hearing the truth from some pop stars, and they are getting solid information, including the quality abstinence programs that have been given wider distribution over the past decade. Today’s youth are hearing from multiple sources about the benefits of self-respect, self-restraint, and learning to say “no.” Perhaps a trend is underway after all; we can only hope and continue to challenge the nation’s young people to live up to their highest potential.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Afghan prisoners are being abused in a "secret jail" at Bagram airbase, according to nine witnesses whose stories the BBC has documented.

The abuses are all said to have taken place since US President Barack Obama was elected, promising to end torture.

The US military has denied the existence of a secret detention site and promised to look into allegations.

Bagram was the site of a controversial jail holding hundreds of inmates, who have now been moved to another complex.

The old prison was notorious for allegations of prisoner torture and abuse.

But witnesses told the BBC in interviews or written testimony that abuses continue in a hidden facility.

Sleep deprivation

"They call it the Black Hole," said Sher Agha who spent six days in the facility last autumn.

"When they released us they told us we should not tell our stories to outsiders because that will harm us."


I could not sleep, nobody could sleep because there was a machine that was making noise

Mirwais, former detainee

Sher Agha and others we interviewed complained their cells were very cold.

"When I wanted to sleep and started shivering with cold I started reciting the holy Koran," he said.

But sleep, according to the prisoners interviewed, is deliberately prevented in this detention site.

"I could not sleep, nobody could sleep because there was a machine that was making noise," said Mirwais, who said he was held in the secret jail for 24 days.

"There was a small camera in my cell, and if you were sleeping they'd come in and disturb you," he added.

The prisoners, who were interviewed separately, all told very similar stories. Most of them said they had been beaten by American soldiers at the point of arrest before being taken to the prison.

Mirwais had half a row of teeth missing, which he said was from being struck with the butt of a gun by an American soldier.

No-one said they were visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross during their detention at the site, and they all said that their families did not know where they were.

In the small concrete cells, the prisoners said, a light was on all the time. They said they could not tell if it was night or day and described this as very disturbing.

Mirwais said he was made to dance to music by American soldiers every time he wanted to use the toilet.

The ex-prisoners said they were imprisoned at the secret jail before being taken to the main detention centre at the Bagram airbase, a new complex called The Detention Facility in Parwan.

Bagram's prisoners were moved to the Parwan complex from the old notorious Bagram prison site on the airbase earlier this year.

In 2002, two prisoners were killed in the Bagram prison while in US custody after being suspended from the ceilings of their cells and brutally beaten.

New jail

The BBC was allowed into the new Bagram prison for an hour.

This was one of the first opportunities any outsider has had to set eyes on Bagram's interned prisoners since a jail was first established at Bagram soon after 9/11.

In the new jail, prisoners were being moved around in wheelchairs with goggles and headphones on.


Hilary Andersson investigates detention at Bagram on BBC Radio 4 at 2002 on 11 May 2010.
The goggles were blacked out, and the purpose of the headphones was to block out all sound. Each prisoner was handcuffed and had their legs shackled.

Prisoners are kept in 56 cells, which the prisoners refer to as "cages". The front of the cells are made of mesh, the ceiling is clear, and the other three walls are solid.

Guards can see down into the cells above.

The BBC was told by the military to wear protective eye glasses whilst walking past the mesh cells as prisoners sometimes throw excrement or semen at the guards.

Prisoner accounts we logged painted a much better picture of the Parwan Detention Facility.

The US military itself has admitted that about 80% of those at Bagram are probably not hardened terrorists. It is the process of giving every detainee an internal military trial of sorts, called a Detainee Review Board.

The prisoners are represented by soldiers who are not lawyers.

"To this date, no prisoner has ever seen a lawyer in Bagram", said Tina Foster, who represents several of Bagram's prisoners in cases she has filed in on their behalf in the US. Guantanamo Bay's prisoners are able to see their lawyers.

About 100 prisoners have been released through this process, but due to an increased intake, the number of prisoners at Parwan is now 800, up from about 650 in September 2009.

