Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Scent Of Jasmine, The Stench Of Tear Gas And Political Duplicity.

The Scent Of Jasmine, The Stench Of Tear Gas And Political Duplicity.

The US government had been planning to topple the Egyptian President for the past three years – that is according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

The files show Washington had secretly been backing leading figures behind the uprising.

Earlier on Saturday, in a televised address to the nation, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has dismissed his government and promised formation of a new Cabinet would be announced soon.

I have requested the government to step down today, and I will designate a new government as of tomorrow to carry out new duties and to account for the priorities of the coming era,” Mubarak said in his speech, which is the first time he has appeared in public since protests broke out Tuesday in Egypt.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Egypt in protest of Mubarak's regime and calling for his ouster. Troops have been trying to enforce a curfew in the capital, Cairo, where the ruling party's headquarters has been set afire by demonstrators.

So far, officials say 35 people have died in the demonstrations across the country, while media sources raise the number of victims to 80. Hundreds more have been injured.

Unrest in Egypt comes weeks after a month of chaos in Tunisia, which saw 80 deaths and the president being toppled before fleeing into exile.

Egypt protests: America's secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising : The American government secretly backed leading figures behind the Egyptian uprising who have been planning “regime change” for the past three years, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

How to Foil a Nationwide Internet Shutdown

The Egyptian government cut internet connections across their country to silence protests, leaving nearly all of its citizens without online access. But they weren't entirely successful. When governments shut down broadband and mobile connections, here's what to do.

What's Going on Now?

If you haven't been keeping up with the story, here's the gist. Citizens across Egypt are protesting their government in unprecedented numbers, and its believed that the internet played a major role in the protests. So what did the Egyptian government do? First, they started blocking domain name servers (DNS)—the phone book of the internet—but citizens circumvented this limitation by using proxy servers. In reaction, the government cut broadband connections to the web and forced mobile providers to do the same. For more details, read Gizmodo's take on how Egypt turned off the internet. The result: a nationwide internet blackout that's preventing Egyptian citizens from communicating online. To put it bluntly, this sucks. But it's still not good enough. We're going to look at how Egyptian citizens can (and are) circumventing the problem.

Old School Internet

Unless the Egyptian government kills all of the phone lines as well, you might remember one means of getting online that broadband has since relegated to obsolescence: dial-up. While there's no Egyptian ISP that will allow internet access to Egyptian citizens, other countries will, meaning any Egyptian citizen with long-distance calling capabilities can break out their old school 56k modem and dial-up an ISP in another country. (Sure it's going to be a slow connection, but you can survive.)

Several ISPs—such as Budget DialUp—offer dial-up numbers all over the globe. Some ISPs in other countries are offering free access to Egyptians specifically in response to the Egyptian government's actions. According to twitter user @ioerror, French ISP FDN is one of them:

Egypt can use this number for dial up: +33172890150 (login 'toto' password 'toto') - thanks to a French ISP (FDN)#egypt #jan25

The current popular unrest in the Arab world has a lot of lessons for Washington. Undoubtedly one of the most jarring is this: The leak of a simple series of cables from a U.S. ambassador in an obscure country — officially condemned by Washington — may have done more to inspire democracy in the Arab world than did a bloody, decadelong, trillion-dollar war effort orchestrated by the United States.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and America’s much-bedeviled efforts to install democracy in Iraq certainly worried Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other Arab autocrats, who were uneasy about George W. Bush’s much-touted “model” for the Arab world. But these leaders are much less disturbed by that nearly eight-year effort than by a few weeks of spontaneous popular eruption in Tunisia, which has now spread to the cities of Egypt and Yemen.

And although the democratic uprising in Tunisia was mostly generated by 20 years of brutality and corruption under the rule of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it appears very likely that last year's WikiLeaks cable dump helped to light the spark.

The Tunisian protests began among largely college-educated students who had heard about the details of ostentatious high living revealed in disapproving cables from U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec; he had written that “corruption in the inner circle is growing” and that Ben Ali “and his regime have lost touch with the Tunisian people.”

According to on-the-ground accounts from the Associated Press and other new organizations, many Tunisians felt vindicated by the details revealed in the leaked cables, which social networks helped to spread. Other U.S. diplomatic cables have exposed double-dealing by Yemen's leader, who now faces his own revolt.

The irony for U.S. officials is that while President Bush devoted vast amounts of the country's blood and treasure to establishing democracy in the Arab world — and devoted many speeches to it, including his second inaugural address — he achieved very little progress toward that goal during his eight years in office. Indeed, the places where Bush openly supported democracy, such as Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, have grown only more troubled, their politics ever more intractable.

By contrast, President Obama has seemed to play down democratic themes in the Middle East, openly supporting the Arab autocrats and waxing lukewarm at best in supporting democracy in those countries and in Iran. Yet the Arab and Iranian democracy movements have taken off on his watch.

The developments of the past few weeks have thus done much to resurrect questions about the so-called neoconservative program. In the lead-in to the Iraq war, many critics questioned whether democracy could really be imposed by force or even outside pressure, or whether instead it had to flow organically from the people in order to stick.
Perhaps we will soon find out.

A Revolution Against 'Made In US' Dictators

A Revolution Is Happening In Egypt. Hosni Mubarak’s tyrannical regime, created, sustained and maintained by the United States with its money and military might, is quivering with fear. But the dictator, who is hiding in his Made in US bunker even as his party office goes up in flames, doesn’t seem to be ready to go before firing the last few shots.

 His police are firing tear gas shells at the people on the streets. His army is loading their guns and getting ready to go out on the roads and crush the people who have risen against the regime known for its brutal repression.

The police’s tear gas shells are ‘Made in America’. The army rifles are ‘Made in America’. This dictatorship is ‘Made in America’.

It started in Tunisia when the men with jasmine flowers behind their ears stormed the streets and made the country' despotic ruler Ben Ali and his clan flee to Saudi Arabia, the United State's most trusted ally in the region. Now, as the smell of jasmine spreads across the region, the Arab despots are refusing to accept that their show is over. They still hope that Uncle Sam will save them. What a mistake!

