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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wikipedia defies 180,000 demands to remove images of the Prophet

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, is refusing to remove medieval artistic depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, despite being flooded with complaints from Muslims demanding the images be deleted.

More than 180,000 worldwide have joined an online protest claiming the images, shown on European-language pages and taken from Persian and Ottoman miniatures dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, are offensive to Islam, which prohibits any representation of Muhammad. But the defiant editors of the encyclopaedia insist they will not bow to pressure and say anyone objecting to the controversial images can simply adjust their computers so they do not have to look at them.

The images at the centre of the protest appear on most of the European versions of the web encyclopaedia, though not on Arabic sites. On two of the images, Muhammad's face is veiled, a practice followed in Islamic art since the 16th century. But on two others, one from 1315, which is the earliest surviving depiction of the prophet, and the other from the 15th century, his face is shown. Some protesters are claiming the pictures have been posted simply to 'bait' and 'insult' Muslims and argue the least Wikipedia can do is blur or blank out the faces.

Such has been the adverse reaction, Wikipedia has been forced to set up a separate page on its site explaining why it refuses to bow to pressure and has also had to set up measures to block people from 'editing' the pages themselves.

In a robust statement on the site, its editors state: 'Wikipedia recognises that there are cultural traditions among some Muslim groups that prohibit depictions of Muhammad and other prophets and that some Muslims are offended when those traditions are violated. However, the prohibitions are not universal among Muslim communities, particularly with the Shia who, while prohibiting the images, are less strict about it.

'Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.

'So long as they are relevant to the article and do not violate any of Wikipedia's existing policies, nor the law of the US state of Florida where Wikipedia's servers are hosted, no content or images will be removed because people find them objectionable or offensive.'

The traditional reason given for the Islamic prohibition on images of prophets it to prevent them from becoming objects of worship in a form of idolatry. But, say the editors, the images used were examples of how Muhammad has been depicted by various Islamic sects through history and not in a religious context.

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Philip Giraldi: What FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds found in translation

Why is her story being covered up?

Most Americans have never heard of Sibel Edmonds, and if the U.S. government has its way, they never will.

The former FBI translator turned whistle-blower tells a chilling story of corruption at Washington's highest levels – sale of nuclear secrets, shielding of terrorist suspects, illegal arms transfers, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, espionage. She may be a first-rate fabulist, but Ms. Edmonds' account is full of dates, places and names.

And if she is to be believed, a treasonous plot to embed moles in American military and nuclear installations and pass sensitive intelligence to Israeli, Pakistani and Turkish sources was facilitated by figures in the upper echelons of the State and Defense Departments. Her charges could be easily confirmed or dismissed if classified government documents were made available to investigators.

But Congress has refused to act, and the Justice Department has shrouded Ms. Edmonds' case in the state-secrets privilege, a rarely used measure so sweeping that it precludes even a closed hearing attended only by officials with top-secret security clearances. According to the Department of Justice, such an investigation "could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the foreign policy and national security of the United States."

After five years of thwarted legal challenges and fruitless attempts to launch a congressional investigation, Sibel Edmonds is telling her story, though her defiance could land her in jail. After reading its November piece about Louai al-Sakka, an al-Qaeda terrorist who trained 9/11 hijackers in Turkey, Ms. Edmonds approached the Sunday Times of London. On Jan. 6, the Times, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper that does not normally encourage exposés damaging to the Bush administration, featured a long article. The news quickly spread around the world – but not in the United States.

Ms. Edmonds is an ethnic Azerbaijani, born in Iran. She lived there and in Turkey until 1988, when she immigrated to the United States. Nine days after 9/11, she took a job at the FBI as a Turkish and Farsi translator. She worked in the 400-person translations section of the Washington office, reviewing a backlog of material dating to 1997 and participating in operations directed against several Turkish front groups, most notably the American Turkish Council.

The ATC, founded in 1994 and modeled on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was intended to promote Turkish interests in Congress and in other public forums.

The FBI was interested in the ATC because it suspected that the group might be tangentially tied to drug trafficking and because of reports that it had given congressmen illegal contributions or bribes. Moreover, as Ms. Edmonds alleged in the Times, the Turks have "often acted as a conduit for the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan's spy agency, because they were less likely to attract attention."

