Friday, July 16, 2004

 

Best of Luck

I hope this effort succeeds: US Companies Sued for Torturing Iraqis. As somebody with limited legal knowledge, I wondered how and if these contractors were going to be held accountable, and still do not know how or whether this case will stand up, but if you can sue Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and the PLO for 100 million dollars each in US Courts, it seems to me that you should be able to sue these American companies.

 

Anger...Rising...Up...Inside

Apparently the US wanted to spend 10 million dollars of Iraqi oil revenue on a memorial museum to the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's regime. Thank goodness somebody (the British) had the sense to stop this madness. As if there's nothing else in Iraq to spend the money on.
US officials described the $10m (£5.4m) project as a special commitment by Paul Bremer, the former US administrator of occupied Iraq.

The money was to come from Iraqi oil revenues deposited in the Development Fund for Iraq which was set up under UN sanctions and maintained by the US after it toppled Saddam.

...

The US representative asked for the project to be approved at the board's final meeting last month, shortly before the transfer of sovereignty.

...

It is not clear why Mr Bremer tried to rush the idea through rather than leave it to the incoming Iraqi regime. He may have feared it might not get off the ground, or wanted to leave his personal mark, analysts say.
Absolutely enraging. Anybody who had anything to do with this should be ashamed and resign immidiately.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

 

Activist Judges

While the US chastised the International Court of Justice's ruling on Israel's wall through the West Bank as a "political" ruling that should have instead been decided in the framework of a negotiated settlement, a US judge today made an absolutely political ruling. In this ruling, the judge ordered that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO each to pay 100 million dollars to the relatives of a Jewish couple killed near the West Bank in 1996.
Earlier this year, a judge ordered the militant group Hamas to pay a similar amount to the relatives.

Relatives began legal action under a law which allows suits against groups responsible for killing US citizens.

Mr Ungar and his family were returning from a wedding when their car was sprayed with bullets. Three Hamas militants were jailed for the killings.

Families of the victims have been waging a long fight to hold the group's leadership responsible.
Given the assassination of Ahmed Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi earlier this year, I would say that the leadership of Hamas has been "held responsible." The whole thing is pretty ridiculous, but I doubt the Republicans are going to start ranting on and on about activist judges and unnecessary litigation and "political" judicial decisions that should be handled in negotiations. Not bloody likely.

 

for fans of Ali G

For my money, Ali G is some of the funniest television ever. There is an interview with Sacha Baron Cohen, the man behind it all, in the New York Times today. Check it.

 

VOA vs. al-Hurra

An article from a couple days ago in USA Today reports the unrest at Voice of America. This unrest is the result of taxpayer money being funneled away from VOA and towards Radio Sawa and al-Hurra television. Why? Because VOA isn't quite doing the propaganda job that the US government wants.
The petition asserts that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees U.S taxpayer-funded broadcast outlets, has been funneling money into new radio and TV stations that are not subject to the same journalistic standards and monitoring as VOA. The new broadcast outlets are directed primarily at the Middle East, where the U.S. image is at a historic low.

"As broadcast professionals ... we call on the U.S. Congress to conduct an immediate inquiry into the actions of the Broadcasting Board of Governors," the petition says. It goes on to accuse the board of "killing VOA" by closing its Arabic radio service, reducing English-language broadcasting and launching services with "no editorial accountability" and limited breaking news.
And despite claims that Radio Sawa and al-Hurra are doing a great job, there is some evidence to the contrary.
Shibley Telhami, an expert on Arab media and public opinion at the Brookings Institution, says a separate survey he has just completed of 3,300 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates doesn't indicate that Al-Hurra has had much impact on viewers in those countries. The survey shows that Al-Jazeera, a decade-old Qatar-based network often criticized by the Bush administration for having an anti-American slant, is the No. 1 choice for news, followed by al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based channel that is only a year old. No one surveyed said Al-Hurra, which went on the air in February, was a first choice and only 3.8% picked it as a second choice for news, according to that survey.
So not only is VOA being gutted to fund these Bush babies like Radio Sawa and al-Hurra, but that money is basically going straight down the toilet. Fantastically done, boys. Keep up the good work.