Speaking to BBC on Friday night, an Egyptian journalist pointed at the teargas canisters, saying the tyrant is trying to crush the uprising with American weapons. “This is the real story of the revolution that’s sweeping the Arab world from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen,” he said.  Make no mistake, this is not a rebellion organised by a bunch of youngsters who met on the Facebook and decided to go out and create some ruckus. 

This is no gathering of unhappy middle class citizens who were told by the WikiLeaks how corrupt and compromised their government was. This is no movement of Islamist zealots who want to grab power by hijacking a mass upheaval. This is a revolution against the axis of a dictator (Mubarak), his mentor (US) and the mentor’s rogue agent (Israel). To see it as anything else is to miss the real message of this revolution, though it has many hidden messages.

In June 2008, when thousands of protesters came out on the streets of Tehran to challenge the result of the Iranian presidential election, the Americans, led by Barack Obama, started preaching to the Iranians in particular and to the world in general about the glory and benefits of democracy.  In 2009, during the Afghanistan presidential election, as soon as the voting closed, Obama issued a statement, congratulating the people of Afghanistan on the “success of democracy”.  And in October 2010, when Mubarak rigged the Egyptian election in which his party got 97% seats, Obama and his people kept quiet. And when it became clear that the election was anything but free and fair, the only thing Hillary Clinton could say was: “we are dismayed”.

The Americans failed to read Iran. Protests by the supporters of the opposition candidate, who refused to throw in the towel, were seen by Washington as a sign of an uprising against the Iranian government. They failed to see the truth in Afghanistan as well where Hamid Karzail-led regime rigged the election. And the Americans have failed to see the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. Just two days back, as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came out on the streets, shouting slogans against Mubarak, Hillary Clinton issued a statement saying that the “Egyptian government is stable”. What was she thinking?

And today, when it became clear that Mubarak has been completely rejected by the people of Egypt, Clinton changed her tune and called for “peace” in the country.  On the sidelines of Davos, where the world's rich are meeting to discuss how to keep capitalism alive on artificial support system, former British prime minister Tony Blair, who masquerades as the special envoy on Middle East, told the BBC that “we should manage this process of change in Egypt”. The western leaders haven’t got it yet. They are still playing their dirty games. Rabid think tanks in America have already started raising the bogey of Islamist fundamentalists “taking over Egypt” and Blair, who should be in jail for war crimes, is talking about managing Egypt.

The Middle East revolutions are not about just bread and butter issues. Yes, people have been hungry and jobless but they have also been tired of interference in their country’s affairs by western powers, particularly the US and UK. This uprising is not just against local dictators, it’s also a rebellion against America’s imperial games and Israel’s thuggish policies in the region.  But the West is talking about “peaceful change” in Egypt. What does that mean? Is there someone in particular they want in Cairo’s presidential palace? Is Mohammad el-Baradei their new puppet for Egypt. After playing America’s game for years as the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, El-Baradei is suddenly trying to become the voice of Egypt. Wasting no time as the crisis began, he landed in Cairo trying to be in the “middle of his people”. 

If El-Baradei is part of a western ploy to hijack the revolution, it’s a big mistake because more than anything this uprising is about dignity, something the Middle Eastern people have been robbed of by their dictators and their masters. This is not about only jobs, internet, free speech, food and education. This is also an uprising against dynastic rule. This is also a rebellion against the looting of national resources by a few families and clans. This is also a rejection of a global financial system which is creating inequal societies. As a deep unrest grips the Middle East and people cry for freedom, democracy and dignity, the world’s biggest democracy is keeping quiet. Not one statement from the government as yet. Not a word from politicians who pay lip service to democracy. Why?  What are we thinking? 

Can't They Smell The Fragrance Of Jasmine In The Air?


Egypt's Next Strongman

Meet the two men most likely to succeed Egypt’s aging president: His son, Gamal Mubarak, and his spy chief, Omar Suleiman. But does either one really represent desperately needed change?

Wikileaks cables released this week show the real relationship between Washington and Cairo, a toxic brew of money, slight pressure, fear of Islamism and reliability.

Who needed whom more?

US diplomats and their masters never imagined a different Egypt because they never wanted it to happen. It suited America just fine. The real rights of the Egyptian people were almost irrelevant. Who knows where things are going but people power has already made history:

Wikileaks: US Supported Egypt Pro-Democracy Activists

Cable shows that despite criticism of US for backing Mubarak regime, pro-democracy activists met with congresspeople, US diplomats.
A 2008 diplomatic cable from the US Embassy in Cairo leaked by WikiLeaks on Friday shows another side to the United States' relationship with Egypt in recent years. The cable outlines how the State Department helped an Egyptian pro-democracy activist attend a "Youth Movements Summit" in New York and how the unnamed activist presented an "unwritten plan for democratic transition in 2011."

While the United States has received criticism for its support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime in the face of anti-government protests, the newly released cable indicates that the US was also supporting his detractors. It notes State Department efforts to apply pressure on Egypt in order to have dissidents released from custody.

The cable also described meetings that the Egyptian activist held with US members of congress. Among those he met with in 2008 were Representative Edward Royce and current chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The pro-democracy activist told embassy officials that one of the congressmen even invited him to speak at a congressional hearing scheduled for early 2009 regarding "religious and political freedom in Egypt."

 Perhaps most relevant to current events in Egypt was an aspect of the plan for "a transition to a parliamentary democracy" before the scheduled 2011 [Egyptian] presidential elections." He claims that a range of opposition groups, "including the Wafd, Nasserite, Karama and Tagammu parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Kifaya, and Revolutionary Socialist movements" all supported the unwritten plan. Furthermore, he says that the opposition groups were interested in "receiving support from the army and the police for a transitional government."

The US attitudes expressed in the diplomatic document are skeptical and cautious; plans are described as uncorroborated and "highly unrealistic." The diplomat who authored the report noted that the activist's goals are at odds with mainstream "opposition politicians and activists."

