Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Has Iranian ex-minister been murdered in Israel?

WAS ALI REZA ASGARI the mystery prisoner in Unit 15?

HAS an Iranian general and former minister been murderd in an Israeli prison cell?
IF so, how wide will the international repercussions be?

The English-language Tehran Times carries this item today:

Iran’s former deputy defense minister martyred in Israeli prison
Tehran Times Political Desk

TEHRAN - Iran’s former deputy defense minister, Alireza Asgari, has died in an Israeli prison, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Middle Eastern affairs announced on Tuesday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ra’ouf Sheibani expressed deep regret over the martyrdom of Asgari and has asked the international community to take immediate action against the Zionist regime for committing such a crime.

The action of the Zionist regime, which kidnapped Asgari with the cooperation of the United States, is a concrete example of state-sponsored terrorism, Sheibani stated.

Alireza Asgari was kidnapped by Mossad agents in Turkey on December 9, 2006.

The Iranian accusation comes after Israeli news media have had deliberately vaguely-worded reports of a mystery death in Ayalon prison, - such as this from YNet:

“An inmate held in solitary confinement at Ayalon Prison committed suicide by hanging in his cell two weeks ago. The warden team that noticed him took him down and tried to revive him, but in vain. He was taken to the prison clinic and was pronounced dead.

Unlike in earlier cases, the Prison Service did not release a press statement and no details were give of the man’s identity. This is the 13th prisoner that managed to commit suicide in prison or in detention, and the second this month.”

Not for the first time, reports in Israel had referred to a “Prisoner X,” who was being held in secret, neither their identity nor the reasons for their incarceration being revealed. On a previous occasion it was a Jewish scientist, Marcus Klingsberg, believed to have uncovered secrets of Israeli biological warfare research, and accused of spying for the Soviet Union, who was secretly held prisoner for a decade in the 1980s.

This time, according to American-based blogger Richard Silverstein, who claimed to have it from confidential Israeli sources, the mystery prisoner in Ayalon prison's Unit 15 - a high security solitary unit originally built to hold Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin - was "a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and government minister under former President Khatami named Ali-Reza Asgari. Western news outlets reported in 2007 that he either defected or was kidnapped by the Mossad, with the assistance of western intelligence agencies (either the CIA or British or German intelligence depending on the source) in Istanbul. A conservative Iranian publication first reported last year that Asgari was in an Israeli prison and this was reported by AP as well. Israeli media reported he had defected, and an Israeli claiming connections to Israeli intelligence reported to me that he was living quite comfortably 'in Virginia'. In hindsight, this seems a rather clumsy piece of disinformation."

Israeli and Western media had claimed Asgari had willingly defected and was co-operating with intelligence agencies. The Washington Post said the former general was providing information about Hezbollah in Lebanon and its Iranian connections, some of it relating to the 1983 bombing of a US marines barracks in Beirut. He had also provided information pertaining to the Mahdi army in Iraq, and had smuggled out documents with him from Iran.

The New York Post reported that an Iranian dissident group helped plan the defection and was negotiating with Western intelligence agencies for a “permanent place of exile”. According to The Sunday Telegraph, Asgari’s defection was part of a CIA program called “the Brain Drain”, which began in 2005 and later netted Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri.

The Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot reported that Asgari had told US interrogators Iran was secretly attempting to enrich uranium with a combination of lasers and chemicals at a weapons facility in Natanz; this would act as a backup if the publicly known facilities and activities were stopped by sanctions or military strikes. Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman expanded upon this reporting in his book The Secret War with Iran, in which he stated that Asgari had not only supplied the information regarding lasers, but had also revealed that a second site for centrifuges had been built near the principal Natanz site, and that a Syrian nuclear program, developed with North Korean help, was being paid for by Iran.

But had the Iranian general really provided all this information, and how genuine was it, or his "defection"? Some of the stories claimed that Asgari had made arrangements to bring his family out of Iran so they could join him in exile somewhere.

But on March 12, 2007 the missing man's relatives turned up outside the Turkish embassy in Tehran, where they had come to ask the Turkish authorities to investigate his disappearence. Asgari had been on a business trip to Syria when he was persuaded to go to Istanbul, some say by either the CIA or the BND, German intelligence, and it was in Istanbul that he supposedly changed hotels, then disappeared. There were reports that he was taken to a US base in Germany before being handed over to the Israelis.

"Claims by western intelligence to have scored a coup by securing the defection of a senior Iranian general were contradicted yesterday by the man's relatives, who claimed he had been kidnapped by US or Israeli agents. Relatives of Ali Reza Asgari, an Iranian former deputy defence minister who disappeared during a trip to Turkey, said reports that he had fled to the west were 'lies'. They said he would never have spied on Iran or abandoned his family...

"... Gen Asgari's wife, Ziba Ahmadi, emerged with his brother and three of his children to talk to reporters. They said all the general's close relatives remained in Iran. "We are here in Iran and have not gone anywhere," said Mrs Ahmadi. "These are enemies' rumours. My husband did not have any problems with Iran that would have led him to seek asylum. The person who wants to seek asylum first takes his family with him."

It was Richard Silverstein, again, in his Tikkun Olam blog, who reported yesterday " news from Israel that Asgari is dead in his cell. According to the standard version, he committed suicide in his cell within the past week or so. Ynet reported the suicide story and noted that it was under gag order.

Silverstein cites Israeli reporters acknowledging that prisoners are sometimes held in secrecy at the behest of the security and intelligence agencies, and asks:
"Did such an agency have an interest in silencing the detainee? And if so, was a death declared a “suicide,” really murder? In the case of the death of a prisoner under special treatment [held by the security services], why it was not within the power of the Prison Service to prevent the suicide or some other form of violent death.

Reporting that some sources deny that the dead prisoner was in fact Asgari, and acknowledging discrepancies in the stated age of man, (some say 32, whereas Asgari was 58), Richard Silverstein says this could be a mistake, and that those who dispute the identity have not come up with an alternative name. He believes that it was the Iranian ex-minister:

"This raises the question: why was Asgari considered so hot a figure that someone in the security services may’ve wanted him dead? It should be noted that it would’ve have been relatively easy for someone to kill Asgari. An earlier Ynet article, also gagged, noted that he was held incommunicado and had no contact whatsoever with the prison guards or other authorities. Any prisoner held under such extreme conditions of isolation could be killed at will.

"Why kill him? It would be incredibly difficult to explain to the world how and why Israel held a senior Iranian official in one of its prisons when it was telling the world he was enjoying his new life as a defector in Virginia. It would enormously complicate relations with Turkey (on whose soil he was abducted) and Iran (with whom Israel is almost in a state of war). It also seems likely that the security services, as I guessed in my earlier post, must’ve exhausted the useful information they could get from him. And so in yet another sense he was expendable.

"But expendable for whom? It would appear that the Mossad, which originally kidnapped him would be the main culprit. If he was murdered, the authors of this crime must’ve figured that it would be that much more difficult for anyone to pursue his trail if they murdered him than if he remained alive. The question now becomes what they’ve done with his body. Will they make it too disappear as they did Asgari himself when they kidnapped him in Istanbul in 2007? This would be the ultimate insult and would render his killers virtual impunity for the crime. His family, which protested in Teheran last month on the anniversary of his fourth year in captivity, will have no body to mourn, no one to bury. One wonders whether, as in China, at some unspecified future date, Israel will offer the family what’s left of him plus a bill for his execution. I apologize for the darkness of this comment, but how else is one supposed to react to this abomination?

"A word about the official version of suicide: originally the Mossad put out the story that Asgari hadn’t been kidnapped and wasn’t in Israel. Both of these stories appear to have been false. The suicide story appears equally self-serving. Remember too that the Mossad’s method of killing Mahmoud al-Mabouh in Dubai allowed the world to believe he has died of a heart attack. Only a far more sophisticated toxic screen determined that he’d been drugged as part of a murder. So the Mossad is very good at these smokescreens when it wants to cover the tracks of its murders. ...

He goes on to wonder: "And what will this do to future cooperation among intelligence agencies who may be running Iranian spies and potential defectors? If rumors are correct and Asgari was lured to Istanbul by a German BND-run false flag operation, and then rendered to the Mossad after capture, why would any such agency willingly cooperate with Israel in future, unless the goal is to glean as much information as possible from such a figure and then kill him when he becomes inconvenient.

"This story cries out for further exposure on the part of the western and Israeli media. Frankly, so far I have found it impossible to place this story in a more MSM publication. Two Israeli journalists discovered that they couldn’t get permission to interview me about the story. And other western media have not been willing to publish my research. Let’s hope with this alarming news that will change.

"Otherwise, Asgari will be yet another almost anonymous statistic in the rapidly heating Cold War between Israel and Iran".