(In 2005, a spokesperson for the ATC denied to Vanity Fair magazine that the organization has ever been involved in illegal payment or espionage activities.)

Over nearly six months, Ms. Edmonds listened with increasing unease to hundreds of intercepted phone calls between Turkish, Pakistani, Israeli and American officials. When she voiced concerns about the processing of this intelligence – among other irregularities, one of the other translators maintained a friendship with one of the FBI's "high value" targets – she was threatened.

After exhausting all appeals through her own chain of command, Ms. Edmonds approached the two Department of Justice agencies with oversight of the FBI and sent faxes to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy on the Judiciary Committee. The next day, she was called in for a polygraph. According to a DOJ inspector general's report, the test found that "she was not deceptive in her answers."

But two weeks later, Ms. Edmonds was fired. Her home computer was seized. Her family in Turkey was visited by police and threatened with arrest if they did not submit to questioning about an unspecified "intelligence matter."

When Ms. Edmonds' attorney sued to obtain the documents related to her firing, Attorney General John Ashcroft imposed the state-secrets gag order. Since then, she has been subjected to another federal order, which not only silenced her but retroactively classified the statements she eventually made before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the 9/11 commission.

Passionate in her convictions, Ms. Edmonds has sometimes alienated her own supporters and ridden roughshod over critics who questioned her assumptions. But despite her shortcomings in making her case and the legitimate criticism that she may be overreaching in some of her conclusions, Ms. Edmonds comes across as credible. Her claims are specific and fact-based, and they can be documented in detail. There is presumably an existing FBI file that could demonstrate the accuracy of many of her charges.

Her allegations are not insignificant. Among them: Ms. Edmonds claims that a former top State Department official was a person of interest to the FBI and had his phone tapped by the bureau in 2001 and 2002. Because of his senior-level position, this man had access to classified information of the highest sensitivity from the CIA, NSA and Pentagon, in addition to his own State Department.

Ms. Edmonds alleges to have heard evidence linking him to bribery from an ATC contact, to his intervening with the FBI to halt the interrogation of four Turkish and Pakistani intelligence operatives, and helping seed U.S. nuclear facilities with Turkish and Israeli Ph.D. students who in turn sold nuclear secrets abroad, primarily to Pakistan. The accused, who emphatically denies Ms. Edmonds' charges, is now a senior executive at a Washington lobbying firm.

A low-level contractor might seem poorly positioned to expose major breaches of national security, but the FBI translators' pool, riddled with corruption and nepotism, was key to keeping these secrets from surfacing. Ms. Edmonds' claims that the section was infiltrated by translators who should never have received security clearances and who were deliberately failing to translate incriminating material are supported by the Justice Department inspector general investigation and by an FBI internal investigation, which concluded that she had been fired after making "valid complaints."

Ms. Edmonds' revelations have attracted corroboration in the form of anonymous letters apparently written by FBI employees. There have been frequent reports of FBI field agents being frustrated by the premature closure of cases dealing with foreign spying, particularly when those cases involve Israel, and the State Department has frequently intervened to shut down investigations based on "sensitive foreign diplomatic relations."

Curiously, the state-secrets gag order binding Ms. Edmonds, while put in place by DOJ in 2002, was not requested by the FBI but by the State Department and Pentagon – which employed individuals she identified as being involved in criminal activities. If her allegations are frivolous, that order would scarcely seem necessary. Under the Bush administration, the security gag order has been invoked to cover up incompetence or illegality, not to protect national security.

Both Mr. Grassley and Mr. Leahy – a Republican and a Democrat, who interviewed her at length in 2002 – attest to Ms. Edmonds' believability. The Department of Justice inspector general investigation into her claims about the translations unit and an internal FBI review confirmed most of her allegations. Former FBI senior counterintelligence officer John Cole has independently confirmed her report of the presence of Pakistani intelligence service penetrations within the FBI translators' pool.

Ms. Edmonds wasn't angling to become a media darling. She would have preferred to testify under oath before a congressional committee that could offer legal protection and subpoena documents and witnesses to support her case. She claims that a number of FBI agents would be willing to testify, though she has not named them.