Another detail contained in the cable is an account of how the activist attempted to convince his contacts in Washington to blackmail Egyptian government officials. He described his hopes that the United States government might threaten to reveal information about GOE (Government of Egypt) officials' alleged 'illegal' off-shore bank accounts." He adds that "Mubarak derives his legitimacy from US support, and therefore charged the US with 'being responsible' for Mubarak's 'crimes.'"

In the views he expressed in the leaked document, NGOs working on political and economic reform live in a "'fantasy world,' not recognizing that Mubarak -- 'the head of the snake' -- must step aside to enable democracy to take root."

FBI Knocks Down 40 Doors in Probe of Pro-WikiLeaks Attackers

The FBI has joined in the hunt for those who participated in the retaliation attacks against companies that cut off services to Wikileaks, executing more than 40 search warrants across the United States on Thursday, the bureau announced.

In what seem to be timed raids, British police arrested five men Thursday morning who allegedly participated in the Anonymous group’s denial of service attacks on Visa, Mastercard, Paypal and Amazon in mid-December. Anonymous was seeking to bring attention to — and punish — the financial-service companies’ decisions to prohibit donations to Wikileaks. Amazon was targeted after it kicked Wikileaks off its web-hosting service.

The attacks caused no permanent damage, as they simply temporarily overloaded a website with more traffic than the server could handle. They were, for the most part, really nothing more than the cyber equivalent of a campus sit-in.

But the FBI warned it did not see it that way.

“The FBI also is reminding the public that facilitating or conducting a DDoS attack is illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, as well as exposing participants to significant civil liability,” the FBI said in a press release. The FBI did not announce any arrests in conjunction with the searches.

The attacks were conducted by the loosely organized ‘Anonymous’ group to show displeasure with the financial-service companies that cut off donations to Wikileaks.

In the attacks on the financial-service companies, thousands downloaded a tool called LOIC — or Low Orbit Ion Cannon — that joined their computer to the group attack on the target of the moment. However, the tool did nothing to hide a user’s IP address, making it possible for the target website to hand its server logs over to the authorities to track users down by their IP addresses.

The denial-of-service attacks attempted to shut down the websites of Visa and Mastercard — which would have had little effect on the credit card giants. since few people ever visit their homepages. However the attack on PayPal focused on the interface used by online merchants, and reportedly caused some slowness, though no outages, to merchants for several hours.
The companies, along with Amazon, turned their backs on Wikileaks after the site began releasing U.S. diplomatic cables in conjunction with newspapers, saying the organization violated their terms-of-service agreements. However, none of the companies have cut off services to newspapers such as The New York Times that have extensively reported on and reproduced many of the cables. Wikileaks has not been charged with any crimes related to the leaked documents.

Photo: The Anonymous group adopted the Guy Fawkes mask, a la V for Vendetta. Courtesy Stian Eikeland/Flickr.

Leaked Docs: Palestinian Hand in Iranian Politics?; Mud Flies in Regime Fracas

Hedge Fund Manager John Paulson Takes Home Record $5 Billion in Profits in 2010

Mr. Paulson's take, described by investors and people close to investment firm Paulson & Co., shows how profits continue to pile up for elite hedge-fund managers. Appaloosa Management founder David Tepper and Bridgewater Associates chief Ray Dalio each personally made between $2 billion and $3 billion last year, according to investors and people familiar with the situation. James Simons, founder of Renaissance Technologies LLC, also produced profits in that range, say investors in his firm.

WSJ's Greg Zuckerman and Kelly Evans discuss hedge fund manager John Paulson, who surpassed his $4 billion earnings mark in 2007 by raking in more than $5 billion in 2010.

By comparison, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wall Street's most profitable investment bank, paid all of its 36,000 employees a total of $8.35 billion last year. James Gorman, chief executive of 76-year-old investment bank Morgan Stanley, is expected to receive compensation of less than $15 million for 2010.
Mr. Paulson and his fellow managers seldom take much of their profits in cash. Some of the profits are so-called paper gains, which reflect the rising value of their firms' holdings, and could erode if those investments sour. Other gains come from selling investments, and most of those are rolled back into their funds.

Mr. Paulson and the other top managers made winning bets on commodities, emerging-market companies, bank shares and U.S. Treasury bonds, among other investments. These moves, along with profitable picks by other funds, are part of the reason the hedge-fund industry is back on its feet after a rough stretch. Assets managed by hedge funds have grown to a near-record $1.92 trillion, up 20% over the past year. Assets jumped almost $150 billion in the fourth quarter alone, the largest quarterly growth on record, according to Hedge Fund Research, Inc.

Still, the average fund gained just 10.49% last year, according to the research firm. That's well below the 15% gain of the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index, including dividends, and the 19% return of the average stock mutual fund, raising questions about whether the industry can profitably invest the influx of new cash.

Indeed, the enormous gains by Mr. Paulson and the other managers resulted from solid, though not spectacular, performance. Their personal gains came in part from the sheer scale of assets under their control. The largest hedge fund in Mr. Paulson's $36 billion investment portfolio, Advantage Plus, grew 17% last year, while another big one rose 11%, falling below returns for the broader stock market.

Part of Mr. Paulson's more that $5 billion profit came from his firm's 20% cut of his funds' profits, known in the industry as the "performance fee." Those fees amounted to roughly $1 billion last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. An added plus for Mr. Paulson: A chunk of those profits are treated as long-term capital gains and taxed at a far lower rate than the standard income-tax rate.

More than $4 billion came from gains on Mr. Paulson's investments in his funds.

Mr. Paulson amped up profits for himself and many of his investors in a novel way. He was worried about long-term weakness of the dollar and other major currencies, so he devised a way to embed a bet on gold into each of his funds—for those investors who opted for that approach. Mr. Paulson has placed the bulk of his own wealth in these gold-denominated funds and a separate gold-focused fund. Because gold rose sharply in value last year, the gold-denominated versions of his funds rose as much as 45%.

The performance last year, nevertheless, paled in comparison to his 2007 returns, when Mr. Paulson made a huge wager against subprime mortgages and his funds scored gains of as much as 590%.

