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Human Rights Watch decries U.S. prison system January 31, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Thursday, Jan 31, 2013 10:25 AM EST

The NGO’s World Report criticizes mass incarceration and U.S. record of torture and extrajudicial killing

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Human Rights Watch decries U.S. prison system (Credit: Shutterstock)

Human Rights Watch Thursday published its annual World Report, in which it lays out a pointed critique of the U.S. prison system. The enormous prison population  — the largest in the world at 1.6million — “partly reflects harsh sentencing practices contrary to international law,” notes the report.

The 2013 World Report, a 665-page tome which assesses human rights progress in the past year in 90 countries, highlights particular issues undergirding the U.S.’s blighted carceral system. It notes that “practices contrary to human rights principles, such as the death penalty, juvenile life-without-parole sentences, and solitary confinement are common and often marked by racial disparities.” Via HRW:

Research in 2012 found that the massive over-incarceration includes a growing number of elderly people whom prisons are ill-equipped to handle, and an estimated 93,000 youth under age 18 in adult jails and another 2,200 in adult prisons. Hundreds of children are subjected to solitary confinement. Racial and ethnic minorities remain disproportionately represented in the prison population.

HRW cite statistics often used to show racial disparities in the U.S. prison system. For example, while whites, African Americans and Latinos have comparable rates of drug use, African Americans are arrested for drug offenses, including possession, at three times the rate of white men.

“The United States has shown little interest in tackling abusive practices that have contributed to the country’s huge prison population,” said Maria McFarland, deputy U.S. program director at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately, it is society’s most vulnerable – racial and ethnic minorities, low-income people, immigrants, children, and the elderly – who are most likely to suffer from injustices in the criminal justice system.”

Although noting some progress in 2012 (both D.C. and Connecticut joined the ranks of 16 states to have abolished the death penalty), HRW also stressed continuing injustices in U.S. immigration policies, labor issues and treatment of minorities, women, the disabled and HIV positive individuals. The report was particularly critical when reviewing the U.S.’s counterterrorism policies. The NGO noted in a statement:

Both the Obama administration and Congress supported abusive counterterrorism laws and policies, including detention without charge at Guantanamo Bay, restrictions on the transfer of detainees held there, and prosecutions in a fundamentally flawed military commission system.  Attacks by US aerial drones were carried out in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere, with important legal questions about the attacks remaining unanswered.

The administration has taken no steps toward accountability for torture and other abuses committed by US officials in the so-called “war on terror,” and a Justice Department criminal investigation into detainee abuse concluded without recommending any charges. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence completed a more than 6,000-page report detailing the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program, but has yet to seek the report’s declassification so it can be released to the public.

The World Report explicitly mentions Obama’s signing of the NDAA in 2011 (an act he repeated this year), noting, “The act codified the existing executive practice of detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without charge, and required that certain terrorism suspects be initially detained by the military if captured inside the U.S..”

Next week, the lawsuit against Obama over the NDAA’s definite detention provision will be back in federal court as plaintiffs including Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky seek an injunction prohibiting indefinite detention of civilians without charge or trial.

Comments from HRW’s McFarland point out what’s at stake for the president here: “The Obama administration has a chance in its second term to develop with Congress a real plan for closing Guantanamo and definitively ending abusive counterterrorism practices,” McFarland said. “A failure to do so puts Obama at risk of going down in history as the president who made indefinite detention without trial a permanent part of U.S. law.”

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com. More Natasha Lennard.

America’s Disappeared July 18, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Latin America, Torture.
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Published on Monday, July 18, 2011 by TruthDig.com 

  by  Chris Hedges

Dr. Silvia Quintela was “disappeared” by the death squads in Argentina in 1977 when she was four months pregnant with her first child. She reportedly was kept alive at a military base until she gave birth to her son and then, like other victims of the military junta, most probably was drugged, stripped naked, chained to other unconscious victims and piled onto a cargo plane that was part of the “death flights” that disposed of the estimated 20,000 disappeared. The military planes with their inert human cargo would fly over the Atlantic at night and the chained bodies would be pushed out the door into the ocean. Quintela, who had worked as a doctor in the city’s slums, was 28 when she was murdered.(Illustration by Mr. Fish)

