Friday, May 28, 2004

 

Peter Hounam update

Peter Hounam was released from Israeli custody yesterday, after he was held in a "dungeon with excrement on the walls." Now, a few days ago, Danny Seaman, director of Israel's Government Press Office told the media: "I assume they did not arrest him as a journalist but because they have real reasons." So let's review the case against Hounam:
According to Shin Bet, Hounam paid an Israeli woman, Yael Lotan, £1,000 to interview Mr [Mordechai] Vanunu on his behalf. Hounam, with the help of BBC employees, edited and duplicated the tapes.
So Hounam (allegedly) paid for an interview, and edited and duplicated the tapes. Despite all of Seaman's assurances, these sure appear to be the activities of a journalist.
Yesterday Hounam's wife, Hilarie, said from the couple's home in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, that he was "overjoyed" to be released. She said she believed the arrest sprang from the Israeli authorities' continuing campaign against Mr Vanunu. "They know he has no more secrets," she said. "It's vengeance, isn't it?"
Vengeance, paranoia, and a growing culture within the Israeli government and military of intolerance for the media (especially foreign media). As stated by the Foreign Press Association, the arrest of journalists is "a most dangerous threat to any democracy."

 

Keepin' it real with Colin Powell

To directly quote my Aunt Deb: "Here's something to add to your collection of the bizarre and transformative assertions made by People In Power." In regards to audiotapes of Iraqi officers plotting to deceive weapons inspectors presented before the UN in Colin Powell's hyping of the War in Iraq:
"We can't find those guys. I don't know who those guys were. But the tapes were real tapes. We didn't make them up," Powell said in an interview with six newspapers, including The Sun.
Those tapes were real tapes. Now, we don't know who "those guys" were and we certainly can't find them now, but those were actual tapes. You know, the same kind you can buy in the CVS to tape your CDs. REAL TAPES, I said. I mean maybe I'm just getting a little crazy here, but don't you think it would have been worthwhile for US intelligence to find out whom it was that we recorded on those tapes? But at least Powell recognizes that his presentation wasn't perfect.
"I'm very disappointed that all that I said was not accurate. Not all that I said was inaccurate," Powell said. "The part about mobile vans turned out to be not based on good intelligence, but we thought it was when I said it."
That's good enough for me, how about you guys? I mean, if he thought it was true when he said it, doesn't that count for something? And not all that he said was inaccurate. Furthermore, Powell asserted:
If it weren't for the current security problems, "People would have thrown awards at us" for toppling Hussein.
Well now, buddy, if "ifs" and "ands" were pots and pans, there'd be no need for tinkers hands, as the old saying goes. And the security situation is critical and has been a colossal failure for the US. Following an attempted assassination of Salama Khafaji, Juan Cole writes:
It is incredible that members of the IGC are not safe; if they aren´t, it is likely that nobody is.
I tend to agree. And this seems to be the greatest complaint of the average Iraqi: the US has not provided adequate security. Worshippers have been killed in terrorist bombings, parents are afraid to let their children out the door for fear of them being kidnapped. Arguing that freedom without security is better than security without freedom is a purely academic enterprise worth about as much as those awards that Powell mentioned.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

 

If he did what he might have done, not that we know what that is or might be...

I love Haaretz because you always know that there is the possibility of finding the divinely bizarre within the folds of its pages (or in this case, in the intricacies of its html coding). Here we can follow the three step response to the Shin Bet's abduction and detention of British journalist Peter Hounam, as they "whisk[ed] him off into custody of a determinedly indeterminate nature."

First there's shock, personified by Donatella Rovera, researcher for Amnesty International:
"I was sitting in the garden when he was brought in by five plainclothes security men. As they were bringing him through the garden he broke away from them and came running to my table. He said 'I'm being arrested, tell the Sunday Times'," she said, adding that he was taken away immediately.
Whoah. Are you kidding me? Next, there's denial, played here by state-owned Israel Radio commentator Hanan Krystol:
"In the only democracy in the Middle East, one doesn't arrest journalists...In Cuba, for example, you would expect journalists to be arrested, not in Israel."
If only it were the case. Finally, there's the justification process:
"If the situation had been reversed, and an Israeli journalist had done in a Western country what this journalist has likely done," Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron said, "they would have taken much stronger action on this matter."
I mean, from now on, let's just talk about what people have likely done. Not to speculate or anything. After all, Yaron "said that he did not know how at what echelon the decision was made to arrest a journalist, nor did he know the suspicions leveled at him." But they had some reason to arrest him right? Well, better than that, we're pretty sure they had a real reason:
"This is irregular and so I assume they did not arrest him as a journalist but because they have real reasons," Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office told the media. "The Shin Bet is a serious organization that deals with serious issues."
Hey man, we all have issues, right?

 

Jonathan Schell, have you been reading my blog?

From the June 14 issue of The Nation, and currently on CommonDreams, Jonathan Schell writes that it's time to politicize the war in Iraq. As first reported on The American Errorist on May 17, it's about damn time. It's absolutely ridiculous that a war of choice, an occupation, and the resulting chaos be off limits for "politicization." It's just a cop out and a cheap way of diverting attention from the disastrous policies of the current administration, and, increasingly, the resounding chorus of a band of spoiled brats.

