Archive for July, 2008

Military censorship of the war in Iraq

July 31, 2008

By Naomi Spencer | WSWS, 31 July 2008

Five years of bloody US occupation have seen numerous crimes against humanity unfold in Iraq. Millions of Iraqi civilians have been killed and wounded, with millions more made into refugees. Ancient, once-vibrant cities have been destroyed by air raids and chemical weapons. Thousands of Iraqis have imprisoned by the US military in barbaric conditions, and in many cases tortured. In carrying out the occupation, more than 4,400 military personnel—most of them American—have died and tens of thousands have been wounded.

Little reflection of these realities is to be found, however, in the US media, particularly in visual form. Censorship by the military—and self-censorship by media outlets—is part of an effort by the ruling elite to sanitize the war and keep the American public in the dark about its real nature.

As highlighted in a July 26 piece in the New York Times, titled “4,000 U.S. Deaths, and a Handful of Images,” very few photographs of the occupation have trickled out from the military-embedded journalists and been released by the American media. The military and Bush administration have imposed rules barring photos of flag-draped caskets, as well as documentation of battlefield casualties in which faces, ranks, or other identifiers are visible.

The Times notes, “Even memorial services for killed soldiers, once routinely open, are increasingly off limits. Detainees were widely photographed in the early years of the war, but the Department of Defense, citing prisoners’ rights, has recently stopped that practice as well.” Journalists have also been forbidden from releasing images showing what the military deems to be sensitive information—anything from an image of American weaponry to the aftermath of an insurgent strike.

Journalists interviewed by the Times said that even tighter rules imposed last year, requiring written permission from wounded soldiers before their images could be used, were nearly impossible to satisfy in the case of seriously wounded and dying soldiers.

“While embed restrictions do permit photographs of dead soldiers to be published once family members have been notified,” the Times commented, “in practice, the military has exacted retribution on the rare occasions that such images have appeared.”

Clearly, none of these restrictions have anything to do with “prisoners’ rights” or respect for the families of fallen soldiers. To the contrary, the military’s intent is to obscure from the American people the hellish reality in which prisoners and US soldiers alike have found themselves. Indeed, while employing typical military jargon and doublespeak, Defense Department officials make no secret of the subject: free and easy access to photographs, print journalism, and first-hand accounts of the war are a “vulnerability” for US imperialism because it fuels antiwar sentiment in the population and within the military.

Continued . . .

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Let’s Speak the Truth About Afghanistan

July 31, 2008

The Huffington Post, Posted July 30, 2008 | 12:55 PM (EST)

By Eric Margolis


NEW YORK — During his triumphant European tour, Senator Barack Obama again urged NATO’s members to send more troops to Afghanistan and called the conflict there, “the central front in the war on terror.” Europe’s response ranged from polite evasion to downright frosty.

It is unfortunate that Obama has adopted President George Bush’s misleading terminology, “war on terror,” to describe the conflict between the United States and anti-American groups in the Muslim world. Like many Americans, he and his foreign policy advisors are sorely misinformed about the reality of Afghanistan.

One understands Obama’s need to respond with martial élan to rival John McCain’s chest-thumping about “I know how to win wars.” Polls put McCain far ahead of Obama when it comes to being a war leader. But Obama’s recent proposal to send at least 7,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and his threats to attack Pakistan’s territory, and warnings about Islamabad’s nuclear forces, show poor judgment and lack of knowledge.

The United States is no longer “fighting terrorism” in Afghanistan, as Bush, Obama and McCain insist. The 2001 U.S. invasion was a legitimate operation against al-Qaeda, a group that properly fit the role of a “terrorist organization.” But, contrary to the White House’s wildly inflated claims that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda was a worldwide conspiracy, it never numbered more than 300 hard core members. Bin Laden and his jihadis long ago scattered into all corners of Pakistan and elsewhere. Only a handful remain in Afghanistan.

Continued . . .