A military doctor, Maj. Norberto Atilio Bianco, who was extradited Friday from Paraguay to Argentina for baby trafficking, is alleged to have seized Quintela’s infant son along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other babies. The children were handed to military families for adoption. Bianco, who was the head of the clandestine maternity unit that functioned during the Dirty War in the military hospital of Campo de Mayo, was reported by eyewitnesses to have personally carried the babies out of the military hospital. He also kept one of the infants. Argentina on Thursday convicted retired Gen. Hector Gamen and former Col. Hugo Pascarelli of committing crimes against humanity at the “El Vesubio” prison, where 2,500 people were tortured in 1976-1978. They were sentenced to life in prison. Since revoking an amnesty law in 2005 designed to protect the military, Argentina has prosecuted 807 for crimes against humanity, although only 212 people have been sentenced. It has been, for those of us who lived in Argentina during the military dictatorship, a painfully slow march toward justice.

Most of the disappeared in Argentina were not armed radicals but labor leaders, community organizers, leftist intellectuals, student activists and those who happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Few had any connection with armed campaigns of resistance. Indeed, by the time of the 1976 Argentine coup, the armed guerrilla groups, such as the Montoneros, had largely been wiped out. These radical groups, like al-Qaida in its campaign against the United States, never posed an existential threat to the regime, but the national drive against terror in both Argentina and the United States became an excuse to subvert the legal system, instill fear and passivity in the populace, and form a vast underground prison system populated with torturers and interrogators, as well as government officials and lawyers who operated beyond the rule of law. Torture, prolonged detention without trial, sexual humiliation, rape, disappearance, extortion, looting, random murder and abuse have become, as in Argentina during the Dirty War, part of our own subterranean world of detention sites and torture centers.

We Americans have rewritten our laws, as the Argentines did, to make criminal behavior legal. John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the CIA, approved drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians in Pakistan, although we are not at war with Pakistan. Rizzo has admitted that he signed off on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He told Newsweek that the CIA operated “a hit list.” He asked in the interview: “How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?” Rizzo, in moral terms, is no different from the deported Argentine doctor Bianco, and this is why lawyers in Britain and Pakistan are calling for his extradition to Pakistan to face charges of murder. Let us hope they succeed.

We know of at least 100 detainees who died during interrogations at our “black sites,” many of them succumbing to the blows and mistreatment of our interrogators. There are probably many, many more whose fate has never been made public. Tens of thousands of Muslim men have passed through our clandestine detention centers without due process. “We tortured people unmercifully,” admitted retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “We probably murdered dozens of them …, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”

Tens of thousands of Americans are being held in super-maximum-security prisons where they are deprived of contact and psychologically destroyed. Undocumented workers are rounded up and vanish from their families for weeks or months. Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them away in the dead of night as if they were enemy combatants. Habeas corpus no longer exists. American citizens can “legally” be assassinated. Illegal abductions, known euphemistically as “extraordinary rendition,” are a staple of the war on terror. Secret evidence makes it impossible for the accused and their lawyers to see the charges against them. All this was experienced by the Argentines. Domestic violence, whether in the form of social unrest, riots or another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would, I fear, see the brutal tools of empire cemented into place in the homeland. At that point we would embark on our own version of the Dirty War.

Marguerite Feitlowitz writes in “The Lexicon of Terror” of the experiences of one Argentine prisoner, a physicist named Mario Villani. The collapse of the moral universe of the torturers is displayed when, between torture sessions, the guards take Villani and a few pregnant women prisoners to an amusement park. They make them ride the kiddie train and then take them to a cafe for a beer. A guard, whose nom de guerre is Blood, brings his 6- or 7-year-old daughter into the detention facility to meet Villani and other prisoners. A few years later, Villani runs into one of his principal torturers, a sadist known in the camps as Julian the Turk. Julian recommends that Villani go see another of his former prisoners to ask for a job. The way torture became routine, part of daily work, numbed the torturers to their own crimes. They saw it as a job. Years later they expected their victims to view it with the same twisted logic.

Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” declared there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” President Barack Obama, the report went on, is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”

But Obama has no intention of restoring the rule of law. He not only refuses to prosecute flagrant war crimes, but has immunized those who orchestrated, led and carried out the torture. At the same time he has dramatically increased war crimes, including drone strikes in Pakistan. He continues to preside over hundreds of the offshore penal colonies, where abuse and torture remain common. He is complicit with the killers and the torturers.

