Archive for May, 2009

In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical

May 31, 2009

Locals sell all they have to help millions displaced by battles with the Taliban

By Andrew Buncombe | The Independent, UK, May 31, 2009

Saima is one of 37 refugees now sharing the house of a stranger. Their host, Rizwan Ali, 59, says: 'It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps'
World Vision

Saima is one of 37 refugees now sharing the house of a stranger. Their host, Rizwan Ali, 59, says: ‘It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps’

The language was already biblical; now the scale of what is happening matches it. The exodus of people forced from their homes in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and elsewhere in the country’s north-west may be as high as 2.4 million, aid officials say. Around the world, only a handful of war-spoiled countries – Sudan, Iraq, Colombia – have larger numbers of internal refugees. The speed of the displacement at its height – up to 85,000 people a day – was matched only during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This is now one of the biggest sudden refugee crises the world has ever seen.

Until now, the worst of the problem has been kept largely out of sight. Of the total displaced by the military’s operations against the Taliban – the army yesterday claimed a crucial breakthrough, taking control of the Swat Valley’s main town, Mingora – just 200,000 people have been forced to live in the makeshift tent camps dotted around the southern fringe of the conflict zone. The vast majority were taken in by relatives, extended family members and local people wanting to help.

But this grassroots sense of charity is slowly starting to show real strain. In a week when the relentless danger of the militants was underlined by a massive car bomb in the city of Lahore that killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds more, aid groups have warned that the communities taking people in – already some of the planet’s poorest people – could themselves be displaced as they desperately sell their few assets to help the homeless.

In these “homestay” situations, some that exist purely because of tribal links between the displaced and those opening their doors, anywhere from 10 to 15 people are crowded into one room. A single latrine is shared by, on average, 35 people. Aid groups have called for a large and immediate injection of funds to help these host families who have stood forward to help those with nothing.

Graham Strong, the country director of the charity World Vision, said: “Families have provided refuge for up to 90 per cent of those escaping the fighting. They are sharing their homes, food, clothes and water. They are poor already and are making themselves poorer in the process. As the disaster continues, hosts are having to sell their land, cattle and other assets at far less than the market value to keep providing for their guests. The cultural ethic of generosity and hospitality means hosts are now facing the agonising choice between asking guests to leave and becoming destitute and displaced themselves.”

Among those facing possible destitution as a result of his kindness is Rizwan Ali, 59, who lives in a village in the Buner district – another of the areas from which the military has been involved in a major operation against militants. When he heard about the countless people from nearby villages being forced to flee, he sent a truck to collect them. Now he shares his home with 37 strangers.

Confronted with this massive influx, Mr Ali – not his real name – has already sold a portion of his land to meet the additional burden. He has watched as other villagers, taking people in, have been pushed to the brink of impoverishment. He says they now face having to ask their guests to leave – something he would be loathe to do.

“It would be easier to die than to ask displaced people to leave for the camps. It will be heartbreaking and will feel as though the earth has caved in on us,” said Mr Ali, who is already helping to look after the newborn baby of his daughter-in-law, who died in childbirth. “I’m exhausted, we have to play so many roles – host, provider, security, breadwinner,” he told aid workers.

Confronted by such circumstances, many of the host families of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) have been selling cattle at a mere fraction of their normal value to raise funds. Others are pawning gold and jewellery for as little as 5 per cent of what it would usually generate. Certainly, those who arrived came with nothing, depending entirely on the generosity of their hosts.

“Our host has done a beautiful thing in taking us in and providing for us,” said one man staying at Mr Ali’s house. “He has given us food and shelter but most of all he has given us our dignity.”

One man, aged 90, said that because there had been no warning to leave, when the gunfire erupted around them they gathered what they could carry and fled. “Many of us didn’t even have any shoes. We walked [13 miles] on mountain paths. It took the whole day,” he said.

Another of those staying with Mr Ali is 12-year-old Saima. “I don’t know where my friends are. We were separated when we left,” said the young girl, who is helping to care for the household’s newborn baby. “It was scary when we ran. It was like my heart was beating in my feet as we ran. There was a time I couldn’t walk another inch because of ulcers under my feet, but the fear kept us going somehow.”

