Category: History

American mercenaries get serious prison sentences for Iraq murders

The youngest victim — 9-year-old Ali Kinani

Rejecting pleas for mercy, a federal judge on Monday sentenced former Blackwater security guard Nicholas Slatten to life in prison and three others to 30-year terms for their roles in a 2007 shooting that killed 14 Iraqi civilians and wounded 17 others.

The carnage in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, a crowded traffic circle, caused an international uproar over the use of private security guards in a war zone and remains one of the low points of the war in Iraq.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Slatten, who witnesses said was the first to fire shots in the melee, to life on a charge of first-degree murder. The three other guards – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard – were each sentenced to 30 years and one day in prison for charges that included manslaughter, attempted manslaughter and using firearms while committing a felony…

Prosecutors described the shooting as an unprovoked ambush of civilians and said the men haven’t shown remorse or taken responsibility. Defense lawyers countered that the men were targeted with gunfire and shot back in self-defense.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Martin urged the court to consider the gravity of the crime as well as the sheer number of dead and wounded and “count every victim.”

“These four men have refused to accept virtually any responsibility for their crimes and the blood they shed that day,” Martin said…

Mohammad Kinani Al-Razzaq spoke in halting English about the death of his 9-year-old son as a picture of the smiling boy, Ali Mohammed Hafedh Abdul Razzaq, was shown on courtroom monitors. He demanded the court show Blackwater “what the law is” and claimed many American soldiers died “because of what Blackwater did.”

“What’s the difference between these criminals and terrorists?” Razzaq said.

And that, my friends, has always been the difference between fighting for national liberation, fighting for freedom against a foreign power occupying your nation – and terrorists willing to murder civilians regardless of what kind of freedom they say they’re fighting for.

It started with the brutal bombing of civilians in Madrid by Hitler’s Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War – and was carried on with glorious abandon and self-justification by the US Air Force carpet-bombing, dropping napalm on civilians in VietNam. Contemporary examples include scum from AlQaeda and ISIS – and hired gunslingers like these convicted thugs.

You can actually get down to pretty fine points arguing military history. This ain’t one of them.

Are you now or have you ever been…a dissident geek?

Who gets to decide what’s an emergency?

With the stroke of a pen…President Barack Obama christened his country’s latest national emergency, issuing an Executive Order he said was necessary to address “an unusual and extraordinary threat” from malicious hackers abroad…

The action has been termed unprecedented. The Department of the Treasury is directed to impose sanctions on anyone judged to be involved in these cyber attacks, but the criteria for who or what could be subject to those sanctions is incredibly broad. The order states the government can target nations or individuals involved — directly or indirectly — in “cyber-enabled activities” that are “reasonably likely to result in, or have materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.” That includes, but is not limited to, anyone “causing a significant disruption to the availability of a computer” that supports critical infrastructure; “causing a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain”; or even simply using, receiving or otherwise benefiting from “trade secrets misappropriated through cyber-enabled means.”

Apart from dams and nuclear power plants, a 2013 administration order designated “commercial facilities” — including movie studios, casinos, hotels and shopping malls — as one of those “critical infrastructure” sectors recognized by the Department of Homeland Security.

That’s a big set of crosshairs. One can imagine a whole host of scenarios where cyber sanctions seem almost destined to be misused…

The order comes at a time of heightened cyber hysteria in Washington, with controversial bills in the Senate and House proposing “cybersecurity” measures that would give corporations a green light to share data about online threats (and consequently, U.S. citizens) with the government. Privacy advocates have heavily criticized the proposals, calling them a ploy to enable more surveillance, and security experts overwhelmingly agree that information sharing won’t significantly reduce security breaches…

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the order is that it’s dressed as a “national emergency,” much like the one that paved the way for the Authorization for the Use of Military Force and other anti-terrorism measures shortly after 9/11 (emergency laws which, you may recall, are still on the books more than a decade later).

With the U.S. routinely launching its own cyber attacks and economic espionage against foreign allies, that “emergency” might be here to stay.

Emergency responses can last a very long time. Sometimes they involve detention camps for citizens who are the wrong color. Congress has one of the worst track records in the world for having enough backbone and foresight to stand up to any president whose klaxon shouts “Warning, warning, Will Robinson!”

It’s not unheard of for constitutional scholars to accomodate their patriotic loyalty to scumbag agencies in our nation’s history. That’s how some of them become “role models for democracy”.

Meanwhile, you will never hear a White House spokesman mention the NSA in the same paragraph or statement itemizing malicious hackers or data thieves. Aren’t they supposed to be the Gold Standard?

