Archive for June, 2009

The necessity of cultural boycott

June 27, 2009

By Ilan Pappe | ZNet, June 25, 2009
Source: Pulse Media

If there is anything new in the never-ending sad story of Palestine it is the clear shift in public opinion in the UK. I remember coming to these isles in 1980 when supporting the Palestinian cause was confined to the left and in it to a very particular section and ideological stream. The post-Holocaust trauma and guilt complex, military and economic interests and the charade of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East all played a role in providing immunity for the State of Israel. Very few were moved, so it seems, by a state that had dispossessed half of Palestine’s native population, demolished half of their villages and towns, discriminated against the minority among them who lived within its borders through an apartheid system and divided into enclaves two million and a half of them in a harsh and oppressive military occupation.

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America’s “Bases of Empire”

June 27, 2009

By Stephen Lendman | Global Research, June 27th, 2009

Besides waging perpetual wars, nothing better reveals America’s imperial agenda than its hundreds of global bases – for offense, not defense at a time the US hasn’t had an enemy since the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.

So when they don’t exist, they’re invented as former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles W. Freeman, Jr., suggested in a May 24, 2007 speech to the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs:

“When our descendants look back on the end of the 20th century and the beginning of this one, they will be puzzled. The end of the Cold War relieved Americans of almost all international anxieties.” As the world’s sole remaining superpower, “We did not rise to the occasion.”

“We are engaged in a war, a global war on terror, a long war, we are told….How can a war with no defined ends beyond the avoidance of retreat ever reach a convenient stopping point? How can we win (any war let alone the hearts and minds of millions) with an enemy so ill-understood that we must invent a nonexistent ideology” for justification.

Continued >>

Bagram Detainees Treated ‘Worse Than Animals’

June 27, 2009
by William Fisher, Antiwar.com, June 27, 2009

An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has revealed that former detainees at the U.S. Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were beaten, deprived of sleep and threatened with dogs.

The BBC’s conclusions are based on interviews with 27 former detainees who were held at Bagram between 2002 and 2006. None of these men were ever charged with a crime. Hundreds of detainees are still being held in U.S. custody at the Afghan prison without charge or trial.

Jonathan Hafetz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, told IPS, “The BBC investigation provides further confirmation of the United States’ mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram.”

“These abuses are the direct consequence of decisions made at the highest levels of the U.S. government to avoid the Geneva Convention and forsake the rule of law. For too long, the unlawful detention and mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram has gone on outside the public eye,” he said. “Hopefully, this investigation will help change that.”

“When prisoners are in American custody and under American control, no matter the location, our values and commitment to the rule of law are at stake,” Hafetz said.

In April, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records pertaining to the detention and treatment of prisoners held at Bagram, including the number of people currently detained, their names, citizenship, place of capture and length of detention.

The ACLU is also seeking records pertaining to the process afforded those prisoners to challenge their detention and designation as “enemy combatants.”

“The U.S. government’s detention of hundreds of prisoners at Bagram has been shrouded in complete secrecy,” said Melissa Goodman, an ACLU staff attorney. “The American people have a right to know what’s happening at Bagram and whether prisoners have been tortured there.”

Amnesty International said it was “shocked” by the Bagram claims. It noted that a new detention center is currently under construction at the camp.

Another prominent human rights organization, the British-based Reprieve, called on the British government to take action concerning two Pakistanis who it says the U.K. helped render there from Iraq.

“The legal black hole in Bagram underlines the British government’s moral black hole when it comes to rendering two Pakistani prisoners there in 2004,” said Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve. “These men were in British custody in Iraq, were turned over to the U.S., and have now been held for five years without any respect for their legal rights.”

In February 2009, British Defense Secretary John Hutton announced to the House of Commons that Britain had handed two anonymous Pakistani men over to the U.S., and they had subsequently been rendered to Afghanistan, where they were still being held.

“We have been assured that are held in a humane, safe and secure environment, meeting international standards consistent with cultural and religious norms,” Hutton said at the time.

“As we have said all along, beating people and holding them incommunicado is not humane, safe and secure,” Stafford Smith told IPS. “Britain has a moral duty to identify these men, so that we can reunite them with their legal rights, yet Mr. Hutton refuses to do this.”

No prisoner in Bagram has been allowed to see a lawyer, or challenge his detention. According to the BBC, the U.S. justice department argues that because Afghanistan is an active combat zone it is not possible to conduct rigorous inquiries into individual cases and that it would divert precious military resources at a crucial time.

