Thursday, March 31, 2011

Libyan rebel leader spent much of past 20 years in suburban Virginia

WASHINGTON - The new leader of Libya's opposition military spent the past two decades in suburban Virginia but felt compelled — even in his late-60s — to return to the battlefield in his homeland, according to people who know him.

Khalifa Hifter was once a top military officer for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, but after a disastrous military adventure in Chad in the late 1980s, Hifter switched to the anti-Gadhafi opposition. In the early 1990s, he moved to suburban Virginia, where he established a life but maintained ties to anti-Gadhafi groups.

Late last week, Hifter was appointed to lead the rebel army, which has been in chaos for weeks. He is the third such leader in less than a month, and rebels interviewed in Libya openly voiced distrust for the most recent leader, Abdel Fatah Younes, who had been at Gadhafi's side until just a month ago.

At a news conference Thursday, the rebel's military spokesman said Younes will stay as Hifter's chief of staff, and added that the army — such as it is — would need "weeks" of training.

According to Abdel Salam Badr of Richmond, Va., who said he has known Hifter all his life — including back in Libya — Hifter -- whose name is sometimes spelled Haftar, Hefter or Huftur -- was motivated by his intense anti-Gadhafi feelings.

"Libyans — every single one of them — they hate that guy so much they will do whatever it takes," Badr said in an interview Saturday. "Khalifa has a personal grudge against Gadhafi... That was his purpose in life."

According to Badr and another friend in the U.S., a Georgia-based Libyan activist named Salem alHasi, Hifter left for Libya two weeks ago.

alHasi, who said Hifter was once his superior in the opposition's military wing, said he and Hifter talked in mid-February about the possibility that Gadhafi would use force on protesters.

"He made the decision he had to go inside Libya," alHasi said Saturday. "With his military experience, and with his strong relationship with officers on many levels of rank, he decided to go and see the possibility of participating in the military effort against Gadhafi."

He added that Hifter is very popular among members of the Libyan army, "and he is the most experienced person in the whole Libyan army." He acted out of a sense of "national responsibility," alHasi said.

"This responsibility no one can take care of but him," alHasi said. "I know very well that the Libyan army especially in the eastern part is in desperate need of his presence."

Omar Elkeddi, a Libyan expatriate journalist based in Holland, said in an interview that the opposition forces are getting more organized than they were at the beginning up the uprising. Hifter, he said, is "very professional, very distinguished," and commands great respect.

Since coming to the United States in the early 1990s, Hifter lived in suburban Virginia outside Washington, D.C. Badr said he was unsure exactly what Hifter did to support himself, and that Hifter primarily focused on helping his large family.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Libya: Barack Obama 'signed secret order allowing covert operations'

Mr Obama reportedly signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, four US government sources told Reuters.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorise secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA and the White House declined immediate comment.

The New York Times reported that the CIA has had clandestine operatives who have been gathering intelligence for air strikes and making contact with the rebels for several weeks.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, declined to confirm or deny the report, citing "common practice" not to comment on intelligence matters.

News that Mr Obama had given the authorisation surfaced as the President and other US and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

In interviews with American TV networks on Tuesday, Mr Obama said the objective was for Gaddafi to "ultimately step down" from power. He spoke of applying "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means" to force Gaddafi out.

Mr Obama said the US had not ruled out providing military hardware to rebels. "It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point," the President said.

US officials monitoring events in Libya say that at present, neither Gaddafi's forces nor the rebels, who have asked the West for heavy weapons, appear able to make decisive gains.

While US and allied air strikes have seriously damaged Gaddafi's military forces and disrupted his chain of command, officials say, rebel forces remain disorganised and unable to take full advantage of western military support.

People familiar with US intelligence procedures said that Presidential covert action "findings" are normally crafted to provide broad authorisation for a range of potential US government actions to support a particular covert objective.

In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorisation – for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces – the White House also would have to give additional "permission" allowing such activities to proceed.

Former officials say these follow-up authorisations are known in the intelligence world as "'Mother may I' findings."

In 2009 Mr Obama gave a similar authorisation for the expansion of covert US counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen. The White House does not normally confirm such orders have been issued.

Because US and allied intelligence agencies still have many questions about the identities and leadership of anti-Gaddafi forces, any covert US activities are likely to proceed cautiously until more information about the rebels can be collected and analysed, officials said.

According to an article speculating on possible US covert actions in Libya published early in March on the website of the Voice of America, the US government's broadcasting service, a covert action is "any US government effort to change the economic, military, or political situation overseas in a hidden way."

The article, by VOA intelligence correspondent Gary Thomas, said covert action "can encompass many things, including propaganda, covert funding, electoral manipulation, arming and training insurgents, and even encouraging a coup."

Members of Congress have expressed anxiety about U.S. government activities in Libya. Some have recalled that weapons provided by the US and Saudis to mujahideen fighting Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s later ended up in the hands of anti-American militants.

There are fears that the same thing could happen in Libya unless the US is sure who it is dealing with. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said on Wednesday he opposed supplying arms to the Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi "at this time."

"We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them," Mr Rogers said in a statement.


He better have.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ABC News Exclusive: Sen. Marco Rubio's First National Television Interview

Few new senators arrived in Washington this year with more fanfare than Marco Rubio, R-Fla. But he has kept a decidedly low profile since winning election in November, concentrating on Florida issues and turning down all national interview requests. That is, until now.

In a wide-ranging interview -- his first national interview since being elected -- Rubio discussed the military campaign in Libya, President Obama's leadership, the so-called birther movement and his political plans for 2012 and beyond.
ABC News spent several days with Rubio in Washington and Florida, getting exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to a 39-year-old Republican whom many conservatives would like to see run for president.

After persistent questioning, Rubio ruled ruled out a run for president; at least in 2012.

"I am not running for president in 2012," Rubio told me.

You can watch the full exchange HERE.

Rubio, however, was less definitive in his response to media speculation that he is the odds-on choice to be the GOP vice presidential nominee.

To hear what Rubio had to say about that and see the rest of my interview with the senator, be sure to tune into "Nightline" tonight and to "Good Morning America" on Wednesday when George Stephanopoulos will have the first live national television interview with Senator Rubio.


And thats what we are likely to get.

New Black Panther Leader Delivers N-Word-Laced Rant Against Obama

"When you’ve lost the hate-spewing loons, you’ve lost the black vote. Or certainly some of it.

That’s one possible reading the president might take away from the latest rant by Malik Zulu Shabazz, National Chairman of the New Black Panther and personal friend and admirer of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

In the accompanying audio clip, Shabazz tears into the president for going after Muammar Gaddafi, whom Shabazz evidently feels solidarity with because of his African roots. Never mind that Obama seemed clear, at least when asked over the weekend, that he is not seeking to depose Gaddafi. (We will presumably know better tonight, after the president speaks to the nation about his administration’s stated objectives in Libya, whether he is or isn’t.) Never mind either that Gaddafi has been equally clear that he considers blacks inferior creatures and that sub-Saharan Africa is “too black” for his tastes."

Hot Air

Calling BULLSHIT on Rolling Stone

"Seldom do I waste time with rebutting articles, and especially not from publications like Rolling Stone. Today, numerous people sent links to the latest Rolling Stone tripe. The story is titled “THE KILL TEAM, THE FULL STORY.” It should be titled: “BULLSHIT, from Rolling Stone.”

The story—not really an “article”—covers Soldiers from 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT) in Afghanistan. A handful of Soldiers were accused of murder. It does in fact appear that a tiny group of rogues committed premeditated murder. I was embedded with the 5/2 SBCT and was afforded incredible access to the brigade by the Commander, Colonel Harry Tunnell, and the brigade Command Sergeant Major, Robb Prosser. I know Robb from Iraq. Colonel Tunnell had been shot in Iraq."
Michael Yon

Opec set for $1,000bn in export revenues

Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, will reap $1,000bn in export revenues this year for the first time if crude prices remain above $100 a barrel, according to the International Energy Agency.

The cartel has been one of the main beneficiaries of high oil prices, which have soared in recent weeks amid the civil uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa.

Brent crude was trading at $115 a barrel on Tuesday.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, said a new assessment by the rich nations’ oil watchdog showed that the total number of barrels exported by Opec in 2011 would be slightly lower than in 2008, when cartel oil revenues reached $990bn. But if average prices remain around $100 a barrel, Opec’s oil revenues will still reach a record of $1,000bn this year.

“It would be the first time in the history of Opec that oil revenues have reached a trillion dollars. It’s mainly because of higher prices and higher production,” Mr Birol said in a Financial Times interview. “However, Saudi Arabia has made substantial efforts to calm down the oil markets by increasing production and hinder prices from going higher.”

The estimate, based on total Opec production including natural gas liquids, does not take inflation into account. “Depending on your choice of specific inflation adjustment, the 2008 number may be slightly higher [in real terms],” Mr Birol said.

Many of Opec’s biggest producers are using the price gains to increase public spending, partly to guard against popular unrest. Saudi Arabia announced a multiyear spending package of $129bn and is expected to spend about $35bn in 2011.

