Saturday, November 9, 2013

Want a clue about who poisoned Yasser Arafat?! @BBCWorld. By Carlos Latuff

Putting Egypt’s Coup on Trial

When a Defiant President Refuses to Go Away



"When Egypt’s Defense Minister, General Abdelfattah El-Sisi, deposed President Muhammad Morsi in a military coup depicted as a popular revolt, on July 3, coup leaders were confident that Morsi and his supporters, led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), would quickly capitulate and recognize the new reality.
Within hours of the coup, hundreds of MB and other anti-coup leaders and popular public figures were rounded up, as most TV and satellite channels deemed to be anti-coup or simply critical of the army’s brazen intervention, were swiftly banned and closed down. At the time, Sisi claimed that he had intervened in order to prevent an impending civil war, and he promised security, stability, and prosperity. But it seems that the generals and their enablers have badly miscalculated. Four months into the bloody coup, Egypt’s deep and unprecedented crisis keeps growing.
It’s a fact that millions of Egyptians initially supported the military intervention in order to overthrow Morsi and the MB and genuinely detested the group or were exasperated with the deteriorating security and economic conditions in the country. However, as I explained in a previous article much of the opposition against Morsi was co-opted by the remnants of the old Mubarak regime and the deep state (the complex web that ruled Egypt for six decades, which comprised of various corrupt but powerful elements within the military, intelligence services, security apparatus, oligarchs, media, judiciary, and state bureaucracy).
Yet, contrary to the image Morsi tried to cultivate during his one-year rule, he was really never able to scratch the surface of, let alone dismantle or control, these powerful and entrenched state institutions, which in reality never recognized his authority. Since then, more evidence has emerged to buttress this fact including footage of a high-ranking police officer admitting before his comrades that the police and army had been planning to overthrow Morsi weeks before the coup. In another audio post a former leader of Tamarrud – the youth movement that suddenly burst into the political scene calling for popular demonstrations and overthrow of Morsi on June 30- regretted his involvement and exposed the surreptitious relationship between his group and pro-Mubarak state security officers.
Since then, millions of other Egyptians have taken to the streets in major demonstrations throughout Egypt on a daily basis, in defiance of the state of emergency imposed by the coup government. The demonstrations call for the restoration of the country’s nascent democracy while demanding the return of the first democratically-elected civilian president, the reinstatement of the parliament banned by the coup, and the restoration of the suspended constitution that was ratified two to one just six months earlier.
The Coup Fails to Subdue its Opponents
But the scheme enacted by Gen. Sisi and his cohorts in order to legitimize their coup and take control of the country hinged on their ability to subdue the opposition and the population, and it rested on three main assumptions. First, Sisi believed that Morsi would quickly follow in the footsteps of Mubarak and resign voluntarily or under pressure. Morsi was essentially kidnapped by the army, kept in isolation, and detained in a hidden location for weeks in an attempt to pressure him to accept the new reality and give up his claim to the presidency.
Nevertheless, Morsi stubbornly rejected all such attempts, insisting that he was the legitimately-elected president and demanding to be restored to his position. Even when the military-backed government resorted to outside mediators, such as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, to convince Morsi and his colleagues that it was over, he still insisted on his legitimacy and refused to step down.
The second tactic was to crack down on the senior leadership of the MB in order to force them to recognize the new regime and accept the new power structure and its political roadmap for the country. In this phase, the military used carrots and sticks, promising inclusion and an undetermined future political role for the group, while it arrested, banished and prosecuted them. But their overtures were once again rejected as the MB negotiators insisted on the restoration of the constitution, the president, and parliament and proclaimed that these democratic institutions were the main achievements of the 2011 popular uprising.
But before the negotiations for an acceptable resolution between the antagonistic parties were further explored, the hardliners within the coup government, led by anti-Islamist high ranking officers from the old state security apparatus and military intelligence, pushed for a military solution. Thus, the tactic of adopting an iron-fist policy by stamping out the MB from all aspects of society prevailed, prompting the resignation of or condemnation by several public figures that initially either encouraged the coup such as Mohammad ElBaradei or accepted it such as AbdelMoneim Abulfutooh.
In the process, not only did all institutions of power within the state join in such as the military, intelligence services, the state security apparatus, government-controlled media, the entire judicial system including the police, prosecutors, and the judiciary, but also non-government media as well as many so-called liberal and secular groups. However, anyone who would sing outside the chorus was unwelcome and considered an outcast. Uncharacteristically for Egypt, a new spirit of chauvinism, fascism, and ugly nationalism engulfed the country. Suddenly all the freedoms Egyptians had gained and enjoyed for two years had become vestiges of the past.
Empowered by the coup and a revengeful spirit, the state security apparatus aided by the army swiftly then launched the largest crackdown against any social movement or political party in the history of the region. It culminated in the arrest of not only the senior leadership of the MB and other Islamist organizations such as Al-Wasat Party, but also in the capture of more than two thousand mid-level leaders that included most of the second and third tiers of the groups on dubious charges such as incitement or simply for just opposing the coup. The list of the detainees has even included well over one hundred university professors, administrators, and deans, as well as dozens of officers of professional syndicates. Shortly thereafter, the judiciary banned the MB, and closed its charities. The government then seized its assets, which included hundreds of properties and bank accounts, even before a final judicial order was issued.
Yet despite the brutal onslaught and the propaganda machine that controlled the airwaves and print media in depicting the group and other Islamist parties as terrorists and outlaws, the MB and their supporters still rejected any deal with the military that recognized the coup, and defiantly pledged to restore Morsi and the constitution through peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience. For six weeks, hundreds of thousands were camped in two main squares in Cairo and other provinces pledging to continue their peaceful protests until their goals are realized.
Shock and Awe: Egyptian Style
Perhaps the most significant outcome of the 2011 uprising was the end of the state of fear of the dreaded security state apparatus that ruled the country by terror and paralyzed most Egyptians for almost six decades. Since early 2011, Egyptians have felt genuinely liberated, empowered, and exercised true freedoms that were denied them for generations. Thus, the third tactic by the coup was the attempt to re-establish control of the society by instilling back that fear in the hearts and souls of the Egyptians before they are accustomed to real freedoms and democratic institutions that would eventually hold powerful interests accountable to the people.
Towards that goal, the army and security forces used brutal tactics that included as many as six shocking massacres in less than 8 weeks culminating in Raba’a Square on August 14. Such ruthlessness resulted in the deaths of as many as five thousand innocent victims, including hundreds of women, children, and elderly people. In addition, more than twenty thousand people were wounded and as many as twelve thousand were detained under emergency laws. Meanwhile, many others were severely beatentortured, and humiliated. Hundreds of videos have been circulating that clearly demonstrate that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by Egypt’s security forces and army.
But despite all of these extraordinary measures to reshape Egyptian society, Egyptians of all strands continue to fill the streets and squares to reject the coup: women and men, young and old, from the rural areas and city dwellers, students and professionals, farmers and laborers. In short, the protests are expanding not receding, while the security and economic situation is becoming intolerable.