For all the humanitarian problems that the military operation against the Taliban has created, the Pakistani army and the government of Asif Ali Zardari believe they have no alternative but to carry on and try to crush the militants, who had taken control of several areas barely 60 miles from Islamabad. Under considerable international pressure, the military launched the operations earlier this month after a controversial ceasefire deal – under which the government allowed the operation of Islamic law, or sharia, in parts of the Swat Valley and elsewhere – fell apart.

The military claimed a strategic victory yesterday, saying it had taken control of almost all of Mingora. While troops were still meeting pockets of resistance on the outskirts of the town, Mingora itself was under the full control of the military, said a spokesman, Maj- Gen Athar Abbas. “As far as Mingora city, security forces have taken over,” he said. “There are still pockets of resistance. They are on the periphery of Mingora city.”

In addition to the humanitarian problem, of course, the military operation – which it claims has so far killed anywhere up to 1,100 militants – has already apparently led the Taliban into revenge attacks. After militants launched a gun and bomb attack on police and intelligence offices in Lahore last week, a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, one of the senior Taliban leaders, claimed responsibility and said the devastating attack – the third major incident in the Punjabi capital this year – had been carried out in response to what has been happening in Swat. The Taliban also threatened more attacks, raising the prospect of a fresh wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan’s major cities. The following day, at least 14 people were killed in suicide bombings in Peshawar.

Hakimullah Mehsud, a commander loyal to his namesake, told reporters: “We have achieved our target. We were looking at this target for a long time. It was a reaction to the Swat operation. We want the people of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Multan to leave those cities as we plan major attacks against government facilities in coming days.”

Yesterday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Gilani, defended the decision to launch the offensive, saying that the authorities had no genuine alternative.

“The very existence of Pakistan was at stake. We had to start the operation,” he said. While speaking to workers at state-owned Pakistan Television, Mr Gilani also promised payments of cash to help the hundreds of thousands of people forced from their homes, as well as a massive reconstruction.

Such words, had they learned of them, would have been welcome to Rizwan Ali and the 37 people – strangers until this military operation began – squeezed into his home.

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US Violated Geneva Conventions, Bush Iraq Commander Says

May 30, 2009

By John Byrne, AlterNet, Posted May 30, 2009.

A stunning admission from General David Petraeus reveals that the US may have violated international law.

The head of the US Central Command, General David Petraeus, said Friday that the US had violated the Geneva Conventions in a stunning admission from President Bush’s onetime top general in Iraq that the US may have violated international law.

“When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Conventions we rightly have been criticized, so as we move forward I think it’s important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those,” Gen. Petraeus said on Fox News Friday afternoon.

Petraeus made the comment in the context of being asked about the Bush administration’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The now-Central Command chief said he believed that banning the more extreme techniques had taken away “a tool” employed by “our enemies” as a moral argument against the United States.

Petraeus didn’t say which parts of the Geneva Conventions he thought he and other administration officials had violated.

Asked about a “ticking time bomb” scenario — which is often employed by torture’s defenders — Petraeus said that interrogation methods approved for use in the Army Field Manual were generally sufficient.

“There might be an exception and that would require extraordinary but very rapid approval to deal with but for the vast majority of the cases our experience… is that the techniques that are in the Army Field Manual that lays out how we treat detainees, how we interrogate them, those techniques work, that’s our experience in this business,” he said.

He also acknowledged that the US prison at Guantanamo Bay has inflamed anti-US hostility.

“I do support is what has been termed the responsible closure of Gitmo,” Petraeus said. “Gitmo has caused us problems, there’s no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activity since 9/11 and again Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard.”

“I don’t think we should be afraid of our values we’re fighting for,” he added. “What we stand for and so indeed we need to embrace them and we need to ope rationalize them in how we carry out what it is we’re doing on the battle field and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in our courts of law.”

This video is from Fox’s Live Desk, broadcast May 29, 2009.

Britain: The Depth Of Corruption

May 30, 2009

John Pilger | ZNet, May 29, 2009
John Pilger’s ZSpace Page

The theft of public money by members of parliament, including government ministers, has given Britons a rare glimpse inside the tent of power and privilege. It is rare because not one political reporter or commentator, those who fill tombstones of column inches and dominate broadcast journalism, revealed a shred of this scandal. It was left to a public relations man to sell the “leak”. Why?

