Month: August 2002

Life During Wartime

Life during wartime is a funny thing. I don’t realize we’re still at war until I open the newspaper and read that Henry Kissinger is the dove leading the opposition against a war with Iraq.

I also read in the paper that newly declassified documents from the State Department show Henry Kissinger and other Ford Administration officials to be responsible for state terror in Argentina.

From 1975-1984, a group of generals ran the government of Argentina. This military junta was responsible for setting up and running death squads–usually called “paramilitary” groups, in order to confuse us about their real mission, which is to murder labor activists, human rights workers, social justice organizers, and politicians from opposition parties. In Argentina, some of those murdered activists and organizers were US citizens.

In the summer and fall of 1976, just as these Argentine death squads were at the height of their depredations, the US Ambassador to Argentina, a man named Robert Hill, was scolding the Argentine government about its human rights record. His pleas fell on deaf ears, because Argentine officials had already been to Washington DC and met with Henry Kissinger and other members of the Ford administration, who had encouraged them to get their “terrorist problem under control as quickly as possible.” Kissinger wasn’t referring to the death squads as terrorists. No, he was referring to the activists and opposition groups who were fighting for democracy and for social and economic justice in Argentina.

Hhhmm. I also read in the newspaper about a covert program to aid Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s–when Iraq was using chemical weapons against its Kurdish population. The Reagan administration voiced protests in the press and at the UN, but didn’t withdraw its covert support to Saddam Hussein, which included 60 US Defense Intelligence Agency officers who “provided detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical battle planning, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for the Iraqi general staff.” They also provided satellite photographs of the Iranian troop deployments. The Iraqis freely shared their battle plans with DIA officers, “without admitting the use of chemical weapons,” but it became obvious to the world–and to the DIA–what was going on. Nevertheless, “Reagan, Vice President George Bush–father of the current president–and senior national-security aides never withdrew their support for the highly classified program.”

More importantly, they never even threatened to withdraw support. As retired Colonel Walter Lang, who was the senior DIA officer at the time, has said: “The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern.” Another, anonymous veteran of the DIA program also said that the administration “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas. It was just another way of killing people.”

Just another way of killing people. Flying an airplane into a building is just another way of killing people, too, but it’s one we object to because we, Americans, are the target. When Kurds and Iranians are the targets of Sarin, mustard gas, VX, and other chemical agents, then there’s no moral quandary. It’s just another way of killing people–one that elder statesmen like George Bush Sr. or Henry Kissinger don’t find objectionable at all.

We can assume George W. Bush, our current president, doesn’t find it particularly objectionable, either–in spite of his public comments condemning it. He still maintains a close relationship with his father, who never condemned the gassing in public, as others did at the time. Secretary of State George Schultz, Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, and National Security Advisor Colin Powell all spoke out against Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. But not George Bush Sr.

We could shrug our shoulders and say “well, that was all in the past. Things are different now.” However, that past is not so far away, nor so distant that our government isn’t still using the same justifications for supporting dictators today.

For example, George W. Bush is supporting a dictator in Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who just unilaterally rewrote his country’s constitution to give himself veto power over all branches of the Pakistani government, including Parliament and the Supreme Court. Musharraf’s military trained and armed the Taliban, and helped hundreds of them escape Afghanistan eight months ago. The Pakistani military also trained and armed Kashmiri militants who are attacking and killing women and children in India. If we must remove someone as head of state of an “evil” dictatorship, why not Musharraf?

Repression, killing, ethnic fighting, murder of human rights workers–these are all signs of “stability” to men like Kissinger and George W. Bush. Women and children, labor unionists, poets, songwriters, and activists are a “terrorist problem.”

And Musharraf is our strongman with his finger on the nuclear button and an arsenal of chemical weapons at his side. One day, a decade from now, we might debate removing him from office to boost our own president’s sagging approval rating. We’ll trot out the evidence we’ve known all along: support for the Taliban, for Kashmiri militants, torture and repression, no democratic elections, etc. Musharraf might even use chemical or nuclear weapons with our government’s silent, secret blessing.

Meanwhile, the only criminal court our government supports is a parade of US Defense Department spokesmen aired on CNN.

Life during wartime is more than strange. It’s hypocritical.