Initially, Gen. Sisi promised his supporters in the region and the West that the country would be stable in days. Then that promise changed to weeks, and now he is asking for six to twelve months. In short, the country is in complete disarray with no end in sight. With few exceptions such as Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authorities (all of them U.S. allies in the region, coincidence?), the world could neither openly recognize the military coup nor turn a blind eye to the daily gross human rights abuses committed by the military-backed government. For example, when Egypt’s foreign minister addressed the U.N. General Assembly in September, he spoke to an empty hall, as 122 countries walked out during his speech. Meanwhile, the Organization of African Unity froze Egypt’s membership and banned its participation in all its institutions until democracy is restored.
A Sham Trial With Biased Judges and Prosecutors
In short, Morsi’s determination created a problem of legitimacy for the coup. He was duly elected in free and fair elections and deposed by a military general, so coup leaders thought they could delegitimize Morsi by charging him criminally.
Since his kidnapping by the military in early July, government prosecutors leveled dubious charges against him without providing any specifics, such as talking to Hamas, or committing acts of treason.  Since they were not actually serious about these accusations, in the end, they chose to charge him with incitement to kill protesters near the presidential palace on the night of December 5, 2012.
But what exactly took place that night?
In the aftermath of Morsi’s ill-advised constitutional decree on November 22, 2012, the opposition staged several demonstrations and called for his overthrow.
We now know that for months, former and active state security officers were plotting with the remnants of the Mubarak regime to assassinate the president that evening. Brig. Tareq Al-Gohari who was in charge of the presidential guards protecting the president, recently stated that on that day he heard several high-ranking officers boasting that that night was his last. As he gathered his troops to protect the president, several of them refused to follow directions and many simply deserted their position.
When the president was told that the police was withdrawing, he called the interior minister in charge of security officers at the time, Gen. Ahmad Gamal Eldin who declined to send any protection forces unless the president gave orders to use lethal force. According to justice Minister Judge Ahmad Makki, Morsi immediately rejected the use of live ammunition despite the threat posed by armed gangs that were throwing fire-bombs at the presidential palace and burning five presidential cars. Another group of protesters even brought a bulldozer in order to storm the gate and attack the palace.
When the MB and other groups heard of the attack on the presidential palace and the desertion of the police and presidential guards, they came by the thousands to protect the president. Violent confrontations ensued. Many MB supporters were seen tearing down the oppositions’ camps near the presidential palace. Others were accused of beating and torturing their opponents. By the end of the violent chaotic night, ten people were dead. All of the victims who were killed were on the same side of the street where the MB supporters stood. When the dust settled, out of the ten victims, eight were members of the MB, while the remaining two were killed by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One of them, Al-Husseini Abu Dhief, was a leftist journalist known for being anti-MB. The opposition would accuse the MB of killing him although no evidence or credible witnesses were found. According to the medical examiner’s office, all the bullets that killed the victims came from similar type guns and from one direction.
On that night, Morsi’s supporters arrested 49 people; some of them armed, and accused them of killing the protesters. They were eventually turned over to the police. But within 24 hours, government prosecutor Mustafa Khater released all of them, citing a lack of evidence. When the accused went to trial on August 19, all of them were acquitted even though some of them had been armed when they were arrested.
Two weeks after their acquittal, Morsi and 14 other MB leaders were charged with incitement and murder for that bloody night. But according to the families of the eight victims, the real culprits were baltegies (goons and ex-felons) who were working at the behest of the security forces to commit violent acts and create chaos and terror. They further accused former interior minister Gen. Gamal Eldin of conspiracy to kill their loved ones. Morsi’s co-defendants in these charges included some of his most senior presidential assistants and MB leaders such as Esam El-Erian and Mohammad El-Beltagi. Ironically, these two senior MB leaders were among the most prominent in Tahrir Square during the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak in February 2011. State security officers who were in charge of safeguarding the former regime blamed the MB for their downfall and were seething for revenge.
On November 4, Morsi was brought to the court and seen by the public for the first time since he was overthrown. The current interior minister, Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim, who has been in charge of the crackdown on the anti-coup opposition, led 20,000 police officers in an incredible show of force to surround the police academy-turned courthouse. Morsi’s prosecutor was none other than Khater, the same prosecutor who freed, according to witnesses and families of the victims, the actual culprits. Remarkably, the prosecution cited in their indictment only the two non-MB victims as they dropped the other victims from their list. The families of these eight victims issued a strong statement condemning the prosecutors and absolving Morsi and the MB. They accused the state security of aiding and abetting the culprits.
With eight defendants, including the president, present at trial, none of whom were actually at the scene of the crime, the police only allowed four defense lawyers to be present in the courtroom. Citing security concerns, the police refused to allow 26 other defense lawyers, already cleared by the court to represent the defendants, from attending the trial. Furthermore, the Egyptian legal system allows the victims to also be represented by lawyers. For the two recognized non-MB victims, the court certified 300 lawyers to represent them, all of whom were allowed inside the courtroom.  In addition to a handful of foreign journalists, the only local ones who were allowed to attend were those who were pro-coup. Any journalist known to be anti-coup or neutral was denied entry.
When the trial’s chief judge, Ahmad Sabri, asked Morsi to identify himself and acknowledge the court, Morsi immediately declared that he was the legitimate president of the country, who was ousted by a coup. He also chastised the judge and demanded that he recognize that he has no jurisdiction over him or power to try an elected president, as it was clearly unconstitutional. In an attempt to silence Morsi, the hundreds of the pro-coup lawyers and journalists started shouting and demanding his execution and that of his co-defendants. When the judge could not regain control of the court, he adjourned the trial and postponed it until January.
Most Egyptians do not realize that both the prosecutor and the judge have deep ties to the remnants of the old Mubarak regime. They were likely chosen to exact revenge against Morsi and his group. In the past, Khater had acted as an advisor to Mubarak’s last prime minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, who was also Morsi’s opponent in the 2012 presidential race. He was also the chief prosecutor against Mubarak. Eventually, the government’s evidence was deemed so weak that his convictions were overturned, prompting revolutionary groups to accuse Khater of hiding or not presenting any real evidence. He also allowed Mubarak and his sons to pay back some of the bribes he took in exchange for dismissing the corruption charges.
On the other hand, judge Sabri was the same judge who earlier this year acquitted Shafiq of all corruption charges, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He was also the judge who refused last month to free four pro-Morsi defendants accused of torturing a man who had testified before the judge that the defendants had actually helped him and were taking him to the hospital when they were stopped and arrested by police. He testified that he was pressured by the police officers to accuse the defendants of beatings and torture.
While coup leaders thought they could humiliate and delegitimize Morsi through this sham trial, the table was turned on them, as it was Morsi who put the coup leaders, their enablers and supporters on trial.
Egyptians were denied seeing this spectacle, as the trial was not televised. Coup leaders feared what Morsi might say and how they could be exposed. Yet, on TV the people saw a glimpse of their president as a determined, defiant, and confident leader willing to give up his life to preserve their hard-earned freedoms.
The millions of Egyptians who reject the coup and want to restore their democracy were encouraged by this image and vowed to continue their struggle until the coup is defeated as they persist in their daily peaceful demonstrations.  To them Morsi has become an icon illustrating strong determination to stare down the coup, champion the cause of freedom, stand up for democratic ideals, and defend the will of his people."


