Saturday, 29 December 2007

Bush to veto Defense Policy Bill

Bush facing problems he is simply ill-equipped to deal with

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to veto a massive defense policy bill because it contains language that would expose the Iraqi government to law suits stemming from the Saddam Hussein era.

A substantial number of these lawsuits have in fact been lodged by American citizens, including former U.S. soldiers.

Bush says the crippling lawsuits would disrupt Iraq's reconstruction efforts.

But what about those people with legitimate claims?

PressTV asked Kevin Sanders, Director of Special Projects of the War and Peace Foundation in New York to try and unravel some of the complicated questions this proposed veto has thrown up.

PressTV: The main problem with the bill, as far as Bush is concerned, is that it leaves the Iraqi government open to lawsuits stemming from the Saddam era. But some of those suits have been filed by Americans, including former soldiers, so how is this going to be perceived by the American public?

Sanders: With some confusion and by the Bush administration, as we have already seen, by rather desperate efforts to obstruct anything that could possibly open the way to a whole host of impossibly difficult lawsuits that could theoretically bankrupt the American government. Now the problem, of course, is one that was never anticipated.

The Bush administration went into Iraq with the idea that it would be a swift and successful war, that they would be received as liberators, and none of these problems was ever even thought of. Never considered. And certainly not in the form in which they have now taken where some of the people contesting this are, as you say, American soldiers.

Now this is a very delicate problem. The Bush administration can’t be seen to be rejecting legitimate claims by American soldiers. So the Bush administration is going to obstruct it or delay it, do whatever it can, and its going to become political football.

PressTV: The Bill also contains other important provisions such as a pay rise for U.S. troops. Now Bush seems to be going to great lengths to protect Iraqi interests at the expense of Americans, why is he doing that?

Sanders: He is facing a whole set of problems with the American military that he never anticipated. Its almost impossible to get anybody to join the American military anymore. Their recruitment drives have failed, their desertion rates – that they don’t like to talk about – are higher than they’ve been at any time since the Vietnam War. The suicide rate, you know important indices like these are very disturbing. So Bush is in an almost impossible dilemma, no matter what he does he is going to look bad.

He cannot be seen in any way to be doing anything that would be unfair or thoughtless or insensitive, or in any way hostile to American troops. He is in a lose lose situation.

Politically the Democrats are in a position to exercise as much fury and anger as they wish, and they no doubt will. That doesn’t mean they will win the case, they can’t override Bush’s veto.

One of the problems again is that it comes down to numbers. The Democrats do not have the numbers that they need in Congress to force these things through, Bush will simply obstruct it. In a way, time is on his side. Bush is simply going to try and put everything on hold until his time has run out, and leave all these problems to his successor, who in all probability will be a Democrat.

PressTV: Bush obviously came under some pressure from Baghdad who threatened to withdraw their U.S. assets out of the country if the bill passed. How big of a blow would that have been.

Sanders: I am sure estimates would vary widely depending on who is being asked, but it could lead to huge disruption in the war effort if it had gone through. Its still not clear how this is all going to work out. It’s a matter of huge confusion for the Justice Department, for the Pentagon, for the Bush administration and they find themselves now in a morass they never anticipated and for which they are completely ill-equipped to deal with.

PressTV: The Democrats, understandably are outraged. But it hasn't been a good year for them and their efforts to bring the war to an early close. This has led to speculation that they are incompetent or are not really trying hard enough. Which is it?

Sanders: Well, a little of each, but more importantly they simply do not have the numbers. In many cases, in politics, in war, truth comes down to numbers. Now in the House the Democrats have a huge majority and can push through pretty much anything they want. But the moment it hits the Senate where they have a very uncertain majority of just one, and certainly not the majority that is needed to override Bush on veto.

In the last election the people of America made it perfectly clear they wanted to get out of Iraq, no matter what, and the Democrats have tried with varying degrees of vigor to do that but they have been obstructed every time when it gets to the Senate, and with the present numbers in the Senate there’s not much that can be done to change that.

Bush can finally block whatever he wants. So the sort of changes that they are talking about, that they’d like to bring about – that the American public rather impatiently expected them to fulfill – may have to wait until the next election

Above article based on interview conducted by author and first broadcast on PressTV, Saturday, December 29th, 2007.

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Friday, 28 December 2007

Was Bhutto just a tragic victim?

Friends say return to Pakistan was a suicidal decision

Canadian writer Mark Steyn wrote on his blog today, “She was beautiful and charming and sophisticated and smart and modern, and everything we in the West would like a Muslim leader to be - though in practice, as Pakistan's Prime Minister, she was just another grubby wardheeler from one of the world's most corrupt political classes.”

Speaking on PressTV, Jeff Steinberg, Senior Editor of Executive Intelligence Review, was rather more forgiving. “I think she’ll be remembered generally in a very positive light. Although, I must say that while some of the characterizations are obviously a bit harsh considering she was murdered earlier today, they also carry some truth.”

Steinberg sees her neither as simply a politician who may have engaged in some creative accounting practices while in office, nor simply as a martyr for the cause of democracy in Pakistan. Rather, he characterizes Bhutto as a victim, a tragic victim of the policies hatched up by international power brokers in Washington and London.

“I know from speaking to some people who were very close friends of Mrs. Bhutto, that they urged her not to return to Pakistan, fearing it was a kind of death wish on her part,” Steinberg told PressTV during a television interview.

“But other people have said look, this was a moment of crisis for her country and clearly there was a strong push from both the U.S. and British governments to encourage her to go back and forge a political deal with President Musharraf,” Steinberg said.

They hoped, he continued, that such a deal would bring stability to a situation that was inherently unstable.

Other analysts have suggested that Musharraf, the general/president, had lost the edge in the war on terror, and that a military option alone would not get the job done. What was needed was a political force behind the military to fight the terrorists. And that, they say, is where Bhutto came in.

“I think we’re dealing yet again with a strong element of delusion and misjudgment from world powers who have been putting pressure on and imposing their will on the Pakistani government for some time,” Steinberg said.