The answer lies in a deeper corruption, which tales of tax evasion and phantom mortgages touch upon but also conceal. Since Margaret Thatcher, British parliamentary democracy has been progressively destroyed as the two main parties have converged into a single-ideology business state, each with almost identical social, economic and foreign policies. This “project” was completed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, inspired by the political monoculture of the United States. That so many Labour and Tory politicians are now revealed as personally crooked is no more than a metaphor for the anti-democratic system they have forged together.

Their accomplices have been those journalists who report Parliament as “lobby correspondents” and their editors, who have “played the game” wilfully, and have deluded the public (and sometimes themselves) that vital, democratic differences exist between the parties. Media-designed opinion polls based on absurdly small samplings, along with a tsunami of comment on personalities and their specious crises, have reduced the “national conversation” to a series of media events, in which the withdrawal of popular consent – as the historically low electoral turnouts under Blair demonstrated – has been abused as apathy.

Having fixed the boundaries of political debate and possibility, self-important paladins, notably liberals, promoted the naked emperor Blair and championed his “values” that would allow “the mind [to] range in search of a better Britain”. And when the bloodstains showed, they ran for cover. All of it had been, as Larry David once described an erstwhile crony, “a babbling brook of bullshit”.

How contrite their former heroes now seem. On 17 May, the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, who is alleged to have spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on “media training”, called on MPs to “rebuild cross-party trust”. The unintended irony of her words recalls one of her first acts as social security secretary more than a decade ago – cutting the benefits of single mothers. This was spun and reported as if there was a “revolt” among Labour backbenchers, which was false. None of Blair’s new female MPs, who had been elected “to end male-dominated, Conservative policies”, spoke up against this attack on the poorest of poor women. All voted for it.

The same was true of the lawless attack on Iraq in 2003, behind which the cross-party Establishment and the political media rallied. Andrew Marr stood in Downing Street and excitedly told BBC viewers that Blair had “said they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right.” When Blair’s army finally retreated from Basra in May, it left behind, according to scholarly estimates, more than a million people dead, a majority of stricken, sick children, a contaminated water supply, a crippled energy grid and four million refugees.

As for the “celebrating” Iraqis, the vast majority, say Whitehall’s own surveys, want the invader out. And when Blair finally departed the House of Commons, MPs gave him a standing ovation – they who had refused to hold a vote on his criminal invasion or even to set up an inquiry into its lies, which almost three-quarters of the British population wanted.

Such venality goes far beyond the greed of the uppity Hazel Blears.

“Normalising the unthinkable”, Edward Herman’s phrase from his essay The Banality of Evil, about the division of labour in state crime, is applicable here. On 18 May, the Guardian devoted the top of one page to a report headlined, “Blair awarded $1m prize for international relations work”. This prize, announced in Israel soon after the Gaza massacre, was for his “cultural and social impact on the world”. You looked in vain for evidence of a spoof or some recognition of the truth. Instead, there was his “optimism about the chance of bringing peace” and his work “designed to forge peace”.

This was the same Blair who committed the same crime – deliberately planning the invasion of a country, “the supreme international crime” – for which the Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was hanged at Nuremberg after proof of his guilt was located in German cabinet documents. Last February, Britain’s “Justice” Secretary, Jack Straw, blocked publication of crucial cabinet minutes from March 2003 about the planning of the invasion of Iraq, even though the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has ordered their release. For Blair, the unthinkable is both normalised and celebrated.

“How our corrupt MPs are playing into the hands of extremists,” said the cover of last week’s New Statesman. But is not their support for the epic crime in Iraq already extremism? And for the murderous imperial adventure in Afghanistan? And for the government’s collusion with torture?

It is as if our public language has finally become Orwellian. Using totalitarian laws approved by a majority of MPs, the police have set up secretive units to combat democratic dissent they call “extremism”. Their de facto partners are “security” journalists, a recent breed of state or “lobby” propagandist. On 9 April, the BBC’s Newsnight programme promoted the guilt of 12 “terrorists” arrested in a contrived media drama orchestrated by the Prime Minister himself. All were later released without charge.