By Eric Margolis

"London – In 2004, shortly after the mysterious death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, I wrote a column stating my strong belief that he had been murdered by poison. I recalled Stalin’s favorite line, “no man, no problem.”
Poison had been a favorite tool of the Soviet secret police since the 1920’s. Steps from KGB headquarters at the Lubyanka was the top secret laboratory known as the “kamera” where scientists concocted new, complex poisons designed to be very lethal but untraceable, or extremely hard to identify.
Numbers of Ukrainian nationalists were murdered by use of pens emitting a vapor of quick-acting cyanide gas that left the victims appearing to have died of heart attacks. Later, the kamera produced an even more lethal pellet filled with the deadly castor-bean extract, ricin. A Bulgarian defector, Georgi Markov, died after a ricin pellet was jabbed into his leg in London, the famous “umbrella murder.”
In 2009, Israeli agents of Mossad sprayed a poison liquid into the left ear of Palestinian Hamas leader, Khaled Mashall. He only escaped death when Israel was forced to provide an antidote. The US CIA had its own poison lab that was revealed by the 1975 Church Committee investigation.
Two other poisonings made use of advanced toxins:
In 2004, Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko was poisoned with dioxin boosted with other adjuvants to make it extremely difficult to trace and highly toxic. Yuschenko survived thanks to German medical help, but was left terribly disfigured.
Two years later in London, a former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko, was poisoned, the second use of polonium-210. He had become a fierce critic of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Russian intelligence was widely believed to have staged the gruesome attack as a warning to potential turncoats.
Last week, Swiss forensic scientists from the respected University of Lausanne confirmed that both Arafat’s belongings and his recently exhumed body were contaminated by radioactive polonium-210.
In spite of the lapse of four years since Arafat’s murder, the Swiss scientists found in a 108-page report a high level of polonium at least eight times higher than would be normally present. The always cautious Swiss said there was “moderate support” for the claim Arafat had indeed been murdered. While he had certainly been poisoned by polonium, they were unable to positively prove the toxin had killed him, though his dose was well beyond lethal.
The Swiss report, originally commissioned by Arafat’s wife Suha and al-Jazeera, ignited a political fire storm. Palestinians have long accused Israel of murdering Arafat. Israel’s intelligence service Mossad and warplanes have killed over a score of senior PLO leaders in the past three decades. Many attempts had been made by Israel on Arafat’s life.
Israel denies the murder, though some of its leaders have openly stated their desire to “liquidate” Arafat. Israel is the only Mideast nation that can produce polonium-210 in its reactors. Still, Israel insists it was not responsible, though no tears were shed over Arafat’s death. Israel says the culprits were Palestinian rivals.
Who benefitted from Arafat’s death? Arafat had been bitterly resisting US and Israeli efforts to impose a grossly unfair peace deal that would have broken up the West Bank into little Arab tribal reservations. Once Arafat was out of the way, the US and Israel swiftly installed a new, servile PLO leadership, headed by a yes-man, Mahmoud Abbas, financed by the US and protected by CIA-run police.
At the time of his death, Arafat had been prisoner for two years in his West Bank compound at Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks. A close Palestinian aid must have secreted the poison in Arafat’s food. Other senior Palestinians were also likely involved in the plot – par for the course in the Mideast. But a big finger of suspicion still points directly at the US and Israel.
France, which gave medical aid to the dying Arafat, obscured the cause of death. Russia, also examined the Arafat evidence, is making contradictory claims. Mahmoud Abbas’ government has tried to cover up the crime for years. Even Arafat’s widow initially refused an autopsy for murky reasons.
If the murder of Arafat is confirmed, Israel may be hauled into the International Criminal Court. The US will get ultimate blame."

