Daily archives: May 22, 2007

US Turns up the Heat on Tehran

By Simon Tisdall in Guardian Online

Iran’s secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

…US officials now say they have firm evidence that Tehran has switched tack as it senses a chance of victory in Iraq. In a parallel development, they say they also have proof that Iran has reversed its previous policy in Afghanistan and is now supporting and supplying the Taliban’s campaign against US, British and other Nato forces.

…Any US decision to retaliate against Iran on its own territory could be taken only at the highest political level in Washington, the official said. But he indicated that American patience was wearing thin.

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A Mighty Heart

I have been more than usually attentive to the reception given to Michael Winterbottom’s film “A Mighty Heart” at Cannes. This has exactly the same team of producers and director as the film of my memoir Murder in Samarkand, on which the cameras are set to start rolling in February, so plainly I have a major interest in the team’s success.

The papers today all carry an account of yesterday’s press conference at the premiere, based on the Pitt/Jolie celeb power. As far as I can gather, none of these reports were written after actually seeing the film itself. The only real film review I can find so far is this rather gushing one from Fox News.

Angelina Jolie Film About Slain Reporter Daniel Pearl Filmmaking of Highest Order

Monday, May 21, 2007

By Roger Friedman

“A Mighty Heart,” Angelina Jolie’s film about the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, had its first screening Monday morning at the Cannes Film Festival.

Simply put, the Michael Winterbottom film is an exceptional piece of work, deeply affecting and filmmaking of the highest order.

In purely Hollywood terms, the film is a certain Oscar nominee. Everyone involved in “A Mighty Heart” ‘ from Winterbottom to Jolie as Pearl’s widow, Mariane, to Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl ‘ can be proud of a job very well done.

Based on the book by Mariane Pearl, the film follows the pregnant Mariane as she searches for her husband following his disappearance in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002. At the time, Daniel Pearl was writing a story about shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Winterbottom’s cinema verit’-style only adds to the immediacy of the Pearl tragedy. This director has done a remarkable job.

And it’s not just Jolie and Futterman who shine. The entire supporting cast including Irfan Khan, who has already had a hit this year with “The Namesake,” and the always reliable Will Patton as a CIA agent, makes the back-stories of the film eminently watchable, too.

But ultimately it’s Winterbottom’s achievement with screenwriter John Orloff (‘Band of Brothers’) in making ‘Mighty Heart’ an ensemble piece.

Jolie, who’s probably the hottest celebrity right now and covered by every tabloid in the world, could easily have become outsized in a story with many elements. Instead, she is quite tempered here, and becomes a team player whether she likes it or not.

It’s easy to forget what a fine actress she can be. But her understanding of Mariane Pearl is unusually touching. For most of the movie, Mariane seems a little cool, distant and brittle as she absorbs the news that her husband has been kidnapped.

Jolie, however, finally shows the human side of this strong woman when she learns that her husband is actually dead. She lets loose with shrieks of anguish that are all too real. They are almost like animal cries, and I guarantee you, audiences will be pulling out the Kleenex at this moment.

Winterbottom also punctuates the film with lots of jump-cutting, nonlinear plotting and flashback, all of which help add to the tension. He and Orloff flesh out Daniel Pearl, too, a hard task since he could have vanished after the kidnapping. But working with Futterman they create a very real man who met a tragic and untimely death.

And what a strange press conference at Cannes Monday after the first screening of “A Mighty Heart.” How things have changed! There was more interest in Brangelina’s celebrity life than in the Pearl tragedy or the politics that instigated it.

I could only wonder what Mariane Pearl, who was there on the dais with the cast, producers and director, thought of this episode. It was embarrassing. One woman even managed to jump on the stage at the end and kiss Brad Pitt. Oy vey!


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Someone Thinks I am A Hero

Which is rather nice. I do hope they go on to discover Murder in Samarkand, which may disillusion them a bit.

Time for change’s Journal

Tribute to a Hero: Craig Murray

Posted by Time for change in General Discussion

Mon May 21st 2007, 11:00 PM

Our world is in desperate need of heroism today ‘ and no kind of heroic action is in greater demand today, in my opinion, than speaking out against the numerous abuses and crimes of the presidential administration of George W. Bush, which poses the greatest threat to world peace and world civilization of our current era.

Of the numerous crimes against the American people, the American Constitution, and international law committed by the Bush administration, the one that scares me the most, with the possible exception of his illegal preemptive invasion of Iraq, is its treatment of its prisoners. I’ve discussed my opinions on this issue numerous times, but that is not the purpose of this post. Suffice it to say here that I consider the Bush administration’s treatment of its prisoners to represent one of the darkest chapters, if not the darkest chapter in the history of our nation. Indeed, I consider it to be a manifestation of evil. And that is why I feel the need to pay tribute to a man whose heroic efforts perhaps did as much or more to expose these abominable medieval horrors than any other.