The Impeachment Hearing: A Victory and a Challenge

July 31, 2008

By DAVE LINDORFF | Counterpunch, July 30, 2008

The dramatic hearing on presidential crimes and abuses of power held on Friday by the House Judiciary Committee was both a staged farce, and at the same time, a powerful demonstration of the power of a grassroots movement in defense of the Constitution. It was at once both testimony to the cowardice and self-inflicted impotence of Congress and of the Democratic Party that technically controls that body, and to the enormity of the damage that has been wrought to the nation’s democracy by two aspiring tyrants in the White House.

As Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the committee, made clear more than once during the six-hour session, this was “not an impeachment hearing, however much many in the audience might wish it to be” He might well have added that he himself was not the fierce defender of the Constitution and of the authority of Congress that he once was before gaining control of the Judiciary Committee, however much his constituents, his wife, and Americans across the country might wish him to be.

At the same time, while the hearing was strictly limited to the most superficial airing of Bush administration crimes and misdemeanors, the fact that the session—technically an argument in defense of 26 articles of impeachment filed in the House over the past several months by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)–was nonetheless a major victory for the impeachment movement. It happened because earlier in the month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has sworn since taking control of the House in November 2006, that impeachment would be “off the table” during the 110th Congress, called a hasty meeting with Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Conyers, and Rep. Kucinich, and called for such a limited hearing.

It was no coincidence that shortly before Pelosi’s backdown, peace activist and Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan announced that her campaign had collected well over the 10,000 signatures necessary to qualify for listing on the ballot as an independent candidate for Congress against Pelosi in the Speaker’s home district in San Francisco. Sheehan has been an outspoken advocate of impeaching both Bush and Cheney. “Pelosi is trying to throw a bone to her constituents by allowing a hearing on impeachment,” said Sheehan, who came to Washington, DC to attend. “It’s just like her finally stating publicly that Bush’s presidency is a failure—something it has taken her two years to come to, but which we’ve been saying for years.”

So determined were Pelosi and Conyers to limit the scope and intensity of the hearing that they acceded to a call for Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to adhere to Thomas Jefferson’s Rules of the House, which prohibit any derogatory comments about the President, which was interpreted by Chairman Conyers as meaning no one, including witnesses or members of the committee, could suggest that Bush had lied or deceived anyone. Since a number of Rep. Kucinich’s proposed articles of impeachment specifically charge the president with lying to Congress and the American People, this made for some comic moments, with witness Bruce Fein, a former assistant attorney general under former President Ronald Reagan, to say he would reference his listing of crimes to the “resident” of the White House.

Continued . . .

Bush’s Legacy of Torture

July 31, 2008

Truthdig, posted July 28, 2008

By Eugene Robinson

I still find it hard to believe that George W. Bush, to his eternal shame and our nation’s great discredit, made torture a matter of hair-splitting, legalistic debate at the highest levels of the United States government. But that’s precisely what he did.

Three previously classified administration memos obtained last week by the American Civil Liberties Union add to our understanding of this disgraceful episode. The documents are attempts to justify the unjustifiable—the use of brutal interrogation methods that international agreements define as torture—and keep those who ordered and carried out this dirty business from being prosecuted and jailed.

The memos don’t call it torture, of course. Heavily redacted before being surrendered to the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the documents refer euphemistically to “enhanced techniques” of interrogation. Changing the name doesn’t change the act, however. One memo, written in 2004, specifically makes clear the administration’s view that “the waterboard” is an acceptable way to extract information.

Waterboarding, a technique of simulated drowning, is considered torture virtually everywhere on earth except in the Bush administration’s archive of self-exculpatory memos, directives and opinions.

The most stunning of the memos—written in August 2002 by Jay Bybee, who was head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel—makes the incredible claim that unless a torturer has the “specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” no violation of U.S. laws against torture has occurred. Bybee, since appointed to the federal bench, wrote that the torturer needed only the “honest belief” that he was not actually committing torture in order to avoid legal jeopardy. Oh, and Bybee added that it wasn’t even necessary for that belief to be “reasonable.”

