Archive for October, 2008

Fidel Castro: The Worst Variant

October 31, 2008

Reflections of Fidel | Granma, Oct 31, 2008

TODAY I read that the U.S. Federal Reserve had opened a new line of credit for the central banks of Mexico, Brazil, South Korea and Singapore.

The same report claimed that similar credits have been issued to the central banks of Australia, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the European Central Bank.

Based on these agreements, the central banks will receive funds in exchange for hard currency reserves from these countries, which have sustained considerable losses due to the financial and trade crisis.

This consolidates the economic power of the U.S. currency, a privilege granted at Bretton Woods.

The International Monetary Fund, which is the same dog with a different collar, has announced the injection of large sums of money into its Eastern European clients. Hungary will be receiving the equivalent of 20 billion euros, a large part of which are dollars from the United States. Their machines keep printing bills and the IMF keeps granting its leonine loans.

For its part, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) stated in Geneva yesterday that, at the current rate of spending, by the year 2030, humanity will need the resources of two planets to maintain its lifestyle.

The WWF is a serious institution. There is no need to be a University graduate in Mathematics, Economics or Political Science to understand what this means. It is the worst variant. Developed capitalism hopes to continue plundering the world as if the world were still able to sustain it.

Fidel Castro Ruz
October 30, 2008
8:05 p.m.


US army considers 20,000 more troops for Afghanistan

October 31, 2008

* Commanders demand chopper units, intelligence teams, engineers, medical teams
* Pentagon says troops not ‘sitting at ready’

Daily Times, Oct 31, 2008

WASHINGTON: United States military planners now think they might need twice the number of extra troops initially believed needed to help fight the war in Afghanistan.

The build up in the increasingly violent campaign could amount to more than 20,000 troops rather than the originally planned 10,000, two senior defence officials said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

The latest calculations reflect growing requests from field commanders in recent weeks for aviation units, engineers and other skills to support the fighting units, they said.

Officials had been saying for months that they needed more people to train Afghan security forces and two more combat brigades – a total of around 10,000 people.

Commanders later increased that to the trainers and three combat brigades — or some 15,000, when extra support is included.

Support: Now, the planners say that the number may have to grow yet again by another 5,000 to 10,000 support troops. They said they would need helicopter units, intelligence teams, engineers to build more bases, medical teams and others to support the fight.

In Afghanistan, it is far more difficult for troops to operate in the undeveloped nation, which lacks roads, runways and facilities to support troops, and commanders in Afghanistan do not consider this a short-term surge in troops, but rather the number that will be needed over a longer period, an official said.

It is unclear whether the number will win approval. If a force that large is approved, it’s also unclear where the Pentagon would get that many extra troops for the Afghan campaign – and how quickly they could be sent.

The Defence Department has already approved the deployment of about 4,000 people — one additional Marine combat battalion and one army brigade to be sent by January..

The military shortfall in Afghanistan has been a common complaint from commanders, although, the number has grown from fewer than 21,000 two years ago to more than 31,000 today.

Pentagon: At a Defence Department press conference later on Wednesday, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell did not offer a number.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have them all sitting at the ready, waiting just for the beck and call and we can send them overnight,” Morrell said, adding officials must weigh needs in Afghanistan with global needs.


Expanding War, Contracting Meaning

October 31, 2008

The Next President and the Global War on Terror

Andrew J. Bacevich |, Oct 30, 2008

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration’s conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent “war” sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem’s actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror.

Anyone intent on identifying some unifying idea that explains U.S. actions, military and otherwise, across the Greater Middle East is in for a disappointment. During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid down “Germany first” and then “unconditional surrender” as core principles. Early in the Cold War, the Truman administration devised the concept of containment, which for decades thereafter provided a conceptual framework to which policymakers adhered. Yet seven years into its Global War on Terror, the Bush administration is without a compass, wandering in the arid wilderness. To the extent that any inkling of a strategy once existed — the preposterous neoconservative vision of employing American power to “transform” the Islamic world — events have long since demolished the assumptions on which it was based.

Rather than one single war, the United States is presently engaged in several.