“These men were never in Afghanistan until the UK and the U.S. took them there,” said Stafford Smith. “It is the height of hypocrisy to take someone to Bagram and then claim that it is too dangerous to let them see a lawyer. Even Guantánamo Bay is better than this.”

The Pentagon has denied the BBC’s charges of harsh treatment and insisted that all inmates in the facility are treated humanely.

The Bagram Airbase built by the Soviet military in the 1980s. The approximately 600 people held there are classified as “unlawful enemy combatants.” None was charged with any offence or put on trial — some even received apologies when they were released.

Many allegations of ill-treatment appear repeatedly in the BBC interviews: physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers.

In four cases detainees were threatened with death at gunpoint.

“They did things that you would not do against animals let alone to humans,” said one inmate.

“They poured cold water on you in winter and hot water in summer. They used dogs against us. They put a pistol or a gun to your head and threatened you with death,” he said.

“They put some kind of medicine in the juice or water to make you sleepless and then they would interrogate you.”

The BBC said its findings were shown to the Pentagon. Lt. Col. Mark Wright, a spokesman for the U.S. secretary of defense, insisted that conditions at Bagram “meet international standards for care and custody.” He said the U.S. Defense Department has a policy of treating detainees humanely.

But he acknowledged that, “There have been well-documented instances where that policy was not followed, and service members have been held accountable for their actions in those cases.”

Since coming to office, U.S. President Barack Obama has banned the use of torture and ordered a review of policy on detainees, which is expected to report next month. But unlike its detainees at the U.S. naval facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, the prisoners at Bagram have no access to lawyers and they cannot challenge their detention.

(Inter Press Service)

Quartet urges settlement freeze

June 27, 2009
Al Jazeera,   June 27, 2009

Ban called on Israel to stop expanding settlements, including those increasing from ‘natural growth’ [AFP]

The international Quartet on Middle East peace has called on Israel to halt Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and open border crossings as a first step to advance peace.

The Quartet, comprised of the European Union, Russia, the United States and the United Nations, made the appeal on Friday in the northeastern Italian city of Trieste.

Continued >>

U.N. Asked to Probe CIA Rendition

June 27, 2009

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Jun 26 (IPS) – Human rights groups are asking United Nations officials to investigate the case of an Italian citizen and victim of the “extraordinary rendition” programme of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency who is currently being held in a Moroccan prison based on a confession coerced from him through torture.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Geneva-based Alkarama for Human Rights have requested that two U.N. Special Rapporteurs investigate the circumstances of Abou Elkassim Britel’s forced disappearance, rendition, detention and torture, and raise his case with the governments of the United States, Morocco, Pakistan and Italy.

The requests were made to the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture and the on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism.

Continued >>

Israel must end indiscriminate blockade

June 27, 2009

Morning Star Online, Friday 26 June 2009

Anti-poverty agency ActionAid has called on Tel Aviv to lift its two-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, hours before a tunnel used to smuggle goods from Egypt collapsed, killing a Palestinian.

Even school books and children’s plastic toys are banned from entering Gaza by Israel, as well as essential supplies needed for relief and rehabilitation such as fuel and building materials.

As a result, Palestinians are forced to literally go underground to ferry in supplies.

Gaza emergency services official Mouawiya Hassanein said that five other people had been injured in the collapse.

On the eve of the six-month anniversary of the Israeli bombardment, ActionAid Gaza programme manager Richard Sandison said: “Israel’s blockade is indiscriminate and is affecting the entire 1.5 million-strong population of Gaza. Ordinary women, children and the elderly are the main victims.

Mr Sandison went on to observe that: “schools are lying damaged or destroyed and cannot be rebuilt because we do not have the materials needed for construction.”

Memo confirms Bush and Blair knew claims Iraq had WMDs were lies

June 26, 2009

By Paul Bond | wsws.org,  26 June 2009

A confidential memo obtained by the Observer, detailing a meeting between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair, confirms their determination to press ahead with the invasion of Iraq in 2003 without any evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and without United Nations approval.

The five-page memo, written by Blair’s foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning, is dated January 31, 2003, some two months before the invasion began. It records the thinking of Bush and Blair as it became increasingly obvious that United Nations weapons inspectors would not find the advanced weaponry, including a nuclear capability, that both leaders were using to justify military action.

Continued >>

The Farah Bombing: Airstrike Report Belies “Blame Taliban” Line

June 26, 2009

By Gareth Porter | Counterpunch, June 26 – 28, 2009

The version of the official military investigation into the disastrous May 4 airstrike in Farah province made public last week by the Central Command was carefully edited to save the U.S. command in Afghanistan the embarrassment of having to admit that earlier claims blaming the massive civilian deaths on the “Taliban” were fraudulent.

