Sunday, July 31, 2011

The American Backed Terrorists

Last summer the United States Supreme Court decided in favor of a strict interpretation of the material support for terrorism clause which criminalizes any constructive exchange with designated terrorist groups. This impacts Americans interacting with popular resistance movements throughout the world whose goal is to liberate people from occupation and oppression. And yet according to the below article, key American politicians and policy makers are currently accepting sizable amounts of money from an unpopular Iranian terrorist group that seeks to play a destructive role in Iranian society and the region as a whole. No matter what your politics are, we must all ask ourselves why some Americans are jailed for helping popular resistance movements build schools, hospitals and orphanages for needy populations while at the same time Washington officials are allowed to accept thousands of dollars in gifts from unpopular criminal movements that benefit nobody but themselves.

If this is what our American democracy has become, much like Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali, one day our leaders too will be hearing:

"الشعب يريد اسقاط النظام"

Iranian Exiles Pay US Figures as Advocates

By Anna Fifield in Washington
The Financial Times
29 June 2011

An Iranian exile group is spending millions of dollars in a lobbying effort to be removed from the US’s list of foreign terrorist organisations, recruiting a group of US national security luminaries to be its advocates.

Dozens of former officials across the political spectrum – from conservative John Bolton to liberal Howard Dean – have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak at events organised by supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or People’s Mujahedin, in the US, the Financial Times has learnt.

Washington designated the MEK, a Marxist-Islamist group that supported the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, as a terrorist organisation in 1997. But the group says it renounced terrorism in 2001 and has appealed to be taken off the list, which also includes al-Qaeda and Hizbollah. It fell out with Iran’s Islamic government after the 1979 revolution.

The group has also hired Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a lobbying firm, to persuade members of Congress to support its cause and has taken out several $100,000-plus newspaper advertisements. The Department of State is due to make a ruling next month.

To help advance its cause, groups linked to the MEK have recruited more than 40 former officials to speak on their behalf. They include Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor; Jim Jones, President Barack Obama’s first national security adviser; Wesley Clark, the retired army general; and Tom Ridge, the first homeland security secretary.

One Iran analyst, Trita Parsi, has dubbed the group “Washington’s favourite terrorists”.

Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic chairman of the House foreign relations committee, and Michael Mukasey, attorney-general in the last Bush administration, both told the FT they were paid for speaking at MEK-linked events.

Mr Bolton, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, said he did not see the fact he was being paid “as an issue”, while Mr Dean, the former Democratic national committee chairman, dismissed the question as a “sideshow”.

None would disclose how much they had been paid but Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, said he received $20,000 for an 11-minute speech. “But even if I was paid $50,000, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in it,” he said.

A former US official said he was offered $30,000 and first class air fares to appear at an MEK-linked event in Europe. Several people familiar with the MEK’s offers described a sliding pay scale of $20,000 to $100,000 per speech, plus travel costs, and that four-speech packages were common. Ahmad Moein, executive director of the Iranian American Community of Northern California, one of the groups behind the lobbying effort, said the figures were “greatly exaggerated”.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

English Translation of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's Speech 26 July 2011

In His Name

The speech delivered by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah during the “Dignity and Victory” Festival held by Hezbollah at Raya Stadium on Tuesday 26/7/2011.

Praise be to Allah the Lord of the world. Peace be on our Master and Prophet Abi Al Qassem Mohammad and on his chaste Household, chosen companions and on all prophets and messengers.

Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings.

Allah Al Mighty says in His Holy Book: "Call to mind when ye were a small band, despised through the land, and afraid that men might despoil and kidnap you; but He provided a safe asylum for you, strengthened you with His aid, and gave you good things for sustenance: that ye might be grateful.

Praise be to Allah on His victory, support, mercy and kindness.

First, my salutations are for all of you. I thank you for your massive attendance on this great and holy commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the divine, historic victory which you made with your blood, tears, pains, aspirations, sacrifices and steadfastness.

Every year on this occasion, I find it my duty even if briefly to salute and thank the souls of the martyrs – the martyrs of the army, people and the Resistance with all its factions – as well as the families of the martyrs, all those who were wounded and their families, all those who were detained in that war and returned, all those who were displaced from their homes, all the good hearts who sheltered them and embraced them, all those whose houses were demolished and whose wealth was demolished and remained patience and all those who supported, backed and aided with a deed, action, stance, prayers, smile or tear in Lebanon, the Arab and Islamic world and all around the world whether countries, governments, peoples, institutions, forces, parties, groups, personalities or individuals. I also pay an ever renewed tribute to those whom I might have forgotten and to all who stood by Lebanon and the Resistance in Lebanon to make that victory.

Brothers and sisters! We recall the stage of war not only to hail the glory but also to draw morals to what might take place in the coming days and years and the upcoming stage.

Going back to the days of war, I believe that among the most important factors that contributed to the victory achieved by this front and the defeat that afflicted the other side were determination, mutual confidence, hope of victory, faith and steadfastness on all domains and dimensions. It's the steadfastness of the people. Steadfastness mainly means not giving up to the conditions, pressures and settlements that might not be to the interest of Lebanon. It's the steadfastness of the Army and the security forces. The main factor of this steadfastness which set the basis to every other kind of steadfastness is the steadfastness of the Resistance fighters in the battlefields. This steadfastness in itself and apart from its results was a real miracle. How could thousands of Resistance fighters who did not have an aerial cover fight night and day all through 33 days in all villages, towns, hills, valleys and posts? How could they practice all kinds of fighting, confront soldiers, battalions, brigades and squads, and face tanks and launch rockets while fire and shells were raining over them and while houses were being demolished all around them in an unimaginable way? This steadfastness is legendary. In fact and in all norms and military standards, man can not imagine such steadfastness and determination.

During July War, all those who were in the battlefield remained steadfast. In Bint Jbeil, the enemy made a gap with the hope that fighters run away. However, fighters remained and many others joined them. Here the element of strength which we must always pay attention to is asserted.

On the other side, the Israeli enemy started the war against Lebanon with arrogance, pride and overconfidence, though it was still under the effect of the defeat of 2000 and the defeat of pulling out of Gaza Strip in face of the Palestinian Resistance and the Intifada of the Palestinian people. Still that is its nature. It has a haughty arrogant nature. However, no soon that turned under the impact of the steadfastness of Lebanon with all its components and under the impact of the steadfastness of the Resistance fighters in particular into perplexity, weakness, confusion and led to crisis of confidence among Israeli soldiers, officers, leaders, and generals and among the army leadership, the cabinet and the people who is occupying Palestine. Here I may talk about two levels: a higher level which is the collapse of confidence and a lower level which is the shake of confidence to a great degree. This is what we witnessed in the remaining days of the war whether on the level of political, military or popular performance. As the Israelis and their generals, elites, leaderships and even their people and polls show and acknowledge, this war has left dangerous repercussions on the entity and its political, security and military present and future. However in my opinion – and we are talking in the fifth anniversary of that war – the most important and strategic outcome of July War was the crisis of confidence which was shaken to a great degree among the occupation’s people, political leadership and especially among the army. On the other hand, confidence increased at this side as well as certainty in the Resistance, the choice of the Resistance and the Resistance fighters in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq and the Arab and Islamic world. This psychological factor – the confidence, certitude, respect and faith in the right path, choice and confrontation or the lack of confidence, certitude, hope and doubt in the right choice are both a very important strategic element. It might also be decisive on our or their side in depicting the image of the ongoing struggle in the region. As such we usher to the post war era. We find that Israel, backed by the United States and its supporters worldwide had since the end of the war put a group of targets on top of which is restoring or at least repairing this confidence which was lost between the people, the political leadership and the army at a time it is naturally trying to restore its power and political, military and security capabilities to impose the conditions it wants in the future whether on Lebanon, on our Palestinian brethrens, on Syria or on the other Arab or Islamic region. Here I might tackle some of the factors which the Israelis focus on now to restore confidence. I will talk about two important factors with little discussion because everything is reflected on our side. This evaluation is essential for everyone who wants to make an analysis or to make an assessment on all future possibilities: the possibility of a war taking place or not. The first element is military, mobilizing, executive procedures or efforts which the Israelis are undertaking since that time: the frequent drills, retraining troops, recalling the reservists and training them anew, developing arms and equipments in a bid to find a military solution to the problem of the falling rockets, which this time will fall not on Haifa and beyond but rather far and further beyond Haifa.

They are working at addressing the military gaps which emerged during July War: maritime ships, the tanks which were hit in South Lebanon, leadership and control, coordination between the military troops and the so called arms. They are exerting such effort in addition to starting maneuvers unprecedented in the history of the entity on the level of the internal front. The internal front means the people, the state, institutions and the society. They started with Turning Point One, Two, Three, Four and few weeks ago they wrapped up Turning Point Five. It was a drill at the level of all of Occupied Palestine i.e. all the usurping entity. The aim of this maneuver is training people how to act in case of war. Then they present in the media all what they do whether concerning arms, filling gaps, training and maneuvers or concerning the security, information or internal levels. One of the goals of presenting them in the media in an intensive way is restoring confidence to the Israeli people so as to tell them: Your government is a strong and a determined government. Your army is a strong and a determined army. You too must be strong in confronting any danger or challenge or war. However was this in fact able to lead to the results desired by the Israelis?

I will go back to the Israelis themselves, to the polls, to the comments made by generals, political, security and military leaderships, journalists, parties, Knesset members and others. We will see that they acknowledge and confess that there are very great dilemmas which haven't been addressed so far whether on the military, security or internal levels.