Indeed with the Iranian government currently accusing Britain of conspiracy alongside the Israelis and the CIA, and the Turkish authorities likely to demand an explanation over kidnapping from their soil, it looks as though both the British and German governments may be required to say something.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Farewell to Jayaben Desai

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A GENUINE working class heroine died on December 23, aged 77 after some months of illness.
Jayabene Desai was the little Asian woman who became the best-known face of one of the biggest industrial struggles in Britain within living memory.

Grunwick is a film processing and photographic finishing business that was operating in back-street works in Willesden, north-west London, and trading under various brand names. Customers posted undeveloped films to the lab and received finished photographs back. With the growth of both commercial and amateur colour photography, too much for local chemists to handle or invest in expensive equipment, business was growing. Grunwick's trading profit at the time was reported as being a steady 30% and above per annum.

The average pay at Grunwick was £28 a week, compared to the national average wage of £72 a week, and average full-time wage for women manual workers in London of £44 a week. Overtime was compulsory, and when there was a rush on workers would be asked to work overtime with no prior notice. Most of the workforce, about 80 per cent, were Asian women, and another 10 per cent were Afro-Caribbean women.

Grunwick boss George Ward, himself of Anglo-Asian origin, would argue that far from exploiting the women, he was helping them by providing work. Grunwick strikers saw it differently: "Imagine how humiliating it was for us, particularly for older women, to be working and to overhear the employer saying to a younger, English girl 'you don't want to come and work here, love, we won't be able to pay the sort of wages that'll keep you here' – while we had to work there because we were trapped."
Jayaben Desai said: "The strike is not so much about pay, it is a strike about human dignity."

There had been a previous attempt to organise Grunwicks by the Transport and General Workers Union, but without success.

The Summer of 1976 was memorably hot in London, and on Friday August 20 the workers at Grunwick's Chapter Road factory were toiling to keep up with orders. There was no air conditioning. A worker called Devshi Bhudia was dismissed for working too slowly.Three others, Chandrakant Patel, Bharat Patel and Suresh Ruparelia, walked out in support of him. At 6.55pm Jayaben Desai put on her coat to leave and was called into the office where she was dismissed for doing so. Her son Sunil walked out in support of her.

As Jayaben told the boss:
"What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. In a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager."

The following Monday, the six began picketing their workplace, and also approached the Citizens Advice Bureau, who advised them to join a union. For some reason this was to be one of the weakest and most 'moderate' in the land, the clerical union APEX, which brought the unusual sight of a cabinet minister - Shirley Williams, who was an APEX sponsored MP - being arrested on the picket line. As trade unionists from around the country rallied to support the Grunwick strikers, miners' leader Arthur Scargill was also arrested. Prime Minister James Callaghan gave orders that no more cabinet ministers must go to Grunwick, and asked MI5 to keep him posted on Scargill's movements, saying "he may have to be warned off if necessary".

In some previous disputes involving immigrant workers fighting for their rights, the white workers had been indifferent or even hostile, but things were changing, and the Grunwick workers seemed to catch the imagination and the mood. Thousands of trade unionists came to join mass pickets, seeing it as a matter of honour, while on the other side, still remembering the miners' success in closing Saltley coke depot with other workers support, there was a determination - running from the Tory party through the right-wing National Association for Freedom (NAFF) and the Metropolitan Police Special Patrol Group - that the unions would not succeed.

The strike lasted two years. Thousands of pickets and police were involved in clashes, hundreds of people were injured, and there were 550 arrests. It was said that magistrates took a pride in extra harsh treatment of anyone arrested at Grunwick. Not that the law in this country is class biased or political, of course.

When an important group of workers - the post office workers at Cricklewood office particularly - decided to help the Grunwick strikers by refusing to handle the company's mail, an old law was dug out making it a criminal offence to hold up anyone's mail. When this did not suffice to intimidate the post workers, unfortunately their own union got fright and disciplined those who were not willing to back down. On the other hand when the NAFF organised scabbing and arranged for some of its middle class volunteers to pick up Grunwick mail, the laws governing postal services were ignore, and the authorities looked the other way.

The Labour government commissioned an inquiry, chaired by Baron Scarman, which came down in favour of union recognition, and the re-instatement of sacked Grunwick workers. The employer, supported by the Tories and the NAFF, rejected its recommendations.

What was left? Calls were made for other workers besides the post workers to cut Grunwicks services off. Trade unionists picketed some chemists shops to persuade them to stop dealing with Grunwick. Legal action to stop this failed. But the firm kept going. One of its chief customers now was said to be the Metropolitan Police. And rather than cut off Grunwick, the TUC cut off the strikers by withdrawing its support. Jayaben and others held a hunger strike outside Congress House, for which they were expelled by APEX.

At a ceremony presenting Jayaben Desai with an award on the anniversary of the strike, an official of the GMB union (which now incorporates APEX) apologised publicly for the way the union had let the Grunwick strikers down.

Earlier, at a benefit for the Gate Gourmet workers defending jobs and union rights at London Airport, there had been a message of support and generous donation from Jayaben Desai on behalf of her fellow workers, and her apologies that due to ill-health she could not attend.

Fortunately Jayaben and some of her family and friends did manage to attend our Brent Trades Union Council event commemorating the Grunwick strike, and she was one of the liveliest speakers. Perhaps the most moving tribute paid to her there came from a young woman who spoke from the floor, a trade unionist of Asian family background, who said that she had not been born yet at the time of the Grunwick strike, only hearing about it from her parents and books. But she had obtained a picture of Mrs.Desai which she kept. Whenever she needed to summon up courage, she looked at the photo, she said, it inspired her with confidence that she could speak up, and fight for what was right.

In response, Jayaben said modestly that she had only reflected her times, along with her fellow-strikers, and was thankful for having had the chance.

Note from Pete Firmin:

Very sadly Jayaben Desai, who became the public face of the Grunwick strike of 1976/77, died on 23rd December. She had been ill for several months. The funeral will be on 31st December, 11.00 am at Golders Green crematorium. Mr Desai is quite rightly very proud of his wife and would like people to come if they are able, so can you spread the word around? A sad loss for us all.
Pete Firmin
President Brent TUC

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Monday, December 27, 2010

First the execution threat, then the family arrested

IRANIAN police have arrested the whole of a man's family within hours of postponing the man's execution. Relatives of Kurdish student Habib Latifi had gone to Sanandaj prison where his execution was due to have been carried out on Sunday.

"My client was scheduled to be executed this morning but it was not carried out in order to allocate more time to further investigate the case," his lawyer Nemat Ahmadi said.

Habib Latifi, an active member of the banned Iranian-Kurdish rebel group Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), was sentenced to death in 2008. Latifi was first arrested on October 23 2007 and was sentenced to death by a short court session lasting only a few minutes after enduring four months of interrogation and torture on June 30 2008. His trial was held without family members being allowed to be present.

He had been accused of connection with a number of bomb explosions. But he was found guilty on the somewhat vaguer charge of "emnity towards God" - in the Islamic Republic a "security" crime. An appeal court upheld the verdict in 2009. Just before the scheduled execution, Ahmadi had once again written a letter to the head of the judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, asking for the sentence to be revised.

The execution was eventually postponed and Latifi allowed to meet his family members, the lawyer added.

Earlier, the condemned man's sister Elahe Latifi had said Habib's case had seemed to be going positively, and then Saleh Nikbakht (the family lawyer) was informed of this sentence on Friday "while most government organizations are closed down and our hands are tied.”

“Mr Nikbakht called yesterday around 2 p.m. and stated the execution sentence has been faxed to him by authorities and my brother is to be executed on Sunday. “Today Mr Saleh Nikhbakht left Tehran to Sanandaj and follow up on my brother’s case. But in reality the timing of issuance of the sentence only gave us a short window to follow up since we only have tomorrow to try and sustain the sentence.”

Asked about the reaction of judicial officials of Sanandaj and Representatives of the province, Elahe stated: “Nobody from officials nor representatives have answered us. Nobody is taking responsibility, we do not know what to do. The sentence was delivered yesterday and our only hope is for Mr Nikbakht to be able to speak with authorities.”

At least 12 Kurds, all reportedly members of PJAK, are on death row after being found guilty of armed confrontation with Iranian forces.

Iranian Kurds, are estimated to number around 7 million, mainly live in the north-western and western provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kermanshah and Kurdistan which border Turkey and northern Iraq. There has been a Kurdish struggle with the regime in Tehran for decades, although Iranian regimes have sometimes provided support to Kurds in Iraq.

Kurds in Iran have been relatively integrated into the wider society, although there are religious as well as cultural differences. Movements like PJAK want autonomy, and possibly self-determination along with the Kurds of neighbouring Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Mossad and CIA projects in Iran may be exploiting minority struggles as a cover, a suspicion aroused by recent terror attacks in Baluchistan, and referred to in documents released by Wikileaks. But foreign agencies did not invent these people's aspirations, which predate the Islamic regime. With Turkey a NATO member, its western allies remain cautious about encouraging the Kurdish struggle, and the movement is currently in a de facto alliance with those fighting for democracy in Iran.

