Friday, June 25, 2004


The Transatlantic Rift

According to the Guardian today, quite a bit of a row is breaking out over British citizens being detained at the US holding pen for "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay.
Lord Goldsmith, the government's senior law officer, will tonight give a speech - given in advance to the media - ... expected to say: "While we must be flexible and be prepared to countenance some limitation of fundamental rights if properly justified and proportionate, there are certain principles on which there can be no compromise.

"Fair trial is one of those - which is the reason we in the UK have been unable to accept that the US military tribunals proposed for those detained at Guantánamo Bay offer sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards."


Asked in London today to explain how negotiations with the US would now proceed, Lord Goldsmith refused to elucidate on his speech beyond adding: "The important thing now is that the UK government seriously steps up pressure to speedily secure proper trials or the immediate release of everyone held in Cuba."
Of course, the left in England has grabbed onto this and demanded that the four remaining British citizens in Guantanamo be handing back to Britain for fair trials. Geoff Noon, the British defence secretary, illustrated pretty clearly the second-class status that Britain has in the "coalition of the willing".
"It is very important to be realistic in the relationship between two sovereign states. We can certainly set out what is the position of the British government. We can certainly, as we do on a regular basis, affect the way in which the United States sees those issues.

"But we would have to be realistic. We are not always successful, nor would anyone realistically expect us always to be successful."
Tony Blair cannot be loving this right now.


correction: The International War on Islam

Aussie mosque set on fire
25/06/2004 12:30 - (SA)

Melbourne, Australia - Police suspect arsonists were responsible for a fire at a mosque that sent worshippers running from the building on Friday, a day after vandals desecrated a Muslim prayer hall in Sydney, smearing blood on its walls and leaving pigs' heads impaled on stakes.

More than 500 people were in the mosque in Melbourne when the fire broke out in the kitchen area. No one was injured, police said.

"We were scared and had to make a run for it," said Mohammed Hackim. "Some people started screaming and we looked around and saw heavy smoke."

Fire department officials suspect arsonists were behind the blaze and estimated the cost of the damage at A$100 000 ( about R440 000).

The mosque was to be officially opened on the weekend, Hackim said. It was also supposed to serve as the imam's residence.

"We think that we have no enemies around us and hope this is the case," he said.

The attack on the prayer hall on Thursday was in Sydney. In addition to the blood-smeared walls and pig heads on stakes, pork offal was strewn across the hall.

Pork and related products are forbidden for Muslims under religious law.

Police said investigators would work with religious leaders to identify the vandals.

Officers said they did not believe the two incidents were linked.

Australian Muslims comprise 150 000 in the country's total population of 20 million.

Since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in America, Arab and Muslim Australians say they have suffered more verbal and physical abuse and most live in fear of racist attacks, a human rights watchdog reported two weeks ago.

A prayer hall differs from a mosque in that it is open for a limited number of hours, has no full-time Islamic leader present, and does not offer teachings in the Muslim holy book, the Qu'ran.


Update on Palestinian Elections

After hearing Saeb Erekat speak yesterday about his meeting with Colin Powell, I am convinced that most fruitful and productive plan of action for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to have Palestinian elections. Yesterday Mr. Erekat, the head negotiator for the PA, said that he told Mr. Powell that there would be Palestinian elections in 6 months (enough time to register voters, allow for campaigning, etc.) if Israel would help facilitate the environment where elections would be possible. Of course, this would mean US involvement and there are reasons that this would be good for the US. Many of these were outlined in Jackson Diehl's May 23 Washington Post op-ed, "Why Not Palestinian Elections?" A brief summary of the key positive results for the US:

1) The US would add greater legitimacy to the elections in Iraq if they were to be held around the same time as Palestinian elections. The US would be seen less as a colonizer and occupier and more as they would like to be seen, as liberators or democratizers. There may well be less violence in Iraq or at least less support for Iraqi violence around the region.

2) In general, the US has done nothing recently to push the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis recently. This would re-energize the peace process and cast the US in a very different light around the Middle East.

3) The popularity of the militant Palestinian factions is likely only to grow a) if Israel continues to "prepare" for the Gaza withdrawal by bulldozing homes, assassinating militants, killing Palestinians civilians, and tightening closures and curfews and/or b) if Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank and continues to build the wall around settlements deep in the West Bank such as Ariel.

4) A change in leadership (even if Arafat continues to be President) would be something that the US could point to as a success to the Palestinians and Middle East as an example of democracy, to Israel as bringing in new blood, and to the US as weakening Arafat's control.