Craig Murray was the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from the summer of 2002 until October 15, 2004, when he was suspended from his post for his heroism ‘ that is, for speaking out and fighting against the horrors that he witnessed in his capacity as ambassador, as well as for exposing the role of the United States in perpetrating those horrors.

Stephen Grey, of Amnesty International, who himself was instrumental in exposing the CIA’s rendition program, describes how Craig Murray did something very similar, in his book, ‘Ghost Plane ‘ The True Story of the CIA Torture Program’. I’ll begin my description of Murray’s heroism by providing some background on the country that he was assigned to.

21st Century Uzbekistan

Islam Karimov had been the dictator of Uzbekistan since prior to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Grey describes the repressiveness of his rule:

Karimov’ still boiled some of his prisoners alive’ He was also proudly repressive. Back in 1999, he said: ‘I am prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and to have calm in the republic.’ He boasted of executing about a hundred people a year. More than six thousand political opponents were locked in his jails. Threatened by the revival of Islam, he ordered a huge crackdown on religion’ Tortures were said to include ripping out fingernails, pulling teeth, electric shocks, suffocation, and rape.

U.S. Collaboration

Because of the severe religious repression many Muslims fled Uzbekistan and ended up in Afghanistan, where they resided by 9-11-01. That set the stage for collaboration between Uzbekistan and the United States in pursuit of its ‘War on Terror’: The U.S. paid tens of millions of dollars to Uzbekistan in aid. American forces in Afghanistan would capture the displaced Muslims, who may or may not have been fighting for the Taliban, or they would simply take Muslims into custody after being handed them by bounty hunters; the U.S. would then ‘render’ their prisoners back to Uzbekistan or send them to Guantanamo Bay; Uzbekistan would either force their prisoners to confess to various al Qaeda plots or torture them; and they would turn over the ‘intelligence’ thus received to the CIA.

What did Uzbekistan and the U.S. have to gain from this relationship? Who can say exactly what motives lurk in the minds of torturers like Karimov, Bush and Cheney. I can only speculate: Karimov received lots of money and the legitimacy of U.S. support and was aided in his goal of having more prisoners to torture ‘ I suppose as an example to his population to help maintain his stranglehold over them. And we got more ‘intelligence’ for our ‘War on Terror’, as well as use of Uzbekistan for military strategic purposes.

Craig Murray blows the whistle

In his role as ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray saw continual evidence of the horrors that were perpetrated there. At first it was in the form of accusations of those who had been tortured ‘ and one had to consider the possibility that the accusers were not being truthful. But then Murray began to see more tangible evidence, such as photos. On September 16, 2002, Murray sent a telegram to his superiors:

“U.S. plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: Increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism. Support to Karimov regime a bankrupt and cynical policy.”

Read whole article:


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Putin’s Russia

I have been both snowed under and travelling like a madman lately, and therefore rather absent from this blog. Apologies.

The piece by me below appeared in The Mail on Sunday two days ago.

I would like to introduce it with the following thought. There are those who denounce any criticism of Russia, particularly over human rights, as a neo-con plot. That is plainly stupid.

On the blogosphere it is not hard to bump into the view that, on the international stage, anyone opposed to George Bush must be a good man, and any attack on anyone opposed to George Bush must be malicious. A much more probable scenario is that George Bush is a powerful and bad man, perhaps primus inter pares but nonetheless among many other powerful and bad men. Russia is in fact in the grip of vicious gangsters, ripping off the country with a freedom even the most ardent deregulatory neo-con in Washington could not conceive.

Investigative report: The Kremlin Killings


After a series of brutal murders of dissident journalists in Russia, Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, went to investigate.

His disturbing report reveals how deeply the cancer of criminality has infected Putin’s society

One Friday two months ago, Ivan Safronov, defence correspondent of the authoritative Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, made his way home from work.

After a mild winter, Moscow had turned cold in March and Safronov held a bag of groceries in one hand while keeping his coat closed against the snow with his other.

Arriving at the entrance to his grim Soviet-era apartment block, Safronov punched in the security code which opened the grey metal door at the entrance to the gloomy hallway.

So far this is a perfectly normal Moscow scene. But then ‘ and this is the official version of events ‘ Ivan Safronov apparently did something extraordinary.

He walked up the communal stairs, past his second-floor apartment to the top landing between the third and fourth floors.

Then, placing his groceries on the floor, he opened a window, climbed on to the sill and leapt to his death, becoming around the 160th (nobody can be certain of precise numbers) journalist to meet a violent end in post-communist Russia.

In the West, the cases of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, shot dead in her apartment block, and ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium in London last year, hit the headlines.

But in Russia, there was nothing exceptional about those killings. It’s long been understood that if you publish material that embarrasses or annoys those in power, you’re likely to come to a sticky end.

Continue reading


As always, the unedited original was rather better; I may post it if I can work out how to prevent its length taking over the entire page. A follow-up article will appear this Sunday.

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