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  + CHANGES TO THE ALBION MONITOR WEBSITE   An archive for all of Steve Young's columns as well as earlier commentaries is now available. For anyone in the Los Angeles area, Steve can be heard every Saturday, 1-4 PM on Progressive Talk KTLK AM 1150. Alas, there is no webcast.

The URLs for the sweatshop and Jessica Mitford archives have been simplified. The new addresses are:

The Haiti archive has been updated with articles and commentaries that have appeared since it was created.

The search page is now updated and a broken link to CNN is fixed.   (April 30, 2005)

Dodging the ugly news about Iraq


U.S. Soldier Files Lawsuit Over Extended Service Catch-22

Blowback: Military Violence Comes Home

U.S. Media Censorship "Rampant," Top Broadcaster Says

Since December 22, 2003, the Albion Monitor front page has offered a "breaking news" feature updated at least twice daily. Some of the items from that premiere now seem positively nostalgic: "Wolfowitz too controversial, may resign next year, says TIME" one headline read; nine "top rebel leaders" were captured in Iraq, was another. The Pentagon announced that at least 110 thousand troops would remain in Iraq through the end of 2004. Two U.S. soldiers were killed, combat deaths # 316 and 317. Their names were not released until the following day, and only the briefest descriptions of their deaths were given -- one version of the AP report was a mere 58 words. But at least their lives were acknowledged; few of the 100,000+ Iraqis killed since the invasion have received even a passing mention in the American press.

If war is being waged in our names, Americans have a right and a responsibility to stay informed about it, and the Monitor breaking news feature sprang from the frustration of trying to find thorough daily coverage of the carnage in Iraq. Way back in Dec. 2003 that required scanning the complete AP newswire and looking at a couple of other resources. Now, some 16 months later, compiling the list requires combing through about a dozen foreign and domestic news services. Part of the reason lies with the mayhem that is Iraq; journalists of any stripe risk kidnapping or death by stepping outside the fortress-like Baghdad "Green Zone," so war casualties even in major cities like Mosul routinely go unreported in the Western media unless a stringer for Agence France Press or another news service happens to be around. It's like a twisted zen koan: If a bomb explodes in Iraq, when does it make a sound?

Even when such articles are written, few newspapers use them because of another set of problems. Only the major dailies have a large enough news hole to print more than a single item or two about Iraq, or a large enough staff to assemble a proper summary. As a result, papers usually present only terse items about the most important events, like that 58-word miniature on the two dead American soldiers. Any editor that prints too many grim details can also expect flying spittle from the wingnut crowd, always ready to charge that the traitorous liberal media "doesn't report the good news about Iraq" because it hates all things Bush.

But the main reason we don't hear more details is probably simply because it's wearying. On April 23, for example, nine Iraqi soldiers were killed and 20 wounded by a bomb near Abu Ghraib; three U.S. soldiers and seven Iraqis were wounded by a car bomb on Baghdad's airport road; and four were killed, 13 wounded by other bombs in Samarra, Yusufiya, Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. It's grinding to read that day after day, and so much more comfy to just ignore it.

This de facto blackout extends to other unhappy news related to Iraq. While Senator John McCain made famous the Pentagon's "backdoor draft" used to block some 40,000 troops from leaving the military, there has been absolutely no national media coverage of the soldiers who have fought the policy in court.

Most of these soldiers are known simply as "John Doe" in court filings to protect them from military reprisals. One case was reported in the MONITOR last August; a Marine said he faced a catch-22 when he was allowed to transfer to the Army National Guard for his final year of service -- but then told his Guardsman duty would be extended by another two years.

Another victim of the "stop loss" policy is Oregon National Guard Sgt. Emiliano Santiago, who was only two weeks from the end of his hitch when his unit was ordered to Afghanistan. Santiago told the Seattle Weekly recently he wouldn't have objected if a year or two remained on his committment. "I would say, 'I signed up for it, I'm in,'" he told the alternative paper. "This is not right." The Army also asked him to sign a new contract for service until 2031, when he would be 58 years old. "It's crazy," he said.

