Saturday, July 03, 2004

 

Hip Hip Hurra

An article about the US propaganda - oops, I mean fairness and accuracy - machine in the Middle East. Somewhere between all the glowing descriptions of the set ("On the set, clear panels fill the backdrop with a stylized map of the Middle East that marks each country with its name in Arabic. The design is clean and modern, blue-tinted glass in a back-lit orange frame." OR "Between reports, the anchorman adjusts his tie. "Twenty-seven seconds," an American technician tells him in English indicating the time before they return to air." Barf), there are a few choice passages in here.
Alhurra has already forced changes at its rival stations, [news director Mouafac] Harb said. Some of their journalists applied for jobs at Alhurra after the station began broadcasting, he said.

"Now Al-Jazeera and other channels want to keep their own people so they have to start to treat them well," he said. "They have raised their salaries."
As my Aunt Deb pointed out, it's interesting that the salaries at al-Hurra have forced up salaries at al-Jazeera and other Arabic language stations, since the US is subsidizing al-Hurra salaries. Just a note to all you taxpayers out there. Also, the article goes out of its way to show just how modern (read "Western", read "not evil... like al-Jazeera") the al-Hurra set-up is. One example:
Its offices boast the latest technology. Each journalist has a television alongside a computer, and though about 90 percent of them come from the Middle East, only one woman wears a headscarf.
Let me first say that I have a close friend who works in the same office building as the Washington headquarters of al-Jazeera. I asked her how many women she sees coming and going wearing headscarves. Zero. So I think that al-Hurra is probably not all that out of the norm for an Arabic language business in Washington, DC. Second of all, why the hell is this even mentioned? Is it incompatible to have a computer and a television and a headscarf? What is the implication here? That somehow al-Hurra is more trustworthy because these are good Arabs - not the scarfwearing kind? That this illustrates just how Western and modern and fantastic and enlightened al-Hurra is in comparison to the rabid propaganda of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya? It's bullshit and it doesn't sit well with me.

Friday, July 02, 2004

 

Another Aunt Deb link

The official new War-On-Errorism blog motto: I blog so Aunt Deb doesn't have to. Anyhow, this story by Ken Silverstein from the LA Times is pretty disturbing. Apparently, "six studies prepared over 10 years by an outside expert at the Pentagon's request found that too little was being done to discipline lawbreakers in uniform or even identify problem recruits." Even after having reaped the fruits of these practices in the Abu Ghraib fiasco, there remains the problem of finding enough people to serve in the armed services. Thus, until our good friend the draft makes a comeback, the military isn't likely to make any real changes.
Although the Pentagon adopted some new procedures, they were not adequate, Flyer's most recent report said. The military services have resisted improving screening procedures because that "would reduce applicant supply," the 2003 report said, alluding to problems some services have had in recent years meeting recruitment goals.
And my reference to Abu Ghraib is more than just an aside.
Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., an accused ringleader in the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib, served in the Gulf War (news - web sites) in a Marine reserve unit. He reenlisted in the Army in 2001, joining a reserve unit at a time when allegations of violent behavior had been made against him in two civil court proceedings. His wife alleged in divorce proceedings in 2000 that he beat her, and she obtained three "protection of abuse" orders against him, court records show.

An inmate at a state prison where Graner worked filed a lawsuit against him and other guards in 1999 for allegedly kicking and beating him, according to court records. Graner denied abusing the prisoner. The case was dismissed in 2000 when the man, who by then had been released from prison, failed to appear in court.
Possibly the most disturbing part of the entire article is this:
One measure of the overall problem is provided by the record of a special Defense Department screening program called the Personnel Reliability Program, or PRP, which is designed to ensure that only persons of sound character were assigned to duty involving nuclear weapons. Between 1987 and 1990, three individuals approved by the PRP committed murders while on active duty.

In a 1986 case, the Navy gave a PRP clearance to a man known to be a suspect in an unsolved murder. Three years later, when the man was a fire control technician on a nuclear submarine, he was charged in the murder of an elderly couple while off duty. He was later convicted.
I am down with innocent until proven guilty. I think it's the best way to do things and all that. But giving somebody clearance that would allow them involvement with nuclear weapons while this individual was a suspect in an unsolved murder seems absolutely batty. There is a very real problem, I think, in allowing somebody who is unable to control their penchant for violence to serve in the military - the place where control over violence is the very essence of the job.