Last year "wasn't the greatest trade of all time, but to manage more than $30 billion and still have gains topping 30% is very rare in the hedge-fund business," says Jeffrey Tarrant, who helps run Protégé Partners, a New York firm that invested in Paulson & Co. in the past.

One way to view the size of Mr. Paulson's $5 billion profit: It is nearly as much as the $6.4 billion that Forbes magazine last year estimated as the total net worth of Steven Cohen, the well-known head of $12 billion hedge-fund firm SAC Capital. (Mr. Cohen likely added about $1 billion in 2010, one investor says, after 16% gains in his flagship fund).

Appaloosa's chief, Mr. Tepper, who specializes in distressed-debt investing and manages around $16 billion, notched gains of about 30% by turning optimistic about U.S. stocks before many rivals. Mr. Tepper correctly anticipated the Federal Reserve's recent efforts to boost the economy, steps that have helped the market rally.

Mr. Dalio's Bridgewater Associates, which manages $86 billion in hedge funds and other vehicles, made an early shift to U.S. Treasurys, commodities and emerging-market currencies. He correctly anticipated that the Fed would flood the financial system with cash to help the economy, something that would boost bond and gold prices. Bridgewater also anticipated growth in China and emerging markets, which it figured would help commodities and currencies of those nations. Its hedge funds gained more than 30% last year.
Mr. Simons no longer runs day-to-day trading at Renaissance Technologies, which manages nearly $16 billion and specializes in lightning-quick computer-based trades, so his pay actually dropped a bit in 2010.

But Mr. Simons still owns the bulk of the firm and invests in its hedge funds. Renaissance's two funds available to outside investors, Renaissance Institutional Equities and Institutional Futures funds, gained about 18% last year, following a disappointing 2009 when the firm considered closing them to outsiders.

Renaissance's Medallion fund, which is primarily open to Renaissance employees like Mr. Simons and has long recorded big gains, climbed about 30%, according to people close to the matter.

The hedge-fund business now is so big that some managers are hinting they'll return money to clients instead of investing it. Handling so much cash can make it hard to generate big gains in some trading strategies.

Mr. Tepper, for example, has told some investors to expect to receive some cash back in 2011. He returned $500 million to investors last year. This year, he may return several billion dollars, according to people close to the matter.
Other firms, such as Paulson & Co., have closed certain funds to new investors, but are actively raising new money for other funds. Mr. Paulson recently hosted a New York City event that featured speeches by former Fed chief Alan Greenspan and several chief executives of gold companies, aimed at boosting interest in his gold-focused fund.

Despite Mr. Paulson's winning touch in 2010, he may face a challenge. Gold is down more than 6% so far in 2011, meaning he is likely starting out with losses.

Write to Gregory Zuckerman at

** MSNBC's Ed Schultz Calling Dick Cheney An 'Enemy' Of America ...
MSNBC's Ed Schultz calling Dick Cheney “an enemy of the country” who should go “ to the Promised Land,” is not an example of political incivility but is actually “beautifully phrased,” according to Richard Dreyfuss.
- OFinder aggregated posts with... -

Until two months ago, I was a regular here, even got featured play, but then... WikiLeaks started holding me hostage.

As with some previous cases, I started live-blogging when a major broke. I'd done that before here, and now at The Nation. So, when Cablegate arrived on November 28, I did it again. But then a funny thing happened. The story, and the reader interest, did not go away after a couple of days, as the cables kept coming out, the controversies spread, and Julian Assange became a household name in America.

One week passed, then another. I started labeling it The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog and giving it a number, e.g. "Day 20." Then "30." Echoing the early days of Nightline during the Iran crisis in the late-1970s, I wrote that like America then I was being held "hostage." When I hit day 50, I joked about topping Joe DiMaggio's consecutive 'hit" streak -- and on day 57, passed it. Now we're at Day 63, and counting. It's been the most popular story at The Nation's site almost every day for two months.

Yesterday, my book, The Age of WikiLeaks was published -- the first book on the subject. It covers the leaks, media and official reaction, and heated debates, from the release of the "Collateral Murder" video from Iraq last April, to the massive Afghanistan and Iraq "war logs" releases, to the diplomatic cables (even right up to this past week), plus a look into the future and a probe of the Bradley Manning case..

Starting today I will post exclusive excerpts from the book here, and away we go:
The first hint of what was to come came early in the year, when WikiLeaks at its Twitter feed made a public request for help in decrypting a video it described as "US bomb strikes on civilians." For some reason, it suggested March 21 as a possible release date.

The organization, however, was scrambling for funds. Julian Assange, 38, had pleaded for donations so he could prepare what he described as hundreds of thousands of pages of documents relating to "corrupt banks, the U.S. detainee system, the Iraq war, China, the U.N," and other topics." A German foundation reportedly collected about $1 million for the WikiLeaks account, easing the way for a very busy 2010.

Intrigued by WikiLeaks' activities, New Yorker writer Raffi Khatchadourian had emailed Assange, and then chatted with him on the the phone, establishing a certain level of trust. Assange mentioned the video, in somewhat vague terms. The writer knew it would make a splash if released. 

He'd wanted to write about WikiLeaks anyway and so, with an okay from his editor, he flew off to frigid Reykjavik, Iceland, in late-March. Khatchadourian, author of "The Kill Company" (on Operation Iron Triangle in Iraq) and a profile of Adam Gadahn (an American who joined Al-Qaeda) must have seemed to Assange like a good man for this job.

At a newly-rented house soon dubbed the "bunker," Khatchadourian found a team of half a dozen volunteers had joined the tall, silver-haired Assange, and were readying the release of the 38-minute cockpit video from Iraq, which they labeled Project B. Assange had told the owner of the house they were journalists covering the volcanic eruption then disrupting air travel in Europe. He had chosen Iceland for his secret task after spending time there helping to draft a law with strong free-speech provisions. Some people involved in that fight, including a member of parliament, Birgitta Jonsdottir, now were engaged with Project B.