Ranking first in importance is the war for Bush’s legacy, better known as Iraq. The President himself will never back away from his insistence that here lies the “central front” of the conflict he initiated after 9/11. Hunkered down in their bunker, Bush and his few remaining supporters would have us believe that the “surge” has, at long last, brought victory in sight and with it some prospect of redeeming this otherwise misbegotten and mismanaged endeavor. If the President can leave office spouting assurances that light is finally visible somewhere at the far end of a very long, very dark Mesopotamian tunnel, he will claim at least partial vindication. And if actual developments subsequent to January 20 don’t turn out well, he can always blame the outcome on his successor.

Next comes the orphan war. This is Afghanistan, a conflict now in its eighth year with no signs of ending anytime soon. Given the attention lavished on Iraq, developments in Afghanistan have until recently attracted only intermittent notice. Lately, however, U.S. officials have awakened to the fact that things are going poorly, both politically and militarily. Al Qaeda persists. The Taliban is reasserting itself. Expectations that NATO might ride to the rescue have proven illusory. Apart from enabling Afghanistan to reclaim its status as the world’s number one producer of opium, U.S. efforts to pacify that nation and nudge it toward modernity have produced little.

The Pentagon calls its intervention in Afghanistan Operation Enduring Freedom. The emphasis was supposed to be on the noun. Unfortunately, the adjective conveys the campaign’s defining characteristic: enduring as in endless. Barring a radical re-definition of purpose, this is an enterprise which promises to continue, consuming lives and treasure, for a long, long time.

In neighboring Pakistan, meanwhile, there is the war-hidden-in-plain-sight. Reports of U.S. military action in Pakistan have now become everyday fare. Air strikes, typically launched from missile-carrying drones, are commonplace, and U.S. ground forces have also conducted at least one cross-border raid from inside Afghanistan. Although the White House doesn’t call this a war, it is — a gradually escalating war of attrition in which we are killing both terrorists and noncombatants. Unfortunately, we are killing too few of the former to make a difference and more than enough of the latter to facilitate the recruitment of new terrorists to replace those we eliminate.

Finally — skipping past the wars-in-waiting, which are Syria and Iran — there is Condi’s war. This clash, which does not directly involve U.S. forces, may actually be the most important of all. The war that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made her own is the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Having for years dismissed the insistence of Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, that the plight of the Palestinians constitutes a problem of paramount importance, Rice now embraces that view. With the fervor of a convert, she has vowed to broker an end to that conflict prior to leaving office in January 2009.

Given that Rice brings little — perhaps nothing — to the effort in the way of fresh ideas, her prospects of making good as a peacemaker appear slight. Yet, as with Bush and Iraq, so too with Rice and the Palestinian problem: she has a lot riding on the effort. If she flops, history will remember her as America’s least effective secretary of state since Cordell Hull spent World War II being ignored, bypassed, and humiliated by Franklin Roosevelt. She will depart Foggy Bottom having accomplished nothing.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in fighting simultaneously on several fronts, as long as actions on front A are compatible with those on front B, and together contribute to overall success. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Global War on Terror. We have instead an illustration of what Winston Churchill once referred to as a pudding without a theme: a war devoid of strategic purpose.

This absence of cohesion — by now a hallmark of the Bush administration — is both a disaster and an opportunity. It is a disaster in the sense that we have, over the past seven years, expended enormous resources, while gaining precious little in return.

Bush’s supporters beg to differ, of course. They credit the president with having averted a recurrence of 9/11, doubtless a commendable achievement but one primarily attributable to the fact that the United States no longer neglects airport security. To argue that, say, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have prevented terrorist attacks against the United States is the equivalent of contending that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since in 1967 has prevented terrorist attacks against the state of Israel.

Yet the existing strategic vacuum is also an opportunity. When it comes to national security at least, the agenda of the next administration all but sets itself. There is no need to waste time arguing about which issues demand priority action.

First-order questions are begging for attention. How should we gauge the threat? What are the principles that should inform our response? What forms of power are most relevant to implementing that response? Are the means at hand adequate to the task? If not, how should national priorities be adjusted to provide the means required? Given the challenges ahead, how should the government organize itself? Who — both agencies and individuals — will lead?

