THE ABSURD TIMES — STILL

The Transcripts as Promised

Posted in Uncategorized by @honestcharlie on April 10, 2012

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Occypy Hypocrisy — Iran, Terror, and Egpyt

 
 
 
          As promised, here are the transcripts.  Both are more than adequately introduced and it is fortunate that such information is allowed in our Corporatocracy, a polite term for Fascism.
 
          Some other notes, Rick Santorum has suspended his campaign until 2016.  A Catholic, President Kennedy’s statements made him want to vomit.  I am unable to muster the same degree of enthusiasm for Mr. Santorum’s statements.
 
          One of you said it would have been nice of me to mention Che at the close of the last posting and his words to the fact that “I am a man.”  In those days, it meant human being and had no sexist overtones.  Whatever the truth about Che and his life, his meaning as an icon and a figure to admire is what makes him so valuable today – almost as much as Guy Fawkes.
 
          Anyway, here we are, and I should mention that all the links should work and take you to other transcripts, videos and audio sources:
 
 

April 10, 2012

Training Terrorists in Nevada: Seymour Hersh on U.S. Aid to Iranian Group Tied to Scientist Killings

 

Journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed that the Bush administration secretly trained an Iranian opposition group on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Hersh reports the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office. The MEK has been listed as a foreign terrorist groups since 1997 and is linked to a number of attacks, spanning from the murders of six U.S. citizens in the 1970s to the recent wave of assassinations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists. Hersh also discusses the role of Israeli intelligence and notes the Obama administration knew about the training, “because they have access to what was going on in the previous administration in this area in terms of the MEK, in terms of operations inside Iran.” His new report for The New Yorker blog, “Our Men in Iran?,” comes as nuclear talks are set to resume this week between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency. [includes rush transcript]

Guest:

Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter for The New Yorker magazine. His latest piece for their website’s “News Desk” blog is titled “Our Men in Iran?”