Also involved was Rop Gonggrijp, a well-known Dutch hacker and businessman, who knew Assange well. As Khatchadourian described it in his lengthy New Yorker report two months later, Gonggrijp "became the unofficial manager and treasurer of Project B, advancing about ten thousand euros to WikiLeaks to finance it."

The video, on a hard drive in the bunker, was still in the early stages of editing. Assange would not identify his source for the video, Khatchadourian later wrote, saying only that the person was unhappy about the helicopter attack in Iraq.

The writer captured Assange's describing to his colleagues what was on the video: "In the first phase, you will see an attack that is based upon a mistake, but certainly a very careless mistake. In the second part, the attack is clearly murder, according to the definition of the average man. And in the third part, you will see the killing of innocent civilians in the course of soldiers going after a legitimate target."

As days passed, Assange worked night and day, editing the footage and scrubbing any elements that might reveal the leaker, while trying to decide if he wanted to release the full video and/or a shorter version, with commentary, that would be more viewer-friendly. The video did not yet have a name. He considered "Permission to Engage," before choosing "Collateral Murder." The New Yorker writer quoted him telling Gonggrijp, "We want to knock out this 'collateral damage' euphemism, and so when anyone uses it they will think, 'collateral murder.'"

Much time was spent analyzing the video for evidence of Iraqi targets carrying rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) or AK-47s. Assange spotted what seemed to be weapons but in most cases it was not conclusive. He had declined to ask military experts for advice, since they were "not terribly cooperative" when he told them it was for a WikiLeaks release.

Breaking the code of secrecy, Assange dispatched two Icelandic reporters to Baghdad to notify the families of those killed or injured in the attack, including the mother of a boy and a girl who had been sitting in a van driven to the scene by their father. Assange wanted to prepare the families for publicity but also to gain some telling details on what happened that day.
Assange made a frank admission to Khatchadourian. Yes, he tried to foster "harm-minimization" to individuals in his work but WikiLeaks could not spend all of its time checking every detail. He was aware that some leaks risked harming the innocent -- "collateral damage, if you will" -- and that one day WikiLeaks members might get "blood on our hands."

Finally, Assange finished the edited version, at eighteen minutes, which covered the first two attacks. He also picked an opening quote, from Orwell: "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." The intro would also include information on the deaths of the two Reuters staffers and the Army's investigation absolving crew members for that. It handled the delicate issue of guns on the ground by observing that "some of the men appear to have been armed [but] the behavior of nearly everyone was relaxed."

In the bunker, Assange predicted: "The video shows what modern warfare has become and, I think, after seeing it, whenever people hear about a certain number of casualties that resulted during fighting with close air support, they will understand what is going on. The video also makes clear that civilians are listed as insurgents automatically, unless they are children, and that bystanders who are killed are not even mentioned."

Greg Mitchell's "The Age of WikiLeaks" was published on January 28. His previous books include The Campaign of the Century, Hiroshima in America, and So Wrong for So Long. He is the former editor of Editor & Publisher.

A Pro-Democracy Activist Asks Americans: If Not Now, When?

In Egypt, forces loyal to the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak aimed a water cannon at a Nobel laureate and well known democracy activist. They beat the supporters who tried to protect him from this attack and then used tear gas to trap him in a mosque.

His message to us? In an interview with The Guardian of London1 Mohamed ElBaradei issued this challenge:

"The international community must understand we are being denied every human right day by day. Egypt today is one big prison. If the international community does not speak out it will have a lot of implications. We are fighting for universal values here. If the west is not going to speak out now, then when?"

Urge Secretary of State State Hillary Clinton: Demand Mubarak resign and call for free and fair elections immediately.

The United States has been a key benefactor of Mubarak throughout his 30-year reign as a dictator whose corrupt government has employed torture to stifle dissent and authoritarian rule to maintain claim to the reins of power. In fact, the U.S. provides $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt - that's a stunning 25% of Mubarak's military budget.2 And this is in addition to the nearly $28 billion in economic assistance provided to the country since 1975.3
The U.S. is rapidly reassessing its approach to the developments in Egypt. On Tuesday U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared Mubarak's government "stable" and suggested that it was addressing "the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."4

Mohamed ElBaradei, who is not only a Nobel Prize winner but also the former head of the International Atomic Agency, responded in an interview on CNN5:

"I was stunned to hear Secretary Clinton saying that the Egyptian government is 'stable,' and I asked myself at what price stability. Is it on the basis of 29 years of martial law? ... Is it on the basis of rigged elections? That's not stability. That's living on borrowed time. Stability is when you have a government that is elected on a free and fair basis. And we have seen how elections have been rigged in Egypt, we have seen how people have been tortured. And when you see today over 100,000 young people, getting desperate, going to the street, asking for their basic freedoms, I expected to hear from Secretary Clinton ... democracy, human rights, freedom."
As protesters escalate their calls for the ouster of Mubarak, a dictator who has held the presidency for 30 years, he responded by unleashing the police and military who have attacked protesters with shocking force. Opposition leaders have been placed under arrest and internet and cell phone service has been cut off in an attempt to cripple the nascent anti-authoritarian movement.

Clinton has recently taken a different tack and asserted "We support the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly." We need Clinton -- and the U.S. government -- to go further in support of human rights and demand truly democratic elections.

Tell Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: The U.S. can support the people of Egypt by demanding democratic elections now.

As a chief backer of Mubarak's military, the U.S. has a special role to play in the rapidly unfolding events in Egypt. The U.S. can add teeth to its statement that it supports the universal rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to free speech and assembly, by using its considerable leverage to advocate for Mubarak's resignation and the immediate announcement of free and fair democratic elections.

1. "Egyptian government on last legs, says ElBaradei," The Guardian of London, January 28, 2011.
2. "Defence budget (Egypt)," Jane's Information Group, December 30, 2010.
3. "Background Note: Egypt," U.S. Department of State, November 10, 2010.
4. "Can the U.S. get on the right side in Egypt?" Washington Post, January 28, 2011.
5. "ElBaradei: Egypt is not stable," CNN News, January 25, 2011.