By covering up the most damaging facts surrounding the incident, the rewritten public version of the report succeeded in avoiding media stories on the contradiction between the report and the previous arguments made by the U.S. command.

Continued >>

Obama Presses Israel on Settlements, but Their End Isn’t in Sight

June 26, 2009
by William Pfaff, Antiwar.com, June 26, 2009

PARIS — The Obama administration’s confrontation with Israel over its colonies inside the Palestine territories began as a test of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s willingness to enter serious negotiations on a Middle Eastern settlement. It actually possesses potential dimensions that few today imagine.

Netanyahu first counted on the Likud and settlement lobbies in Washington to produce, as always in the past, a disingenuous formula that would allow the colonies to continue to expropriate Palestinian land and expand the settlements, while the American government oversaw essentially meaningless negotiations with the Palestinians.

Continued >>

Nancy Pelosi: A Hawk in Donkey’s Clothing

June 26, 2009

Pelosi has been a major force for keeping the Dems in a pro-war stance, even though the Chronicle endlessly promotes her and her SF constituents remain in denial.

by Stephen Zunes | Tikkun Mazagine, June 26, 2009

Congressional approval to continue funding of the ongoing war in Iraq, a major segment of the $90 billion supplemental appropriate package, passed on Tuesday thanks to heavy-handed pressure by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., against anti-war Democrats.

This has led to great consternation here in her home district in San Francisco, where anti-war sentiment remains stronger than ever. The timing of the measure is particularly upsetting given that California’s record budget deficit has resulting in the layoffs of tens of thousands of teachers, the incipient closure of almost all of our state parks and draconian cuts in health care, housing, public transportation,the environment, social services and other critical programs. While unwilling or unable to get Congress to provide some financial support for the crisis here at home, our most powerful member of Congress was quite willing to work hard to insure continued financial support for war.

What few people outside of San Francisco realize is that despite representing one of the most liberal congressional districts in the country, Pelosi has been a strong supporter of the Iraq war for most of past seven years.

In 2002, public opinion polls showed that the only reason most Americans would support a U.S. invasion of Iraq was if they were convinced that Iraq was somehow a threat to the United States, such as possessing “weapons of mass destruction.” Unfortunately for those supporting a U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, independent strategic analysts were arguing that the evidence strongly suggested that Iraq had rid itself of its chemical and biological weapons some years earlier.

In an apparent effort to discredit those of us who — correctly, as it turned out — were insisting that Iraq had in all likelihood already disarmed, Pelosi categorically declared on NBC’s Meet the Press in December 2002 that “Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There’s no question about that.”

By giving bipartisan credence to the Bush administration’s unprincipled use of such scare tactics to gain support for the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, she negated a potential advantage the Democrats would have otherwise had in the 2004 campaign. After it became apparent that administration claims about Iraq’s alleged military threat were false, the Democrats were unable to attack the Republicans for misleading the American public since their congressional leadership had also falsely claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

During the first twelve weeks of 2003, there were a series of large demonstrations against the war here in Pelosi’s district, including one on Feb. 16 that brought out a half-million people. While Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee — congresswomen from a neighboring districts — spoke at the rally, Pelosi was notably absent.

On the day the war began the following month, San Francisco’s downtown business district was shut down by thousands of anti-war protesters in a spontaneous act of massive civil disobedience. In response, Pelosi denounced the protesters and rushed to the defense of President George W. Bush, voting in favor of a resolution declaring the House of Representatives’ “unequivocal support and appreciation to the president … for his firm leadership and decisive action.” She personally pressed a number of skeptical Democratic lawmakers to support the resolution as well.

Pelosi also sought to discredit those who argued that Iraq was not a threat to the United States and that United Nations inspectors — which had returned to Iraq a couple of months earlier and were engaged in unfettered inspections — should have been allowed to complete their mission to confirm that Iraq had disarmed as required. She joined her Republican colleagues going on record claiming that “reliance by the United States on further diplomatic and other peaceful means alone” could not “adequately protect the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

As a counter to those who argued that the war was a diversion of critical personnel, money, intelligence and other resources from the important battle against al-Qaida terrorists, Pelosi tried to link the secular regime of Saddam Hussein with that Islamist terrorist network by declaring that the Iraq invasion was “part of the ongoing global war on terrorism.”