 

"Likely to undermine its reputation"

Allow me to refer readers to House Resolution 713. The stated purpose of this Resolution is as follows:
Deploring the misuse of the International Court of Justice by a majority of the United Nations General Assembly for a narrow political purpose, the willingness of the International Court of Justice to acquiesce in an effort likely to undermine its reputation and interfere with a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and for other purposes.
I think it would be appropriate at this time to point out the irony of the words "undermine its reputation and interfere with a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." It would be in the interest of those who support this resolution to consider exactly how the US is percieved around the world. How has US reputation been doing recently, especially in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What actions have, perhaps, undermined US reputation? Do actions and positions such as those expressed in this resolution undermine any positive reputation we may have left? I think there is a strong case that this is so. Again, though, so much of the discourse in the US focuses solely on the Israeli right and the Pro-Israel lobby in the US. True the ICJ has undermined its reputation with these parties. But did it have much of a reputation to begin with - the UN is not thought of positively in such circles. In terms of a resolution to the conflict, the resolution continues to come back to the US backed Roadmap. The Roadmap has been pretty much abandoned by all parties except the Palestinians, ironically enough, who have called on the Gaza withdrawal plan to be placed in the context of the Roadmap in the hopes that a West Bank withdrawal could be next. Where are the US efforts to push the Roadmap forward? Saying that the ICJ conflicts with the road map is a pretty bogus argument if one looks to what the Roadmap has accomplished so far. The resolution ends with a threat:
(5) cautions members of the international community that they risk a strongly negative impact on their relationship with the people and Government of the United States should they use the ICJ's advisory judgment as an excuse to interfere in the Roadmap process and impede efforts to achieve progress toward a negotiated settlement.
I would hope that the House of Representatives would be able to look at this with a clear head. The US and its "reputation" (or what remains of it in a positive light in regards to this conflict) would be better served by some efforts to "progress toward a negotiated settlement" (possibly working towards re-establishing negotiations, for starters) instead of bickering over the ICJ. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

 

Palestinian Reform

Amira Hass has written an interesting article about some of the ins and outs of reform within Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Currently, internal Fatah elections are taking place inside the Gaza Strip. While this is having a real effect on the dynamics of the Fatah movement, all the fatheads screaming for "Palestinian reforms" couldn't care less - the only thing they actually know is that they don't to see Arafat's face anywhere around. Well, it still seems as though Arafat is going to be around for a while. On the topic of Arafat and reform, Arafat did not take kindly to criticism from top United Nations envoy to the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen regarding Arafat's efforts to reform the Palestinian security services.
"Terje Roed-Larsen's statement is not objective. As of today he is an unwelcome person in Palestinian territories," Nabil Abu Rudeineh told Reuters, referring to remarks by the envoy at the United Nations on Tuesday.
That's just great. It's not like the Palestinians want anything, pressure on Israel to stop building it's wall in the West Bank for example, from the UN right now. You'd think Arafat would realize the value of staying warm with the UN, but I guess pride must come first. It's pretty pathetic really. Happy Bastille Day everyone!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

 

The Gate of Heaven

An attack in Chechnya on the acting president killed one person and injured three today. During the past two days 24 insurgents and 18 members of the republic's presidential security service have been killed in fighting southeast of Grozny. From CNN.com:
The security force is widely feared in Chechnya, with Chechens and human rights organizations blaming it for abductions and other abuse of civilians.

Rights groups in Moscow said Tuesday that Ingushetia, which borders on Chechnya, was being destabilized by a rising number of abductions, and they accused Russian forces of complicity.

Some observers suggest Ingush authorities are complicit or give tacit approval to the seizures, though Ingush President Murat Zyazikov has blamed them on forces in Chechnya.

Oleg Orlov, of the Memorial rights group, said killings of captives are becoming increasingly common, and he alleged that paramilitaries associated with Russian forces have carried out such murders, sometimes at military posts.

"People are being killed not only in military clashes, but also by kidnappers -- unarmed and without resistance," Orlov said. "From any point of view, this can only be considered a crime."

He said that because Russian prosecutors are doing little to investigate, Moscow is losing the support of residents of Ingushetia. Ninety people were killed last month in an overnight militant assault on police installations in the republic.