This largesse means the country now needs an oil price of $83 per barrel in order to balance its national budget this year. “The more they earn, the more they tend to spend. So the oil price they need is ratcheted up,” said Leonidas Drollas, chief economist at the Centre for Global Energy Studies in London.

Brad Bourland, chief economist at Jadwa, an investment house in Riyadh, predicted in a note to clients that “unless the [Saudi] government takes measures to reduce spending . . . we assume this breakeven price will rise in subsequent years”.

Another beneficiary from high oil prices is Russia. Mr Birol noted that if oil prices remain at an average of $100 a barrel, Moscow’s oil and gas revenues could increase by about $100bn to $350bn – equivalent to 21 per cent of Russia’s GDP.

High oil prices have “started to hurt the global economy”, Mr Birol said, adding that he is “very worried for OECD countries, especially Europe”.

The IEA is also concerned about the impact the current unrest is having on oil-sector investment in the Middle East and north Africa, which it expects to contribute about 90 per cent of production growth over the next 10 years.

“For this to happen, we need to invest now but I see the current geopolitical situation as a major handicap for making the right amount of investments,” Mr Birol said.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Libyan rebels bear down on Gadhafi's hometown

BIN JAWWAD, Libya (AP) - Rebel forces bore down Monday on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a key government stronghold where a brigade headed by one of the Libyan leader's sons was digging in to defend the city and setting the stage for a bloody and possibly decisive battle.

The opposition made new headway in its rapid advance westward through oil towns and along stretches of empty desert highway toward Sirte and beyond to the big prize - the capital, Tripoli.

But the rebels remain woefully outgunned by Gadhafi's forces, who swept the insurgents from positions in eastern Libya until the international intervention forced government troops to withdraw.

Rebels acknowledged they could not have held their ground without international air and cruise missile strikes. Libya state television reported new NATO airstrikes after nightfall, targeting "military and civilian targets" in the cities of Garyan and Mizda about 40 miles and 90 miles respectively from Tripoli.

Speaking in Washington, President Barack Obama declared that the goal of the mission was not to depose Gadhafi, calling that a mistake. He said he would work to replace Gadhafi by "non-military means." He did not elaborate.

Instead, he said, The U.S and its allies moved fast to protect Libya's civilians from imminent massacres by Gadhafi's forces, "and as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

NATO insisted that it was seeking only to protect civilians and not to give air cover to an opposition march. But that line looked set to become even more blurred. The airstrikes now are clearly enabling rebels bent on overthrowing Gadhafi to push toward the final line of defense on the road to the capital.

Vice Adm. William Gortney, staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. was hitting Libyan targets with Thunderbolts and AC-130 gunships, aircraft that can fly low enough to support ground operations.

There was growing criticism from Russia and other countries that the international air campaign is overstepping the bounds of the U.N. resolution that authorized it. The complaints came at a critical transition in the campaign from a U.S. to a NATO command. That threatens to hamper the operation, as some of the 28 NATO member nations plan to limit their participation to air patrols, rather than attacks on ground targets.

On Monday, rebel fighters moved about 70 miles (110 kilometers) west Monday from the coastal oil terminal and town of Ras Lanouf to just beyond the small town of Bin Jawwad, where their push was halted by government fire along the exposed desert highway and the heavily mined entrance to Sirte.

The rebels are currently just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Sirte, the bastion of Gadhafi's power in the center of the country.

Take control of that, and there's only the largely rebel-held city of Misrata - and then empty desert - in the way of the capital. Sirte could therefore see some of the fiercest fighting of the rebellion, which began on Feb. 15.

"Gadhafi is not going to give up Sirte easily because straightaway after Sirte is Misrata, and after that it's straight to Gadhafi's house," said Gamal Mughrabi, a 46-year-old rebel fighter. "So Sirte is the last line of defense."

He said there are both anti- and pro-Gadhafi forces inside Sirte.

Some residents were fleeing Sirte, as soldiers from a brigade commanded by Gadhafi's son al-Saadi and allied militiamen streamed to positions on the city's outskirts to defend it, witnesses said. Sirte was hit by airstrikes Sunday night and Monday morning, witnesses said, but they did not know what was targeted.

The city is dominated by members of the Libyan leader's Gadhadhfa tribe. But many in another large Sirte tribe - the Firjan - are believed to resent his rule, and rebels are hoping to encourage them and other tribes there to help them.

"There's Gadhafi and then there's circles around him of supporters. Each circle is slowly peeling off and disappearing," said Gen. Hamdi Hassi, a rebel commander speaking at the small town of Bin Jawwad, just 18 miles (30 kilometers) from the front. "If they rise up, it would make our job easier."

Sirte, which houses a significant air and military base, is crucial both for its strategic position and its symbolic value. Over the years, Gadhafi has made it effectively Libya's second capital, building up what had been a quiet agricultural community into a city of 150,000 with lavish conference halls where Arab and African summits were held.

Fighting in such a densely populated area is likely to complicate the rebels' advance and add to the ambiguity of the NATO-led campaign, authorized by a Security Council resolution to take all necessary measures to protect civilians.

In Russia, which abstained from the U.N. vote, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said strikes on Gadhafi's forces would amount to taking sides in what he called Libya's civil war, and thus would breach the mandate that was initially envisaged as establishing a no-fly zone only to protect civilians.

But the inclusion of language allowing "all necessary means" opened the door to airstrikes and ship-fired cruise missile attacks on Gadhafi's forces to stop attacks on cities and cut supply lines.

And Pentagon officials are looking at plans to expand the firepower and airborne surveillance systems, including using the Air Force's AC-130 gunship armed with cannons that shoot from the side doors, as well as helicopters and drones. That weaponry might allow for more precision in urban fighting, while drawing forces closer to the combat.

NATO's commander for the operation, Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard of Canada, insisted his mission was clear, saying every decision was designed to prevent attacks on civilians. "Our goal is to protect and help the civilians and population centers under the threat of attack," he said.

Britain and France, which has been the most vocal supporter of the rebellion and is the only Western nation to officially recognize its political leaders, added their voices to those appeals.

In a joint statement, British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Gadhafi loyalists should abandon the dictator and side with those seeking his ouster.

"We call on all his followers to leave him before it is too late," the two leaders said. "We call on all Libyans who believe that Gadhafi is leading Libya into a disaster to take the initiative now to organize a transition process."

The Gulf nation of Qatar on Monday recognized Libya's rebels as the legitimate representatives of the country - the first Arab state to do so. Qatar is also one of only two Arab states - the other is the United Arab Emirates - that is contributing fighter planes to the air mission.

Gadhafi is not on the defensive everywhere. His forces continued to besiege Misrata, the main rebel holdout in the west and Libya's third-largest city. Residents reported fighting between rebels and loyalists who fired from tanks on residential areas.

Libyan officials took foreign journalists on a tour of the city's outskirts but not into the center, indicating government control did not extend far. Explosions and gunfire echoed through empty streets lined with burned out tanks and bullet-scarred buildings.

In a late development, The official Tunisian news agency said Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa arrived in Tunis on what it called a "private visit." No further details were available.

Amnesty International charged Monday that dozens of Libyans have disappeared in recent days, and they are probably in custody. The human rights group said Gadhafi's supporters appear to have a systematic policy to detain anyone suspected of opposition to his rule.


Officials: plutonium found at Japan's nuke complex

TOKYO (AP) - Power company officials say plutonium has been detected in the soil outside of the stricken Japanese nuclear complex.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. says in a statement that the plutonium was discovered Monday in five locations around the plant, which has been leaking radiation for nearly two weeks.

TEPCO official Jun Tsuruoka says the amounts were very small and were not a risk to public health.

Experts had expected traces of plutonium to be detected once crews began searching for it this week, since it is present in the nuclear fuel in the troubled complex.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TOKYO (AP) - Workers discovered new pools of radioactive water leaking from Japan's crippled nuclear complex, officials said Monday, as emergency crews struggled to pump out hundreds of tons of contaminated water and bring the plant back under control.

Officials believe the contaminated water has sent radioactivity levels soaring at the coastal complex, and caused more radiation to seep into soil and seawater.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, was crippled March 11 when a tsunami spawned by a powerful earthquake slammed into Japan's northeastern coast. The huge wave engulfed much of the complex, and destroyed the crucial power systems needed to cool the complex's nuclear fuel rods.

Since then, three of the complex's six units are believed to have partially melted down, and emergency crews have struggled with everything from malfunctioning pumps to dangerous spikes in radiation that have forced temporary evacuations.

Confusion at the plant has intensified fears that the nuclear crisis will last weeks, months or years amid alarms over radiation making its way into produce, raw milk and even tap water as far away as Tokyo.

The troubles at the Fukushima complex have eclipsed Pennsylvania's 1979 crisis at Three Mile Island, when a partial meltdown raised fears of widespread radiation release, but is still well short of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which killed at least 31 people with radiation sickness, raised long-term cancer rates, and spewed radiation for hundreds of miles (kilometers).

While parts of the Japanese plant has been reconnected to the power grid, the contaminated water - which has now been found in numerous places around the complex, including the basements of several buildings - must be pumped out before electricity can be restored to the cooling system.

That has left officials struggling with two sometimes-contradictory efforts: pumping in water to keep the fuel rods cool and pumping out - and then safely storing - contaminated water.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, called that balance "very delicate work."