So why then, would Israel want to see Palestinian elections (or rather, why would they facilitate them)? First of all, for the same reasons as the US vis a vis Arafat and getting some new leadership involved. Second, Sharon would be able to bring the Labor Party into his government and control a unity government, giving him much greater stability as Prime Minister. Third, as I wrote earlier in the week, according to Ha'aretz:
The IDF in recent weeks has identified steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to prevent terror activity. The PA has stopped transferring money to the Fatah's military wing - the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and has been exerting efforts, for the first time in a long time, at preventing terror.
Thus, Sharon can maintain his "no negotiations under the threat of terrorism" line. Finally, the Saudi proposal, which was approved at the Arab League summit in March, set the stage for normalized relations with Israel. Facilitating elections would encourage warming, if not full normalization, of relations with Israel in the region.

The benefits for the Palestinians are pretty obvious. There can be some effort towards rebuilding civil society, towards marginalizing radicals and empowering moderates and liberals in Palestinian society. There can be a lull in violence and closure and a sense of hope.

According to Saeb Erekat, Powell did not commit himself to the plan for Palestinian elections (municipal, legislative, and presidential), but he did not oppose it either. I think the US has an obligation to work for free elections in Palestine, for the benefit of all parties involved. Septemeber 23rd is the tentative date for municipal elections in Jericho, and hopefully just the beginning of something larger.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


Yes, Mr. Wolfowitz, we're all a bit puzzled

An AP story reports that Paul Wolfowitz finds Ahmed Chalabi's recent behavior "puzzling."
Chalabi has blamed the CIA for his problems and denied wrongdoing. The CIA and Chalabi have been at odds for years.

"I am surprised that he seems to be the target, for many years, of particular animus from some parts of this government," Wolfowitz said. "But on the other hand, there are aspects of his recent behavior that are puzzling to me." He did not elaborate on what those activities were.
Yes, a bit puzzling. Wolfowitz obviously still thinks that Chalabi is a stand up guy. So it's understandable that Chalabi's recent behavior would puzzle somebody who does not grasp the larger picture, that of a con man who has cashed in and skipped town. Also in the story:
Chalabi's star has fallen in recent months because much of the intelligence his group supplied on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programs failed to pan out. Last month, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police raided his residence and office. Allegations then surfaced that he supplied Iran with classified U.S. intelligence on American monitoring of Iranian communications.

"There's a mixed picture there," he said. "We know from our commanders that some of the intelligence that his organization has provided us has saved American lives and enabled us to capture some key enemy targets."
Saved American lives? Providing false claims of WMD that led us into war has cost almost 875 US service members their lives. Saved American lives. Please, Mr. Wolfowitz, I'd rather not hear about Ahmed Chalabi saving American lives from you, if you don't mind. Wolfowitz then went on to talk about the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection.
"I don't need proof of involvement in September 11th to be concerned that Saddam Hussein is providing mutual support to Al Qaida," he said. "It seems to me it's like saying if someone breeds Rottweilers and leaves the gate open but doesn't tell the dog who to attack that he's not operationally involved in the thing."
Let me get this straight- we're talking about attack dogs here? Like the kind they used to scare the piss out of prisoners (literally)at, say, Abu Ghraib prison? And you don't need a direct connection to prove that if a dog attacks somebody, there is a larger responsiblity for the dog breeder. This dog breeder can't, for example, chalk it up to "a few bad apples" amongst the dog's he's bred and claim that he was not operationally involved in the thing. Thanks for the clarification, Mr. Wolfowitz. Very enlightening.

[I must credit my fantastic Aunt Deb for passing this AP story along to me]


Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

Lord knows I have my issues with the ADL, but here's a case where they are right on point. Apparently, the ADL didn't take kindly to the Texas Republican Party's platform, which stated, "The Republican Party of Texas affirms that the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgment of God is undeniable in our history." According to Reuters: "The Anti-Defamation League said the Texas Republicans should modify the language in their platform 'to reinforce principles that unite our diverse nation.'" Of course the Texas Republican Party spokesperson fell back on the old "our founding fathers had a deep faith in God" excuse, which in no way addresses the issue that the United States is NOT a Christian nation! The two issues are very different. In fact, our founding fathers were pretty damn explicit in their intention to maintain a separation of church and state. I, for one, would like to keep it that way. The Texas Republican Party does not.

[Thanks to John in DC for pointing this one out]

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


IDF Raids Photo Exhibit

Investigation or intimidation? It seems pretty obvious to me.


