MDs urge publisher to sever weapons ties

LONDON - In an unusual example of the military-industrial complex, physicians from around the world urged the publisher of The Lancet medical journal to cut its links to weapons sales, calling on the editors to find another publisher if Reed Elsevier refused to stop hosting arms fairs. The doctors made their appeal in the latest edition of the journal released March 23.

The Lancet published three pages of protest letters from leading doctors and organizations, including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the People’s Health Movement, a public health watchdog, and Doctors for Iraq. (The Lancet is the journal that published a study in October 2006, calculating that more than 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and its ensuing chaos.)

The Lancet is one of the most respected international medical journals and should not be linked to an industry involved in weapons designed to cause physical harm and death,” wrote Dr. Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, and Dr. Michael Pelly, the association’s international adviser.

Editors at The Lancet responded by backing the doctors, calling the situation “bizarre and untenable.” They wrote that, in the interest of health, they may have to consider an “organized campaign” against their own publisher.

Reed Elsevier said it supported The Lancet editors’ right to free speech, but had no plans to stop its involvement with arms fairs. “We accept that Reed Elsevier publications may occasionally take editorial positions which are critical of their owners,” the company said in a statement. “We do not, however, see any conflict between Reed Elsevier’s connections with the scientific and health communities and the legitimate defense industry.”

The Lancet first learned of its publisher’s involvement in the arms industry in 2005. Supported by Britain’s Ministry of Defense, Reed Elsevier hosts arms fairs around the world that have showcased weapons of war — including a 1,100-pound cluster bomb, one of the deadliest known non-nuclear weapons.

At the time, editor Richard Horton informed the journal’s international advisory board, which urged Reed Elsevier to divest itself of its arms trade business. “The Lancet has a particular commitment to child survival, and cluster bombs are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in children, and cause horrendous disabilities,” Horton said. “It is completely incompatible for Reed Elsevier to be in this business and also to be a health science publisher.”

– edited from The Associated Press, 23 March 2007
PeaceMeal, March/April 2007


Bin Laden, Bush, Carlyle and Crusader

A prominent but secretive private investment firm, the Carlyle Group, has ties to the Bush family and, until recently, also had ties to the wealthy Saudi Arabian bin Laden family. With offices on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, midway between the White House and the US Capitol, the Carlyle Group employs a roster of former top-level government officials, largely from the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

Founded in 1987 with a $100,000 loan, the Carlyle Group rapidly parlayed its political contacts and investment skills into the world's biggest private equity firm with more than $12 billion under management. Led by Frank Carlucci, a defense secretary under former-president Ronald Reagan, Carlyle owns so many companies that it is now in effect one of the nation's largest defense contractors.

When Carlucci arrived there as managing director in 1989, he brought with him a phalanx of former subordinates from the CIA and the Pentagon, and an awareness of the scale of business a company like Carlyle could do in the corridors of Washington.

After leaving the White House in January 1993, former-president George Bush began work for Carlyle as an advisor in its Asian operations and has invested in some of Carlyle's portfolio companies. In 1990, the junior George Bush was appointed to the board of directors of an airline catering firm called Caterair after its buyout by Carlyle. In 1994 as Caterair reported disastrous losses, the junior Bush quit the company's board and ran for governor of Texas.

In May last year, John Major, the former UK prime minister, was quietly appointed European chairman of the Carlyle Group. Major's government was nearly brought down in 1992 by billionaire currency speculator George Soros, who aggressively traded against the British pound sterling. Soros made an estimated $1 billion profit from the debacle and then invested $100 million in the Carlyle Partners fund.

Carlyle has been able to realize a 34% rate of return on its investments. That success brought more investors, including, in 1995, the family of Osama bin Laden, who insist they long ago severed all links with their notorious relative. According to a report in The Guardian (UK), the first president Bush is understood to have visited the bin Ladens in Saudi Arabia twice on the firm's behalf.

In late September, The Wall Street Journal highlighted the bin Laden family investments in the Carlyle Group with an article titled "Bin Laden Family Could Profit From a Jump In Defense Spending Due to Ties to U.S. Bank." In October, the Washington Post reported that the family sold its $2 million investment in the Carlyle Group back to the firm in light of public controversy after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The BBC2's Newsnight program reported in November that it uncovered a long history of shadowy connections between the US State Department, the CIA and the Saudis. The former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah from 1987 to 1989, Michael Springman, told the program: "In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high-level State Department officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants - people who had no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained there. I complained here in Washington to main State, to the inspector-general and to diplomatic security and I was ignored."

He added: "What I was doing was giving visas to terrorists - recruited by the CIA and Osama bin Laden to come back to the United States for training to be used in the war in Afghanistan against the then Soviets."

The employment of George Bush Sr has attracted attention mainly because his son is now ultimately responsible for awarding US arms contracts and Carlyle is the eleventh biggest arms contractor in the United States.

One of the Carlyle Group's properties is United Defense Industries (UDI), a defense contractor in Oklahoma bought for $850 million in 1997. UDI subsequently appointed two former top Army generals to its board: J.H. Binford Peay III, the just-retired commander-in-chief of Central Command, and John Shalikashvili, the retired former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

UDI was developing a mobile artillery gun called "Crusader." The $11 billion Crusader program is a symbol for Cold War-era weapon systems surviving for political reasons. Defense reformers have long criticized the 40-ton system as far too heavy to airlift to distant battlefields in today's combat environment, where rapid response is considered crucial.

In April 2001, a Pentagon advisory panel recommended scrapping the Crusader, and on May 8, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced he would terminate the contract.

A mutiny ensued in the ranks as Army officials immediately began lobbying on Capitol Hill to save the Crusader. The House Armed Services Committee moved swiftly to protect the system from cancellation, adding a provision to the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2003 maintaining $475 million in funding for the Crusader and stipulating that the system could not be canceled until the Army completes a lengthy analysis of alternatives in mid-2003.

In line with the time-honored practice of congressmen fighting to protect lucrative military contracts in their home states, the Crusader's strongest backers are Rep. J. C. Watts and Senators Jim Inhofe and Don Nickles, all Republicans from Oklahoma where the gun would have been built.

According to Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary in the Reagan Pentagon and now director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, even if Rumsfeld's decision stands, UDI still will have received $2 billion from the Crusader program and will receive substantially more to close it down.

The protests from vested interests on Capitol Hill and within the Pentagon illustrate the difficulty of modernizing a Cold War military force to do combat in regional guerilla wars and against terrorism. More problematic is the interlocking web of politics and money exemplified by the Carlyle Group.

Peter Eisner, managing director of the Center for Public Integrity, a non-partisan research group in Washington, is typical of Carlyle's critics. "Carlyle is such a behemoth," he says. "It's ... hard to believe how successful they've been in creating a business that mixes former government officials and policy positions that have inherent conflict of interests. One starts to wonder when decisions are made: is this a decision that's being made on behalf of the public interest or is this a decision that's being made because of friends and key business contacts?"

- compiled from various US and UK sources

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