Let's take as an example Turning Point Five which took place weeks ago. It is enough to mention two associated results. I have referred to them or to one of them previously. What is the result? They have staged a drill. Indeed more than one showed up on the Israeli screen to say that all of that is in vain. When war takes place and rockets fall everywhere no one will respond. They said so. So apart from the cooperation of people and their seriousness, among the many results there are two clear results:

First: What do the Israelis say? The Israeli leadership tells the Israeli people: We are not able through military means – i.e. the Israeli army is not able through military means – to protect the internal front. The army is not able to counter all the rockets which will fall on targets inside the entity. So far the Iron Dome and all of that story did not lead to a total result. Also the Israeli army is not able to reach the posts of Resistance fighters and the rocket platforms whether in Lebanon or even in Gaza, Syria and Iran if we are to talk about what they suppose is a broader battle. Thus they are telling them that they are staging maneuvers to restore confidence and at the same time there is a message they are addressing the Israeli people with to the effect that time is over when we could as an Israeli army with our awe, shout, threat, air force and extensive arm protect the internal front militarily. This is over. This was over during July War.

What are they telling them as a second result? In any war, there would not be anymore an internal front and frontlines. That's because the entire field would be the front, and the internal front would be part of the war. If Israel wanted to launch a war, what would be the psychological results which are related to confidence, hope, restoring the feeling of security and stability? So that is not leading to the desired results.          

The second element: So the first element – these military and security procedures and maneuvers – addresses gaps and crises sensed by the Israelis who so far failed to address the existing crisis of confidence. As I have said confidence is a decisive element in any war and the evaluation of any war and the results of any war. The second element is related to psycho-media. As we said, they have been exerting great efforts especially lately to readdress confidence. Among what they are doing as far as media and politics are concerned is that some of them – some of the Israelis and not all of them – have started diminishing the results of July War and presenting a somehow different image. First the Israelis unanimously agreed that what took place in July War was a defeat, a crush and a beat. They formed Vin Grad. That was apparent. However lately and to diminish the catastrophe on their people and on themselves, they started searching thoroughly for some achievements made during the war. They say that the war included a defeat and a flop. However, great results were made during July war or what they call Lebanon war II.

Let's see the important achievements made during July War.

Before ushering into that, my comment is that imagine that Israelis are seeking to restore confidence to people and the army through lies, misleading people, and magnifying things to turn them to important achievements. I will give one example only which was given by Shimon Peres who is currently the head of the state but with little scrutiny we may say that he is the only one to remain from the generation of Sharon and Isaac Rabin. So what did the eldest of the Zionists find and always tries to reiterate? He found that there are two achievements. Now pay attention. There are two achievements which deserve a pose made during July War:

The first achievement is forcing so and so – meaning me – to enter the bunker.

The second achievement is preserving calm on the northern borders of occupied Palestine.

Let's go to the text of the interview he made some short time ago in which he says: The war halted the lunching of rockets on our settlements and Hassan Nasrallah is hiding in his bunker and running away from the horror of the international law. These are the two great achievements.

Now where is the scandal? The scandal is that when they formed Vin Grad and met with the officials and Peres was part of the staff concerned in running the war, what did Shimon Peres himself say in Vin Grad report?

He says: After all, the whole world stood by our side because we are weak and not because we are righteous. There prevailed a feeling that during July War, Israel was not as it always used to be. It was not bright, not surprising and not creative. Thus we lost some of our international preventive ability; as such today we are considered weaker than before. We lost some of our preventive ability in the eyes of the Arabs. This is made clear in the aspects of stripping the existence of Israel from its legitimacy. Prior to this war, the Arab world has given in one way or another to the existence of Israel. However following the war, the retreat began. He himself gave this presentation. What is he saying now? He is saying that they won the war and made two achievements: So and so was forced to the bunker and they made calmness at the border.

I will comment on this. If you searched, you would find that these comments were made by the Israelis. So they themselves answered Shimon Peres.

First: Forcing so and so to the bunker was not even set among the war objectives. During the thirty three days, none of the Israeli leaders said that one of the war objectives was to prevent so and so from stepping the street.

Second: Such a result – i.e. preventing someone from stepping the street does not deserve launching a war that leads to serious results as far as the enemy entity is concerned. No rational human being might take such a step.

Third: None of the war objectives was achieved. This is said by the Israelis with the exception of those who try to mislead or lie. Among the war objectives was crushing and weakening Hezbollah; but it grew stronger. Among the war objectives was restoring the two Israel prisoners without negotiations. However, they returned following vertical negotiations and our detainees returned with pride. Among the war objectives was finding a new Middle East. This Bush-Condoleezza Rice version of the objective was put to an end as well.

Now we turn to the second achievement which is preserving calmness on the northern borders. Well people have logic and are rational. At times things are beyond question. For example, you built a house. Still someone comes and tells you I want to build a house for you. You do not have a house; I want to build a house for you. You tell him I have a house. This is beyond question. Another example; if someone is brown and you tell him I want to make you brown. You tell him but I am brown. This is beyond question.

The border between Lebanon and occupied Palestine has been calm since May 25, 2000. It did not need a war to be launched on Lebanon and afflict Israel with all of these losses so that calmness is restored at the border. The calmness along the border was imposed by the Resistance with its victory in 2000. The calmness, tranquility and serenity enjoyed by the people of the South who returned to their villages and fields and built their houses even at the barbed line were imposed by the Resistance through the balance of deterrence and the balance of terror in 2000. The Israelis, who are speaking of calm have forgotten that ever since 1948 and since their occupation of Palestine, were the ones who used to launch wars, perpetrate crimes, storm into our land, occupy our land and rob our natural resources. Years ago they used to rob Al Wazani River. However, because of the Resistance, calmness was imposed and the aggression was prevented. That's because the Resistance is not a project of war. We always used to say that the mission of the Resistance is to defend its country, land, people and the dignity and honor of this people. This was achieved on May 25, 2000. So even talking about calmness at the border is beyond question. Consequently, it is not an achievement. With all the Israeli exerted efforts, the higher voice in the entity is for those politicians, generals and elites who still talk about the defeat, flop and inability and call for a serious and not a false address or else defeat will be reiterated in any future war.

Now there is no time to tell you more, but I hope that you follow up with this issue. Senior current and former generals, former chiefs of staff, former Mosad heads, former heads of national security council besides political elites are warning the Israeli cabinet against taking any risk not at the level of a regional war – i.e. against waging a war against this entire axis – but also against Lebanon only and even against Hezbollah only. They are warning the Israeli cabinet against taking any risk of this kind. They are telling it that such a risk will lead unknown results. Even some say clearly that the results would be catastrophic and that defeat would be reiterated. This exists and it's not I who is creating it.

Accordingly, these measures were fruitless to the effect of renewing confidence, which I said is a decisive element.

On the other hand, i.e. as far as our front is concerned, since the end of war in 2006, very great efforts are being exerted to raise doubt around the Resistance and its victories, achievements, intentions, backgrounds and aims and for the sake of distorting its image. Millions of dollars were spent to that effect.

In this framework also comes the attempt to accuse the honorable Resistance fighters by the STL of the assassination of former Prime Minister Martyr Rafiq Hariri and to accuse Hezbollah of an enormous lies and fabrications that you daily read in newspapers, hear in radio and TV outlets and see at websites when you wake up in the morning. All of such articles are baseless and have nothing to do with the culture, mentality or conduct of Hezbollah. The aim of all of that is striking the strong deep-rooted confidence in the Resistance, the confidence of the Resistance in itself and the confidence of the people in the Resistance. To wrap up this part of my speech today, I would like to tell the friend as well as the foe: Our trust in Allah and our confidence in His promise, His victory and our right choice and path can't be shaken. In fact, today our Resistance is stronger than in any time in the past thanks for experience, events and victories.    

I tell you also from the post of someone acquainted with details that the strength of the Resistance today in Lebanon on the level of its morals, integrity, courage, human cadres and materialistic capabilities is better and higher than in any time in the past since its taking off. The enemy is familiar with this fact too.

Today the enemy in the framework of its psychological war and attempts to restore the confidence of its masses is resorting to our courtesies. This is imitation and that does not work with them but with us. Few days ago, the Israelis said they promise the Lebanese in any future war with surprises. That's not for them. That does not fit them. We will not be taken by surprise. There is an essential distinctive property. That's because we suppose that Israel owns the power, weapons and technology which America and the West provide it with unlimitedly. Thus we will not be surprised by anything. However, you who look at us always with superiority and haughtiness were surprised to find that the Resistance has a mind, plotting powers, courage, bravery and some developed weapons. I tell the Israelis in particular: Listen to your generals who tasted defeat in Lebanon. The current chief of staff was the leader of the squad which was defeated in Lebanon in 2000. With his eyes he witnessed how the Israelis failed even to take their tanks and offices along with them and how they left Lahd Army behind in the streets. The commander of the northern front was in Lebanon. He fell in an ambush set by the Islamic Resistance. He has four bullets in his chest. You generals have tasted defeat in Lebanon, and you will not taste but defeat in Lebanon. Despite all the developments and advancements made by the Israelis to fill the gaps, the developments in Lebanon and what is taking place around us in the region and all the current events, indeed we are not war seekers. We are a group who are defending our country and our honor. We do not seek war but in case of war, our responsibility is to confront it. If anyone asks me; In case a war takes place now, are you ready to say the same phrase you said during the first days of the war when buildings were collapsing?

Now I am ready to stand and say with all might, determination and even stronger faith what I will say now to wrap this part. I have come to know the enemy whom Allah talks about and made us know when He says: "Thou wilt find them, of all people, most greedy of life". Morals and trust that come with fake means no soon will collapse. They do not have innate courage. They do not have innate faith. They are a people who have doubt in themselves. In as much as I know this enemy, and in as much as I know this people and these heroic fighters, I say: As I used to promise you of victory always, I promise you victory anew. Thus I tell the Zionists: Do not attempt to approach Lebanon and abandon all your dreams and greed in this country forever.

The second issue is that of oil and gas and the maritime borders with occupied Palestine. Much has been said lately to this effect, but allow me to tackle this issue for its importance and benefit from this meeting and this occasion and explain this issue on my own way because it needs to enjoy popular and national interest, embrace and follow up.