“I think, in a sense, she was a tragic victim of a larger policy that was doomed to fail because it was based on an unreal assessment of the situation on the ground in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan.”

Steinberg explained that in his opinion Washington and London had come up with an idea that they could create a solution to a complex and difficult problem – namely creating a governing combination in Pakistan that could also deal with the intense instability in neighboring Afghanistan.

“The fact that the frontier provinces of Pakistan are now safe havens for Taliban and al-Qaeda, all of these things make for a very difficult situation, and the idea that the U.S. could impose a package deal between a now civilian President Musharraf, a Prime Minister Bhutto, and a new American vetted general in charge of the army, was a dangerously unrealistic fantasy,” Steinberg said, “and one I think that was finally played out in the streets of Rawalpindi and Bhutto’s tragic death today.

Al-Qaeda has already claimed responsibility for the attack that claimed Bhutto’s life, but it’s President Musharraf who is finding himself the target of criticism for not providing sufficient security for the campaigning politician.

“There’s a lot of questions that will be asked over the coming days about the security logistics on the scene,” Steinberg said, “Its rather stunning to me that in a situation where there had been previous assassination attempts the security people would have allowed her to be standing up in the car. I saw some BBC footage of her completely exposed to a crowd of what looked like thousands of people.”

There is little doubt that Bhutto was a target for al-Qaeda. She was considered a strong Washington ally over her recent public promises to fight the terrorist group.

“There is going to be an enormous amount of blame going on,” Steinberg said, “Pakistan is also a country where when a crisis occurs the military invariably steps in as one of the anchors of stability.”

But will the U.S. and British governments accept the re-imposition of emergency law? Analysts say they will have no choice; a Pakistan in chaos would be a disaster. There is no other political force in Pakistan other than Musharraf, and if he decides to re-impose emergency law and cancel the January election, then its unlikely that Washington or London will do anything more than make mild recommendations for an early return to democracy.

“Stability,” Steinberg said, “is at a premium. I think the United States has no choice whatsoever but to support Musharraf in the sense that he is the only horse left for Washington to ride in this situation.”

It is a situation of their own creation; he said, after they, “dropped the ball after 9/11 and diverted resources and attention away from helping to bring stability to a post Taliban Afghanistan.”

Steinberg said Washington and its allies diverted massive resources into an invasion of Iraq that had nothing to do whatsoever with the events of 9/11 leaving a hopelessly inadequate force to deal with the remnants of the Taliban and the hunt for al-Qaeda.

“There are ten thousand U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan out of a total of about 30,000 NATO forces doing a job that requires a minimum of 100,000 troops. You have 90 percent of the world’s opium production coming out of Afghanistan under a joint U.S.-NATO occupation. So clearly things are going horribly wrong in that area of the world and we continue to pursue a policy based on fantasy and delusion.”

Steinberg said he isn’t optimistic for the aftermath of the assassination. “What we may find increasingly is that the Pakistan situation devolves into chaos,” he said, “I am afraid of that, I hope it won’t happen.

“I see great danger in instability ahead and I don’t see any clear definition of anyone coming out the winner in this,” Steinberg said.

“I think Washington and London bear an enormous amount of responsibility for Mrs. Bhutto’s death and the disaster that I’m afraid is going to follow.”

This article is based on interviews conducted by the author and first broadcast on PressTV on Friday, December 28, 2007

Article first published by Ohmynews International
Also on,, American Chronicle,,

World Sentinel,

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Saturday, 22 December 2007

Torture scandal may cripple Bush

White House accused of cover-up in torture tape outrage

The President is playing dumb and denying everything, and White House lawyer Joseph Hunt assumed an aggrieved air and asserted that it was “inconceivable” that the missing Central Intelligence Agency interrogation video tapes could possibly have contained images of torture.

Well, to be more precise, he said they did not contain evidence of torture at Guantanamo Bay. Whether or not they carried sordid images of waterboarding and other coercive interrogations carried out at one of America’s secret foreign gulags was not made immediately clear.

But since the tapes in question apparently did come from elsewhere, and Judge Henry Kennedy’s 2005 order on preserving evidence related only to Gitmo-based interrogations, then it would appear there is no case to answer.

So has the Bush administration managed to dodge the bullet?

“I honestly don’t think so,” Jeff Steinberg, Senior Editor of Executive Intelligence Review, told PressTV in a televised interview. “I don’t think that technicality has a great deal of credibility. Number two, I think the overall situation is that once again we finding the Bush administration engaged in a patter of cover-up, deception.”

Steinberg said the mere fact that they are again claiming that waterboarding, which most people have come to accept was depicted on the tapes, is not torture. “That,” he said, “is simply not a matter for the opinion of Vice President Dick Cheney or his top lawyer, David Addington.”

Steinberg explained that it is a principle of international law that waterboarding in a form of torture, and warned of an impending storm of denial, obfuscation and downright lies.

“I expect that we’re going to see this as yet another pile up of cover-up and corruption by the White House,” he said, “a steady stream of scandals very reminiscent of Watergate.”

The White House lawyer’s assertion that the tapes contained nothing that the administration should be ashamed of is essentially contradicted by statements made earlier in the week by a retired CIA agent in an interview with ABC’s John Ross.

The former agent described how captured al-Qaeda chief Abu Zubaydah had broken after just 35-seconds worth of the treatment that simulates drowning. The agent, however, denied taking part in the interrogation or knowing that the process was being video taped. He also denied any knowledge of the tapes’ disposal.

Steinberg told PressTV the interrogation described by the former agent could possibly be the subject of the tapes, but couldn’t know for certain. One thing Steinberg was clear about, was his belief that at least some of the information that is causing so much embarrassment in the Oval Office was leaked by the CIA itself.

“I believe, and my sources in Washington tell me, that some of the information that has come out and has resulted in the latest scandal has come from within the CIA. People inside there, who detested the fact that people ‘went off the reservation’ and violated the law,” he said.

Steinberg said many agents were angered that intelligence was cooked in the run up to the Iraq War, “and my understanding is there is a certain kind of internal house cleaning aspect of what’s going on here.”