About the actions of international Human Rights organizations trying to stop her brother’s execution, Elahe Latif said: “I ask all Human Rights organizations and anyone who is able to help to come froward. But I still think what needs to be done has to be from inside the country.”

I thought in honor of the month of Moharram, no executions will be carried out, but apparently that does not matter to the authorities. Our last hope is god.”

Moharram is the first month of the Muslim calender, when fighting is said to be forbidden, and Shia are supposed to mourn the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. The Iranian authorities may have considered that on the other hand, a Christmas weekend when international organisations' offices and college campuses were closed was a good time to announce an execution.

For now the threat has been postponed, but not lifted. And the arrest of Latif's family may have been seen as one way of limiting protests. But now should be the time for these to be stepped up.

The Iranian government has rejected calls from the British Foreign Office to improve civil rights, and pro-Islamic regime journalist Yvonne Ridley says Britain should put its own house in order before criticising others. That's fine. But we are not bound by imperialist diplomacy. The British government does not speak for us, and we do not speak for the British government. We are not only entitled, but duty bound to speak up for political prisoners and those threatened with execution, in Iran or anywhere else.

We should also demand that Yvonne Ridley and others who claim to be friends of the Iranian people do the same.


Friday, December 24, 2010

The Tragedy of Tommy Sheridan

FOR one well-known socialist and his family, this Xmas holiday of festive cheer and goodwill is overshadowed by gloom, and it must be a matter of sadness for us all. Tommy Sheridan, the hero who went to jail for his struggles against the Tory poll tax and nuclear bases, and was the darling of the Left, is facing a prison sentence in the New Year, not for his principles, but for perjury.

It is a tragedy, notwithstanding its moments of farce, and one which worked out towards its increasingly inevitable end. Its hero took on Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media empire, represented by the News of the World, and much to everyone's delight he won. And then, as we might have feared, he faced them in a second round, and lost.

Tommy Sheridan joined Militant, when he was 17 and it was tucked well into the Labour Party. He was one of those who broke to form Scottish Militant Labour, which developed via the Scottish Socialist Alliance into the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). In the changing political conditions of a Scottish Parliament, and then an unpopular warmongering Labour government, the SSP took on both Scottish Nationalists and Labour from the Left. It inspired socialists south of the border with the prospect of a party to the left of Labour being able to overcome the permanent squabbling factionalism of the Left and root itself in the working class, winning popular support.

Tommy Sheridan seemed to typify what the SSP had and the Left in general lacked, a popular, even charismatic figure, to whose socialism ordinary working folk could relate, he had a strong base in Glasgow's working-class Pollok area, from whence he came. George McNeilage and Keith Baldassara , his best friend and the best man at his wedding, were his "eyes and ears in Pollok" while he was in prison, Sheridan boasted, they were dedicated to socialism - but in this recent case they became his enemies, and "traitors".

Tommy Sheridan at the centre of the anti-poll tax struggle

Elected to the Scottish parliament on the strength largely of his leadership in the poll tax struggle, Tommy was one of six Scottish Socialists who took their seats in Holyrood in 2003. It was like a revival of the "Red Clydeside" tradition, except the new intake were more definitely Marxist in some respects, their geographical base was wider, and some of them were women. But by their own account, he was their outstanding spokesperson, and among the most popular figures not just on the Left, but in Scotland.

Some of them were women. Rosie Kane finds her way round having to take the oath to the Queen at the opening of the Scottish Parliament, 2003

As the leading figure of a campaigning socialist party opposing Blair and his war, and building its grass-roots support, Sheridan was bound to be a target for the capitalist press, which loves to build up hero figures just so it can knock them down, and especially for the pro-war Murdoch media, despised as a right-wing propaganda machine even in the United States.

The Murdoch-owned 'News of the World', once known for its prurient reporting of court cases involving indecency and cross-dressing vicars, and interviews which ended when the reporter "made an excuse and left", has moved on with more permissive times, through chequebook 'shag n'tell' journalism to using methods that have landed its own reporters in court. That's only for their targetting of establishment figures, including Royalty, never mind the left and labour movement. Tommy Sheridan is considering action against the Metropolitan Police for failing to alert him that the NoW were hacking into his mobile telephone calls.

Cupids in Manchester, where an unwitting Tommy Sheridan accompanied a woman from the News of the World: not exactly Moulin Rouge, is it?

On October 31st, 2004, the News of the World printed a story about an unnamed married MSP, saying he had visited a “swinger’s club” in an industrial estate in Manchester. Anvar Khan, a News of the World journalist who was releasing a book about her life, made various claims about the politician's tastes, some of which she has since admitted making up to spice her story.

Most people would probably not have associated any of this with Tommy Sheridan, a happily married man, respected for his dedication and integrity. Like other Scottish Socialist MSPs, he was pledged to only take an average worker's salary, so as not become alienated from his ordinary supporters. But a few close friends knew that was not the whole story. They had already tried to warn Tommy that his private life and indiscretions were risky, both for him and his family and for the party. When he seemed to take no notice, they decided to make it more formal, asking him to attend an emergency meeting of the Party’s Executive Committee, at its then office in Stanley Street, on the 9th of November.

At this meeting, Tommy apparently admitted that he had visited Cupids on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002, calling it “cheap thrills”. (an expression he has repeated after the court case). But he reckoned the NoW could not “prove anything”, and said he intended to sue them for defamation. The SSP executive did not think this was a good idea. A false defamation action could give the newspaper's allegations yet more publicity, and the case would drag members into court, and the party into disrepute. The comrades argued that if Tommy would only be prepared to either put his hands up and admit the truth, or simply say ‘no comment’ and keep his private life out of the tabloids to the best of his ability, the public would probably forgive his wild sex life, but they wouldn’t forgive him being proven a liar and a hypocrite.

Members were not happy themselves about what their leader had been up to. Concerns were raised about where the dividing line falls between a swingers’ club and a brothel -- at Cupids, women don’t pay to get in while men do. The website for Cupids was also only a few clicks away from websites where prostituted women were sold. Some members were shocked by the revelations they had heard and the unaccustomed discussion they had.

Whatever the views on this personal and political morality border, the executive unanimously decided that Sheridan ought to resign from his position of party Convenor if he insisted on bringing his false case to court. Apart from moral considerations, members had to consider what had happened to Tory MPs who had tried to take the media for libel sums and ended up serving time instead. It was hard to imagine a Socialist doing better, and for a party with just six MSPs it would be hard to dodge the fall-out when he failed.

Sheridan resigned as convenor on November 11, 2004, citing 'family reasons'. His partner Gail was expecting their first chld. The News of the World ran more articles alleging 'infidelity' and other accusations against him. Sheridan proceeded to sue.

At first, against all the odds, he seemed to have succeeded. On August 4, 2006, Sheridan stunned the NoW and his opponents by winning the libel trial by a majority verdict, winning £200,000 in damages. Seeing him and his wife walk triumphant from court, one could not help but rejoice, just as we did when George Galloway trounced his accusers at a US Senate hearing, that a socialist had taken on Murdoch's minions, and won, taking away some of the media empire's money too, which is more than the Inland Revenue manage to do.

There was a little nagging doubt though. Like that bit at the end of 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', when the hero, sprung from the death cell, remembers that he has left his written confession behind. What if the other side could get hold of the minutes of the SSP's executive? National Secretary Allan Green had taken possession of Minute Secretary Barbara Scott’s contemporaneous notes of the meeting. These were typed up into an official minute, presented to a later EC, on November 24, 2004 which voted to keep them private. A meeting of the Party's National Council backed this decision. So apparently did Tommy Sheridan, who stated then “I wholeheartedly support the SSP Executive Committee statement agreed at today’s meeting”.

A leading SSP member, Alan McCombes, who was later to be a witness against Tommy Sheridan initially went to jail for refusing to hand over the minutes, saying the party's confidentiality was a matter of principle. Later, after the party had decided to hand over the minutes, Sheridan and his supporters would variously claim these were a fake, that he had the real minutes, or that there had been no minutes, and no confession. Barbara Scott,who had been the minutes secretary, was accused of fabricating evidence and fiercely denounced by Sheridan's supporters for becoming a hostile witness. Being in court, neither she nor her friends could answer the attacks coming from outside.

As soon as Tommy won his case against the NoW, it was evident the newspaper would not let things rest. Nor would the Lothian and Borders Police, who were authorised to launch an investigation into Tommy and whether he had committed perjury. Some people have expressed outraged surprise at the way the state lined up with Murdoch's paper, and the outlay of public funds involved to bring a case against Tommy Sheridan. Over £1.5 million had been spent when the case opened. But outrageous as it may be, why should we be surprised that the capitalist state and a capitalist newspaper join forces to persecute a prominent socialist?