First: The Lebanese people are seriously before a true, historic and unprecedented opportunity in the history of Lebanon that makes Lebanon a rich country.

The Ayas we read a while ago do not say that Allah just made stronger and bestowed victory but also say "but He provided a safe asylum for you, strengthened you with His aid, and gave you good things for sustenance: that ye might be grateful." After all, these sacrifices will open new horizons. Today Lebanon has in its regional waters national wealth. So it won't be portioned as the Lebanese way always goes. It is not the possession of a region or a sect or a side. What is in our regional waters mounts to be a national wealth. Official estimations which are true estimations say that the wealth in our regional waters – the Lebanese regional waters – worth billions of dollars. So they are facts and figures which we as Lebanese have never dreamt of. Unfortunately the greatest number we have heard of in Lebanon is not in our pocket. It is rather a debt on us: 50 or 55 or 60 billion dollars. I do not it know what is the number in particular.

So we are before a true opportunity if the Lebanese knew how to act and deal with this file away from childish misbehaviors and narrow-mindedness. If the Lebanese acted with national responsibility, we would be before an opportunity to pay back all the debts, enhance and develop our economy, resolve our financial and living crises and develop the living standards in Lebanon so that Lebanon becomes a strong able country that owns everything. Imagine what hundreds of billions of dollars may mean to a small country of a population of 4 or 5 millions. Here I would like to make a call so that those who want the Lebanese expatriates to return to Lebanon work seriously on this file since many people were forced to leave because of the social and living conditions. So we are before this opportunity. The current government and parliament must exert exceptional efforts. They made an Oil Law. The Ministry of Energy is setting implementation decrees and the current government has committed itself to endorse the implementation decrees of the Oil Law during 2011 meaning in the following few months. So it is supposed that with the beginning of 2012 things take a serious track with respect to invitations for tenders for companies to carry on researches and explorations and the like.

There is something that I would like to tackle in details as I do not know how much people follow up with it. It has to do with the economic area in the regional waters. According to officials in the state – as I do not have private information – this area is 22500 square kilometers. It is a reservoir for an enormous oil wealth. There is an area in this region at the border between Lebanon and Occupied Palestine. This area is 850 square kilometers. Lebanon considers that this region is its and within its regional waters.

What did the Israelis do? They made a demarcation for the borders and included this area – 850 square kilometers – with the regional waters which they suppose is theirs at a time it is for Occupied Palestine. So it is a very big area – 850 square kilometers - which by the way researches say it includes oil resources worth billions of dollars; that is if we do not wish to say for hundreds of billions of dollars. Lebanon believes that this area (850 square Kilometers) is its and Israel has no right to adjoin it or search for oil or gas in it besides building facilities to dig out gas or oil from it.

This is a very sensitive issue. When it comes to the Lebanese economy, we used to benefit from agriculture. All of you know now what have become of agriculture. I do not want to open old files. All of you know what have become of agriculture. We used to live from industry; now all of you know what have become of industry. Finally Lebanon became a country of services. Now everyone is competing as far as services are concerned. After all, we are before an opportunity of a radical resolution. Lebanon is before an opportunity of a radical resolution for all its economic, financial, development and living crises. We must not waste this opportunity.

All officials expressed their stance. I would like to speak out about the stance of the Resistance also. However before going to first, second and third, I would like to give a remark or an explanation.

Indeed when I talk about the logic of the Resistance, any Resistance fighter does not believe in anything called Israel. We do not talk about Lebanese-Israeli borders. We talk about Lebanon's borderlines with Occupied Palestine whether it is territorial or maritime. In fact, we do not acknowledge Israel's right to exist besides yielding to its right to drill oil or gas from the Lebanese or Palestinian waters. However we reserve this convictional position to ourselves. I am talking here from a national position and from a position that preserves the Lebanese national interests.

As concerning the existing facts, first: In the Resistance, we believe that the maritime border demarcation process is among the duties of the state and consequently, as a Resistance, we do not have a technical view in that. We will not interfere as what took place on the eve of the pullout in 2000. When dispute over Shaaba Farms and Kfar Shouba Hills and others started we stood aside. I remember that I gave a speech in which I said that the territorial border demarcation process is among the duties of the state. When the Lebanese state through its official institutions says this land is for Palestine and that is for Lebanon, we will accept as a Resistance. If there is a piece of land which the Lebanese state considers Lebanese, the Resistance will act accordingly. The same logic applies to the maritime borders. The Lebanese state and not the Resistance sets the maritime borderlines. However, when the Lebanese state demarks or considers a region or an area in the regional waters as Lebanese regional waters, the Resistance will act accordingly.

The second point is that we fully trust the current government which is following up with the topic and will not relinquish, waste or neglect any of Lebanon's rights in the regional waters or in its oil resources despite pressures and fears. Perhaps – I will not be decisive – this government at this timing is Lebanon's opportunity to preserve these rights and restoring them.

Third, we call on the Lebanese government to make haste in taking the executive steps. If we divided the file and said there is the area of 850 square kilometers at the border and there is internal regional waters with is undisputed. This internal region includes gas and oil. It is demanded that the Lebanese government make haste in wrapping up all measures concerning it. Consequently it must finalize the implementation decrees and invite for bids so that drilling starts to be followed later on by digging out. Time is very important. This is linked to the Lebanese government dealing with this issue as a national priority above any other priority. That's because when Lebanon comes to have billions of dollars, it will be easier to address crises. As far as this point is concerned – i.e. as far as the internal regional waters which is indisputable are concerned – I may as well today on the fifth anniversary of July War say with all confidence to all the states, governments and companies which would want to come to Lebanon to share in bids and start drilling and digging that Lebanon is able to provide these companies and their oil and gas facilities with protection. Lebanon is able to do that with all confidence. Do you know why? It's not because it owns a strong air force but rather because who might attack these facilities have oil and gas. Whoever might attack the future oil and gas facilities in the Lebanese regional waters will have their facilities attacked. So let them know that Lebanon is able to do that. From this perspective Lebanon is fit of this blessing and of guarding this blessing. At times Allah bestows His blessing when He finds His slaves fit of guarding it.

Fourth, as far as the above mentioned 850 square kilometers are concerned, even this area has resources which worth billions of dollars. So hereof, as long as the Lebanese state considers this area Lebanese, it is Lebanese according to the Resistance. Consequently, in our courtesies, it is not a disputed area but rather an aggressed area. This area is aggressed against. Lebanon has its political and diplomatic chance to restore it through demarking the borderlines. However, we warn the Israelis against extending their hand to that region and undertaking any action that might lead to robbing Lebanon from Lebanon's water wealth.

Here also we say that in listing priorities, Lebanon might not take the excavation companies to the area of 850 square kilometers. It might take them to the area adjacent to the secure coasts. Until Lebanon decides to benefit from this area, the Israelis must be warned against extending their hand to it. Also as far as the area of 850 square kilometers is concerned, we call on the state to exert every possible and legal effort to restore this area and spread the state control over it.

Here also I address all the Lebanese people to follow up, support and back the government as far as this great national event is concerned. In case this government or this state was able to pull out gas or oil, that will go to the Lebanese state treasury and all the Lebanese people will benefit from it. So it is neither March 8 Bloc or March 14 Bloc.

Finally I address the friend and the foe alike that Lebanon is able and will rely on all the elements of strength it owns to preserve its natural rights and restore its natural resources, and the most important element of strength is the army-people-Resistance formula. We all as Lebanese are concerned in this great national event.

As far as the upcoming state is concerned, we must be aware that any Israeli threat or act of arrogance is part of a psychological war, which is launched against our peoples and societies. It is also a part of the campaign that aims at restoring confidence on their behalf. However following July War, Lebanon has entered to a totally different stage. Still what is important is that we cooperate and preserve the elements of resistance in it.

Again at the end of my word, I felicitate you and the Muslims in particular on the occasion of the Holy Month of Ramadan. I pray to Allah Al Mighty that He assist us in fasting and worshipping Him in it besides guarding its sanctity, giving it its right so that it really becomes a month of forgiveness, absolution and restoring dignity and esteem.

I pray to Allah that He pull affliction and sedition away from our Islamic and Arab countries and guide us to the honor, dignity, pride and happiness of this world and the Hereafter. Hundred returns. Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings.

Turkish Military Leaders Resign

Top Generals Quit in Group, Stunning Turks

By Gul Tuysuz and Sabrina Tavernise
The New York Times
July 29, 2011

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s top military commanders resigned en masse on Friday, a move without precedent in Turkish history that many analysts saw as a failed effort by a beleaguered institution to exert what is left of its dwindling political power.

In the surprising series of events, Turkey’s top commander, Gen. Isik Kosaner, together with the leaders of the navy, army and air force, simultaneously resigned in protest over the sweeping arrests of dozens of generals as suspects in conspiracy investigations that many people in Turkey have come to see as a witch hunt.

Hours later, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted the resignations and elevated his own choice to become the senior military commander: Gen. Necdet Ozel, who was until Friday the commander of the military police. The decision stamped Mr. Erdogan’s civilian authority on the country’s military, which has long regarded itself as a protector of Turkey’s secular traditions.

The news stunned Turkey and left many people wondering whether they were witnessing the end of the power the military has long exercised over the nation’s political system.

“This is effectively the end of the military’s role in Turkish democracy,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a columnist for the Turkish daily newspaper Milliyet. “This is the symbolic moment where the first Turkish republic ends and the second republic begins.”

Mr. Erdogan has rolled back the military’s political power substantially since he took office in 2002, in part through legal reforms that assert civilian control. But the single biggest blow to the military’s clout has been a sprawling series of investigations and trials in which a number of senior military commanders, as well as journalists and others, were charged with conspiring to overthrow Mr. Erdogan’s government.

The resignations were the culmination of a year of frustrations, in which more than 40 generals — approximately a tenth of the senior military command — were taken into custody, an assault that has infuriated the military but left it essentially helpless to fight back.