Steinberg said he expects to see a lot more information coming out and revelations of far more renditions, examples of torture and other illegal activity than has so far been reported or hinted at.

“And I think we are also going to discover that not very much useful intelligence came out of all of this,” he said, “because these techniques inherently do not work. People who are being put through a near death experience will say anything, make up anything to escape the torture.”

Physical torture, Steinberg said, is an inherently flawed method used by an inherently flawed administration, “and a lot of chickens are coming home to roost right now and I think its all for the good.”

Dogged by scandals at the notorious Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, under pressure over failures in Iraq, and embarrassed by new intelligence estimates that undermined the administration’s efforts to bully Iran into submission, the White House is under siege.

Steinberg says efforts to smother this latest disgrace will be extensive.

“I am virtually certain that we are going to find this whole cover-up went to the highest levels of the Bush administration,” he said, “All of the policy decisions related to the denial of information to Congress and other investigative agencies came directly out of the office of the Vice President.”

But keeping secrets is difficult, especially when one’s own neck is at stake.

“I would not be surprised to find out a few months from now that there is evidence of some kind that President Bush himself lied at his press conference yesterday [Thursday] and that to one degree or other was fully aware and informed about those tapes and how and when they were destroyed.”

Steinberg said he would not rule out the possibility of the administration facing legal sanction, the threat of impeachment or continuing criminal investigation after the incumbents leave office.

“There will clearly be an attempt to find a scapegoat,” Steinberg said, “but we’ve been around this block so many times over the past seven years that the credibility of the White House and top government officials is near zero.”

Steinberg is cautiously optimistic that this time the administration may have gone too far. “I honestly, at this point, do not think there is a high probability they are going to get away with it. I might be being optimistic, but that’s my take on the mood around the city and around the country.”

Above article based on interview conducted by author with Jeff Steinberg first broadcast on PressTV, Saturday 22nd December 2007

See article on: Ohmynews International,,,, American Chronicle, World Sentinel,,

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Thursday, 20 December 2007

Iraq: Outsourcing the war

Corporate government leads to corporate war and leads to corporate abuse.

This week a U.S. human rights group filed its second lawsuit against security contractor Blackwater on charges of war crimes, assault and wrongful death. The company, at the center of the infamous Nisoor Square shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, is further accused of killing an Iraqi salesman on September 9th 2007.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Congressional committee was hearing testimony from a female former employee of U.S. contractor Halliburton. The young woman told the hearing she was drugged and then gang-raped by American workers in her accommodation in the high-security Green Zone in Baghdad in July 2005.

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Two-and-a-half years later, the Justice Department has failed to complete its investigation, and a department official who was scheduled to give evidence at the hearing failed to show up.

In an interview with PressTV, Kevin Zeese, the director of Democracy Rising, hit out at the corporatization of war, Iraq’s lack of true sovereignty, and accused the Democrats of lip-service in their efforts to end the Iraqi conflict.

PressTV: Just how out of control is the contractor situation getting in Iraq?
Zeese: I don’t think we know the full answer to that. We’ve seen some examples of misbehavior by corporations like KBR [Kellogg Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary] and some of the mercenary corporations that are doing security in Iraq. I don’t find it surprising that U.S. human rights groups are filing suit about this. Many Americans, I think a majority of Americans oppose this war. I think about 70 percent want to see us get out of Iraq and don’t want to see us get into a military confrontation with Iran. The American government is out of step with the American people, and they are fighting to take their government back.

PressTV: Blackwater has been involved in at least 56 shooting incidents this year alone and is the subject of lawsuits and multiple complaints. Given this background, surely you’d imagine the State Department would have ordered at least a temporary withdrawal of their operating license?
Zeese: In fact the Iraqi government has asked for that to happen and it shows that Iraq is not in control of its own government.
Blackwater is extremely well connected, especially to the Republican Party leadership and into the Bush administration. It will be interesting to see how they do when the Democrats take power after the next election, which seems more and more likely.
But even with the Democrats in control of Congress we’re not seeing Blackwater pulled up for a series of hearings. We’re not seeing documents that have been required, subpoenaed files; we’re not seeing efforts by the members of Congress who are Democrats challenge Blackwater, and no one is talking about cutting the funding for that kind of program.
The problem in the United States is that we have a very much corporate controlled government, and we now have more corporate security firms and personnel in Iraq than we have U.S. troops.

PressTV: Who is protecting Blackwater?
Zeese: I think you see the protection in the White House, for sure. You see it in the State Department and the Department of Defense. Congress is only doing a kind of touch-up job in order to satisfy their anti-war base of voters, but they are not really going all the way to push this thing to the edge.

PressTV: So protection of Blackwater goes all the way to the top?
Zeese: I think they are part of the team. As I said, we have a corporate government, and a corporate security firm is consistent with that style. We have privatized many traditionally government functions, including military functions, so we see private firms being paid five and ten times the amount of soldiers who used to do these jobs, and that creates all kind of legal complexities. Who do the contractors answer to? The Military Code of Justice? Do they answer to Iraqi law, do they answer to U.S. civilian law? Nobody seems to know and as you know we’ve seen no charges brought against these abuses.

PressTV: Contractors and troops in Iraq are pretty much given immunity from prosecution under the Paul Bremer era Article 17, so how much chance do the victims of abuse really have of seeing justice?
Zeese: Well, they have no chance if they don’t try to push for justice. So I think justice is something that is not granted easily, it is something that has to be demanded. So I appreciate this woman from Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root coming forward and publicly fighting for her rights because that is the only way justice will occur.
I do believe that the American public abhors what is going on in Iraq, abhors the role of firms like Blackwater and KBR and their behavior to U.S. and Iraqi citizens. I think the more that comes out the more likely we will see justice. But it will be an uphill battle and not an easy one.