The memo notes that U.S. torture statutes outlaw the infliction of severe mental pain, as well as physical pain. It acknowledges that “the threat of imminent death” is one of the specific acts that can constitute torture. Somehow, though, the administration pretends not to understand that strapping a prisoner down and pouring water into his nose until he can’t breathe constitutes a death threat—regardless of whether the interrogator intended to stop before the prisoner actually drowned.

Perhaps that question was dealt with in the nine-tenths of the memo that was redacted before the administration handed it over to the ACLU. The memo never would have been released at all if the government hadn’t been ordered to do so by a federal judge.

The whole thing would be laughable if it were not such a rank abomination. No government obeying the law needs a paper trail to absolve its interrogators of committing torture. Conversely, a government that produces such a paper trail has something monstrous to hide.

It is not difficult to avoid violating federal laws and international agreements that prohibit torture. Just don’t torture people, period. The idea that there exists some acceptable middle ground—a kind of “torture lite”—is a hideous affront to this nation’s honor and values. This, perhaps above all, is how George Bush should be remembered: as the president who embraced torture.

I wouldn’t be surprised if, as he left office, Bush issued some sort of pardon clearing those who authorized or carried out “enhanced techniques” of interrogations from any jeopardy under U.S. law. International law is something else entirely, however, and I imagine that some of those involved in this sordid interlude might want to be careful in choosing their vacation spots. I’d avoid The Hague, for example.

Barack Obama has stood consistently against torture. John McCain, who was tortured himself as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has denounced torture as well—and, although he voted against restraining the CIA with the same no-exceptions policy that now applies to military interrogators, he has been forthright in saying that waterboarding is torture, and thus illegal. On Inauguration Day, whoever wins, this awful interlude will end.

The clear and urgent duty of the next president will be to investigate the Bush administration’s torture policy and give Americans a full accounting of what was done in our name. It’s astounding that we need some kind of truth commission in the United States of America, but we do. Only when we learn the full story of what happened will we be able to confidently promise, to ourselves and to a world that looks to this country for moral leadership: Never again.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.

© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group

Forget the Surge — Violence Is Down in Iraq Because Ethnic Cleansing Was Brutally Effective

July 30, 2008

By Juan Cole, JuanCole.com. Alternet, July 29, 2008.

The bloodbath in Baghdad has resulted in fewer ethnically mixed neighborhoods, leading to the recent drop in violence.

Editor’s note: John McCain’s latest stumble in discussing Iraq — in which he muddled the timeline of the so-called “surge” — was treated by most of the press as an unfortunate gaffe, rather than further proof that the aspiring commander in chief does not know what he’s talking about when it comes to the war and occupation. (One CNN report actually ran the headline: “McCain Broadens Definition of the Surge.”) Meanwhile, the Republican nominee’s recent attacks on Barack Obama for failing to admit the success of the “surge” was widely reported by the same members of the media, whose dominant and uncritical narrative has long been that, as McCain and Bush contend, the “surge” has been an unqualified success. “Why can’t Obama bring himself to acknowledge the surge worked better than he and other skeptics thought that it would?” a USA Today editorial asked last week.

In the article below, Juan Cole takes a closer look at the “surge,” weighing the troop increase alongside the numerous other contributing factors to the decline in violence. At the same time, he reminds us that, regardless of the relative decrease in bloodshed — and what may be behind it — the country is still a frightfully unstable place for Iraqis. “Most American commentators are so focused on the relative fall in casualties that they do not stop to consider how high the rates of violence remain,” he writes. Few people would consider Afghanistan, where last year an average of 550 people were killed per month, a safe place. Yet, “that is about the rate recently (in Iraq), according to official statistics.” — AlterNet War on Iraq editor Liliana Segura

***

I want to weigh in as a social historian of Iraq on the controversy over whether the “surge” “worked.” The New York Times reports:

Mr. McCain bristled in an interview with the CBS Evening News on (July 22) when asked about Mr. Obama’s contention that while the added troops had helped reduce violence in Iraq, other factors had helped, including the Sunni Awakening movement, in which thousands of Sunnis were enlisted to patrol neighborhoods and fight the insurgency, and the Iraqi government’s crackdown on Shiite militias.