Something is changing in Britain that gives cause for optimism. The British people have probably never been more politically aware and prepared to clear out decrepit myths and other rubbish while stepping angrily over the babbling brook of bullshit.

http://www.johnpilger.com

Christian Soldiers in Afghanistan

May 30, 2009

by Valerie Elverton Dixon | Sojourners.net, May 30, 2009

William Faulkner once said: “The past is not dead.  In fact, it’s not even past.”  We often think about time and history as a straight line leading from the past, running through the present, heading into the future. With this conceptualization, the past is past and gone.  However, there is another way to think about time.  Tree time.  When we cut down a tree, the rings of the stump are concentric circles of time. The first year exists at the center and each succeeding year surrounds it.

So it is with the meeting of Christianity and Islam on the battle fields of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The historical center of the present conflict is the history of the Crusades.  Many in the Muslim world consider the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as another Crusade.  The Crusades were wars between Christians and Muslims, Christians and Pagans, Christians and Christians over four centuries.  It was a tragic time when armies of the state fought to promote a religious cause.  Crusaders travelled far from home as warriors and pilgrims, warriors and penitents, warriors as walls to stall the spread of Islam.  They won and lost battles.  They destroyed and plundered and raped. They were sometimes brutally massacred when the Muslims won on a particular day.

This historical core has not passed from the consciousness of some observers.  Enter the U.S. military.  The military is full of Christians.  Many of these men and women consider themselves as fundamentalist and evangelical.  An important part of their religious commitment is to witness to Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior and to win souls to Christ.  At the same time, the U.S. military has a strict rule against proselytizing.  And so the warriors must walk a fine line between obligations to faith and country.

However, in my opinion, at least one soldier has been unfairly characterized in this discussion.  From what I can tell from the four minute video of a group of Christian soldiers in Afghanistan, army chaplain Captain Emmitt Furner gave them sound advice.  He reminded them of the army regulation and he reminded them that to witness to and for Jesus was more a walk than a talk. It is what we as Christians do that is important.  He said:  “You share the word in a smart manner: love, respect, consideration for their culture and their religion.  That’s what a Christian does is appreciation for other human beings.”  Another soldier in the group spoke of love and respect for the people they meet.

Some observers see Captain Furner’s advice as a sly way to spread the gospel, an element of a 21st century Crusade.  In my opinion, this interpretation is incorrect.  He gave his fellow soldiers the instruction to be living epistles that can be known and read by all (2 Corinthians 3:2).  It is an instruction that we who are not on the front lines in Afghanistan and in Iraq can use.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

The Destabilization of Pakistan

May 30, 2009

The Main Result of the “War on Terror”

By Gary Leupp | Counterpunch, May 29 – 31, 2009

So far the principle result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the events of 9-11 has been the destabilization of Pakistan. That breakdown is peaking with the events in what AP calls the “Swat town” of Mingora—actually a city of 375,000 from which all but 20,000 have fled as government forces moved in, strafing it with gunships. We’re talking urban guerrilla warfare, house-to-house fighting, not on the Afghan border but 50 miles away in the Swat Valley. We’re talking about Pakistani troops fighting to reclaim the nearby Malam Jabba ski resort from the Tehreek-e-Taliban, who since last year have been using it as a training center and logistics base. We’re talking about two million people fleeing the fighting in the valley and 160,000 in government refugee camps.

And of course, “collateral damage”: As was reported in The News in Pakistan May 19:

Several persons, including women and children, were killed and a number of others sustained injuries when families fleeing the military operation in Swat’s Matta town were shelled while crossing a mountainous path to reach Karo Darra in Dir Upper on Monday, eyewitnesses and official sources said. Eyewitnesses, who escaped the attack or were able to reach Wari town of Dir Upper in injured condition, said they were targeted by gunship helicopters. However, police officials said they might have been hit by a stray shell. Local people said they saw some 12 to 14 bodies on a mountain on the Swat side but could not go near to retrieve them or help the injured for fear of another aerial attack.

What a nightmare scenario for Pakistan.

We’re talking about the Pakistani Army sometimes fighting over the last year to retake towns from Taliban forces in the Buner region of the North-West Frontier Province that are closer to the capital of Islamabad than the Afghan border. And while the Talibs apparently lack popular support, even among the Pashtuns (who are 15 % of the Pakistani population—26 million and 42% of the Afghan population—14 million) they have been able to inflict embarrassing defeats on the army.