A more immediate spark may have come in the form of new arrest warrants for 22 more people, among them two top generals, which were issued Friday, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported.

“This is the first time in the history of the republic that we are seeing something like this,” said Gursel Tekin, vice president of the main opposition political party, who was speaking in the seaside city of Canakkale. “Honestly, this situation is not good.”

Historically, the military has wielded immense power in Turkey. The modern nation was founded in 1923 by Gen. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and the military remained involved in politics after the country went to a multiparty political system in the 1950s.

Military leaders have deposed elected governments four times in Turkish history, beginning in 1960, when they went so far as to execute the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, Adnan Menderes. But the Turkish political system has gone through profound changes in recent years, and many analysts argued that resigning was the only weapon left in the military’s arsenal. Few people interviewed on Friday thought that a coup was likely, both because Turkey’s democracy now has deep roots and because the military appeared diminished.

“Besides this one act, the military doesn’t really have that much left in the tank,” said Steven Cook, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Mr. Cook argued that the resignations also said a great deal about Turkey as a democracy, because its citizens — even those who dislike Mr. Erdogan’s increasingly powerful Justice and Development Party — were no longer willing to accept military rule.

“Turkey has grown out of that,” he said.

One of the sticking points between the military and the government has been that the military wants to promote some of the officers who have been languishing as suspects in the conspiracy cases, but cannot because the officers have remained in custody. An important meeting of the military that would determine appointments is scheduled for Monday.

General Kosaner, who had two years left as Turkey’s top military commander, spelled out that frustration in a statement circulated in the Turkish news media on Friday, noting that although the officers have not been convicted of any crimes, they will miss the chance for promotions.

He added bitterly that one of the aims of the conspiracy cases “is to create the impression that the Turkish Armed Forces are a criminal organization.” He also said that the situation “has prevented me from fulfilling my duties to protect the rights of my personnel and thereby rendered me unable to continue this high office that I occupy.”

By midnight, the Web site of Turkey’s official newspaper published an announcement that General Kosaner had retired. According to protocol, Mr. Ozel, the new army chief, will be appointed as the top military commander by Turkey’s president on Saturday.

Mr. Ozel was not a surprise choice for his new post. He had been expected to become head of the army after Monday’s military meeting and to assume Turkey’s top military post at the end of General Kosaner’s term in 2013. The heads of the army, navy and air force had been scheduled to retire next month.

While Mr. Ozel is not seen as an ally of Mr. Erdogan, he is also not a foe, as are many other senior military officers.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an e-mail that the military’s status as a trusted institution had plummeted, with only 60 percent of Turks saying in most surveys that they trusted the institution, compared with 90 percent in 2002, the year Mr. Erdogan took office.

“Turkey’s moment of reckoning, delayed since 2002, seems to have arrived,” Mr. Cagaptay said. “This is the Turkish military leadership’s way of telling the government, ‘We are done playing with you. Set up your own team if you can.’ ”

The resignations seemed intended to send a message that the military was still powerful enough to shake up the country’s political system. But they seemed almost to have had the opposite effect, with Mr. Erdogan acting fast to choose a new leader.

“This was their last resort,” Ms. Aydintasbas said of the resignations. “It is happening precisely because there is no likelihood of a coup. There is nothing else for them to do.”

Gul Tuysuz reported from Istanbul, and Sabrina Tavernise from Washington. J. David Goodman contributed reporting from New York, and Landon Thomas Jr. from Spain.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Turkey Demands an Apology from Israel

Turkish PM Insists Israel must Apologize if it Wants to Repair Ties

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 23 2011

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s prime minister on Saturday ruled out a normalization of ties with Israel unless the Jewish state “officially apologizes” for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last year.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said relations cannot be improved unless Israel also pays compensation to the families of nine Turkish victims and lifts its embargo on Gaza. Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment.

“We did not and will not forget the massacre of our brothers,” Erdogan told a meeting of Palestinian ambassadors in Istanbul that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is also attending. “No belief ... can justify the barbaric and cruel killing of innocent people.”

Israel has insisted its soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists when they boarded the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. But a Turkish investigation revealed that two activists were killed before commandos boarded the ship and another died “execution-style” as he lay injured.

The commando raid sparked condemnation worldwide and led to an easing of Israel’s blockade on the coastal territory. It further damaged already strained relations with Turkey, formerly one of Israel’s closest allies in the region.

Erdogan has also voiced support for the recognition of a Palestinian state and accused Israel of using excessive force against the Palestinians.

The Turkish prime minister also criticized the United Nations and the United States for turning a blind eye to Israel’s “spoiled practices.”

Iran is Ready to Talk, but is the US?

Iran Says Dialogue of 'Equals' Possible with US

Agence France Presse
22 July 2011

TEHRAN — Iran may consider dialogue with the United States as long as it is between "equals" and Washington respects its people's rights, Foreign Minster Ali Akbar Salehi said in an interview on Friday.

"We have not ruled out establishing relations with other countries barring the Zionist regime (Israel), but it is possible that our relations are in an unusual situation with countries like the United States," Salehi told the official IRNA news agency.

"If one day the United States agrees to a dialogue on an equal footing and without preconditions, while respecting the rights of our people, the situation will be different," he said.

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic ties for more than 30 years, and relations have soured in recent years due to Tehran's nuclear drive and policies in the region.

Washington accuses Iran of supporting Islamist movements and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, as well as providing weapons to anti-US groups in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Tehran denies.

Last week, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani came out in support of talks with Washington.

"I think today we can utterly negotiate on an equal footing and mutual respect with the United States," Rafsanjani told reformist website,

Referring to Tehran's disagreement with the West over its nuclear programme, Salehi said: "No dispute is eternal and one day the Iranian nuclear dispute will be resolved.

"We seek a win-win solution, and if the Westerners believe in this, they can come to the negotiating table. We are ready. If they do not, they can continue, because the pressure will only strengthen us.

"If they want to continue for 30 more years their policy (of pressure and sanctions), we will not yield... because we have decided to pay the price for our independence," the minister said.

Iran said Tuesday it has begun installing new centrifuges with "better quality and speed" to enrich uranium in its nuclear facilities, a move that angered the United States and France.

Tehran remains adamant it will push ahead with the programme despite being targeted by four sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to suspend the enrichment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Postcard from Hama, Syria

In Scarred Syria City, a Vision of a Life Free From Dictators

By Anthony Shadid
The New York Times
July 19, 2011

HAMA, Syria — In this city that bears the scars of one of the modern Middle East’s bloodiest episodes, the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad has begun to help Syrians imagine life after dictatorship as it forges new leaders, organizes its own defense and reckons with a grim past in an uncertain experiment that showcases the forces that could end Mr. Assad’s rule.

Dozens of barricades of trash bins, street lamps, bulldozers and sandbags, defended in various states of vigilance, block the feared return of the security forces that surprisingly withdrew last month. Protests begin past midnight, drawing raucous crowds of youths celebrating the simple fact that they can protest. At dusk, distant cries echo off cinder blocks and stone that render a tableau here of jubilation, fear and memory of a crackdown a generation ago whose toll — 10,000, 20,000, more — remains a defiant guess.

“Hama is free,” the protesters chant, “and it will remain free.”

Freedom is a word heard often these days in this city, Syria’s fourth largest, though that freedom could yet prove elusive. Hama rebelled last month, and the government withdrew the soldiers and security forces seemingly to forestall even more bloodshed, ceding space along the Orontes River that is really neither liberated nor subjugated.

In the uncertain interregnum, punctuated by worry that the security forces might return and fear of informers left behind, Hama has emerged in the four-month revolt against Mr. Assad as a turbulent model of what a city in Syria might resemble once four decades of dictatorship end. In skittish streets, there are at least nascent notions of self-de-termination, as residents seek to speak for themselves and defend a city that they declare theirs.

The sole poster of Mr. Assad in the city hangs from the undamaged headquarters of the ruling Baath Party. Gaggles of residents gather on the curb to debate politics, sing protest songs and retell the traumas of the crackdown in 1982, when the government stormed Hama to end an Islamist uprising. For the first time in memory, clerics and the educated elite in Hama are negotiating with the governor over how to administer the city, in a country long accustomed to a monologue delivered by the ruler to the ruled.

“This is the way a city is supposed to be,” said a 49-year-old former government employee who gave his name as Abu Muhammad. Like many people here, he declined to be fully identified.

Lined with oleander and eucalyptus trees, the road to Hama underlines the depth of the challenge today to Mr. Assad. Tanks are parked inside Homs, to the south. More are stationed at the entrances to smaller towns in between Homs and Hama — Talbiseh and Rastan, where protesters dismantled a statue of Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, who seized power in 1970. At one entrance, strewn with stones thrown by protesters, a slogan says, “The army and the people are one hand.” But the scenes of jittery soldiers behind sandbags and turrets of tanks pointed at incoming traffic suggest an army of occupation.

“Syria is colonized by its own sons,” one resident quipped.

Hama is bracing for an attack by a government that may regret its decision to withdraw on the first week of June, after an especially bloody Friday. But the authorities seem at a loss over how to retake control of the rebellious city that is Syria’s most religiously conservative. Railing from fences was torn down and stones from sidewalks unearthed to build scores of barricades, which block entrances to most neighborhoods. Refuse has accumulated along streets where every trash bin seems part of a barrier.

Youths have distributed bags of rocks to the checkpoints, and some, too young to shave, carry bars and sticks. Others sneak cigarettes, away from disapproving parents. A banner in Jerajmeh Square seemed to plead their case: “Here is Hama. It is not Tel Aviv” — a reference to Syria’s avowed enemy, Israel.

“Of course, we know the regime can enter any time,” said a 30-year-old carpenter with a goatee and blue eyes who gave his name as Abdel-Razzaq. He shrugged his shoulders at the prospect. “So the battle will happen,” he said. “What can we do about it?”