“I don’t know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened,” Mr. McCain told Katie Couric, noting that the Awakening movement began in Anbar Province when a Sunni sheik teamed up with Sean MacFarland, a colonel who commanded an Army brigade there.

“Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others,” Mr. McCain said. “And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.”

The Obama campaign was quick to note that the Anbar Awakening began in the fall of 2006, several months before President Bush even announced the troop escalation strategy, which became known as the surge.

And Democrats noted that the sheik who helped form the Awakening, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, was assassinated in September 2007, after the troop escalation began.

But several foreign policy analysts said that if Mr. McCain got the chronology wrong, his broader point — that the troop escalation was crucial for the Awakening movement to succeed and spread — was right. “I would say McCain is three-quarters right in this debate,” said Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The problem with this debate is that it has few Iraqis in it.

It is also open to charges of logical fallacy. The only evidence presented for the thesis that the “surge” “worked” is that Iraqi deaths from political violence have declined in recent months from all-time highs in the second half of 2006 and the first half of 2007. (That apocalyptic violence was set off by the bombing of the Askariya shrine in Samarra in February 2006, which helped provoke a Sunni-Shiite civil war.) What few political achievements are attributed to the troop escalation are too laughable to command real respect.

Proponents are awfully hard to pin down on what the “surge” consisted of or when it began. It seems to me to refer to the troop escalation that began in February 2007. But now the technique of bribing Sunni Arab former insurgents to fight radical Sunni vigilantes is being rolled into the “surge” by politicians such as McCain. But attempts to pay off the Sunnis to quiet down began months before the troop escalation and had a dramatic effect in al-Anbar Province long before any extra U.S. troops were sent to al-Anbar (nor were very many extra troops ever sent there). I will disallow it. The “surge” is the troop escalation that began in the winter of 2007. The bribing of insurgents to come into the cold could have been pursued without a significant troop escalation, and was.

Aside from defining what proponents mean by the “surge,” all kinds of things are claimed for it that are not in evidence. The assertion depends on a possible logical fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc. If event X comes after event Y, it is natural to suspect that Y caused X. But it would often be a false assumption. Thus, actress Sharon Stone alleged that the recent earthquake in China was caused by China’s crackdown on Tibetan protesters. That is just superstition, and callous superstition at that. It is a good illustration, however, of the very logical fallacy to which I am referring.

For the first six months of the troop escalation, high rates of violence continued unabated. That is suspicious. What exactly were U.S. troops doing differently from September than they were doing in May, such that there was such a big change? The answer to that question is simply not clear. Note that the troop escalation only brought U.S. force strength up to what it had been in late 2005. In a country of 27 million, 30,000 extra U.S. troops are highly unlikely to have had a really major impact, when they had not before.

Continued . . .

End the Occupation of Iraq — and Afghanistan

July 30, 2008

Published on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
by Marjorie Cohn

So far, Bush’s plan to maintain a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq has been stymied by resistance from the Iraqi government. Barack Obama’s timetable for withdrawal of American troops has evidently been joined by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Bush has mentioned a “time horizon,” and John McCain has waffled. Yet Obama favors leaving between 35,000 and 80,000 U.S. occupation troops there indefinitely to train Iraqi security forces and carry out “counter-insurgency operations.” That would not end the occupation. We must call for bringing home — not redeploying — all U.S. troops and mercenaries, closing all U.S. military bases, and relinquishing all efforts to control Iraqi oil.