PressTV: We’ve just seen the United Nations Security Council endorse the U.S. mandate in Iraq for another year, so does that mean another year of Article 17 and abuse?
Zeese: That U.N. decision is one that violates the Iraqi constitution. Last January the Iraqi Prime Minister went to the U.N. without consulting the legislature, the parliament. The parliament complained about that. In fact, a majority of the members of parliament signed a letter to the Prime Minister demanding that he bring further continuation of the U.S. role in Iraq to the parliament before he went to the United Nations, and he didn’t do that, despite the fact that the Iraqi constitution requires parliamentary approval.
So the U.N. in approving this continuation is ignoring Iraqi law and I think acting illegally. It’s a clear indication that this is an occupation and not a democracy that we are developing in Iraq.

PressTV: Despite that, George Bush and Prime Minister Maliki have reached an understanding on the long term presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, perhaps similar to the deals with places like South Korea or Japan. It’s quite obvious the Iraqi people don’t want American troops or mercenaries there, so what’s the future for the average American soldier posted to Iraq?
Zeese: I don’t see a good future for this. I think we are in the process of creating more enemies than we are capturing or killing, and I think we are creating all sorts of anger throughout the Middle East. Recent decisions that we are talking about to combine U.S. and Israeli missile defense efforts will further intertwine the United States into the internationally illegal activity of Israel, and that will further create anger.
The Iraqi people don’t want it, the U.S. people don’t want it, and I think the Democratic Party in allowing this negotiation to go forward without saying stop is ceding ground to Bush because they don’t want to stop this war either. They want to keep this war and they want Bush to do the dirty work before they come to power.

Article based on interview conducted by author with Kevin Zeese, first broadcast on PressTV on Thursday, December 20th, 2007

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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Amazing Esfahan (Isfahan) Video on Google

It has taken a while, but after "dumbing" down the original file to a usuable file size, and then the slowest upload in the history of uploads... we eventually managed to get the Esfahan video onto google video.

Video for Amazing Esfahan here

Our 56k dial up modem - which usually runs at about 28k - is probably one of the most frustrating aspects of living here in Tehran - in our particular neighborhood - one of the few places not serviced by broadband or wireless!

But, nobody said living here was gonna be easy!!

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Saturday, 15 December 2007

The Inconvenient Truth – America’s Gulags (Update)

Analyst asks “what is torture but an application of terror?”

The United States Senate has blocked a bill earlier passed by the House of Representatives that would have banned the use of cruel and unusual punishment – well, torture – during the interrogations of terror suspects.

New York-based author and political analyst David Hungerford told PressTV he isn’t convinced this reflects the wishes of the general public, “But I think we can come to the conclusion that George Bush himself endorses the torture of detainees.”

Original article published by Ohmynews International

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Hungerford picked up quickly on my use of the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment” and noted it was a quotation from the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which bans cruel and unusual punishments.

“We got along with that provision for about 200 years until George Bush came along.” Hungerford said, “Now Bush thinks he can ignore it.”

Waterboarding and mock executions certainly fall into the category of cruel and unusual.

Hungerford said he doesn’t find this a sign of strength on Bush’s part, but rather it demonstrates the president’s weak position over the destruction of the interrogation tapes.

“I think at this point only one thing is clear, that George Bush does not want the people of the United States to see how he is defending them against – quote unquote – terror.”

Remarking on former President Jimmy Carter’s comments on the deterioration of human rights in the United States and comparisons to Pinochet’s Chile, Hungerford said, “Right now, we are not in a good place.” He said it was a good thing that the United States once upheld these proscriptions that banned torture in practice, in law and in words, “But now it’s clearly going in the wrong direction.”

Bush, Hungerford said, always presumes to defend the United States against terror, “but what is torture except an application of terror?”

He asked, what is the practical use of the admitted use of torture, “except to sow fear into people’s minds. He wants people to be terrorized of the thought of running afoul of the Bush administration.”

And of course for those who do, either foreign or domestic, there is the threat of the secret prison system, the American Gulag Archipelago.

“Numerically,” Hungerford said, “it’s impossible to say how far the system extends. They are not telling us. “

But, Hungerford said the actual number of prisons and inmates isn’t the whole story, “The important part is the effect of the reign of terror Bush is attempting to propagate in the name of fighting terror. That is something of very great impact.”

Earlier in the day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused to give Congress details of the government’s investigation into the videotaped interrogation of terror suspects, and said he sees no need to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation.

No special prosecutor? Does this mean the Senate and the Bush administration consider the implications that the United States become labeled as a state sponsor of torture somewhat less important than the Clinton/Lewinsky affair and a blue stained dress?

“Well once again,” Hungerford chuckled, “it would seem so.”

The investigation is currently being handled by the Justice Department and the CIA itself, something that observers say has all the hallmarks of a potential cover-up.

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Friday, 14 December 2007

The Inconvenient Truth – America’s Gulags

Washington’s disregard for human rights appalls former president

What a great day for quotes.

“I’m going to speak an inconvenient truth: my own country – the United States – is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali,” announced former Vice President Al Gore to appreciative applause from delegates to a U.N. climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia.

Half a world away, former President Jimmy Carter had another inconvenient truth. He told his audience at the Carter Center that the United States should be “embarrassed” for its appalling disregard for human rights. He said the notorious detention camps in Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq would one day have their place in infamy as historic places where human rights were abused – drawing comparisons to Argentina, Chile, Poland, South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

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He was speaking as the House of Representatives were preparing to vote on a bill to ban the practice of waterboarding, or simulated drowning, during the interrogation of terrorist suspects by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The bill passed, and intelligence officials are now required to observe the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture.

However, in a quite astonishing development, the White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it would prevent the United States from using lawful methods to conduct interrogations of senior al-Qaeda suspects. Essentially, George Bush wants waterboarding to be made legal, so intelligence officers can conduct lawful interrogations.

This from a president who has declared very clearly on a number of occasions, “The United States does not use torture.”

When a chief executive makes such a broad and sweeping – and given the evidence, patently ridiculous statement – then you know we are in trouble. Of course intelligence officers and policemen use varying degrees of torture. The only question is whether that torture is officially sanctioned. And in the case of the United States, apparently it is. Or at least it will be after the Bush veto.