Iran: Lift Restrictions on Sunni Worship

Keep Promise to Allow Sunnis Religious Freedom

"(Beirut) – The Iranian government should follow through on President Hassan Rouhani’s promises to improve access to human rights for religious minorities, Human Rights Watch said today. That should include allowing Sunni Muslims, a minority in Shia-dominated Iran, to gather and pray freely in their own mosques in Tehran and other areas of the country.

Rouhani’s special adviser on ethnic and religious minorities recently met with a Sunni leader to discuss the rights of the Sunni minority and work toward removing barriers preventing Sunnis from achieving full equality under the law. The meeting followed incidents in which security forces in Tehran prevented Sunnis from gathering and praying in designated sites to commemorate holy days, Sunni activists told Human Rights Watch. Local activists say that in recent years security forces have restricted Sunnis from praying in mosques during Eid holidays.

“Iran’s Sunnis should be allowed to practice their faith freely, as do their Shia counterparts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Ending religious discrimination should be among President Rouhani’s top priorities.”

During the early morning hours of October 16, 2013, dozens of uniformed and plain-clothes security agents surrounded Sadeghiyeh Mosque in northwest Tehran, one of the largest and most important Sunni prayer sites in Tehran province, and prevented Sunni worshipers from entering the building to mark Eid-e Ghorban, the Feast of Sacrifice, a Sunni worshipper and former member of parliament told Human Rights Watch. Sunni activists also reported that security forces prevented worshipers from entering another prayer site, in Saadatabad, in northern Tehran. Worshipers in other parts of the capital apparently entered prayer sites freely and worshiped without hindrance....."

Iraq: Executions at their highest in post-Saddam Iraq

"A sharp increase in the use of the death penalty in Iraq has brought the number of known executions to the highest in the decade since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003, with at least seven prisoners sent to the gallows yesterday, sparking fears that many more death row prisoners are at risk, Amnesty International said.

"Iraq’s increased use of the death penalty, often after unfair trials in which many prisoners report having been tortured into confessing crimes, is a futile attempt to resolve the country’s serious security and justice problems," said Phillip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
"In order to actually protect civilians better from violent attacks by armed groups, authorities in Iraq must effectively investigate abuses and bring those responsible to justice in a system that is fair, without recourse to the death penalty."
At least 132 people have been executed in Iraq so far this year – the highest number since the country reinstated capital punishment in 2004. However, the true number could be higher and the Iraqi authorities have yet to publish full figures.
Previously, only in 2009 (at least 120 executions) and in 2012 (at least 129) were the figures of known executions comparable to this year’s total, but each time for the whole calendar year.
"The stark rise in executions witnessed in 2012 has only gotten worse in 2013. The government apparently refuses to accept that the death penalty does nothing in deterring attacks by armed groups against civilians in Iraq or other serious human rights abuses," said said Phillip Luther.
Death sentences are often handed down after deeply unfair trials, where prisoners do not have access to proper legal representation and "confessions" to crimes are frequently extracted through torture or other ill-treatment......"

Resist the Arab merchants of darkness

November 09, 2013
By Rami G. Khouri
Rami G. Khouri
Beneath the surface of wars and ethnic tensions, one of the most troubling trends in the Arab world these days is the determination by many governments to stifle freedom of expression and thereby limit the ability of citizens to make their views known and hold accountable those who exercise political power. Two different examples of this come from Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council states, reflecting dangerous trends in both cases. These developments are important because freedom of expression and the ability to protest peacefully in public are at the very heart of free, democratic and humane societies that respect the rights of their citizens – which is the goal that tens of millions of Arabs are struggling to achieve in the current wave of uprisings.
The two approaches to restricting the freedom of expression rights of citizens in Egypt and the Gulf states reflect the dominant social/political traditions in those lands – to curtail the extent of public demonstrations in Egypt, and to pre-empt any such demonstrations before they reach the public sphere in the Gulf states.