In light of stepped up violence in Afghanistan, and for political reasons — following Obama’s lead — Bush will be moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Although the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was as illegal as the invasion of Iraq, many Americans see it as a justifiable response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the casualties in that war have been lower than those in Iraq — so far. Practically no one in the United States is currently questioning the legality or propriety of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. The cover of Time magazine calls it “The Right War.”

The U.N. Charter provides that all member states must settle their international disputes by peaceful means, and no nation can use military force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. After the 9/11 attacks, the Council passed two resolutions, neither of which authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan. Resolutions 1368 and 1373 condemned the September 11 attacks, and ordered the freezing of assets; the criminalizing of terrorist activity; the prevention of the commission of and support for terrorist attacks; the taking of necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist activity, including the sharing of information; and urged ratification and enforcement of the international conventions against terrorism.

The invasion of Afghanistan was not legitimate self-defense under article 51 of the Charter because the attacks on September 11 were criminal attacks, not “armed attacks” by another country. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. In fact, 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, there was not an imminent threat of an armed attack on the United States after September 11, or Bush would not have waited three weeks before initiating his October 2001 bombing campaign. The necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This classic principle of self-defense in international law has been affirmed by the Nuremberg Tribunal and the U.N. General Assembly.

Bush’s justification for attacking Afghanistan was that it was harboring Osama bin Laden and training terrorists. Iranians could have made the same argument to attack the United States after they overthrew the vicious Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and he was given safe haven in the United States. The people in Latin American countries whose dictators were trained in torture techniques at the School of the Americas could likewise have attacked the torture training facility in Ft. Benning, Georgia under that specious rationale.

Those who conspired to hijack airplanes and kill thousands of people on 9/11 are guilty of crimes against humanity. They must be identified and brought to justice in accordance with the law. But retaliation by invading Afghanistan is not the answer and will only lead to the deaths of more of our troops and Afghanis.

The hatred that fueled 19 people to blow themselves up and take 3,000 innocents with them has its genesis in a history of the U.S. government’s exploitation of people in oil-rich nations around the world. Bush accused the terrorists of targeting our freedom and democracy. But it was not the Statue of Liberty that was destroyed. It was the World Trade Center — symbol of the U.S.-led global economic system, and the Pentagon — heart of the U.S. military, that took the hits. Those who committed these heinous crimes were attacking American foreign policy. That policy has resulted in the deaths of two million Iraqis — from both Bill Clinton’s punishing sanctions and George W. Bush’s war. It has led to uncritical support of Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian lands; and it has stationed more than 700 U.S. military bases in foreign countries.

Conspicuously absent from the national discourse is a political analysis of why the tragedy of 9/11 occurred and a comprehensive strategy to overhaul U.S. foreign policy to inoculate us from the wrath of those who despise American imperialism. The “Global War on Terror” has been uncritically accepted by most in this country. But terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. You cannot declare war on a tactic. The way to combat terrorism is by identifying and targeting its root causes, including poverty, lack of education, and foreign occupation.

There are already 60,000 foreign troops, including 36,000 Americans, in Afghanistan. Large increases in U.S. troops during the past year have failed to stabilize the situation there. Most American forces operate in the eastern part of the country; yet by July 2008, attacks there were up by 40 percent. Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor for Jimmy Carter, is skeptical that the answer for Afghanistan is more troops. He warns that the United States will, like the Soviet Union, be seen as the invader, especially as we conduct military operations “with little regard for civilian casualties.” Brzezinski advocates Europeans bribing Afghan farmers not to cultivate poppies for heroin, as well as the bribery of tribal warlords to isolate al-Qaeda from a Taliban that is “not a united force, not a world-oriented terrorist movement, but a real Afghan phenomenon.”

We might heed Canada’s warning that a broader mission, under the auspices of the United Nations instead of NATO, would be more effective. Our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan should emphasize economic assistance for reconstruction, development and education, not for more weapons. The United States must refrain from further Predator missile strikes in Pakistan, and pursue diplomacy, not occupation.

