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Robert Cohen: In the Seventh Year

David W. Dunlap/ NY Times

Foto: David W. Dunlap/ NY Times

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought.

For the wreckage begat greed; and it came to pass that while America’s young men and women fought, other Americans enriched themselves. Beguiling the innocent, they did backdate options, and they did package toxic mortgage securities and they did reprice risk on the basis that it no more existed than famine in a fertile land.

Thereby did the masters of the universe prosper, with gold, with silver shekels, with land rich in cattle and fowl, with illegal manservants and maids, with jewels and silk, and with Gulfstream V business jets; yet the whole land did not prosper with them. And it came to pass, when the housing bubble burst, that Main Street had to pay for the Wall Street party.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did neglect husbandry.

And he took his nation into desert wars and mountain wars, but, lo, he thought not to impose taxation, not one heifer nor sheep nor ox did Bush demand of the rich. And it came to pass that the nation fell into debt as boundless as the wickedness of Sodom. For everyone, Lehman not least, was maxed out.

So heavy was the burden of war, and of bailing out Fannie and Freddie, and of financing debt with China, that not one silver shekel remained to build bridges, nor airports, nor high-speed trains, nor even to take care of wounded vets; and the warriors returning unto their homes from distant combat thought a blight had fallen on the land.

So it was in the seventh year after the fall of the towers. And still Bush did raise his hands to the Lord and proclaim: “I will be proved right in the end!”

And around the whole earth, which had stood with America, there arose a great trouble, for it seemed to peoples abroad that a great nation, rich in flocks and herds and land and water, had been cast among thorns and Philistines; its promise betrayed, its light dimmed, its armies stretched, its budget broken, its principles compromised, its dollar diminished.

And it came to pass that this profligate nation, drinking oil with insatiable thirst, could not cure itself of this addiction, and so its wealth was transferred to other nations that did not always wish it well.

Wherefore the balance of power in the world was altered in grievous ways, and new centers of authority arose, and they were no more persuaded by democracy than was the Pharaoh.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation, and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did neglect the costs of wanton consumption. And he believed that if the Lord created fossil fuel, fossil fuel must flow without end, as surely as the grape will yield wine.

Therefore, in the seventh year after the fall, with 1,126 of the slain still unidentified, their very beings rendered unto dust, their souls inhabiting the air of New York, it seemed that one nation had become two; and loss, far from unifying the people, had sundered the nation.

For the rich, granted tax breaks more generous than any blessing, grew richer, and incomes in the middle ceased to rise, and workers saw jobs leaving the land for that region called Asia. And some fought wars while others shopped; and some got foreclosed while others got clothes. And still Bush spake but few listened.

Behold, so it was in the seventh year, and it seemed that America was doubly smitten, from without and within.

And, lo, a strange thing did come to pass. For as surely as the seasons do alternate, so the ruler and party that have brought woe to a nation must give way to others who can lead their people to plenty. How can the weary, flogged ass bear honey and balm and almonds and myrrh?

Yet many Americans believed the exhausted beast could still provide bounty. They did hold that a people called the French was to blame. They did accuse a creation called the United Nations. They did curse the ungodly sophisticates of Gotham and Hollywood and sinful Chicago; and, lo, they proclaimed God was on their side, and carried a gun, and Darwin was bunk, and truth resided in Alaska.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did foster division until it raged like a plague. Each tribe sent pestilence on the other.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought — but not how the damage would be undone

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/11/opinion/11Cohen.html?ref=opinion

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Jerome Starkey: Footage of civilian ‘massacre’ forces inquiry into US attack

America’s most senior soldier in Afghanistan has called for the Pentagon to investigate claims that more than 90 civilians were killed in an American airstrike, after harrowing video footage emerged showing the broken bodies of at least 11 children among the dead.

The grim, eight-minute clip, filmed on a mobile phone in the aftermath of the bombing, shows rows of shrouded bodies laid side by side in a make-shift morgue. Among them are at least 11 children, many of them toddlers.