Or, for that matter, that the Scottish legal system might take a dim view of anybody it suspects of taking the piss?

The fact remains that it was Tommy Sheridan who took the initiative, against his comrades' advice, in bringing his private life into the courts, and in so doing and lying in court, not only opened the way for the Party's internal documents to be seized, but for party members to be called as witnesses, in what now became a criminal case, and either face contempt charges and jail if they refused to co-operate, or risk perjury charges themselves if they tried to lie for him.

At the annual conference of the SSP in early 2005 Sheridan was elected to the SSP executive and at the March 2006 conference he was elected as party co-chair. Some people outside the SSP, notably Respect MP George Galloway, writing in the Scottish 'Daily Mail', had urged him to break with his party. In August 2006, flush from his success in court, Sheridan did just that, accusing his former comrades of conspiring in "the mother of all stitch ups", together with Murdoch's News International and M15. The following month he announced the formation of his own new party, Solidarity, with himself and fellow MSP Rosemary Byrne as joint convenors.

In the 2007 election he failed to get re-elected, and though remaining politically active, he had to fall back on his celebrity status. He had a radio chat show, and a spot in the Edinburgh fringe, and he even followed George Galloway's example by going into the Big Brother House. Sheridan said he needed the money, and his appearance is said to have netted £100,000. He also demanded money back from the pool to which he and other Scottish Socialist MSPs had contributed, thus causing a problem with secretarial staff.

Meanwhile he continued to have his own media friends, getting support in the Herald and other papers, even the Telegraph carrying a piece asking whether News International was inspiring the police diligence. A rally with prominent speakers like Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Four and union leaders from the Fire Brigades Union and the RMT spoke on hs behalf, and later Tommy Sheridan stood as a candidate for No2EU, the alliance which the RMT backed.

In fact, some people who had never previously had time for Scottish Socialists, and particularly not for Tommy Sheridan - like the Socialist Workers Party, or the ex-Militant Committee for a Workers International(CWI), which had expelled him, and its English section the Socialist Party, rallied to his side when he broke with the SSP. They seem to have been undecided whether the original allegations about their new-found hero were untrue (as some of them evidently were, and the NoW admitted), or did not matter (in which case how do you make a case for defamation?). It seems the truth is not important. On the other hand, strangely -for people who are supposed to favour democratic centralism - they appear to think Sheridan had every right to ignore the advice of his party, but party members were then obliged to support their leader, at all costs, and whatever risk they ran.

Indeed one might have thought the former SSP leader was still being tried for his part in the poll tax fight, anti-war demonstrations or workers struggle, from the way his supporters have been throwing around words like "scab" or "traitor", and accusing those against him of being on the side of Murdoch, right from the start, from either long-term political differences or as yet unexplained baser motives. On Facebook yesterday I only had to suggest that Sheridan had been foolish, for someone I don't know to accuse me of being a pro-capitalist Murdoch supporter, etc. Just as well one can't ask people outside of online discussions, so I've contented myself with wishing the person a less than Happy Christmas.

None of this has done Tommy Sheridan, or the Left, any good. This case was bound to have a sad outcome for us, whichever way it went. We can only hope that with a new generation entering the political fray, the movement will get back on its feet, and learning what lessons it can, move on. Meanwhile, in this time of good cheer and goodwill, we can surely feel sympathy for Tommy Sheridan and his family, whatever we think of his all too human mistakes, and hope that after it is all over they will refind happiness.

I am not too sure about wishing the same to those who, under guise of leaping to his defence, jumped on the Scottish Socialist Party comrades, and showed no respect for truth or principle. Now the court case is over there are still issues to be settled for the working class.

pictures and some of the information from Scottish Socialist Youth, the Truth About Tommy Sheridan,

A good discussion on Scottish radio (thanks to comrades in Scotland for this:

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bangladesh: Release garment workers' leader and all trade unionists!


DESPITE raising the minimum wage after workers' strikes, the Bangladesh government is letting employers hold back payments, while unleashing law enforcement on protesting workers.

On December 12, four people including a rickshaw driver aged 35, were killed in Chittagong EPZ as garment workers clashed with police following the missed-payments of the workers. According to media reports, the management of South Korean-owned Youngone failed to pay the employees’ exact allowance but offered much less than what was originally agreed.

As the workers refused to take the reduced allowance the management feared a protest of 10,000 workers and closed the factory for an indefinite period without prior notice. This action worsened the deprivation and raised the anger among the workers, which was further aggravated by the intervention of police. As police opened fire on peaceful protesters it took a violent turn and left four people killed and eight seriously injured. Police filed cases against an unidentified 33,000 workers on trumped up charges.

During the protests and the violence led by police, the president of Garments Workers Unity Forum, Moshrefa Mishu, was visiting a town in Narsingdi. Yet, in less than two days, on 14 December, Mishu was picked up from her residence in Dhaka in the middle of the night by agents (as many as 12) claiming to be working for the detective branch (DB) of the police.

They did not have an arrest warrant, nor were they dressed in uniform. Mishu was given little time to change, but had to leave behind her medications which she used to take for asthma and spinal injury. She was produced in the Central court after midday and taken to police remand for two days on charges of vandalism – albeit with no proof of evidence.

That same weekend at least 25 workers were killed, and over 100 were injured in a clothing factory fire. Many jumped to their death because management had locked fire exits. And yet the state behaves as though it is the workers who are responsible for violence.

At the end of first two days when Moshrefa went to the court for bail they remanded her for yet another day on fresh trumped up charge of connections with Jamaat-e-Islami, a proscribed Islamist organisation and known as anti-liberation allies in Bangladesh. Both of her charges are false as no evidence has been produced yet. It is obvious that they are being used merely as a pretext to keep her away from the movement and to intimidate activists - ‘whoever speaks against the power holders will be brutally punished’.

Moshrefa Mishu’s lawyer Sadia Arman reported that Mishu is enduring brutal torture being held on DB remand. The level of physical and mental torture has reached to such an extent that Mishu could hardly walk. She was found stretching her legs as was produced at the CMM court for the third time on 19 December. Nonetheless, she was remanded for further two days that resulted in her fragile health condition and she ended up at hospital.

Mishu’s family and friends reported that permission to visit Mishu in the prison was denied and media report indicates that no prison cell was issued to her as the interrogation took place in DB Headquarter. This implies that in the name of police remand she has been interrogated by ex-army officers.

Many would presume as if the story ends here. But the story goes on. Moshrefa Mishu’s arrest remains valid even in the hospital and more disgracefully she is surrounded by male police in a female ward where most of the patients, including Mishu herself, have to use bedpans. Doctors and nurses are not allowed to speak to journalist or human rights activist about Mishu’s health. Although she is currently out of danger her health condition remains fragile. Her sister urges her immediate release as officers of DB police reminds Mishu will be on remand as soon as her health condition improves.

Dear Friends,

Moshrefa Mishu, a gifted organiser, dedicated feminist and the leader of the Garment Worker's Unity Forum has been unlawfully arrested and undergoing life threats. Her crime is she worked for the rights of garment workers in Bangladesh. I know her in person for nearly 20 years. She is a wonderful personality and brave woman. Her charges are false and we must not let her die in detention.

Please read, sign and circulate the following petition as widely as possible

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Appeal From the Field of the Shepherds

FRIENDS of an American academic working in occupied Palestine have sent out an urgent appeal for his release from an Israeli prison cell, and the release of those arrested with him. They say Mazin Qumsiyeh former of the faculty of Duke and Yale and now teaching at Bethlehem University has been arrested for objecting to an expanding settlement in a Palestinian town.

The place at issue is in Beit Sahour, which adjoins Bethlehem, and has the site of the traditional Field of the Shepherds, where those guarding their flocks by night were supposed to have seen the new star which heralded the birth of the Messiah.

Stan Heller, who knows Mazin, says "The best time to make contact on arrests is immediately, before anything goes too far. Note from Jessie Qumsiyeh that they’ve already thrown water on the prisoners.


the U.S. office in Jerusalem for the Territories is

011-972-2-622-7221 or 011-972-2-622-7207

from 1 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time

at all other times for emergencies like arrests use this number


ask to speak to a duty officer

also make an email

Explain that you’re worried that American citizen Mazin Qumsiyeh will be mistreated, that the reason for the arrest is false, that Israelis have no right to build or expand a settlement on Palestinian land. The arrest took place in the West Bank, in Al-Walaja, in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem. If you didn’t get Jesse’s email the main part is below

The other person to contact is Richard Blumenthal, the current Attorney General of the State of CT, Mazin’s last address. (Blumenthal was just elected Senator, but he still is AG) I’ve spoken to him in the past about Mazin.