Nor should we be threatening war against Iran, which would also be illegal and result in an unmitigated disaster. The U.N. Charter forbids any country to use, or threaten to use, military force against another country except in self-defense or when the Security Council has given its blessing. In spite of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency’s conclusion that there is no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons, the White House, Congress, and Israel have continued to rattle the sabers in Iran’s direction. Nevertheless, the antiwar movement has so far fended off passage of HR 362 in the House of Representatives, a bill which is tantamount to a call for a naval blockade against Iran — considered an act of war under international law. Credit goes to United for Peace and Justice, Code Pink, Peace Action, and dozens of other organizations that pressured Congress to think twice before taking that dangerous step.

We should pursue diplomacy, not war, with Iran; end the U.S. occupation of Iraq; and withdraw our troops from Afghanistan.

Marjorie Cohn is president of the National Lawyers Guild and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and her new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (co-authored with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter. Her articles are archived at http://www.marjoriecohn.com.

Karadzic extradited for trial

July 30, 2008

Al Jazeera, July 30, 2008

Radovan Karadzic, the war crimes suspect, has arrived in the Netherlands to face trial at The Hague on charges of genocide for his actions in the 1992-95 Bosnia war.

The former leader of the Bosnian Serbs is expected to be held at a nearby detention centre and then appear at the UN war crimes tribunal soon afterwards.

The plane carrying Karadzic landed at Rotterdam airport.

Harry Smith, reporting for Al Jazeeera from Rotterdam, said that Karadzic would defend himself as he does not recognise the tribunal that will try him.

“He has denied the charges but the tribunal is preperaed for this. The prosecutors have learnt their lessons; it will be sometime before the trial begins. Sometime next week he will appear before the tribunal and he has 30 days to enter a plea. If he doens’t the judges will enter a plea for him,” said Smith.

Karadzic faces two charges of genocide for the 43-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of some 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War Two.

Arrested last week after 11 years on the run, Karadzic was most recently living under an assumed name as a bearded, long-haired alternative healer.

Earlier in Belgrade, he was escorted to the airport by masked officials from the Serbian secret service. A convoy of black jeeps took him from prison to the capital’s airport.

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Belgrade where Karadzic had been held since his arrest, said there was anger on Tuesday when protesters had running battles with the police.

On Tuesday, some 10,000 hardline nationalists, many brought by bus from rural nationalist strongholds, showed their support for him in downtown Belgrade, chanting his name and holding up giant banners with his picture.

Clashes broke out when several dozen youths linked to hooligan groups threw flares, stones and garbage cans at riot police.

Some 45 people, most of them policemen, were wounded.

Karadzic’s delivery to The Hague is key to Serbia securing closer ties with the European Union and his arrest was seen as a clear pro-Western signal by the new government, sworn in earlier this month.

Sending him to The Hague is expected by the government to defuse tension and stop further protests, but also to unlock EU trade benefits.

Karadzic’s legal team had tried to delay his extradition by launching a cumbersome appeal procedure that threatened to drag on for several more days. But even they admitted they could only postpone, not stop his transfer.

Relatives have said Karadzic is in good spirits and preparing for his defence. He has had two suits delivered for his court appearance, one light, one dark.

WTO Talks Collapse Amidst Developing Countries’ Reluctance to Sacrifice Food Security

July 30, 2008

truthout, 29 July 2008

by: The Center for Economic and Policy Research

Last-minute attempt to push through a WTO expansion “deal” fails.

Washington, DC – Despite trade ministers’ hopes for a last-minute deal, World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations collapsed yet again today, and observers at the talks in Geneva say that the failure is not surprising, given the reluctance of India and other developing nations to sacrifice food security measures in the wake of the recent global spike in food prices.