A federal District Court judge in Oregon ruled against Santiago, and earlier this month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied his emergency injunction. John Doe also lost in a federal court, but still plans an appeal with the 9th Circuit. Another case where seven soldiers are challenging their orders faced a setback April 27, when U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered all of them to reveal their true names or have their claims dismissed. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld had asked the court to disclose their identities.

The national press is also shamefully ignoring the growing number of returning soldiers committing violent crimes or showing signs of severe mental illness. A study published in July by the New England Journal of Medicine estimated rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Iraq and Afghanistan war vets are even higher than the Vietnam era -- up to one out of five have serious problems.

Just this month, an Army Sergeant was convicted of the 1st-degree murder of his wife; he told the court he had images of war in his mind when he drowned her in the bathtub. A Marine was convicted of trying to smother his 14 month-old child until he "snapped out of it." A psychotherapist told the Albany NY Times Union that he received a call from worried parents of a woman soldier who told them she had "helped kill women and children and she wanted to go back for a second tour so that she could die for what she did." The daughter refused all help and headed back to Iraq.

Like the "stop loss" protest stories, these PTSD news reports are appearing only in the local press. It's past time for the national media to cover the other 90 percent of the iceberg.   (April 28, 2005)

Bush abandons important treaty for spite


Oklahoma Stops Execution Of Mexican National At Nearly Last Minute

Thai Citizen's Execution Date Became World Issue

Alberto Gonzales Controversial Choice For Attorney General

How will history remember the presidency of Bush II? It's an easy prediction to make: Call it the Era of Poor Expectations. Somehere along the line, our standards drifted downward: not-awful is the new good.

During Iraq's January vote over 100 people died (including seven Americans) and much of the country was disenfranchised -- polling places never even opened in many communities -- but there was jubilation because the election wasn't the bomb- fest everyone feared. When Bush named Alberto Gonzales to Attorney General, there was a sigh of relief. "At least he won't be as bad as Ashcroft." Similar with the promotions for Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte; sure, maybe they're super-hawks with pasts tainted by the Iran-Contra scandal, but at least it was a positive sign that neo-con lunatics might not be running the asylum anymore. Bush's recent tour of "Old Europe" may not have mended any fences, but diplomats were grateful that at least this visit passed without him insulting anyone. (Except for Putin, who took offense when Bush remarked that Russia had no free press. "We didn't criticize you when you fired those reporters at CBS," Putin shot back.)

But with Bush, every friendly handshake is followed by a sucker punch when you're not looking. Call it Dubya's Third Law of Conservative Motion: For every moderate action, there's an equal and opposite reaction pandering to the wingnut crowd.

Did you hope a significant pullout of U.S. troops would be announced following successful Iraqi elections? Sorry -- the troops will stay at pre-election levels for the foreseeable future, probably at least through 2007. Bush dispelled any illusions that he's turning away from his neo-con pals by giving the World Bank the worst of the lot, Paul Wolfowitz. And anyone believing that Bush's second term might emphasize diplomacy was shocked as he returned from Europe to announce the next UN ambassador will be John Bolton, a man who regularly denounces the United Nations and apparently learned his diplomatic skills at the Ann Coulter Institute Of Belligerence. It was a thumb- in- the- eye insult to the UN and the rest of the world. (Current Google search results for "Bolton Bush thumb eye UN": about 10,400.)

A truly amazing example of the Bush double-whammy happened recently over the rights of Mexican citizens awaiting execution on America's death rows. The issue began last May, when the International Court of Justice in The Hague -- better known as the World Court -- ordered Oklahoma to cancel the execution of Mexican national Osvaldo Torres and conduct a full review of the case. Torres was not told he could ask his government for help when he was arrested and indicted, the Court declared, and this was a violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations treaty. With Torres' execution less than a week away, a tense standoff followed. He was tried and sentenced in a state court, not federal, and states aren't required to obey orders from international courts. Democratic Governor Brad Henry wisely sidestepped the confrontation by commuting Torres' sentence to life in prison.