Civil Rights/Torts Department
(860) 808-5160


from Jessie

Link to the pictures of arrests

This afternoon at around 2:30 Mazin said that we have to go to Al-Walaja immediately. He said he just got a call from the villagers that Israeli bulldozer was clearing an area in a different side of the village (the villagers were still trying to figure out the legal situation) than the familiar site where illegal Israel wall construction has been going on for the past year.

We were at his office at Bethlehem University at the time. We dropped everything we were doing and took off. When we arrived at the site, the bulldozer was idle with a dozen solders and private security personnel around. We found out from the 20 some villagers gathered there that they managed to asked the work to be stopped pending further instructions.

Thirty minutes later, some military spokesperson came to talk to the villagers in Arabic (which I don't understand.) He came along with more armed forces - there were about 50 to 60 by then, more than the number of the local villagers present. If I understood correctly through Mazin's brief translation, Israeli spokesperson was saying that their work was based on the 2006 order (but that order has expired and currently there is a supreme court case pending.)

So as the bulldozer resumed, and the soldiers spread out getting villagers away from the work site and started arresting people who simply were hanging around there. While I was taking picture of a Palestinian male being taken away by Israeli soldiers, I suddenly noticed Mazin was surrounded by soldiers in a lower level terrace from where I was standing trying to speak to the solders (probably telling them they don't have any valid work order and should not resume the bulldozing.)

Right at that moment, they decided to take him away. That was around 3:20 p.m., less than an hour after we got there. I only remembered to take a picture of him being taken away from a distance. In rapid succession, Israeli soldiers snatched more Palestinian villagers - in all eight of them, including an older gentlemen, two teenagers, three other gentlemen, and Sheerin Al-Araj whom I knew as the vocal activist from the village.

Mazin was not reachable by phone after that for two hours. Then I reached him by phone and took down some notes from him during a short conversation. He said that they are detained outside Bethlehem Checkpoint 300 at the time. An Israeli soldier named Almog Kahalani was very rough with them. He beat the two young Palestinian men, causing one with stomach problem. The soldiers were very rough with Sheerin that I can hear in the background while talking with Mazin on the phone.

Three of them had metal handcuffs, he and the rest were tied with plastic handcuffs that was very tight and causing circulation problem. A young men's handcuff was so unbearably tight but Israeli soldiers refused to loosen it. The soldiers had just untied the plastic ones after about two hours (but kept the metal ones on the other three, Sheerin was one of them) and that's why Mazin was able to use his hand to hold his phone and speak with me.

They were asked to sign on a piece of paper (don't know what's the content but must be in Hebrew that nobody understand). But everyone of them refused to sign as advised by a Palestinian lawyer who was present there.

While detained there, they tried to speak to the soldiers about international law, but the soldiers were saying that they don't give a f--- about international law and you people and they only care about obeying orders. Mazin reasoned to them that German soldiers were also obeying orders during the Nazi regime. The Israeli solders responded by saying that German soldiers would have shot you by now.

Another hour later, I got another update from Mazin that they have been transferred to Atarot (I don't know where is this, but people familiar with this said it is near Ramallah.) They are waiting to appear in front of a judge. They are cold and hungry. The Israeli personnel there sprayed cold water on them and claiming it is an accident.

If you are currently in the Bethlehem area, please join us for a demo set for this Friday morning December 24, 2010 at 9 a.m. at Al-Walaja. Contact 0569956478 for information.


YOU may like to protest to the Israeli embassy in your country over this, or contact:

Mr. Yitzhak Aharonovitz Minister of Public Security Ministry of Public Security P.O. Box 18182, Jerusalem 91181, Israel

Yaakov Neeman Ministry of Justice Salah-a-Din 29 P.O. Box 49029 Jerusalem, 91490 Israel

Mr. Ehud Barak, Minister of Defense, Ministry of Defense, Hakirya, Tel-Aviv 64743, Israel E-mail: or Tel.: ++972-3-6975540 or ++972-3-6975423 Fax: ++972-3-6976711

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ahmadinejad cracks down on critics, as he lets Iran's cost of living soar

JAFAR PANAHI banned for twenty years

IRANIAN police have reportedly been out in force, ready to intimidate opposition and quash any disturbances, as the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad withdraws subsidies from fuel and food
and lets prices soar.

The regime is continuing to jail trade unionists, and repress political and cultural critics. Internationally acclaimed film-maker Jafar Panahi who was detained earlier this year has been sentenced to six years in prison, and banned from directing and producing films for the next 20 years, his lawyer said.

The government's withdrawal of subsidies has seen fuel prices soar by 400 percent overnight. This in one the world's main oil producers!

Subsidies on a wide range of products are to be replaced by monthly cash payments of $40 per head, ostensibly targeted to those deemed most in need. The government has presented the plan as necessary to save the treasury up to $100 billion a year at a time when Iran's economy is under increasing strain from international sanctions imposed in response to its nuclear program.

But critics fear the cash payments system itself can be used to divide and weaken working people, and middle class liberal opposition, by making people dependent on state handouts, and discriminating against those considered the regime's opponents.

Jafar Panahi, whose films have poked fun at the Islamicist reaction and depicted Iranian society with realism, has openly supported the 'green' democratic opposition. At the same time his films have raised Iran's reputation internationally as a modern nation, and helped foreigners understand the Iranian people. He has been convicted of colluding in gathering and making propaganda against the regime, Farideh Gheyrat told the Iranian state news agency, ISNA.

"He is therefore sentenced to six years in prison and also he is banned for 20 years from making any films, writing any scripts, travelling abroad and also giving any interviews to the media including foreign and domestic news organisations," she said. Gheyrat said she would appeal against the conviction.

Panahi 's feature The White Balloon won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes film festival in 1995 , and he won the Golden Lion at Venice for his 2000 drama, The Circle. His other films include Crimson Gold and Offside, which was shown in Britain this year at fundraisers organised by Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI).

Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, told the Guardian the sentence showed Iran's leaders could not tolerate the arts. "This is a catastrophe for Iran's cinema," he said. "Panahi is now exactly in the most creative phase of his life and by silencing him at this sensitive time, they are killing his art and talent.

Dabashi said: "What Iran is doing with the artists, is exactly similar to what Taliban did in Afghanistan. This is exactly like bombing Buddha statues by the Taliban, Iran is doing the same with its artists."

Panahi, 49, was arrested in July 2009 after joining in mourning for protesters killed after the disputed presidential election. He was soon released but denied permission to leave the country. In February 2010, he was arrested with his family and colleagues and taken to Tehran's Evin prison. Muhammad Rasoulof, one of the film-makers arrested at the same time, was also sentenced to six years in jail today.

Trade Unionists too

The TUC is joining international trade union federations and Amnesty International in demanding the release of Reza Shahabi, a member of the independent bus workers' union in Tehran, who has been waging a huger strike since December 4 in protest at his continued imprisonment. Shahabi agreed to take liquids after friends concerned for his health pleaded with him to curtail his strike.

Supporters of the Iranian trade union struggle say please email the Iranian Government.

Reza Shahabi is the treasurer of the independent and unrecognised trade union, Sherkat-e Vahed. He was arrested on 12 June 2010, three days after the arrest of Saeed Torabian, the union's spokesperson. Saeed Torabian has since been released but there are six other members of Sherkat-e Vahed (the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) in prison.

Gholamreza Gholamhosseini, Morteza Komsari and Ali Akbar Nazari have all been arrested since the beginning of November and we believe they are all prisoners of conscience, held solely on account of their peaceful trade union activities. Mansour Ossanloo, the head of the union and his deputy, Ebrahim Maddadi, are already serving prison sentences. They must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Please call on the Iranian authorities to release Reza Shahabi and all the other jailed trade unionists in Iran.

For more on repression of trade unionism in Iran, see the website of the International Trade Union Confederation and the website of Justice for Iranian Workers.

The TUC has written to the Iranian Ambassador in the UK protesting about the incarceration of these trade unionists.

H.E. Mr Rasoul Movahedian Attar
Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran
16 Prince's Gate
London SW7 1PT

Dear Ambassador

On behalf of the British trade union movement, and its 6.2 million members, I would be grateful if you could urge your Government to release the imprisoned trade unionbist Reza Shahabi, currently on hunger strike.

The TUC understands that Reza Shahabi is the treasurer of the independent and unrecognised trade union, Sherkat-e Vahed. He was arrested on 12 June 2010, three days after the arrest of Saeed Torabian, the union's spokesperson. Saeed Torabian has since been released but there are six other members of Sherkat-e Vahed (the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company) in prison.

I would once again strongly urge your Government to abandon its vile repression of the bus workers trade unionists of Tehran and all other independent trade unionists in Iran. Iran can only benefit from the introduction of measures to guarantee respect for the basic norms of human and trade union rights.

Yours sincerely


General Secretary

The busworkers are just one of the unions coming into conflict with the Iranian government. Reza Rakshan, president of the union at the giant sugar cane growing and processing Haft Tapeh complex in the southern city of Shush, was sentenced to 6 months in prison on December 1 by the Court of Appeal in the city of Ahvaz. The charge was “spreading lies” – the consequence of an article Rakhshan recently published entitled ‘Happy Birthday Sugarcane Workers!’