In the Gulf states, especially Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, authorities have indicted dozens of citizens for using social media like Twitter and Facebook to express their views, including legitimate, nonviolent criticisms of state policies. The prison sentences meted out to some of the accused, combined with the chilling effect such legal action has on the rest of the population, robs the Gulf states of their single most important national asset that will prove to be far more important to their national well-being than oil and gas in the decades ahead: the ability of their citizens to use their mind and speak freely for the public good.
In Egypt, draft laws being considered by the government that seeks to quell public unrest and counter terrorism would restrict citizens’ ability to protest in public. It includes allowing the interior minister or senior officials to cancel, postpone or change the location of any planned protest, and gives governors the power to designate “protest-free” areas near state buildings.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi last week replied to growing criticisms by saying that the draft law could be amended after dialogue with political forces and parties. That has not stopped the pressure by democracy activists; just two days ago 20 Egyptian human rights organizations published a joint statement warning that the draft counterterrorism bill would lead to the reinstatement of the “police state” in Egypt. It charged that the draft law’s provisions would “serve as the legal basis for the re-establishment of the police state.”
The activists charged that the proposed law broadens the definition of “terrorist acts” too broadly to include activities that are not related to terrorism, such as “disrupting the authorities from carrying out some of their activities,” “[carrying out] acts which seek to hinder the implementation of the constitution or the law,” and “preventing educational institutions from carrying out their work.”
The draft legislation defines an “act of terrorism” as including “any behavior which damages the communications or information systems, the financial systems or the national economy,” the statement adds. Such restrictions that are so broadly defined (actually, ill-defined) are dangerous because they could open the way to harassment of “peaceful political opposition members, human rights activists, and a broad range of groups working to defend democracy and human rights,” the statement said.
Many Egyptians oppose the legislation because they have enjoyed new freedoms since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in early 2011; they do not want to see those freedoms eroded through the state’s over-reaction to legitimate security threats, especially in the Sinai Peninsula. Yet this hard-line approach to maintaining public order by Egypt and Gulf states is frightening and dangerous, because it threatens to maintain the Arab world in its agonizing modern legacy of national mediocrity due to lifeless citizenship. This approach perpetuates the single worst and most degrading aspect of the modern Arab security state that has defined the Arab world for the past half century or more – curtailing the ability of individual citizens to think for themselves and express their thoughts freely.
Every other democratic practice in society – free media, voting, civil society activism – relies on the foundation of freedom of expression. One of the reasons the Arab world has endured a steady cycle of public incompetence, corruption, waste and stagnation since the 1950s is that it has denied itself the power and creativity of its several hundred million citizens. The fact that this trend continues in some of the Arab world’s most influential countries is disheartening – but the robust resistance to the Arab state’s intellectual oppression is equally real, and gives us hope that the merchants of darkness and listless citizenship will be defeated in due course."

Obama Approval Rating Drops On Economy, Immigration

"President Barack Obama's approval rating has continued to drop during his second term, according to a Pew Research survey released Friday.
The poll found Obama's approval rating to be just 41 percent, down 11 points since January.
The decline in the president's rating this year has been more gradual than abrupt. Obama's numbers have declined across a variety of issues. His rating on immigration dropped significantly in the past six months, falling from 43 percent in June to 32 percent today. His approval rating on the economy, which had hovered in the low 40s for most of this year, is now at 31 percent -- the lowest received by Obama or any of his three presidential predecessors, according to Pew.
His approval on health care is at a record low of 37 percent, slightly below where it stood during the 2010 battle over passing the Affordable Care Act. His rating on foreign policy, a winning issue for him until this year, is now at just 34 percent, little changed from September. A bare majority still approves of the way Obama has handled of the threat of terrorism, the poll found -- the only issue tested for which he did not earn a negative rating.
Obama Approval on Economy: 31%, Health Care: 37%

The downward trend in presidential approval ratings is not without precedent.
"Obama’s second-term job ratings have followed a similar downward trajectory as those of his predecessor, George W. Bush. A year after his reelection, 36 percent approved of Bush’s job performance, down from 48 percent in December 2004," according to the Pew Research report. "In contrast, the two prior presidents who won reelection -- Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan -- enjoyed positive ratings over the course of the next year."
The results align with other recent polling. An NBC/Wall Street Journal surveyreleased in late October put Obama's approval at an "all-time low."
Pew Research surveyed 2,003 adults between Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, using live phone interviews.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Yes… Arafat was poisoned and Israel killed him, but what can we do?

