Iranians Give U.S. Democrats Their Vote

Iran may be knee-deep in its own parliamentary elections but the contest taking place in the US is proving much more compelling for many locals, as they hope for an end to the policies that saw them labelled part of an “axis of evil”.

“In the US they have real democracy, not like here,” says Mehdi, sipping tea in his fabric stall in Tehran’s bustling bazaar. “So I’m very interested in watching their democratic process.”

For many Iranians, their parliamentary elections – which took place last month and will go to a second round on April 25 – are boring. With mass disqualifications of reformist candidates, it was a foregone conclusion that power would remain in conservative hands.

The US election, on the other hand, is anything but pre-ordained. Iran arguably has the most to gain from a Democratic victory: the Bush administration has targeted Tehran’s authorities, instigating a financial crackdown aimed at shutting them out of the international banking system, and the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is also considered an Iran hawk.

“The Democrats are much better than the Republicans – they have a softer policy towards Iran and they are more rational,” says Reza, a middle-aged man selling leather belts in the bazaar who like most Iranians did not want to give his full name because of sensitivities about political debate. “But the Republicans are all liars. They said they were bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq, but all they brought was death.

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Netanyahu: Won't Honor Peace Deal If Elected

Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu has said if he is elected prime minister, he won't carry out any peace deal with the Palestinians reached by current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Netanyahu told the Makor Rishon daily that he would regard the election as a referendum on any such accord.

If Olmert doesn't win, "then you cannot cynically and manipulatively force upon the people a move they do not want," Netanyahu said.

Polls show that if elections were held today, Netanyahu would handily beat both Olmert and the Labor Party's chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Earlier Olmert had hinted at his strategy in the event of a future election by suggesting that a merger between the Knesset's two largest factions, Kadima and Labor, would be possible, the Israeli daily, Ma'ariv reported on Thursday.

In excerpts from the interview, Olmert said he did "not rule out" such unification.

On Saturday a Labor official said that such a merger was being negotiated, with the aim of blocking Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu from becoming Israel's next prime minister.

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Mental Health Injuries Scar 300,000 U.S. Troops

Some 300,000 U.S. troops are suffering from major depression or post traumatic stress from serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 320,000 received brain injuries, a new study estimates.

Only about half have sought treatment, said the study released Thursday by the RAND Corporation.

“There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Terri Tanielian, the project’s co-leader and a researcher at the nonprofit RAND.

“Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The 500-page study is the first large-scale, private assessment of its kind — including a survey of 1,965 service members across the country, from all branches of the armed forces and including those still in the military as well veterans who have left the services.

Its results appear consistent with a number of mental health reports from within the government, though the Defense Department has not released the number of people it has diagnosed or who are being treated for mental problems. The Department of Veterans Affairs said this month that its records show about 120,000 who served in the two wars and are no longer in the military have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Of the 120,000, approximately 60,000 are suffering from PTSD, the VA said.

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FBI Email says Bush Signed Exec Order Authorizing Torture

President George W. Bush’s comment to ABC News -- that he approved discussions that his top aides held about harsh interrogation techniques -- adds credence to claims from senior FBI agents in Iraq in 2004 that Bush had signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.

When the American Civil Liberties Union released the FBI e-mail in December 2004 -- after obtaining it through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit -- the White House emphatically denied that any such presidential executive order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the e-mail “mistaken.”

President Bush and his representatives also have denied repeatedly that the administration condones “torture,” although senior administration officials have acknowledged subjecting “high-value” terror suspects to aggressive interrogation techniques, including the “waterboarding” -- or simulated drowning -- of three al-Qaeda detainees.

But the emerging public evidence suggests that Bush’s denials about “torture” amount to a semantic argument, with the administration applying a narrow definition that contradicts widely accepted standards contained in international law, including Geneva and other human rights conventions.

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Big Companies to Compete for Iraq's Oil

Iraq, which pre-qualified international oil companies this week for the bidding, will open the southern fields of Rumaila North, Rumaila South, West Qurna and Zubair for exploration, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said in an interview in Brussels yesterday. In the north, international oil companies will be invited to develop the Kirkuk oil field and the Akkaz gas field.

"At least six giant fields will be included, including some gas fields," Shahristani said. "There will be other bid rounds next year, and more companies will be qualified as we go along."

Iraq aims to nearly double oil production to 4 million barrels a day in the coming years with the help of international companies, many of which have refused to invest in the country because of a lack of security and the lack of a federal energy law. No legislation has been passed because of disagreements over revenue sharing and oil-field development.

Iraq pre-qualified 35 of 120 U.S., European and Asian companies that submitted documents between Jan. 9 and Feb. 18 to participate in the licensing round, Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said Monday.

Exxon Mobil, the world's largest oil company, and Europe's two biggest, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, were among the 35, as were ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Total.

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FBI Abuse of "National Security Letters" -- New Revelations

When biochemist Magdy Mahmoud Mustafa el-Nashar was released from custody in Cairo in 2005, no one could have be more relieved than the vacationing former student and his family.

Falsely accused by British authorities for alleged links to the July 7, 2005 London transport bombings that killed 52 and maimed 700, el-Nashar was taken into custody in Egypt because he had casually known two of the suicide bombers. He had met them while obtaining a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Leeds. When freed, el-Nashar told the International Herald Tribune,

"The reason for suspecting me was because I specialize in chemistry. I am completely innocent," he said, adding that he planned legal action against British media that he said had defamed him. He did not identify the media. ("Egyptians Free Biochemist Who Knew 2 of the London Bombers," International Herald Tribune, August 10, 2005)

Released unharmed by Egypt's notoriously torture-prone Interior Ministry police, el-Nashar lived to tell the tale. But unbeknownst to the former North Carolina State University student there was a disturbing backstory to his arrest.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a damning report Tuesday documenting the FBI's abuse of the process for obtaining a National Security Letter (NSL) in connection with its probe of el-Nashar.