Prior to 2006, Rep. Henry Waxman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee allegedly promised Ms. Edmonds that if the Democrats gained control of Congress, he would order hearings into her charges. But following the Democratic sweep, he has been less forthcoming. It is suspected that Mr. Waxman fears that the revelations might open a Pandora's box, damaging Republicans and Democrats alike.

Ms. Edmonds' critics maintain that she saw only a small part of the picture in a highly compartmentalized working environment, that she was privy to only a fragment of a large operation to penetrate and disrupt the groups that have been stealing U.S. weapons technology. She could not have known operational details of what the FBI was doing and why.

That criticism is serious and must be addressed. If Ms. Edmonds was indeed seeing only part of a counterintelligence sting operation to entrap a nuclear network like that of A.Q. Khan, the government could now reveal as much in general terms, since any operation that might have been running in 2002 has long since wound down.

Regarding her access to operational information, Ms. Edmonds' critics clearly do not understand the intimate relationship that develops between FBI and CIA officers and their translators. Operations run against a foreign target in languages other than English require an intensive collaboration between field officers and translators. The translators are invariably brought into the loop because it is up to them to guide the officers seeking to understand what the target, who frequently is double talking or attempting to conceal his meaning, is actually saying.

That said, it should be conceded that Ms. Edmonds might sometimes have seen only a piece of the story, and those claims based on her own interpretation should be regarded with caution.

Still, Sibel Edmonds makes a number of accusations about specific criminal behavior that appear to be extraordinary but are credible enough to warrant official investigation. Her allegations are documentable; an existing FBI file should determine whether they are accurate.

It's true that she probably knows only part of the story, but if that part is correct, Congress and the Justice Department should have no higher priority. Nothing deserves more attention than the possibility of ongoing national-security failures and the proliferation of nuclear weapons with the connivance of corrupt senior government officials.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a partner in Cannistraro Associates, an international security consultancy. This essay was adapted from a longer version that appears on the Web site of The American Conservative magazine (www.amconmag.com).

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Fallen Soldier's Bracelet Inspires Obama

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) -- Barack Obama is wearing a wristband in memory of a soldier killed in Iraq, given to him by a mother who said she wants the Democratic presidential candidate to keep others from dying.

Tracy Jopek of Merrill, Wis., gave Obama the bracelet at a rally Friday night in Green Bay, and Obama was still wearing it Saturday as he campaigned across the state before Tuesday's primary.

The bracelet has her son's name, Sgt. Ryan David Jopek, and the date the 20-year-old was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb, Aug. 2, 2006. ''All gave some -- He gave all,'' it says.

''She gave me this wristband, which I'm very grateful for,'' Obama told the Green Bay audience, halting and lowering his voice from his normally upbeat presentation. ''I meet mothers and family members all over the country who are still mourning their children but are also thinking about the young men and women who are still over there and wondering when it will end.''

Obama has not made a point of showing it to reporters or others on the campaign trail. A campaign staffer described it as black metal band with silver lettering.

Mrs. Jopek said she and her daughter briefly met the Illinois senator at the rally and showed him a picture of a smiling Ryan dressed for battle. She said the senator hugged her and her daughter, asked a couple questions about Ryan and told her how much he appreciated the bracelet.

''I wanted him to know my son's name for one thing, for when he's commander in chief,'' Mrs. Jopek said during a telephone interview in which she frequently grew emotional. She said she was somewhat uncomfortable getting so publicly involved in the war debate, but felt the issue was too important for her to remain silent during this campaign.

She said she's a Democrat who will vote for Obama in Wisconsin's primary Tuesday. Like Obama, she said she was against the war from the start and had a hard time watching her son go to war.

''My son loved this country very much, I love this country, but I don't feel that staying in Iraq will vindicate my son's death,'' she said. ''And it's not over for us until this war is over. I just don't want any more soldiers to die in vain for something that we can't solve.''

Mrs. Jopek said she's a ''political junkie'' who was once watching a press conference on television and noticed likely GOP nominee John McCain wearing a similar bracelet. McCain's was given to him in August by the mother of Cpl. Matthew Stanley, also killed in Iraq, and the Arizona senator's been wearing it regularly ever since. He takes a different message from the memento.