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Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: In what appears to be a first for U.S. foreign policy, new revelations have emerged that the Bush administration secretly trained an Iranian opposition group despite its inclusion on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorists. Writing for The New Yorker magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh reports U.S. Joint Special Operations Command trained operatives from Mujahideen-e-Khalq, or MEK, at a secret site in Nevada beginning in 2005. According to Hersh, MEK members were trained in intercepting communications, cryptography, weaponry and small unit tactics at the Nevada site up until President Obama took office. The MEK has been included on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups since 1997. It’s been linked to a number of attacks, spanning from the murders of six U.S. citizens in the ’70s to the recent wave of assassinations targeting Iranian nuclear scientists.
Although the revelation that the U.S. government directly trained the MEK comes as a surprise, it’s no secret the group has prominent backers across the political spectrum. Despite it’s designation as a “terrorist” organization by the State Department for 15 years, a number of prominent former U.S. officials have been paid to speak in support of the MEK. The bipartisan list includes two former CIA directors, James Woolsey and Porter Goss; former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge; New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former Vermont Governor Howard Dean; former Attorney General Michael Mukasey; former FBI Director Louis Freeh; former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton; and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.
Last month, Rendell and other unnamed officials were subpoenaed by the Treasury Department over their ties to MEK. Mukasey and Freeh have retained former Clinton administration Solicitor General Seth Waxman in response to the Treasury Department probe. Rendell, meanwhile, has shrugged off the scrutiny. Speaking at a public event in support of the MEK Friday in Washington, he told the crowd, quote, “I never knew obtaining a subpoena from your own government would be so much fun.”
Well, for more on the U.S. and its ties to the MEK, we’re joined by Seymour Hersh in Washington, D.C. His new piece for The New Yorker is called “Our Men in Iran?”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sy Hersh. Oh, and happy birthday.
SEYMOUR HERSH: Oh, yes, that’s right. It’s great to be older.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll focus on the wiser part. Tell us what you have learned. Who are, as you call it, “our men in Iran”?
SEYMOUR HERSH: They are as you said. The MEK—and by the way, once again, Amy, the piece was on The New Yorker blog, not in the magazine; it’s a shorter piece. But anyway, the point is, it went through the same sort of intense checking as anything in The New Yorker, of course.
Simply, they’re just the Khalq, the MEK. We began to—I learned about this many years ago. It’s just one of those things that it never quite occurred to me how important it was. And what is important about also the—they did stop, there’s no question, this sort of training that was going on. It was going on at a place called the Nevada Nuclear Security or National Security Test Site. It’s a former site for World War—post-World War II nuclear testing of weapons, testing of nuclear weapons. And it’s off-limits to people. And it’s—there’s an air base there. God knows what went on there. My own guess is rendition flights also flew into that air base in ’02, ’03. There’s some evidence for it. But certainly, the groups of MEK were flown in secretly by, I presume, the Joint Special Operations Command. This is this new high-powered group that’s been doing all the night raids in Afghanistan, that also came up in your news broadcast.
What’s important to me about it is not only that it did end, this kind of direct training of this group that is, as you said, a terrorist group; it’s also very clear that the United States is still involved, as is Israel and as was, for many years, England, in using the MEK and other dissident groups inside Iran as surrogates for the continued pressure we’re putting covertly on inside of Iran. And that is, as you said, there are assassinations done by the MEK. And let me make it clear, the MEK has been in a virtual war with the mullahs in Iran since the fall of the Shah, and you don’t have to—you don’t have to urge them to kill anybody. They’re very eager to do it themselves inside that country. But still, nonetheless, we provide intelligence. We, the Americans, have continued to provide intelligence and other kinds of material support for the MEK. Don’t forget, they speak Farsi, which is a great asset to us. These are people who are able to translate intercepted communications inside Iran for us very quickly and very—with great skill. And so, we have a lot of reason to rely on them, as we rely on other dissident groups inside Iran—the Kurds, the Azeris and others—to cause—basically, to try and keep some sort of internal chaos and mayhem going inside the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it believed the MEK were involved in the assassinations of the Iranian nuclear scientists?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, nobody has a video of it, but that seems clear that one of their goals, obviously, is to prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons. And it’s not clear who they’re really assassinating, whether they’re—I know they’re—at one time, my government—I wrote about this in The New Yorker many years ago, in ’05 or ’06. We’ve been actively involved, beginning in the Cheney-Bush days, of encouraging insurrection inside Iran—whether it’s aimed at regime change or not isn’t clear; I doubt that—but basically, blowing up things, etc. We did have a list at one time we created here in Washington of people we’d like to see gone, captured perhaps, turned over or turned into our agents, you know, double agents inside Iran. We tried to do that, too. But certainly, the Israelis are pawing the ground as if they are directly responsible or deeply involved with the MEK in the recent assassination of a 32-year-old scientist whose role in terms of—there’s not much evidence he was involved in making weapons, because there’s no evidence that Iranians are making weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the bombs that were used in the assassinations?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, they’re most interesting bombs. They’re limpet bombs, Marine limpet bombs. They’re designed—they have a special charge, and they’re designed to go inside. They blow inside. And they’re, of course, of great use by the Navy SEALs. And the Navy SEALs, if you’re going to do an underwater demolition, if you’re going to blow up a ship from underwater, which as the SEALs traditionally were trained to do—most of them are involved in day-to-day combat in Afghanistan, etc., and much different from their initial role of underwater stuff. But if you want to blow up something underwater, you have to have a charge that explodes inward to cause water to rush in, etc. And these kind of very sophisticated charges have been used by the MEK in the assassinations.
And the reason we know it is that the car that was hit, for example, in January in Tehran that killed the young scientist, or the nuclear physicist or whatever he was, exploded inward. You can argue this is also good because it avoids non-combatant deaths. You know, you don’t want to kill a lot of people other than the one you’re trying to kill. It is also useful because you make sure anybody in that car gets it, because it does blow inside. It’s a very sophisticated shape charge. And there’s no question that some of the best mines in the Navy mine-making business were—some of that information was obviously passed on, whether directly to the MEK or through Israeli assets, or explicitly how. But it’s not an accident that these kinds of sophisticated weapons can be traced to the Navy SEALs, who are a major element of the Joint Special Operations Command.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, you end your piece by quoting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Fort Bliss in Texas acknowledging the U.S. has some ideas as to who might have been involved, but we don’t know exactly who was involved, you know, being questioned about—this was the day after—a few days after the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientists. He said, “I can tell you one thing: the [United States] was not involved in that kind of effort. That’s not what the United States does.”