No, Iran still hasn’t conquered the nations south of Texas

Republicans may call Ollie North to testify as an “expert”

On March 12, Gen. John F. Kelly, the commander of the United States Southern Command, alerted the Senate Armed Services committee to the growing threat posed by Iran. According to his statement, the Islamic Republic has “established more than 80 ‘cultural centers’” in Central and South America and the Caribbean — “a region with an extremely small Muslim population.” The scare quotes signal that Kelly has seen right through the cultural façade to Iran’s real project: terrorism sponsorship.

To close observers, Kelly’s conspiracy theory will have a familiar ring. Conservatives have been warning us about the Iranian subversion of Latin America for years.

At a 2009 Congressional hearing, Norman A. Bailey — a veteran of Ronald Reagan’s national security affairs — painted a grim picture of Iran’s “penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela.” Not only had the Iranians commandeered Venezuelan tractor and bicycle factories to store drugs, weapons “and other items useful to them and their terrorist clients,” they had even “opened a ‘maintenance’ facility in Honduras for the ‘tractors’ produced in Venezuela.”

As if this weren’t enough, they had also established embassies in a smattering of Latin American nations…

Writing in Foreign Policy in 2010, the American Enterprise Institute’s Roger Noriega — whose career highlights include involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal — said blah, blah, blah, de-blah, blah.

As might be expected, the hysteria is not limited to Americans. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon once warned of the frightening existence of commercial air travel between Latin America and Iran: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.” A true detective…

The real purpose of the hype is to bring the Iranian threat home, justifying the increased militarization of our backyard and Iran’s in one stroke.

Of course, Latin American history has seen plenty of state-sponsored terror, including the disappearance of 30,000 suspected leftists during the Argentine dirty war of 1976-83, many of whom were dropped from airplanes into the river or the ocean.

A recently published memo confirms that U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave the Argentine junta the “green light” to commence the disappearances. A number of key participants in this and similar regional projects were trained at the notorious School of the Americas, then located in Panama and run by — you guessed it — not Iran…

Lost in all the ruckus, of course, is a question that should be obvious: Why is the U.S. allowed to militarize the globe — including Iran’s immediate neighborhood…It’s the same playbook Reagan drew on when he warned that the Sandinistas were “just two days’ driving time from Harlingen, Texas.” Such rhetoric means more money for the defense and border fortification industries, and preemptively validates any eventual Israeli or U.S. aggression against Iran.

And, now, the world reacts with hope and support for the potential of a US-Iran Nuclear Accord. Yes, Obama will blather about protecting the whole world and UN involvement; but, when push comes to shove, this is one more example of the United States and our agitprop aircraft carrier floating above Middle East oil reserves – Israel – lined up against a nation where we already have a history of regime change. Iran.

Days to come will show me one of the more interesting facets of the negotiating process between the White House and Congress. A process that will demonstrate to the rest of the world how little real foreign policy changes from generation to generation in the United States. Obama prides himself in a quest for nuclear disarmament – but, not at the expanse of Israel or Exxon.

We will get to see which of the Blue Dog Democrats will advertise their cowardice and opportunism and side with Republican neo-cons and fundamentalist nutballs alike opposing the nuclear treaty just negotiated.

Thanks, Tom

The sad life of trailblazing South African footballer Steve Mokone

Steve Mokone

When the Dutch journalist Tom Egbers first decided to find out what happened to his father’s footballing hero, he could never have imagined where it would lead. Almost 40 years had passed since the South African striker Steve ‘Kalamazoo’ Mokone spent two seasons playing for Egbers’ hometown club Heracles Almelo in Holland’s third division. But in 1993 no one had heard from him since…

“I decided to try and track him down but of course this was in the pre-Google age so it was not an easy task,” adds Egbers. “I eventually traced him to New York where he lived at the time working as a doctor in psychiatry and political science at a hospital. At first he was a little bit reserved and wanted to know who I was and why I wanted to talk to him. It was only years later that I was able to find out exactly why.”

After spending time with the man who had become the first black African to play professionally in Europe when he signed for Coventry City in 1955, Egbers published ‘De Zwarte Meteoor’ (The Black Meteor) – a novel based on Mokone’s successful spell at Heracles that saw them win promotion at the end of the 1957-58 season. It was remarkably well received and ‘Kalamazoo’ was invited back to the provincial town close to the German border for the first time in almost four decades as the club named the new stand in their Polman Stadion in his honour. Within five years the story had been turned into a film, too…

“Five days after the premiere there was a story in the newspaper by a Dutch journalist who had spoken to a South African who had told him that Steve had been in prison for years in America.