Furthermore, despite a CIA report that al-Qaida terrorist Abu Musab al-Zaqarwi had not received sanctuary or any other support from the former Iraqi regime, Pelosi went on record claiming that, under Saddam “the al-Zarqawi terror network used Baghdad as a base of operations to coordinate the movement of people, money and supplies.”

In the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, Pelosi helped lead an effort to undermine the anti-war candidacy of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, insisting that Americans must “raise our voices against all forms of terrorism” and that “this is not the time to be sending mixed messages.”

Instead, she endorsed the hawkish Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who co-sponsored the House resolution authorizing Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his choosing. When Gephardt dropped out of the race, Pelosi threw her support to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who was also among the minority of Democrats on Capitol Hill who had voted to authorize Bush’s war.

Pelosi’s assertions that the Iraq war was part of the “war on terror” proved costly to the Democrats in the 2004 election, which the Democrats had been expected to win, as exit polls showed that 80 percent of those who did believe that the war in Iraq was part of the war on terrorism voted to re-elect Bush and a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

In response to the consensus of disarmament experts that the U.S. invasion of Iraq hurt the cause of nuclear nonproliferation, Pelosi voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored amendment that claimed that the elimination of Libya’s nuclear program in late 2003 “would not have been possible if not for … the liberation of Iraq by United States and coalition forces.” Her support for this Republican-sponsored measure came despite testimony by U.S. negotiators who took part in British-initiated talks with the Muammar Qaddafi regime that the outline of the deal had come prior to the invasion and that the war played no role whatsoever in the agreement.

As the armed resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq grew in the wake of the invasion, Pelosi dismissed the growing consensus that it was part of a popular nationalist reaction to foreign occupation and instead went on record insisting that it is simply the work of “former regime elements, foreign and Iraqi terrorists and other criminals.”

As far back as 2004, the voters of San Francisco, in a citywide referendum, voted by a nearly 2-to-1 margin calling on the United States government to withdraw all troops from Iraq. Pelosi, however, insisted on ignoring her constituents and continued to support Bush’s policies.

By 2005, as Bay Area Reps. Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Sam Farr joined Democratic colleagues from across the country in signing a letter to Bush calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Pelosi was notably absent from the list of signatories.

By this point, even prominent Republicans like James Baker and Gen. Brent Scowcroft were calling for the withdrawal of American forces, yet Pelosi held firm in her support of the war. Back in 1990, Pelosi had been an outspoken liberal critic of the George H.W. Bush administration’s militaristic policy toward Iraq. Fifteen years later, however, she was taking a position to the right of his secretary of state and national security adviser.

Defenders of Pelosi pointed out that, as assistant minority leader in October 2002, she was the only member of the Democratic leadership in either house of Congress to vote against authorizing the invasion. Furthermore, they noted how she subsequently raised some concerns regarding how the Bush administration had handled the occupation, such as not adequately preparing for the aftermath of the invasion, failing to utilize enough troops, not providing adequate training or body armor for U.S. forces and for backing such dubious exile figures as Ahmad Chalabi.

However, Pelosi refused to acknowledge that the United States should have never invaded Iraq in the first place, which had been acknowledged by religious leaders from around the globe. Nor did she ever acknowledge that the invasion was a direct violation of the United Nations Charter, which the United States — as a party to such binding international treaties — is legally required to uphold.

Historically, opposition leaders in Congress have helped expose the lies and counterproductive policies of the incumbent administration. Pelosi, however, to her party’s detriment, decided instead to defend them.

By the end of 2005, as protesters met her at virtually every public event in her district and even conservative colleagues in the House Democratic leadership, such as Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, began calling for a withdrawal of American forces from Iraq, Pelosi finally spoke out in favor of an end to the war.

She continued to support unconditional funding for the war effort, however, for the next two fiscal years. It was only on the vote for last year’s fiscal budget, as anti-war sentiment in her district was reaching a fever pitch and fears of a serious challenge to her seat in the Democratic primary and/or from the Green Party nominee in November, did she finally vote against war funding.

Now, however, as public attention on the Iraq war has faded, she has reverted to her previous pro-war position. Along with her support for Israel’s wars on the Gaza Strip and on Lebanon, her backing of the Iraq war is demonstrative of her willingness to ally herself with the former Bush administration in pushing policies based on the premise that instability and extremism can be best addressed through brute military force regardless of international legal norms or high civilian casualties.

Despite all this, much of the mainstream media and leading political pundits identify Pelosi as a prominent liberal. It is but one example of how far to the right political discourse in American has gone.

© 2009 Tikkun Magazine

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)


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