The only way the rule of law will be restored, if it is restored, is piece by piece, extradition by extradition, trial by trial. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. The lawyers who made legal what under international and domestic law is illegal, including not only Rizzo but Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, David Addington, William J. Haynes and John Yoo, will, if we are to dig our way out of this morass, be disbarred and prosecuted. Our senior military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw death squads in Iraq and widespread torture in clandestine prisons, will be lined up in a courtroom, as were the generals in Argentina, and made to answer for these crimes. This is the only route back. If it happens it will happen because a few courageous souls such as the attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, are trying to make it happen. It will take time—a lot of time; the crimes committed by Bianco and the two former officers sent to prison this month are nearly four decades old. If it does not happen, then we will continue to descend into a terrifying, dystopian police state where our guards will, on a whim, haul us out of our cells to an amusement park and make us ride, numb and bewildered, on the kiddie train, before the next round of torture.

© 2011 TruthDig.com

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Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

 

 

 

 

21 Comments so far

Posted by sivasm
Jul 18 2011 – 9:03am

Chris Hedges, as always one of the best piece I’ve read especially on Obama. I will rejoice when they drag Obama in chains, together with his cronies to stand trials for crimes against humanity.

Posted by Gdpxhk
Jul 18 2011 – 9:12am

Obama is just another puppet. He would only be replaced by another marionette. The men in the shadows need to be revealed like night crawlers under a rock. Follow the money trail and they can be found, but would anyone listen? Actually, I should say, follow the gold trail as fiat money means nothing to these creatures…and they will have all the gold.

Posted by Richard-Ralph-Roehl
Jul 18 2011 – 9:11am

After reading this disturbing article, another masterpiece of sober truth-telling by Chris Hedges, I’m not entirely surprised there no comments yet posted herein. Hedges’ article makes one wonder if blogging makes people a target for nefarious action by Amerika’s $ociopathic ruling class. And like Mr. Hedges, I blog under my legal name. Perhaps I’m more brave (or foolish) than I believe I am. Albeit… I’m not as brave as Mr. Hedges.

It is my opinion that Amerika’s foreign policy is delusional, violent and criminallly insane. It is the fruit of $ociopaths and psychopaths. It is why 9-11 happened.

And Amerika’s domestic policy isn’t much different. It is cruel and stupid and mean-espirited. I rest my case on the latter policy with the damn War on Drrrugs, a vicious minded policy that is the antithesis of personal freedom. Rome is burning! It burns because Amerika’s rapacious ruling class has the insight of rabid dogs.

Amerika is NOT a beacon of light for the world. It is a violent, war mongering beast that pushes humanity down the road toward an extinction event. It is evil.

What to do? Well… you don’t pet rabid dogs. You fukin’ shoot ‘em!

Posted by Thalidomide
Jul 18 2011 – 9:12am

Obama is the leader of a terrorist theocracy and in case people think things will get better someday it is important to realize that a large majority of young Americans support torture.

Posted by Demonstorm
Jul 18 2011 – 11:25am

Correct. You always hear about “someday, our children will ask us why we did what we did – why did we leave them such a horrible nation.” WRONG. Young people today grew up in this Orwellian police state – they don’t know how Amerika “used to be.” This is the “norm” to them. They are growing up quite acclimated to torture, illegal invasions, the destruction of civil liberties once enshrined in the Constitution, no habeas corpus, the president claiming he has the powers of a dictator, etc.

As Thalidomide says – don’t count on our youth to straighten out the mess we are making. They will take the ball we have handed to them and run with it.

Posted by James Edwards
Jul 18 2011 – 9:17am

The USA is far worse than Argentina was. The body count, the period of time, the area over which the US’ns have killed and their glee makes this blatantly clear.
The USA is a grand human mistake (actually fuck-up in modern parlance). Humanity must eradicate its influence. There is no other way forward. Present US citizens are part of humanity and have a duty to perform. They must deny the authority of their government and the validity of the structure called the USA.
Hedges does not write so and as the likes of Steve Biko have discovered it is dangerous to do so, but it is so and those who cannot see so are in Hell already.
We must remember that it is an honour if Hell kicks us out.
The man Jesus said so and he was no Christian.