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, I think that’s technically correct. I don’t think there’s any other way to read that comment as—the use of that last graph as an ironic statement, perhaps. I think it’s correct that—also, it’s to my knowledge—this isn’t in the piece, because only one particular source about it, but I do understand that we really don’t know what’s going to happen ’til after it happens, and then we are put on notice. We do get notice that something has happened before it’s released to the public. We have that kind of communication, essentially through Israel. Israel is obviously a little closer to everything that’s going on than we are. But we’re certainly—we’re not picking targets. I doubt that now. At least I don’t have any evidence we are. But we’re providing general intelligence.
And it’s not an accident that the first units of the MEK to show up in Nevada, late ’04, early ’05—and it was months and months of training. It’s not—the first word used by two different people about it was “commo,” communications, and “crypto.” The point is that—there was a story in the Washington Post just the other day here describing how America has been using drones to overfly Iran for at least three years. I would argue that, long before that, we’ve been using American satellites flying high that can’t be detected. And obviously, you can uplink and downlink communications to satellites. You can—if you’re on the ground and you find out something very useful tactically—by training the MEK in communications and how to use encrypt communications, you’re also enabling them to become an asset on the ground for us.
There was a period, I would say, in the Bush administration—I also think it stopped under Obama—when our boys, our Joint Special Operations Command guys, were directly inside Iran. We came in through Herat in Afghanistan. We also—that was one of—what we call a rat line. There are other rat lines through Balochistan in Pakistan, and etc. There are ways to get inside Iran clandestinely that we’ve been using for at least since, I’d say, late ’04 until probably right before Obama got in. So we were there—look, it’s been a huge, big internal game designed to destabilize.
And as somebody said to me in one of the pieces, one of the quotes in the pieces, “We’re not necessarily looking for Einsteins.” That suggests to me that the scientists who are really the most deeply involved in the enrichment. And by the way, let me say again, there is no evidence that our intelligence community or even the Israeli intelligence community has—and I know that firsthand—suggesting that there’s an ongoing bomb program. So we are now—the United States is now in the position of increasing sanctions and pressuring all sorts of economic pressure on the Iranians to stop—the whole purpose of the economic sanctions is to stop the Iranians from making a bomb that we know they’re not making. Once again, I don’t know how we get into this convoluted position. And then, as readers of the major newspapers know, we are now also entering new talks with Iran with new preconditions, and basically telling them that they must stop doing enriching, what they are legally entitled to do as members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran may be secretly wanting a bomb, and they may have that passion, and they maybe, you know, dream about it at night, but we haven’t a shred of evidence that they’ve done anything, concretely, physically, to create a facility for making a weapon.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Seymour Hersh. We’re going to come back to him in 30 seconds, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has written a piece for The New Yorker online called “Our Men in Iran?” Stay with us.
[break]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh. His latest piece is online at The New Yorker magazine’s “News Desk” blog; it’s called “Our Men in Iran?” And it tells the story of a group still designated as terrorist by the State Department, the MEK, which was trained at the Department of Energy’s Nevada National Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has a look of northwest Iran. Sy Hersh, why the Department of Energy? And again, this is under the Bush administration. They’re labeled terrorists, but they are training them, not only in communications, you point out.
SEYMOUR HERSH: They’ve had—there is a secret site. It’s about 60-some-odd miles out of Las Vegas, deep in no-man’s land in southern Nevada, where we’ve been doing an awful lot of stuff for many years. There’s a—it’s called “Site 12.” That particular site, it’s—our CIA and other agencies have been training foreign troops. It’s where, I would guess, when we do joint training with the special units of the Israeli army and other units that we train, we do train foreign soldiers. We can fly to this base. It’s got a long landing strip, 7,500 feet, concrete landing strip. And for a long time it had yellow crosses on it, which meant, for even aircraft, commercial aircraft, in trouble, do not land here. And this is a strip that you come in and you—I presume, you come in in a military plane. You can turn off the transponder. Nobody—no FAA is checking anything. Nobody is going to get a tail number. You can land. And there’s a facility there. There’s barracks and other work, other facilities, in Site 12 for—and a food hall. It’s all—you could actually find it online if you go through the Department of Energy’s annual—they provide annual environmental impact reports, and they describe what’s going on in each site in terms of the environment. And there you get a pretty good description. In fact, they actually use the word—there’s a training facility used for other government agencies. An “OGA,” other government agencies, is a longstanding phrase that means the CIA, essentially—actually specifically to people on the inside. So there’s been training there forever.
And it just so happens, if you take a look at northwest Iran and take a look at the topography in that part of the desert in Nevada, it’s a very arid area, I think 15 inches of rain, or something like that, a year. It’s got a desert. It’s got valleys. It’s got mountain ranges. And it really is similar. I’ll tell you what the most frightening thing was. When they first began the training, one very senior four-star officer was called by somebody who knew about the training in Nevada, very worried about it, and because the Joint Special Operations Command people were training in—not only in communications and cryptography, small unit tactics, but other cute things, which, to me, of course, and to my friend, meant interrogation tactics, you know, how to—you know, I don’t know this, but I presume included the standard sort of horrible stuff that we know American intelligence agencies have and CIA and other personnel have done to various prisoners of war since 9/11, waterboarding and the like. It was very troubling, that message, that this kind of training is being done on a group that’s listed as a terrorist group.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile—
SEYMOUR HERSH: But so it goes. They—
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, so many public officials, Bush and Republican and Democrats, are calling for them to be taken off the list. Among the U.S. officials to speak in support of MEK is former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Speaking to CNN last year, he said the U.S. should lift the terror group designation to help protect MEK members living in Iraq.