"With their own hands, Russian special forces can create a wider base of support for militants in Ingushetia than already exists," Orlov said. "Which is what they've already done in Chechnya."
Faced with the murder of Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Magazine's Russian edition, which has brought attention to the general crackdown on outspoken or independent press in Russia, it's understandable that Vladimir Putin would not be opposed to inciting a flare-up of violence in Chechnya (and now Ingushsetia) to draw away attention and to justify increasing anti-democratic trends in Russia. Look! Over there! Terrorists!

 

Eliran Golan to stand trial

From Ha'aretz:
A psychiatric evaluation filed Tuesday in Haifa District Court indicated that Eliran Golan, accused of a number of attempts to murder Jews and Arabs in Haifa, is fit to stand trial.

...

Golan was apprehended three years after he began setting explosive devices. He set a total of nine bombs against Arabs (including one against MK Issam Makhoul), Jews who associated with Arabs, and the employers at the messenger service where he worked.

...

The police initially claimed that a large network was at work, and arrested Golan's father and two friends from the army. Later, they were released and only Golan was charged.

In all, Golan is suspected of having placed nine bombs in the Haifa area, with his targets including a mosque, Arab-owned homes and cars, Jews he believed had befriended Arabs, and his employer at a messenger service. Some of the improvised bombs exploded, injuring a number of people.

On October 24 last year, a bomb allegedly placed by Golan exploded under Makhoul's car, which at the time was being driven by the legislator's wife, who was on her way to pick up their children from school. The car was partially burned in the attack, but Makhoul's wife was uninjured. In court yesterday, Golan voiced regret over the entire affair. He said that his intention had not been to attack Arabs in general, but to strike at those he believed were harming Israel's security.
News like this makes me think - if Golan had been Palestinian he would not have recieved a psychiatric evaluation. In fact, he would probably be dead. His father probably would not have been released - he may well be dead also. Even if his father was released, he would not have a place to go home to - a bulldozer would have demolished the Golan's house, as well as parts, if not all, of the neighboring houses. You see, there is terrorism in Israel, but it's not exclusive to Palestinians. And Israel's lauded "right to defend herself" can take different forms. Sometimes it's interesting to look at how different situations require different actions and wonder why that is.

 

Afghanistan

According to a report in the Guardian, Hamid Karzai has come out as saying that the militias and warlords in Afghanistan present a greater threat than the Taliban. This comes as Karzai has defended the need to postpone elections (sound familiar to anyone?).
"The frustration that we have in this country is that progress has sometimes been stopped by private militias, life has been threatened by private militias, so it should not be tolerated," he told the New York Times. "Without disarmament, the Afghan state will have really serious difficulties."

There are now estimated to be around 50,000 armed militiamen attached to warlords, despite attempts to get them to hand in their weapons before the election.

So far, only an estimated 10,000 have agreed to leave the militias and only 7,000 weapons have been handed in.

While the Taliban have been blamed for much of the recent violence, which has been in protest at the elections, there is evidence that warlords are taking advantage of the unstable situation outside Kabul.

"We tried to do it by persuasion," Mr Karzai said of attempts to disarm the militia. "The stick has to be used, definitely." He dismissed the Taliban threat as "exaggerated".
October 9th is the new election day. The real story here is that once again, the short-term benefits of arming and empowering the warlords to fight against the Taliban for the US were put ahead of any longer-term concerns for the manner in which it would play out in Afghanistan's future.

Monday, July 12, 2004

 

Armenia

There is a very sad, but not suprising, story in the Washington Post about the exodus of Armenians out of Armenia because of the impossibility of living conditions there. Although it's not directly analagous to any other current situation, I find it interesting because it illustrates how all the sort of "victories" of nationalism aren't the kind of victories that translate into an improved life for Armenians. In a sort of ideological sense, Armenia was a great victory for Armenians. Emerging from a sort of shared memory of the Armenian Genocide, surviving Soviet control, engaging in a winning war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territories where the Armenians were outnumbered by Azeri fighters and surrounded by Turkic and Muslim countries - Armenia was the plucky underdog and a point of vindication for the Armenian diaspora. Unfortunately, all that doesn't mean much when you can't afford to live there. It's pretty sad. The Washington Post article doesn't give much background, but I definitely recommend Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal for those interested in a more thorough and deep understanding of how truly depressing the whole matter is. As my Armenian grandmother always used to say, a hungry man will eat rocks. It turns out that they'd actually rather move to Russia, or Vancouver, or France, or California.