The BBC put the allegations of ongoing abuses as a secret site on the airbase to the US military at Bagram. The military categorically denied the existence of a secret detention site.

"I've never heard of it. This is the only detention facility in Afghanistan" said Vice Admiral Robert Harward who is in charge of the Detention Facility in Parwan.

The US military promised to investigate any allegations of abuse.
KABUL -- The United Nations said five of its Afghan employees were missing Friday amid reports their vehicles were hijacked in the same northern province where fierce fighting killed four German soldiers and three Afghan police the previous day.

Word of the U.N. workers' disappearance in Baghlan province followed twin bombings Thursday targeting foreign companies in the southern city of Kandahar that killed at least three people.

A Baghlan police official said the U.N. employees had been kidnapped by Taliban insurgents. Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the world body in Kabul, said only that the five Afghans, who worked for the U.N. Office for Project Services, were missing.

"The U.N. is working with the Afghan authorities to ascertain their current whereabouts and the exact circumstances of the situation," McNorton said.

Baghlan's deputy police chief, Zalmay Mangal, said Taliban operatives hijacked the workers' vehicles Thursday and the U.N. employees were being held in Dahana-i-Ghori district of Baghlan province. Afghan police have asked tribal elders in the area to help ensure the workers' safety, he said.

Baghlan, about 120 miles (190 kilometers) north of the capital, was the site of intense fighting Thursday between international forces and Taliban militants.

Three of the German soldiers were killed when a rocket slammed into their Eagle armored vehicle, while the fourth died when a grenade was tossed into another vehicle while it was parked, the German Defense Ministry said. It said the soldiers ranged in age from 24 to 38. Another five German soldiers were wounded.

It was the biggest single-day loss of life suffered by the Germans since June 2003, when four soldiers were killed and 29 wounded in a bombing near Kabul airport.

Baghlan provincial police spokesman Habib Rahman said three Afghan policemen also were killed in Thursday's fighting, which included airstrikes and heavy weapons.

Fighting in the north has proved an increasing distraction from NATO's main forces on Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan. The city is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban and NATO forces are gearing up for a major operation to drive out insurgents and assert central government control.

The Thursday night attacks on a hotel and compound housing foreign companies in Kandahar showed enduring gaps in security despite a boost in police deployments and traffic checkpoints. The Taliban maintains a visible presence in large swaths of the region and parts of the city remain no-go areas for security forces, especially after dark.

On March 13, a suicide squad detonated bombs at a newly fortified prison, police headquarters and two other locations in a failed attempt to free Taliban prisoners. At least 30 people died in the blasts.

Three people, all Afghans, were killed in Thursday night's attack in which a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle at the inner security barrier of a compound shared by several Western companies.

Another 26 people were injured, 10 of them foreigners, including three Americans and a South African, Kandahar's provincial governor Tooryalai Wesa told reporters on Friday. He said he didn't know the nationalities of the other foreigners.

An initial report Thursday said three foreigners had been killed in the attack, but Wesa said that was not true and there was no corroboration that any foreigners had died.

NATO said 10 of the wounded were evacuated to its hospital in Kandahar, but gave no information on their nationalities or medical status.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai denounced the violence, saying such attacks have "repeatedly shown the terrorists' hostility toward innocent Afghan civilians and intention to keep the people of Kandahar in an atmosphere of fear."

The blast at the compound blew out windows as far as 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) away, including those at the home of Ahmad Wali Karzai, a high-ranking official in Kandahar and the Afghan president's half brother. The compound includes the offices of the international contracting company Louis Berger Group, the Afghanistan Stabilization Initiative and the aid contracting company Chemonics International.

Earlier Thursday, a remotely detonated car bomb went off in front of the Noor Jehan Hotel, which includes the offices of several foreign news organizations, wounding eight people and shattering windows in the four-story building.

Karzai said the 2,000 additional police pledged after last month's deadly bombings were sufficient, but he called for better intelligence to obtain inside knowledge of insurgent planning.

The U.S. Embassy on Friday condemned the latest bombings.