HOWARD DEAN: The FBI screened all these people. The FBI counterterrorist folks screened all these people in 2006. Not one of them is a terrorist, according to our FBI. This is outrageous, what’s going on. It’s an outrageous behavior by the State Department. And frankly, the administration has direct responsibility for making sure that the promises were kept. We kept one promise. That is, we kept George Bush’s promise to get out by the end of 2011. We need to keep the promise of the people at Ashraf. We ought not to be complicit in human rights massacres.

AMY GOODMAN: Among those appearing at the public event in Washington on Friday in support of the MEK was Michael—was Mitchell Reiss, a former policy—a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He acknowledged to the crowd that the Treasury Department considers MEK supporters, quote, “potential criminals.” At a campaign stop in New Hampshire last year, an audience member asked Romney about Reiss’s support for the MEK.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Have you heard of or do you support the MEK, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran?
MITT ROMNEY: I have not heard about the MEK, and I—so I can’t possibly tell you whether I support the MEK. But I can—all right? But what is—what is the MEK? Why would you think that I supported it? Because you said it’s a terrorist group?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: There’s been—there’s a terrorist group in Iran which is variably violent. It’s attacked civilians before. It’s called the MEK, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran. And if you look into it, some of your staff members, I believe, have made statements to lobby the executive branch to remove them from the terrorist list.
MITT ROMNEY: I’ll take a look at the issue. I’m not familiar with that particular group or that effort on the part of any of my team.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney being questioned about his foreign policy adviser Mitchell Reiss’s support for the MEK. Seymour Hersh, your response?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, I would say that the Obama administration has even more trouble than Mr. Romney does. It’s clear he didn’t know much about it. This administration knows an awful lot about it, because they have access to what was going on in the previous administration in this area in terms of the MEK, in terms of operations inside Iran, and they’re still going on. And so, the question then becomes—I’m amazed that we’ve had nothing from the White House about this story. And there’s also been sort of a—I shouldn’t complain about it, because I understand it. You know, it’s “not invented here” syndrome. But I’m a little amazed that more reporters aren’t asking more questions about this, because it seems to be so egregious. This is—right now, our Treasury Department is actually asking questions, because no matter how you cut it, it’s a terrorist group, and if you’re aiding and supporting a terrorist group, under the law of the United States—as you know, there’s been some prosecutions in this area of people of Middle East descent supporting groups that we consider to be terrorists, and they get put away in jail. There certainly seems to be a double standard here at work. And yeah, Romney seems lost in space on this issue, but I can assure you right now, there are people in this White House who are not.
AMY GOODMAN: Is the Obama administration still training MEK?
SEYMOUR HERSH: I don’t think the word is “training” anymore, because are we directly training them down in Nevada? No, I don’t—there’s no reason to believe that. I don’t know that. I’ve been told that there is more stuff going on than we know of, of course, and that’s also possible. You know, one of the things that I’ve learned—I’ve been doing a book about Cheney for a number of years. It’s just amazing how many things we really don’t know about what our government can do. There are amazing things out there that happened that we just don’t know about. And so, they can keep secrets. Of course the government would like to keep pressure on Iran as much as it can. And I don’t think we can totally walk away from responsibility in terms of—at the minimum, we’ve been providing intelligence that we know goes to the MEK and also to other dissident groups inside, inside Iran. Does that mean we’re aiding and abetting in the specific killing of somebody? No, I have no reason to believe that anybody can make that case. But what the hell are we doing in there? Why are we putting so much pressure? Why do we take so much pleasure in bombings and explosions that take place inside Iran, which may be linked to us? And I just don’t quite understand the policy. It’s certainly not one that’s conducive to having good negotiations in good faith.
AMY GOODMAN: The latest news that nuclear talks in Turkey are taking place—talk about how the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, has found—what they have found in relation to the nuclear program and also Mohamed ElBaradei. In a minute, we’re going to be speaking to Sharif Abdel Kouddous. Mohamed ElBaradei, who was the Nobel Prize-winning head of the IAEA, was going to run for president of Egypt, then pulled out. But what he had to do with information that came from the MEK?