Posted by raydelcamino
Jul 18 2011 – 10:19am

Definitely far worse…Argentine facists actions killed Argentinians, American fascists kill people from every nation on earth.

Posted by Space Cadet
Jul 18 2011 – 9:43am

Excellent analogy.  Americans like to consider themselves as a first world country while they label Argenrina as some backward, third world country with no respect for the rule of law.  Unfortunately the American ruling class feels confident that they will never see the inside of a cortroom because of their wealth, sense of moral superiority and a complacent population that basically says… “better them than me”.
I for one, don’t see any of the culprits being brought to justice in my lifetime because most Americans still buy into the official State line that they’re just “doing their job” to help keep us safe.  Muslims have been vilified so successfully that the average American feels nervous next to a Middle Eastern man if he dons a long beard and speaks a foreign language.  We cloak our racism in the camoflauge of patriotism as we place  ‘support pur troops’ bumper stickers on our cars and wave tiny American flags as military processions roll by in tanks and armoured personnel carriers.  We’re taught to hold our founding fathers in high esteem while ignoring uncomfortable truths about them such as their slaves, genocide of the aboriginals and their selfish, financial motivations for declaring war on behalf or their fellow countrymen.
Critical thinking in our schools have been replaced by standarized tests that just have the narrow focus of honing our literacy and numeracy skills so that we may all be able to improve our chances of entering that rapidly shrinking employment pool known as corporate America in exchange for minimal wages, routine drug tests and a psychotic corporate mantra that places profits above family, empathy and morality.
One thing Argentina lacked compared to their U.S. contemporaries is the omnipotent influence of their State propaganda apparatus.  The Argentine elite couldn’t unabashedly expect a private media to cheer lead their crimes and responded with their own State run media lies.  But it had neither the sophistication, the reach or the deep pockets that America has and the populace quickly ignored it for the bunk that it was.
The elite in the U.S. have no such worries as the masses goose step with pride in defence of the status quo boasting of a free press, the greatest military in the world and a country personally blessed by God Almighty.  Everyone’s on board, or at least those who really matter  as we assuage our moral conscience that only America can save the world if the world would only embrace Big Macs, Paris Hilton and the Super Bowl as proof of a superior culture.  How stubborn the world must seem to be, when so few recognize that unchecked consumerism, limitless entertainment and blind patriotism are the only true paths to happiness.

Posted by Demonstorm
Jul 18 2011 – 11:30am

Extremely well-said. It is scary how much Amereichans today resemble Germans of the 30’s and 40’s. Only worse. Back then, at least many Germans could use the excuse they didn’t know what their government was really doing. Amereichans see it every day and don’t give a rat’s ass, for the reasons you so well stated. Indoctrinated and acclimated to Amerikka the Great, anything and everything she does is hunky-dory for them. They say most evil people don’t really believe they are evil, in their own minds. No better example of this exists than in this country.

Posted by memento
Jul 18 2011 – 9:44am

Hedges writes:

“Tens of thousands of Americans are being held in super-maximum-security prisons where they are deprived of contact and psychologically destroyed. Undocumented workers are rounded up and vanish from their families for weeks or months. Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them away in the dead of night as if they were enemy combatants.”

I am having problems believing what Hedges has written. If each disappeared American had at least 10 friends and relatives, then well over 400,000 Americans a year would experience personally knowing someone who was disappeared by militarized police units breaking down doors. Someone, please explain where Hedges gets the numbers he writes.

Posted by Brian Brademeyer
Jul 18 2011 – 10:15am

>>>> Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them away …

Hint: The “blue” text (haul them away) in the article is a link to more information (assuming you’re not just a concern troll and actually want to learn).

Posted by gardenernorcal
Jul 18 2011 – 10:50am

I am not sure where Mr. Hedges got his information but there is information out there.

http://www.immigrantjustice.org/isolatedindetention

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/laplaza/2010/09/immigration-detention-report.html

http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/aboutdetention

“The recent impact of ICE enforcement includes:

•Approximately 380,000 immigrants were detained in 2009, more than 30,000 people per day. The average length of detention is currently 33.5 days.
•More than 369,211 immigrants were deported in 2009, a record for the agency and a twenty seven percent increase from 2007.
•DHS has spent over $2.8 billion on efforts to deport immigrants since the creation of ICE in 2003.
•In total, 3.7 million immigrants have been deported since 1994.
•A 12 fold increase in worksite arrests between 2002 and 2008. A new trend is to use “identify theft” charges to put immigrants in the category of “criminal alien” to make it easier to deport them.
•Over 100 “Fugitive Operations Teams” and the development of other specialized operations. ICE claims these are focused on specific groups but they are often used as a pretext for wide scale arrests in apartment complexes, workplaces, and public spaces.
•67% of ICE detainees are housed in local and county jail facilities, 17% in contract detention facilities, 13% in ICE-owned facilities, and 3% in other facilities such as those run by the Bureau of Prisons.
•According to the Washington Post, “with roughly 1.6 million immigrants in some stage of immigration proceedings, the government holds more detainees a night than Clarion Hotels have guests, operates nearly as many vehicles as Greyhound has buses and flies more people each day than do many small U.S. airlines.” (Washington Post, February 2, 2007)”

http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/node/2382

Posted by Randy G
Jul 18 2011 – 11:10am

Memento — as Brian mentioned there is a link to Hedges’ assertion & you might want to read it on Truth Dig.

What may have confused you is that you seem to assume that Hedges is claiming that the 40,000 were executed clandestinely and never seen again. He is simply describing the number of arrests performed during which police execute military style raids in the middle of the night — often without knocking.

There are many, many incidents where it later turns out police have raided the wrong house, innocent people are shot, and the level of police violence in the raid is out of all reasonable proportion to the alleged offense.

Here is one tragic example of a raid gone bad:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/17/aiyana-jones-7-year-old-s_n_578246.html

I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I was recently surrounded –while camping legally in my car– by over a dozen sheriff’s officers with semi-automatic weapons and night vision goggles. This occurred in Arizona. It was, needless to say,  scary. They screamed at me to keep my hands in clear site while I was “laser sighted” from multiple rifles.

There was no warrant, there was no evidence of me doing anything wrong (I was asleep but my dogs started barking at them), and they admitted that I had committed no crime. I was 100 miles from the border but they had ‘suspicions’ that I might be a drug trafficker….

I wrote up more details in an earlier post but my main point is that I could have easily been killed if I had slipped trying to get out of the car or seemed like I was reaching for a gun.

They had not even bothered to run my vehicle license plate before launching their little raid. Since I was eventually let go without being arrested (or shot) there is not even an official statistic on this encounter.

There is no presumption of innocence and the 4th amendment is a joke.

You have to experience or witness something like this to appreciate how totally militarized our police have become. This is not a highway patrol officer cautiously approaching your car after stopping you for speeding.

The total number of arrests in the U.S. — much of it in the service of the ‘drug war’– is simple  mind boggling.

How many arrests per year are made in the U.S.?

14,172,384.

“From 2005 to 2008, there are on average 14,172,384 arrests made per year in the United States. This is based on data from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. Of all reported arrests, drug abuse violations remains the greatest, with on average 1,819,970 arrests made per year.”

http://www.numberof.net/number-of-arrests-per-year/

“Arrests for drug law violations this year are expected to exceed the 1,663,582 arrests of 2009. Law enforcement made more arrests for drug abuse violations (an estimated 1.6 million arrests, or 13.0 percent of the total number of arrests) than for any other offense in 2009.”

“Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 19 seconds.”

http://www.drugsense.org/cms/wodclock

http://able2know.org/topic/172440-1

Posted by Jill
Jul 18 2011 – 9:52am

Gdpxhk,

Arrest a puppett and he will tell you who pulls his strings.

I agree that following the money is also essential.

Posted by readytotransform
Jul 18 2011 – 10:11am

.

Posted by Oikos
Jul 18 2011 – 10:18am

Richard-Ralph-Roehl, Jul 18 2011 – 9:11am, is unfortunately right.

What a painful, albeit necesary, article by Hedges.

Posted by Jim Shea
Jul 18 2011 – 10:36am

Thanks again to Chris Hedges. Unfortunately, he is a voice crying in the wilderness, and NOTHING will be done to bring the American war criminals to justice. We American are too caught up in our own mythology.
Jim Shea

Posted by Stig
Jul 18 2011 – 10:50am

The concerted effort by thousands of ordinary Argentinians, over decades, made sure the junta responsible were punished. In the States there is no equivalent embodiment of injustice by its citizens, no strong sense of moral outrage, nothing to bring ordinary people together, to insure a prison cell for Bush, Cheney and the rest of them. There is no cacerolada here, our hands and voices have been effectively amputated, by ourselves. Indeed, Bush would probably receive a Nobel peace prize, before anything here, resembles the type of justice that is taking place in Argentina.