General David McKiernan, the commander of Nato’s International Assistance Force (Isaf), ordered a fresh investigation led by a Pentagon general after footage was released on Sunday night. In a statement he said: “In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties … I feel it is prudent to request that US Central Command send a general officer to review the US investigation and its findings.”

The top-level review comes just days after he admitted there were “large discrepancies” among accounts of the death toll. American officials claim there were just seven civilians killed. The United Nations, the Afghan government and human rights groups said that the body count was closer to 90. Locals said most of the dead were women and children.

The damning footage was shot by a doctor who visited the morgue, in a building normally used as a mosque, on the morning after the attack on 22 August.

At one point a blanket is pulled back to show the grey, lifeless face of an infant. The dead child’s head is no bigger than a man’s hand. A large section of skull is missing. Women can be heard wailing in the background. One mourner is heard crying for his mother.

The bombs were called in by American Special Forces after their patrol was ambushed in Azizabad, in Herat province, shortly before dawn on that day. Officials said the American soldiers were trying to arrest a suspected Taliban commander.

Days after the attack, American officials remained adamant that just 30 Taliban insurgents had been killed, including their commander, despite detailed claims by Afghan officials that at least 76 people were killed, including 50 children.

Four days after the airstrike, on 26 August, the UN’s senior official in Kabul, Kai Eide, claimed he had “convincing evidence … that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men”.

Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s President, said relations with the United States had “worsened” in the wake of the raid, which prompted a grovelling phone call from President George Bush.

There has been growing criticism of international troops for failing to curb civilian killings. A report by Human Rights Watch, published yesterday, said civilian deaths as a result of airstrikes by the US and Nato tripled from 2006 to 2007, which have sparked a public backlash.

Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said: “Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces.”

American officials eventually revised their initial body count, on 2 September, but they were still nowhere close to the numbers reported elsewhere. A spokesman said: “The investigation found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were killed. In addition five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured and subsequently treated.”

Mr Eide, the UN’s Special Representative, summoned General McKiernon to his office in Kabul on Friday last week to see the evidence for himself. General McKiernon was furious that the UN had released such an uncompromising statement condemning the raid. But a source close to the Isaf commander revealed he was almost moved to tears when he finally saw the images for himself. “He was shocked and humbled. He left like a little boy,” the military aide said.

If the 90 dead are confirmed, it would be the worst incident of collateral damage in Afghanistan since US and UK forces invaded in 2001.

Missiles fired by US drones killed 16 people, in an attack launched across the border into Pakistan yesteday. The strike targetted a religious school founded by an old friend of Osama bin Laden, intelligence officials and Pakistani villagers said. The US has increasingly used drones to make cross broder strikes on suspected Taliban targets in recent weeks. The missile killed 16 people, most of them Pakistani and Afghan Taliban fighters, though four women and two children were also killed, according to a senior intelligence officer.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/footage-of-civilian-massacre-forces-inquiry-into-us-attack-923486.html

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Stephen Farrell: The Troop Debate: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Marko Georgiev for The New York Times)

U.S. soldiers from 18th Military Police Brigade provide security near a checkpoint in Baghdad in August. (Photo: Marko Georgiev for The New York Times)

BAGHDAD — As Iraqi and American diplomats negotiate a deal for American troops to stay in Iraq, or not, Iraqis are also debating the issue.

For Iraqis, just as for Americans, it is far more complex than a simple “stay” or “go.” For both it is about blood, treasure, pride, dignity and a nation’s sense of itself and its place in the world.

But a lot more Iraqi blood than American has already been spilled, and stands to be spilled again, if the politicians get it wrong.

On the streets of Iraq the questions being asked about the continuing American presence are about sovereignty, stability and America’s intentions in Iraq past, present and future: How many American troops will stay? How quickly will they go? If they stay, where will they be based? To do what? With what powers? And under what restrictions?