SEYMOUR HERSH: Well, very early, the MEK was the first group to announce that the—that they had discovered—in 2002, they had a news conference. And by the way, at that point, they were considered—the MEK were always considered a cult group, very fringe, marginal, irrational group. They had been involved in the ’70s, so we believe, in the killing of some Americans inside Iran. And they were a Marxist, leftist group in opposition to the Shah that couldn’t connect with the mullahs, the religious mullahs that took over, Khomeini in those days. They couldn’t connect with them, and they began a protracted struggle in which murder, murder, murder was all over the place, both sides killing each other, very brutal stuff. And so they were always considered to be outside the normal realm of groups.
And suddenly in 2002, they get a lot of street cred, credibility, because they announce that they, the Iranians, are building a nuclear facility. They didn’t say they were enriching uranium there, but it was clear, from the import of what they said, the only reason they’re getting involved in building a facility for nuclear production was for weaponization. And I learned—I was told at the time that Israel was behind that intelligence, that it really didn’t come from the MEK themselves. Israel, as you know—there are what, something like a million-and-a-half Iranian Jews, many of whom fled the country when the Shah fell. And Israel still has a pretty good net of—intelligence net inside Iran, so it wasn’t illogical.
And I began to see Mr. ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA, pretty regularly, certainly at least once a year, and talked to a lot of people there in Vienna about what was going on in terms of nuclear development around the world. And this is a wise man. We didn’t like him because he’s Egyptian, but that was a big mistake. He turned out to be—he was enraged at Iran when I first began to talk to him about it. He thought they cheated. He was quite angry. But he also told me—I told him—we talked about the fact that I had heard that the Israelis were involved in providing that intelligence, and he also had heard the same thing. And in fact, before this article was published online for The New Yorker, the fact checkers went back to his office to his secretary and once again reminded him of that conversation and got his permission to say something he wouldn’t let me say earlier, which is that he had provided me with that information, too.
So Israel has had a tremendous role in supporting the MEK. I wouldn’t be surprised if Israel was also deeply involved in helping us or abetting with the training inside—in Nevada. That would make a lot of sense. And Israel certainly is a key player right now in the MEK activities, along with us, and for many years along with the Brits, who were also involved in providing signals intelligence inside Iran or collecting intelligence. The good thing about having Britain around is they’re actually more hated than we are in the Middle East because of their long history of exploitation. That’s always a plus.
But having said that, Baradei’s been—he’s been a very neutral arbiter of what was going on, very critical of Iran for many years. He eventually turned—his position turned, as he learned more, as the Iranians trusted him more, began to talk more to him and his people. And what we now have is—he left a few years back—we have a new director general, a Japanese sort of center-right politician named Amano, who is different. He’s much closer to us. There’s been WikiLeak cables released by Julian Assange that show very clearly that we helped him get elected as director general. There was a—it’s a U.N. agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, that ElBaradei headed for so many years. It’s U.N. And the new leader was voted—I think there were seven ballots, and it was our ability to swing some votes that got Amano the job, and he immediately told us how he would be different about Iran, etc. There’s a whole series of WikiLeaks cables about this that Julian’s group released that are pretty devastating, that aren’t enough in the American currency. They’re there. They were published widely in the British press, but not here. We really need to take a look at this relationship, because it raises a lot of questions just about—I’ll be honest: I’m not sure we come into negotiations with very clean hands on this. And we begin negotiations really behind the eight ball with the Iranians, because they are very deeply involved. They have very good intelligence. They know what we’ve been doing. Despite all this talk you have about Iranians being involved inside Afghanistan right now and all this talk about Iranians being involved inside Iraq and killing Americans, there’s never been much of a case for that.
And I will tell you right now, after 9/11, the Iranians were absolutely willing to work with us, particularly against al-Qaeda. Don’t forget, Iran is Shia, and al-Qaeda are mostly Sunni, Sunni fanatics, and there was no love lost. And they actually, in the first few—six months or so after 9/11, they closed their borders and captured a lot of al-Qaeda that were being driven out of the country by us, and they were looking for refuge in Iran, and they’ve been jailed. I think they’re still there in jail, over a hundred of them. And so, we really blew a chance by putting them on the Axis of Evil. I’d sure like to do a takeover of American history after 9/11. I think the history books are going to be—as bad as we think it is, it’s worse.
AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New Yorker. His latest piece is online at their “News Desk” blog; it’s called “Our Men in Iran?”
When we come back, another prize-winning journalist. We’ll be joined by our very own Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He has just flown in from Cairo. He’s heading up to Ithaca College this evening to give a major address as he receives the Izzy Award from the Park Center for Independent Media, named for the muckraking journalist I.F. Stone. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