In the article, published on Farsi-language internet sites, Rakhshan wrote: “It is now two years since the union came into being – two bittersweet years.

“On the one hand, after much ebb and flow, five members of our executive – Fereidoun Nikoufard, Ali Nejati, Jalil Ahmadi, Ghorban Alipour, and Mohammad Heidari– were eventually sentenced by the Dezful Revolutionary Court to jail terms and transferred to prison after being fired from their jobs. Following several prison stints, I was, fired from my job over ten months ago.

“On the other hand, the establishment of the union has been something of an achievement for the other workers since the authorities have taken a sudden interest in the company’s affairs– after three years of continual neglect t– by virtue of the union’s mere existence. The result: the condition of workers and that of the Haft Tapeh Sugar Cane Company are in much better shape than before.”

The fired union members have all been expelled from their homes and are blacklisted from employment throughout the region. But workers have won improvements through repeated strikes and other actions to claim huge wage arrears and protest deteriorating working conditions. The union was officially founded in June 2008 following a 42-day strike and is an International Union of Food workers (IUF) affiliate.

On November 18, three Haft Tapeh members – Behrouz Nikoufard, Alireza Saeed, and Behrouz Molazadeh – were convicted and sentenced to 6 months in prison by the Ahwaz Court of Appeal on charges of “showing disrespect to the Supreme Leader”. They were all arrested in the general crackdown following election protests last year.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Summonsed before Grand Jury in the Land of the Free

WHENEVER we see West Bank settlers interviewed on TV they seem to have American accents. The breed has given us Baruch Goldstein, who perpetrated the Hebron mosque massacre, and still has a posthumous cult following. More recently, we have seen Nahum Shifren, the 'surfing rabbi', back from his rightwing settlement to California, to campaign against immigrants with the Republicans; but finding time to fly into Britain to stir up anti Muslim hatred with his friends in the EDL.

These right wing fanatics are not representative of US Jews, the majority of whom are more liberalminded than the mainstream lobbyists, let alone the nutters of course. In fact some Jewish Americans are determined to do whatever they can for peace and justice in Palestine. Unfortunately, while it is the far Right who catch the ear of the media, it seems to be the left and the peace activists who attract the attention of US law enforcement.

Even when it is hard to see what law, if any, has been broken.

Sarah Smith, a Chicago woman who happens to be Jewish, has been subpoenaed by the FBI to appear before a grand jury on January 25 to explain her trip to Israel-Palestine with two Palestinian women friends. All three young Chicago residents have been subpoenaed, thereby joining other peace activists from the Mid West who have been targeted by the US authorities in recent months.

Here is Sarah Smith’s full statement from a December 6 press conference:

Friday morning, December 3, I received a phone call from an FBI agent. He asked if I had about 30 minutes to sit down and speak with him so he could ask me some questions. I asked about what and he said he “was not at liberty to discuss it.” I then asked if I needed a lawyer present and he said it was up to me but that I was not in any trouble and that they just had a few questions.

I felt something suspicious about him telling me he wanted to ask me some questions, but he would not tell me what these questions were. So I said that I had to consult a lawyer and check my schedule and that I would get back to him. I reiterated that it would be easier for me to meet him if I knew why an FBI agent wanted to sit down with me. He then said that it had to deal with the trip I took this summer. He then emphasized, “I think you know which one I’m talking about.”

The trip I took last summer was to Israel and Palestine. I am Jewish and wanted to see first hand what life is like for Israelis and Palestinians. If I went on the standard tour to Israel, I would not be shown how Palestinians live. So I went on a tour that showed me both worlds, Israel, and the Israeli occupied Palestinian West Bank. I went with 2 Palestinian-American friends. You would think Jews and Palestinians going together to visit Israel and Palestine is something the U.S. government would encourage.

Instead, we are now being ordered by the FBI to go before a Grand Jury for going on that trip. The US government says it supports peace between Israel and Palestine. It says it supports separate Israeli and Palestinian states.

So why does the FBI investigate us because we went to see the Palestinian land? Top US government leaders meet with Palestinian leaders, so why does the FBI investigate us because we talked to average Palestinians on the street?

I went there so I could make up my own mind and talk about what I saw. It seems to me our government wants to hide what Israel is doing to Palestinians. I would like to thank the Committee Against Political Repression for standing up for me and my friends. You can learn about case at, and please make a donation there. Or you can make a donation for our legal expenses: to NLG Foundation, memo line: FBI raids and mail it to Sarah Smith, 2961 S. Bonaparte, Chicago, IL 60608

Smith’s father, Stan Smith, added “I think Patrick Fitzgerald, the US District Attorney, Robert Parker of the FBI need to see my daughter and her friends and apologize to them. And I think President Obama, who was elected in 2008 because he said he would stop this sort of thing, should make a point on his next trip to Chicago to personally apologize to my daughter and her friends for how his government is intimidating them.”

Back in September the FBI began raiding homes and offices in Minneapolis, Chicago, and other places. Computers, phones, documents and personal items were seized, and people were subpoenaed to appear before a Grand Jury. People in the peace community are being questioned by the FBI, and asked what they know about the subpoenaed activists 'material support for terrorism'.

In the wacky world view of the FBI, this need not involve anything to do with weaponry and explosives, sending people on shooting tours of the West Bank, or , as we have seen, organising bombings in places like Iran or Cuba. After all, these are the tolerated activities of the American Right, when not actually sponsored and organised by the US government.

But when it comes to supporting peace and justice for the Palestinians, or others whose human rights are not recognised by the United States and its allies, things are different. As lawyers for the subpoenaed activists note, the current definition of 'material support' can cover just about anything, including humanitarian aid. So if you so much as send a first aid kit or a textbook to Gaza, or raise money for such purposes, then like the Israeli military blockaders, the US authorities can claim this might end up in the hands of an organisation which they class as 'terrorist'.

It is the same with posting a link to a website or carrying out research or reporting which might be deemed sympathetic to the cause of the 'terrorists'.

None of the fourteen people subpoenaed from Minneapolis or Chicago has been charged with any crime. But they can be jailed if they fail to show up before a Grand Jury. None of the property taken away in the raids has been returned either.

President Obama gave up on putting pressure on Israel to freeze settlements, for the sake of Middle East peace talks.

But the US authorities are stepping up pressure on Mid West peace campaigners, apparently to suit Israel.

Thanks to Cecilie Surasky' s Muzzlewatch site, an offshoot of Jewish Voices for Peace, for the information in this posting. Comments of course my own.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

WikiLeaks and Wacky Links

THE plot thickens!

I must admit I have not read more than a fraction of the Wikileaks revelations. So it is possible I missed the crucial documents in which they "expose the truth about capitalism" (I thought all that was done a long time ago by Karl Marx) or enable people to "see the need for socialism" (something I think people are seeing unaided, or being reminded of, by the combination of bankers' bonuses and con-dem cuts).

Class war is alive and well, and like a good meat, needs no sauce, though the quotes above are from people who should know this, but are just waking up, reaching for stimulants, and revealing a religious-like tendency to seek and find meanings that suit, even when they are not there.

Nor can I take at face value the howling of the American 'Tea party' turned lynch mob and their absurd politicians, claiming that "lives have been put at risk", or even US policy been seriously undermined, by what I have seen so far. These are US diplomatic cables. They may reveal what the authors are thinking, or what they want us to think. Presenting a report alleging North Korea has provided Iran with a missile system capable of delivering nuclear warheads as a "secret" may be a good way of planting this story in relatively trusted media.

On the other hand, the claim that Saudi rulers were urging a US war strike on Iran, while it may suit the 'war party' in America and the Israeli government, is not necessarily rendered untrue thereby. What I find suspect is the interpretation which says what worries the Saudis are the nuclear weapons which Iran does not yet have, rather than the growing influence in Arab countries which it has.

So while it's right to defend Wikileaks and the freedom of the internet, and oppose any attempt to extradite Julian Assange to the United States where his life could be in danger before he even reached court, that does not mean we should give credence to everything that comes out, or rush to acclaim what might be yet another flawed hero whom the media provide. In line with my part-Litvak background, I'd take everything with more than a pinch of salt.

Someone who expresses more than skepticism about Wikileaks is Canadian academic Michel Chossudovsky, an economist by profession and conspiracy theorist by vocation, with a pronounced Slavophile tendency and penchant for discovering oil and gas pipelines behind conflicts, from Bosnia to Lebanon.

"Progressive organizations have praised the Wikileaks endeavor. Our own website Global Research has provided extensive coverage of the Wikileaks project. The leaks are heralded as an immeasurable victory against corporate media censorship. But there is more than meets the eye", warns Chossudovsky.