For the most part, Iraqis’ views generally fall into three categories.

One group, which includes many followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr — and some intensely nationalist Sunni Arabs in parts of the country that have suffered the worst since the invasion – simply want the Americans to leave, period. They say no amount of American effort now can make up for the horrors of the occupation, including the destruction of society and the killing of innocent civilians.

A second group takes a similarly dim view of the occupation, but worries that the brief period of improving security which Iraq has witnessed this year will be vulnerable if the Americans abruptly withdrew. They say the United States has a moral obligation to remain, and that continued presence of the occupiers is preferable to a return to rule by gangs and militias.

A third group shares a common worry, that without a referee, Iraq’s dominant powers – Kurds in the far north and Shias in the center and south – will brutally dominate other groups.

The Americans are not the first to be facing such dilemmas in Iraq.

In August 1920, only two years after his declining colonial power had emerged from the devastation of the First World War, the then British Secretary of War Winston Churchill wrote (but did not send) a letter to his prime minister which contained this assessment of Mesopotamia:

“It seems to me so gratuitous that after all the struggles of war, just when we want to get together our slender military resources and re-establish our finances and have a little in hand in case of danger here or there, we should be compelled to go on pouring armies and treasure into these thankless deserts.”

A millennium and a half earlier in 694 AD, the Ummayad provincial governor Hajjaj also faced a fractious Baghdad. His response to one angry crowd was a speech learned by all Iraqi schoolchildren: “I see heads before me that are ripe and ready for the plucking, and I am the one to pluck them, and I see blood glistening between the turbans and the beards.” The turbans melted away.

Five years later Hajjaj faced a rebellion in a troublesome region to his east, which forced him to move troops from Iraq/Mesopotamia.

That rebellion was in Kabulistan, now part of Afghanistan. An historical parallel which drew a wry smile from General David H. Petraeus, the commander of American forces in Iraq, when The New York Times pointed it out to him last month. General Petraeus will soon move up the chain of command to take over the Central Command region, making him responsible for a region that covers both Iraq and modern Kabulistan.

Names and regimes change, but there is nothing new under the Mesopotamian sun.

The debate goes on.

* NY Times

http://baghdadbureau.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/08/the-troop-debate-should-we-stay-or-should-we-go/index.html

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Edward Lucas: How the West is losing the energy cold war

Picture yourself as the autocratic leader of a small-ish former Soviet republic, bubbling with oil and gas and keen to sell it. But where? One route is old, cheap and easy. It leads north, to Russia. But memories of the Kremlin’s imperial embrace are still fresh. The other is new, costly and tricky. It goes west, in both senses – via your neighbour, Georgia, and to supply Western customers direct.

Azerbaijan, a country of 8 million people on the Caspian Sea, plumped for the western route. After all, America was the strongest country in the world and Russia – back in the 1990s – was weak. So Azerbaijan supported the building of a $4 billion, 1,000-mile-long, million-barrels-a-day oil pipeline from Baku, its capital, via Tbilisi, in Georgia, to Ceyhan, a port on Turkey’s southern coast. BTC, as it is known, is the only oil pipeline from the former Soviet Union not controlled by the Kremlin.

Azerbaijan also supported the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline into eastern Turkey. Europe, with US backing, wants to extend it all the way to Austria. That project is named Nabucco – an operatic touch that underlines its importance in saving Europe from energy slavery.

Now not only is that plan in tatters but much else besides. As the shock waves from Russia’s dismemberment of Georgia echo across the region, Western interests are toppling like dominos. Almost unnoticed in Britain, Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, paid a near-disastrous visit to Azerbaijan last week. Its President, Ilham Aliyev, inflicted a series of public snubs, including phoning the Russian President, Dmitri Medvedev, the moment that a meeting with Mr Cheney finished. A disgruntled Mr Cheney apparently then failed to appear at an official banquet. Azerbaijan seems to be ruling out supplying gas to Nabucco.