 

Postpone elections?

Fafblog has an excellent analysis of why elections must be postponed. Interestingly, I heard right-wing talk radio's Michael Graham talking about how we shouldn't postpone elections because "we don't want to be like Spain" and let the terrorists win. Umm... isn't the reason Bush wants to have a plan in place to postpone elections precisely because of what happened in Spain when they didn't postpone elections? Of course, I was probably screwed from the start trying to find logic in the wasteland that is right-wing talk radio.

 

This isn't helping

Arafat hints Israel planted Tel Aviv bomb. A clear demonstration that the Palestinians could use some better leadership. Why? Because 10 times out of 10, that will make the headlines over substance that needs to be there. Arafat's conspiracy theories are taking badly needed attention away from facts. Facts:
Israeli tank fire killed four Palestinians in Gaza on Saturday and shot dead a teenage girl in Rafah.

In a separate incident, a pregnant Palestinian woman was shot by Israeli occupation troops in Bait Hanun.

On Monday morning, a handicapped Palestinian in his 70s was crushed to death when occupation forces demolished his home in the southern Gaza Strip.

 

Two Interesting al-Ahram Articles

The first article, by Clovis Maksoud, takes a look at Arab perceptions of the trial of Saddam Hussein. Maksoud writes:
The Arabs feel that part of their history is on trial -- and here I use the word trial in its broader sense. Surreptitiously they feel they are being tried also. Saddam Hussein is part of their collective memory -- the illusions they had about him and the disillusionment that followed. While most Arabs feel relieved that Saddam's regime has been removed, a sense of profound embarrassment follows, because they did not do it themselves.

What exacerbated the Arabs' sense of outrage was their exasperation that the invasion of Iraq was totally illegitimate, as has now been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Weapons of mass destruction were never found; Saddam's links with Al-Qaeda were disproved by the bipartisan United States commission investigating the security flaws that made the 9/11 terrorist attacks possible.

But the point which has provoked the most intense Arab anger is the revelation that the attack on Iraq was planned by the pro-Israeli cabal which became an active participant in US policy-making, and no longer consisted of an Israeli lobby confined to exercising pressure. When Arabs and Americans warned that this group of American Likudniks were planning to strike Iraq, many Israeli and pro-Israeli groups dismissed the warnings as "typical Arab conspiracy theories" by promoters and justifiers of "anti-Jewish" trends.

...

Even the Anglo-American attack sought to suppress the motives of the invasion -- and so long as the justification went unproven, the attack remained immoral and illegitimate. The two powers introduced new reasons for their invasion, namely "liberation of Iraqis" from a ruthless regime. It is the paradoxical duality -- a sense of relief that a reckless dictatorship was removed, and the perfidy of the invasion with the humiliations that it brought about -- that has been at the core of Arab political consciousness throughout this great crisis.
Maksoud finds the silver lining in this cloud:
But there will always remain a lingering question. Could the Arabs have removed the pathetic figure on trial in Baghdad on their own? This question, even if unanswered, can be the means by which the compass can be recovered.

This lingering question can embolden the Arabs to realise their untapped potential and bring about the Arab renaissance that has long eluded them, and exculpate them from the embarrassment and the necessity to keep thinking over that lingering question.
However, the pessimist in me thinks that the "paradoxical duality" is going to essentially diminish any positive accomplishments in Iraq. Long after the euphoria of overturning and punishing Saddam fades, I think the humiliation is going to remain. Part of this is that the world hasn't stopped for the trial. In a 'what have you done for me lately' world, the overthrow of Saddam is going to be old news compared to the latest car bombing in Iraq or the latest home demolition in Palestine. Which brings me to the second article, by Mustafa Barghouthi. In this article, Barghouthi forsees a situation where once again the Palestinians will be put in the position of rejecting a "generous offer" and proving themselves non-partners for peace.

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