Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Amazing what is happening in the Ukraine right now. Interestingly, I work right across the street from the Ukranian embassy in Washington, DC, and there have been protestors out there with flags and balloons and lots of good stuff since this morning. I tried to engage one of the guys in conversation but he wasn't really having it, but I was very impressed with the speedy mobilization of the Ukranians here in the US. Best of luck to them. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Mustafa Barghouthi in the IHT
Mustafa Barghouthi writes a plea for Palestinian democracy in the interests of Palestinians and Israelis in the International Herald Tribune yesterday. It's definitely worth reading in whole, but here is a brief excerpt:
Scaremongers argue that democracy opens the door for fundamentalist groups, but a look at recent polls taken in Palestinian society should dispel these fears. They show that while Hamas would receive 23 percent of the vote, this is no more than would be achieved by Fatah, the leading group in the Palestinian Authority.
The real influence lies with the remaining plurality of voters, the silent majority who do not want to be part of this polarization. Most of them, in my opinion, would support a democratic opposition if given the chance. This is a majority whose voice for the time being is drowned out by the noise of guns and tank shells; a majority that can have a voice only if they are allowed to cast a vote. Eighty percent of Palestinians in the occupied territories are below the age of 33. They are striving for opportunity, participation and the hope of a better future....
Palestinians, like Israelis, are entitled to self-determination and democratic rights and to a homeland of their own where they can live with freedom and dignity, without an occupation, walls or checkpoints.
There is a certain simplicity in realizing that Israel can have security by accepting Palestinians as equal human beings. It is my profound belief that the only lasting peace we shall see will be that concluded between two democracies, governed by justice.
Iman al-Hams shooting tape
The Guardian has translated portions of the tape of radio exchanges between the army watchtower, the army post's operations room and the captain (R.), who was a company commander.
The soldier in the watchtower radioed his colleagues after he saw Iman: "It's a little girl. She's running defensively eastward."
Operations room: "Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?"
Watchtower: "A girl of about 10, she's behind the embankment, scared to death."
A few minutes later, Iman is shot in the leg from one of the army posts.
The watchtower: "I think that one of the positions took her out."
The company commander then moves in as Iman lies wounded and helpless.
Captain R: "I and another soldier ... are going in a little nearer, forward, to confirm the kill ... Receive a situation report. We fired and killed her ... I also confirmed the kill. Over."
Witnesses described how the captain shot Iman twice in the head, walked away, turned back and fired a stream of bullets into her body. Doctors at Rafah's hospital said she had been shot at least 17 times.
On the tape, the company commander then "clarifies" why he killed Iman: "This is commander. Anything that's mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed. Over."
Gee, you think?
Well, it seems that Moshe Ya'alon, Israeli Army Chief of Staff, has been forced by details released to the media to recognize that the IDF investigation into the shooting of Iman al-Hams was a failure.
Ya'alon's remarks were prompted in part by the fact that essential information about the incident was uncovered not by the IDF inquiry, but by outside sources, Israel Radio reported.Of course, Ya'alon made it clear that this public exposure would not be the norm, stating: "An external investigation will not bring about the disclosure of the truth, rather the opposite." Well you have to appreciate the logic in that: the IDF "investigation" was a failure, a bit of the truth has managed to leak into the media coverage, and there may actually be some repercussions for the despicable conduct of the commander charged - but all this must be somehow bringing about the opposite of the truth. Of course, what would you expect Ya'alon to say - he's been forced to admit failure because of what has come to light, but there is no way he is going to willingly give up the power to keep IDF transgressions under wraps and dealt with in-house. In any case, the perpetrator (Captain R.) has now been charged as part of the military police's investigation into the shooting.
"The fact that in our operational investigation we were unable to reach the whole truth, is a grave failure," Ya'alon said Wednesday.
Military prosecutors issued a five-count indictment against the officer, including two counts of illegally using his weapon, and one count each of obstruction of justice, conduct unbecoming an officer, and improper use of authority.In other Israeli news, Israel continues to say all the right things about Palestinian elections (including FM Silvan Shalom saying that it would permit international observers). But, the Israeli High Court also just ruled to allow construction to continue on the West Bank wall in areas near Jerusalem and, as they say, actions speak louder than words. Especially sad was the reasoning behind the court's decision:
The petitioners [from the village of Tzur Baher] asked that the fence be rerouted further to the east since it would obstruct their daily life.So okay, the way it's planned will fuck group one. But changing it will fuck group two, so we might as well just go ahead and fuck group one. Great. That's justice for you, folks.
But another group of the village's residents opposed the alternative route proposed by the petitioners, and claimed before the High Court that rerouting the fence would hurt them.
Consequently, the justices decided in their ruling to reject the petition and leave the fence's planned route unchanged.