Incredibly, the Bureau delayed its own investigation in North Carolina "by forcing a field agent to return documents acquired from a U.S. university," Ryan Singel reports.

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U.S. to Expand Collection Of Crime Suspects' DNA

Policy Adds People Arrested but Not Convicted

By Ellen Nakashima and Spencer Hsu / Washington Post

The U.S. government will soon begin collecting DNA samples from all citizens arrested in connection with any federal crime and from many immigrants detained by federal authorities, adding genetic identifiers from more than 1 million individuals a year to the swiftly growing federal law enforcement DNA database.

The policy will substantially expand the current practice of routinely collecting DNA samples from only those convicted of federal crimes, and it will build on a growing policy among states to collect DNA from many people who are arrested. Thirteen states do so now and turn their data over to the federal government.

The initiative, to be published as a proposed rule in the Federal Register in coming days, reflects a congressional directive that DNA from arrestees be collected to help catch a range of domestic criminals. But it also requires, for the first time, the collection of DNA samples from people other than U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are detained by U.S. authorities.

Although fingerprints have long been collected for virtually every arrestee, privacy advocates say the new policy expands the DNA database, run by the FBI, beyond its initial aim of storing information on the perpetrators of violent crimes.

They also worry that people could be detained erroneously and swept into the database without cause, and that DNA samples from those who are never convicted of a crime, because of acquittal or a withdrawal of charges, might nonetheless be permanently retained by the FBI.

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Pentagon Records Detail Prisoner Abuse by U.S. Military

By Lara Jakes Jordan / AP

Military interrogators assaulted Afghan detainees in 2003, using investigation methods they learned during self-defense training, according to Pentagon documents released Wednesday.

Detainees at the Gardez Detention Facility in southeastern Afghanistan reported being made to kneel outside in wet clothing and being kicked and punched in the kidneys, nose and knees if they moved, the documents show.

A 2006 Army review of the case concluded that the detainees were not abused but that the incident revealed "misconduct that warrants further action."

The documents, which were turned over Wednesday evening to the American Civil Liberties Union, focus on the 2003 death of Afghan detainee Jamal Nasser, who died in U.S. custody at the Gardez facility.

The documents detail interrogation techniques used on eight detainees, including Nasser, who were suspected of weapons trafficking.

The Army review found that abuse did not cause Nasser's death. But the documents include interviews with some interrogators who acknowledged to slapping the detainees — a technique they learned during survival training at the Army's SERE school. SERE stands for Survive, Evade, Resist and Escape.

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U.S. Secret Services in Between China and Tibet?

The Tibet images published by the CNN are simplistic: on the one hand they show the Chinese as the bad guys because they are communist; on the other hand we have the Tibet people, the Buddhists. But Comandante Fidel Castro warns that all that is but mere propaganda. The history of that Asian region discloses the truth, the old causes and disputes between the United States and China: the adhesion of Tibet to the Kuomintang to fight Mao and the Buddhist guerrilla under the command of the CIA.

Without some basic historical knowledge, the subject I am dealing with will not be understood.

In Europe, people had heard about China. In the autumn of 1298, Marco Polo told marvelous tales about an amazing country he called Cathay. Columbus, an intelligent and intrepid sailor, was aware of the Greeks’ knowledge about the roundness of the Earth. His own observations led him to coincide with those theories. He came up with the plan of reaching the Far East sailing westward from Europe. But, he calculated the distance with far too much optimism, for it was several times greater. Unexpectedly, between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, this continent loomed up on his route. Magellan would make the journey conceived by him, even though he died before reaching Europe.

Still, the voyage was paid with the value of the spices gathered, and the trip begun with several vessels, out of which only one returned, was a prelude of future colossal profits.

Since those days, the world began to change at an accelerated pace. Old forms of exploitation were repeated again, from slavery to feudal serfdom; ancient and new religious beliefs spread over the planet.

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Neo-Con Calls For Shredding Constitution, Imposing World Government

A recent Austin-American Statesman review of Neo-Con Philip Bobbitt's new book Terror and Consent features an image of a shredded Constitution under the words "Everything must go," which acts as a suitable entrée to a disgusting diatribe which praises Bobbitt's call for the end of America and its replacement with a de facto world government in the name of fighting terror.

The words, "How to Fight Terrorism" are in place of a torn piece of the Bill of Rights.

Reviewer James E. McWilliams describes Bobbitt as "a distinguished lecturer and senior fellow at the University of Texas and a law professor at Columbia University," but anyone with a basic grasp of what America's founders envisioned and what Ronald Reagan later termed the "shining city on a hill" would be more apt to describe Bobbitt - nephew of Lyndon Baines Johnson and former State Department counselor - as an enemy of the Republic.

McWilliams' fawning review of the book is intended to sucker in millionaire pseudo-intellectuals who think they are part of the elite by using mental gymnastics and brazenly contradictory statements in order to justifying the revolting underlying premise of the book.

As soon as we learn that the facade of Bobbitt's argument is to provide a solution "for fighting the wars that are bound to plague the 21st century," we're already safe in the knowledge that Bobbitt represents another chicken-necked warhawk who has already claimed ownership of the next 10 decades for his Neo-Con ideological fetish of imperial bloodletting and brutal domination.

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