The reason is simple – Mr Aliyev does not want his country to suffer Georgia’s fate. It all too easily could. Like Georgia, Azerbaijan is not shielded by Nato. Talks on a US military presence have got nowhere. Relations with the EU are dormant, not helped by rigged elections and bullying of the opposition. Russia has been stirring up the Lezgin ethnic minority, whose homeland straddles the border between Russia and Azerbaijan. Mr Aliyev, an instinctive fence-sitter, has been talking nicely to Russia’s energy giant Gazprom. It has offered to buy his country’s entire gas exports – at world prices.

Just across the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have stitched up a deal to build a new gas export pipeline north to Russia. That further kiboshes Western hopes of finding gas from Central Asia to fill Nabucco, which is threatened by the rival South Stream project across the Black Sea, promoted by Russia.

It gets worse. Even Turkey, the linchpin of Western security planning in the region, is wobbling. It depends on a Russian pipeline across the Black Sea for most of its gas. The Kremlin has been assiduously cultivating Ankara, just as the EU has been giving it the cold shoulder. The sight of a semi-independent Kurdistan emerging as the result of the US invasion of Iraq has chilled relations further.

Iran is the other beneficiary of Georgia’s defeat. If the westward route is blocked, the choice for Central Asia and the Caucasus is to deal either with the mullahs of Tehran or with the former KGB men in Moscow. Neither offers much comfort to the West. Iran has said that it will block a gas pipeline across the Caspian – a vital link in the Nabucco project.

It may seem hard to get worked up about this in Britain. But if energy supplies to the rest of Europe are under Russia’s thumb, Britain’s security is deeply compromised. The absurdity is that Europe should be laying down terms to Russia. Not only is the EU the Kremlin’s largest customer, Europe’s economy is more than ten times larger than Russia’s, its population more than three times bigger. The magnet of European integration has brought peace to the western Balkans: if it is a choice between snuggling up to Russia or getting on track to join the EU, countries such as Serbia choose West over East. The same is happening, tantalisingly, in Belarus, where the autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko is desperately flirting with Europe in the hope of staving off the day when his country is swallowed up in a new Russian-run superstate. Belarus has released all its political prisoners and is hoping that the EU will now relax sanctions.

The West used to be deluded about the former KGB regime in Russia. Belatedly it has shed its illusions. But it is still fatally divided and distracted. Germany and Italy prize their economic ties with Russia far above the interests of nominal allies in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. British Eurosceptics react with garlic and silver bullets when a common European foreign policy is discussed. America is far away, bogged down in two other wars. It is not going to fight harder for Europe than Europe itself will do. Russia knows this, and believes it has a green light to push ahead. Turn down the heating: this is going to be a long winter.

Edward Lucas is the author of The New Cold War

London Times

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article4698316.ece

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Roger Cohen: Real Wars and the U.S. Culture

The culture-war surge in the U.S election campaign has come at the expense of meaningful debate about the real wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s dangerous because they stand at critical junctures.

We’ve had Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention setting a new low for foreign policy with her attempt to mock Barack Obama’s approach to international terrorists: “He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”

I’m sorry, Ms. Palin, but out there in Alaska, between moose shoots, did you hear about Bagram, Abu Ghraib, renditions, waterboarding, Guantánamo and the rest?

John McCain knows what happens when those rights disappear. He described his Vietnamese nightmare the next night: “They worked me over harder than they ever had before. For a long time. And they broke me.”

A man remembers getting broken: that’s why McCain fought the use of torture by the Bush administration. His condoning of those words from his vice-presidential candidate is appalling. Foreign policy be damned if you can score a God-fearing-macho-versus-liberal-constitutionalist point.

But the bloody wars, seven years after 9/11, have not paused for this sterile U.S. cultural battle. With some 180,000 troops in the two theaters, U.S. reserve capacity is stretched to the limit — something Iran knows when it keeps the centrifuges turning and Russia knows when it grabs Georgia.