Posted by downtownwalker
Jul 18 2011 – 11:03am

“Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. “
I will certainly feel less “soiled” by my country’s dirty deeds when some of our laundry has been hung. No doubt that we are no longer a country where the “rule of law” means much any more. Hopefully one day that will change (and it will probably change “in one day”).

Posted by chaokoh
Jul 18 2011 – 11:24am

The condors* have come home to roost.

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Condor

Posted by chaokoh
Jul 18 2011 – 11:36am

Collapse and disintegration is a much more likely destiny for the dumb ol’ USA than any kind of long march to justice. The US hasn’t got three decades to spend defending its criminal acts in court. It probably hasn’t got three years. The US is perched on the mother of all tipping points, economically, socially and militarily and one wing beat from one black swan will send the US into the ravine. Here, for instance is just one of them:

Al Jazeera: CIA veteran: Israel to attack Iran in fall

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/07/201171775828434786.html

Gaza invasion: ‘If you’re not sure – kill’ July 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Israeli soldiers’ accounts of January siege betray little regard for civilians
DEADLY TACTICS

TheStar.com

AP FILE PHOTO
An Israeli gunner covers his ears as a mobile artillery piece fires at a target in the Gaza Strip on Jan. 4, 2009 during the bloody three-week offensive known as Operation Cast Lead.

Oakland Ross

Toronto Star, July 15, 2009

JERUSALEM – Israeli soldiers who invaded the Gaza Strip in January received no clear rules of engagement and operated with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality that significantly increased the danger to civilians.

“If you’re not sure – kill,” confessed one of the soldiers who gave his testimony anonymously to an Israeli organization that gathers front-line reports from Israeli soldiers. “The firepower was insane. We went in, and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began firing at suspect places. In urban warfare, everyone is your enemy. No innocents. It was simply urban warfare in every way.”

His remarks underline the central theme of the accounts from Israeli soldiers who participated in the three-week operation, code-named Cast Lead, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, according to a Palestinian count, and inflicted extensive physical destruction. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

“Very few soldiers ever heard in the briefings, `Guys – be careful about innocent people,'” said Yehuda Shaul, head of Breaking the Silence, the Israeli organization that gathers and publishes the testimony. “That’s the most disturbing and disappointing thing.”

A veteran of many Israel Defense Forces’ operations, Shaul said the invasion of Gaza that began Dec. 27 marked a departure from previous Israeli military practice.

“Cast Lead was something different,” he said. “We had an opening-fire policy. `You see something you’re scared of – you shoot.’ We were shocked. This is not the IDF I know.”

Shaul was reacting to the contents of a 110-page book being released by his organization today, containing the testimony of 26 Israeli soldiers who participated in the operation, including 14 young conscripts as well as a dozen older, more experienced reservists. The Star received an advance copy of the text.

Again and again, the soldiers who were interviewed in the book insisted they were given little if any guidance about human-rights considerations before being sent into Gaza, which is ruled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

Instead, they understood they were to do whatever seemed necessary to protect themselves, even if that meant shooting non-combatants without warning or destroying buildings without knowing who might be inside. The operation was aimed at stopping Palestinian militants from firing rockets at civilian targets in southern Israel.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have issued damning reports about the IDF’s conduct of the invasion, charging Israeli forces with possible war crimes.

The two reports also accuse Hamas of war crimes, including deliberate and sometimes deadly rocket attacks on civilian targets.

For its part, Israel insists its armed forces took heroic measures to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, and it is not alone. Last month, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, told a Jerusalem audience the IDF did more to safeguard the welfare of civilians during Operation Cast Lead “than any other army in the history of warfare.”

The IDF and its supporters point to measures the Israelis took to warn Palestinian civilians to flee areas about to come under attack. Those warnings were transmitted in Arabic by air-dropped leaflets, tens of thousands of phone calls, and loudspeakers.

The troops interviewed by Shaul’s organization mostly entered Gaza after such warnings were issued, and they appear to have operated on the assumption any Palestinian who remained behind rather than flee was an adversary, not an innocent. The ground troops consistently describe the use of massive Israeli firepower, even while acknowledging they encountered little Palestinian resistance.