"Even prior to the launching of the project, the mainstream media had contacted Wikileaks. There are also reports from published email exchanges (unconfirmed) that Wikileaks had, at the outset of the project in January 2007, contacted and sought the advice of Freedom House.

Though as he goes on:
"There is no evidence of FH followup support to the Wikileaks project. Freedom House is a Washington based "watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world". It is chaired by William H. Taft IV who was legal adviser to the State Department under G. W. Bush and Deputy Secretary of Defense under the Reagan administration".

There is other evidence of foundation money, not all of it American, supporting Wikileaks.. "Mr. Assange said WikiLeaks gets about half its money from modest donations processed by its website, and the other half from 'personal contacts,' including 'people with some millions who approach us....' (WikiLeaks Keeps Funding Secret,, August 23, 2010)

Chossudovsky then turns his suspicious eye on Wikileaks media support.
"America's corporate media and more specifically The New York Times are an integral part of the economic establishment, with links to Wall Street, the Washington think tanks and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Moreover, the US corporate media has developed a longstanding relationship to the US intelligence apparatus, going back to "Operation Mocking Bird", an initiative of the CIA's Office of Special Projects (OSP), established in the early 1950s.

"Historically, The New York Times has served the interests of the Rockefeller family in the context of a longstanding relationship. The current New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, son of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger and grandson of Arthur Hays Sulzberger who served as a Trustee for the Rockefeller Foundation".

I would not have thought the New York Times was the worst of American newspapers, indeed it is often a good news source about American and international events, including information that does not reflect what Wall Street or the CIA might have us told. Mind you, I am not well up on the current special "interests of the Rockefeller family" (must be those oil pipelines again), nor had it occurred to me that the CIA might rely on someone because of who their grandfather was (unless perhaps the family name is Bush).

But sticking to the "Ro..."s, it isn't just Rockefellers.

" Wikileaks and The Economist have also entered into what seems to be a contradictory relationship. Wikileaks founder and editor Julian Assange was granted in 2008 The Economist's New Media Award.
The Economist has a close relationship to Britain's financial elites. It is an establishment news outlet, which has, on balance, supported Britain's involvement in the Iraq war. It bears the stamp of the Rothschild family".

Not being an economist, I'd say it also bears the stamp of the British Foreign Office, but I'm not sure where that gets us.

According to Chossudovsky:
"The released wikileaks cables have also being used to create divisions between Iran on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States on the other ... WikiLeaks claimed that certain Arab states are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and have urged the U.S. to take [military] action..."

The conflict between Saudi and Iranian regimes, reflected in Saudi support for Taliban, and several other battlefields, is underpinned by Wahabi fundamentalism and supported by US imperialism. Chossudovsky, no friend of Muslims where the Balkans were concerned, now tries to absolve the Saudis of responsibility for anything. We may well, if we are conspiracy-minded, look at some recent odd diplomatic alignments and wonder - who is behind Michel Chossudovsky?

The Israeli humourist Ephraim Kishon observed many years ago that, whatever people in Washington, Paris, Moscow or London believed, about the political rows and divisions in their countries, there were wise men in cafes in Tel Aviv or Cairo who could tell you that the world statesmen were mere puppets, whose strings were really being pulled from the Middle East. Unfortunately it nowadays suits some people in the really powerful states to pretend that this is true.

Anyway, some people believe they know who is "behind Wikileaks".
"According to an Arabic investigative journalism website , Assange had received money from semi-official Israeli sources and promised them, in a “secret, video-recorded agreement,” not to publish any document that may harm Israeli security or diplomatic interests.

"The sources of the Al-Haqiqa report are said to be former WikiLeaks volunteers who have left the organisation in the last few months over Assange’s “autocratic leadership” and “lack of transparency.”

"In a recent interview with the German daily Die Tageszeitung, former WikiLeaks spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg said he and other WikiLeaks dissidents are planning to launch their own whistleblowers’ platform to fulfil WikiLeaks’s original aim of “limitless file sharing.”

Mr Domscheit-Berg, who is about to publish a book about his days ‘Inside WikiLeaks’, accuses Assange of acting as a “king” against the will of others in the organisation by “making deals” with media organisations that are meant to create an explosive effect, which others in WikiLeaks either know little or nothing about.

"According to the Al-Haqiqa sources, Assange met with Israeli officials in Geneva earlier this year and struck the secret deal. The Israel government, it seems, had somehow found out or expected that the documents to be leaked contained a large number of documents about the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza in 2006 and 2008-9 respectively. These documents, which are said to have originated mainly from the US embassies in Tel Aviv and Beirut, where removed and possibly destroyed by Assange, who is the only person who knows the password that can open these documents, the sources added.

Indeed, the published documents seem to have a ‘gap’ stretching over the period of July – September 2006, during which the 33-day Lebanon war took place. Is it possible that US diplomats and officials did not have any comments or information to exchange about this crucial event but spent their time ‘gossiping’ about every other ‘trivial’ Middle-Eastern matter?

Following the leak (and even before), Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press conference that Israel had “worked in advance” to limit any damage from leaks, adding that “no classified Israeli material was exposed by WikiLeaks.” In an interview with the Time magazine around the same time, Assange praised Netanyahu as a hero of transparency and openness!

According to another report, a left-leaning Lebanese newspaper had met with Assange twice and tried to negotiate a deal with him, offering “a big amount of money”, in order to get hold of documents concerning the 2006 war, particularly the minutes of a meeting held at the American embassy in Beirut on 24th July 2006, which is widely considered as a ‘war council’ meeting between American, Israeli and Lebanese parties that played a role in the war again Hizbullah and its allies. The documents the Al-Akhbar editors received, however, all date to 2008 onwards and do not contain “anything of value,” the sources confirm. This only goes to support the Israel deal allegations.

We might note that some of this "Israeli connection" story comes from supporters of Arab governments who want to hide their own part in things, and from Gordon Duff, who like Chossadovsky, is keen on the "9/11 Truth" effort.

But a story which counteracts all that -or does it ? - comes in the shape of a Guardian Comment is Free piece by Andrew Brown, who says:

"WikiLeaks's spokesperson and conduit in Russia has been exposed in the Swedish media as an anti-semite and Holocaust denier; his son, who represents the organisation in Sweden and is handing out stories to selected papers there, has been involved in an earlier scandal where a story he wrote about the supposed Israeli control of Swedish media was withdrawn after several of the people in it complained of being misquoted.

"While this does not affect the credibility of the WikiLeaks revelations, it does raise uncomfortable questions for the whistleblowers' organisation.

"The two men involved are Israel Shamir, a Jew who has converted to Orthodox Christianity and passionate antisemitism, and his son Johannes Wahlström. Shamir was listed as a co-author of a story in Counterpunch, which suggested that the woman who brought a complaint of rape against Julian Assange was a CIA plant. But he has a longer and stranger past than this would suggest.

"According to Magnus Ljunggren, a retired professor of Russian literature at Gothenburg University, Shamir has had at least six different names, among them Izrail Schmerler (as he was born in Novosibirsk, Siberia), Jöran Jermas, Adam Ermash, but is internationally known as Shamir. He has been a Swedish citizen since 1992".

"His latest book, in Russian, is called is called How to Break the Conspiracy of the Elders of Zion.

"His son, Wahlström, is even more remarkable because he is more outwardly respectable. He has been employed in various journalistic capacities by the Swedish state broadcaster, SVT, by the newspaper Aftonbladet, and by the leftwing magazine Ordfront. The magazine was forced to retract and to apologise for a story he wrote in 2005 about supposed Israeli control of the Swedish media, which contained quotes attributed to three other journalists, which they denied ever making. None the less, Aftonbladet is paying him both as a researcher and a consultant, because he has exclusive access to the WikiLeaks cable dump in Sweden and is the gatekeeper who doles out stories to favoured media partners".

We know about Shamir, aka Jermas etc. Emerging during the second Intifada as a supposed Israeli dissident, a prolific writer who was supporting the cause of the Palestinians, he was soon being avoided by Palestinian campaigners who formed the view that whatever drove Israel Shamir it was not liberation or ant-Zionism. A PLO representative in Stockholm told me Shamir was coming out with some "odd ideas", claiming the Blood Libel was true.

It was in Sweden that anti-fascist activists discovered Shamir's double identity, as a Swedish antisemite called Joran Jermas. But it was here in Britain that an academic active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and already the target for Zionist attacks, was shaken to find that Shamir had passed on her details to his "friend", Martin Webster, the former National Front leader.

As regards the "respectable" media place which Andrew Brown finds "remarkable" in the case of Shamir's son, I can tell him that Shamir himself used to work for the BBC's Russian service, which may be how he came to make the acquaintance of Russia's far-Right.