Continued >>

Defending Israeli War Crimes

May 30, 2009
by Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, May 30, 2009

In response to a series of reports by human rights organizations and international legal scholars documenting serious large-scale violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli armed forces in its recent war on the Gaza Strip, 10 U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defending the Israeli action. It is virtually unprecedented for state attorneys general – whose mandates focus on enforcement of state law – to weigh in on questions regarding the laws of war, particularly in a conflict on the far side of the world. More significantly, their statement runs directly counter to a broad consensus of international legal opinion that recognizes that Israel, as well as Hamas, engaged in war crimes.

The wording of the letter closely parallels arguments by Bush administration officials in support for Israel’s devastating offensive during their final days in office. Having been signed nearly 11 weeks after the end of the fighting and made public only late last month, it may have been part of an effort to undermine tentative efforts by the Obama administration to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A statement by state attorneys general putting forth a legal rationale for the large-scale killings of civilians is particularly distressing as concerns about civilian casualties from U.S. air and missile strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan has grown.

The attorneys general signing on to the letter included Republicans Rob McKenna of Washington, Mike Cox of Michigan, John Suthers of Colorado, Bill McCollum of Florida, Jon Bruning of Nebraska, and Mark Shurtleff of Utah. Signatories also included such prominent Democrats as Richard Cordray of Ohio, Patrick Lynch of Rhode Island, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Buddy Caldwell of Louisiana.

Continued >>

If Iraq was a Mistake, Why are We Still There?

May 30, 2009
by Camillo Bica | commondreams.org , May 29, 2009

However one frames the debate, it is apparent to any fair minded and rational person that the invasion of Iraq, based as it was on misinformation at best, lies and deceptions at worst, was a mistake and should never have occurred. Certainly President Obama has made this claim on numerous occasions as well as many who had previously supported (and voted for) the war. After having acknowledged this fact, however, President Obama and others would have us forget the past as it serves, in their view, no practical purpose to rehash and moralize over things that cannot be undone. It will be the work of future historians, legal scholars, and philosophers, they argue, to untangle, interpret, and make judgments regarding the complex events and decisions that led to the invasion and characterize the occupation of Iraq. They warn that it is imperative at this crucial juncture that we deal with the matters at hand, that we act quickly and decisively in our national interest to ensure that our Country remains safe, that our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan are achieved, and that our sacrifice in blood and treasure is not for naught.

What President Obama and others who advocate such a position fail to appreciate is that we live in a Nation that understands and accepts the importance of the Constitution and the rule of law, both moral and International. Accordingly, we determine our behavior, how we conduct ourselves as a Nation, not only by what is in our national interest but also by what is right, not only by what we CAN do, but also by what we OUGHT to do. This is what we stand for as a people, the values we hold sacred as a nation. Consequently, to focus exclusively on “practical considerations” – present conditions and problems – considered in isolation and apart from the causal chain of events that led to the situation as it exists today is morally and legally unacceptable and incoherent and counter to the principles and values we believe must guide and determine our future course of action not only in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the world as well.

By accepting that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake we must accept all that such an admission entails. According to Just War Theory and International Law, the illegal and immoral use of violence and deadly force against a sovereign nation and its citizenry, constitutes aggression. Aggression is morally wrong and a war crime under International Law. Aggressors violate the rights of the aggressed to life, self-determination, and to live in a nation that enjoys political sovereignty and territorial integrity – sometimes referred to as the “rights of nations.” Aggressors are Unjustifiable Combatants. The victims of aggression have the privilege to assert their rights – to act in self and national defense. As such, they are Justifiable Combatants. Consequently, our invasion and occupation of Iraq is aggression, members of our military are aggressors – Unjustifiable Combatants – and those that struggle against us, the “insurgents,” are Justifiable Combatants asserting their right of self and national defense.

This is the reality of our involvement in Iraq, a reality entailed and implied by a recognition that our invasion was a mistake and should never have occurred. The “fact” that we may have had good intentions does not alter the moral and legal value of our involvement. “Mistaken” aggression is no less aggression, no less a war crime. “Mistaken” aggressors are no less liable to be resisted – warred against in self and national defense.