"Those killed and injured last night were in Afghanistan tirelessly working to deliver much-needed development, economic opportunity and electricity to the people of Kandahar," the embassy said in a statement. "The terrorists who carried out this attack are clearly not interested in improving the lives of Kandaharis."

Elsewhere on Friday morning, 10 insurgents were killed in a firefight with an Afghan police patrol in western Farah province's Pusht Rod district, according to the provincial police chief, Mohammad Faqir Askar. He said the dead included two Taliban commanders. One Afghan police officer was killed and two were wounded along with one civilian.

This is a campaign to save Canada's prison farms, where inmates in the justice system learn to grow stuff and cultivate agricultural skills. The House is looking at whether to maintain such a system now.
Here's some more from Derrick Crowe at FireDogLake; just another excerpt:

Note that all of these statements deal with the importance not just of the protection of civilians from killings by counterinsurgents, but the protection of the people in general. Counterinsurgency doctrine says that people aren’t going to switch to your side if they think they’ll get killed for it, no matter how low you drop the rate at which you cause civilian deaths. In other words, a drop in casualties caused by U.S. and allied groups is not sufficient for the hoped-for dynamic to take hold, according to COIN doctrine. It must be paired with an increase in security from insurgent violence as well. And that’s a problem for Spencer’s interpretation of counterinsurgency doctrine and his assessments of progress in Afghanistan, especially since the data he cites shows that in 2009:

"The escalation and spread of armed conflict resulted in the highest number of civilian casualties recorded since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and in the further erosion of humanitarian space."

So, even if we just went with the information that was available early yesterday, which said that McChrystal and Co. were killing fewer civilians, they still hadn’t managed to increase security for civilians in Afghanistan as measured by the total civilian deaths caused by the parties to the conflict. The Afghans, especially those in Kandahar, know it. The elders who live in the area targeted for the next big offensive told Karzai and McChrystal they didn’t want an operation in their area and specifically cited the increased risk to the civilian population from insurgent IEDs. Even if McChrystal proved he could drive down civilian casualties when he puts his mind to it, he’s also managed to prove over the last year that he can’t protect the population.

People who claim to actually believe in the efficacy of and the necessity for actual counterinsurgency in Afghanistan need to start screaming, right now, about what’s going on in Afghanistan under General McChrystal because their credibility is now unambiguously on the line. To his credit, Spencer notes in today’s post that, "By McChrystal’s own reckoning…the system is blinking red and new measures have to be put in place…" The problem is, though, that in an honest reading of counterinsurgency doctrine should have indicated that the system was already blinking red in 2009, but for whatever reason people continued to sing the praises of Saint Stanley McChrystal and took up gross distortions of COIN doctrine to do so. Numerous prerequisites for success as articulated by COIN doctrine remained absent and/or further degraded over 2009, including host nation government legitimacy and security for the local population, yet many writers focused on one particular statistic (casualties caused by pro-government forces) because it let them tell the story they wanted to tell.

The facts are these: Not only are we not protecting the population generally, but we’re demolishing progress made on decreasing civilian deaths attributed to us and our allies. We’ve doubled the number of special forces in the country, forces responsible for some of the most outrageous, alienating incidents of the war. We don’t have a legitimate local partner or a legitimate host nation government. And after paying lip-service to getting local buy-in for a Kandahar operation, McChrystal’s people now inform us that we plan to go ahead whether the people of Kandahar like it or not. McChrystal is letting the COIN pretensions fall away as the reality of the Afghanistan war reveals them as the hypocritical bullshit they always were. What’s left is the uncompromising and ugly truth: we are fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan, it’s going badly and we don’t have a credible prospect for a turnaround.

Spencer is right, the system is blinking red. It’s been blinking for years.
This was out today, in the Australian.

WHILE the Rudd government says it has stopped processing Afghans' asylum claims for six months because the situation in their homeland is improving, a new report paints a far more damning picture.

The report prepared by the Norwegian Refugee Council says the number of internally displaced refugees in Afghanistan has risen to 240,000 and is rising steadily as more flee violence and insecurity.