To each and every one of these questions, the Bush administration devised answers that turned out to be dead wrong. The next administration needs to do better. The place to begin is with the candid recognition that the Global War on Terror has effectively ceased to exist. When it comes to national security strategy, we need to start over from scratch.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His bestselling new book is The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books). To listen to a podcast in which he discusses issues relevant to this article, click here.

CIA Can Hide Torture Allegations, Court Rules

October 31, 2008


The CIA can hide statements from imprisoned suspected terrorists that the agency tortured them in its set of secret prisons, a federal judge ruled Wednesday,

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the Washington D.C. Circuit Court declined to review the government’s assertions that the allegations of torture from men held in the CIA’s black site prisons — whether truthful or not — would put the nation at risk of grave danger if allowed to be made public.

“The Court, giving deference to the agency’s detailed, good-faith declaration, is disinclined to
second-guess the agency in its area of expertise through in camera review,” Lamberth wrote (.pdf), referring to a procedure where a judge looks at evidence in his chamber without showing it to the opposing side.

The ruling comes in a case where the ACLU filed a government sunshine suit to force the government to unredact allegations from statements from so-called High Value Detainees such as 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheihk Muhammed that the CIA kidnapped and tortured them.

The judge’s decision not to look at the blacked-out text to see if secrets are involved allows the Bush Administration to continue to hide its use of torture techniques, according to Ben Wizner, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project.

“The government has suppressed these detainees’ allegations of brutal torture not to protect any legitimate national security interests, but to protect itself from criticism and liability,” said Wizner. “It is unlawful for the government to withhold information on these grounds.”

Not surprisingly, the CIA disagreed — saying the enemy would be helped by knowing what kinds of torture and interrogation techniques it uses.

“Among the details that cannot be publicly released are the conditions of the detainees’ capture, the employment of alternative interrogation methods, and other operational details,” the CIA’s Wendy Hilton told the court in a sworn affidavit (.pdf). “Specifically, disclosure of such information is reasonably likely to degrade the CIA’s  ability to effectively question terrorist detainees and elicit information necessary to protect the American people”

The CIA also successfully argued that it needed to redact statements about what countries were involved in the program, saying that such allegations could destroy relationships with countries that helped with the CIA’s controversial program of secretly kidnapping suspected terrorists and shuttling them to hidden prisons in Europe and Asia, where neither families nor the Red Cross knew of their detention.

Transcripts from each of the 14 detainee’s Combatant Status Review Tribunals in Guantanamo Bay were provided to the ACLU and posted to the Pentagon’s website in the summer of 2007. Six of those included some redactions.

The ACLU also requested other documents, which turned up written statements and lawyers notes used as evidence in the hearings. The CIA redacted information from three of five of these.

The CIA made a point of noting that some of the allegations of torture were untrue, but had to be redacted anyways, because blacking out the truth and allowing false statements would let a clever prisoner paint an inverse picture of CIA torture techniques.

Judge Lamberth deferred to that argument.

“Improbable though this might seem, it is conceivable,” Lamberth wrote.

The Bush Administration admits that it authorized the CIA to use torture techniques such as waterboarding and hide kidnapped persons from the Red Cross, but continues to use euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogatoin techniques” to describe its actions.

The fourteen prisoners, who are now all being held in the military’s Guantanamo Bay prison facility, are Abu Faraj al-Libi, Walid Bin Attash, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Mohd Farik bin Amin (known as Zubair), Mustafa Al Hawsawi, Abd Al Rahim Hussein Mohammed (known as Al Nashiri), Bashir Bin Lap (known as Lillie), Ammar Al Baluchi, Riduan Bin Isomuddin (known as Hambali),  and Zayn Al Abidin MuhammadGuleed Hassan Ahmed.

The CIA was forced to shutter its network of hidden prisons around the country after their existence and some of the site’s locations were exposed by journalists and plane spotters.

Judge Lamberth also served as the presiding judge of the nation’s secret spying court from 1995 to 2002. He was reportedly the first judge to learn that the Administration was spying on Americans without following the law, but says there’s nothing to worry about.