Legal foreigners thrown out of Israel

A part of the survey I cited earlier about Jewish Israeli attitudes towards Israeli Arabs also focused on foreign workers inside Israel. According to the survey results:
A large majority of the Jewish respondents - 72.1 percent - favored restricting foreign workers' entrance into Israel and 54.2 percent said the economic situation was getting worse because the foreign workers were taking the jobs.

Dr. Dafna Kanti-Nissim, a partner in the study, said the survey reflects a known phenomenon in the world, in which a threatened public tends to develop hostility toward the minorities living in it.

"There is a prevalent conception in the public that identifies Israeli Arabs with the threat of terror," says Kanti-Nissim. "The foreign workers are seen as an economic threat, although in fact they are not threatening the work places of most of the Israelis."
Now, a day later, evidence is emerging that the xenophobic attitudes of some Israelis were being put into action by "overzealous Immigration Police officials." A conversation transcript involving Israeli Police Superintendent Dekel Muskato reveals very disturbing information.
"Interior Ministry delegates were deliberately fooled by the immigration police, on all levels," says Muskato in a conversation transcript which has reached Haaretz. "Thousands of legal workers have been deported from Israel ... as a result of the intervention of Immigration Police in matters where it was forbidden for them to intervene."

Muskato explained how such deportations of legally registered foreigners are carried out. "You go into a home where there are 20 Chinese, and you don't make the slightest effort to attain their passports. You bring such a worker to the Interior Ministry [without a passport], knowing that had he come with a passport he would not be deported. In this way, you fool the Interior Ministry delegate. That's because one criterion used in determining whether or not a person stays in the country is whether or not he has a passport."

During this conversation, Muskato implied that attorneys and other Israelis have in some instances brought the passports of detained foreign workers to the Immigration Police, only to have the passports hidden away by the police officials.

Later in the discussion, Muskato said: "If you're asking whether foreign workers are beaten - yes, they are beaten up."
And if that's the situation for foreign workers, one can only imagine what existence is like for Israeli Arabs.


Torture, Torture Everywhere

An expose in The Guardian today about torture of Afghan detainees (Afghan detainees routinely tortured and humiliated by US troops). According to The Guardian:
Five detainees have died in custody, three of them in suspicious circumstances, and survivors have told stories of beatings, strippings, hoodings and sleep deprivation.

The nature of the alleged abuse indicates that what happened at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was part of a pattern of interrogation that has been common practice since the US invasion of Afghanistan.
As fast as the Bush administration can deny any wrongdoing in regards to the torture and maltreatment of detainees (from Iraq to Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay), the charges keep coming.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic member of the Senate subcommittee on foreign operations, told the Guardian that prisoners in Afghanistan "were subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, and some died from it".

"These abuses were part of a wider pattern stemming from a White House attitude that 'anything goes' in the war against terrorism, even if it crosses the line of illegality."
Other evidence suggests that documents are being forged to cover up and allow torture.
Another prisoner, Wazir Muhammad, was held for nearly two years, firstly in Afghanistan and then at Guantánamo Bay.

"At the end of my time in Guantánamo, I had to sign a paper saying I had been captured in battle, which was not true," he said. "I was stopped when I was in my taxi with four passengers. But they told me I would have to spend the rest of my life in Guantánamo if I did not sign it, so I did."
So some prisoners are being kept off the books, others are signing false statements and documents; how the hell can this be helping intelligence gathering (even if that were the only, or even the most important, thing at stake here)?
"In some ways the abuses in Afghanistan are more troubling than those in Iraq," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. "While it is true that abuses in Afghanistan often lacked the sexually abusive content of the abuses in Iraq, they were in many ways worse.

"Detainees were severely beaten, exposed to cold and deprived of sleep and water. Five are known to have died [two of natural causes]."
Bad, bad news. And while we are on the issue of torture, I couldn't believe the handwritten comment that Donald Rumsfeld scrawled (next to his signature of approval) on a December 2, 2002, torture memo outlining what was approved and what wasn't: "However, I stand 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R." Are you kidding me? I am sure that Secretary of Defense must be an unbearably grueling job, but comparing it to methods of detainee interrogation is ridiculous. Has this man no sense of perspective?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Why Israel is ready for negotiations

Developments: in the Guardian yesterday, Chris McGreal writes that Shimon Peres is making Labor's joining a coalition government with Likud conditional on developing a broader plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mr Peres told the New York Times: "We will not join the government before we should have a joint plan of peace. Policy before portfolios."