Author and United Nations correspondent, Matthew Lee told PressTV during an interview, “There are some people who always use this example of the ticking bomb. If you had a suspect who knew where a bomb was that would blow up a million people, would you be willing to waterboard him then?”

He said clearly the vote would go along partisan lines, but there are some in Congress who are in favor of waterboarding. Actually, 199 of them are indeed in favor of the process and voted against the bill, but the 222 who opposed torture carried the day by a simple, but small majority.

The interrogation techniques used against suspects reemerged as a controversial issue this week after it was revealed that video tapes – allegedly showing excessive torture during the questioning of terror suspects – had been destroyed by the CIA. Their excuse? The tapes might reveal the identities of the interrogators and compromise their security. No doubt.

Unfortunately for the CIA, a U.S. court had prohibited the destruction of evidence of detainee torture or abuse some three months before the tapes in question were destroyed. However, there is a loophole big enough to drive an elephant through. The court order only covered the prisons in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq – and made no reference to the secret detention centers maintained by the United States in third countries.

“There’s a dispute,” says Lee, “There was a court order saying no tapes of interrogations in Guantanamo could be destroyed. But apparently the tapes they admitted destroying were filmed in these secret prisons that the U.S. has been running outside of the country.”

It could be argued, Lee said, that the tapes recorded the interrogations of individuals who were defendants in legal trials, and under normal circumstances the agents would have known it would be illegal to destroy them, whether or not they were covered by this particular court order.

“Obviously the decision to destroy these tapes came from very high up,” Lee said.

President Bush has publically acknowledged the existence of the secret prison system, but few details have since emerged.

How many of these detention centers are there and how many people are being detained? Well, we simply don’t know.

“There have been some reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere,” said Lee, “but really the impression is this is just the tip of the iceberg. Honestly, nobody knows how many people the U.S. is holding and where they are being held. That is a big problem.”

The U.S. government, he said, is certainly never going to give a full inventory of these secret prisons. “People find out about them, and I think for some of them the transit point for prisoners has been in the European Union,” Lee said, but whenever there is a report about the alleged location of a prison it breaks all sorts of local laws and conventions, “So I think the U.S. has to move these things further and further underground .”

And, of course, further away from public scrutiny and the eyes of the court system.

Strange that we are talking about the United States, because all of this does sound so much like Chile under Pinochet, or the Soviet Union under Stalin. And this is no conspiracy theory, it’s an admitted fact. Secret prisons, torture, destruction of evidence. A U.S. gulag archipelago stretching around the world. A scary thought, isn’t it?

Perhaps it has always been like this, and through the arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration, we are only now beginning to discover the truth. Who knows?

There is still that question hanging, though. That moral dilemma. As Lee put it, if you had a suspect who knew where the ticking bomb was located, would you use torture to save innocent lives?

But before you answer, remember, it’s a slippery slope. How do you know you have the right man? Before you know it, you could be saying, “Better safe than sorry, torture them all.”

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Thursday, 13 December 2007

What happened to our Peace Dividend?

Tired, jaded, and sick of reporting on kids being killed. A personal rant.

Dragging myself through the usual litany of death and destruction as I worked my night shift on the anchor’s desk at PressTV in Tehran, I began to wonder, “What on earth happened to the peace dividend we were promised at the end of the Cold War?”

In the headlines. Lebanese general killed in car bomb attack. CIA directors Tenet and Goss to testify over destruction of “torture” tapes. Four car bombs kill 46 in Iraq. Gordon Brown says Taliban fighters could win role in government, if they renounce violence. Bosnian Serb gets 33 years jail for war crimes. Relations between Moscow and London deteriorate.

And there was the genetically altered mouse that is not afraid of cats. Mind you, the cat used in the experiment looked like it would be afraid of its own shadow, so nothing really conclusive there.

For a spectacularly short period of time I suppose we kidded ourselves that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and one remaining superpower to police the planet – under the auspices of the United Nations of course – all of that money that had been earmarked for weapons that would never be used could now be diverted to more altruistic programs.

Universal health care, Third World infrastructure, the eradication of poverty, the war on HIV/AIDS. The shopping list was endless. The more selfish among us also looked forward to lower taxes, huge returns on our savings and negligible interest rates on our mortgages and car loans.

Yes, we were going to see a quantum change in the 1990s, and the new millennium was a going to be a golden age.

I can’t say for certain, but the euphoria lasted for perhaps a weekend, maybe two.

What we didn’t realize was that instead of one remaining superpower, we had one remaining super-megalomaniac-power, a former superpower that was seething with embarrassment under its new found democracy, and any number of wannabe “important players” straining at the leash to make their mark.

And there was another emerging power, keen to reclaim its past glory and influence, and it would have a profound impact on Europe and the world. A reunited Germany.

Policies shifted. Goals changed. Age old animosities and ambitions, often installed and fostered by the historical major players, boiled over and the final decade of the 20th century once again witnessed the worst excesses of brutal warfare on the European continent.

Supported by Germany, which had been arming it with surplus weapons from the now defunct East German Army, in December 1990 Croatia declared sovereignty and its secession from the Yugoslav Federation. Germany’s action appalled their fellow members of the then European Community.

Not long afterwards, President Franjo Tudjman introduced a new Croatian constitution that effectively relegated Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Muslims to second class citizens. According to historians, this replicated the events of 1941 after Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia and established Croatia as a nation state of the Croatian people.

The ethnic purging, or “cleansing” as it became known, began in Croatia with Serbs losing their jobs in government and the civil service, being evicted from their own homes and businesses. It was, in fact, the Second World War being replayed where up to a million non-Croatians were murdered by the feared Ustasha, the Croatian fascists.

The Nazi puppet state of Croatia murdered or “ethnically cleansed” hundreds of thousands of Serbs.

For those of you who still put sole blame on Serb President Slobodan Milosevic for the catastrophe of the former Yugoslavia, think again.