Yet despite the realization that the invasion and occupation in Iraq is aggression and despite our economy bordering on collapse, President Obama, and many of our fellow citizens, argue that we cannot just stop the killing and destruction and walk away. One important reason, they offer, is national security. We must end the chaos created by our aggression and restore stability in Iraq to ensure that it does not become a training ground and sanctuary for terrorists who wish us harm. A second reason, interestingly enough, is a moral one. Paradoxically, we cannot stop the killing and destruction in Iraq because we recognize our moral culpability and responsibility for our aggression. That is, we cannot just abandon the Iraqi people to the endless civil war and sectarian violence that would “inevitably” occur in the power vacuum created by our departure. Consequently, we are morally obligated to continue the killing and the destruction in Iraq for at least a few more years, in order to save the Iraqis from themselves and so they may enjoy the gift of freedom and democracy as recompense for our aggression. While the initial use of violence and deadly force against the Iraqi people may have been aggression, now, however, we are on solid moral and legal ground, as the continued killing and destruction entailed by our remaining, is humanitarian intervention. (General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, by the way, said recently that his strategic planning envisions combat troops remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan for as long as ten years).

This argument for the continued occupation of Iraq is clearly incoherent. It is as though our political leaders have accepted that the American public is incapable of rational thought and will accept any reason and justification for war as long as it is presented as furthering our national interest and feeds our national ego regarding our benevolence and moral superiority in the world.

It is time, therefore, long past time, that we show President Obama and the Congress that we will be duped no longer, that we are not a nation of sheep, and that we possess the ability to reason and think critically. It is time, therefore, long past time, that we accept the reality of what we have done and continue to do in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. We must stop the killing and the destruction now, not later. We must understand that bringing stability to the region is not about escalating violence, increasing the number of troops, or dropping more and larger bombs. Nor is it about searching out and destroying al Qaeda or the Taliban, or even capturing or killing bin Laden. Rather, it is about inclusiveness, diplomacy, understanding and dialogue. It is about doing the difficult work of reconciliation and of addressing the grievances that nourish radicalism. Most important, I believe, should we at long last recognize that the days of US unilateralism and imperialism are over and realize the necessity of involving and soliciting the assistance of area powers such as Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, China and India, not only will the world be a better and safer place, but perhaps for the first time in many years, we will begin to live according to the principles and values that we claim characterize our nation and of which we are so proud.

Camillo “Mac” Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is a former Marine Corps Officer, Vietnam Veteran, long-time activist for peace and justice, and the Coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for

Palestinians differ on US promises

May 30, 2009
Al Jazeera, May 30, 2009

Obama said he shared Abbas’ feelings that “time was of the essence” in the peace process with Israel [AFP]

Palestinian Fatah has said it was “encouraged” by the meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and his US counterpart in the White House, while Hamas said the encounter would lead to nothing.

“Palestinians are encouraged by the commitment President Obama and his administration have shown to Middle East peace,” Saeb Erakat, a Fatah member and the Palestinians’ top official said on Friday.

Erekat said the establishment of a viable Palestinian state and a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would make the region more secure and stable.

But, he warned “the peace process lives on borrowed time,” saying it would not survive another round of failed negotiations.

“Israel’s failure to implement its obligations under existing agreements has eroded its credibility, while its continued settlement activities are undermining the very viability of the two state solution,” Erakat said.

Hamas reaction

Hamas, however, called the meeting a continuation of Abbas’ “way of begging” to the US and the “Zionist entity.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the meeting would “accomplish nothing but more pressure on Abbas.”

He said the US administration would fail to take “any action on the ground” to halt Israeli “aggressions” and realise Palestinian rights.

In the meeting on Thursday Obama called for a stop to Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and emphasised the two-state solution.

However, Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, refused to openly endorse the two-state solution during a meeting with Obama on May 18.

He also rejected the US and Palestinian demand for an absolute freeze in settlement activity.

Netanyahu promised not to build new settlements, but vowed to continue construction in existing ones to accommodate for “natural growth.”

UN chief knew Tamil civilian toll had reached 20,000

May 30, 2009

The Times/UK, May 30, 2009

Catherine Philp, Diplomatic Correspondent

The top aide to the United Nations Secretary-General was told more than a week ago that at least 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the Sri Lankan Government’s final offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels this month, The Times can reveal.

UN officials told Vijar Nambiar, Ban Ki Moon’s chief of staff, that their figures indicated a likely final death toll of more than 20,000, during a briefing in preparation for Mr Ban’s visit to the region on May 23.

Two staff present at the meeting confirmed the exchange to The Times but Mr Ban never mentioned the death toll during his tour of the battleground, which he described as the “most appalling scene” he had witnessed in his long international career.