Mr Sharon has refused to talk to the Palestinians, claiming there is no one to negotiate with because the leadership will not combat "terror".
However, a Ha'aretz service report on Shaul Mofaz's view of the recent decline in terrorism reports:
The IDF in recent weeks has identified steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to prevent terror activity. The PA has stopped transferring money to the Fatah's military wing - the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and has been exerting efforts, for the first time in a long time, at preventing terror. The IDF believes this activity stems from an attempt by the PA to assess the situation ahead of the implementation of the disengagement plan.
Does this mean that there is a partner for peace? In a perfect world, the confluence of these factors would allow Sharon to reopen diplomatic channels and begin negotiations that would lead to a peace settlement. However, Sharon is probably not going to do that. Does this mean then that Labor will not join the Likud to form a unity government? Indeed, earlier today the Labor Party submitted a no-confidence motion, not over the Gaza withdrawal or the Palestinian issue, but rather on socio-economic grounds. So Labor is unraveling the "safety net" and starting to apply pressure on Sharon and the Likud. It's nice to see Labor being a little bit less passive than I've come to expect, but they can't do too much on their own (since all of the no-confidence motions so far have been defeated). So what's the solution? Although this is probably even more improbable than Sharon initiating negotiations, it seems now to be a great opportunity for President Bush to work towards reopening the peace process. Saeb Erekat is coming to Washington on Friday (I think) to meet with officials from the Bush Administration (I think Colin Powell... not 100% sure). Seriously. This is the perfect time. Or as perfect as you can get these days.


Rise in Extremism in Israel

The results of a recent survey taken by Haifa University's Center for the Study of National Security, published in Ha'aretz, show a frightening prevalence of extremist views in the Israeli public.
The survey indicates that 63.7 percent of the Jewish respondents said the government should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate. Almost half of the Jewish respondents - 48.6 percent - said the treatment that Arabs in Israel receive from the government is too sympathetic.

More than half - 55.3 percent - think Israeli Arabs endanger the state's security and 45.3 percent support depriving Israeli Arabs of the right to vote and to be elected. About one-quarter of the Jewish respondents said they would consider voting for a party like the outlawed Kach, if such a party were contending in the next elections.
I think the results speak for themselves. The fact that nearly half of Israeli Jews surveyed support depriving Israeli Arabs of the right to vote and be elected is absolutely stunning to me and illustrates clearly the "worrying increase in the extremism of the respondents' attitudes" that Yulie Khromchenko, the author of the Ha'aretz article, writes of. Voting rights have nothing to do with security. Obviously, the security situation is driving the popularity of these racist, fascist attitudes, but their wide support indicates just how rotten the Israeli political culture has become.

Monday, June 21, 2004


The War on Islam

I read several things today which were quite upsetting. The first is an incident at UC-Irvine that Juan Cole addresses in Informed Comment. At UC-Irvine, there are 11 Muslim students who had planned to wear a stole at their graduation ceremonies with inscriptions in Arabic on one side reading "Lord, increase my knowledge" and on the other "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His Messenger." Apparently this outraged some Jewish student groups and outside groups such as the American Jewish Congress. Have these people not heard of religious freedom? Is practicing Islam suddenly against the law? For a much better analysis than I could possibly offer, please read Juan Cole's thoughts on the matter. In essence these groups have equated Islam with terrorism, and they are not alone. In today's Washington Post Express there is an article on the reaction to the beheading of Paul Johnson last week. The article reads:
EAGLESWOOD TOWNSHIP, N.J.| Backlash over the beheading of a U.S. contractor in Saudi Arabia was as clear as a sign in the town where he was born.

"Stamp out Islam," read a cardboard sign that also depicted a hand-drawn boot over a crescent and star. Phil Galasso posted it on a utility pole near his house in Eagleswood Township.

"I'm getting a little fed up with the mindless violence against civilians who had nothing to do with the war in the Middle East," Galasso said Sunday. He called Islam a "vile, bigoted faith" that subjugates women and uses force to spread its message.
Does this man seriously have any idea what is coming out of his mouth? "Bigoted"? Nothing like a hand-drawn cardboard sign to illustrate bigotry (although probably not the way he intended). "Mindless"? Check. "Civilians that had nothing to do with the war in the Middle East"? Actually, Johnson was a contractor for Apache (whose helicopter gunships are used frequently in the Middle East), a fact specifically referenced by his murderers (my point here is not to excuse the murder of Paul Johnson, but to plumb the depths of Phil Galasso's ignorance). The equating of Islam with terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but the rhetoric turns uglier as things get worse in the Middle East (in Iraq and Saudi Arabia most recently). People who were once "Islamic militants" or "radicals" are now commonly refered to in the TV news as "animals" and "savages". It's disgustingly jingoistic and I believe directly encourages ignorance and, eventually, violence.

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