Abdel Bari Atwan

Friday, 08 November 2013
Abdel Bari Atwan
We are surprised by the silence of the PA and their continuation with the negotiations, not only after discovering this crime and Israel's role in it. Especially as settlement activity continues at an unprecedented rate...
"There are three countries in the world that possess the radioactive polonium used to assassinate the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat; the United States, Russia and Israel. The two superpowers had no direct benefit from committing this war crime. So, fingers are now pointed at Israel, the country that has specialised in carrying out assassination operations against Arabs, Palestinians and international envoys over the past 60 years, since the beginning of the occupation of Palestine.
Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli Prime Minister who is lying comatose in hospital, had made several open threats to assassinate the Palestinian president. He had refused to surrender at the Camp David retreat in 2000 and abandon occupied Jerusalem and full sovereignty over it, as well as sparking the armed Intifada against the occupation, anticipating and waiting for his martyrdom.
President Arafat took all the necessary measures, within the limits of his basic capabilities, to thwart the attempts on his life while confined in his compound. He had no water, electricity, or official Arab visitors other than those who were mediating for him to go into exile (including Omar Suleiman), in addition to Arab and foreign solidarity delegations.
Arafat put up iron bars on the roof of his compound to prevent helicopters from landing and capturing him and locked his refrigerator that operated on a small electric current generated by a small motor; he was the only one with the keys. This refrigerator contained canned food, which was the only thing he ate out of fear of being poisoned. He also kept a gas mask and his small automatic gun near his bed in case gas bombs were thrown to kill him and in order to defend himself until he was martyred.
The only thing he had not taken into account was being poisoned by radioactive polonium and its lethal radiation. This type of poison was not discovered until November 2006 when it was used to kill Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in a London hotel. It is hard to detect and it kills the victim a few days after being poisoned, leaving no trace.
We did not need a Swiss lab to confirm that President Arafat was poisoned. The report by Percy Military Hospital near Paris, his final stop, confirmed that he had been poisoned but the type of poison was unknown.
President Arafat himself realised during his final days in Ramallah that the Israelis had been able to poison him, and his farewell to his supporters, after arriving at Amman International Airport in a helicopter, where, he was not greeted by any senior Jordanian officials, was a farewell of a man who knew very well that he would not be back alive.
The last time I contacted him by telephone, just a few weeks before his death, he was the model of steadfastness, unafraid of death and reiterating his pride to belong to a powerful people. We all lent on him, even while he was confined by the Arabs and Israelis, to draw energy, strength and a boost in morale. He told me that in distress he had called the Arab leaders, but none of them had bothered to take his call.
Now the question is, what role the Palestinian Authority will play, what will their next move be and why have they remained silent all these years and not even tried to investigate his assassination?
They say that this authority, which is led by Arafat's comrade in arms, does not have the money to finance criminal and laboratory investigations. This cannot be true because the examinations conducted by the Swiss Institute did not cost more than a million dollars. Can it be true instead that this authority, which has piled on a debt of over $4 billion on the Palestinian people, is unable to spare another million to reveal how the historic leader of the Palestinian jihad was martyred!
We are surprised by the silence of the PA and their continuation with the negotiations, not only after discovering this crime and Israel's role in it. Especially as settlement activity continues at an unprecedented rate and Netanyahu insists on keeping the Jordan Valley, abolishing the right of return and recognising Israel as a Jewish state.
Calling for an international investigation should not be enough for the PA, it's nothing but a speck in the corner of their eye. In fact, the PA needs to withdraw from negotiations, join the International War Crimes Tribunal and prosecute the Israelis. They need to maintain the late president's legacy of resisting the occupation.
The most important investigation will be the internal investigation to expose the 'political' tools used by Israel to facilitate the assassination and the criminals who executed the crime.
Will the PA and its leader take these two investigations seriously and follow them through until the end without worrying about the negotiations or anything else? Despite our doubts, we hope so."

Yasser Arafat: a farce in Ramallah

The Palestinian Authority has for years ducked the awkward questions about Arafat's death. Don't rely on it to find the truth

aratafat clayton
Palestinian security officers and mourners gather around the grave of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after the funeral at his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. on 12 November 2004. Photograph: Muhammed Muheisen/AP
"At a packed conference in Ramallah today, the retired general Tawfik Tirawi, once head of the Palestinian Authority's feared West Bank intelligence, squarely pointed the finger at Israel for the assassination of Yasser Arafat. There are lots of reasons to suspect Israeli responsibility. The former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was vocal over the years in admitting he had tried but failed to kill Arafat. Israel had famously botched its 1997 attempt to poison the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal. It appears logical for the PA – under Israeli military siege in the Muqata when Arafat suddenly became violently ill on 12 October 2004 – to claim Israel alone is to blame.
But there are many other possibilities that Tirawi prefers to ignore. He himself was with Arafat during the siege; he was wanted by Israel, the CIA was shunning him, and he was accused of orchestrating suicide attacks against Israelis. That he was in close proximity when Arafat fell ill makes him at best a witness. For him to lead the investigation now is almost as farcical as the PA's entire approach to date.
For the outside world Arafat was a very cold case until al-Jazeera broadcast its documentary What Killed Arafat? in July 2012. The PA had formed a committee to examine his death immediately after his passing. But it had several changes in leadership, and did little more than rail against Israel, pursuing nothing by way of forensics. Correspondence obtained by al-Jazeera shows that the doctor in charge of the PA cold case review, Abdullah Bashir, wrote a single letter to French authorities – Arafat died in a French military hospital – in 2009 asking for further information. The French stated that all their files had already been released to Suha Arafat, the widow, and Nasser Kidwa, the nephew.
That was it. No one had bothered to ask Suha the elemental question: did she have any materials that might yield forensic clues? That was the first question scientists had for me when I approached them at the Lausanne University Centre for Legal Medicine. When I asked Suha, she told me about a green gym bag she kept all these years. Arafat had taken it with him to France in his dying days. She was sceptical the Swiss would find anything, but once polonium was detected, she became unrelenting in her demands to go to the very end.
The exhumation of Arafat was not supposed to happen. The PA did not like the fact that Suha sought French jurisdiction. It preferred the UN security council, a curious choice given that it has almost never passed a resolution that benefits Palestinians. The PA also demanded the Arab League investigate, which again amounted to little more than platitudes.
But when the French government formally demanded access to Arafat's body, it faced a conundrum it had sought to avoid for years. It was the PA that refused to push for an autopsy that most likely would have resolved this mystery years earlier. In a taped interview Nasser Kidwa told me: "I would think this would have meant the end of the peace process, as it stood at that time … because the Palestinian people would have seen a great crime, the crime of the killing of their leader."
Instead, the PA chose to use the case as a political weapon in its quest for negotiations with Israel. This also helped it avoid a painful, if not self-evident question: was one of its own involved? Sure, the Israelis controlled the perimeter. But as food, water and medicines were allowed in, a microscopic amount of lethal Polonium 210 would not have been hard to get inside. At a very minimum, his closest aides and bodyguards failed to prevent someone from introducing polonium into Arafat's system, whether by ingestion, injection, or inhalation. Could one of his aides have delivered the dose, with Israeli technical support?
This is why the idea of Arafat's closest associates conducting their own investigation is inappropriate. For the time being, the proper investigators are the French authorities. Three investigating magistrates will now have the opportunity to review the Swiss testimony and incorporate their own forensic conclusions into the body of evidence. While in Ramallah last November, the French were refused permission by the PA to question its officials without submitting questions in writing. If the PA is serious about finding the truth of who killed their iconic leader, it must afford the French unfettered access.
If not, the "who killed Arafat" question will remain unresolved, and little more than a convenient political tool.