But the Torres case was not unique; 50 other condemned Mexicans were also waiting for their executions, and the issue had been a sore point in U.S.-Mexico relations since 1997, when then-Governor George W. Bush refused to stop the execution of a Mexican citizen because, he argued (in an opinion written by Alberto Gonzales), the state of Texas hadn't signed the Vienna Convention.

Everyone expected Bush to either ignore the World Court or again insist that it had no jurisdiction. But mirabile dictu, the Prez did the Right Thing: On February 28, he ordered new hearings for all fifty prisoners. The President of the United States -- and most astonishing, this President -- ordered states to comply with a ruling from an international court.

Lawyers on both sides were stunned. A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General said Bush had no constitutional authority to issue the order. Sandra Babcock, a Minnesota lawyer who represents the government of Mexico, told the NY Times, "The president is on our side. I keep having to slap myself."

But here comes the sucker punch: a few days later, on March 9, the State Dept. said the United States would no longer recognize the World Court's authority to make such rulings. It was a stunning example of Bush/Rove arrogance; only the Senate can approve or disapprove a treaty, and it's not clear that the U.S. can unilaterally withdraw from a single protocol of a treaty in this manner. Bush had already promised the 50 Mexicans their new hearings; withdrawing from the treaty afterwards was simply being vindictive without reason. Still, the deed's done.

Here also was the Bush administration making another policy change likely to backfire. Treaties are two-way streets; if we don't recognize a prisoner's right to seek legal help from his/her home country, then Americans don't have that right abroad. Think that's not important? The U.S. was the first country to invoke the protocol, when 52 of our citizens were taken hostage in Iran in 1979.   (April 20, 2005)

Banco Ambrosiano scandal ignored


Italy's New Generation of Shadow Warriors (2000)

Calvi Autopsy #4 (1999)

Calvi Case Reopened (1998)

Gelli, The Fascist's Banker (1998)

Who Killed Roberto Calvi? (1998)


Even before Karol Wojtyla's election as pope, he had like-minded friends in high places. Two years earlier, he first met Zbigniew Brzezinski, who would later become President Carter's National Security Council chief. The two Polish-born men had much in common and began a long correspondence. On the very day of Pope John Paul II's 1978 investiture, Brzezinski met with the CIA's Rome office to establish unprecedented close ties between the Carter White House and the Vatican, including a "hot line" private channel. Brzezinski remained available as a consultant during the Reagan years when the relationship flourished, and by 1982, the Vatican and the White House were jointly waging covert wars against the communist government of Poland and the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

John Paul II's antipathy towards Nicaragua's progressive church probably matched Reagan's hatred of the Sandinistas. During the 1970s the "Liberation Theology" movement took root in Nicaragua following years of human rights abuses by the Somoza regime. As the dictatorship was about to fall in 1979, the Nicaraguan bishops affirmed the right of people to take up arms against tyrants and welcomed the Sandinistas, proclaiming that the socialist government's programs were in keeping with Christ's teachings. John Paul II's Vatican denounced "the popular church" as radical and sought to weaken its influence by reassigning liberal clerics to posts away from public contact or pressing them to resign. By the mid-1980s, the Nicaraguan church had been purged of most activist priests and sympathizers of the revolution.   (MORE)

At the same time, the CIA recognized the power of religion as a weapon in Central America's most devout country. Propaganda demonized the Sandinista government as anti-catholic, and particularly, anti-pope. U.S.-funded contra radio stations proclaimed "the pope is with us" as they constantly linked catholicism with patriotism and overthrow of the Sandinistas. A CIA-produced comic-book "Freedom Fighter Manual" suggested painting "long live the pope" graffitti on walls and spreading rumors that priests were persecuted.

The Reagan administration also played the theme of religious persecution in domestic propaganda to stir support for the contras among U.S. Jews and catholics. Reagan often repeated the discredited charge that Nicaragua had "driven out" or "terrorized" Jews, and in a 1982 Washington Post op/ed, Elliott Abrams -- now in charge of Bush's "Global Democracy Strategy" -- falsely accused the Sandinistas of beating an auxilliary bishop and marching a monsignor through the streets naked.