Sources for this article include: “Argentina regime had US support,” James Dao, The New York Times reprinted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/22/02, A9; “Officers say US ignored Iraq’s use of gas against Iran,” Patrick E. Tyler, The NY Times reprinted in The Seattle Times, 8/18/02, A1; and “Constitution amended in Pakistan, US stays mum as Musharraf seeks to expand executive power,” David Rohde, The NY Times reprinted in the Seattle P-I, 8/22/02, A4.

Ed note: Among Reagan administration officials who knew of, but failed to condemn, Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons of mass destruction was its Ambassador for Middle Eastern Affairs. He was in Baghdad literally on the day the use of these weapons was revealed, and, according to New York Times and Washington Post accounts of his meetings with Iraqi officials, did not speak of the weapons’ use. His name was Donald Rumsfeld.

A Bunch of Shrubbish

On the day that George W. Bush was speaking to a group of loggers in Central Point, Oregon, about loosening the rules for logging on public lands, I was hiking in the Olympic National Forest.

Every August, I get a couple of weeks of vacation, and my first urge is to find trees, big trees, the kind of trees I remember from when I was a girl growing up in rural Pierce County.

Those trees are not so easy to find these days. I can’t bring myself to visit Puyallup, Graham, Orting, or Roy much anymore because it’s too painful to see the strip malls and housing developments that have replaced the big trees. Even the farms that once filled the Puyallup Valley from Renton to Tacoma are mostly gone, replaced by acres of warehouses, row upon row of look-alike townhouses, and high-tech telecom facilities (that now sit largely empty).

It’s easier for me to head west and away from the Cascades, to land I’m not as familiar with, to places that have converted from logging towns to tourist villas. So I end up on Hood Canal and the Olympic Peninsula.

Near Hood Canal, the Olympic National Park’s border is surrounded by the Olympic National Forest. It’s a prime spot to see what the National Forest Service has been doing for the past decade, and to compare it to what real, mature, old-growth forest inside the Olympic National Park looks like.

You can literally see the park boundary. You know the moment you’ve crossed it. The checkerboard of clearcuts alternating with match-stick trees disappears. Inside the park you can feel that you’ve entered a world that’s alive. It’s as if you’ve stepped onto the belly of a giant organism that’s breathing, drawing in a slow, deep breath, the ground slowly, infinitesimally swelling beneath your feet. You wait and wait for the exhale, but it never comes, because the breath is still being drawn. It started centuries ago. It makes you feel small and insignificant–no more important than a bird or a beetle or a fish swimming in the Skokomish River.

It takes me back to being a child, and I love it.

In the national forest, however, such places are almost gone. Some popular hiking trails have been obliterated by clearcuts and road-building. The only mature forests–you can’t really call them old growth, in comparison to the park’s old growth–are left on steep mountainsides, difficult to log, and, in many cases, difficult to hike. They’re lovely hikes, nevertheless–what little you can see of the trees as you sweat and strain and scramble upwards, only to be rewarded with a view that shows you just how bad the clearcuts really are.

When Bill Clinton signed the Salvage Logging Rider, it gave the Forest Service permission to “manage” our national forests to largely benefit commercial logging interests. Clearcuts continued unabated, and it was only the work of a few environmental groups suing in the courts and the direct action of environmental activists–those folks the Bush administration have wrongly labeled “ecoterrorists”–who slowed it down. The “thinning” that was done involved taking out the biggest, most commercially viable trees in a stand and leaving behind the small, toothpick trees behind.

Those tiny trees provide no shade to speak of, and so underbrush has multiplied, creating a choking, groundlevel brush that turns tinder-dry during a hot, dry summer like we’ve had this year. Contrast that with the mature forest in places like the Olympic National Park, where enormous, old-growth trees provide deep shade and the ground is largely bare (it can even be hard to find the trail sometimes, since the dirt path looks the same as the forest floor). Scratch the ground with the heel of your boot, and you find it moist. The air is damp and cool, mushrooms grow easily, and moss clings to the trees, even when the forest hasn’t seen rain for over a month. But the forest still has the fog–heavy, dewy, shroud-like fog drawn off the water by the big trees themselves, as if they could summon a drink whenever they feel like it. While the sun burns that moisture right out of the shrubby land and spindly trees in the lower elevations, the national park’s old-growth trees hold the moisture, and provide the best safeguard against fire of any kind.