Even as they celebrate Hama’s measure of freedom, residents elsewhere have wondered what motivated the government to withdraw its forces from Hama. Some suggest foreign pressure, others point to Hama’s demographics. Unlike Homs, Hama has no Alawite minority, the heterodox Muslim sect from which the country’s leadership draws much of its support. The city’s small Christian population seems wary, but unharried.

A City’s Painful Past

But most believe the key lies in Hama’s past, quoting a refrain heard almost any time the city’s name is mentioned.

“Hama is wounded,” it goes.

Under the orders of Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian Army quelled the revolt in 1982 with a brutality that defined his later rule. He ended the rebellion, but the ferocity forever changed his leadership, ushering forth a suspicion and paranoia that still dominates his family’s politics. The three weeks of fighting left behind a graveyard in this city, too. Planes bombed Hama’s historic quarter, and tanks plowed through narrow streets. Mass executions were routine, as was torture visited on survivors.

“Hama is the cemetery of the nation,” say graffiti here.

“Every house has martyrs,” said a 25-year-old petroleum engineer who gave his name as Adnan. Others joined him, sitting in plastic chairs on the curb, sipping tea.

Seventeen had died on their street, named after Sheik Mustafa al-Hamid, Adnan and others said. Many of the children playing soccer nearby bore the names of the dead. One recalled his uncle Mahmoud, who he said was shot 24 times and survived, though badly crippled. “He looked like a strainer,” he said. A pharmacist said he never heard from his cousin, Othman, again.

“Their sons and grandsons are doing the protests today,” Abu Muhammad, the former government employee, said.

On successive Fridays since the government pulled out its forces, the protests in Assi Square — renamed Martyrs’ Square — have grown as quickly as fear crumbled, reaching more than 100,000 this month. Songs like “Get Out Bashar” were taken up by protesters in other cities and, by Syria’s standards, became a YouTube sensation.

In President’s Square, the government dismantled a statue of Hafez al-Assad on June 10. The next day, residents recalled, a man nicknamed Gilamo put his donkey on the pedestal. Hundreds gathered, clapping, in mock displays of obsequiousness.

“Oh, youth of Damascus, we in Hama overthrew the regime,” residents recalled them chanting. “We removed Hafez, and we put a donkey in his place.”

Several residents said the security forces shot the donkey a few days later.

In the vacuum, new leaders have begun to emerge, sometimes coexisting uneasily in a city that seems to be staggering into the unknown. Youthful protesters have come together in a group called the Free Ones of Hama, but it is more a name than an organization. Their real work, activists say, happens in their own neighborhoods, where they organize shifts to defend barricades, persuade their mothers to cook stuffed squash for their friends and relentlessly document the uprising with cameras, cellphones and camcorders.

No security troops can come close, they declare, without their streets sounding the alarm, erupting in cries of “God is great,” the chorus joined by a cacophony of banging pots and pans.

“The fear has been broken,” said Adnan, one of the protest leaders.

The protesters, though, hold little sway with the government, which has negotiated with the city to a surprising degree. These days, Hama is represented by Mustafa Abdel-Rahman, the 60-year-old cleric in charge of the Serjawi Mosque. Residents say he consults with worshipers at his mosque, along with doctors, lawyers and engineers in the neighborhoods, over ways to defuse tension. Under the latest deal, the government agreed to release prisoners if protesters dismantled checkpoints on the main roads. The protesters did, though in the end, only a fraction of the more than 1,200 detainees were freed.

“They will keep taking people, definitely,” said Tarek, a 22-year-old protester. “We can’t trust them. We just can’t trust them anymore.”

A Revolt’s Microcosm

Over these six weeks, Hama has, in a way, emerged as a microcosm of the revolt — what the protesters see as competing visions of liberation and what the government labels chaos.

As in other places, the government has spoken of armed gangs and Islamists roaming the city’s streets, though over two days, not a single weapon was seen, save a slingshot. Islamists populate and perhaps dominate the ranks of protesters, and by some estimates, a fourth of the city has fled, fearing a showdown more than the brand of rule the Islamists might impose.

The government has spoken of losing control, though the city still functions. Shops have reopened, people walk the streets, and the municipal administration — from courts to trash collection — began working again Saturday after a two-week strike. Gardeners watered city squares, and cars obeyed traffic signals along streets where not a single government building was damaged beyond a few broken windows. Although the security forces have disappeared — all 16 branches of them, by some residents’ count — the traffic police still come to work.

“You don’t feel secure unless the security forces are gone,” Abu Muhammad said.

But episodes of lawlessness and vengeance have punctuated the city’s experiment. An informer was hanged from an electricity pylon last month; the bodies of three or four others were thrown into the Orontes River, residents say. A week ago, three Korean-made cars were stolen from a dealership, residents said, and some businessmen have complained about the checkpoints and a two-week strike that shut down Hama. Many frowned upon the dismantling of street lights and other infrastructure to build the barriers.

“There was no destruction with the protests, why does there have to be with the checkpoints?” asked a 40-year-old trader who gave his name as Ahmed. “Without a doubt, people are angry. I am myself. There are thugs out there, without question.”

At least anecdotally, his seemed to be a minority opinion.

Festive Protesters

The scenes on Saturday night were less chaotic than festive, as crowds lined the streets to watch a spontaneous protest celebrating the freedom of the few prisoners released. The demonstrators headed to the governor’s building, which was adorned in a slogan that still said “Assad’s Syria.” Youths jumped in their cars, speeding through pulsating streets, trading rumors and news over cellphones that rang incessantly. They joked with one another at checkpoints.

“Next time I see you, we’ll be playing cards together in jail,” one said.

Around midnight, a protester named Obada joined his friends in what seemed to be a cross between a dorm room and a safe house. The coals for water pipes smoldered in the corner, near computers, headphones, a big-screen television, a scanner, sound-mixing equipment and stacks of compact discs documenting protests, arrests and clashes with the security forces.

Each took a turn to celebrate what their uprising meant.

“There’s no fear,” said Mustafa, 27.

“You can walk in the streets with security,” added his friend, Mahmoud.

“We’ve come closer together,” volunteered Fadi, typing on his computer.

Another friend, Bassem, shook his head. “We’re not free yet,” he said.

Whose Activism in Palestine?

Where are the Palestinians?

Have international solidarity mobilizations drowned out Palestinian voices?

By Mairav Zonszein
The Electronic Intifada
15 July 2011

Tel Aviv - Over the last few weeks, media in this region was filled with images of people from all over the Western world holding up Palestinian flags and chanting “Free Palestine.” We’ve heard from the likes of Americans, like prize-winning author Alice Walker and former CIA official Ray McGovern (both passengers on the US boat to Gaza) about the importance of standing up for Palestinians in Gaza; we’ve heard about hunger strikes by Spanish and American citizens stuck in Greece after their boats were not allowed to sail; and we’ve seen videos of activists landing in Ben Gurion airport, declaring their intention to visit the occupied West Bank, being accosted by an Israeli mob and then detained and deported, all while chanting “Free Palestine.”

All these events have enormous significance as symbolic acts. They demonstrate to the world, through mass-coordinated events, the de facto command Israel has over the entire territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and all its points of access, whether by land, air or sea. They also demonstrate the lengths to which Israel will go to maintain its control and the hysteria it generates on the home front in order to disguise its own political calculations as matters of security.

But amid all the sensational scenes of confrontation between Israeli authorities and Western “pro-Palestinian” activists (including Israelis), what became apparent was that Palestinians themselves could not be seen or heard. Even though the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign was organized by Palestinian civil society organizations that invited foreigners to come, the media spectacle was focused on the Western activists and their confrontation with Israel. The Palestinians were largely unseen.

Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor at Bethlehem University, author of a book on popular resistance, and the international coordinator of the Palestine Justice Network, is one of the leading organizers of the campaign. Why did the mainstream media outlets not interview him about the campaign? The only place one could find his views was here on The Electronic Intifada, an independent news site that focuses on Palestine.

Moving the focus of media spectacles away from Palestinians to Westerners is a smart strategy. Seeing images of people from France, Belgium and the US being detained at Israel’s national airport makes much more of an international media storm than any Palestinian account of suffering, whether it be Jawaher Abu Rahmah dying from tear gas inhalation in Bilin or a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem being shot and killed by a private Israeli security guard in Silwan.

Even tragic stories about Americans in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, like the story of Rachel Corrie (an American activist killed in Gaza in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer whose death seemed to draw little sympathy from many who believe she imprudently entered a war zone), does not get as much media attention and sympathy as seeing Israel in hysterics over middle-aged Europeans wanting to visit Palestinians in the West Bank. Activists know this and are using it to their advantage.

Making the media effort to expose Israel more focused on how its policies affect foreigners, not Palestinians, highlights an increasingly popular trend where images of Westerners getting a taste of what Palestinians suffer by experiencing political discrimination and restriction on freedom of movement are enthusiastically displayed in front of the world’s cameras.

While this approach is clearly effective, as evident from the volume of media invested in the stories and the plethora of images released, it is also reflective of a “colonialist,” patronizing perspective espoused by the media, whereby the subject itself, the Palestinians, are no longer even needed in the story. Instead, it is sufficient for a bunch of unknown Westerners to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in order to make it to the headlines.

Considering how effective a media strategy this is, regardless of what it says about how global media treats the Palestinians, we can expect this trend to only increase and become more popular, as activists continue to seek ways to expose Israeli wrongdoings in the face of immutable policies.

Mairav Zonszein is an Israeli-American independent journalist based in Tel Aviv and writer and editor for

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A History of Shifting Alliances in Libya

Exiled Islamists Watch Rebellion Unfold at Home

By Souad Mekhennet and Eric Schmitt
The New York Times
July 18, 2011

LONDON — Abu Sohaib spends most of his time online these days, following the news from his native Libya. He is in constant contact with friends on the ground there, helping them map out strategy to fight the rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

“I would like to be there myself; I tried to go,” he said, pausing to look at the car keys in front of him. “But Tunisia and Egypt wouldn’t let me in even after their revolution.”