He also said workers were still looking for safe ways to store the radioactive water.

"We are exploring all means," he said.

The buildup of radioactive water first became a problem last week, when it splashed over the boots of two workers, burning them and prompting a temporary suspension of work.

Then on Monday, officials with Tokyo Electric Power Co., which owns and runs the complex, said that workers had found more radioactive water in deep trenches used for pipes and electrical wiring outside three units.

The contaminated water has been emitting radiation exposures more than four times the amount that the government considers safe for workers.

The five workers in the area at the time were not hurt, said TEPCO spokesman Takashi Kurita.

Exactly where the water is coming from remains unclear, though many suspect it is cooling water that has leaked from one of the disabled reactors.

It could take weeks to pump out the radioactive water, said Gary Was, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

"Battling the contamination so workers can work there is going to be an ongoing problem," he said.

Meanwhile, new readings showed ocean contamination had spread about a mile (1.6 kilometers) farther north of the nuclear site than before but is still within the 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the evacuation zone. Radioactive iodine-131 was discovered offshore at a level 1,150 times higher than normal, Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.

Amid reports that people had been sneaking back into the mandatory evacuation zone around the nuclear complex, the chief government spokesman again urged residents to stay out. Yukio Edano said contaminants posed a "big" health risk in that area.

Gregory Jaczko, head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, arrived in Tokyo on Monday to meet with Japanese officials and discuss the situation, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.

"The unprecedented challenge before us remains serious, and our best experts remain fully engaged to help Japan," Jaczko was quoted as saying.

Early Monday, a strong earthquake shook the northeastern coast and prompted a brief tsunami alert. The quake was measured at magnitude 6.5, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. No damage or injuries were reported.

Scores of earthquakes have rattled the country over the past two weeks, adding to the sense of unease across Japan, where the final death toll is expected to top 18,000 people, with hundreds of thousands still homeless.

TEPCO officials said Sunday that radiation in leaking water in Unit 2 was 10 million times above normal - a report that sent employees fleeing. But the day ended with officials saying that figure had been miscalculated and the level was actually 100,000 times above normal, still very high but far better than the earlier results.

"This sort of mistake is not something that can be forgiven," Edano said sternly Monday.


China moves to extend jailing of outspoken blogger

BEIJING (AP) - Police filed subversion charges against a prolific blogger and writer, his wife said Monday, in a bellwether detention since anonymous online calls circulated for Chinese to imitate the pro-democracy protests of North Africa and the Middle East.

Ran Yunfei, an uncompromising voice for free speech, was taken into custody five weeks ago just as those protest calls first came. His wife, Wang Wei, said she received a police notice Monday that was dated Friday and said Ran was charged with subversion of state power.

The move allows police to detain Ran longer for criminal investigation and brings him a step closer to prosecution.

Though the Internet calls for Chinese to stage protests every Sunday have not drawn large crowds of overt protesters, the authoritarian government has mounted an outsized response, detaining more than 100 bloggers, lawyers and activists, according to human rights groups. Several prominent civil rights lawyers have disappeared, in a tactic that is becoming more common against government critics.

In a separate, significant disappearance, a United Nations committee has called on Beijing to release a prominent human rights lawyer, Gao Zhisheng, who has been missing for nearly a year.

The U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said Gao's detention violates international law because the government failed to meet minimum international standards for due process. It urged Beijing "for reparation for the harm caused." The U.N. request came in July but was made public Monday by Freedom Now, a U.S.-based legal advocacy group.

Charismatic and pugnacious, Gao was a leader in the small community of rights lawyers in the first part of the past decade. He represented religious dissenters, including members of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement, and advocated constitutional reform until run-ins with the authorities and lengthy detentions began in 2006.

After a 14-month disappearance ended with his resurfacing last March, Gao told The Associated Press in an interview that he had been shunted between Beijing, to central Shaanxi province and the western region of Xinjiang. He described periods of abuse, including a 48-hour stretch during which he was repeatedly pistol-whipped and beaten. He disappeared again last April and not been heard from since.

Before being taken away last month, Ran, the blogger, was a voluble presence online for more than a decade. A self-described bookworm, Ran frequently criticized government policies and called for tolerance for dissenting views.

When domestic websites would no longer carry his outspoken views, he moved his blogs and Twitter posts to sites outside China, and many of his readers followed him, circumventing government blocks to read his material.

Wang said her husband is being kept at the Dujiangyan detention center, and she has not been allowed to visit him. They are hoping to find a lawyer to represent him, but she declined to speak further, saying it was "not convenient" for her to talk.

In one of his last postings on Twitter, Ran wrote, "The government, on one hand, bans freedom of the press and does not allow the free flow of information. On the other hand, they block the truth. Under these circumstances, the rumors prevail." After Feb. 19, his account went silent.


Reporter charged with insulting Belarus president

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - A correspondent for one of Poland's major newspapers has been charged in Belarus with insulting the president, a crime that could bring a sentence of up to two years in prison.

The Belarusian prosecutor's office said Monday that the charge was filed based on 10 articles by Andrzej Poczobut. The articles appeared in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and on a Belarusian opposition website. The articles were critical of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, but the prosecutor's office declined to say what specific material is regarded as criminal.

Poczobut is the Polish newspaper's correspondent in the city of Grodno, near the border with Poland.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, suppresses opposition and pressures independent news media.


US gunships blast Gaddafi's troops

The US has used AC-130 gunships and A-10 Thunderbolt tankbusters against Moamar Gaddafi's troops in Libya, the Pentagon has confirmed.

Vice Admiral Bill Gortney confirmed the use of the ground attack aircraft this morning but denied the US was directly supporting rebel fighters.

"We have employed A-10s and AC-130s over the weekend," he said, without giving specifics about targets.

The AC-130 gunship is a heavily modified Hercules transport plane armed with 20mm, 40mm and 105mm cannons.

The A-10 is designed for close air support, especially against tanks and armoured vehicles, and carries a multi-barrelled 30mm cannon which can fire nearly 4,000 rounds a minute.

Unlike the long-range guided missile attacks that have targeted command centres and anti-aircraft defences, both aircraft are designed for close-range assaults against ground troops.

But Vice Admiral Gortney said the US actions are only in support of the UN-backed resolutions to protect Libyan civilians.

"We're not in direct support of the opposition, that's not part of our mandate, and we're not coordinating with the opposition," he said.


Give them hell.

'Motorcyle Kill'

"The clip presented here is excerpted from 'Motorcycle Kill,' a video collected and shared by members of the “kill team” of U.S. soldiers who murdered civilians in Afghanistan and mutilated the corpses. The jumpy, 30-minute video – shot by soldiers believed to be with another battalion in the 5th Stryker Brigade – shows American troops gunning down two Afghans on a motorcycle who may have been armed. Even if the killings were part of a legitimate combat engagement, however, it is a clear violation of Army standards to share such footage. The video was taken on patrol with a helmet-mounted camera; at one point, the soldier shooting the images can be heard boasting, “I got it all on camera.”"
Rolling Stone

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pilots give first description of Libya air assault

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy (AP) - U.S. fighter jet pilots, in first accounts of their sorties over Libya in the U.S.-led airstrikes, say teamwork with other nations has minimized the threat from the anti-aircraft weaponry of forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Some of the pilots and other crew based at Aviano, in northeastern Italy - from where F-16s took off for night missions over Libya earlier in the week - were allowed to speak to reporters by U.S. military officials.

Air Force Capt. Ryan Thulin, an F-16 pilot, recalled on Friday the challenge of picking out targets while peering through the jet-black night sky.

All the missions are run at night and "we have to wear night vision goggles for the duration of the sorties," Thulin said. "It's very dark in Libya, you can see the desert, you can see the towns, but that's about it. It's much darker than I expected to be. It's much darker than our training in northern Italy."

Pilots weren't allowed to give all mission details, but Thulin said they were working with their partners to minimize the threat from anti-aircraft weapons arrayed by the Libyan regime's forces intent on beating back insurgents.

"Obviously, it's in the forefront of our mind every time we fly," the pilot said of the danger of artillery or missile fire. "It is the highest threat to our aircraft there. We modify our tactics in response to the threats that are on the ground. We work as a team with our coalition partners to minimize those threats as much as possible."

Thulin, 28, from Michigan, has flown some 800 sorties in his career.

No U.S. casualties have been reported in the air missions involving American and European jets. The air strikes were launched to enforce a U.N. Security Council resolution for humanitarian purposes.

But an F-15E Strike Eagle jet that was hitting Gadhafi's air defenses on Monday crashed, apparently because of an equipment problem. The jet went down in eastern Libya, where rebels are based. The two crewmen ejected, sustaining minor injuries, U.S. officials said.

Maintenance of the U.S. jets is considered so crucial that officers who take care of the jets at Aviano say maintenance goes on around the clock.

"The planes have to be in order for the mission," said Bryan Alexander, a senior maintenance officer.


Syria's Assad deploys army in port to keep order

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad, facing the gravest crisis in his 11-year rule, deployed the army in Syria's main port of Latakia for the first time after nearly two weeks of protests spread across the country.