UPDATE: Internet Shut Off in Egypt, Astounding Live Coverage Still Available as Pro-Democracy Leader Put Under House Arrest

Last night, hours before the biggest protests Egypt has seen yet were expected to start, a slew of news outlets began reporting that Internet access and SMS messages had been blocked across the country. According to the reports, the outage goes beyond censorship of specific websites, like Twitter, to extend to the entire Internet. As The Arabist noted quite plainly, "Egypt has shut off the internet."

A clever Huffington Post reader confirmed the reports:

HuffPost reader Thomas Jaworowski, a tech enthusiast, emails in that he "decided to try a few tricks" to see if Egypt's Internet really was down or it was just server overload causing the problems. He traced IP addresses, particularly for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo which is hosted in Egypt, and found that the Web traffic is indeed being blocked at the country level, not just a simple censoring.

According to HuffPo, the outage was reported just minutes after the AP published a video of an Egyptian protestor being shot.

Meanwhile, Egypt's protests -- and police violence against the protesters -- continued to intensify today. Reports the AP:

Thousands of Egyptian anti-government protesters clashed Friday with police in Cairo, who fired rubber bullets into the crowds and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them. It was a major escalation in what was already the biggest challenge to President Hosni Mubarak's 30 year-rule.
Police also used water cannons against Egypt's pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei and his supporters as they joined the latest wave of protests after noon prayers. Police also used batons to beat some of ElBaradei's supporters, who surrounded him to protect him....
Large groups of protesters, in the thousands, were gathered at at least six venues in Cairo, a city of about 18 million people. They are demanding Mubarak's ouster. There were smaller protests in Assiut south of Cairo and al-Arish in the Sinai peninsula.

The Obama administration has finally given a definitive statement about its feelings on the Murabak situation, with VP Joe Biden telling NewsHour that he would "not refer to [Murabak] as a dictator" and that he doesn't think the Egyptian leader should step down. However, he does think Murabak should "be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there."

Despite the difficulties with the Internet and reports that Egyptian police are harassing journalists across the country, Al Jazeera is continuing to broadcast astounding live coverage of the protests (h/t Raw Story):
UPDATE: ABC reports that Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei "was placed under house arrest after police attacked him and his supporters with water cannons after Friday prayers. ElBaradei returned home to Egypt Thursday after a month-long absence to join the protests."

And Al Jazeera is reporting that U.S. Senator John Kerry and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both condemned the police and government violence against protesters, with Kerry saying in a statement that he calls on "Egyptian government and security forces to exercise restraint in dealing with protesters and to respect the human rights of its citizens to seek greater participation in their own government."

UPDATE 2: Al Jazeera says protesters are defying the government-imposed curfew and continuing to take to the streets, despite the heavy army personnel presence.

Meanwhile, the Internet has now been disabled for a full 24 hours, as shown on this startling graphic from Arbor Networks:

'Police open fire as protesters re-gather in Cairo' --Eyewitnesses claim that security forces shot at protesters in Egyptian capital angry at President Mubarak's refusal to step down; Mubarak sacks gov't, defends police crackdown on protesters. 29 Jan 2011 Hundreds of Egyptians gathered in central Cairo on Saturday morning, renewing protests calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign. Police opened fire on a number of the protesters according to eyewitness reports, al-Jazeera reported.

Mubarak Orders Ministers to Resign but Backs Armed Response to Egypt Protests 29 Jan 2011 President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt appeared on television early Saturday morning and ordered his government to resign, but backed his security forces’ attempts to contain the surging unrest around the country that has shaken his three-decade-long authoritarian rule. He did not offer to step down himself and spent much of his speech explaining the need for stability, saying that while he was “on the side of freedom,” his job was to protect the nation from chaos.

Egypt protesters defy curfew as tanks roll into Cairo --At least 25 killed on day of violent protest --Mubarak stays but dismisses government --Demonstrators defy nationwide curfew 28 Jan 2011 Tanks moved on to the streets of Cairo and Alexandria as protesters in Egypt defied a nationwide curfew ordered by President Hosni Mubarak in an effort to quell the fourth and most violent day of demonstrations against his 30-year rule. In a late-night TV address, Mubarak refused to relinquish power, but dismissed his government, promising a new administration to tackle unemployment and promote democracy. But his call for stability appeared to cut little ice with many protesters, who surged on to the streets as soon as he finished speaking, defying a curfew.

Shot in the head: The moment Egyptian police gunned down an unarmed protester for throwing a rock --State TV announces 6pm to 7am curfew in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez --Mubarak asks army to help police deal with protests --Protester in Suez killed in clashes, say witnesses --Total blackout on internet access and text messaging services disrupted --Tear gas and water cannon used against protesters 28 Jan 2011 A protester tumbles to the ground as he is gunned down by police revealing the brutal reaction of the Egyptian regime as it tries to contain the unrest that is spreading across the country. 

Mohamed Atef, 22, died instantly from a shot to the head as he demonstrated in the town of Sheikh Zoweid in northern Sinai... The shooting came as police fought protesters in Suez and Ismailia, two cities straddling the Suez Canal that separates Sinai from the rest of Egypt. Today thousands of anti-government protesters clashed with police in Cairo, who fired rubber bullets into the crowds and used tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.

Military deployed in Cairo, ElBaradei put under house arrest 28 Jan 2011 Chaos has enveloped Egypt as the military has been deployed in major cities and curfews imposed. Buildings have been set ablaze including a police station and the ruling party's headquarters, while a clampdown on the media has been stepped up. Security forces shut down al-Jazeera's Cairo office while a CNN camera crew was attacked and their camera taken by security forces. Protestors have surrounded the government TV and radio compound which is being closely guarded by the military.

Mubarak will step down: Brotherhood 28 Jan 2011 The Muslim Brotherhood has said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will be stepping down. At 11:51 p.m. Cairo time on Friday night, the Muslim Brotherhood's website posted the sentence: "Semi-confirmed: The dictator will step down, his family fled the country secretly." However, a few hours later the word "Semi-confirmed" was changed to "Unconfirmed."