Poster: Mike Licht/Flickr

The Executions at Kafr Qassem

October 31, 2008

Message of Massacre Lives on for Palestinians

By Jonathan Cook| Counterpunch, Oct 30, 2008

In a conflict that has produced more than its share of suffering and tragedy, the name of Kafr Qassem lives on in infamy more than half a century after Israeli police gunned down 47 Palestinian civilians, including women and children, in the village.

This week Kafr Qassem’s inhabitants, joined by a handful of Israeli Jewish sympathisers, commemorated the anniversary of the deaths 52 years ago by marching to the cemetery where the victims were laid to rest.

They did so as the local media revisited the events, publishing testimonies from two former senior police officers who recalled the order from their commander to shoot all civilians breaking a last-minute curfew imposed on the village, which lies just inside Israel’s borders.

The two men, who were stationed at villages close to Kafr Qassem, suggested that, had they not personally disobeyed the order when confronted with Palestinians returning from work, the death toll would have been far higher.

Taking part in the annual march was one of the few survivors of the massacre. Saleh Khalil Issa is today 71, but back in 1956 he was an 18-year-old agricultural worker.

He remembered returning to the village on his bicycle, along with a dozen other workers, just after 5pm on 29 October 1956.

What he and the other villagers did not know was that earlier that day the Border Police, a special paramilitary unit that operates inside both Israel and the occupied territories, had agreed to set up checkpoints unannounced at the entrance to half a dozen Palestinian villages inside Israel.

The villages were selected because they lie close to the Green Line, the ceasefire line between Israel and Jordan, which was then occupying the West Bank, following the 1948 war.

At a briefing the commanding officer, Major Shmuel Malinki, ordered his men to shoot any civilian arriving home after 5pm.

Asked about the fate of women or children returning late, Malinki replied: “Without sentiment, the curfew applies to everyone.” Pressed on the point, he responded in Arabic: “Allah yarahmum [God have mercy on them]”, adding that this was the order from the brigade commander, Colonel Issachar Shadmi.

Mr Issa said that, when his group reached the village, they were stopped by three policemen. “They told us to get off our bikes and form a line. The commander asked where we were from. When we replied ‘Kafr Qassem’, he took three steps back and told his colleagues, ‘Cut them down!’”

Mr Issa, who was shot in the arm and leg, pretended to be dead among the bodies. He heard villagers’ cars arriving and the policemen ask the same question. Each new arrival was executed.

“Finally, I heard a bus arrive with female passengers, including young girls. I later learnt that there were 12 of them on board. They were forced to get out and shot too, though one survived like me.”

Mr Issa said the policemen checked to see if any of the victims were moving, and then fired more bullets at them. While the police officers were not watching, he crawled away and hid behind a tree. He was found the next morning and taken to a hospital in nearby Petah Tikva, along with 12 other injured.

Of the dead, seven were children and nine women, including one who was pregnant.

Mohammed Arabi, today 84, arrived at the same checkpoint later that evening. A tailor, he had spent the day in Tel Aviv buying materials and hitched a lift home in the back of a truck with 26 other villagers.

When the driver tried to drop 11 of them off just outside the village, they came under fire. The 11 jumped back into the truck, he said, and the driver sped up the hill towards the village.

“When we reached the entrance to the village, we saw bodies everywhere. The driver panicked, frightened to go back, but forced to drive over several corpses lying in the street to get away.”

A short distance ahead, however, a detachment of policemen stopped them. Mr Arabi overheard a debate between the policemen about whether to let them go home or take them to the eastern side of the village.

“I knew what was being suggested. The eastern side was the border with the West Bank. Palestinians were regularly shot on sight by the police for trying to cross into Israel. If we were killed there, it would look like we were infiltrators.”

The commander said he would follow behind the truck in his jeep and escort them to the village’s eastern entrance.

“We were saved by a shepherd who at that moment was driving a large flock of sheep into the village. The sheep separated us from the police, and the truck driver saw his chance. He drove off at top speed and escaped.

“He took us to his home and all 27 of us hid there for three days, too frightened to come out.”

Despite the appalling loss of life, Israel has been slow to come to terms with the massacre. Mr Issa and other villagers were repeatedly arrested in subsequent years as they tried to stage a commemoration.