After weeks of endless media coverage on Pope John Paul II's declining health, death, and funeral, it seems like there can be nothing left to say. According to Google News statistics about 150,000 articles have appeared commemorating his life (although many were wire service reprints or other duplicates). Often he was portrayed as an opponent of Communism who spoke out against Soviet dominance in his native Poland and elsewhere. That kind of tepid description hardly does justice; Karol Wojtyla was a firebrand activist fiercely opposed to anything that smacked of socialism, including the progressive "Liberation Theology" view of the church's mission that was evolving in Latin America at the start of his papacy. This was the great contradicton of John Paul II -- on one hand, he called for the populace to rise up and overthrow autocratic rule, but at the same time, demanded absolute obedience to his dogmatic ideology from Roman Catholics.

Missing from that mountain of eulogy was the Banco Ambrosiano matter; only a single AP story on the state of Vatican finances gave it the briefest mention. That's a tragic ommission because historians will probably view these events in the first five years of his papacy as his legacy -- for better or worse.

First, some myth-busting: the Roman Catholic church is not fabulously wealthy. Its investment portfolio was only started in 1942, when the newly-created Vatican Bank began seeking ways to grow the $80 million that Mussolini paid the Church for property confiscated by Italy in the 19th century. Its holdings today are as diversified as any international institution, but when John Paul II became pope in 1978, the Vatican Bank's income-producing assets were probably not worth more than $1.5 billion.

John Paul II inherited a Vatican Bank still reeling from scandal. One of the Bank's advisors was Michele Sindona, a Sicilian financier with a colorful background as a WWII-era lemon smuggler for the Mafia. In Italy's turbulent post-war years his career as a banker flourished thanks to personal connections at the highest levels of the Vatican, including the man who would become Pope Paul VI. By the early 1970s, his operations were indistinguishable from those of the Vatican Bank, as he invested Vatican money in ventures overseas, including the United States. It all fell apart in 1974 when his high-risk currency speculation operations collapsed and Sindona went to prison for fraud and misappropriating funds. The Vatican Bank's loss was estimated at up to $240 million.

If it wasn't for the involvement of the fabled Vatican Bank, the Sindona affair might seem to be only a footnote in the history of 20th century banking failures; in many ways, it's the same story as the 1980s S&L debacle writ small. What makes it notable is that virtually the same thing happened a few years later -- and this time, the Vatican Bank was linked to one of the worst banking frauds of all time.

History repeated itself because almost nothing changed after the collapse of Sindona's financial empire. The Vatican was still seeking ways to shuttle its money out of Italy and into holding companies; the Italian press regularly embarrassed the church with stories showing the Vatican owned property with casinos, shares in companies that made weapons, birth control pills, or other investments against church doctrine. The same man was also still in control of the Vatican Bank -- Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, an American with no banking experience except what he had learned from Sindona and other "men of confidence" advising him. Another of these advisors was Roberto Calvi -- Sindona's protoge.

Sindona had introduced Archbishop Marcinkus to Calvi in 1971, shortly after he became director-general of Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's largest private bank. Unlike Sindona's operations, which were never more than a barnicle on the side of the Vatican Bank, Ambrosiano was a sound institution with operations in 15 countries. Soon, however, Calvi was nicknamed "God's banker" as he became even more enmeshed with Vatican finances than his mentor. "Mr. Paul Marcinkus" was later found listed as the director of a new bank Calvi set up in the Bahamas.

The collapse of Calvi's banking empire came when the Italian lire was devaluated, which was also the cause of Sindona's downfall. But Calvi's scams were far more complex. He created a dozen shell companies in Panama to buy shares in legitimate businesses (including Banco Ambrosiano) and borrow still more money (mostly from Banco Ambrosiano subsidiaries), pumping up the value of the Panamanian companies that were nothing more than mail-drops. But when Calvi's wheel of fortune stopped spinning, about $1.25 billion in loans came due. Bank investigators also revealed a shocker: Those dummy corporations were actually owned by the Vatican Bank, and $400 million could not be found anywhere.