The council says internal displacement of Afghans is again on the rise as fighting intensifies in many regions. It describes the humanitarian situation as "critical".

Announcing the tough new policy on asylum-seekers last Friday, Immigration Minister Chris Evans, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor spoke of the prospect of Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum-seekers being sent home in safety and with dignity.

As the situations in their home countries were reviewed by the government in the coming months, "The likelihood of people being refused visas and being returned safely to their homelands will increase", Senator Evans said.

But the Norwegian report said an estimated 2412 civilians were killed in the Afghan conflict in 2009, two-thirds of them by insurgents.

It said the worsening security situation was increasingly hindering the return of refugees
This is excerpted from Michael T. Clare's piece this week in the Nation:

The worry that this will lead to an endless series of Vietnam- or Afghanistan-like counterinsurgencies is further heightened by the QDR's call for increased reliance on social scientists to better comprehend the perplexing social and cultural realities of these faraway places. Under its Minerva Initiative, the Defense Department is seeking "the intellectual capital necessary to meet the challenges of operating in a changing and complex environment." For those whose memory stretches back far enough, this will recall the infamous Project Camelot, a Vietnam-era Army effort to secure academic assistance in assessing public attitudes in Third World countries for counterinsurgency purposes.

The greatest risk in all this, of course, is that the military will become bogged down in a constellation of grueling, low-level wars. This is the prospect of "imperial over-stretch" spoken of by Yale historian Paul Kennedy in his 1987 classic, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. It is also, says Fareed Zakaria in The Post-American World, the scenario we must avoid if the United States is to escape the fate of the British Empire and other failed imperiums. "Britain's strategic blunder was to spend decades--time and money, energy and attention--on vain attempts to stabilize peripheral places on the map," Zakaria wrote in 2008. "The United States could easily fall into a similar imperial trap."

The Pentagon's renewed commitment to counterinsurgency and low-intensity warfare will also require a substantial investment in new hardware at a time when the country faces a record deficit, further eroding its long-term vitality. To obtain the added funds he deems necessary, Gates has asked for an $18 billion increase in the Pentagon's base budget for the 2011 fiscal year, raising total spending to $549 billion (which does not include combat costs in Iraq and Afghanistan). To gain additional financing for these projects, he has been willing to sacrifice some big-ticket items intended for major conventional wars, such as the F-22 jet fighter (discontinued in 2009).

Gates calls this shift in emphasis "rebalancing," and it is said to be the guiding principle of the new Pentagon budget. "Rebalancing our forces in support of these strategic priorities means that US forces must be flexible and adaptable to confront the full range of plausible challenges," Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, one of the QDR's principal authors, told a Pentagon press briefing on February 1. "To underwrite this flexibility...we need more and better enabling intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, rotary-wing aircraft, language skills and so forth."

The danger here is that Congress--prodded by powerful interests in the military-industrial complex--will approve the specialized counterinsurgency equipment sought by Gates and Flournoy, as well as an array of costly, super-sophisticated weapons designed to fight a full-scale war with some future, Soviet-like "peer" competitor. Under these circumstances, the Pentagon budget will continue to grow.

The Obama-Gates strategy thus entails a double peril. On the one hand, it risks involvement in an endless series of wars, wearing down the military and turning more and more non-Westerners against the United States--exactly the outcome envisioned by Che in his famous 1967 dictum. On the other hand, the "rebalancing" sought by Gates could lead to higher spending on low-intensity hardware while failing to curb investment in high-end weaponry, thereby producing ever-increasing military budgets, a growing national deficit and persistent economic paralysis. In the worst case, both outcomes will occur, dooming the United States to retreat, humiliation and penury.

There is no reason to doubt that Obama and Gates believe they are acting in the nation's--and the world's--best interest by advocating a strategy of global counterinsurgency. Such a strategy could conceivably prevent Al Qaeda from gaining a temporary foothold in some "ungovernable area" on the fringe of the Islamic world. But it will not eliminate the conditions that give rise to Islamist extremism, nor will it ensure lasting peace. The Pentagon's new strategy can only lead, in the end, to a world of increased anti-Americanism and violence.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

But in the past year, some key announcements from major chocolate makers have heartened human rights watchers.