State television showed deserted streets in Latakia littered with rubble and broken glass and burned-out vehicles. Damascus cited attempts by 'armed groups', possibly backed by foreign powers, to stir sectarian conflict across the country.

Dozens have died in pro-democracy demonstrations in the southern city of Deraa and nearby Sanamein as well as Latakia in the northwest, Damascus and other towns over the last week.

Witnesses said major cities appeared calm on Sunday, but several hundred men were holding a sit-in at the Omari Mosque in the town of Deraa, the original focus of protests and scene of a crackdown by security forces last week.

Syrian officials had said Assad, 45, who has made no direct public comment since protests began, was expected to make a television address; but by late evening he had not appeared.

The dispatch of troops to the streets of Latakia late on Saturday signals growing government alarm about the ability of the security police to maintain order there. Latakia is a potentially volatile mix of Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Alawites who constitute Assad's core support.

Its residential areas house large secret police complexes.

"There is a feeling in Latakia that the presence of disciplined troops is necessary to keep order," one resident told Reuters. "We do not want looting."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States deplored the bloodshed in Syria, but that a Libya-style intervention should not be expected.

The unrest in Syria came to a head after police detained more than a dozen schoolchildren for scrawling graffiti inspired by pro-democracy protests across the Arab world.

Such demonstrations would have been unthinkable a couple of months ago in this most tightly controlled of Arab countries, where the Baath Party has been in power for nearly 50 years. Modern Syria gained its independence from France in 1946.

Assad, a British-educated eye doctor, pledged to look into granting greater freedom but this has failed to dampen a protest movement emboldened by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Assad adviser Bouthaina Shaaban told Al Jazeera television news that the emergency law hated by Syrian reformists for the far-reaching powers it gives to security services would be lifted, but did not give a timetable.

Lawyers say the emergency law has been used by authorities to ban protest, justify arbitrary arrests and closed courts and give free rein to the secret police and security apparatus, which have all severely compromised the rule of law.


In another step to placate protesters, Syrian authorities released political activist Diana Jawabra, her lawyer said, along with 15 others arrested for taking part in a silent protest demanding the release of children responsible for the graffiti.

This followed news of the freeing of 260 political prisoners.

Assad also faces calls to curb his pervasive security apparatus, free political prisoners and reveal the fate of tens of thousands of dissidents who disappeared in the 1980s.

There have also been protests in Hama, a northern city where in 1982 the forces of President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar's father, killed thousands of people and razed much of the old quarter to put down an armed uprising by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Middle East analysts do not rule out a harsh crackdown to crush the current demonstrations.

Syria's establishment, including its army, is dominated by members of the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam to which the Assads belong. This causes resentment among Sunni Muslims who make up some three-quarters of the population.

Latakia is mostly Sunni Muslim but has significant numbers of Alawites.

"An official source said attacks by armed elements on the families and districts of Latakia in the last two days resulted in the martyrdom of 10 security forces and civilians and the killing of two of the armed elements," SANA news agency said.

The source said 200 people, most of whom were from the security forces, had been wounded. Rights activists told Reuters at least six people had been killed in Latakia in two days.

"Decades of pent-up feelings are generating these confrontations. But this is not a mass Sunni-Alawite strife," the Latakia resident told Reuters by telephone. "Cooler heads are prevailing in Latakia."


Deraa is a center of Sunni Muslim tribes who resent power and wealth amassed by the Alawite minority. During protests, a statue of the late Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria with an iron fist for 30 years until his death in 2000, was toppled.

There were at least three funerals for those killed in the unrest in villages around Deraa on Sunday, which passed off peacefully with no security in evidence. Mourners in one of the funerals chanted: "The people want the downfall of the regime."

Asked about security forces opening fire in recent days, government spokeswoman Reem Haddad told Al Jazeera on Sunday:

"The security forces were given very strict orders not to shoot at anyone and they did not shoot at anyone at all until those people shot at them and at other citizens.

"Now obviously when you have people shooting then it becomes a matter of national security and you can't just have that happening," she said, adding that she suspected foreign powers were involved in the unrest.

The United States, France and Britain have urged Assad to refrain from violence. A week ago they launched a U.N.-backed air campaign to protect opponents of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.


But analysts see little likelihood of heavily armed Syria, which is part of an anti-Western, anti-Israel alliance with Iran and sits within a web of conflicts across the region, facing the sort of foreign intervention seen in North Africa.

Syria also has links to the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas and the Lebanese Shi'ite political and military movement Hezbollah.

Assad was welcomed as the fresh face of reform when he replaced his father, a master of Middle Eastern politics who brooked no dissent at home and made the refusal to bend on the Arab-Israeli conflict the heart of Syrian policy for 30 years.


US Naval Update: CVN 65 Enterprise Abandons Libya, Reinforces CVN 70 Vinson In Straits Of Hormuz

"Wonder why the administration made such a stink of reducing the US airborne presence around Libya, and handing it off to France, Italy, Canada and Turkey? Here's the answer: the CVN65 Enterprise which last week was within striking distance of Libya, has quietly left the Red Sea and is now virtually swimming in the wake of CVN 70 Vinson in the Strait of Hormuz. Because obviously whatever is about to happen in the Persian Gulf will need not one but two aircraft carrier formations. And meanwhile in Japan the Washington is doing all it can to put radiation free miles between itself and Fukushima, even as the Essex, chock full of marines is sitting on the coast waiting for orders. "
Zero Hedge

Overthrow Gadhafi in 90 Days: Just Add Mercs, Cash

The world’s worried about mercenaries in Libya helping Moammar Gadhafi snuff out the Libyan revolution. But what if — what if — the rebels tapped the expanding world of private security to turn them from a ragtag, Red Dawn-esque group of irregulars into a proper military?

No, we haven’t had any sightings of Blackwater founder Erik Prince in Benghazi. But at least some Libyan opposition members don’t think it’s so crazy to hire their own auxiliaries. NBC’s Richard Engel reported on the Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday that he’d interviewed rebels who’d be grateful for the Blackwaters of the world to offer their services. Erik, call your travel agent!

So, far-fetched as it might be, what would a mercenary campaign on behalf of the Libyan rebels look like? It’d be a training effort, most likely. And it might very well be illegal — so the company willing to take on the deal can probably drive a hard bargain, reaping millions. No risk, no reward, right?

As of now, we’ve been unable to turn up examples of actual merc firms offering their wares to the rebels. Maybe that’s because the United Nations placed an arms-n’-mercenaries embargo on Libya, currently enforced by NATO ships. But some veterans of the private security industry don’t mind sketching out their suggestions for what a hypothetical merc mission to Benghazi might look like.

Here’s the plan from one industry vet who requested anonymity. A team of between 50 and 100 security contractors would make contact with the rebels in Benghazi. They’d present a business proposal centered around two primary tracks. One would be military: they’d teach the rebels basic infantry tactics, like how to shoot and maneuver, and offer guidance on logistics and command.

But they wouldn’t be doing any actual fighting. The only armed mission they might perform is internal security — keeping the streets of Benghazi policed. Maybe.

The other mission would be communication, requiring a two-person team. “Rebels always need better public relations,” the vet says. This wouldn’t just be training in how to shoot video or tweet effectively. They’d bring in satellite phones, mobile connectivity tools, “means to get it done [since] the power of witness is huge.”

And the team would offer the rebels a goal: 90 days, no sleep till Tripoli. That’s predicated on the maintenance of allied air attacks on Gadhafi loyalists. “Given what the coalition has done to his forces, they could get to Tripoli, which would gain momentum from more people, a la Egypt,” the industry vet assesses. Revolution, Inc.

Would it be rude to discuss money? Figure it’ll cost between $500 and $600 per person day for a team that maxes out at 102 personnel. That tops out at a revolution costing $5.5 million from jump. Each crew member can expect to return home with $54,000 in — presumably — cash.

That seems low to Doug Brooks, the president and founder of the International Peace Operations Association, which sticks up for the interests of private security firms. For a training mission in a place as dangerous as Libya, Brooks calculates that a company could probably charge a minimum of $250,000 per contractor, all told.

Still, a $5.5 million revolutionary effort to change the picture on the ground would cost roughly as much as five Tomahawk missiles, which run you between $1 million and a million-five each. On just the first day of Operation Odyssey Dawn, 112 of them were fired from coalition ships and subs. For all their power against Gadhafi’s air defenses, they didn’t change the dynamic between the loyalists and the opposition.

Not that Brooks or the Association recommends putting security contractors into Benghazi. “Unless there’s some sort of legal structure, it becomes dicey, and possibly criminal,” Brooks warns. “Unless you get one of those three-letter agencies backing you, it could come back to bite you.” Now that’s a business plan.

Update: Reader C emails to say that security contractors in rebel-held Libya could probably expect to get way more than a $500-600 daily rate:

I get that in Iraq. I work 12 hours a day and my company charges the government almost $200 an hour for my work. To get me to go to a country with so many unknowns, operating potentially illegally and for such a short duration — 90 days on/30 days off is the standard — the pay would have to be considering greater. Think $1000-$1500 a day to the operator, and considerably more once you add in corporate revenue requirements.