Andrew Brown concludes:
"There, for the moment, the story rests. Given the tight if murky links between the Russian security apparatus and the quasi-fascist Nationalist movement with which Shamir is associated there, it has worrying implications for the security of anyone named in the cables. This is not because the cables themselves are inaccurate, but because they are not".

I'd say uncovering one dodgy character, or some alleged links, does not tell the whole story about Wikileaks. But you would think some savvy journalists well-up on international affairs and intelligence matters would have had their doubts aroused about working with someone like Israel Shamir, whatever his true identity. And it could be neither of the public images we've seen is the real Shamir.

Don't beware taking anything from Wikileaks. But be wary.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Buddies in Arms (and bomb conspiracies)

IT'S a happy picture, the two old friends and comrades in arms meeting in Miami. The man on the left is Orlando Bosch Avila, his buddy is Luis Posada Carriles, and if those names don't ring a bell straight away, because they have not been in the news much here, they will mean something to a lot of people in Cuba and other countries.

On October 6, 1976 Cubana airlines Flight 455 was destroyed, plunging into the sea soon after takeoff from Barbados. Two time bombs had exploded in the aircraft. All 73 people on board the plane were killed, , including young members of the Cuban national fencing team, and five North Koreans.

Earlier that year Orlando Letelier, former Chilean Foreign Minister driven into exile by Pinochet, was murdered by a car bombing in Washington. In 1978 a former CIA agent, Michael Townley, was convicted of carrying out the bombing on behalf of the Chilean secret police, DINA, but he eventually walked free, under the US Federal Witness Protection Programme, having testified against his Chilean associates.

Luis Posada Cariles , and perhaps Orlando Bosch Avila, had attended a meeting with Townley where the Letelier killing was planned. Bosch entered Venezuela in mid-September 1976 under the protection of the then Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez. A CIA document described a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in Caracas, to support Bosch's activities. The informant quoted Bosch as making an offer to Venezuelan officials to avoid acts of violence in the United States when President Carlos Andres Perez visited the United Nations in November, in return for "a substantial cash contribution to [Bosch's] organization."

Bosch was also overheard stating: "Now that our organization has come out of the Letelier job looking good, we are going to try something else." Several days later, Posada was reported to have stated that "we are going to hit a Cuban airplane" and "Orlando has the details."

Bosch was arrested in Caracas on 8 October 1976, and held for nearly four years while awaiting trial for his role concerning the Cubana Flight 455 bombing. He was acquitted along with three-codefendants (one of them Luis Posada Carriles) of these charges in September 1980, with the court finding that the flight had been brought down by a bomb but that there was insufficient evidence to prove the defendants were responsible.] Bosch was convicted of possessing false identification papers, and sentenced to 4.5 months, set against time already served. Defending himself, he would later say, infamously, "All of Castro's planes are warplanes."

“ Guys such as Bosch make it easy for the Cuban government to claim that the United States harbors, or at least tolerates, anti-Castro terrorists. ”

— Miami New Times
Miami area law enforcement officials linked Bosch to several dynamite bombings, including a blast in the offices of Mackey Airlines in 1977, after the airline announced plans to resume flights to Cuba.

In 1987, Bosch was freed from Venezuelan charges and went to the United States, assisted by US Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich; there, he was ultimately arrested for a parole violation. Bosch was detained in the United States for six months until all charges were dropped and he was able to live in the United States freely. It has been alleged that Bosch was pardoned by President Bush, and protected by the Bush family. Bush senior had been head of the CIA when Bosch's crimes had been committed and Cuban emigres in Miami lobbied Florida governor Jeb Bush to have his father intervene.

Luis Posada Cariles was involved in the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban emigres. After its failure the CIA took him to Fort Benning for training in sabotage and explosives, then set him to work with the Cubans in Miami. But after some problems with the US backers which led to him being questioned about his "unreported association with gangster elements", Posada relocated to Venezuela, in 1968, taking with him CIA supplied weapons including grenades and fuses.

Becoming a naturalised Venezuelan citizen, Posada became chief of operations of the Venezuelan DISIP, tasked with suppressing leftwing guerrillas. He was joined in Venezuela by fellow Cuban Bosch. The CIA became concerned that their former protege was combining his security work with cocaine trafficking, and in 1974 Posada was dismissed from his Venezuelan post. There were suspicions that he was involved in a plot to assassinate Kissinger, then seen as too soft on Cuba. The CIA was already under pressure at home to clean up its act, and needed to distance itself from rogue operators.

Posada formed a private detective agency in Caracas. Two of its men, Freddy Lugo and Herman Ricardo Lozano, were implicated in the Cuban airliner bombing, and confessed. A declassified FBI report says: "Our confidential source ascertained (...) that the bombing of the Cubana Airlines DC-8 was planned, in part, in Caracas, Venezuela, at two meetings attended by Morales Navarrete, Luis Posada Carriles and Frank Castro". Posada and Bosch were arrested. Bosch was to be held four years before his trial and acquittal, but Posada had already escaped, to start a second career with his old bosses, under the Reagan administration.

Based in in El Salvador, Posada worked with Felix Rodriguez, a CIA operative who had overseen the capture of Che Guevera. They coordinated arms supplies to the Contras, right-wing gangs financed by the Reagan administration to carry out raids and murder in Nicaragua. Posada was paid $3,000 per month plus expenses from U.S. Major General Richard Secord, who was directing operations for Oliver North. The subsequent Iran-Contra investigations shed light into this major US operation. Several of Posada's connections, including Félix Rodríguez were asked to testify. But Posada remained in El Salvador, and signed up as a security adviser to the notoriously brutal Guatemalan regime.

In February 1990 Posada was shot while sitting in his car in Guatemala City by unknown assailants, but unfortunately he survived, and his medical bills were looked after by the Cuban emigres and the Americans.
In 1997, Posada was implicated in a further series of terrorist bombings in Cuba aimed at tourist hotels and restaurants. An Italian-Canadian, Fabio di Celmo, was killed and 11 people wounded as a result. In a taped interview with The New York Times, Posada said: "It is sad that someone is dead, but we can't stop." Aiming to frighten tourists from going to Cuba, Posada was reportedly disappointed with the reluctance of American news organisations to report the bombing attacks, saying "If there is no publicity, the job is useless".

Loose tongue and keenness on publicity may prove Posada's undoing, as poor attention to tax returns did for Al Capone. In 2000 he was caught with explosives in Panama, accused of plotting to kill Castro during the Cuban leader's visit. A pro-US president let him get off in 2004, and once again the Bush connection is said to have helped. But arriving in Texas to claim asylum, Posada was detained by US immigration authorities, and then the Department of Homeland Security, though the US authorities refused an extradition request for him from Venezuela, on the grounds that he might be tortured there. No 'extraordinary rendition' there then!

The Venezuelan government has understandably accused the US of having a "double standard in its so-called war on terrorism" , harbouring terrorists and attributing methods to others which it has itself practised at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The US government sought to deport Posada elsewhere, but at least seven friendly nations refused to accept him. Under the 1971 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation the US is obligated to prosecute Posada for the alleged acts of terror.

Luis Posada Carriles was released from jail after paying bond on April 19, 2007. The US Fifth District Court of Appeals in New Orleans rejected a Justice Department request Posada be refused bail for entering the U.S. illegally and he was escorted by Federal agents to Miami where Cuban emigres welcomed him as a hero. patriot. Posada was required to remain under 24-hour house arrest at his wife's apartment in Miami until trial, with permission to leave only to meet with attorneys or for doctor's appointments. On May 8, 2007 U.S. district judge Kathleen Cardone dismissed seven counts of immigration fraud and ordered Posada's electronic bracelet removed.

The photo of Bosch and Posada was taken by reporter and researcher Tracey Eaton from the Along the Malecon website during the launch of a book by Bosch on December 9. The launch took place in the University of Miami's Institute of Cuban American Studies, which is subsidised by USAID (US official agency which uses foreign aid to promote US aims) and run by a former CIA analyst.

In 2009, a federal grand jury issued an indictment, the first US reference to the 1997 bombings in Cuba. On April 9, 2009 The Miami Herald reported:

"The superseding indictment from the grand jury in El Paso does not charge Posada, 81, with planting the bombs or plotting the bombings but with lying in an immigration court about his role in the attacks at hotels, bars and restaurants in the Havana area. The perjury counts were added to the previous indictment that accused Posada of lying in his citizenship application about how he got into the United States. Another new charge is obstruction of a U.S. investigation into "international terrorism.""

Posada is being accused of lying to U.S. authorities and is due to go on trial next month in El Paso, Texas. It will be the first time evidence from the Cuban authorities and the FBI will be presented linking the former CIA operative with the Havana bombings. A judge has also ruled that taped evidence can be heard, including Posada's interview with a New York Times freelance journalist boasting about the Havana hotel bombings.

But there are still powerful interests and lobby groups in America who support Luis Posada Cariles, and enough old co-workers in the intelligence establishment, who would sooner this case was closed.

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