So George W.’s argument that thinning trees off the national forests is bullshit. Such talk is code for “more clearcuts for my pals at Boise Cascade.” They now want everything–big trees, little trees, even the stuff they used to consider trash. Anything to keep the mills running.

George W. understands forests about as much as he understands quantum physics. It’s the thinning of mature trees over the past decade coupled with the clearcuts on public and private lands that have made this year’s savage wildfires possible. George W. is not providing balm to the folks whose houses have been destroyed. No, he’s lining his pocket with contributions from commercial logging interests.

As George W. stands in a burned-out area, kicking ash with the toe of his expensive cowboy boots, you can bet he’s never seen a real rainforest. He doesn’t have the time. His tour to Oregon and California is filled with million-dollar fundraising dinners for Republican candidates, all scheduled in quick succession to raise as much money as possible before the new, stricter campaign finance rules take effect. The camera bulbs flash, the TV screens flicker, the sound bites air, and the newspapers run his words verbatim without a hint of irony or question.

Meanwhile, the real story goes untold. Facts are not important. A spokesman from the Pacific Biodiversity Institute in Winthrop, Washington, does a little investigation of his own and finds that over the past decade, only 20% of the lands burned in wildfires was national forest land. The rest were private lands, tribal lands, and other types of public lands–and much of those were grasslands and areas covered in shrubs or other low-growing vegetation. This study has largely been ignored.

We better start paying attention, making noise, speaking the truth. We need to go out and see for ourselves what the Forest Service and commercial logging interests–the real ecoterrorists–have already done to our lands.

If we don’t, our national forest lands could soon be reduced to shrublands, as the Shrub-in-Chief obviously intends.

BioTerror in the USA

While the Bush administration is beating the war drum against Iraq for allegedly obtaining biological and nuclear weapons and spreading them around the world, here in the USA we have our own homegrown terrorist living freely and working everyday with lethal viruses like Ebola and Marburg. Dr. Steven Hatfill, virologist and right-wing ex-mercenary, is also the primary suspect in the FBI’s ongoing anthrax case.

Some prominent biodefense researchers think Hatfill is the right suspect, but that the FBI has balked at arresting him. Some have pointed out that the FBI has been dragging its feet on the case from the first day, recognizing that Hatfill is an insider, and that arresting him would not only embarrass the Bush administration and bring more calumny down on the FBI and CIA, but probably also expose some nasty secrets about the US biodefense–or more accurately “bioweapons”–program.

On August 1, the FBI, under pressure from Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (targets of two anthrax letters), searched Dr. Hatfill’s apartment near Ft. Detrick for the third time. Hatfill has been interviewed by the FBI four times, undergone a lie detector test, and has now hired two layers to represent him. He has also lied about his past, claiming that he was in the US Army Special Forces (he flunked out of Special Forces training after the first month), and he has claimed to have a doctorate in molecular cell biology from the University of Rhodes (but the University has no record of his receiving the degree). There’s also a mountain of circumstantial evidence against him.

Hatfill is one of about 20 or 30 people in the US with the scientific know-how to safely handle anthrax spores, who also has had access to a level 3 or 4 “hot” lab where he could work with powdered anthrax without risking infection. Notably, the anthrax in the letter to Tom Daschle was of such high potency that the list of suspects becomes even smaller. It includes Hatfill and only two or three other people who know how to use a new, efficient weaponizing technique developed only recently by one of Hatfill’s close colleagues.

Until last year, Hatfill had a security clearance and access to the labs at Ft. Detrick in Maryland, where he was employed until 1999. He left Ft. Detrick to work for a government contractor, SAIC Corp., but his security clearance remained valid until August 23, 2001, allowing him continued access to government labs. According to coworkers, when the Pentagon revoked his security clearance for undisclosed reasons, Hatfill was furious.

Hatfill’s colleagues have reported that he lost his security clearance because he failed a lie detector test, specifically when asked questions about his service in the late 1970s with a secret, undercover military unit of the white, racist Rhodesian government. The Selous Scouts were notorious for using chemical and biological warfare against the black, independence fighters in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and against the black civilian population of Rhodesia who occasionally gave material help to the opposition. Historians have documented that the Selous Scouts seeded rivers with cholera, used the chemical toxins warfarin and thallium, sold parathion-laced clothing to opposition fighters and civilians alike, poisoned reservoirs and wells, and were almost certainly responsible for causing the world’s largest anthrax outbreak, which sickened over 10,000 people and killed 182.