Steyn: The Art of Inconclusive War

It is tempting and certainly very easy to point out that Obama’s war (or Obama’s “kinetic military action,” or “time-limited, scope-limited military action,” or whatever the latest ever more preposterous evasion is) is at odds with everything candidate Obama said about U.S. military action before his election. And certainly every attempt the president makes to explain his Libyan adventure is either cringe-makingly stupid (“I’m accustomed to this contradiction of being both a commander-in-chief but also somebody who aspires to peace”) or alarmingly revealing of a very peculiar worldview:

“That’s why building this international coalition has been so important,” he said the other day. “It is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.”

That’s great news. Who doesn’t enjoy volunteering other people? The Arab League, for reasons best known to itself, decided that Colonel Qaddafi had outlived his sell-by date. Granted that the region’s squalid polities haven’t had a decent military commander since King Hussein fired Gen. Sir John Glubb half a century back, how difficult could it be even for Arab armies to knock off a psychotic transvestite guarded by Austin Powers fembots? But no: Instead, the Arab League decided to volunteer the U.S. military.

Likewise, the French and the British. Libya’s special forces are trained by Britain’s SAS. Four years ago, President Sarkozy hosted a state visit for Colonel Qaddafi, his personal security detail of 30 virgins, his favorite camel, and a 400-strong entourage that helped pitch his tent in the heart of Paris. Given that London and Paris have the third – and fourth-biggest military budgets on the planet and that between them they know everything about Qaddafi’s elite troops, sleeping arrangements, guard-babes, and dromedaries, why couldn’t they take him out? But no: They too decided to volunteer the U.S. military.

But, as I said, it’s easy to mock the smartest, most articulate man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Instead, in a non-partisan spirit, let us consider why it is that the United States no longer wins wars. Okay, it doesn’t exactly lose (most of) them, but nor does it have much to show for a now 60-year-old pattern of inconclusive outcomes. American forces have been fighting and dying in Afghanistan for a decade: Doesn’t that seem like a long time for a non-colonial power to be spending hacking its way through the worthless terrain of a Third World dump? If the object is to kill terrorists, might there not be some slicker way of doing it? And, if the object is something else entirely, mightn’t it be nice to know what it is?

I use the word “non-colonial” intentionally. I am by temperament and upbringing an old-school imperialist: There are arguments to be made for being on the other side of the world for decades on end if you’re claiming it as sovereign territory and rebuilding it in your image, as the British did in India, Belize, Mauritius, the Solomon Islands, you name it. Likewise, there are arguments to be made for saying sorry, we’re a constitutional republic, we don’t do empire. But there’s not a lot to be said for forswearing imperialism and even modest cultural assertiveness, and still spending ten years getting shot up in Afghanistan helping to create, bankroll, and protect a so-called justice system that puts a man on death row for converting to Christianity.

Libya, in that sense, is a classic post-nationalist, post-modern military intervention: As in Kosovo, we’re do-gooders in a land with no good guys. But, unlike Kosovo, not only is there no strategic national interest in what we’re doing, the intended result is likely to be explicitly at odds with U.S. interests. A quarter-century back, Qaddafi was blowing American airliners out of the sky and murdering British policewomen: That was the time to drop a bomb on him. But we didn’t. Everyone from the government of Scotland (releasing the “terminally ill” Lockerbie bomber, now miraculously restored to health) to Mariah Carey and Beyoncé (with their million-dollar-a-gig Qaddafi party nights) did deals with the Colonel.

Now suddenly he’s got to go — in favor of “freedom-loving” “democrats” from Benghazi. That would be in eastern Libya — which, according to West Point’s Counter Terrorism Center, has sent per capita the highest number of foreign jihadists to Iraq. Perhaps now that so many Libyan jihadists are in Iraq, the Libyans left in Libya are all Swedes in waiting. But perhaps not. If we lack, as we do in Afghanistan, the cultural confidence to wean those we liberate from their less attractive pathologies, we might at least think twice before actively facilitating them.

Officially, only the French are committed to regime change. So suppose Qaddafi survives. If you were in his shoes, mightn’t you be a little peeved? Enough to pull off a new Lockerbie? A more successful assassination attempt on the Saudi king? A little bit of Euro-bombing?

Alternatively, suppose Qaddafi winds up hanging from a lamppost in his favorite party dress. If you’re a Third World dictator, what lessons would you draw? Qaddafi was the thug who came in from the cold, the one who (in the wake of Saddam’s fall) renounced his nuclear program and was supposedly rehabilitated in the chancelleries of the West. He was “a strong partner in the war on terrorism,” according to U.S. diplomats. And what did Washington do? They overthrew him anyway.

The blood-soaked butcher next door in Sudan is the first head of state to be charged by the International Criminal Court with genocide, but nobody’s planning on toppling him. Iran’s going nuclear with impunity, but Obama sends fraternal greetings to the “Supreme Leader” of the “Islamic Republic.” North Korea is more or less openly trading as the one-stop bargain-basement for all your nuke needs, and we’re standing idly by. But the one cooperative dictator’s getting million-dollar-a-pop cruise missiles lobbed in his tent all night long. If you were the average Third World loon, which role model makes most sense? Colonel Cooperative in Tripoli? Or Ayatollah Death-to-the-Great-Satan in Tehran? America is teaching the lesson that the best way to avoid the attentions of whimsical “liberal interventionists” is to get yourself an easily affordable nuclear program from Pyongyang or anywhere else as soon as possible.

The United States is responsible for 43 percent of the planet’s military spending. So how come it doesn’t feel like that? It’s not merely that “our military is being volunteered by others,” but that Washington has been happy to volunteer it as the de facto expeditionary force for the “international community.” Sometimes U.S. troops sail under U.N. colors, sometimes NATO’s, and now in Libya even the Arab League’s. Either way, it makes little difference: America provides most of the money, men, and materiel. All that changes is the transnational figleaf.

But lost along the way is hard-headed, strategic calculation of the national interest. “They won’t come back till it’s over/Over there!” sang George M. Cohan as the doughboys marched off in 1917. It was all over 20 minutes later and then they came back. Now it’s never over over there — not in Korea, not in Kuwait, not in Kosovo, not in Kandahar. Next stop Kufra? America has swapped The Art of War for the Hotel California: We psychologically check out, but we never leave.

National Review

WRAPUP 2 - Disaster-hit Japan faces protracted nuclear crisis

TOKYO, March 28 (Reuters) - Japan appeared resigned on Monday to a long fight to contain the world's most dangerous atomic crisis in 25 years after high radiation levels complicated work at its crippled nuclear plant.

Engineers have been battling to control the six-reactor Fukushima complex since it was damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami that also left more than 27,000 people dead or missing across Japan's devastated north east.

Radiation at the plant has soared in recent days. Latest readings at the weekend showed contamination 100,000 times normal in water at reactor No. 2 and 1,850 times normal in the nearby sea.

Those were the most alarming levels since the crisis began.

"I think maybe the situation is much more serious than we were led to believe," said one expert, Najmedin Meshkati, of the University of Southern California, adding it may take weeks to stabilise the situation and the United Nations should step in.

"This is far beyond what one nation can handle - it needs to be bumped up to the U.N. Security Council. In my humble opinion, this is more important than the Libya no fly zone."

Under-pressure plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501.T) has conceded it faces a protracted and uncertain operation to contain overheating fuel rods and avert a meltdown.

"Regrettably, we don't have a concrete schedule at the moment to enable us to say in how many months or years (the crisis will be over)," TEPCO vice-president Sakae Muto said in the latest of round-the-clock briefings the company holds.


Obama to defend actions in Mideast

The Obama administration has launched a concerted defence of military action against Libya and its broader response to the upheavals in the Middle East ahead of an address to the nation by the president.

Barack Obama’s decision to make a nationally-televised speech on Monday night follows criticism and disquiet about the administration’s failure to offer a coherent framework for US foreign policy.

The criticism has not been uniform, with many national security specialists saying Mr Obama has had to juggle an unprecedented range of challenges in a brief period affecting longtime allies and foes.

Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, and Robert Gates, defence secretary, in joint TV appearances on Sunday, said the Libya action had succeeded in preventing a humanitarian catastrophe. But they resisted offering a time frame for ending US involvement – even as Washington hands over formal control to Nato – and also sought to distinguish Libya from other protest movements.

While deploring the bloodshed in Syria, Mrs Clinton said the situation did not warrant intervention because the level of violence was not the same as in Libya. “There’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [like Libya], than police actions which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see,” she said.

A US response to Syria, she said, would depend on the condemnation by and the action of the Arab League, the UN and elsewhere.

“If there were a coalition of the international community, if there was the passage of a Security Council resolution, if there were a call by the Arab League, if there was a condemnation that was universal, but that is not going to happen because I don’t think it is yet clear what will occur, what will unfold,” she said in an interview on CBS.

Mr Gates said the Pentagon was already planning to draw down its resources for Libya.

“[Libya] was not a vital national interest to the US, but ... you had a potentially significantly destabilising event in Libya that put at risk potentially the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt,” he said.

Despite criticism of the US’s initially slow response, Mrs Clinton called the rapid assembly of the anti-Gaddafi coalition “a watershed moment in international decision making”.