In Afghanistan, a Taliban-led insurgency is growing in reach and effectiveness. There’s talk of a mini-surge in U.S. troops there — now about 34,000 — to counter the threat, but little serious reflection on what precise end perhaps 12,000 additional forces would serve. Until that’s clarified, I’m against the mini-surge.

France, which just mini-surged in Afghanistan, is now embroiled in an agonizing debate over the slaying of 10 soldiers, mostly paratroopers, east of Kabul on Aug. 18. At least one had his throat slit. Photos in Paris Match of Taliban forces with uniforms of the Frenchmen have enflamed the national mood.

Hervé Morin, the Defense Minister, has called for “national unity” in fighting a threat “from the Middle Ages.” But polls suggest a majority of the French favor withdrawal. A furor is building over suggestions the paratroopers were abandoned.

These French rumblings are a reminder that the NATO coalition in Afghanistan is fragile and that sending more forces is no remedy in itself.

Obama has been right to say Iraq exacted a price on the Afghan campaign — something McCain airily denies. But his calls to send “at least two additional combat brigades” to Afghanistan and his promise in Denver to “finish the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan” are rash.

After 30 years of war, the Afghan struggle won’t be finished for another 30. It’s a weak country, sandwiched between Iran and Pakistan, two far stronger ones that do not wish it well. The Afghan-Pakistani border cannot be sealed, although it can be better policed; the jihadi traffic across it will continue.

None of this means the United States is condemned to having tens of thousands of troops there for decades — although I’d say that’s more likely than victory in four years.

On the day the French were attacked, a large American military base — Camp Salerno in eastern Khost province — came under sustained Taliban assault. I spoke to a U.S. official who’s just ended an 18-month assignment in Khost.

He sees the exclusive focus on more troops as wrong-headed. The priority must be “an Afghan surge.” Get the Afghan national army to 120,000 troops as a priority, from about half that level today. If more U.S. troops do go, training Afghans should be their first task. Only Afghans can win this.

Pour money into Afghan army salaries (now about $100 a month). Keep buying loyalty with US cash in the provinces, where it counts. Make a big push on human capital — “engineering minds is becoming far more important these days than engineering more roads.” If the best brains leave, the country’s lost.

Rethink policy toward schools. Getting madrassahs registered with the government — and so gaining some control over curricula — is smarter than stigmatizing them and pushing students over the border into Waziri zealotry. Get serious about the national reconciliation program, designed to bring ex-Taliban moderates into politics. Focus on Pakistan.

Absent such cornerstones of a strategy — and absent realistic expectations — surging in Afghanistan is a mistake.

As for Iraq, gains are real but fragile. I don’t see how Obama’s “responsible” withdrawal squares with his 16-month time frame for it. If we don’t want Sunni Iraq to remarry Al Qaeda — and that’s a paramount strategic aim — we’re going to have to play buffer against the dominant Shia for several years. That won’t require the current 146,000 troops, but will require many tens of thousands through the next presidency.

Two intractable wars should preclude the culture war McCain has just so shamelessly embraced. He loves the word “fight.” So fight on the issues — and let the people decide.

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Robert Fisk: Why do we keep letting the politicians get away with lies?

How on earth do they get away with it? Let’s start with war between Hizbollah and Israel – past and future war, that is.

Back in 2006, Hizbollah captured two Israeli soldiers from their side of the Lebanese frontier and dragged them, mortally wounded, into Lebanon. The Israelis immediately launched a massive air bombardment against all of Lebanon, publicly declaring Beirut’s democratically-elected and US-backed – but extremely weak – government must be held to account for what Hizbollah does. Taking the lives of more than 1,000 Lebanese, almost all civilians, Israel unleashed its air power against the entire infrastructure of the rebuilt Lebanon, smashing highways, viaducts, electric grids, factories, lighthouses, totally erasing dozens of villages and half-destroying hundreds more before bathing the south of the country in three million cluster bomblets.