On the insistence of the government, the plaque erected in the village square to commemorate the deaths refers to the event as a “tragedy” rather a “massacre”. No government official has ever attended the annual march.

Continued . . .

RIGHTS: Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” Stumbles in Syria

October 31, 2008

By Ali Gharib and Zainab Mineeia | Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct 31 (IPS) – With media and diplomatic attention focused on the international incident ignited by a U.S. cross-border raid from Iraq into Syrian territory last weekend, the Syrian government quietly handed down 30-month prison terms to a group of democracy activists on Wednesday.

Few took notice, although Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to immediately overturn the convictions and order the release of prisoners arrested during a crackdown on the Damascus Declaration movement in late 2007 and early 2008.

Forty activists who participated in a Damascus Declaration forum had been detained, although most were later released. In a 20-minute sentencing session, the 12 who were prosecuted and convicted were given stiff prison terms for allegedly attempting to promote gradual political change in the country.

“In a transparent bid to silence its critics, the government is jailing democracy activists for simply attending a meeting,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “The trial was a mere cover to legitimise the government’s repression of opposition groups and peaceful critics.”

But the best cover for the Syrian regime may have come from the U.S., Syria expert and Oklahoma University professor Joshua Landis told IPS.

“The world is not concentrating on this; the world is concentrating on America’s violation of Syrian territory,” Landis told IPS, noting that even some of the U.S.’s allies have condemned the raid.

“America would normally be putting out a statement,” he said, “but no one cares about these guys because the world is focused on [the recent raid]. Everyone is focused on this international issue that America created.”

“These 12 democracy promoters are going to disappear into jail because there is chaos at the border. It punctuates the failure of the Freedom Agenda,” Landis added.

The activists were part of a coalition based around the Damascus Declaration, which formed the basis for a reform movement encouraging “internal support for peaceful, democratic change in Syria,” according to the HRW statement.

The Damascus Declaration, which was established in 2005, created a coalition comprised of opposition political parties and independent activists, including lawyers, doctors, writers and an artist.

The consolidation of Syria’s wildly varied opposition, represented by the Damascus Declaration, came at a time of relative weakness for the regime. Syria was part of U.S. President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” and a neighbouring Axis member, Iraq, had just been subject to a U.S. invasion aimed at regime change.

That weakness and, says Landis, emboldened by encouraging press from the world’s democracy movements, led the opposition to seek to organise and unify — aims largely accomplished by the Damascus Declaration, albeit ephemerally.

Despite a long record of prosecuting political activists who peacefully express their opinions, the Assad regime did not initially act forcefully against the Damascus Declaration.

But in 2006, when the members of the coalition banded together with Lebanese intellectuals and activists to call for better relations between the countries, Syrian authorities cracked down.

In May of 2007, a Syrian court handed down sentences to four activists, including prominent writer Michel Kilo and political activist Mahmud Issa, for allegedly “weakening national sentiment”.

The regime in Syria, like Iraq under former president Saddam Hussein, is ruled by the Arab Socialist Resurrection Baath Party. Bashar al-Assad, who took the helm after his father’s death in 2000, was confirmed as president by an unopposed referendum in 2001. His late father had ruled Syria for 30 years prior to his death.

Syria’s government under the Assads has a history of abuses and heavily limits basic freedoms such as expression, association and assembly through different laws including 45 years of an ongoing state of emergency.

Removing the state of emergency is a major part of the Damascus Declaration’s platform. The prisoners in the latest round of crackdowns include movement president Fida al-Hurani, former parliament member Riyadh Seif, and author Ali al-Abdullah.

Syrian security forces initially held the activists incommunicado for as long as 40 days. Eight of the 12 convicted told the investigative judge that State Security officials beat them during their interrogation and forced them to sign false statements “confessing” that they planned to take money from foreign countries in order to divide the country.

Al-Abdullah suffered an injury to his ear as a result of the beating he endured, said the HRW statement, and the court did not order any independent investigation regarding the allegations of ill-treatment.

They were charged with “spreading false information” and “belonging to a secret organisation promoting sectarian strife,” charges that they deny, according to Freedom House, a U.S. government-funded human rights watchdog.