“We saw what happened in Rwanda. It took a long time in the Balkans, in Kosovo, to deal with a tyrant. What has happened since March 1, and we’re not even done with the month, demonstrates really remarkable leadership,” she said.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

'Al-Qaeda snatched missiles' in Libya

AL-QAEDA'S offshoot in North Africa has snatched surface-to-air missiles from an arsenal in Libya during the civil strife there, Chad's President says.

Idriss Deby Itno did not say how many surface-to-air missiles were stolen, but told the African weekly Jeune Afrique that he was "100 per cent sure" of his assertion.

"The Islamists of al-Qaeda took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere," a desert region of the Sahara that stretches from northeast Niger to western Chad, Deby said in the interview.

"This is very serious. AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region," he said.

His claim was echoed by officials in other countries in the region who said that they were worried that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) might have acquired "heavy weapons", thanks to the insurrection.

"We have sure information. We are very worried for the sub-region," a Malian security source who did not want to be named said.

AQIM originated as an armed Islamist resistance movement to the secular Algerian government.

It now operates mainly in Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it has attacked military targets and taken civilian hostages, particularly Europeans, some of whom it has killed.

"We have the same information," about heavy weapons, including SAM 7 missiles, a military source from Niger said.

"It is very worrying. This overarming is a real danger for the whole zone," he added

"AQIM gets the weapons in two ways; people go and look for the arms in Libya to deliver them to AQIM in the Sahel, or AQIM elements go there themselves."

Elsewhere in the interview, Chad's president backed the assertion by his neighbour and erstwhile enemy Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that the protests in Libya have been driven in part by al-Qaeda.

"There is a partial truth in what he says," Deby said.

"Up to what point? I don't know. But I am certain that AQIM took an active part in the uprising."

After years of tension between the two nations, which were at war during part of the 1980s, Deby has more recently maintained good relations with Gaddafi.

The Chadian leader described the international military intervention in Libya, launched a week ago by the United States, France and Britain, as a "hasty decision".

"It could have heavy consequences for the stability of the region and the spread of terrorism in Europe, the Mediterranean and the rest of Africa," he cautioned.

Deby denied assertions that mercenaries had been recruited in Chad to fight for Gaddafi, though some of the several thousand Chad nationals in Libya may have joined the fight "on their own".


Friday, March 25, 2011

Hundreds of Shiites protest in east Saudi Arabia

CAIRO (AP) - A Saudi news agency says several hundred Shiite Muslims have held protests in eastern Saudi Arabia to demand the release of detainees and show support for fellow Shiites protesting against the Sunni monarchy in nearby Bahrain.

The Shiite news agency Rasid says protesters waving Bahraini flags marched in two cities in the province of Qatif.

The report says protesters called on the Saudi government to withdraw its troops from Bahrain, where they are leading a 1,500-strong Gulf military force helping shore up the Sunni monarchy.

Saudi's minority Shiites have long complained of discrimination and say they are barred from key positions in the military and government and are denied an equal share of the country's wealth.

They are 10 percent of the kingdom's 23 million citizens.


Troops open fire as protests explode across Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Troops opened fire on protesters in cities across Syria and pro- and anti-government crowds clashed in the capital's historic old city as one of the Mideast's most repressive regimes sought to put down demonstrations that exploded nationwide Friday demanding reform.

The upheaval sweeping the region definitively took root in Syria as an eight-day uprising centered on a rural southern town dramatically expanded into protests by tens of thousands in multiple cities. The once-unimaginable scenario posed the biggest challenge in decades to Syria's iron-fisted rule.

Protesters wept over the bloodied bodies of slain comrades and massive crowds chanted anti-government slogans, then fled as gunfire erupted, according to footage posted online. Security forces shot to death more than 15 people in at least six cities and villages, including a suburb of the capital, Damascus, witnesses told The Associated Press. Their accounts could not be independently confirmed.

The regime of President Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran and supporter of militant groups around the region, had seemed immune from the Middle East's three-month wave of popular uprising. His security forces, which have long silenced the slightest signs of dissent, quickly snuffed out smaller attempts at protests last month. Syrians also have fearful memories of the brutal crackdown unleashed by his father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, when Muslim fundamentalists in the central town of Hama tried an uprising in 1982: Thousands were killed and parts of the city were flattened by artillery and bulldozers.

The Assads' leadership - centered on members of their Alawi minority sect, a branch of Shiite Islam in this mainly Sunni nation - have built their rule by mixing draconian repression with increasing economic freedom, maintaining the loyality of wealthy Sunni merchant class in the prosperous cities of Damascus and Aleppo.

Bashar Assad now faces the same dilemma confronted by the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain - ratchet up violence or offer concessions. A day earlier, his government seems to test out the latter track, offering to consider lifting draconian emergency laws and promising increased pay and benefits for state workers.

As massive crowds rejected the government's offers, the worst violence appeared centered around Daraa, where the arrest of a group of young men for spraying anti-regime graffiti last week set off a cycle of growing demonstrations and increasingly violent government crackdowns. The Syrian government said 34 had been slain in Daraa before Friday, while the U.N. human rights office put the figure at 37. Activists said it was as high as 100.

Thousands poured into Daraa's central Assad Square after Friday prayers, many from nearby villages, chanting "Freedom! Freedom!" and waving Syrian flags and olive branches, witnesses said. Some attacked a bronze statue of Hafez Assad. One witness told The Associated Press that they tried to set it on fire, another said they tried to pull it down.

Troops responded with heavy gunfire, according to a resident who said he saw two bodies and many wounded people brought to Daraa's main hospital.

After night fell, thousands of enraged protesters snatched weapons from a far smaller number of troops and chased them out of Daraa's Roman-era old city, taking back control of the al-Omari mosque, the epicenter of the past week's protests.

The accounts could be immediately be independently confirmed because of Syria's tight restrictions on the press.

In Damascus, the heart of Bashar Assad's rule, protests and clashes broke out in multiple neighborhoods as crowds of regime opponents marched and thousands of Assad loyalists drove in convoys, shouting, "Bashar, we love you!"

The two sides battled, whipping each other with leather belts, in Damascus' old city outside the historic Umayyad mosque, parts of which date to the 8th Century. About two miles (three kilometers) away, central Umayyad Square was packed with demonstrators who traded punches and hit each other with sticks from Syrian flags, according to Associated Press reporters at the sites.

An amateur video posted on the Internet showed hundreds of young men marching though Damascus' old covered bazaar, some riding on others shoulders and pumping their fists in the air, chanting, "With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Daraa!"

Secutiry forces chased and beat around 200 protesters chanting "Freedom, Freedom!" on a bridge in the center of the city, an activist said.

After dark, troops opened fire on protesters in the Damascus suburb of Maadamiyeh, a witness told the AP. An activist in contact with people there said three had been killed.

The scenes of chaos and violence shocked many in this tightly controlled country where protests are usually confined to government-orchestrated demonstrations in support of the regime, and political discussions are confined to whispers, mainly indoors.

"There's a barrier of fear that has been broken and the demands are changing with every new death," said Ayman Abdul-Nour, a Dubai-based former member of Assad's ruling Baath Party. "We're starting to hear calls for the regime's ouster," he said.

Also startling was the scope of the protests - in multiple cities around the country of nearly 24 million.

Troops opened fire on more than 1,000 people marching in Syria's main Mediterranean port, Latakia. One activist told AP witnesses in the city hospital saw four protesters slain. Another was reported slain in the central city of Homs, where hundreds of people demonstrated in support of Daraa and demanded reforms, he said. He, like other activists and witnesses around the country, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the regime.

Demonstrators in the southern village of Sanamein tried to march to nearby Daraa in support of protesters there, but they were met by troops who opened fire, said an activist in Damascus in touch with witnesses threre. He said the witnesses reported fatalities - some as high as 20 dead - but that he could not confirm the number.

A video posted on Facebook by Syrian pro-democracy activists showed what it said were five dead young men lying on stretchers in Sanamein as men weeped around them. The voice of a woman can be heard saying, "down with Bashar Assad."

An unidentified Syrian official asserted that an armed group attacked the army headquarters in Sanamein and tried to storm it, leading to a clash with guards.

Further protests erupted in the town of Douma, outside the capital, and the cities of Raqqa in the north and Zabadani in the west, near the border with Lebanon, a human rights activist said, reporting an unknown number of protesters detained.

The protests in Damascus appeared led by relatively well-off Syrians, many of whom who have been calling for reforms for years and have relatives jailed as political prisoners.

They contrast sharply with the working-class Sunni protesters in conservative Daraa, where small farmers and herders pushed off their land by drought have increasingly moved into the province's main city and surrounding villages, looking for work and in many cases growing angry at the lack of opportunity.

The protests in Daraa appeared to take on a sectarian dimension, with some accusing the regime of using Shiite Hezbollah and Iranian operatives in the crackdown.

The start of the protests' outbreak far from the urban centers makes Syria's uprising like Tunisia's, in which protests in the peripheries spread to the cities, said Bassam Haddad, Syria expert and director of the Middle East studies program director at George Mason University.

That doesn't necessarily mean the regime is in danger, he said. "If this continues at the level we see right now or if the regime finds a way to deal with the protests at this level, the Syrian regime will be able to weather the storm." But he said the bloodshed could only cause protets to expand.