Given President Bush’s lame duck status, negotiators had been called to Geneva to try to push through a last-minute deal before Bush left office. Because negotiators need about six months after a deal on the major issues to complete the details of the agreement, this possibility has now evaporated.

“Given what’s been on the table, no deal is better than a bad deal. A Doha conclusion would have had major negative impacts for workers and farmers in developing countries. The tariff cuts demanded of developing countries would have caused massive job loss, and countries would have lost the ability to protect farmers from dumping, further impoverishing millions on the verge of survival,” said Deborah James, Director of International Programs for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who has been observing the talks in Geneva.

Continued . . .

RIGHTS: Iran Condemned for Ongoing Juvenile Executions

July 30, 2008

By Omid Memarian

Iran has executed 191 people in 2008, including four juveniles.

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 (IPS) – A week after the execution of two juvenile offenders in Iran, who were under 18 at the time of their crime, a coalition of human rights organisations is urging the Iranian parliament to move swiftly to ban such executions.

The groups include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, along with six other international and regional human rights organisations — Iran Human Rights; the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI); Penal Reform International; Stop Child Executions; and Viviere — strongly condemned Iran’s continuing execution of juvenile offenders in a joint statement Tuesday.

“Iran is executing several children every year, despite the fact that it is banned under international law,” the organisations said. “It is cruel and inhumane to apply the death penalty even to adults, let alone to those convicted for crimes committed before the age of 18.”

“The execution of juvenile offenders is subject to an absolute prohibition in international law. This is testimony to the world’s repugnance towards this practice,” Drewery Dyke, a researcher with Amnesty International in London, told IPS. “It is high time that Iranian judicial officials and other leaders heed the concerns of the many jurists, lawyers and human rights activists in Iran who repeatedly call on the authorities to end the practice of executing juveniles and find a way to having Iran uphold its international legal commitments.”

Iranian authorities executed Hassan Mozafari and Rahman Shahidi on Jul. 22, along with an adult offender, Hussein Rahnama, in the southern city of Bushehr. The Bushehr Criminal Court had convicted them of rape, together with another juvenile offender, Mohammad Pezhman, and two other adults, Behrouz Zangeneh and Ali Khorramnejad. Iranian authorities executed Pezhman in May 2007 and the two other adults in October 2007.

“Mozafari and Shahidi’s executions are extremely disturbing,” Clarisa Bencomo, Middle East and North Africa researcher in the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“The fact that the families of murder victims pardoned two other juvenile offenders just days before these latest executions only underlines how arbitrary the Iranian justice system is,” she added. “Iranian authorities should stop making excuses and change their laws to ensure that no one is ever executed for a crime committed when under 18.”

Continued . . .

End of the two-state solution

July 29, 2008

A multicultural state can offer Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians a future free of discrimination, occupation, fear and violence

By Saree Makdisi | guardian.co.uk, Monday July 28 2008

In order to try to create an exclusively Jewish state in what had been the culturally diverse land of Palestine, Israel’s founders expelled or drove into flight half of Palestine’s Muslim and Christian population and seized their land, their houses, and their property (furniture, clothing, books, personal effects, family heirlooms), in what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948.

Even while demanding – rightly – that no one should forget the Jewish people’s history of suffering, and above all the Holocaust, Israel has insisted ever since 1948 not merely that the Palestinians must forget their own history, but that what it calls peace must be premised on that forgetting, and hence on the Palestinians’ renunciation of their rights. As Israel’s foreign minister has said, if the Palestinians want peace, they must learn to strike the word “nakba” from their lexicon.

Some must never forget, while others, clearly, must not be allowed to remember. Far from mere hypocrisy, this attitude perfectly expresses the Israeli people’s mistaken belief that they can find the security they need at the expense of the Palestinians, or that one people’s right can be secured at the cost of another’s.

Little wonder such an approach has not delivered peace. The only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to end the denial of rights that fuels it, and to ensure that both peoples’ rights are equally protected.