Mercenary contractors threaten safety and stability in Iraq
My Aunt Deb forwarded me a very interesting Knight-Ridder story about the security mishaps that have become standard fare in and about Baghdad as a result of the large numbers of foreign security contractors being hired because of the rampant insecurity. According to the article, there are about 20,000 of these contractors in Iraq and although they are supposed to obtain licenses and permits for their weapons with the Interior Ministry, not many of them do. The article cites several specific accounts of confrontations between US forces or Iraqi police and these foreign mercenaries.
Late Tuesday afternoon, soldiers in a U.S. Humvee spotted what they considered a suspicious car. They fired "six or seven rounds" at the tires, a security official said, providing information on condition of anonymity. There were no casualties.Yep, a car full of foreigners with AK-47's and grenades kills one policeman and wounds a policeman and a passer-by and the men are released the next day? Oh wait, they had British passports, not Jordanian ones (or Egyptian ones, or Saudi ones, etc etc). It seems unacceptable to me that there would be any foreign fighters allowed to operate with relative impunity in another nation. Unfortunately, because the US completely dropped the ball in terms of securing Iraq after the invasion, this is what you have: a real recipe for disaster.
The vehicle was carrying foreign security guards, whose identities and nationalities weren't released. The American troops quickly realized their mistake.
On Monday, it was a different story - and a lethal one -that illustrates the almost-electric tension on Baghdad's streets. When Iraqi police see unmarked cars with gun barrels poking out the windows, they understandably suspect that the cars may be carrying outlaws preparing to attack.
At about 10 a.m. local time, a police cruiser spotted a Korean-made white sedan near the Babylon Hotel in central Baghdad on a route often used by Interior Minister Falah Hassan al Naqib. The car reportedly had tinted windows and no license plate.
"The police started to shoot at the car," said Mohammed Khalif, a shopkeeper whose grocery is in front of the shootout site and is now marred by a shattered window.
Khalif said the white sedan carried three people. Coming under fire, one occupant broke a window, rolled out of the car and began firing back, Khalif said.
The foreigner killed one policeman and shot another in the left shoulder and abdomen, seriously wounding him, Khalif said; an Interior Ministry official confirmed his account. A passer-by also was wounded.
Another police cruiser arrived and took the foreigners into custody. They were released later that day.
Inside the car, police "found AK-47's and grenades," Khalif said. "All my neighbors and I saw their passports. They were foreigners."
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
G. Gordon Liddy interview
Johann Hari interviews G. Gordon Liddy in the Independent. There are lots of crazy Liddy quotes, on subjects ranging from Hitler, to Watergate, to the War on Drugs, but I thought the most revealing part of the article was toward the end. Hari writes:
I'm not sure how much of this I can take. I am becoming desensitized to his madness; I haven't even furrowed my brow for the past five minutes. Does he really mean this stuff? And what's better - if he is spewing all this hate for effect, or if he really means it?Indeed, this is how Don Imus can have a show on MSNBC and have regular guests call Palestinians "stupid," "stinking animals," and advocate "kill[ing] 'em all." Yes, we can blame it all on G. Gordon Liddy. Well, maybe not all of it. But it's still scary to think that there are people like him out there. And that people want to listen to him.
But this is how Hate Radio works in America. It numbs you to far right positions; it makes the most depraved politics banal and commonplace. So Ann Coulter talks affectionately of "the benefits of local fascism" and nobody blinks. Michael Savage describes Lindy England as "an American hero" and tells gay listeners, "I hope you get AIDS and die," and we simply avert our gaze. Even a mad criminal like G. Gordon Liddy is accepted as a normal part of the political furniture. Republican politicians appear on his show happily and nod along to his far-right patter. These 'hosts' have created a political culture where even John Kerry - who is, in European terms, pretty conservative - can be savaged as "far left" and denied the White House.
What exactly does the IDF "investigate" then?
Last night, Israel's Channel Two played a leaked tape from the communications radios at the Girit outpost on the Philadelphi corridor from the time that the Givit company commander (referred to as R.) shot and killed 13-year-old Iman al-Hams. Amos Harel has an analysis of the tape's revelations in today's Ha'aretz.
The legal proceedings have only begun, but based on what the tape showed and the indictment against the Givati company commander R. claims, it is possible to cautiously draw a few interim conclusions.There is another question, too. The current investigation is one undertaken by the military police. There was already an internal IDF investigation, in which R. was found not to have acted "unethically" and was instead suspended because he had lost the support of his soldiers. In fact, Harel reveals, "it turns out the original corps level inquiry into the event did not even listen to the communications recordings, which were easily available." As Harel also points out, "There have been dozens of cases during the past four years in which IDF soldiers killed unarmed Palestinian civilians." Makes you wonder about those IDF investigations, doesn't it? Especially the ones that didn't receive the kind of public attention that this one did. The ones that could be swept under the table without headlines and leaks to Channel Two. In his conclusion, Harel writes:
Most of the debate about the incident was over whether the killing of the little girl was "verified," and the debate was based on the conflicting versions of the events as provided by R. and his troops. Last night the tape left no room for doubt - R. himself is heard saying, "I also verified her killing."