After firing thousands of old but nonetheless lethal rockets into Israel – where the total death toll was less than 200, more than half of them soldiers – Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah’s leader, told a lie: if he had known what Israel would do in revenge for the capture of two soldiers, he announced, he would never have agreed to Hizbollah’s operation.

But now here comes Israel’s environment minister, Gideon Ezra, with an equally huge whopper as he warns of an even bigger, more terrible war should Hizbollah attack Israel again. “During the (2006) war, we considered the possibility of attacking Lebanon’s infrastructure but we never (sic) resorted to this option, because we thought at the time that not all the Lebanese were responsible for the Hizbollah attacks… At that time, we had Hizbollah in our sights and not the Lebanese state. But the Hizbollah do not live on the moon, and some (sic) infrastructure was hit.” This was a brazen lie. Yet the Americans, who arm Israel, said nothing. The European Union said nothing. No journalistic column pointed out this absolute dishonesty.

Yet why should they when George Bush and Condoleezza Rice announced that there would be peace between Israelis and Palestinians by the end of 2007 – then rolled back the moment Israel decided it didn’t like the timetable. Take this week’s charade in Jerusalem. The moment Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni announced that “premature” efforts to bridge gaps in the “peace process” could lead to “clashes” (Palestinians, it should be remembered, die in “clashes”, Israelis are always “murdered”), my friends in Beirut and I – along with a Jewish friend in London – took bets on when Condi would fall into line. Bingo, this was Her Holiness in Jerusalem last week: “It’s extremely important just to keep making forward progress rather than trying prematurely to come to some set of conclusions.” “Some set”, of course, means “peace”‘. Once more, US foreign policy was dictated by Israel. And again, the world remained silent.

So when the world’s press announced that Barack Obama’s new running mate, the silver-haired Joe Biden, was “an expert in foreign policy”, we all waited to be told what this meant. But all we got was a reminder that he had voted for the 2003 Iraq invasion but thought better about it later and was now against the war. Well, Goddam blow me down, that certainly shows experience. But “expertise”? No doubt in government he’ll be teemed up with those old pro-Israeli has-beens, Madeleine Albright and Martin Indyk, whose new boss, Obama, virtually elected himself to the Israeli Knesset with his supine performance in Israel during his famous “international” tour.

As one of the Arab world’s most prominent commentators put it to me this week, “Biden’s being set up to protect Israel while Obama looks after the transportation system in Chicago.” It was a cruel remark with just enough bitter reality to make it bite.

Not that we’ll pay attention. And why should we when the Canadian department of national defence – in an effort to staunch the flow of Canadian blood in the sands of Afghanistan (93 servicemen and women “fallen” so far in their hopeless Nato war against the Taliban) – has brought in a Virginia-based US company called the Terrorism Research Centre to help. According to the DND, these “terrorism experts” are going, among other subjects, to teach Canadian troops – DO NOT LAUGH, READERS, I BEG YOU DO NOT LAUGH – “the history of Islam”! And yes, these “anti-terrorism” heroes are also going to lecture the lads on “radical (sic) Islam”, “sensitivities” and “cultural and ideological issues that influence insurgent decision-making”. It is a mystery to me why the Canadian brass should turn to the US for assistance – at a cost of almost a million dollars, I should add – when America is currently losing two huge wars in the Muslim world.

But wait. The counterinsurgency school, which claims links to the US government, is reported to be a branch of Total Intelligence Solutions, a company run by infamous Cofer Black, a former director of CIA counterterrorism, and Erik Prince, a former US navy seal. Both men are executives with the Prince Group, the holding company for Total Intelligence Solutions and – and here readers will not laugh – a certain company called Blackwater. Yes, the very same Blackwater whose mercenary thugs blithely gunned down all those civilians on the streets of Baghdad last year. So Canada’s soldiers are now going to be contaminated by these mercenary killers before they head off to the Muslim world with their unique understanding of “the history of Islam”. How do they get away with it?