Belgrade refused to accept the secession, and eventually sent in the Yugoslav Army – not the Serb Army. A former friend and colleague of mine, a proud Macedonian, took part in the campaign. The Balkan Wars had begun.

But let’s not forget the super-megalomaniac-power. In November 1990, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would, without warning, cut all aid, trade credits and loans to Yugoslavia. The Foreign Operations Appropriation Law essentially stated that the state of Yugoslavia had ceased to exist and Washington would deal with directly with the constituent republics.

As a consequence, the Balkans was a disaster waiting to happen – and Germany lit the fuse. In Bosnia, an agreement between the leaders of the three main ethnic groups – the Muslims, the Serbs and the Croats – fell apart after Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic reneged on the power sharing deal. He wanted control of the whole country, not just the Muslim entity.

The currently wanted war criminal, Serb-leader Radovan Karadzic, had welcomed the deal and was initially forced into hiding when Izetbegovic unilaterally decided he didn’t want to share.

Bosnia became the killing fields of the Balkans, with some of the most brutal fighting and war crimes committed during the entire Balkan conflict. By all three sides.

Meanwhile, as they say, U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad April Glaspie had given her big “wink” to Saddam Hussein to “recover the province of Kuwait” to punish them for horizontal drilling and stealing Iraqi oil. A year later Desert Storm was rolling into Southern Iraq.

This was followed by a decade of some of the most cruel and harsh sanctions that led to the deaths of an estimated million Iraqis, with a disproportionate number of children among the victims.

Then came the Weapons of Mass Destruction charade and Persian Gulf War Two that finally toppled Saddam and installed American style democracy where there had previously been dictatorship.

No one has seriously asked the average Iraqi if the 4 million refugees, the more than 1 million dead and the continued unstable security situation in the country quite matches the American Dream they imagined it would be.

The Balkan Wars and the humanitarian situation in Iraq had driven many people to suffer from “sympathy fatigue” – there had been just too many heart wrenching stories.

A distraction from the Balkans and “starving babies in Iraq” was the 100 days from April 6 to mid-July 1994 when rampaging Hutu Interahamwe milita butchered up to a million of their mainly Tutsi and Hutu countrymen in Rwanda. The world watched and did nothing.

The impotence of the United Nations “peacekeepers” to stop the slaughter – and the refusal of former colonial powers to do anything except mount an operation to evacuate Europeans – ranks as possibly one of the biggest examples of international cowardice since we began to enjoy the Peace Dividend.

Later in the decade we saw international confusion and indecision as people died in their hundreds, perhaps thousands, in East Timor. The country eventually became truly independent again in May, 2002.

East Timor has an interesting history, but significantly it was invaded by Indonesia less than 24 hours after then U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger left Indonesia after meeting then President Suharto in December 1975. To prevent the territory falling like a “domino” into to the far left, Kissinger gave a Glaspie-style “big wink” to invade. Ford and Kissinger apparently made only one serious condition. Allow their aircraft to clear Indonesian airspace before the invasion began.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the promise of a Peace Dividend, there have been more than 60 major conflicts in more than 45 locations around the world. Casualties? Incalculable.

We have seen a complete failure on the part of the United Nations to keep the peace. We have witnessed United Nations sanctions being responsible for more youth and child deaths than actual armed conflict in some areas.

And as I pack my bag to head to Baghdad to cover security talks between the United States and Iran, we are still hearing belligerent comments from Washington and suggestions from Israel that a military strike against Iran is still on the table.

What the hell happened to our, to my, peace dividend!

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Sunday, 9 December 2007

The First Palestinian Intifada

PressTV discusses the root causes, the nature and the outcome of the 1987 Palestinian uprising

Twenty years ago this month a popular uprising began in the occupied Palestinian territories. Images of stone-throwing Palestinian youths confronting heavily armed Israeli soldiers are burned into the collective memory of Western television audiences.

It became known as the Intifada – an Arabic word meaning “uprising.” It was also known as the “war of stones” – rock throwing youngsters pitched against a professional army of occupation.

Original article published by Ohmynews International

Reproduced on

Beginning in the Jabalya refugee camp in December 1987, the intifada spread quickly and soon affected all the occupied territories from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

Arguments persist as to the actual cause or trigger for the uprising that lasted for five years, and claimed the lives of 1,100 Palestinians and 160 Israelis. What began with rocks against guns escalated as the intifada progressed, but it was never an even contest.

It was a one sided battle says Palestinian-American author Ramzy Baroud, one born out of deep frustration.

“It was very much a spontaneous grass roots uprising,” he told PressTV’s Middle East Today. “I was born and raised in a refugee camp near Jabalya. In fact in my refugee camp we claim that the intifada started in our refugee camp. My headmaster of the school was the founder of Hamas. So very much I sensed and lived that experience day in and day out throughout the entire first intifada.”

Baroud, author of ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada – A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle’ said it was the spontaneous action of ordinary people. “For the first time in many years Palestinian residents basically took the lead on how to handle their affairs and how to deal with the situation. This as opposed to having the PLO taking charge of Palestinian affairs, running it from Beirut, Amman or Tunisia or elsewhere. It was a reclaiming of Palestinian rights over their own national struggle, taking the struggle back to the refugee camp as opposed to fighting the good fight from five star hotels.”

There have been persistent attempts to deprive the ordinary people of that achievement and turn the intifada into a political tool in the hands of the leadership outside, he said, and unfortunately they eventually succeeded in doing so.

According to Rev. Stephen Sizer, author of the groundbreaking ‘Christian Zionism – Roadmap to Armageddon?’ the ferocity and spread of the rebellion took the Israeli security forces by surprise.

“The first intifada really put the Israelis on the defensive, they didn’t know how to handle the resistance from children throwing stones. It was a really a public relations disaster,” said Sizer, “especially when Western television audiences saw the brutality with which Israeli troops put down many of the disturbances. It forced the Israelis to revise their strategy for continuing the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

Sizer said following the first intifada the Israelis began to proactively expand the settlements, and build roads for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers so they would not have to go through Palestinian villages. Ultimately, he said, this policy led to the construction of the controversial protection barriers, often dubbed “apartheid walls.”