Abu Sohaib, his nom de guerre, is on a watch list for suspected terrorists not only in Libya and its neighboring countries, but also in some European countries. He is a senior commander of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a former militant organization that once was aligned with Al Qaeda. The New York Times is withholding his real name because he said he fears for his safety.

Today, members of the group have renounced Al Qaeda and are part of the mosaic of rebel fighters united under the umbrella of the Transitional National Council, the opposition leadership that the United States formally recognized as Libya’s legitimate government on Friday.

American, European and Arab intelligence services acknowledge that they are worried about the influence that the former group’s members might exert over Libya after Colonel Qaddafi is gone, and they are trying to assess their influence and any lingering links to Al Qaeda.

The group, whose fighters number more than 500 men, including many with combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan, was part of the social fabric of eastern Libya, its leaders say. Its members’ relatives are in Benghazi, the wellhead of opposition to the government in Tripoli. Its fighters opposed Colonel Qaddafi in the 1990s, were captured and died in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli. They hid from Qaddafi security forces in the caves in Darnah until the Libyan revolution. In short, many Libyans say, the men are seen not as an alien, pernicious force but as patriots.

Libyans have held positions in the Qaeda ranks in the past, with the most prominent men being Abu Laith al-Libi and Abu Yahya al-Libi. “It is easy to change a name and say, ‘We are not part of Al Qaeda,’ but the question is if they have changed their ideology and I doubt it,” said a senior Arab intelligence official.

An American intelligence official who follows North Africa said that dozens of the former group’s members trained and fought alongside militants in Pakistan’s lawless tribal region.

Abu Sohaib insists that he and his brethren have severed ties to Al Qaeda and have warned the terrorist group it is not welcome in Libya. “It has been made very clear to them, that it is better for them to stay out of the country,” he said.

Here in London, Abu Sohaib and a dozen or so former commanders make up a rear-guard headquarters of sorts, with some members shuttling between London and Benghazi to strategize and share donations collected from the sizable Libyan expatriate community in Britain. “We are part of the Libyan people and we just want to help our country,” Abu Sohaib said.

The formal American recognition of the rebel leadership allows the rebel government access to $30 billion in Libyan assets held in the United States. Of that, however, only about $3.5 billion is in liquid funds, and the rest in real estate and other Libyan government investments, State Department officials say. It is unclear how and when the money will be distributed to the transitional government, and what oversight mechanism will be placed to monitor it.

In another sign that Colonel Qaddafi’s days in power may be numbered, White House and State Department officials acknowledged on Monday that Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary of state responsible for the Middle East, met with members of the Libyan government on Saturday in Tunis.

“This was not a negotiation,” a State Department official said in an emailed statement. “It was the delivery of a message. The message was simple and unambiguous and the same message we deliver in public: Qaddafi must leave power so that a new political process can begin that reflects the will and aspirations of the Libyan people.”

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was formed in 1995 with the goal of ousting Colonel Qaddafi. Driven into the mountains or exile by Libyan security forces, the group’s members were among the first to join the fight against Qaddafi security forces, although the new transitional leadership has sought to distance itself from the fighters because of their past ties to Al Qaeda. “We wanted to live in a country in which we can live and promote Islam the way it should be,” said Abu Sohaib. “We are sure Islam is good for everyone.”

Abu Sohaib is a soft-spoken man in his mid-40s, well built and well trained, as his biceps show under his checkered chemise. He has lived for many years in Britain; before that he had been to Saudi Arabia and also Afghanistan and Pakistan. “There was a time when the British wanted to hand us over to Muammar el-Qaddafi , though they knew we would be tortured,” he said, staring at his hands.

That distrust of the West still gnaws at other members of the group. A 36-year-old Libyan associated with the fighting group who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Salah and who travels between Europe and Libya said: “We start to question the true intentions of the West in Libya. If they would have wanted to kill Muammar el-Qaddafi, they could have done it several times. I guess this is about making as much money with oil and weapons deals as possible.”

Officially the fighting group does not exist any longer, but the former members are fighting largely under the leadership of Abu Abdullah Sadik, who had been arrested in Bangkok in 2004, interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency and then handed over to the Qaddafi security forces and released this year, security officials believe.

“Isn’t it interesting how they were hunting us for years and were working with Muammar el-Qaddafi?” said Abu Sohaib, referring to the United States, which after Libya disbanded its unconventional weapons program in 2003 worked closely with Libyan authorities to combat terrorism. “Now we are cooperating with NATO and the West, those who used to put us in jail.”

Souad Mekhennet reported from London and Stuttgart, Germany, and Eric Schmitt from Stuttgart. Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington, and Kareem Fahim reporting from Cairo.

Mirror Images in Syria and Exile

Syria: When the Regime Meets its Opponents

By Ibrahim al-Amin
July 18 2011

English translation by Middle East Wire.

Lebanon - How are the Syrian events being covered? This question is not only directed at the official sources that are concerned with relations with the external media. It seems it is now necessary to direct this question at the opposition sources as well. These have started, before even reaching power, to play the role of the guardian following the way of the inquisition tribunals.

Around one month ago, the administration of Al-Akhbar received a verbal resolution to ban it from entering the Syrian lands for good. [The resolution also indicated] that the Syrian government is acting as if Al-Akhbar is not even present on the map of Arab journalism. Two days ago, the same side decided to ban As-Safir newspaper from entering Syria as well…

It is a well-known thing that the traditional administration in Syria adopts special standards in monitoring the incoming media from Lebanon and anywhere else… However, it seems that there is a missing link that makes it hard to talk about a new reality for the official media… Fine: If the general calculations of the regime have led it to this kind of mistake, what is the reason that is pushing the opposition sides… to dare to practice their monitoring all the way to banning and cancelling as well? And how will things be if they [i.e. the opposition sides] reach the decision-making posts in the authority?

Quite unfortunately, a large number of the opposition figures, from within and outside Syria, are carrying choppers rather than pens. Using these choppers, they decide on the nature of this journalist or that, and this newspaper or that. Those they do not like are automatically classified as the followers of the regime and [are accused of] receiving and carrying reports prepared for them in the headquarters of the Syrian intelligence…

The pretext of the regime is that this group of journalists represents the mouthpiece of the conspirers against the unity of the country, or those who are subjected to the authority of the Arab or western powers that oppose Syria… As for those who are in the opposition ranks against the Syrian regime, their pretext is that this group of journalists represents the horn of the regime… As for the objective, it is one:

It is forbidden to mention the killing operations carried out by armed elements affiliated to the regime… And it is also forbidden to mention the crimes of the armed groups that are coming from the same streets as the protestors and that have killed hundreds of the security and military services’ members…

It is forbidden to say that the popular movement in Syria is mostly not subjected to the power of the people conspiring against Syria… And it is forbidden to tackle the American, French and Saudi role in igniting the internal tensions and in pushing the country towards civil war or strife…

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quarantining Muslims in America

My friend just called my attention to this excellent article recently published in New York Magazine about the Communication Management Unit (CMU) in Terre Haute, Indiana and the tragic case of Albany, New York imam Yassin Aref, a Kurdish-American who was the subject of a ridiculous FBI sting operation that has subsequently destroyed his life as well as his family's. I have long been familiar with his case and am proud to say that there are many local activists working tirelessly on behalf of imam Aref and his family. The article also cites another less publicized CMU inmate who "was locked up, in part, for violating U.S. sanctions by donating to a charity abroad without a license." That man is Dr. Rafil Dhafir, an Iraqi-American doctor from Central New York who was wrongly accused of terrorism by public officials—including former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former New York Governor George Pataki—as well as the media shortly after 9/11, despite never being charged or found guilty of anything related to terrorism. Indeed Dr. Dhafir's crime was violating the sanctions against Iraq when he sent money, food and medical supplies to alleviate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis, hundreds of thousands of whom died under the more than one decade long sanctions regime. Cases of injustices against Muslim Americans are everywhere in American these days. Some cases may generate more publicity than others, but they are all similarly egregious.

'Little Gitmo'

When an upstate imam named Yassin Aref was convicted on a suspect terrorism charge, he was sent to a secretive prison denounced by civil libertarians as a Muslim quarantine.

By Christopher S. Stewart
New York Magazine
July 10, 2011

On August 4, 2004, Yassin Aref was walking along West Street in a run-down part of downtown Albany. It was about 11 p.m., and he had just finished delivering evening prayer at the storefront mosque around the corner, where he had been the imam for nearly four years. Caught up in his thoughts, he might not have noticed the car parked across from his two-story building if a man hadn’t called out his name.

Aref instantly recognized the FBI agents inside the darkened vehicle. They had been monitoring him for years now, maybe longer. Sometimes they stopped and asked questions about his views on Saddam Hussein or the mosque. As part of Bush’s war on terror, the FBI had been talking to other Muslims in Albany, too. When Aref climbed into the back seat, he figured that the agents simply wanted to talk some more. Instead, they told him he was under arrest.

It took a long time for this to settle in. Aref was silent as they drove to FBI headquarters, a fortlike concrete-and-glass building on the south side of town. The agency has spoken only vaguely about what happened when they questioned him, and there are no recordings, though Aref would later describe the time as the “hardest, darkest, and longest night of my life”—scarier, he said recently, than the hardships he and his wife suffered as Kurds in ­Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

His hands and feet were chained. One of the agents spoke some Kurdish. Aref heard questions about terrorism, money laundering, a missile launcher. He refused a lawyer, believing that he had nothing to hide. “It is against my religion to lie,” he told them. The interrogation lasted much of the night. He says he never heard specific charges. At some point they told him his house and mosque were being raided, and all he could think about was his wife and three children, who had arrived in Albany with him as U.N. refugees in 1999.