The White House urged Syria's government to cease attacks on protesters and Turkey said its neighbor should quickly enact reforms to meet legitimate demands. The U.N. said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Assad Friday morning and underlined "that governments had an obligation to respect and protect their citizens fundamental rights,"


Sistani, going for the kill shot. You got to love him.

U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors

The Obama administration may not be lending arms to dissidents in the Middle East, but it is offering aid in another critical way: helping them surf the Web anonymously as they seek to overthrow their governments.

Federal agencies - such as the State Department, the Defense Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors - have been funding a handful of technology firms that allow people to get online without being tracked or to visit news or social media sites that governments have blocked. Many of these little-known organizations - such as the Tor Project and UltraReach- are unabashedly supportive of the activists in the Middle East.

But the United States' backing of these firms has the potential to put the government in an awkward diplomatic position, not only with the countries where uprisings are active, but also with economic partners such as Saudi Arabia and China, which are known to block Web sites they deem dangerous.

The technology comes with its own perils: Some of the tools may not always conceal the users' identities. Autocratic foreign governments are constantly updating their censorship and monitoring technology. And, of course, the software can be handy for terrorists seeking to communicate in clandestine ways.

In Egypt, Mohammad Hamama, a 24-year-old computer programmer, said he learned about the Tor Project's software in January through chatter on Twitter. He downloaded the software and checked on friends protesting in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Still, he worries about the technology's safety.

"I wanted to make sure my Twitter friends were okay during the protests," he said in a phone interview. "But I didn't feel safe at all. I don't know what the government was using to track us down. I was just hoping the Tor browser would be good for me to tweet some things, but I managed to get away without being tracked."

The technology that is now taking off in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya through word of mouth began as tools of digital disobedience elsewhere. In general, these programs work by redirecting users' Web traffic to servers outside their country. That makes it more difficult to identify the users while giving them access to blocked sites.

"What began as an effort to tear down firewalls in China has become something with extraordinary potential throughout the world," said Michael Horowitz, a Reagan administration official who serves as an adviser to UltraReach. "When UltraReach started getting hits in Egypt, the company had no idea how the people there found out about it. But they feel like they can't cut them off now - the company feels like it has a responsibility. But for every dollar that gets spent by companies like UltraReach, there's $10,000 spent by the governments to protect the firewalls."

Federal agencies have funded these companies through grants and contracts. By late spring, the State Department is expected to begin doling out even more money - about $30 million - to technology firms and human rights groups to help and train people to shatter firewalls and surf the Web without being tracked.

Daniel B. Baer, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department, said his bureau is moving as quickly as possible to appropriate the money. More than 60 nonprofit groups and other organizations have applied for awards, which range from $500,000 to $8 million.

The department, he said, is unequivocal in its support of a free Internet and the rights of protesters in the Middle East as well as other regions where governments restrict Web use or monitor dissident movements. The department supports about a dozen Web circumvention technologies; the top three attract nearly 2 million unique users a month.

"Right now, there's a healthy focus on the Middle East," Baer said, adding that the United States' support for these organizations - laid out in prominent speeches by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - should come as no surprise to other nations. "I am sure there are certain folks in the governments of these places that would prefer we didn't fund these technologies - just as they would prefer we don't advocate for human rights in general - but it's our long-standing policy to advocate for Internet freedom."

Recently, some members of Congress have accused the State Department of being too slow in giving out the money. They have also argued that the department should transfer a large chunk of the funds to the Broadcasting Board of Governors and give it more say in who gets the money. The BBG oversees the Voice of America news service and works closely with several firms that specialize in Web circumvention tools.

Many of these U.S.-backed technology organizations are reporting huge increases in the number of people using their tools in Arab states undergoing political upheaval.

The Tor Project, a nonprofit organization that gets money from the State and Defense departments, has seen far more people use its product during the Middle East uprisings. The number of daily sessions jumped from 250 in December to about 2500 in February in Egypt, from 500 to about 900 in Tunisia and from 25 to nearly 300 in Libya.

Andrew Lewman, the organization's executive director, said he helps U.S. and European governments understand how to use Tor for intelligence gathering, and human rights and journalism organizations for free speech. But, he said, he is less generous with restrictive regimes.

"We will always side with people who support access to information. We've helped protesters, journalists, law enforcement and intelligence agencies," Lewman said. He added that he had turned down requests from Middle East governments that wanted to conduct surveillance on their citizens.

UltraReach, which last month began receiving portions of an $800,000 federal grant, has seen the use of its product UltraSurf explode in the Middle East. Horowitz, the company's adviser, said there were nearly 8 million page views from Egyptians using UltraSurf in January, right before Internet access was shut down. In Libya, 4 million Web pages were viewed using UltraSurf in March, he said.

Some of the most popular Web sites that dissidents are visiting with UltraSurf:, which gives Web users avatars or images that identify them when they post comments on Web sites;; Yahoo; Facebook; and

A Canadian company, Psiphon, which has a contract with the BBG to help disseminate Voice of America and other U.S. news services in Iran, China and the former Soviet Union, said it also has seen traffic upticks in the Middle East, although its focus is elsewhere in the world.

"We have about 8,000 log-ins in Egypt, and we weren't even promoting in that region. That's compared to about 40,000 to 50,000 log-ins in Iran," said Rafal Rohozinski, Psiphon's chief executive. He cautioned that it is difficult to know how many individuals used his service and that no technology is completely safe.

The products, he added, "may protect your privacy, but they aren't invisible on the Internet." So dissidents, he said, "could be making themselves more detectable effectively sending a signature that can be seen by regimes."

Meanwhile, in Silicon Valley, AnchorFree, which makes money by splashing banner ads atop every Web page accessed through its Hotspot Shield application, says it steers clear of choosing political sides, even though it has contracted with the BBG in the past.

The company reports that each month, 9 million people worldwide use the tool to visit about 2 billion Web pages. The firm, founded by two 20-somethings and co-owned by a former MCI chairman, says that it also has been a main artery for millions of users in the Middle East to get onto Facebook, Google and Twitter.

"We didn't start this company to go against any government," said David Gorodyansky, AnchorFree's chief executive and co-founder. "We're a typical Silicon Valley company, a bunch of young guys with a lot of crazy ideas, and here we are impacting millions of people in the Middle East and helping revolutions in Tunisia and Libya. We didn't set out to do this, but we really think it's cool we're doing this."


Antiwar Senator, War-Powers President

President Barack Obama has again flip-flopped on national security—and we can all be grateful. Having kept Guantanamo Bay open, resumed military commission trials for terrorists, and expanded the use of drones, the president has now ordered the U.S. military into action without Congress's blessing.

Imagine the uproar if President Bush had unilaterally launched air attacks against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. But since it's Mr. Obama's finger on the trigger, Democratic leaders in Congress have kept quiet—demonstrating that their opposition to presidential power during the Bush years was political, not principled.

Mr. Obama's exercise of war powers in Libya is firmly in the tradition of American foreign policy. Throughout our history, neither presidents nor Congress have acted under the belief that the Constitution requires a declaration of war before the U.S. can conduct military hostilities abroad. We have used force abroad more than 100 times but declared war in only five cases: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American Wars, and World Wars I and II.

Without any approval from Congress, presidents have sent forces to battle Indians, Barbary Pirates and Russian revolutionaries, to fight North Korean and Chinese Communists in Korea, to engineer regime changes in South and Central America, and to prevent human rights disasters in the Balkans. Other conflicts, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War, received legislative "authorization" but not declarations of war.

Since Vietnam, however, antiwar Democrats have sought to replace the Constitution's reliance on swift presidential action in war with a radically different system appropriate for peacetime: Congress makes policy, the president implements it. In 1973, they passed the War Powers Resolution to require congressional permission for any military intervention abroad, but no president has accepted the law's constitutionality.

President George W. Bush's campaign against terror upped the stakes in this contest. Opening the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, establishing special military courts for terrorist trials, ordering tough interrogation of al Qaeda leaders, and conducting warrantless wiretaps of electronic communications—all without congressional approval—fed the left-wing narrative of an "imperial presidency." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other prominent Democrats regularly attacked Mr. Bush for acting "above the law" and "cutting out Congress." Then-Sen. Joe Biden even opposed the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito because he would not agree that Mr. Bush would need congressional permission to attack Iran.

Mr. Obama once agreed with his Democratic colleagues, saying in 2007 that "The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Fast forward four years: Last Monday, Mr. Obama notified Congress that he ordered military action in Libya "pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive."

For once, Mr. Obama has the Constitution about right. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 74, "The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength, and the power of directing and employing the common strength forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority." Presidents should conduct war, he wrote, because they could act with "decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch." In perhaps his most famous words, Hamilton wrote that "Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. . . . It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."

The truth is that Mr. Bush's case for constitutional authority far outstrips Mr. Obama's. In 2001 and 2002, Mr. Bush won legislative approval for both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars even though he didn't need it.