Last March, Cadbury announced that it would produce all of its Dairy Milk bars with fair trade chocolate. “That’s an iconic chocolate bar, and it means that you can walk into any store and buy a fair trade bar. You don’t have to go to a health food store,” says Fitch-Frankel. The bar was so well-received in England that Cadbury expanded its production to Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. (Hershey makes Cadbury's bars in the US.)

On the heels of that announcement, Nestle announced that it would go fair trade with its four-finger Kit Kat bar, but only in the UK.

And then Green and Black’s spoke up: The Cadbury subsidiary announced it would turn 100% of its offerings into fair trade products -- globally.

That leaves open the possibility that one major chocolate maker in the US will take advantage of “the sheer marketing potential" of having the first fair trade chocolate bar in American supermarket aisles, says Fitch-Frankel. "It would be a windfall."

“Shareholders should be angry because not making this bar is reducing the company's potential profitability,” she suggests, “especially in light of the fact that it’s cheap to go fair trade.”

Now the question is, which major brand will be first to bite?
Like it or not, this background article confirms that the EU's export policies can have an impact on domestic debate within Canada.

Now that it has been confirmed that Canadian flax has been contaminated with the genetically modified variety called Triffid, taken off the market in 2001, Canadian flax growers are scrambling to find a market for their product.
The confirmation of the gm contamination is jeopardizing Canadian flax production. Flax growers will face more red tape and increased expenses just to be able to sell their crops, and, claims one farmer, the risk of exploitation by grain companies. The situation is expected to prompt a decrease in production, as well as a loss of market share. Canada has been the world's largest producer of flax. While the search for the source of the contamination is still underway, farmers are now required to test their crops before shipping the grain.
European tests confirmed Canadian flax was contaminated with the decommissioned gm variety Triffid in July 2009. However, Canada wanted to create its own test to determine whether or not Triffid was contaminating Canadian flax shipments. The Canadian-developed Triffid flax was to be destroyed after Canada delisted it as a crop. The Canadian Grain Commission said the contamination level is so low - one seed out of every 10,000 seeds -- the source of contamination may not be found.
An unnamed merchant for a grain company said

"... low levels of genetic modification were being found in samples taken across Canada."

Testing is said to be slowing down sales of flax. Another source said approximately 5% of the 2,200 samples submitted for testing were positive for Triffid.
Grain farmers are now saying the recommendation to buy certified gm-free seed will leave farmers open to exploitation. National Farmer's Union spokesman, Terry Boehm said

“It is false to simply assume that certified seed is safer than farm-saved. For one thing, it is almost certain that the certified seed system is the source of the Triffid contamination farmers are now facing. Furthermore, it has now been determined that two varieties of flax are contaminated with Triffid at the breeder seed level (varieties Normandy and Mons).”

Boehm cautioned that policies should not be allowed to be set by a handful of powerful grain companies. Grain companies have already stipulated which labs farmers can use for testing.
Canadian flax growers are also concerned about the erosion of Canada's reputation as a producer of flax.
The two varieties that have been found to be contaminated with Triffid both originate from the University of Saskatchewan, which had also created the Triffid variety. However, the University of Saskatchewan has not been confirmed as the source of the contamination.
Flax growers are urged to test seed for gm contamination prior to planting, or to purchase certified gm-free seed. Farmers are also urged by grain companies to provide proof of testing or purchase of certified seed. The test costs $105.00.
After the gm contamination was found, Europe refused shipments of flax from Canada until new quality controls were put into place.
Canadian growers are bearing the brunt of the contamination, paying for the tests out of their own pockets, as well as experiencing slow sales. The Flax Council of Canada is trying to persuade Europe to increase the level of gm contamination it will accept in shipments of flax.
Contaminated flax is being sold to China and the United States. Brazil has since ordered all Canadian flax imports to undergo testing for gm contamination.
Professor Joe Cummins, a Canadian genetic scientist has theorized the Triffid flax, grown in the field in trials, has contaminated all Canadian flax. He theorized that the gm contamination occured long ago but was never detected in tests until last year. Cummins is Professor Emeritus of Genetics with the University of Western Ontario.
Last year, Canada pulled in over $300 million from European flax sales.
In December 2009, Russian grown flax was also found to be contaminated with a gm flax product.
From the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. Out TODAY.