Israel killed Yasser Arafat, claims Palestinian official

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat in 1997: a Swiss report said its tests 'moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning'. Photograph: Gerry Penny/EPA
But head of Palestinian inquiry refuses to say Palestinian leader was poisoned by radioactive substance polonium
 in Jerusalem and agencies in Ramallah
"Israel was the "first, fundamental and only suspect" in the suspicious death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Palestinian official said on Friday after receiving reports by Swiss and Russian scientists on samples taken from the exhumed corpse of the late Palestinian leader.
Tawfik Tirawi, who heads a Palestinian committee investigating Arafat's death nine years ago, said he did not die from natural causes, but was evasive when asked repeatedly whether he believed Arafat was poisoned by the radioactive substance polonium-210.
"It is not important that I say here that he was killed by polonium," said Tirawi. "But I say, with all the details available about Yasser Arafat's death, that he was killed, and that Israel killed him."
He later described Israel as the "first, fundamental and only suspect in the assassination of Yasser Arafat"....."

Killing Arafat

A whodunit

By Justin Raimondo

"The investigation into the death of Yaser Arafat took a giant step forward the other day when Al Jazeera posted the report of a team of Swiss doctors that pretty conclusively shows he was poisoned. The big news, however, is that this was no ordinary poisoning: the agent was polonium-210, the same radioactive substance that knocked off Russian exile Alexander Litvinenko, an associate of the late Boris Berezovsky.
Arafat fell ill after eating a meal – a strong indication he was poisoned. At the time, however, his symptoms did not yield any definitive diagnosis, and no autopsy was done after his death a few weeks later.
If you take the time to read the 108-page Swiss report, compiled by a group of scientists with painstaking attention to detail, it is clear that Arafat was not only assassinated – he was murdered by the most exotic means one can possibly imagine.Polonium-210 isn’t something you can buy at the local drugstore: it’s a highly radioactive and volatile substance used in the construction of nuclear triggers, satellites, and specialized industrial processes. It is highly toxic: a few milligrams found in Arafat’s remains, and on his clothing, was enough to kill him. As David Barclay, a scientist specializing in forensics, told the Guardian newspaper:
"’The report contains strong evidence, in my view conclusive evidence, that there’s at least 18 times the level of polonium in Arafat’s exhumed body than there should be.’ He said the report represented ‘a smoking gun.’ Barclay said: ‘It’s what killed him. Now we need to find out who was holding the gun at that time,’ adding: ‘I would point to him being given a fatal dose. I don’t think there’s any doubt at all.’
So who did it?
To answer that question, another must be asked: how would one gain access to polonium-210? As author John Emsley put it to Chemistry World:
"With difficulty, unless you had access to a nuclear facility or were an authorized user, such as those who use it to generate thermoelectric power. (Polonium-210, half life 138 days, releases a lot of heat energy and a gram of the element can reach a temperature of 500 Celsius, which is why it has been used as an energy source in space). Around 100 grams a year of polonium-210 are manufactured in nuclear reactors, and this is done by bombarding bismuth with neutrons."
Only about 100 grams of polonium-210 are manufactured annually, most but not all of it in Russia. Deaths from polonium exposure are rare: aside from Litvinenko, the victims include Irene Joliot-Curie, daughter of the famous scientist Marie Curie, who was exposed when a test tube in her lab exploded. The only other known victims were some Israeli scientists who came into contact with the deadly substance in 1957, as the Israelis were working on their nuclear weapons program at the Weizmann Institute.
While the Russian FSB has been accused of poisoning Litvinenko, no real evidence for this assumption has ever been offered: indeed, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. At the time of his murder, Litvinenko was reportedly compiling dossiers on the crimes of various Russian Mafia figures. If we assume Russia was the source of the polonium that killed him, it’s far from impossible that his Mafioso enemies arranged to smuggle it out and have it dropped in the Russian exile’s teacup. In addition, there are reportedly "loose nukes" rolling around in the former Soviet Union, so much so that the US and Russia have set up a special commission to track them down: it’s not beyond the range of possibility that some of these materials have gotten into the wrong hands.
The same Russian Mafia that may very well have offed Litvinenko is a major presence in Israel. As the BBC reports:
"There are alarming signs that the Russian mafia has taken over the Israeli underworld and is using the country to launder its vast profits. A wave of mass immigration from the former Soviet Union has brought 750,000 newcomers to the Jewish state in the last decade. Amid the innocent exodus were Russian gangsters, many of whom are believed to have produced bogus proof of Jewish ancestry to enter the country.
"Police in Israel have been keeping around 30 organised key crime suspects under surveillance. Former police chief Asaf Hefetz says £2.5bn ($4bn) of organised crime money from the former Soviet Union has been invested in Israeli real estate, businesses and banks in the past seven years."
That was in 1998: since that time, as noted in this 2009 diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Tel Aviv, the Russian presence in Israeli organized crime has metastasized:
"Organized crime (OC) has longstanding roots in Israel, but in recent years there has been a sharp increase in the reach and impact of OC networks.