BBC journalist arrested and beaten by Egyptian police 28 Jan 2011 A BBC journalist has been beaten during riots in the Egyptian capital. Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters demanding an end to President Mubarak's 30-year rule took to the streets after Friday prayers. BBC Arabic reporter, Assad Sawey, told Lyse Doucet that his arrest by the police had been "brutal".

'It is not longer a Twitter or social revolt, it is an actual revolt.' --Richard Engel, NBC News, commenting on the people's uprising in Egypt. By Lori Price 28 Jan 2011 NBC News: The tear gas used against the protesters in Egypt was 'Made in USA.' Of course. There's no industry in the US, except for war and weapons of war. 'There is frustration with American involvement in Egyptian politics.' (MSNBC)

Egypt's Mubarak imposes curfew after day of protests rocks regime [Time to rock other regimes -- especially those owned and operated by US corpora-terrorists -- as well.] 28 Jan 2011 The headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party were ablaze in Cairo on Friday night, shortly after a curfew came into force, live footage carried by Al Jazeera television showed. State television confirmed the building was set on fire. NDP branch offices in several other cities around the country were also set on fire or attacked during the day, witnesses said.

13 killed in Suez in 4 days 28 Jan 2011 At least 13 people have been killed and 75 injured in anti-government demonstrations in the Egyptian city of Suez over the past four days. On Friday, thousands of Egyptian protesters stormed the main police station in the port city of Suez, overwhelming security forces and raising an even bigger challenge to the embattled regime of President Hosni Mubarak. The protesters freed prisoners from the city jail [Awesome!], destroyed armored police vehicles, then sacked the building and looted its contents.

Israeli min. urges Egypt to use force 28 Jan 2011 An Israeli minister says Egyptian government forces will have to exercise force to rein in public protests as the African country is teetering on the brink of a Tunisia-style revolution. Inspired by the recent popular revolution in Tunisia, Egyptians have staged similar anti-government protests since Tuesday, calling on President Hosni Mubarak to relinquish power after three decades in office. Meanwhile, an Israeli cabinet minister who spoke on condition of anonymity to Israeli media stated on Thursday that the Egyptian president backed by a strong militarily prowess will eventually subdue the crisis, The Washington Post reported.

All Web sites in Egypt brought down as Internet goes offline 28 Jan 2011 Almost all Internet Service Providers in Egypt are down, the cause unknown, but suspected to be on the orders of the government. Unprecedented protests which have gripped the country are believed to have been largely co-ordinated on the Internet primarily through social messaging networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Both networks suffered widespread disruptions Thursday but by Friday were almost totally inaccessible.

From the Editors : January 29, 2011

Every US administration has its mouthpiece in Washington’s think tank world, its courtier that will slavishly praise its every utterance. For the blessedly bygone Bush administration, that echo chamber was the American Enterprise Institute and the neo-conservative broadsheets in its orbit. For the Obama administration, it is the National Security Network, an operation founded in 2006 to bring “strategic focus to the progressive national security community.”

With one US-backed Arab despot dislodged and dodging Interpol, and another facing an intifada of historic proportions, many eyes looked to Washington, hopeful that President Barack Obama might reprise his ballyhooed Cairo speech of June 2009, showing the restive Arab masses that he felt and, perhaps, really understood their pain. 

Instead, Arab populations have heard a variation on Washington’s long-standing theme: “The Obama administration seeks to encourage political reforms without destabilizing the region.” That sentence, taken from the National Security Network’s January 27 press release, says it all: Democracy is great in theory, but if it will cause any disruption to business as usual, Washington prefers dictatorship.

And so it was no surprise, though a deep and indelible blot upon Obama and his “progressive” entourage, when the president took a White House lectern on the evening of January 28 -- Egypt’s “Friday of Rage” -- and announced his continued backing for the indefensible regime of President Husni Mubarak. In so doing, he ensured that the Arab fury of the winter of 2011 would be directed increasingly toward the United States as well as its regional vassals.
January 28 in Egypt was a rollercoaster of a day. 

The mass demonstrations following up on the January 25 Police Day uprising turned out to be larger and more vehement than even optimistic observers expected. Police stations and ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) headquarters burned to the ground in the middle-class Cairo neighborhoods of al-Azbakiyya and Sayyida Zaynab, as well as in poorer quarters, in Alexandria, Suez, Port Said, Damietta and Damanhour as well as in Upper Egypt and the Sinai. The NDP’s home base in Cairo’s main Tahrir Square itself went up in flames. Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, was overrun by protesters who had overwhelmed the riot police. Tanks rolled in to the cities; a curfew was declared; but the crowds ignored it and the army (for the most part) did not shoot at them.

On Al Jazeera, whose live feeds in both English and Arabic have riveted world audiences, the anchors did not quite know what narrative frame to employ, so rapid was the pace of events and so contradictory were the signals coming from the corridors of power. In Washington, outgoing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs held a special briefing to discuss Egypt and, to a direct question, said that Obama had not spoken to Mubarak. 

Gibbs continued that US aid to Egypt, recipient of the second-largest annual packages since 1979, would be placed “under review.” A Pentagon spokesman added that the Egyptian army’s chief of staff, in Washington for consultations, had cut his trip short and returned home. Had the Obama team abandoned the Egyptian dictator to fate? In Cairo, as midnight approached, the speaker of the Egyptian parliament, Fathi Surour, said that he would have an “important announcement” soon. 

By the Egyptian constitution, like the Tunisian one, the speaker of Parliament is custodian of state in the case of a vacant presidency. Was Mubarak boarding a plane for exile? On the Arabic-language channel, several of the reporters, commentators and analysts could barely contain their jubilation. Not only did it seem that Mubarak would decamp exactly as Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had done; he would do so with Egyptian protesters having died in fewer numbers than Tunisians.

Then the 82-year old Mubarak appeared on Egyptian state television himself. Egyptians must have felt as if they had traveled back in time, to the moment of any minor hiccup in the regime’s 30-year reign: Claiming to carry the protesters’ grievances in his heart, Mubarak vowed to speed up his program of political and economic reforms. Clearly, judging by the scenes in the streets, he had chosen the wrong team of ministers to implement the grand vision. That cabinet would be dismissed and a fresh one empaneled, all under his wise executive guidance, of course. In the meantime, he warned, “setting fires in the streets” was not the way to engage in dialogue with his government. The forces of law and order would prevail.