When morning broke, he was loaded into another car, bleary-eyed and weakened, and taken to the federal courthouse. As the vehicle moved through the streets, Aref was astonished by the sudden commotion. Helicopters swarmed overhead. There were scores of local and national news reporters, cameras angling to get his picture. He saw snipers.

During his three-week trial in 2006, he learned that he was the target of a controversial FBI sting, which involved a Pakistani informant with a history of crime. In the end, he was convicted of, among other things, conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organization and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He spent weeks in solitary confinement, days shackled in different vehicles, which shuffled him from prison to prison. Time coalesced, became unrecognizable, until, in the spring of 2007, Aref landed at a newly created prison unit in Terre Haute, Indiana, that would change his life again. It already had a nickname: Little Gitmo.

Aref didn’t know anything about Little Gitmo, or a Communication Management Unit (CMU), as it’s formally called. Once a death-row facility where Timothy McVeigh was executed, the Terre Haute CMU was quietly opened by the Bush administration in December 2006 to contain inmates with links, in particular, to ­“terrorist-related activity.” A year later, another unit opened in Marion, Illinois.

Although inmates and guards refer to CMUs as Little Gitmos, the comparison to Guantánamo is imprecise: The units are not detention centers, and the inmates inside have already been convicted of crimes in the U.S. legal system. But what differentiates CMUs from all other facilities in the U.S. are the prisoners. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) estimates that 66 to 72 percent of them are Muslims, a staggering number considering that Muslims represent only 6 percent of the entire federal-prison population.

As of June, there are 82 men in the two CMUs, according to federal-prison officials, including a man convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the American Taliban John Walker Lindh, and the lone survivor of an EgyptAir hijacking in 1985. All inmates are kept under 24-hour surveillance in near-complete isolation. “If the government has intelligence that links you to terrorist activity, then that’s something that the prison authority should be able to take into account,” says Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, in defense of the measures. “We give them an array of privileges that most other places in the world are shocked by.”

Legal activists agree that restrictive rules can be applied to high-security prisoners, but many in the CMUs, they say, are low-security inmates. One Muslim man was placed in a CMU for perjury, while another was locked up, in part, for violating U.S. sanctions by donating to a charity abroad without a license. According to CCR, many don’t fully know why they ended up in the segregated units or how they might appeal their placement. In the words of Kathy Manley, one of Aref’s defense attorneys, the CMUs are a “quarantine,” and Alexis Agathocleous, a lawyer at CCR, calls them “an experiment in social isolation.” “There is this story being told in this country now about the threat of homegrown terror and of radicalization related to Muslim prisoners, and the CMU is a story about law enforcement controlling that dangerous threat,” says Rachel Meeropol, a lawyer at CCR. “An allegation that someone is somehow connected to terrorism, without evidence and without an actual conviction [for terrorism], allows them to be treated in this whole different system of justice.”

To gather intelligence from CMU inmates, correspondence is combed through by a counterterrorism unit in West ­Virginia. Regular group prayer is prohibited, and communications must be in English unless there’s a live translator. Phone calls are limited to two fifteen-minute conversations a week (most maximum-­security prisoners get 300 minutes a month). Immediate families of CMU inmates can visit only twice a month for a total of eight hours (general-population prisoners at Terre Haute get up to 49 hours of visits a month), and those conversations are monitored, recorded, and conducted through Plexiglas. Physical contact is forbidden, a permanent ban not imposed on most violent felons in maximum-security prisons.

As a result, critics say, those familiar markers—family, language, and religious identity—are being stripped away. “This is more than just being cut off from the world,” says Nina Thomas, a psychologist-psychoanalyst at NYU who has studied the CMUs. “Inmates are being shut into a very narrow universe.”

While the stated purpose of the CMUs, according to prisons spokesperson Traci Billingsley, is to “protect the public,” Meeropol thinks that they “spread fear.” Shamshad Ahmad, a physics lecturer at the University of Albany and president of Aref’s mosque, says that CMUs “send a message that the whole justice system [is] geared to take revenge of the events of 9/11 on anyone belonging to the Muslim community”—a message that, essentially, any Muslim could become Aref.

And especially because Aref’s conviction is itself a matter of controversy, CCR has chosen the imam to become its lead plaintiff in a case against the CMUs, one of the major lawsuits, including the ACLU’s in Indiana, meant to challenge the units and change the way they operate. Along with five other plaintiffs, Aref now sits at the center of a civil-­liberties battle against the prison system. To a growing number of supporters in Albany—who have rallied to get him out; have published his pre-CMU memoir, Son of ­Mountains; have raised money for his family—he is a symbol of the inequities Muslims still endure as collateral damage in the war on terror.

Aref was born in a mountain village in northern Iraq, where he lived through Saddam’s genocide on the Kurds and met his wife, Zuhur. They fled to Syria, where he finished his religious studies, worked at the office of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK), and had three kids. Under a U.N. asylum program, the family learned in 1999 that they were going to Albany, a place the 29-year-old Aref had never heard of.

Although he couldn’t speak or understand much English, he managed to support his family as a hospital janitor for more than a year before he became the imam of ­Masjid As-Salam, the city’s only mosque. During his four years as imam, Aref regularly discussed his anti–Iraq War sentiments and grew to represent the spiritual voice of many Albany Muslims. “People hesitated to criticize the government publicly,” says ­Ahmad. “But he didn’t.”

It is believed that the FBI decided to target Aref in the summer of 2003, after the American military stormed an armed camp in Iraq and discovered a notebook with his name and number in it, along with the word kak, which the FBI translated as “commander” (the prosecution would later admit that the term actually translates to “mister”). The camp was alleged to be affiliated with Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist organization founded by Mullah Krekar, who was once a member of the IMK, where he had met Aref. Aref’s backers argue that the camp was filled with refugees and that the notebook could have belonged to anyone. Aref claims that he met Krekar only in passing and that he left for Albany long before the mullah founded Ansar al-Islam.

That Aref had a past connection to Krekar was perhaps enough to attract the FBI’s attention, though likely not enough to mount a legal case against him. So, working with expanded surveillance powers, the FBI went about setting up an operation.

Since 9/11, the FBI had begun relying more heavily on informants, under a controversial policy of preemptive prosecution—taking down those thought to possibly become terrorists in the future. It has resulted in the conviction of more than 200 individuals, including four Muslims in Newburgh convicted of plotting to bomb two Bronx synagogues; a 19-year-old Somali charged with attempting to blow up a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon; and a man caught plotting an attack on Herald Square. “These types of operations have proven to be an essential law-enforcement tool in uncovering and preventing potential terror attacks,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a dinner this winter in defense of the tactics.

Critics, however, point out that in many operations, it’s difficult to determine whether anyone is truly culpable—or inherently dangerous. And intentionally or not, it’s very easy to round up Muslims. “There is a massive ideological, military, and intelligence infrastructure committed to the domestic and international wars on terror. These wars depend on maintaining Muslims as the primary threat to national security,” says Amna Akbar, a senior ­research scholar at NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. “The U.S. government seems to rely on widespread use of informants… sending them into mosques and other community spaces without any concrete suspicion of criminal activity.”

In order to pursue Aref, the FBI employed a Pakistani informant named ­Shahed Hussain, known as Malik, the same informant later used in the Newburgh trial and a man once described by the defense in that case as “an agent provocateur who earned his keep by scouring mosques for easy targets.” Malik had made a deal to avoid years in jail and deportation for helping people cheat on driver’s-license exams. He was also arrested in Pakistan on a murder charge. The operation, scripted by the FBI, started with Mohammed Hossain, a Bangladeshi immigrant who owned a local pizzeria and helped found Aref’s mosque.

Over several months, Malik moved into Hossain’s life, bringing his kids toys and expressing interest in religion. Malik, who claimed to be working for the Islamic terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, or JeM, eventually said he was buying a shoulder-firing missile launcher to kill then–Pakistani president Pervez Mushar­raf during a visit in New York City. To complete the purchase, he needed Hossain to launder $50,000 for him. In return, Hossain, whose business was on the skids, would earn $5,000.

Hossain then asked Aref to be the witness to the loan, a tradition in Islamic culture (as the only imam in Albany, Aref had notarized many loans). There were additional months of transactions where Aref documented Hossain’s loan payments to ­Malik. During those months, Malik would occasionally mention the missile, using the code word chaudry. The government argued that this was evidence that Aref knew about Malik’s terrorist connection, and the jury agreed. Aref was charged with ten of the 30 total counts, and the jury found him guilty of money laundering and supporting a known terrorist organization. “Did [Aref] actually engage in terrorist acts?” William Pericek, assistant U.S. Attorney, asked during a post-sentencing press conference. “Well, we didn’t have the evidence of that. But he had the ideology.”

To outside observers of the case, the details that emerged during the trial were troubling. The FBI testified that Aref knew the code word, linking him to the conspiracy, but according to recorded conversations, there was no evidence that either Malik or Hossain informed him of the term. And though Malik had shown a fake missile to Hossain, the FBI decided against showing it to Aref because they worried that he would be “spooked.”

The case, observers noted, ultimately lacked definitive evidence that Aref knew the true nature of the transaction, and the jury was directed to ignore the motives of the FBI’s investigation. As Judge ­Thomas J. McAvoy instructed them, “The FBI had certain suspicions, good and valid suspicions for looking into Mr. Aref, but why they did that is not to be any concern of yours.”

“I’m not only surprised that the jury convicted him, but I’m sure the judge was surprised too,” says Stephen Gottlieb, a professor at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. “They basically turned two decent men into criminals.”

Manley believes he lost on emotional grounds. “I think the fear got to [the jury]. They ended up convicting him out of fear that he might be some kind of shadowy bad guy.” Steve Downs, another member of Aref’s legal team, attributes it to what he calls “the Muslim exception.” The emotion and politics of 9/11 had, they argue, altered the threshold for what constituted reasonable doubt.