During the trial, the activists confessed that they were involved in the Damascus Declaration, but pleaded not guilty and denied the charges against them.

Another detainee, Walid al-Bunni, a physician, told the court during his defence that “getting into the details of my defence is useless, but I will ask: what is the basis of the accusations?”

One of the lawyers for the activists told HRW that the defence team will likely appeal the sentence within the required 30 days. He summarised the judgment by saying “membership in the Damascus Declaration is now criminalised.”

Families of the detainees expressed their grief over the sentence. “We don’t know what to feel anymore. I don’t care if the sentence is for 2.5 years or 10 years. My husband should not be in jail in the first place,” said the wife of one of the detainees, according to HRW.

The crackdown on the Damascus Declaration after the initial inaction in 2005, said Landis, was a result of Assad’s newfound ability to rally people against activists.

In 2005, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq had not yet descended into widespread violence and chaos. As disorder in Iraq increased with the bungled occupation, says Landis, dictatorships suddenly had an example of what collusion with Western interests would look like — especially when Western involvement was couched in terms of democracy promotion, known as Bush’s Freedom Agenda.

“Every Middle Eastern society is so fearful of the chaos and insecurity that could be visited upon them with the collapse of their government that they cling to their dictatorial regimes,” Landis told IPS. “It’s relegitimised dictatorship.”

Advocates for Gaza Challenge Blockade

October 30, 2008

By ISABEL KERSHNER | New York Times, Oct 30, 2008

JERUSALEM — A boatload of international campaigners challenged the Israeli blockade of Hamas-run Gaza on Wednesday and sailed into a small port there, the third such landing in two months.

Among the 27 activists and crew members of the vessel that sailed from Cyprus were Mairead Maguire, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who led a campaign against violence in Northern Ireland; Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian legislator from the West Bank; two Israeli citizens; and individuals from various countries including Britain, Italy and the United States.

The voyage, as was the last one, was organized under the auspices of the Free Gaza Movement, a Palestinian advocacy group based in El Cerrito, Calif.

In late August, the first two boats arrived together in Gaza despite Israeli threats to stop them. Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said at the time that there had been a last-minute decision to let the boats through to avoid a public relations debacle, and not to play into the hands of people they described as provocateurs.

This time, too, Israeli officials had stated that the boat would not be allowed to reach Gaza, yet it was allowed to proceed without hindrance.

“It was decided at the highest levels to allow them to enter,” said Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, without explanation.

Hamas, the Islamist group that took control of Gaza in June 2007, is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union. Israel strictly limits the volume and type of goods entering the area by land, though the economic embargo has eased somewhat since a truce took effect in June.

Still, Israel maintains a policy of isolating the area. The authorities denied entry this week to 120 international academics and health professionals who had applied to attend a conference organized by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, which offers a range of local services and is supported by the World Health Organization and other international bodies. The conference focused on the state of mental health in Gaza in light of the blockade.

The international experts participated by video conference from Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Before dawn on Wednesday, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man in the village of Yamoun, near Jenin, in the northern West Bank. A spokesman for the Israeli military said that the man, Muhammad Abahreh, 67, had fired a hunting rifle at a force that was on a routine operation in the area, and that the soldiers had fired back.

Mr. Abahreh’s son, Taher, told news agencies that his father, a farmer, was guarding his livestock against rustlers in an enclosure just outside the village when he was shot in the dark.

India escalates state terrorism in Kashmir after Poll annoncement

October 30, 2008

Kashmir Watch

Srinagar, October 29: An extraordinary meeting was held at Muslim Conference head office Wazirbagh Srinagar today. The meeting was chaired by the acting chairman of Muslim conference Jahanager Gani Bhat along with other Hurriyat executives and senior leaders that include Bilal Gani Lone, Fazl Haq Querashi, Mukhtar Ahmad Waza, Musadiq Adil, Adv. Mohammad Ashraf Lone, Shabir Ahmad Dar, Abdul Rehman Bhat, Abdul Rashid Antoo and Gh. Mohammad Rather.

The leaders discussed the present situation of the Jammu Kashmir and said that “elections are no alternative to self-determination”.