 

Business as unusual

In last weekend's Observer, Tim Llewelyn (a former BBC Middle East correspondent of 10 years) draws on his own experience as well as a recently published study by Greg Philo and the Glasgow University Media Group called 'Bad News from Israel: television news and public understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict' to indict television news' coverage of Israel/Palestine. It's a worthwhile read, and although it's hard to scientifically evaluate media bias, I believe the more one knows the more it becomes obvious that in this situation there is a very real pro-Israel bias throughout the mainstream media. The evidence is not only in anecdotal evidence of slanted news (a very good resource for this is Palestine Media Watch), but in the uneducated and uninformed views of those who rely on TV news for information.
Almost as importantly, the Glasgow volume also shows the results of this coverage and how badly it serves the public who pays for it. The team interviewed many people, of different backgrounds, regions and ages (the study explains fully its focus group methods and practices), whose views of the conflict, as seen through TV, are closely analysed. Two examples: of groups of British students interviewed in 2001 and 2002 only about 10 per cent knew it was Israel that occupied Palestine - most believed the Palestinians were the settlers and it was they who occupied Israel. In 2002, only 35 per cent of the British students questioned knew that the Palestinians had suffered far greater casualties than the Israelis.
Llewelyn goes on to explain the reasons that this is the case, and the prospects for any shift in the way the media cover the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Again, it's a worthwhile read. Thanks to my Aunt Deb and antiwar.com for spotting this, as I certainly never would have - it was in the Business section of the Observer. Whatever this has to do with business (other than very peripherally the business of television), I'm not really sure. I find it odd and I think it's unfortunate that things like this get pushed into the corners.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

 

They hate freedom (and bruise easily)

According to the BBC, the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin suggesting that airport officials pay attention to bruises on Pakistanis entering the US.
All Pakistanis arriving at key US airports are facing checks for injuries that might suggest they trained as terrorists, a US Customs bulletin says.

The arrivals, including those with US citizenship, will be checked for rope burns, unusual bruises or scars.

...

The bulletin was sent to Customs inspectors at international airports in Washington, New York, Newark, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles.

...

The bulletin points out things to look for, including signs the individual may have been abseiling or "unusual bruises resulting from obstacle course activities".
We are so screwed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

 

I can't imagine I'm the first person to have spotted this

But it deserves some comment. According to the Guardian, US military police raided an Iraqi detention center to stop the abuse of Iraqi prisoners held there. I don't think anybody needs me to point out the ironies involved (as my Aunt Deb said, "If this weren't so damn awful, it would be funny"). Some of the more amazing passages from the article follow (although it's worth reading the entire thing for sure):
Senior Iraqi officers described those captured as "first class murderers, kidnappers and terrorists with links to al-Ansar" - a militant group in the former Kurdish no-fly zone - who had all admitted to "at least 20 crimes while being questioned".
Does this sound familiar to anybody?
A bodyguard for the head of criminal intelligence, Hussein Kamal, admitted that the beatings had taken place.

Nashwan Ali - who said his nickname was Big Man - said: "A US MP asked me this morning what police division I was in. I said I was in criminal intelligence.

"The American asked me why we had beaten the prisoners. I said we beat the prisoners because they are all bad people. But I told him we didn't strip them naked, photograph them or fuck them like you did."
Funny how our "hey, lay off - we're better than Saddam" defense has caught on. Only in Iraq it's "we're not as bad as the Americans."
The clear evidence of human rights abuses in the ministry building, which western advisers said they were not aware was being used for interrogations, raises serious questions over what authority the US and other multinational forces have to intervene if they suspect human rights abuses.

...

One western police adviser said he had no idea that the ministry itself was being used for questioning suspects. "It sounds rather like the bad old days," he said.
Well, one could posit that the "bad old days" never really disappeared (or if they did, only to be replaced by the "bad new days"). Also, I find this a pretty good example of the chaos that exists in Iraq. It seems that the US should know of Iraqi prisoners who are being detained on suspicion of connections to al-Ansar al-Islam. And now that Iraq is "sovereign", how are American soldiers raiding an Iraqi detention center? This whole thing is so sloppy and poorly done, who could possibly expect good things for the future. It's pathetic.

 

...and Still the Wounded Lion!

Anne Applebaum exposes the ridiculous farce of the Department of Homeland Security's Chechnya policy in her Washington Post column Two-Faced Chechnya Policy today. Last month a Boston court granted Ilyas Akhmadov, former foreign minister of the Chechen separatist government, political asylum in the US.
Two days after the judge's decision, DHS lawyers appealed it, on the grounds that Akhmadov is a terrorist. Although conceding that Akhmadov was part of a government that had "spoken out against" terrorism, the appeal argued that his "actions and comments" have "furthered acts of terrorism and persecution by Chechen separatists," and that he should therefore be deported. To anyone who has ever heard them speak, the text of this appeal would sound like nothing so much as the work of Russian security officers, not U.S. officials. Rumor has it that the State Department has protested, on precisely those grounds.