For some years it was thought that peace could be obtained by sidestepping the central fact of the nakba, and creating a Palestinian statelet in what remained of Palestine after 1948, namely, the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.

But such a two-state solution is no longer possible. The inescapable fact is that one state controls all of the land, and it has done so for over 40 years, affirming one people’s right to live, marry, work and settle by negating another people’s right to do the same, on land that two peoples – not just one – call home.

The only question now is how much longer this negation can go on, and how long it will be before a state premised on it is superseded by its opposite, an affirmative, genuinely democratic, secular and multi-cultural state, the only kind that can offer Jewish Israelis and Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike a future free of discrimination, occupation, fear and violence.

The question, in other words, is not whether there will be a one-state solution, but when; and how much needless suffering there will be in the meantime, until those who are committed to the project of creating and maintaining a religiously exclusivist state in what was historically a culturally and religiously heterogeneous land finally relent and accept the inevitable: that they have failed.

This last point is especially important, because the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians is – and has always been –– driven by the notion that hundreds of years of cultural heterogeneity and plurality could be negated overnight by the creation of a state with a single cultural and religious identity.

It hardly matters that that identity was never as homogeneous as Zionists like to claim: witness Israel’s methodical de-Arabisation of its Mizrahi (Arab-Jewish) population in the 1950s and 1960s, or the perennial debate over “who is a Jew” – an unseemly question that in Israel is not merely a matter of arcane theological exegesis but tied directly to matters of citizenship, nationality, and law.

Israel’s claim to an exclusive Jewish identity – as symbolised by its flag – has been sustained ever since 1948 by denying the moral and legal right of return of those Palestinians expelled during the nakba, by forms of legalised discrimination inside the state, and by the maintenance of a much more violent system of apartheid in the territories Israel has militarily occupied since 1967.

Palestinian citizens of Israel – officially referred to by the state as deracinated “Arabs” because it cannot bring itself to acknowledge the fact that they are Palestinian – face institutionalised forms of discrimination far worse than those once encountered by African Americans. For example, while Jewish Israelis who marry non-citizens (or residents of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories) are entitled to have their spouses come live with them, Israeli law explicitly denies that right to Palestinian citizens who marry Palestinians from the occupied territories. Palestinian citizens are also denied various other privileges, including access to state lands, reserved exclusively for Jews.

Meanwhile, Israel maintains two separate infrastructures in the occupied territories, and it subjects the two populations there to two distinct legal and administrative systems. Indigenous Palestinians are subject to a harsh form of military rule, whereas Jewish settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law, even though they have been transplanted -– in violation of international law – beyond the borders of their state.

Indeed, Israel’s intensive settlement of the occupied territories is the primary reason for the demise of the two-state solution. Not only is the settler population increasing at a rate three times greater than that of Israel itself, but, according to a UN report published last summer, almost 40% of the West Bank is now taken up with Israeli infrastructure to which Palestinians are denied access. The remainder of the territory has been broken up into an archipelago, each little “island” of territory in effect a small-scale Gaza, cut off from the outside and completely vulnerable to Israel’s whims. Under such circumstances, an independent Palestinian state is inconceivable.

Even if it were conceivable, the creation of a Palestinian statelet in the occupied territories would do nothing to safeguard the rights of the 20% of Israel’s citizens who are Palestinian; on the contrary, its existence would further empower the likes of former deputy prime minister Avigdor Lieberman, who wants all Palestinians removed to make room for Jewish immigrants (like himself). Nor would it address the right of return of the Palestinians who were deliberately expelled to make room for a Jewish state in 1948, who have been kept out and living in limbo – or in the prison that is Gaza – solely in order to preserve Israel’s tenuous claim to Jewishness.

Negation, denial and imprisonment have run their course. The future should be built on affirmation, cooperation, and the constitution of a democratic and secular state that guarantees the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, of Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike.

• Saree Makdisi is Professor of English Literature at the University of California, and the author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, published by WW Norton.