 

Tiltwheel

I couldn't have said it better myself. Nicholas D. Kristof's op-ed in the NYTimes yesterday (The Bush and Kerry Tilt) was spot on (for the most part). Basically, Kristof wishes that Kerry would show a little bit more leadership in regards to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, for the time being it seems that doing so would alienate more voters than it would gain him. Those of us who wish for a more even-handed approach in regards to Israel/Palestine are already not voting for Bush. Kerry, meanwhile, is sort of struggling to define himself as tough on terrorism and a leader on security (the areas where he seems to be furthest behind Bush in the polls) and, unfortunately, much of the American public sees support of Israel as the equivalent of being tough on terror. Again, those that think that's wrong-headed are probably not voting Bush in the first place and a) are going to vote for Kerry despite his Israel/Palestine position or b) wouldn't have voted for Bush OR Kerry in the first place. It's good to see something like this in print, though.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

 

James Bond, Agent in Charge

As referenced on TPM today, there is a story in yesterday's NYTimes about the way both abusers and abused have been kept "off the books" in Abu Ghraib.
Accounts from intelligence officials seem to indicate that the practice of keeping detainees off official prison rosters was widespread.

In one of several cases in which an Iraqi prisoner died at Abu Ghraib in connection with interrogations, a hooded man identified only by his last name, Jamadi, slumped over dead on Nov. 20 as he was being questioned by a C.I.A. officer and translator, intelligence officials said. The incident is being investigated by the C.I.A.'s inspector general, and military officials have said that the man, whose body was later packed in ice and photographed at Abu Ghraib, had never been assigned a prisoner number, an indication that he had never been included on any official roster at the prison.

The memorandum criticizing the practice of keeping prisoners off the roster was signed by Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, and a James Bond, who is identified as "SOS, Agent in Charge." Military and intelligence officials said that they did not know of a Mr. Bond who had been assigned to Abu Ghraib, and that it was possible that the name was an alias.
So now we not only have contractors who are free of responsibility by being outside of the military (not that the military seems to be offering too much responsibility in this case) but now we have Iraqi prisoners who are "off the books" and who just happen to slump over and die. I find it very hard to stomach that people are still putting forward the "few bad apples" excuse.

Speaking of which, Robert Fisk writes forcefully (as he always does) in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of following the torture trail at Abu Ghraib (forwarded to me by my dear uncle). Among the many disturbing revelations are:
The actual interrogators accused of encouraging U.S. troops to abuse Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail were working for at least one company with extensive military and commercial contacts with Israel. The head of an American company whose personnel are implicated in the Iraqi tortures, it now turns out, attended an "anti-terror" training camp in Israel and, earlier this year, was presented with an award by Shaul Mofaz, the right-wing Israeli defense minister.

According to J.P. London's company, CACI International, the visit of London -- sponsored by an Israeli lobby group and including U.S. congressmen and other defense contractors -- was "to promote opportunities for strategic partnerships and joint ventures between U.S. and Israeli defense and homeland security agencies."
Also:
One of Staphanovic's co-workers, Joe Ryan -- who was not named in the Taguba report -- now says he underwent an "Israeli interrogation course" before going to Iraq.

We know the Pentagon asked Israel for its "rules of engagement" in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israeli officers have briefed their U.S. opposite numbers and, according to The Associated Press, "in January and February of 2003, Israeli and American troops trained together in southern Israel's Negev desert ... Israel has also hosted senior law enforcement officials from the United States for a seminar on counter-terrorism."
Now certainly this does not shift blame or responsibility away from the US military and US contractors who were involved in prison abuse. But please let's stop holding Israel up as the shining beacon of model behavior in fighting the "war on terror." As reported on the Vested Owl and the Arab American Institute website, John Kerry recently fawned over Israel in a recent appearance on Hannity & Colmes on the FOXnews channel.
I also think, when you look at what Israel has done for years, where they've faced terror for far longer than we have, that they don't engage in that type of activity [violations of the Geneva Conventions]. And they specifically decided not to, because they want to keep the moral high ground.
Please please please just stop it. It seems to me that the US has borrowed too much from the Israelis. John Kerry probably thinks we just haven't learned enough - how about a few more seminars, eh?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

 

Scary stuff

It's bad enough that Bernard Lewis is the historian-of-choice for the administration, but at least he's a historian. Reading this article in the Guardian gave me the shivers. Especially:
"It is essential reading," De Atkine wrote. "At the institution where I teach military officers, The Arab Mind forms the basis of my cultural instruction."
It seems that the plan of this administration (and too many Americans in general it seems) is, instead of trying to get as much information as possible to actually educate oneself, find the few fringe materials that support an absolutely ignorant attitude and parading them around as the truth. It's happened here with "the Arab Mind," it has happened with environmental science (see Chris Mooney's piece in the American Prospect), it seemed to happen with evidence of WMDs in Iraq (that trustworthy Ahmed Chalabi, what a guy). Oy vavoy.