What interests me, though, is not some inside-the-Beltway battle for influence between DHS and the State Department but rather what this strange tale says about how cavalierly we use our own power, in Chechnya and anywhere else not on the front pages. We may think of these places as insignificant, but the feeling is not mutual. On the contrary, every nation in the world considers its relationship with the United States to be one of its most important. Around the world, the words of the U.S. government carry extra weight. Phrases from the DHS appeal will be quoted in the Russian media, used in other court cases and cited as a precedent: "Look, the U.S. government thinks Akhmadov is a terrorist"; or "Look, the U.S. government is dumping moderate Chechens"; or "Look, the U.S. government doesn't care anymore about human rights."
Put another feather in the cap of Bush's war on terrorism. Applebaum is right, Chechnya does resonate in the Muslim and Arab world. Chechnya is one of the major battlegrounds for "jihadists" or whatever you want to call them - Islamic mercenaries willing to travel to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya or Iraq or Pakistan. Of course, this could have been avoided had the Chechen separatists, moderates looking to establish a democratic state and break off from the failed Soviet Union. Applebaum points out that these factors have resulted in US diplomatically having a soft spot for Chechnya:
Theoretically, U.S. policy toward Chechnya is clear enough. Although we consider Chechnya to be "an internal Russian matter," we do say that we want the war to end by negotiation, and we do believe that there is someone for the Russians to negotiate with. Indeed, when the Great and the Good speak about Chechnya, which isn't often, they usually sound like Steven Pifer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. In 2003, for example, Pifer told the Congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that "we do not share the Russian assessment that the Chechen conflict is simply and solely a counterterrorism effort. . . . While there are terrorist elements fighting in Chechnya, we do not agree that all separatists can be equated as terrorists."
But the war on terrorism has changed that. President Bush not only desires Putin's support (since it's hard to come by in other places where it didn't used to be so hard) but he cannot debate Putin given his rhetoric on the war on terrorism. No negotiations with terrorists, right? So Putin won't negotiate on Chechnya. And that's where I think Applebaum falls short in her critique. She puts the entire blame on Homeland Security, calling on Tom Ridge to withdraw DHS's appeal. But it's not just about Homeland Security. It's the Russian interests, it's the war on terrorism, it's the anti-Muslim rhetoric that resonates in the White House these days. Chechnya isn't becoming another Palestine - to some degree it's been that way for a while (just on a smaller scale). And it's not going to change until "the Great and the Good: senior judges and top ambassadors, senators and presidents, and famous names and famous faces" that run foreign policy (according to Applebaum) are given the freedom to enact policy outside of the frameword of George Bush's war on terrorism.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

 

Is the intifada over?

Following Charles Krauthammer's June 18th op-ed declaring Israel's victory over the Palestinians, there has been much discussion over the validity of his argument. Bradley Burston of Ha'aretz examines Krauthammer's position and speaks with Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz's Arab Affairs Editor, for a more nuanced analysis of the situation. The evidence that best serves Krauthammer's position is, in his words:
What has happened...is an end to systematic, regular, debilitating, unstoppable terror -- terror as a reliable weapon. At the height of the intifada, there were nine suicide attacks in Israel killing 85 Israelis in just one month (March 2002). In the past three months there have been none. The overall level of violence has been reduced by more than 70 percent.
And in Burston's:
Last week, senior IDF officers at the Central Command, the army's overall West Bank headquarters, told a high-level briefing that the total number of suicide attacks and attempted suicide attacks had plummeted by 75 percent during the first half of the year, as compared with the corresponding period in 2003.

No less than 58 would-be bombers were arrested during that period, and more than 100 threatened attacks were headed off.

Moreover, for the first time in recent memory, the officers said that the Palestinian Authority had been making an effort to prevent terrorism, and had stopped transferring funds to the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Of course, what happened during those three months free of suicide bombings? What has been the effect of the PA's crackdown on terrorism? No negotiations were started. Thousands of Gazans were made homeless in the IDF's "preparation" for the Gaza withdrawal. Progress was made towards building parts of the separation wall that cut the deepest into the West Bank. The IDF continued to raid West Bank cities looking for militants. And now the brief moment of relative quiet seems to be collapsing. On the Ha'aretz website's front page today, the following headlines confirm this: Shin Bet arrests terror cell suspected of planning murder, Al Aqsa Brigades kills Israeli man near Ramallah; troops question witness, Hezbollah fires at IAF jets flying near Lebanon; shrapnel lands in Galilee, Qassam claims first fatalities in Sderot, Hamas releases video of Gaza tunnel operation; dead soldier's parents blast army, and IDF raids northern Gaza as Qassams hit Sderot for second day. A recent poll of Palestinians found that "more than 70 percent of respondents voiced continued and unqualified support for suicide bombings." Rubinstein offers some insight as to whether declaring the intifada over, or the Israelis victorious, is, in the end, inconsequential.
Palestinians who supported the bombings knew that the attacks would not destroy the state of Israel, he says. "But they knew that they could do great harm to our daily lives, and it did."