MPs listen to Canadians ahead of industry on GM Crops

Groups applaud MPs for moving Bill C-474 to Committee for study

Ottawa. Thursday, April 15, 2010 – Last night, Parliament passed Private Members Bill C-474 through second reading, in spite of intense pressure from the biotech industry. The Bill, which would require analysis of potential harm to export markets before the sale of new genetically modified (GM) seeds, will now be studied by the House of Commons Agriculture Committee.

“Finally MPs are taking steps to protect farmers from the economic chaos that GM crops can cause,” said Terry Boehm, President of the National Farmers Union, “GM contamination has already seriously damaged major export markets for Canadian flax farmers and would threaten the markets for our alfalfa and wheat growers."

The NDP and Bloc Quebecois supports the Bill and last night Liberal Party MPs voted to allow the Bill to go to this next stage. The Conservative Party strongly opposes the Bill, though two B.C. Conservative MPs voted in favour. The Bill was introduced by Alex Atamanenko, NDP Agriculture Critic and MP for B.C. Southern Interior.

“Last night, the majority of MPs listened to Canadians instead of the biotech industry,” said Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “MPs will now have the opportunity to study and debate this Bill. We are witnessing the first substantive debate in Parliament over the negative impacts of GM crops.”

The biotech industry lobbied vigorously to stop the upcoming debate at Committee. Yet the strength of public and farmer concern over GM crops was apparent to MPs. Over 9000 thousand letters were sent from constituents in the past month asking MPs to support the Bill. At least 6 MPs were also presented with petitions.

Bill C-474 was supported by the National Farmers Union, which urged Parliamentarians and all Canadians, to support the Bill. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture took a cautious stance in favour of moving the Bill forward, to encourage debate at Committee.

“The current GM flax contamination crisis shows the value of this Bill. And the threat of GM alfalfa has made the Bill an urgent necessity,” said Sharratt. Canadian flax export markets closed in October 2009 when GM contamination was detected.

“We will not stand by and watch farmers struggle alone against the corporate juggernaut of biotechnology,” said Sharratt, “The time when Canadians are expected to accept GM crops without question, is over.”

For more information: Terry Boehm, National Farmers Union, 306 255 2880; Lucy Sharratt, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, 613 241 2267 ext.6.
This is from the Nelson (can you say hippie?) newspaper, which is a town in British Columbia. These rural regions, as well as pretty much all of us, are profoundly affected by the GMO debate.

April 13,2010

Colin Payne, Daily News reporter

Alex Atamanenko’s private member’s bill on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is going before Parliament for second reading on Wednesday.

Bill C-474, put forward by the BC Southern Interior MP and NDP agriculture critic, calls for an export market analysis to be carried out by government before approving new genetically engineered seeds.

Atamanenko said contamination of regular farm crops with GMO crops could have significant impacts on trade with many countries that have laws against genetically modified foods. Canada currently has no such laws.

After the first reading and two hours of debate in the House of Commons, Atamanenko is expecting support from his own party, the Bloc Quebecois, but the Conservatives are against the bill and Liberal support is questionable.

“The Conservatives do not want it to go to committee (the next step before the bill reaches its third reading),” Atamanenko said. “And though they have some reservations, apparently the Liberals want it to go to committee.

“But we’ll just have to see. Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure from the biotech industry for it not to go to committee. It’s possible there will be some Liberals who don’t show up (for the vote).”

Atamanenko said he’s happy to see his initiative debated in the House of Commons and feels it’s an opportunity to open up a larger debate about GMOs.