When Hatfill failed his lie detector test, he complained that the people administering the test were amateurs and that they couldn’t understand what he and other Cold Warriors had to do in Rhodesia. Of course, Hatfill may have been lying about his work with the Selous Scouts just as he lied about his Special Forces training; nevertheless, his statements provide valuable clues to his mental state and his aspirations.

A recent article in The Sunday Mirror newspaper of Zimbabwe describes Hatfill as a medical student of Dr. Robert Burns Symington, the man credited with developing Rhodesia’s chemical weapons.

In fact, Hatfill did attend medical school in Zimbabwe, where he lived near the Greendale Primary School in the capital city of Harare. The anthrax letters mailed last fall to Senators Daschle and Leahy had a phony return address of “Greendale School” in Trenton, NJ. The Greendale School in Harare was once named after the man who founded the Selous Scouts, Hatfill’s favorite military squad.

Other details of Hatfill’s resume are equally troublesome. After he graduated from medical school in 1983, Hatfill left Zimbabwe for South Africa, following in the tracks of many former white Rhodesian mercenaries who longed to work for a white employer. Hatfill has boasted that he joined the South African Defense Forces’ Medical Service unit (SAMS) under the former apartheid government. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the SAMS’ 7th Battalion developed an extensive chemical and biological warfare program which it deployed in the war in Angola and in helping the brutal RENAMO rebels in Mozambique. Many of the 7th Battalion’s products were used for targeted assassinations of anti-apartheid activists and, horribly, in “crowd control” experiments on black, civilian demonstrators in South Africa. They even attempted to make a biological weapon that would attack only people of color. In 1984–the year after Hatfill moved to South Africa–SAMS ramped up its virology program, conducting bioweapons research on Marburg, Ebola, and Rift Valley Fever, which they received from the US Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Hatfill is an expert on Ebola and Marburg; the US government employed him for two years, from 1997 to 1999, at Ft. Detrick in work on these viruses.

Other disturbing details have surfaced about Dr. Hatfill’s time in South Africa. The Johannesburg Dispatch reports that Hatfill has ties to a South African white supremacist militia leader named Eugene Terre’Blanche. In 1987, Hatfill used a local shooting range to help train Terre’Blanche’s bodyguards and shock troops, some of whom are suspects in the murder of anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani. Terre’Blanche is currently in prison for having murdered one of his own black employees.

While Hatfill worked at Ft. Detrick, his coworkers saw him taking home old biosafety cabinets, which could be used to grow deadly germs at his home.

Hatfill’s coworkers have also pointed out that he travels frequently, and was in Britain at the time that one of the anthrax hoax letters was mailed from Britain. And one of the targets of the anthrax laced letters was a media outlet in Boca Raton, Florida–about 200 miles from where Hatfill rents a storage locker.

Most importantly, an anonymous letter was sent to the FBI before the anthrax deaths occurred. The timing of this letter makes it a crucial clue in finding the anthrax perpetrator; it was mailed after the first anthrax letters were sent, but before anyone had reported any illness or had died from anthrax. No one else but the attacker could have written and mailed it. In this letter, the attacker attempts to point the finger at an Egyptian-born scientist, Dr. Ayaad Assad, who worked at Ft. Detrick until 1997. The attacker gives personal information about Dr. Assad–information that only a coworker would know. While at Ft. Detrick, Assad was the but of racist and demeaning taunts by a group of coworkers who called themselves the “Camel Club.” Assad has been cleared by the FBI of any involvement with the anthrax letters, but the attacker is probably a member of the “Camel Club,” a group of scientists who worked on pathogenic viruses. Dr. Hatfill, virologist, may have been one of them.