But that is far from the key question in the case. At least from the moral aspect, the main question is why the company commander and his soldiers fired at the girl who was 100 meters away from the outpost, was not armed, was not a danger to the soldiers inside the protected outpost, and when at least some of the soldiers knew that it was a little girl. A soldiers is explicitly heard saying "it's a little girl," and that she is "scared to death." Nonetheless, the shooting went on. Moreover, R. himself reports later that he shot "the girl."
No less important is the tone of the voices on the tape. Officers trying to explain what happened constantly said that the areas is dangerous, and that the soldiers were under threat. But that does not come across in the voices of the soldiers. They don't sound worried or pressured, but almost apathetic. They seem to be shooting because those are the orders - to shoot at anyone who comes close, even if some know it's only a girl, and there is no sense of fear. It seems, at least, that the order to shoot is blatantly illegal, and therefore the soldiers should have refused it. The question becomes, therefore, why only the company commander is being prosecuted, and only for illegal use of his weapon and not for manslaughter at the very least.
The first intifada saw Givati trials one and two, which opened the pandora's box for the Israeli public about what soldiers were doing in their name in the territories. If R. insists on going through with his defense and does not work out a plea bargain with the military prosecution, it is entirely possible that this case will yet open the pandora's box to the public about what the army did in its name during the intifada.Now I wonder about this. First of all, the atmosphere within Israel during the first intifada was totally different from the second intifada. I think you'd have to be pretty oblivious to have no idea of what was going on in the occupied territories if you lived in Israel. I think those that care already know and feel horribly about what is going on. The majority know (maybe not everything, but to some extent) what is happening and simply do not care. Under different political circumstances, with attitudes more willing to look at things from the other side, this might have an impact. But now, I don't know. Secondly, even if this opens the "pandora's box" on this intifada, how much does that matter? As Harel points out, the "pandora's box" was opened on the first intifada and how has the IDF really changed? Are things so much better now? I don't think so. Finally, if the IDF really does feel threatened by this, I think they will take Harel's advice seriously, throw R. under the bus, get a plea bargain with the military prosecution, and move on with business as usual.
Monday, November 22, 2004
Correction on correction of flawed terror report
Remember that 2003 Patterns of Global Terrorism report? The one that initially claimed that terror levels had dropped to the lowest level in three decades. The one that, initially, Bush supporters used to "prove" that Bush was winning the war on terror. The one that, upon closer inspection, "actually showed a sharp increase, to a 21-year high." The one that "also omitted any significant terrorist attacks occurring after an early November cutoff date, including bombings in Turkey that killed at least 62 people, and left out some terrorist activity in Chechnya, Iraq and other locations." (I mean, I guess Chechnya and Iraq are easy places to overlook when you are dealing with terrorism right?) Well it turns out that even after these errors were addressed in a revised edition that came out, there are still huge problems with the report.
Five months after embarrassed State Department officials acknowledged widespread mistakes in the government's influential annual report on global terrorism, internal investigators have found new and unrelated errors — as well as broader underlying problems that they say essentially have destroyed the credibility of the statistics the report is based on.But - breathe a sigh of relief here folks - we have the State Department's assurance that the initial report's sunny conclusions were in no way politically motivated. Now if you believe that, then the only thing we have left to worry about, then, is "sloppy data collection, inexperienced employees, personnel shortages and lax oversight." It's just simple rampant incompetence folks, keep it moving, nothing to see here.
In a 28-page report, the State Department's Office of Inspector General blamed the problems on sloppy data collection, inexperienced employees, personnel shortages and lax oversight. Investigators also concluded that the procedures used by the State Department, CIA and other agencies to define terrorism and terrorist attacks were so inconsistent that they couldn't be relied upon.
Making bad music is one thing. Opposing Napster because you think you might be able to squeeze a few more dollars out of 18-year-old kids is pretty lame. But it seems that Metallica has hit a new low. In an article about the US military's use of the "psychological warfare" of blasting loud and (from what I gathered) really bad music while attacking Iraqis and before interrogations of Iraqis, James Hetfield is quoted.
James Hetfield, who co-founded Metallica, said the military hadn't asked his permission or paid him royalties to blast his band's music in Iraq. But he's proud, he said, that his tunes are culturally offensive to the Iraqis. "For me, the lyrics are a form of expression, a freedom to express my insanity," Hetfield told radio host Terry Gross last week. "If the Iraqis aren't used to freedom, then I'm glad to be part of their exposure."What a colossal ass.