But syndicated columnist and contributing editor to National Review Online, Deroy Murdock, dismissed the suggestion that the intifada was simply a spontaneous uprising, saying it formed part of a long standing pattern of violent Palestinian resistance.

“ I look at this uprising not as an isolated incident, just a spontaneous group of people rising up in 1987,” Murdock said, “It was part of a pattern of a much longer period of violence related to the cause of the Palestinians, going back if you will to the attack on the 1972 Olympics.”

Murdock said, “You had somebody like Abu Nidal claiming to speak out for the Palestinian people by blowing up a TWA jet killing everyone on board; the PLO group that hijacked the cruise liner the Achille Lauro leading to the death of one passenger – so as an American I look back on that as part of a long pattern of decades of violence related to the Palestinian cause.”

Murdock argued that the Palestinian cause would have been better served through civil disobedience or passive resistance, rather than violence.

“To me it’s always a mystery, a tragedy that the Palestinian cause was not fought through the tools of non-violence, which you saw Mahatma Gandhi use in India and Martin Luther King Jr. used here in the United States. Standing up to oppression through non-violence, through peaceful protest.”

By using violence and targeting civilians, Murdock said, the Palestinians lost the moral high ground and they have largely lost a lot of the sympathy they would otherwise have had.

“Gandhi,” Sizer responded, “was only able to conduct his non-violent resistance because of the British approach to diplomacy. If he had been living in Gaza he would have either have been arrested, kidnapped or disappeared. He'd have been shot.”

Baroud said the intifada actually did begin as a peaceful protest. “I disagree with Deroy,” he said, “the intifada was not a continuation, it was a new non-violent resistance and that is exactly what it was. The fact that Israel responded so harshly and so brutally in so many different ways, I can’t imagine what any other response would be except to counter violence with violence.”

Watching American television, Baroud said, you will not get the realities of what is actually taking place in Palestine.

“The Palestinian people have been dehumanized; have been mistreated so brutally throughout the years. They have been treated less than animals, they are literally caged, people are dying at Israeli checkpoints, they are being sniped at daily by Israeli snipers – it just shows me how little people know about the reality of living in the Palestinian territories.”

When the intifada began the Palestinian leadership was mostly living in exile, but a consequence of the uprising, Baroud said, was a short lived unification of different Palestinian factions.

“The first intifada managed to end the state of factionalism among Palestinian groups. There was, for the first time, internal Palestinian cohesion. We saw parties forming some sort of a unity group through which they coordinated their resistance. Unfortunately it did not last for long. But my hope is that they will be able to do that once more,” he said.

The energy that came out of the first intifada, Baroud continued, could have been channeled in a way to empower the Palestinian leadership to negotiate as a strong party, not one with a posture of defeatism. “That was an opportunity that was squandered.”

Murdock isn’t convinced there was Palestinian unity, and pointed out that in addition to the 1,100 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military, more than 1,000 were killed in factional disputes.

“A big part of the intifada was the moderate Palestinians who were targeted, assassinated, by the PLO,” Murdock said, “Yassir Arafat went through this group of 120 who had been killed and said ‘We have studied the files of those who were killed and found that only two of them were innocent.’ The others, according to Arafat, were guilty of collaboration with the Israelis and were executed.”

Arguably the uprising contributed to the Madrid Conference of 1991, a three-day meeting that attempted to forge the beginning of a peace process between Israel and its Arab enemies. It also marked the return of the PLO from its exile in Tunisia. The conference was the first of several rounds of negotiations throughout the 1990s, and formed the basis of the 1993 Oslo Accords – the first direct agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The Accords set out the structure for the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Israeli didn’t leave Gaza until 2005, and Murdock isn’t impressed with result.

“Israel turned Gaza over to the Palestinians and the Palestinians had every opportunity to turn it into a trade zone to attract investment. And instead you've seen violence, destruction, Palestinian on Palestinian. The Palestinians came in and they destroyed it. They had a great opportunity to show we now control Gaza and make something of this, and now we just have mayhem and chaos,” he said.

Sizer, is equally unimpressed with the Israeli withdrawal, but for quite different reasons.

“The Israelis have not left Gaza, they merely moved from inside the jail to outside the jail. The Israelis control the air, the land, and the sea. Gaza is a prison, and they control it, they go in whenever they want and they are strangulating the Palestinian population.”

Sizer expressed deep pessimism over the creation of any future Palestinian state.

“The Israeli agenda is very clear,” he said, “they have no intention of sitting down and agreeing to share the land. That’s been their agenda since the 1920s, and it has followed a doctrine of the iron wall which is to seize the maximum amount of land from the Palestinians and deny any rights for the Palestinians to exist alongside Israel.”

He cited the construction of a “security” wall around the city of Bethlehem, designed to deter suicide bombers, as evidence of what lies in store for the Palestinians.

“Bethlehem is an experiment, a prototype, surrounded with a separation wall,” he said, “If the West and especially the Christian West doesn’t object to what Israel is doing in Bethlehem we are going to see the same in Jericho, Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, and we’re going to see the expansion of this strategy of using ghettos, some call them zoos or reservations for the Palestinians. And so we must come back to international law and say this is illegal, immoral and unjust, and the Palestinian intifada is a legitimate resistance to this illegal occupation.”

Sizer also squarely holds Israel responsible for the Second Palestinian Intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada that began in September 2000 after a controversial visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon.

“In my opinion it was the Israelis that provoked the second intifada because they did not want to follow through on the Oslo Accords and the roadmap to peace. They provoked the Palestinians in order to continue their illegal occupation.”

Describing Israeli operations in the occupied territories as genocide, Sizer blames the United States for failing to restrain the Israelis and for preventing the intervention of international peacekeepers to keep the warring sides apart.

“Why no peacekeepers? A very simple reason, the American establishment supports the Israeli agenda in Gaza and the occupied territories unconditionally. The American establishment is funding the settlements, the separation roads and the wall in complete disregard to international law,” he said, “and so you will never find the international community being enabled to intervene.”