On a quite separate matter, you might ask the same of Conrad Black, languishing in a Florida prison after his business convictions. Responding to an enquiry from Murdoch’s grotty New York Post into body searches and other appalling humiliations at the jail, Uncle Conrad, as I like to call him – for he is among the rogues I would love to have interviewed (others include the younger Mussolini and the older Yeltsin) – responded that the Florida facility was not oppressive, that “many of the people here are quite (sic) interesting” but – AND HERE IT COMES, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! – “if saintly men like Gandhi could choose to clean latrines, and Thomas More could voluntarily wear a hair shirt, this experience won’t kill me”.

Now when Uncle Conrad likens himself to the assassinated Mahatma, the apostle of India, that is mere hubris. But when he compares himself to England’s greatest Catholic martyr, a man of saintly honour if ruthless conviction, this is truly weird. “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first,” More reportedly said on 6 July 1535, before they chopped off his head on Tower Hill. And many are there among Uncle Conrad’s enemies who might wish the same fate for the former owner of The Daily Telegraph. After all, Henry VIII didn’t let Thomas get away with it.

The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fisks-world-why-do-we-keep-letting-the-politicians-get-away-with-lies-913244.html

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Robert Fisk: ‘Theatrical return for the living and the dead’

Yesterday was the last day of the 2006 Lebanon war, the final chapter of Israel’s folly and Hizbollah’s hubris, a grisly day of corpse-swapping and refrigerated body parts and coffin after bleak wooden coffin on trucks crossing the Israeli border, which left old Ali Ahmed al-Sfeir and his wife, Wahde, stooped and broken with grief. Ali had a grizzled grey beard and stood propped on a stick while Wahde held a grey-tinged photograph of a young man – her son Ahmed, born in 1970. “He was a martyr, but I do not know which lorry he will be on,” she said. In the slightly torn picture, he looked whey-faced, unsmiling, already dead.

That could not be said for Samir Kuntar – 28 years in an Israeli jail for the 1979 murder of an Israeli, his young daughter and a policeman. He arrived from Israel very much alive, clean shaven but sporting a neat moustache, overawed by the hundreds of Hizbollah supporters, a man used to solitary confinement who suddenly found himself idolised by a people he had not seen in almost three decades. His eyes moved around him, the eyes of a prisoner watching for trouble. He was Israel’s longest-held Lebanese prisoner; Hizbollah’s leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, had promised his release. And he had kept his word.

The coffins – newly hammered together in Tyre before the 200 Hizbollah, Amal militia and Palestinian bodies arrived from Israel – were soon bathed in the Lebanese flag and golden Hizbollah banners, drawn by a flower-encrusted truck towards Beirut. Wahde climbed on to a plastic chair, desperate to see the box containing her son’s skeleton. Old Ali pleaded to stand with her but she told him he was too old, so he stood, head bowed, amid the television reporters and young Hizbollah fighters, with tears in his eyes. Who knows if Ahmed was in one of the boxes?

But it was also a day of humiliation. Humiliation most of all for the Israelis. After launching their 2006 war to retrieve two of their captured soldiers, they killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians, devastated Lebanon, lost 160 of their own – most of them soldiers – and ended up yesterday handing over 200 Arab corpses and five prisoners in return for the remains of the two missing soldiers and a box of body parts.

For the Americans who have supported the democratically elected Lebanese government of Fouad Siniora, it was a day of hopelessness. For Mr Siniora himself, along with the President and all the surviving ex-prime ministers and presidents of Lebanon, and the leader of the Druze community and the country’s MPs and Muslim religious leaders, and bishops and higher civil servants, and the heads of all the security services – along, of course, with the UN’s representative – were at Beirut airport to grovel before the five prisoners whom Hizbollah had freed from Israel. They were flown north by the Lebanese army’s own helicopters.

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