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April 10, 2012

Shock Doctrine in Egypt: Sharif Abdel Kouddous on Post-Mubarak Economic Crisis, Presidential Race

 

As Hosni Mubarak’s former spy chief Omar Suleiman announces he will run for president and Egypt teeters on the edge of an economic crisis, we discuss the state of post-revolution Egypt with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, based in Cairo. Suleiman headed Egypt’s intelligence services for more than 18 years, becoming a close U.S. ally and playing a key role in the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. Now he joins a crowded field of candidates in the presidential election set to begin May 23. Kouddous notes Egypt’s economy has reached a critical juncture, as the country faces a large budget deficit and is running out of its foreign currency reserves even as it relies on imports for key food staples, such as wheat. “We don’t know where we stand in terms of the Constitution, where the elections stand. Egypt’s revolution still is up in the air,” Kouddous says. He is in New York to to accept this year’s Izzy Award for Special Achievement in Independent Media for his reporting on the Egyptian revolution. [includes rush transcript]

Guest:

Sharif Abdel Kouddous, an independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent, now based in Cairo, Egypt.

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This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.Donate >

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Egypt, where the former intelligence chief of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak has joined the presidential race. Omar Suleiman announced his bid on Friday, well over a month before Egyptians head to the polls. Suleiman headed Egypt’s intelligence services for more than 18 years, becoming a close U.S. ally and playing a key role in the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program. During the Egyptian uprising last year, Mubarak appointed Suleiman his first-ever vice president before he was forced out of power. The presidential candidate for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat El-Shater, criticized Suleiman’s entry into the race.

KHAIRAT EL-SHATER: [translated] We strongly reject any attempt to restore the previous political regime in the same form and represented in the person of General Omar Suleiman. And we think that this is an insult to the revolution and shows a lack of awareness of the type of change that has taken place in the lives of Egyptian people and its impact. But in terms of how to deal with this issue and having just one Islamist candidate, the issue is not about whether the candidates are Islamist or not. The issue is about the attempt to steal the revolution. And if any attempt is made to steal the revolution or to carry out fraud, then, naturally, ourselves and others will go out on the streets.