Egbers spent 18 months trawling through the archives looking for information on Mokone’s arrest and trial. Having also enjoyed brief spells at Cardiff, Torino, Barnsley, Salisbury, Marseille, Barcelona and Valencia, he had moved to the United States in 1964 and began studying psychiatry. Thirteen years later, having separated from his first wife and endured an acrimonious but eventually victorious custody battle, Mokone was accused of throwing acid into her face before a similar attack the following week left her lawyer blind in one eye.

“I had promised myself that, if I had found out that Steve was indeed guilty, I would write it down,” Egbers says. “But I became convinced more and more that he was convicted for a crime he didn’t commit.”

RTFA – please. It’s not just the tale of an athlete whose talents were challenged by the racist apartheid system of his home country, South Africa. He suffered through a trial and conviction in his adopted country, the United States. A trial manipulated by the FBI and the CIA.

Mokone’s death at the age of 82 in Washington last month after a prolonged illness was covered extensively in the Netherlands and South Africa’s players wore black armbands in this week’s friendly against Nigeria to commemorate one of their most important pioneers.

Following a ceremony at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium – the venue for the 2010 World Cup Final – next week, the ashes of the man described as “our flag bearer in all the corners of the world” by the sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, will be scattered in his homeland.

Thanks, Martyn

1,000-year-old prescription for onion and garlic eye salve kills MRSA

An eye salve from Anglo-Saxon manuscript Bald’s Leechbook was found to kill MRSA

A 1,000-year-old treatment for eye infections could hold the key to killing antibiotic-resistant superbugs, experts have said.

Scientists recreated a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon remedy using onion, garlic and part of a cow’s stomach…They were “astonished” to find it almost completely wiped out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA.

Their findings will be presented at a national microbiology conference.

The remedy was found in Bald’s Leechbook – an old English manuscript containing instructions on various treatments held in the British Library.

Anglo-Saxon expert Dr Christina Lee, from the University of Nottingham, translated the recipe for an “eye salve”, which includes garlic, onion or leeks, wine and cow bile.

Experts from the university’s microbiology team recreated the remedy and then tested it on large cultures of MRSA…

In each case, they tested the individual ingredients against the bacteria, as well as the remedy and a control solution.

They found the remedy killed up to 90% of MRSA bacteria and believe it is the effect of the recipe rather than one single ingredient.

Dr Freya Harrison said the team thought the eye salve might show a “small amount of antibiotic activity”.

“But we were absolutely blown away by just how effective the combination of ingredients was,” she said.

Nice to see modern researchers declare the scientific method predated many discoveries they thought might have been necessary to bring about the transition from superstition to methodical testing and verification.

That the effect of the whole compound is greater than the sum of its parts is just another portion of that realization.

Expand social security – remove the senators who oppose it!

expand social security
Click to enlarge

Thank you to the 42 US Senators who voted in support of U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s amendment increasing Social Security benefits!

The vast majority of Americans are overwhelmingly united in support of expanding our Social Security system. It’s great to see so many politicians finally catching on…

Paleoindians in the American Southwest and Northern Mexico

El Fin del Mundo
El Fin del MundoHenry Wallace

Paleoindian research encompasses a number of broad questions of far-reaching significance. Who were the first peoples to reach the Americas? When did they arrive? What was the relationship between the makers of Clovis spear points and the extinction of megafauna, such as the horse, mammoth, dire wolf, and other animals? Although these issues have long been debated, no consensus has been achieved. Big questions can persist because of in- sufficient evidence or because re- searchers have not adequately or fully interpreted the available infor- mation. A few researchers have pro- posed dramatically new ideas— such as the possibility of a comet col- liding with the earth (page 18)— and others, like Joe Cramer, have decided that these questions will be resolved only by supporting many more researchers who will generate new data. Both approaches are ex- amined in this issue of Archaeology Southwest…

“The end of the last Ice Age in North America was a time of enormous change: mile-thick glaciers were retreating rapidly, the sea level was rising, and large mammals, such as mammoths, ground sloths, camels and dire wolves would soon disappear.” Although a convergence of climate change and Paleo-Indian hunters may be a cause of the great extinction, “researchers still do not know exactly what happened.”

My own vulgate opinion is not much better informed than the average American science buff – excepting the portion of that opinion formed during the comparatively brief time I lived in the Navajo Nation plus day-to-day experience working construction trades in northern New Mexico, sometimes within one or another Rio Grande or Northern Pueblo.

I agree with that school of thought that presumes Paleoindian hunters to be the primary cause of the great extinction of large mammals from North America. Not unusual when and where human beings are part of the equation. Regardless – RTFA. It is a lovely, in-depth examination of many of the questions of the Paleoindian period in North American history.