''It means any political ambitions of mine pale in comparison to the sacrifice that nearly 4,000 family members have made,'' McCain said of the bracelet in an interview with The Associated Press last fall. He said although political pundits said his determination not to end the fight in Iraq will kill his political career, ''when you meet the mother of Matthew Stanley, then what difference does that make?''

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Obama - "Just words?"

What's Changed Since Va. . Tech Massacre?

Campuses Take Steps to Increase Notification; Some Push for More Guns on Campus


Rescue workers evacuate a victim of a shooting at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 14, 2008. The gunman, Steven Kazmierczak, opened fire with a shotgun from the lecture hall stage before he killed himself. (Eric Sumberg/daily-chronicle.com/AP Photo)

It's been almost 10 months since the nation's worst school shooting rampage, when a crazed gunman killed 33 people at Virginia Tech.

That massacre prompted anguished debates about campus security, gun laws, and the privacy rights of the mentally ill, with lawmakers pushing various proposals, and campuses vowing to institute new policies.

Since last August, there have been several other school shootings, including Thursday's rampage by Steven Kazmierczak, who shot and killed five people before turning the gun on himself at Northern Illinois University.

So, what has been done? Or is there only so much that can be done to prevent violence on campuses without creating armed fortresses?

Hundreds of college campuses have taken steps to revamp their notification procedures, in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, when students weren't informed about the shooter for hours, according to campus security experts.

"Many of them have made changes, from text messaging systems and e-mail systems, to more old-fashioned methods, such as the use of sirens and loudspeakers," said Carolyn Reinach Wolf, a lawyer and founder of Campus Behavioral Health Risk Consultants LLC.

The administration at NIU seems to have taken those steps, according to Wolf. Students and faculty learned about the shootings on their BlackBerries and voice mail within minutes. Administrators have also distributed booklets with color-coded tabs identifying various emergency situations, according to a school spokesperson.

Last December, when graffiti, referencing the Virginia Tech massacre, was found in a women's bathroom at NIU, the campus was shut down for a day.

"Whatever changes and modifications NIU made, worked very well yesterday," said Wolf. "In addition, it seemed like they were very well coordinated with off-campus law enforcement. What was missing at Virginia Tech was the timing, where it took them several hours to institute their safety policy."

Other changes have been slower to come: Although both the House and Senate passed amendments to the Cleary Act, which mandated that warnings should be sent out within 30 minutes, and recommended that schools need to adopt emergency notification procedures, they are being held up, due to squabbling between the White House and Congress.

"Campuses aren't the ivory towers that they're perceived to be," said Alison Kiss, program director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit group that pushes for increased school safety. "Most campuses still need to have more notification for their students and faculty."

Gun laws vary from state to state, and Illinois is generally considered to have strict gun laws, according to Wolf. Since Kazmierczak did not have a police record, he qualified to buy guns, including the Remington 12 gauge shotgun and Glock 9mm pistol he purchased at a gun store.

This morning, some NIU parents, led by Dr. Connie Catellani, plan a press conference to push for tougher gun laws. "A call to action — to put all federal and state elected officials and candidates on notice, that parents will no longer take "the gun lobby is too powerful" as an excuse not to have tougher gun laws in the U.S.," wrote the group in a press release.

Most campuses, including NIU, do not allow students to carry guns on campus. Utah is the only state that lets students carry concealed weapons.

But, since Virginia Tech, 12 states are considering bills that would allow students to have concealed weapons permits at public universities.

Helping push the effort is Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, an Internet-based group, which claims to have 11,000 members, reports USA Today. From April 21 to 25, the group will hold a nationwide protest by getting students to wear empty holsters to class.

Some states, including Virginia, are considering legislation to require public colleges and universities to notify a parent if a student is deemed a danger to himself or others. This did not happen in the case of Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho, although the issue is being hotly debated by privacy advocates.

The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill that would call on school administrators to contact parents if a student is considered a harm to themselves or others. It is awaiting action by the House.

Questions remain as to how much can be done to prevent a gunman intent on wreaking havoc on college campuses, which pride themselves on their openness.

"You know, I wish I could tell you that there was a panacea for this kind of thing, but you've noticed that there's been multiple shootings all over this country within the last six months," NIU Police Chief Don Grady told reporters. "It's a horrendous circumstance, and ... it's unlikely that anyone would ever have the ability to stop an incident like this from beginning.

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