How could a virologist get access to anthrax, a bacterium, particularly the potent Ames strain? Of the 15 US labs that have the Ames strain, Dr. Hatfill had access to three (and possibly more because of his security clearance). He is known to have worked in two: Ft. Detrick and Louisiana State University, where he recently accepted a full-time position in the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. Hatfill has previously worked as an adjunct professor in the LSU program. Hatfill certainly has the motive to make an anthrax-laced letter and mail it to a Democratic Congressperson. For years, he has supplemented his income by speaking to various groups and the media about the necessity for more vigilance and more spending on biodefense. He has taught hospital personnel all over the country how to recognize and respond to virulent biowarfare germs. He has also demonstrated numerous times just how easy it is–at least for him–to make biological weapons at home with supplies obtained from the grocery store. He has even demonstrated this skill for ABC TV cameras.

Finally, various US newspapers recently reported that, during his 1999 employment at SAIC Corp, Hatfill and another employee had commissioned a study to describe how anthrax spores could be weaponized, sealed in ordinary business envelopes, and mailed to targets in the US. The newspapers reported that Hatfill undertook the study on his own; however, some of Hatfill’s colleagues have come forward to correct the record: Hatfill was working under contract for the CIA at the time, and the CIA had commissioned the study.

Why isn’t this man in jail? Is Hatfill being protected merely because he’s a CIA asset?

And why is the US government spending money weaponizing biological agents that are a danger to the US public and are banned under the 1972 Biological Warfare Convention?

When the US government signed onto the convention in 1972, President Nixon ordered the US biological weapons stockpile destroyed. But the FBI recently admitted that some germ stocks were maintained in secret anyway. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s–during the Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush Sr. administrations–US laboratories sold or gave viral and bacterial cultures to anyone who was an ally at the time, including the apartheid government of South Africa. And now it is apparent that, all throughout that time, the US government recruited men like Steven Hatfill to come to the US and work in our own “biodefense” program and create extraordinarily deadly weapons–ostensibly to test vaccines.

It’s no mystery now why the Bush administration refused to ratify a UN protocol that would strengthen enforcement of the 1972 Bioweapons Convention by allowing inspection of government labs. The US is almost certainly in violation of the treaty.

Dr. Hatfill is clearly being let off the hook because he knows that the US has a “bioweapons” program, not a “biodefense” program. In addition, he may know some embarrassing proliferation secrets that the Bush administration would rather keep under wraps right now.

Iraq has become the enemy with weapons of mass destruction, not our own government. But it’s the germs in our own labs that have killed five people, sickened dozens of others, cost millions of dollars to clean up, and sparked a billion dollar spending spree to boost “biodefense” programs–the very programs that should be shut down immediately.

Sources for this article include:

“In Search of the Anthrax Attacker,” Meryl Nass, MD, RedFlagsWeekly.com, http://www.redflagsweekly.com/nassanthrax3.html; “Analysis of the Anthrax Attacks, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists, http://www.fas.org/bwc/news/anthraxreport.htm; “Anthrax Epizootic in Zimbabwe, 1978-1980: Due to Deliberate Spread?” Meryl Nass, MD, http://www.anthraxvaccine.org/zimbabwe.html; “The Rollback of South Africa’s Biological Warfare Program,” Stephen Burgess and Helen Purkitt, USAF Institute for National Security Studies, Feb. 2001, http://www.usafa.af.mil/inss/ocp37.htm; “Ex-Rhodesian under probe for US anthrax attacks,” The Sunday Mirror (Harare, Zimbabwe), 7/9/02 www.africaonline.co.zw/mirror/; “US anthrax suspect has ties with SA,” Johannesburg Dispatch Online, 7/1/02 www.dispatch.co.za/2002/07/01/southafrica/anthrax.htm; “Rhodesia, 1978,” Chapter 22 in the book “Plague Wars,” Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg, Macmillan, 2000, http://www.panmacmillan.com/PlagueWars; “Who is Steven Hatfill?” Laura Rozen, the American Prospect, 6/27/02, http://www.prospect.org/webfeatures/2002/06/rozen-1-06-27.html; “Md. Home Searched in Probe of Anthrax, Agents Revisit Former Army Researcher,” Washington Post, 8/2/02, A13; “Anthrax search returns to scientist,” MSNBC, 8/1/02; and “The Anthrax Man,” Maria Tomchick, Eat the State!, 7/3/02, Vol. 6 No. 23, http://www.eatthestate.org/06-23/AnthraxMan.htm.

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