In the years since Aref’s trial, critics have identified a pattern. “A whole range of policing, prosecution, and incarceration policies seem to take as a starting point that Muslims pose a particularly uncontainable threat meriting extreme and exceptional treatment by the government,” says Akbar. “Because national security has become an area in which the government is granted an extraordinary amount of deference, these policies are often allowed to stand without much scrutiny.”

After the jury reached a verdict, two local papers published editorials asking for leniency. The editors at the Albany Times Union called the case “unsettling,” with no clear answer to why the men were targeted, and wondered what lives Hossain and Aref would have “continued to lead if they had never been lured into a sting operation.”

The judge sentenced Aref to fifteen years and recommended a local federal prison. Instead, he was sent to the CMU, with little explanation, no hearing, and no obvious way to appeal.

The first time Aref wrote to me, in a heavily monitored e-mail exchange, he said, “I am not spending my time, time is spending me. My family’s situation is driving me insane and eating my patience.” His world was falling apart at the CMU. “It’s really hard for me to talk about what happened,” he wrote.

When Aref was sent to the Terre Haute CMU in May 2007, he was 37 years old. “I arrived to find a small Middle Eastern community,” he said. There were about twenty others inside. The idea of being called a terrorist sickened Aref. Every day he wondered why he was there, and he hoped someone would eventually realize that a mistake had been made. “I don’t understand how the jury found me guilty,” he wrote at one point.

His cell unlocked at 6 a.m., and he could circulate through the small unit comprising a few dozen cells and a common room. At 9 p.m., he’d be locked in for the night. On occasion, he heard screaming, and one day he saw a grown man drop to the floor and begin uncontrollably shaking and sobbing. When Aref asked a nurse later what had happened, she told him, “It’s all fear and stress.”

A peculiar loneliness consumed him. As an imam, Aref was naturally social. He helped solve people’s problems and guide them through their tangled lives. But at Terre Haute, he became reticent, curled inside himself. It was hard to know whom to trust. The FBI was sending agents to the unit to ask questions, and new inmates came every few weeks or so.

All along, he felt his family drifting away. That one fifteen-minute phone call a week (a second call per week was added in January 2010) was never enough. What could you really say in fifteen minutes divided up among at least four people? He tried to be upbeat, avoiding talk of the CMU. With the kids, he spoke about school, a kind of dinner talk. When his wife got on, the reality of their separation was oppressive.

Zuhur “almost lost her mind,” as Aref put it. The case had turned her upside down. Worried about wiretaps, she had disconnected the Internet, TV, and phone. She didn’t have a job and relied on friends and the mosque to pay her rent and buy food. She rarely interacted with strangers, afraid that they might be informants setting her up.

Talking to Aref was a project that required a friend to lend a cell phone to the family on the days he called. And when he spoke to Zuhur, she mostly cried. In the four years that he has been at the CMU, she has cried during every single call.

One of the hardest things was thinking about his young daughter, Dilnia. She was born while Aref was in jail. All he was to her was an abstract concept. “Whenever anyone asks her, ‘Where is your daddy?’ she will point or run to the phone and say, ‘That is my daddy,’ ” Aref said.

His two boys visited that first summer. With surveillance cameras zeroing in on them, it was difficult to be intimate. Salah was 10, Azzam 7. As Aref spoke through the Plexiglas, every word, every gesture was being mined for information.

His demeanor changed dramatically when his boys stepped away and Downs stepped in. Downs had made the two-day car trip with the kids from Albany. “They abuse me,” Aref said. When Downs asked him to explain, Aref wouldn’t. Then suddenly the meeting was terminated. According to Downs, a guard falsely claimed that he was using a pen “as a secret recording device.”

“I’m convinced that they understood I was trying to get info about the CMU,” Downs says. “And they did what [the CMU] was set up to do—prevent information [about the CMU] from getting out.”

The entire family arrived in a minivan the next summer, in 2008. It had been roughly four years since they’d all been together. But seeing his 2-year-old girl on the other side of the glass gave Aref tremendous pain. She didn’t recognize him.

The family spent a total of four hours together, and all seemed well until Zuhur suddenly snapped. In front of the kids, she made an announcement: She wanted to go back to Kurdistan. She felt her safety was at risk in America, even more than in the region from which she had fled.

Aref didn’t want to argue. A part of him understood. “I am not dead in order for them to forget me,” he said to me, “and not really alive to benefit them.” That was the last time he saw his family. They didn’t visit again. Zuhur wouldn’t let them.

On March 27, 2009, at about 4 a.m., a guard entered Aref’s cell and told him to pack. He was being transferred to the second CMU, at the state penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, which had opened a year before. Until recently, Marion had been one of the nation’s only supermax facilities, replacing Alcatraz in 1963.

The move came at a particularly fraught moment for the CMUs. When President Obama came into office in 2009, many hoped the units would be shut down. The Bureau of Prisons wouldn’t say if the new administration had reviewed the units, but they remained open, and their expansion soon inspired a fierce legal battle. In the summer of 2009, the ACLU’s National Prison project filed a lawsuit on behalf of an inmate that disputed the legality of the creation of the units, among other things. Soon after, the ACLU of Indiana filed another lawsuit, about the restrictions on Muslim prayer.

In the meantime, “balancers,” as CMU guards call them, were reportedly blended into the population—environmental activists, sexual predators, bank robbers, people who, prison officials claimed, “recruit and radicalize”—in order to address the criticism that CMUs were housing only Muslims. The Bureau of Prisons says it doesn’t use race or religion to decide placement, and it rejects claims of adding balancers, though Muslim inmates continue to be in the majority.

In April 2010, CCR, with Aref, filed its suit, challenging the constitutionality of the place: the harsh restrictions on phone calls and visits, the ban on physical contact, the alleged absence of due process, and cited growing evidence suggesting that prisoners were being targeted for their religious and political beliefs.

To CCR, Aref’s case was especially ­poignant. “Aref came to the United States as a refugee and was then subject to a dubious conviction,” says Agathocleous. “Despite the fact that he engaged in no violence, that the prosecution acknowledged at trial that it was not seeking to prove he was a terrorist, and that his conduct in prison was spotless, he has been subject to these incredibly restrictive conditions at the CMU… It just doesn’t make any sense.”

In Marion, Aref’s single cell was just as small as the former one, and his family was just as far away. But something had changed. He began to dread the phone calls with his family. “For many prisoners, the phone call is a big relief, and they get strength from it,” he said. “But each time I call and hear my wife crying and I learn what my children are going through, it stresses my mind.”

After a motion for a new trial was dismissed and the appeal to his original case was rejected, a part of him became resigned to the situation, friends say.

Then on April 13, I received a surprise e-mail from Aref. “How are you doing?” he asked. And then he told me the news. “For real, I am no longer in CMU!”

“My father is a very religious man,” Aref’s 15-year old daughter, Alaa, says one recent summer night. “He has a beard and wears Arab clothes and has an accent. But when you talk to him”—she pauses as if conjuring her father—“you know he’s not a terrorist.” She has trouble saying this word. Terrorist. It doesn’t sound right in her mouth. And she tries it another way. “Baba didn’t hate anyone.”

On this June night, Aref’s four kids sit barefooted on the carpet of a classroom on the second floor of the Central Avenue mosque in Albany, where their father was once the imam. Some of the doors are still broken from the FBI raid almost eight years ago.

The two boys, Salah, 14, and Azzam, 11, sit on either side of Alaa. Dilnia, who is now 5, sits off to the side, reading a book with a family friend. Zuhur stayed home. “She sometimes is depressed and doesn’t go out,” Alaa says.

Friends of the family say that Zuhur still talks about returning to Iraq, though she doesn’t have the money for a plane ticket or travel documents. Her crying hasn’t abated. When she does leave the house, she occasionally visits Aref’s lawyers and asks, “What did Yassin do wrong?” or “When is he coming home?”

Since being placed in a general-­population prison, Aref remains cautious. Without much explanation, he was moved out of the CMU, where he had been separated from the world for four years, and he could just as easily be moved back, like officials had done recently to an environmental activist named Daniel ­McGowan. Aref’s lawyer speculates that my requests to visit Aref in a CMU and the CCR lawsuit had placed pressure on prison officials, which might have had something to do with his sudden transfer out. (It’s a tactic that’s worked for CMUs in the past. With one of the ACLU lawsuits, a plaintiff was moved from a unit to a general-population prison and the case was dismissed.)

Last April, four years after the first CMU opened and days following CCR’s suit, the Bureau of Prisons began a public discussion of the units, a move, advocacy groups say, the prison system was legally obligated to make before the CMUs ever opened. Many of the comments that flooded in focused on the lack of meaningful appeal—that inmates are stuck in the units—and in particular, how the units were ruining the men and their families.

Once Aref entered the general-population prison, he assumed that things would get better—that he would be able to embrace his wife and hug his kids, and that he might even be transferred again to a prison closer to home.

But so far, none of that has changed.

The FBI investigation and the CMUs have so alienated his family, especially Zuhur, who has still not visited her husband since his transfer. She hasn’t allowed the kids to go, either—though supporters are working to set up a trip for this summer.

None of Aref’s kids know exactly why their father is in jail.

Azzam, playing with the yellow gum in his mouth, says, “Money laundering or something, right?”

“It was an FBI sting,” Alaa says. “They kind of set him up for missiles or something.”

Salah, who looks most like his father in his long white shirt, nods.

“I miss him,” Alaa says. Turning to Steve Downs, who has been sitting quietly against the wall, she asks, “When my father gets out, they can deport him right away?”

Downs nods. Aref will be deported the day he is released from prison. Among them, Dilnia is the only American citizen, which means that all the others could be deported on that day too, or shortly after. Zuhur was recently denied citizenship.

Alaa will turn 18 before her father is released, and she could apply for citizenship. If it’s granted, she could become the guardian of the others.

I ask whether what’s been done to their father makes them angry. The boys are silent. “I’m upset,” Alaa says. “But my dad taught us never to hate.”