To this fossil of an oration, this half-debased, half-delusional assurance that all was normal as the capital burned in the wee hours of the morning, Egyptian opposition figures had an immediate, unequivocal response. Amin Iskandar of the Karama Party, a splinter of the Nasserist movement, predicted that Mubarak had delivered his last speech, for the uprising would continue unabated on the morrow.

“The Egyptian people will not be fooled again” by droning repetition of past promises unfulfilled, he declared. ‘Isam Sultan, Al Jazeera’s next guest, one-upped Iskandar by saying that the demonstrators would press on without sleep until Mubarak was gone for good. Such, after all, has been the crystal-clear demand of the protests on Police Day and subsequently.

But apparently the Obama administration did not care to listen. Obama strode to the podium just minutes after Mubarak had finished his remarks, leaving little doubt that the timing of the two speeches had been coordinated in advance. First evincing concern to avoid further bloodshed, he then tacitly equated the heavily armed, habitually brutal Egyptian security forces with the weaponless, repeatedly wounded protesters, calling upon the latter as well to “express themselves peacefully.” 

He echoed the condescension of Mubarak himself in saying of the protesters that “violence and destruction will not lead to the reforms they seek.” He then added injury to insult, clarifying that America’s “close partnership” with Egypt was in fact with Mubarak, who had “pledged a better democracy” and now must “give meaning” to his words.

By all means, the unrest across the region has been occasion for Washington to scold its Arab allies for their unaccountable neglect of the aspirations of youth and their unseemly embezzlement of treasuries. At the Forum for the Future in Doha, Qatar, held on January 13, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exhorted her audience of Arab elites to “build a future that your young people will believe in, stay for and defend.” Invest in vocational education, she urged. Create jobs. Root out corruption. Hold elections whose outcome is uncertain.

Drop the reflexive hostility to civic engagement by regular folks. But the regimes remain the political address of record for her administration; having created the present crises through decades of avarice and contempt for the people they rule, they are now to be trusted to resolve the impasse. Vice President Joe Biden was typically clumsy, but most assuredly not off-message when, in response to a direct question from PBS host Jim Lehrer, he declined to label Mubarak a dictator, saying instead: “I think the time has come for President be more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.”

No, as the Tunisian example showed, and as the Egyptian experience may yet drive home, the US will stand by its favored authoritarian Arab states until the bitter end. From the January 28 performance on the Potomac, it is not clear that the US can even imagine an alternative course.

The reasons for this stance have changed little over the decades since the US became the superpower in the Middle East. Strategic interest number one is the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf to the world economy, unimpeded by a rival hegemon or a regional upstart that might raise prices dramatically or deploy the oil weapon to extract political concessions from the West. Number two is the security of Israel. But third -- not to be confused with tertiary -- is the stability of satrapies that Washington can trust to safeguard its other interests and initiatives, whether the US-sponsored “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians (and the blockade upon Hamas that Egypt helps to enforce) or the campaign to curtail Islamist movements for which Tunisia’s Ben Ali so eagerly signed up. 

The US rewards its clients with cash and copious armaments, with scant regard for their records on democratization or human rights. After the Yemeni regime canceled elections in 2009, its aid package was quintupled. There have always been numerous dissenters within the US foreign policy apparatus who know the damage that is being done, but they are resolutely kept out of positions of real authority.

That roguish Bush administration, as the National Security Network flacks are fond of repeating, “destabilized” the Middle Eastern order, not just with its rash invasion of Iraq but also its swashbuckling talk of “freedom on the march” through the thickets of US-approved autocracy. The “progressive national security community,” like those to its right on Washington’s narrow political spectrum, is keen to be taken seriously by power, and so generally restricts its judgments of policy ventures to the impact on the US interest. 

The catastrophic loss of Iraqi life is rarely mentioned as a point against the invasion, for instance, and the sincerity of the Bush administration’s “democracy doctrine” is usually granted arguendo, civility being far more important to American politicos than accountability or, for that matter, decency. 

Amidst the hand wringing in the mainstream media over Obama’s “limited options” in Egypt, through whose Suez Canal cruise oil tankers and the warships of the US Fifth Fleet, the truth is that the entire debate over democracy promotion in the Arab world and greater Middle East has been one long, bitterly unfunny joke. The issue has never been whether the US should promote democracy; it has been when the US will stop trying to suppress it. 

The bargains with tyrants lay a “commitment trap” for Washington, which must solemnly swear allegiance to each strongman lest others in the club have second thoughts about holding up their end. The despots, in turn, assume that the Marines or their equivalents will swoop in to the rescue if need be. Most, like Ben Ali, are mistaken, if nothing else because an ambitious underling is often waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, just as Iranians have not forgotten the Carter administration’s eleventh-hour loyalty to the Shah some 32 years later, neither will Pakistanis soon forgive the US for standing by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans wondered why their country had been targeted. Many, of course, settled upon the solipsistic, emotionally comforting explanation that “they hate us for our values” or resorted to conspiracy theory about Islam and world conquest. Saner sorts looked to the US history of support for Israel in its colonization of Palestine or coziness with certain kingdoms sitting atop vast pools of petroleum. But these factors have never been the whole answer.

All who continue to wonder about the rest should ponder this day, January 28, 2011. The words of Obama and his chorus of apologists say it all: When it comes to the aspirations of ordinary Arabs for genuinely participatory politics and true self-determination, those vaunted American values are suspended, even when “special relationships” and hydrocarbon riches are not directly at issue. And the anti-democratic sentiment is bipartisan: On this question, there is less than a dime’s worth of difference between “progressive” Democrats and Republican xenophobes, between pinstriped State Department Arabists and flannel-clad Christian fundamentalists, between oil-first “realists” and Israel-first neo-conservatives. There is none.

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