A few usual suspects have piped up against Mr. Obama's switch. Rep. Dennis Kucinich is talking impeachment again, and fellow isolationist Rep. Ron Paul has suggested that Mr. Obama is acting "outside the Constitution." A few moderates, such as Sens. Richard Lugar and Jim Webb, have called for a congressional debate over a declaration of war—an idea supported by conservative pundit George Will. But don't expect Sen. Reid or former Speaker Nancy Pelosi to introduce legislation blocking the war in Libya. Don't wait for Mr. Biden to thunder forth about saving the Constitution from the president. They are just as silent now as they were when President Bill Clinton bombed Serbia in 1999 without congressional approval.

Real opposition comes from a different quarter: young congressional Republicans like Jason Chaffetz of Utah or Justin Amash of Michigan. Their praiseworthy opposition to the growth of federal powers at home misleads them to resist Washington's indispensable role abroad. They mistakenly read the 18th-century constitutional text through a modern lens—for example, understanding "declare war" to mean "start war." When the Constitution was written, a declaration of war served diplomatic notice about a change in legal relations between nations. It had little to do with launching hostilities. In the century before the Constitution, for example, Great Britain fought numerous major conflicts but declared war only once beforehand.

Our Constitution sets out specific procedures for passing laws, appointing officers, and making treaties. There are none for waging war. The Constitution declares that states shall not "engage" in war "without the consent of Congress" unless "actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay"—exactly the limits desired by antiwar critics, complete with an exception for self-defense. But even these limits are absent when it comes to war waged by the president. The Framers wanted Congress and the president to struggle over war through the political process, not the courts.

Congress is too fractured, slow and inflexible to manage war. Its loose, decentralized structure would paralyze American policy while foreign threats loom. The Framers understood that Congress's real power would lie in the purse. During the 1788 Virginia ratifying convention, Patrick Henry attacked the Constitution for failing to limit presidential militarism. James Madison replied: "The sword is in the hands of the British king; the purse is in the hands of the Parliament. It is so in America, as far as any analogy can exist."

If Congress opposes action, it can reduce funding for the military, eliminate units, or freeze supplies. Congress ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam by cutting off funds for the war. Our Constitution has succeeded because it favors swift presidential action in war, later checked by Congress's funding power.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama's desire to work through the United Nations has only substituted one source of delay and unaccountability for another. While he wasted weeks negotiating with the Arab League, NATO allies and finally the U.N. Security Council to win the international approval he so desperately seeks, Moammar Gadhafi reversed his battlefield losses and drove the rebels into one last holdout in Benghazi. The Constitution centralized the management of war in the president precisely to avoid the delays and mistakes of decision-making by committee. While Mr. Obama has done well to part ways with antiwar Democrats, he has shown that he still has to learn the ways of the executive.


Obama says he didn’t inform Mexico of U.S. gun smuggling operation because he didn’t know about it

Under fire for an operation that allowed smuggling of U.S. weapons across the nation’s border with Mexico, President Obama said in an interview that neither he nor Attorney General Eric Holder authorized the controversial “Operation Fast and Furious.”

The Mexican government has complained that it didn’t know about the U.S. operation that allowed guns to illegally cross the southwestern border so they could track the weapons.

Obama told Univision‘s Jorge Ramos that President Felipe Calderon wasn’t informed of the operation because he — the president of the United States — wasn’t informed either. When asked whether he knew of the weapon smuggling plan, Obama responded that it is “a pretty big government” with “a lot of moving parts.”

The investigation into the program comes after it was connected to two weapons that were found at the scene of a border shootout that killed U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December. Likewise, a gun smuggled from the U.S. were used to kill Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Jamie Zapata, but it has not been determined if it was part of “Fast and Furious.”

When President Calderon came to visit Washington recently, the two presidents came together on a policy to stop drug and weapon smuggling across the border.

“Our policy is to ram up the interdiction of guns flowing south because that’s contributing to some of the security problems that are taking place in Mexico and what we’re doing is trying to build the kind of cooperation between Mexico and the United States that we haven’t seen before,” Obama told Univision.

The president said his attorney general has been “very clear that our policy is to catch gunrunners and put them into jail.”

The controversial operation was the subject of a CBS News Investigation that reported ATF was allowing traffickers to bring weapons into Mexico in order to track them rather than arresting the traffickers. Obama said Holder has assigned an inspector general to investigate what happened, because he does not know who authorized the operation.

“Letting guns ‘walk’ is not something that is acceptable,” Holder said during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. “Guns are different than drugs or money when we are trying to follow their trail. That is not acceptable.”

Holder said he made this clear to attorneys and ATF agents.

>>> On the jump page: Complete transcript of the exchange from Univision


PBO: Well, first of all I did not authorize it. Eric Holder, the Attorney General, did not authorize it. He’s been very clear that our policy is to catch gun runners and put them into jail. So what he’s done is he’s assigned an I.G., an inspector general, to investigate what exactly happened…


PBO: Well, we don’t have all the facts. That’s why the I.G. is in business. To collect the facts.


PBO: Absolutely not, this is a pretty big government, the United States government. I got a lot of moving parts. But I want to be very clear, I spoke to President Calderon when he came to visit just a few weeks ago, our policy is to ramp up the interdiction of guns flowing south because that’s contributing to some of the security problems that are taking place in Mexico and what we are doing is trying to build the kind of cooperation between Mexico and the United States that we haven’t seen before. That ensures that we have a comprehensive approach. I’ve said to President Calderon and I’ve said it publicly, we’ve got obligations. It’s not just Mexico’s problem, it’s also our problem. We got to reduce demand for drugs, which is why even though we got obviously significant deficits; we are allocating 10 billion dollars in our budget to try to reduce demand through prevention programs and education programs. We have to make sure that we are enforcing the kinds of measures that will stop the flow of guns and cash down south that is helping to fuel these transnational drug cartels. So we’ve initiated excellent cooperation, there may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made, if that’s the case then we’ll find out and will hold somebody accountable.


Rebel Commander in Libya Fought Against U.S. in Afghanistan

Shortly after unrest broke out in eastern Libya in mid-February, reports emerged that an “Islamic Emirate” had been declared in the eastern Libyan town of Darnah and that, furthermore, the alleged head of that Emirate, Abdul-Hakim al-Hasadi, was a former detainee at the American prison camp in Guantánamo. The reports, which originated from Libyan government sources, were largely ignored or dismissed in the Western media.

Now, however, al-Hasadi has admitted in an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore that he fought against American forces in Afghanistan. (Hat-tip: Thomas Joscelyn at the Weekly Standard.) Al-Hasadi says that he is the person responsible for the defense of Darnah — not the town’s “Emir.” In a previous interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail, he claimed to have a force of about 1,000 men and to have commanded rebel units in battles around the town of Bin Jawad.

“I have never been at Guantánamo,” al-Hasadi explained to Il Sole 24 Ore. “I was captured in 2002 in Peshawar in Pakistan, while I was returning from Afghanistan where I fought against the foreign invasion. I was turned over to the Americans, detained for a few months in Islamabad, then turned over to Libya and released from prison in 2008.”

Al-Hasadi’s account is largely confirmed by investigations conducted by Praveen Swami, the diplomatic editor of the British daily The Telegraph. Swami originally wrote about al-Hasadi’s background in the Afghan jihad in a March 21 column. In response to a query from the present author, Swami was able to obtain confirmation of al-Hasadi’s arrest and transfer to Libya from what he describes as a “senior source” in the Afghan government.

According to a separate UK intelligence source contacted by Swami, al-Hasadi was released by the Libyan government as part of a deal that was struck with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIGF). The LIGF has long opposed the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi in Libya.

On February 25, al-Hasadi had issued an ambiguous statement claiming that he had been a “political prisoner” and accusing the “Dictator Gaddafi” of spreading “lies.” Al-Jazeera provides an English translation of the statement here. (Scroll down to “12:46pm”.) A video of al-Hasadi reading his statement is available here.

In his more recent remarks to Il Sole 24 Ore, al-Hasadi admits not only to fighting against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but also to recruiting Libyans to fight against American forces in Iraq. As noted in my earlier PJM report here, captured al-Qaeda personnel records show that al-Hasadi’s hometown of Darnah sent more foreign fighters to fight with al-Qaeda in Iraq than any other foreign city or town and “far and away the largest per capita number of fighters.” Al-Hasadi told Il Sole 24 Ore that he personally recruited “around 25” Libyans to fight in Iraq. “Some have come back and today are on the front at Ajdabiya,” al-Hasadi explained, “They are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists.” “The members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader,” al-Hasadi added.

The revelations about al-Hasadi’s involvement in the anti-American jihad are particularly troubling in light of clear evidence that Western forces are coordinating their attacks on Libyan government targets with rebel forces.

Reporting from the outskirts of Ajdabiya on Wednesday, Antoine Estève of the French news channel i-Télé noted that just “minutes” after rebel positions had been hit by artillery fire from Libyan government forces, the Libyan government positions were then bombarded by coalition aircraft. (Estève’s report can be viewed here.) In a March 19 dispatch from Benghazi for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, correspondent Lorenzo Cremonesi cites rebel leaders as saying that they were given the opportunity to provide NATO with a map indicating enemy targets that they wanted bombed.

Editor’s note: Also read “Gaddafi and Corruption: WikiLeaks vs. WikiLeaks” at the Tatler.