“It’s a significant bill because it pinpoints the whole question around GMOS,” Atamanenko said. “We need to have some kind of assessment of what will happen to farmers if there’s contamination by GMOs, especially with GMO alfalfa and wheat technically approved for release.

“We need to have that analysis and debate about GMOs in Canada.”

Socialists, Separatists, and Immigrants, Oh My!

a little of matt good's excellent lyrics:

i'm surfacing. i'm surfacing.

..speaking of under the radar, these are not the full changes to the Citizenship Act, which basically can repeal citizenship of ANY first generation Canadian at ANY time if they have a "history" that is deemed "inappropriate" by the authorities, but hey:

"....This means that the children of adopted children who are born overseas will not be granted citizenship “naturally”.

For immigrants, the citizenship will be cut off at second generation. This means that if your son/daughter has acquire Canadian citizenship through immigration, and he/she decides to give birth to a child outside of Canada, that kid would not “inherit” Canadian citizenship as it could be now (though you have to go through some registration process).

This is a HUGE change to the Citizenship Act and it has gone unnoticed! By now Bill C-35 has long passed by the parliament, gained royal assent and the accompanying regulations have already published in Canada Gazette, it means no one will be able to refute it. In fact, the new regulations will come into effect no later than April 17, 2009.

One point to note, though, if these kids are born in Canada, there will be no citizenship problem.

Does our government not know the effect of this amendment? That they are too naive to truly believe they are protecting the value of our citizenship? Well, the answer is no again.

The analysis/commentary accompanied the online publication of Bill C-37 hosted on the parliament website, it says:

A second contentious issue raised by the bill relates to citizenship by descent. Under Bill C-37, the child born abroad to a parent who derived his or her citizenship from a Canadian parent who was also born abroad will not automatically become a Canadian citizen. In other words, Bill C-37 cuts off citizenship by descent after the first generation born abroad. The benefits of this approach include clarity and certainty; the opportunity to repeal retention and registration requirements that the Government has no way of communicating to those at risk of losing their citizenship; and an end to the possibility of Canadian citizenship being passed down indefinitely to people who have little or no connection with Canada. The major problem with this approach is that it may result in some people not being Canadian citizens at birth even though they and their parents have a substantial connection with Canada.

A third criticism the bill is likely to attract arises because of the proposed cut-off described above. Under the bill, a person who is the second or subsequent generation born abroad to a Canadian parent may be stateless if he or she does not acquire citizenship of the state of birth, or through his or her other parent. Canada is a contracting state to the United Nations’ Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.(32) Under article 4 of that Convention, a contracting state is required to grant its nationality to a person not born in the territory of the contracting state, who would otherwise be stateless, if the nationality of one or both of the person’s parents at the time of the person’s birth was that of the contracting state. Such a grant of nationality may be subject to certain stipulated conditions, however. The provision included in Bill C-37 to deal with statelessness is compliant with the Convention, but only minimally so.

It is not that I do not support our government to take steps to protect the values of Canadian citizenship, but I really do not like the way this government does thing — slipping through cracks. What is accountability and transparency this government advertised when it took office in 2006? Where were Raymond Chan, Olivia Chow, Libby Davis etc when they were supposed to be scrutinizing every act of the government?

Read the rightwing-friendly article by the National Post titled “New immigration rules create two-tier Canadians: critics.” The article provides an explanation for the motive of this amendment and why the government doesn’t want us to notice:

The issue of so-called “Canadians of convenience” was highlighted during Israel’s 2006 military action in Lebanon, when the federal government conducted an emergency evacuation of Canadian citizens from the Middle East, including some who were living there permanently.

So whenever the government gives you some goodies, always keep your eyes at what it is taking away from you.

Donald Galloway, a law professor at the University of Victoria specializing in immigration and refugee law, says it is odd that the Harper government would make it easier for adopted children to become Canadians, then propose a new regulation that would take away the citizenship rights their parents enjoyed.

“They’re giving benefits with one hand and taking it away with the other,” said Mr. Galloway, who is the father of a nine-year-old girl adopted from China. “You now have to worry about where your kids are born.”
so much flies under the radar these days.