The above article is based on the international debate program “Middle East Today” hosted by the author and first broadcast by PressTV on Saturday 8th December, 2007.

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Thursday, 6 December 2007

Former U.N. Inspector calls for total NPT compliance

NIE report on Iran highlights the danger of relying on national intelligence services

The former head of the U.N. arms inspection team in Iraq says more effort must be made to get rid of nuclear weapons and encourage all signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) to live up to their commitments.

In an interview with Iran’s PressTV, Richard Butler also highlighted the dangers of relying too much on information gathered by national intelligence agencies. He pointed to the intelligence failures before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and this week’s embarrassing intelligence about-face regarding the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.

Original article published by Ohmynews International

Reproduced on

“How could one be so right on one occasion, and now this one allegedly right on this occasion, with two quite opposite results,” said Butler speaking from New York where he is currently Diplomat in Residence at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Butler said, “What it illustrates is that we have a desperate need for facts in this matter of Iran’s nuclear program, and the contradictory reports that were entered in 2005 and now in 2007 illustrate that dramatically.”

To varying degrees, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency are citing the release of a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that declared categorically that Tehran does not have a nuclear weapons program as vindication of their recent reports on the issue; reports largely rejected by Iran’s critics.

In early November, before the release of his final report, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei asserted that according to the finding of his inspectors, “Iran presents no clear and present nuclear danger,” a remark that earned him a sharp rebuke from Israel.

Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Shaul Mofaz, called for ElBaradei to be dismissed, accusing him of ignoring the danger of Iran’s nuclear program.

Mofaz said ElBaradei’s policies “endanger world peace,” and described the veteran diplomat as “irresponsible.”

When the final report was made available in mid-November, the White House ignored the “substantial progress” made by Iran in cooperation with the nuclear watchdog. Instead, Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told a hastily assembled press conference, “It is clear that Iran has not fully cooperated. We believe we need to move forward with another resolution in the Security Council to impose addition sanctions on Iran.”

Khalilzad’s predecessor, John Bolton, went so far as to describe ElBaradei as an “apologist” for Iran.

Former weapon’s inspector Butler, however, was quick to defend ElBaradei, and called on Tehran to continue to cooperate fully with the nuclear agency.

“He has made clear, repeatedly, that there is not sufficient evidence to say that Iran has a full scale nuclear weapons program. But he has also made very clear that Iran is not completely cooperating with the agency in making it transparently clear exactly what its doing in its nuclear program as required under the Non Proliferation Treaty of which Iran is a member,” he said.

“ElBaradei is right, he is underlining the point I made initially, we need to know exactly what the facts are here and Iran could help us greatly if it would heed Elbaradei's call and cooperate more strenuously with the IAEA.”

Butler has frequently made a strong case for more emphasis and trust be put on multilateral United Nations agencies, rather than relying on national intelligence services.

“If anyone needed any contemporary examples of how misleading national intelligence reports can be, and they abound today, they should look what happened in the run up to the invasion of Iraq,” Butler said, “and look at today’s situation with two completely contradictory reports by the same intelligence authorities only a number of years apart. I prefer to stick with Mohammed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

Butler drew a comparison to the intelligence cited by the administration of President George Bush to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was in stark contrast to the information being provided by the United Nations inspection teams.

“The Security Council was told in 1999 when I left the job that we had gotten rid of virtually all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – there were a few that remained unaccounted for,” he told PressTV.

“Hans Blix succeeded me,” Butler said, “and then he looked at it all again right up to the war and he reached the same conclusion. He advised the Security Council that all of his research and inspection showed no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. And as for those quantities that were unaccounted for he made the excellent point that unaccounted for doesn’t mean they exist.”

“Many countries,” Butler said, “mainly the United States, went against that evidence saying they had other information to demonstrate that Iraq indeed maintained weapons of mass destruction, and was planning to make more.”

It has been well documented now, said Butler, “That so-called intelligence was wrong, to put it nicely, some would say it was fabricated – I won’t comment on that – but it was clearly wrong and it was wrong in circumstances where the international U.N. agency concerned over a period of years had made it clear there were virtually no weapons of mass destruction left in Iraq.”

Getting back to the current crisis with Iran, Butler urged all sides to take a step back, cut down on the harsh language and begin to talk. “I think we would all be greatly served if everyone would wind down the rhetoric and find a way to sit down and talk bluntly and frankly, and then negotiate on the basis of the facts. That would be a whole lot better than hurling accusations in circumstances that have now been revealed to be unclear at best.”

And could part of that process of talks and possible reconciliation include everyone concerned scrupulously abiding by their responsibilities under the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty?

Butler says the NPT carries two main obligations. First, for the existing nuclear armed states to reduce and then ultimately get rid of their weapons; and second, for those countries that do not have them, to never aspire to acquire them.

But while accusations have been hurled at Iran for its alleged ambitions, Butler says the existing nuclear armed states, including the U.S., have reneged on their part of the deal.

“It won’t be news to people if I make the point that the nuclear weapons states have not fulfilled their obligation to get rid of nuclear weapons,” he said, “They have greatly reduced the number of them since the end of the Cold War, but that process has ground to a halt.”

Butler said a review conference on the NPT in New York last year broke down principally because of the refusal of certain nuclear weapons states to allow further discussion of, or further progress in, their fulfilling their obligation to get rid of their nuclear weapons.

“So that has been one of the problems under the NPT, and I deeply believe it’s a problem that must be addressed,” he said.

The NPT, Butler explained, is supposed to be a fair bargain between those who have weapons and those who don’t.

“Now outside the treaty we’ve got the additional problem of a handful of states who aren’t treaty members and who have proliferated – have created nuclear weapons – I am thinking of India, Pakistan and Israel as undeclared nuclear weapons states,” Butler said, “this is a particular problem.”

He said the existing nuclear weapon states must do more to move toward the elimination of their weapons if they are going to have a serious chance of successfully encouraging states like Iran (and some others) to keep to their obligations never to make nuclear weapons.

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