Some of it was illegally diverted to John Paul II's pet project, Poland's anti-communist Solidarity trade union. Since the very first day of his papacy, the Vatican was working closely with the CIA to build a clandestine support lifeline for Solidarity (see sidebar). The operation kicked into high gear after Reagan signed 1982 secret national security decision directive 32 authorizing a range of economic, diplomatic and covert measures to "neutralize efforts of the USSR." With money from the Vatican and now the Americans, it became the West's largest operation in Eastern Europe since the Berlin Airlift. A 1992 TIME cover story by Carl Bernstein offered a glimpse of its scope:

Until Solidarity's legal status was restored in 1989 it flourished underground, supplied, nurtured and advised largely by the network established under the auspices of Reagan and John Paul II. Tons of equipment -- fax machines (the first in Poland), printing presses, transmitters, telephones, shortwave radios, video cameras, photocopiers, telex machines, computers, word processors -- were smuggled into Poland via channels established by priests and American agents and representatives of the AFL-CIO and European labor movements. Money for the banned union came from CIA funds, the National Endowment for Democracy, secret accounts in the Vatican and Western trade unions.

But how much of Solidarity's funding came from the Vatican accounts in Panama? Calvi later told his lawyers that it was $50 million, but the best-researched book on the scandal says it was probably closer to $100 million. Either way, John Paul II was diverting enormous sums of money from the cash-strapped church to run covert political operations.

Calvi feared what might happen if any of this became known. In conversations that were secretly recorded by an associate, he warned ominously of consequences: "I told Marcinkus right to his face, I said, 'Listen, if somebody happens to find out from one of those accountants in New York that you're sending money for Wojtyla to Solidarity, before you know it there won't be one stone standing upright here in the Vatican.'" At another time, Calvi implied that even Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Agostino Casaroli was unaware of the operation: "Marcinkus must watch out for Casaroli... If Casaroli should find just one of those pieces of paper that I know of -- goodbye Marcinkus. Goodbye Wojtyla. Goodbye Solidarity."

Those secret tapes were made after Calvi was found guilty of illegal money transfers and sentenced to four years in jail in 1981. Free pending appeal, Calvi continued wheeling and dealing with the Vatican Bank, which provided "letters of patronage" vouching for him (although not agreeing to repay his debts). The Vatican never admitted knowing about the Panamanian accounts or took any responsibility for what happened to the money, but eventually agreed to make a "financial contribution" of $244 million to Banco Ambrosiano.

Calvi met a violent and dramatic death the next year, found hanging from a London bridge wearing a monk's robe with about $13,000 in his pockets, weighted down with bricks and stones. One of reasons this story fascinates is because almost everyone involved seemed to meet violent and dramatic deaths; his secretary at Banco Ambrosiano supposedly jumped from a bank window, and Sindona died in an Italian prison in 1986 after drinking a cup of coffee laced with poison.

There's much more to the Calvi/Ambrosiano mystery, and some aspects even make the incredible plot of "The DaVinci Code" seem mundane; explore the earlier MONITOR 404 reports in the sidebar. No one still knows where the money went. Even if Solidarity's share was $100 million, that left another $300 million unaccounted for. Like many powerful men in Italy, Calvi and Sindona were associated with the infamous "P2" secret society, and there was speculation that much of the money funded P2's "anti-communist" right-wing causes in South America, including paying for Argentina's expensive Exocet missiles that briefly gave them dominance in the Falklands War with England.

Nor did all of the money in the Panamanian accounts come from the Vatican Bank; in the years since Calvi's death, it increasingly appears that his death was Mafia payback for losing some of their ill-gotten loot, as a Mafia informer told investigators in 2002. Also that year, an autopsy -- the fourth on Calvi's body -- found that he was definitely murdered, strangled before the noose circled his neck. Italian courts are expected to soon decide whether four mob figures -- including the man who secretly recorded his conversations with Calvi -- should face trial for conspiracy to murder.