The casualty figure, revealed by The Times yesterday, triggered an international furore, with the Sri Lankan authorities denying the report and human rights groups demanding an investigation into possible war crimes.

Lakshman Hulugalle, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said: “These figures are way out . . . What we think is that these images are also fake. We totally deny the allegation that 20,000 people were killed.”

But, internationally, calls have been growing for an independent war crimes investigations on both sides and for access by humanitarian groups to the war zone and the 270,000 Tamil civilians who are still being detained.

Amnesty International called on the UN to release the estimated figures to help to push for a war crimes inquiry. “The Timess investigation underscores the need for investigation and the UN should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi, the Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said.

“The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the council, but it does not mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this continuing crisis,” Mr Zarifi said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross made a rare public plea yesterday for access to the no-fire zone and internment camps in the region. “We haven’t been able to access the areas where most of these people would have fled from since the ending of the most recent fighting,” Florian Westphal, the Red Cross spokesman, told a briefing in Geneva.

The figure of 20,000 casualties was given to The Times by UN sources, who explained in detail how they arrived at that calculation.

Before this month’s bombardment made the recording of each individual death impossible, the figures had been collated from deaths reported by priests and doctors and added to a count of the bodies brought to medical points.

Of the total, the bodies collected accounted for only a fifth of all reported deaths. After the bombing intensified this month, the only numbers available were by a count of the bodies. The 20,000 figure is an extrapolation based on the actual body count.

The 20,000 figure has also been obtained by Le Monde, the French daily newspaper, which quoted UN sources as saying that the figure had not been made public to avoid a diplomatic storm. The figure of 7,000 deaths until the end of April, which was based on individually documented deaths and not estimates, was leaked by UN sources in Sri Lanka this month after internal anger over the secrecy surrounding them. UN satellite images documenting the bombing of medical facilities were also leaked from New York.

The UN Humanitarian Co-ordination Office said yesterday that the figures cited by The Times were based on “well-informed estimates” given in private briefings to member states to underscore its concern — including Britain and the United States.

“You have seen the figures that are mentioned. Obviously, what we have are well-informed estimates and not precise, verifiable numbers,” said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the humanitarian co-ordination office. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties. It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.”

Stop the US torture ship

May 30, 2009
Morning Star Online, Friday 29 May 2009
by Adrian Roberts
The notorious USS Bataan, which has held prisoners including John Walker Lindh, David Hicks and Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, docking in Mallorca on Thursday morning.

British human rights campaigners Reprieve have urged the Spanish authorities to board and search US torture ship USS Bataan after it moored at the Palma de Mallorca holiday resort.

Reprieve said on Friday that the USS Bataan is one of the US government’s most infamous “floating prisons” and will remain at the island until Saturday.

At least nine prisoners including John Walker Lindh, David Hicks and Ibn Al-Sheikh Al-Libi, who recently died in mysterious circumstances in Libyan custody, are confirmed to have been held aboard the USS Bataan.

Reprieve pointed out that, in January 2002, Mr Al-Libi was flown to the ship, which was then cruising the northern Arabian Sea, before his interrogation began.

From there, he was rendered to Egypt where he was forced under torture to confess that al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein were in league on weapons of mass destruction.

Details regarding the operation of prison ships have emerged through a number of sources, including the US military and other administration officials, the Council of Europe, various parliamentary bodies and journalists, as well as the testimonies of prisoners themselves.

Reprieve investigations also suggest that a further 15 ships have been used to hold prisoners beyond the rule of law since 2001. Prisoners are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations.

A former prisoner told Reprieve: “One of my fellow prisoners in Guantanamo was at sea on an American ship before coming to Guantanamo. He was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other prisoners on the ship.

“They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.”

Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge said: “Ships have been used by the US to hold terror suspects illegally since the days of president Clinton, so it would be no surprise if this practice continues under Obama.

“The US and Spanish governments, as well as the EU, must urgently reveal what this ship is doing on European territory.”

Reprieve director Clive Stafford Smith added: “The arrival of USS Bataan should ring alarm bells in any law-abiding country. The Spanish authorities are duty-bound to board and search the ship for missing prisoners.”

Mr Stafford Smith has also pointed out that the US chooses ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers.

“By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons and information suggests up to 80,000 have been through the system since 2001,” he said.

“The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are and what has been done to them.”