"… Israel’s multi-ethnic population provides a deep well of opportunity for Israeli OC to expand into new territory. Most Israeli crime families trace their roots to North Africa or Eastern Europe, and many of their Israeli operatives hold foreign passports allowing them to move freely in European countries, most of which participate in the visa waiver program with the United States.
"Approximately one million Russians moved to Israel following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and Russian citizens no longer require visas to enter Israel. Many Russian oligarchs of Jewish origin and Jewish members of OC groups have received Israeli citizenship, or at least maintain residences in the country. Little is known about the full extent of Russian criminal activity in Israel, but sources in the police estimate that Russian OC has laundered as much as USD 10 billion through Israeli holdings. While most Israeli OC families are native-born and the stereotype that Russian immigrants tend to be mobsters is greatly overblown, indigenous OC groups routinely employ “muscle” from the former Soviet Union."
So the Russian Mafia is a real presence in Israel – the country that is also the chief suspect in the Arafat murder case.
Israel, of course, has a long history of assassinating Palestinian leaders, the most recent incident being the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. In a 2001 New Yorker profile of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former Israeli prison guard and pro-Israel pundit Jeffrey Goldberg wrote:
"Sharon was blunt on the subject of Arafat. ‘He’s a murderer and a liar,’ he said. ‘He’s an enemy. He’s a bitter enemy.’ Sharon has devoted a great deal of time and energy to Arafat. By Arafat’s own count, Sharon has tried to have him killed thirteen times. Sharon wouldn’t fix on a number, but he said the opportunity had arisen repeatedly. "All the governments of Israel for many years, Labor, Likud, all of them, made an effort – and I want to use a subtle word for the American reader – to remove him from our society. We never succeeded.’"
In a recent piece, Goldberg avers Sharon once "described to me how Israel would have been better off had Arafat been killed by the Israeli army in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an invasion that Sharon led. It was, he said, ‘a missed opportunity.’" Indeed, Sharon’s comments seem to be a swipe at the US, which reportedly vetoed Sharon’s assassination plan. Shortly before Arafat fell ill, Sharon publicly threatened to go back on his promise to the Americans not to move against the Palestinian leader:
"’I told the president the following. In our first meeting about three years ago, I accepted your request not to harm Arafat physically. I told him I understand the problems surrounding the situation, but I am released from that pledge.’ Mr. Sharon declined to elaborate and would not say how Mr Bush had responded. Last night the White House insisted that it was still opposed to Israel killing Mr. Arafat."
Six months later, Arafat contracted what was at the time a mysterious illness: he died a month later.
In a court of law, this alone would be enough to provoke considerable suspicion, if not an indictment for murder. In the court of international opinion, Israel already standsconvicted – and with good reason.
Okay, but how did they do it?
Utilizing the Israeli wing of the Russian Mafia would be a way to distance Tel Aviv from the dirty deed, in much the same way as the US government used the American Mafia to try to assassinate Fidel Castro: "plausible deniability," and all that. And the links between the Israeli military-security establishment and the Israeli Mafia are there for all to see.
In a WikiLeaks cable dated May 15, 2009, our Tel Aviv embassy reported:
"As recently as March 2009, Zvika Ben Shabat, Yaacov Avitan, and Tzuri Roka requested visas to attend a ‘security-related convention’ in Las Vegas. According to local media reports, all three had involvement with OC. Post asked the applicants to provide police reports for any criminal records in Israel, but without such evidence there is no immediate ineligibility for links to OC. Luckily, all three have so far failed to return for continued adjudication of their applications. Nevertheless, it is fair to assume that many known OC figures hold valid tourist visas to the United States and travel freely.” 
Who are these guys – aside from Israeli mobsters, that is? As I informed my readersin 2010, Zvika Ben Shabat is the President of H.A.Sh Security Group, an Israeli company that offers strong-arm security services worldwide. The Chairman of H.A.Sh Security is retired Major General Dan Ronen, former head of the operations division of Israel’s national police force, and subsequently commander of the northern region. As I asked in 2010:
"So why is one of Israel’s former top cops in a business relationship with a known member of the Israeli Mafia? Enquiring minds want to know!"
Perhaps now we are getting closer to finding out.
The Russian Mafia, including especially its Israeli branch, had reason enough to kill Litvinenko – and whoever was responsible for that murder is a logical suspect when it comes to Arafat’s assassination. After all, it isn’t every day someone is knocked off with a good dose of polonium-210.
These two murders have in common not only methodology but also motive, for the Israeli Mafia, and especially its dominant Russian component, is staunchly pro-Israel: their growing political influence has been reported in the Israeli and American media. As far back as 1977, Ehud Olmert testified before a closed hearing of a special commission looking into Israeli organized crime that the Mafia’s influence reached the highest levels of the defense establishment and the police. The links between ultra-nationalist former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and organized crime were enough to bring him down in 2012.
There is a certain symmetry in the idea that the gangsters who run the Israeli government would employ other gangsters to do their dirty work. If and when the truth comes out, Israel’s status as a gangster among nations will be indisputable."