Of all the players only Archbishop Paul Marcinkus emerged unscathed, as Vatican City's sovereign immunity shielded him from arrest by Italian authorities. He remained president of the Vatican Bank until 1989, then retired near Phoenix, Arizona, where he lives today. Still under the protection of his Vatican passport, he remains immune from prosecution.   (April 15, 2005)

The Vatican's forgotten scandal

  + CHURCH COVERED UP FINANCIAL SCAM   Oh, to have a photo of that historic moment when Pope John Paul II met Father Guido Sarducci.

It happened in 1979 when the pope visited the United States to address the UN. Father Guido -- real-life comic Don Novello in the role of fake priest and gossip columnist for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano -- was part of the press corps and assigned to cover the trip for Rolling Stone. Dressed like a monsignor complete with flowing cape, the comic stayed in character and was taken for a real priest by those not clued in to his Saturday Night Live appearances.

Also in the press corps was John Hanchette, an investigative reporter working on the story of a financial scandal by an American Catholic order, and his editor wanted him to get a comment from the Holy Father about the scam. As he recalls in an editorial for the Niagara Falls Reporter, Hanchette tapped his buddy for the task:

Because Sarducci looked and carried himself like a real priest, I figured the pope himself might notice Sarducci in the gaggle of pressies at some stop or other, and Novello could feed him my question about the monastic financing scandal. Sure enough, at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C., John Paul II decided to stride down the barricade separating the reporters from His Holiness and bestow up-close and personal blessings on the scribes. When he got to Sarducci down the line, the pope seemed to stop and converse briefly. I was excited. I thought maybe Novello might carry my reportorial wood and water. No such luck. My memory is that Sarducci couldn't resist asking the pope some unanswered put-on question about why wouldn't John Paul II let nuns smoke marijuana to relieve the tension of a cloistered life.

Hanchette and two other journalists would later win a Pulitzer for exposing how the Pauline Fathers of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, bilked devout catholics in five states out of $20 million. That story is all but forgotten today; only a few sketchy details can be found on the Internet at large.

But there's more to the tale than a couple of dozen monks operating tax-dodging schemes and scamming the gullible as they secretly lived the high life. The reporters also discovered the Vatican had known about the problems for five years, and was desperate to cover up the crimes and avoid the public scandal that would have followed prosecution. Top church officials were wringing hands over who would force the Paulines to shape up. The reporters also discovered that the Polish-based religious order appeared to have a protector: The new Pope, John Paul II.

The Vatican probe centered on one man: Rev. Michael Zembrzuski, the Pauline monk who founded the American monastery near Philadelphia after fleeing Communist Poland. The order, with its shrine to Poland's patron saint, was visited by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow in 1969 and 1970. Zembrzuski paid a reciprocal visit just as Vatican investigators were closing in on him, renewing his friendship with Wojtyla as well as Cardinal Wyszynski, head of Poland's catholic church. These were important personal connections to make. After Vatican officials reached a consensus that he was running the monastery "more like a resort hotel than a monastic institution," Pope Paul VI ordered Zembrzuski to step down. But by the end of 1978 there was a new pope -- Karol Wojtyla. On the throne only 17 days, he overturned the ruling and handed the monastery back to Zembrzuski. About seven months later, John Paul II went further and abruptly closed down the Vatican's long-running investigation of Zembrzuski's order.

The IRS and SEC were still interested in a criminal prosecution, but the Pulitzer-winning reporters wrote that the government decided the pontiff's involvement was a "problem." That investigation apparently died during strategy discussions held during the pope's 1979 visit to the U.S.

Ultimately the Archbishop of Philadelphia raised $5 million to bail out the monastery, but much of the debt was settled by Vatican investigators convincing the church faithful to settle for little or nothing, according to the reporters writing for the Gannett News Service. Top priority for paying debts went to those who threatened to expose the wrongdoing, the wire service found.

As the world says its long goodbye to Pope John Paul II, it's important to know about stories like this, as well as his more noble efforts. The purpose is not to kick dirt on the man's reputation, but because history reveals. The cover-up of sex abuse accusations that plagued the catholic church in America during his papacy are foreshadowed here -- the silence by the top echelons of the church, cash payouts to victims, wrongdoers protected and bailed out of trouble, guilty priests not punished.   (April 6, 2005)

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