 

Burn, Abu Ghraib, Burn!

So as the Prez said last night, with appropriate Iraqi permission "we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison." Raze it, take down to the foundations. This seems to be an idea that has been pushed by Republicans since the prisoner abuse scandal started. I heard it mentioned several times during the Rumsfeld hearings (House and Senate), and it really seems to be a deflection of the issue. What a nice symbolic gesture, the Republicans say. Well excuse me for bringing this up, but it wasn't the prison itself that tortured Iraqi prisoners. The prison isn't haunted, didn't take control of guards and interrogators and force them to do horrible things. This isn't the hotel in the Shining, with phantom blood pouring out of the elevators. How about this - instead of a nice symbolic gesture, we have something substantive: a real, thorough investigation of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib (and elsewhere throughout US run prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan and Guantanamo) and make some changes. I think that would do a lot more towards narrowing the rift between the US and Iraqis, and I think this idea of holding a building more responsible than the people who ran it is a smokescreen.

Monday, May 24, 2004

 

Why not?

In today's Washington Post, Jackson Diehl asks "Why Not Palestinian Elections?" And why not? There is a strong movement among Palestinians to work towards holding local elections in Palestine. Diehl mentions Nabil Amr and Khalil Shikaki, but also high profile Palestinians like Dr. Hanan Ashrawi and Dr. Mustafa Bargouthi have spoken in support of having elections. Seemingly, supporting Palestinian elections and moving towards bringing elections about would play into the hands of the US. It would give them something positive to talk about in terms of the broader Middle East democracy initiative. It would give the US a chance to initiate and rejuvenate negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It would allow the US to try to rebuild some bridges with Palestinian leaders, especially those who would benefit from elections (pro-Democracy groups, groups that have been stifled by Arafat, etc). And finally, a US or UN presence to establish an environment in which elections could take place would help facilitate at least a bit of a pause from the unceasing violence that otherwise seems to have no end in site. Serious support for Palestinian elections would be a fantastic move for all parties involved (Israelis, Palestinians, and the US). Hell, Bush might even get his Palestinian state by 2005. Although maybe I'm over-optimistic about the impact of Palestinian elections, I'm not overly optimistic about the chances of it happening. Still, Jackson Diehl asks a good question: Why not?

 

Israeli Refusniks

The results of an Israeli Democracy Institute poll conducted two months ago were recently published showing that 43% of Israeli teens polled support some kind of refusnik position (either refusal to serve in the occupied territories or refusal to evacuate settlements). While this can be seen as a positive sign for the Israeli left and those who oppose the occupation, I think that this statistic is a bit misleading. First of all, refusing to serve in the occupied territories and refusing to evacuate settlements are two totally different and seemingly ideologically antithetical stances. While there may be some overlap (pacifists or others who simply refuse to serve in the Israeli military no matter what the duty), refusing to evacuate settlers at the behest of the government is in effect civil disobedience in support of the occupation and refusal to serve in the occupied territories on grounds of disagreement with the Israeli treatment of Palestinians is essentially civil disobedience in defiance of the occupation.

Of course, this is somewhat oversimplified; indeed, the survey (which broke down the teens by political affiliation) showed that there was much broader support for refusal to evacuate settlers than there was for refusal to serve in the occupied territories. Personally, I believe this is because the political Left is generally more tolerant of civil disobedience and ideological refusal regardless of the motivation or cause whereas the political Right weighs the reasons behind refusal (or any action) more heavily in deciding whether or not to accept it.

Another interesting stat pulled from the survey: 60% of teens and 58% of adults polled expressed support for a "strong leader" at the head of the country "instead of all the debates and laws." Uh oh... debate and laws are good things, says I. Of course, the support for a "strong leader" was lower among Arab teens polled. Surprise, surprise.

 

Deny Everything

Two articles, one in Haaretz by one of my two favorite Haaretz journalists (Amira Hass, the other being Gideon Levy) and one an AP story buried on page A19 of the Washington Post this morning. The connection here is the unflinching determination of the PR wing of the military (Israeli in the first case and US in the second) to deny accusations, to deflect attention, to unabashedly lie in the face of horrific and unfortunate actions taken by the military. It is so frustrating that these lies, simply because they come from a source in uniform, get repeated ad infinitum until they can be stated as fact by anybody who chooses.

Outraged by the home demolitions and killing of civilian protestors in Gaza? Well everybody's heard that there were fighters in the crowd and that they were protecting tunnels used to smuggle arms and terrorists into Gaza. Or maybe the IDF had no report of firing going on in that area. Maybe they are investigating.

Dumbfounded by the attack on a wedding party in Iraq by US forces? Well I heard it was a safe house for foreign fighters and was used for smuggling arms and drugs and there was no evidence at all to support that there was a wedding going on at all.

We'll certainly hear these lies and misinformation that easily flow from the mouthpieces of militaries (and this is certainly not limited to the US and Israel, but that's where my tax dollars are going dammit) repeated over and over and it's frustrating that factual information gets pushed back to page 19.

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