Rubinstein maintains that the true infrastructure of terrorism does not lie in the stores or manufacture of arms and explosives, rather "in the motivation of the people, in their wish to get back at us. And the wish still exists."

Therefore, although Israel can reasonably claim victories in the war against terror, Rubinstein argues, "Israel has yet to find a way to end the intifada."

...

If there is to be a real end to the conflict, Rubinstein concludes."the government must find a way to reach a just agreement between the peoples. I believe that it is still possible. If it is not possible, then we are all doomed to die in this area.

"This entire conception, of fighting the intifada by launching operations, building walls, and making the Palestinians suffer more and more, is not an answer. In the long run, it will damage us even more."
When asked last week about the Krauthammer theory, Saeb Erekat dismissed the value of such statements. Should we wait for the next intifada in 2010, he asked, and again in 2020 and again in 2030? The key is to commit to a negotiated peace process. If the PA is working to stop terror and calling for elections and this kind of thing, it seems to me that they are ready to enter negotiations. If Israel needs the intifada to end in order to begin negotiations, then by all means, let's call it over. But, as Rubinstein points out, the motivation, the desire, of Palestinians to enact violence against Israelis will not disappear with an Israeli declaration of victory, a Krauthammer op-ed, nor even with the loss of support from the US, Europe, Israelis, or other Arab nations. If the opportunity to jump start the peace process that was presented by those three months free of suicide bombings is now past, the intifada will not have ended and the "victory" will have been a fleeting one for Israel.

Monday, June 28, 2004

 

June 30th already?

When I was in the car listening to George Bush and Tony Blair on the radio today I seriously thought that somehow I had totally lost my sense of time and it actually was June 30th. Of course since then I've realized the error was on my part and there has been much hubbub in the media about the change of power, how much it means, the genius of George Bush (yes, I do flip to Fox News once in a while), etc etc. Of course, I do hope that the transition will eventually lead to a more free and more democratic Iraq. However, an op-ed from Daily Star executive editor Rami G. Khouri printed in the Daily Star as well as posted on the excellent bitterlemons.org website leads me to believe that even if the future of Iraq is what the US would deem "successful", the success will not radically change the way the US is viewed in the Middle East. According to Khouri, there are three major divides between Israel/US and the Arab World: culture, politics, and history. A success in Iraq might do something to soften the divide in regards to politics. But, of course, Iraq is not the only issue involved in the political disconnect.
The political dimension reflects contemporary events, going back perhaps two generations. Three principal issues are at play here in most Arab minds. The first is Washington's bias toward Israel in the Arab-Israel conflict. This enormously powerful, pervasive issue for most Arabs is not appreciated by Americans and Israelis, who thus fail to grasp how this core grievance defines almost all other dimensions of Arab interaction with the US.

The second political issue today is the US presence in Iraq, the first example of an American invasion, occupation and reconfiguration of a sovereign Arab country.

The third is the legacy of US support for autocratic and dictatorial Arab regimes when they served US interests - and the sudden American desire for reform of Arab regimes when this is seen to be the way to stop terror from the Middle East. Most Arabs see Washington's treatment of Arab regimes as transparently expedient and hypocritically self-serving, while Americans may see their foreign policy in the Middle East as rationally conducive to US national interests.

The combination of these three political issues alone creates a perception and communication gap between Arabs and Americans so wide that it distorts rational discussion of almost every other legitimate issue, such as political reform, women's rights, education, or economic liberalization.
So here we have the possibility of a closing of one part of this political gap, the US occupation of Iraq, without doing much about the other issues in the region. Indeed, the inaction on other fronts is working against the US in the region. The culural divide seems to be growing larger and larger (see the attacks on Islam I've described in earlier posts) and the history exists whether we'd like it to or not. Khouri concludes:
These three primary factors - culture, politics and history - are not only major deterrents to foreign understanding of Arab perspectives; they are also cumulatively becoming more intense, thus pushing the dynamic of disagreement among Arabs, Americans and Israelis to one of active warfare, invasion, occupation, regime change, resistance and terror against civilians.
I think it's a bit early to celebrate a success in Iraq, and even if a successful Iraq emerges (really in spite of the US role, rather than because of it), the overwhelming trend indicates that the US had better get to work on some of these other issues. Truly, as the title of Khouri's op-ed suggests, the US and Israel do misunderstand the Arab world.

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