In the meeting acting chairman Jammu Kashmir Peoples League Mukhtar Ahmad Waza has appealed the people of Kashmir to follow the programme of Hurriyat conference. He said that elections are nothing rather than a futile exercise and appealed to the world community and international human rights organizations to send their representatives to Kashmir to monitor Indian state terrorism which has escalated soon after the announcement of J&K polls. He said that  world leaders should put pressure on India to resolve the core issue of Kashmir in accordance with aspirations of Kashmiris.

Hurriyet leaders while condemning the arrest of pro-movement leaders and activists termed it a reflection of Indian government’s nervousness and unconstitutional act.

Posted on 29 Oct 2008 by Webmaster

Witnesses Say Georgia Targeted Civilians in August War

October 30, 2008, Posted October 28, 2008

Ever since the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali sparked its brief August war with Russia, both sides have claimed loudly and consistently that the other has committed war crimes. This has included over 3,000 complaints filed with the European Court of Human Rights regarding action in South Ossetia. The complaints have largely been shrugged off by the international community as politically motivated however.

Now the BBC has completed what it says is the “first unrestricted visit to South Ossetia by a foreign news organization since the conflict,” and has gathered considerable evidence of Georgian war crimes during the fighting. Among other things, Georgian tanks are accused of firing directly into apartment buildings and fleeing civilians were fired upon while trying to flee the fighting.

The deliberate targeting of civilians would violate the Geneva Conventions. The BBC also reports that the attacks inspired post-war “revenge” attacks against ethnic Georgian civilians in the region, many of whom have been chased from their homes by angry Ossetians.

The issue was raised with the Georgian government by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, and Georgian President Saakashvili strongly denied the charges, adding “there were certainly war crimes committed, certainly not by us.”

Perplexingly, President Saakashvili described the destruction of villages which “were not Georgian villages” populated by ethnic Ossetians. The statement is confusing as the president has repeatedly claimed that the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia while vowing to retake them to ensure the “unification of Georgia.”

Russia has recognized South Ossetia as independent and offered a guarantee to defend them against future Georgian attacks. The United States has condemned Russia and vowed to use its position on the UN Security Council to ensure that South Ossetia is never seen as independent in the eyes of the international community.

Related Stories

compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

UN again urges US to lift embargo against Cuba

October 30, 2008

Yahoo News

Massive UN vote in favor of lifting US embargo on Cuba AFP/File – The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for the 17th year in a row Wednesday to demand an end to …

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution on Wednesday urging the United States to repeal its 47-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, which the country’s foreign minister vowed would never bring the Cuban people “to their knees.”

It was the 17th straight year that the General Assembly called for the embargo to be repealed “as soon as possible.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said he hopes the next U.S. president will respond to the international appeal.

But he said whatever the eventual decision, “I would like to reiterate that they shall never be able to bring the Cuban people to their knees.”

U.S. diplomat Ronald Godard said every country has the right to restrict trade. He said the embargo is justified because the Cuban government is undemocratic and restricts political and economic freedom.

The vote in the 192-member world body was 185 to 3, with 2 abstentions. The U.S., Israel and Palau voted “no” while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.

That was one more “yes” vote than last year’s vote of 184 to 4 with 1 abstention, and when the final vote flashed on the screen in the General Assembly chamber, there was loud applause.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Cuba, lists the country as a state sponsor of terror and has long sought to isolate it through travel restrictions and a trade embargo. The embargo, imposed in 1962, has been tightened during President Bush‘s two terms.

Perez Roque blamed the sanctions for more than $93 billion in total economic damage over the decades.

But Godard told the General Assembly “the real reason the Cuban economy is in terrible condition and that so many Cubans remain mired in poverty is that Cuba’s regime continues to deny its people their basic human and economic rights.”

The American people, he said, remain the largest providers of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, providing $240.5 million in private aid in 2007. The U.S. has increased assistance to non-governmental organizations to help address basic needs but Cuba rejected offers of U.S. aid following two devastating hurricanes, he said.

“We cannot accept alleged assistance from those who have intensified the blockade, sanctions and hostility against our people,” Perez Roque told the General Assembly.

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