AMY GOODMAN: Egypt’s presidential elections begin May 23rd. With Suleiman’s entry into the race, one of the most public faces of the Mubarak regime joins an already crowded presidential field in a critical vote for post-revolution Egypt.
For more, we’re joined by Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He is based in Cairo, a Democracy Now! correspondent, fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s here tonight to receive the Izzy Award for Special Achievement in Independent Media, named after the legendary maverick journalist I.F. Stone, who launched I.F. Stone’s Weekly in 1953 and exposed government deception, McCarthyism, racial bigotry. Sharif is being honored for his reporting on the Egyptian revolution. In a statement, the Park Center for Independent Media said, “With breathtaking bravery, Sharif’s unflinching on-the-street reporting simultaneously brought us the voices and faces of Egyptians, the drama of the moment and big-picture analysis — sometimes while tear gas or live rounds exploded in the background.” That is Sharif Abdel Kouddous, and he’s here in studio.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! here in New York, Sharif.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the elections.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, as you mentioned in the lede, Omar Suleiman is the last candidate to join the presidential race. He submitted his candidacy papers 20 minutes before the window closed on Sunday. He, in fact, had said he wasn’t going to run, just days earlier, and then reversed that decision, and apparently in one day obtained more than 70,000 signatures for his candidacy, which is, you know, more than double the 30,000 that’s needed to be an official candidate.
It’s ironic that he’s running. I mean, this is the man that Mubarak appointed as vice president once the revolution began in a bid to quell the uprising. During the 18-day uprising, he actually went on ABC in an interview and said Egyptians are not ready for democracy. Now he’s running for president. Many consider him the candidate now of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster on February 11th of last year. He’s a career army officer that served with many of the two dozen generals that serve on the military council. And as you mentioned, since 1993, he’s been the head of the General Intelligence Services—in Arabic, that’s known as the Mukhabarat—a very powerful intelligence position. He played a key role in suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists during Mubarak’s era. He played a key role in Egypt’s relationship with Israel, helping to enforce the siege on Gaza, helping to crush Hamas through destroying the tunnels that provide a lifeline to Gaza.
But, of course, also he was the CIA’s point man in Egypt for the extraordinary rendition program and was involved, by some accounts, actually in torture itself. One prisoner, who is an Egyptian-born Australian citizen by the name of Mamdouh Habib, who was rendered to Egypt, where he was—he says he was electrocuted, hung from metal hooks, suspended in water up to his nostrils. He was later sent to Guantánamo, where he was held for a number of years before being shipped back home to Australia without charge. He penned a memoir, and he said at one point that while he was being interrogated, the interrogator slapped him so hard that the blindfold dislodged off his eye, and sitting in front of him was Omar Suleiman. Omar Suleiman was also the liaison for the CIA in the rendition of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who of course played a key role in the Bush administration’s justification for the war in Iraq. So, that’s his background. And he has now entered the race.
It has caused widespread outrage in Egypt. Calls for protests have already begun for a big protest on Friday against his candidacy. A committee in parliament has approved a law—this is not approved by the parliament yet, just a committee putting it forward—to ban any former regime members who served in top-level positions in the last five years leading up to Mubarak’s ouster from running in the presidential election. It’s not understood whether this will actually pass, especially after the nomination window closed, but that’s where it stands right now. And I don’t know what kind of backing he would have popularly. I mean, let’s remember that on February 10th, Mubarak actually—the day before Mubarak stepped down, he tried to pass over all his constitutional powers to the vice president, to Omar Suleiman, and this was met with widespread disapproval. So, we’ll have to see what happens.
But another key person that is running in the presidential race, as you mentioned, and we heard a clip of him in the lede, was Khairat El-Shater. Khairat El-Shater is probably the most powerful member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is a multi-millionaire business tycoon who was jailed for 12 years, a total of 12 years during Mubarak’s era. He ran the Muslim Brotherhood largely from his prison cell. He was released by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces in March of last year. His nomination actually caused outrage, as well, because it reversed a pledge by the Muslim Brotherhood not to field a presidential candidate. This was their pledge early on in the process. As we know, they dominate—they have about 50 percent of the seats in the legislature. They’ve dominated the constituent assembly, which we’ll talk about in a moment. And they have now said they’re going to field a candidate. They actually kicked out a key member, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who is a liberal Islamist thinker, favored by many youth and revolutionary figures, especially after the withdrawal of Mohamed ElBaradei. They kicked him out of the Muslim Brotherhood because he decided to run, against their pledge, and now they’re fielding this candidate.
In fact, also, it’s unclear—I mean, this is all part of Egypt’s very confusing and erratic transition plan that’s been headed by the Supreme Council. We don’t know if Khairat El-Shater will be allowed to run. He has this military court ruling against him. He was pardoned by Tantawi, but another candidate, Ayman Nour, who ran against Mubarak in 2005, a court just ruled that even though he received a pardon, he can’t run. So the Brotherhood have now fielded a backup candidate, a man named Mohamed Morsi, who’s the head of their party, just in case. So, this is where—
AMY GOODMAN: And the candidate whose mother is an American citizen?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, this was another—I mean, it’s hard to keep up with everything that’s happening in Egypt, but this is Hazem Abu Ismail, who’s a Salafi preacher. Salafis are—practice an ultra-conservative form of Islam. They won about 25 percent of parliament in the elections late last year. So he had widespread support. He also—while he is a Salafi preacher, he also is very critical of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, so he tapped into this section of Egyptian society that is very religiously conservative but also against the military council.
He obviously is quite anti-American in his rhetoric. And it’s very ironic, because the law right now in Egypt is that you can’t run as a presidential candidate if you’re—you have to be born to Egyptian parents, and neither of them can have ever had any foreign citizenship. It turns out that Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother did get American citizenship. His sister was married to an American, and she would come visit her here. And it turns out the Presidential Elections Commission has received confirmation that he was an American citizen. The New York Times reported that she was actually registered to vote in California. And so, he’s not allowed to run anymore, and he’s calling for mass protests of his own.
AMY GOODMAN: You recently wrote a piece for The Nation, “Egypt’s Looming Economic Shock Doctrine.”
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. What’s happening right now is that Egypt is on the edge of an economic crisis. And this has been really the result of a badly mismanaged political transition. The issue is that we’ve been backed into a corner with the issue of foreign currency reserves. Egypt relies very heavily on imports for many of its staple items, including wheat. Egypt is the biggest importer of wheat in the world, relying on about 60 percent of—for domestic consumption on imports. So—but we’re running out of foreign currency, which we use to buy these imports, because there’s been a big decline in foreign direct investment and in tourism, which are our main inputs for foreign currency. And so, what has happened right now is we have about $15 billion left in foreign currency reserves. That’s about left for three months of imports. We’ve spent all this money to try and keep the Egyptian pound where it is, to prop up the currency. But if we do have to devalue the Egyptian pound, then all these imports would become very expensive and would severely deepen Egypt’s recession.
So, what’s happening right now is that the Egyptian government formally requested the IMF for a loan in January, a $3.2 billion loan from the IMF. Now, what the IMF does now is not impose direct conditionality as they used to with these structural adjustment programs. But what they have asked for is that the government put forward an economic reform package, which they then must agree to to release the funds. So this is kind of an indirect conditionality. The government reform package was drawn up by the SCAF-appointed, military-appointed government. It was not open to public debate whatsoever. A copy was leaked to the media—a very poorly written economic report. And instead of—let’s remember, this revolution was sparked in large part because of economic grievances. The revolutionary calls of “bread, freedom, social justice,” two of those are essentially economic calls. And the policies put forward in this economic reform package go much further towards promoting Mubarak-era policies that people, in part, revolted against than to promoting social justice. So there is talk of including expanding the sales tax, which puts really the burden on the majority poor, because they pay more for basic staple items. There’s talk of subsidy reform, but no talk of which subsidies are going to be targeted. Egypt has about 30 percent of its budget spent on subsidies. So it’s—but we’re put in a position where we really need to take some kind of foreign currency loan, and so it’s—I mean, the reason it’s called the “looming economic shock doctrine” is because we’re in a position where we’ve been backed into a corner, and it’s unclear exactly what budgetary and fiscal policies are going to be accepted to take this loan.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, on a recent visit to Cairo, U.S. Congress Member David Dreier and other U.S. lawmakers met with Egyptian parliamentarians, also with the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, Khairat El-Shater. Congressman Dreier told reporters during a news conference future U.S. aid to Egypt remains uncertain, given the ruling military council’s crackdown on pro-democracy groups, including some U.S. groups.