What if the Harper government's approach to the environment -- rolling back previous safeguards, endlessly delaying regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, failing even to make serious efforts at conservation -- doesn't simply reflect indifference, neglect, or a single-minded attempt to shelter the lucrative and polluting tarsands?

What if the real, unstated, goal is to withdraw the federal government from environmental regulation altogether and hand full responsibility to the provinces? Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who has followed federal environmental policy for decades and over the course of several governments, is convinced that is the prime minister's end game.

While the Constitution treats the environment as a shared responsibility, Conservatives want to rewrite the rules "so the federal government doesn't have a role at all," she says. That fits with Harper's "libertarian" notion that government is largely an impediment to peoples' lives, outside of providing a few basic services.

For evidence, she cites the recent budget, which announced that environmental reviews of major energy projects would now be undertaken by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission --both regarded as pro-industry -- rather than the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, established in 1994.

This bombshell, mostly overlooked in an otherwise uneventful budget, was followed by a low-key announcement that the environment minister will now have wide-ranging powers to limit environmental assessments of contentious projects to specific elements -- a road into the site, for instance, or a nearby waterway.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice insists his government remains committed to oversight and his goal is only to reduce needless delay and duplication.

May says this is a canard -- that federal and provincial governments often run joint, rather than competing, reviews; that each level of government has different, if related, green mandates; and, that, without federal participation, there will be less scrutiny overall.

Quebec's best-known environmentalist, Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre, agrees both levels of government have "complementary" interests that rarely overlap. "Are you going to suggest that Ottawa shouldn't have a health ministry, because Quebec does?" he asks.

This latest tinkering follows another under-the-radar move in a previous budget that ended up "gutting," in May's words, the federal navigable waters protection act by redefining what is "navigable" and, therefore, entitled to protection.

These measures -- together with the fact that billions in federal stimulus spending was dispensed without a thought to environmental gains -- suggests to May a retreat in the face of inexorable pressure from industry for less "red tape," and a reflection of Harper's attitude that green regulation is a job-killing nuisance.

"If this government's policy goals were ever stated clearly, Canadians would be up in arms," says May. "So they talk about 'realistic' targets, and 'duplication.' They are very careful to disguise the most anti-environmental agenda of any government ever."

Besides being an environmental lawyer and long-time activist, May, of course, is Harper's political rival. But she isn't the only one struck by the disconnect between the government's more conciliatory tone since Prentice became minister and its retrograde, or contradictory, actions.

Four months ago, for instance, Prentice designated Nunavut's Lancaster Sound, a playground for whales and polar bears, as a potential national marine park. This week, the Citizen reported another arm of government, the Geological Survey of Canada, will be surveying the seabed this summer for oil and gas deposits.

Then there was the recent retreat on climate change, promoted as an advance. After an under-whelming performance at Copenhagen in December, the Conservatives committed to reducing emissions by 17 per cent under 2005 levels to match U.S. targets -- not acknowledging that this was a climb-down from the 20-per-cent reduction from 2006 levels they originally promised.

In any event, targets hardly matter since this government, like its Liberal predecessors, has yet to produce long-promised regulations restricting carbon emissions, industry by industry. They haven't even done the easier things, such as regulating water use by the tarsands or protecting caribou and other habitat around Fort McMurray.

Instead, they've ended a popular home retrofit program, cut funding for climate science, championed the seal hunt, allowed the continued export of asbestos, insisted on our right to harvest endangered fish species and, essentially, turned us into an international disgrace.

Last week, the government did embrace tougher North American tailpipe standards for cars and light trucks starting in 2011. But this advance was driven by the Obama administration and resisted, for years, by both Liberal and Conservative governments.

Harper has promised to move in lockstep with our biggest trading partner on environmental regulation -- a timid approach, perhaps, but the only hope for Canadians looking for a green future.

In fact, with the provinces taking over domestic policy and the U.S. determining our international standards, he can wash his hands of the environment entirely. And is.