REP. DAVID DREIER: Now, we know that the decision that Secretary Clinton made is going to see a continuation of assistance, the $1.3 billion in military assistance and the $250 million in civilian assistance, that that assistance is going to be continuing now. But, with challenges that lie ahead, questions that exist, there is no certainty about that. That will be a decision that we in the United States Congress will make. And again, I can’t predetermine the outcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Egypt was the biggest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Congress passed a law that Egypt has—that they have to prove that Egypt is going on a democratic path to release the funds. But the Obama administration actually waived that on national security grounds and has continued the same policies of many U.S. administrations in providing military aid to Egypt. So, we’ll have to see where that goes.
One thing I want to mention before we run out of time is that there was news that just broke just before we went to air, again throwing Egypt’s political process up in the air, that a court has ruled that the panel that the parliament has drafted, a 100-member panel to write up the country’s next constitution, has been—has been suspended completely. So that—that ruling can be appealed, but it’s been suspended because the parliament, that’s dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, decided that they would have 50 of its own members on this 100- member panel, 50 parliament members on the panel. About 60 percent of the people on this 100-member panel were in some way affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafi movement. And so this caused outrage. About two dozen or a quarter of the panel’s members have walked out, from secular and liberal forces, including the Coptic Christian Church, including Al-Azhar, the Sunni learning institution. So, right now, we don’t know where we stand in terms of the constitution, where the elections stand. Egypt’s revolution still is up in the air.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sharif, I’m looking forward to hearing you give a talk tonight, and I hope folks come out at Ithaca College. He will be receiving the Izzy Award for his reporting in Egypt. The event is open to the public, 7:30, Emerson Suites, Phillips Hall, Ithaca College. Congratulations, Sharif.


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