The soldiers sometimes use a lurid vernacular, such as the terms “wet entry” and “dry entry” to distinguish between two different ways of securing the interior of a building.

A wet entry involves the use of considerable offensive weaponry prior to entering the building – in order to kill or disable anyone inside – while a dry entry bars the use of weapons until enemy personnel are actually encountered.

“Missiles, tank fire, machine-gun fire into the house, grenades,” said one of the soldiers, describing a typical wet entry. “Shoot as we enter a room. The idea was that, when we enter a house, no one there could fire at us.”

Shaul said it’s clear from the soldiers’ testimony that wet entries were the rule during the offensive.

Meanwhile, decisions about whether to demolish houses or other buildings seemed to follow no consistent military logic.

The book provides eyewitness accounts of three instances in which civilians were shot and killed more or less deliberately, including an elderly man who ventured near an Israeli-occupied house at night, carrying a flashlight.

No warning shots were fired in that episode, and no one shouted at the man to turn back. Instead, he was simply shot dead.

“Eventually, it turned out to be a mistake,” said one of the soldiers.

Asked to sum up his main reaction to the three-week operation, another soldier waxed philosophical.

“How people are able to watch others die or suffer,” he said. “How terribly easily you can grow indifferent to this. It’s like you can turn yourself off. The guy’s dead, let’s move on.”

Another Club Gitmo guest kills himself June 2, 2009

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Glenn Greenwald
www.salon.com, Tuesday June 2, 2009 17:03 EDT

(updated below – Update II)

Some of the most cartoonish pseudo-tough-guy, play-acting-warrior-low-lifes of the Right — Rush Limbaugh, The Weekly Standard, National Review‘s Andy McCarthy — have long referred to Guantanamo as “Club Gitmo.”  Many leading national Republican politicians have (as usual) followed suit.  Recently, some key Democrats have begun actively impeding plans to close it.

Today, Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih — a 31-year old Yemeni who has been in a Gitmo cage since February, 2002 (more than seven years) without charges — became the latest Club Gitmo guest to successfully kill himself:

U.S. military officials say a Yemeni detainee at Guantanamo Bay has died of an “apparent suicide.”

The Joint Task Force that runs the U.S. prison in Cuba says guards found 31-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih unresponsive and not breathing in his cell Monday night.

At the moment, the U.S. military is calling it an “apparent suicide” pending an autopsy.   Though Salih is either the 4th or 5th Gitmo prisoner to kill himself, numerous others have continuously tried, including this year, using every means from hunger strikes to hanging.  In 2006, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris infamously claimed that detainee suicides were “an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”  Although the Obama DOD earlier this year self-servingly announced that Guantanamo is in full compliance with the Geneva Conventions, there is ample evidence that suggests otherwise.

Putting people in cages for life with no charges — thousands of miles from their homes — is inherently torturous.  While Salih acknowledged fighting for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, there is no evidence that he ever engaged in or planned to engage in terrorist acts or acts of violence of any kind against the U.S.  Apparently, though, he’s one of the Worst of the Worst we keep hearing about — Too Dangerous To Release even if we can’t charge him with any crime.

Along those lines, Sen. Russ Feingold will hold a hearing a week from today, at 10:00 a.m., on Obama’s proposal for indefinite “preventive detention,” entitled “The Legal, Moral, and National Security Consequences of ‘Prolonged Detention'” (Feingold’s letter excoriating Obama’s proposal is here).  Other Democrats, such as Rep. Jerry Nadler, have already announced they will oppose Obama’s detention policy.  Closing Guantanamo obviously does nothing to solve these problems if the same system of indefinite detention without charges is simply transported to a new location.  As today’s NYT article put it:  “detainees lawyers, including those representing other Yemeni detainees, have been saying that many prisoners are desperate and that many are suicidal because they see no end to their detention.”  It’s the system of indefinite detention with no trials, not the locale of the cage, that is so oppressive and destructive.

 

UPDATE:  Back in January, several human rights groups — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First and the ACLU — sent a letter to Obama  (.pdf) requesting that they be allowed access to Guantanamo in order “to independently review and report on the conditions of confinement there and make concrete recommendations for change.”  They were never given that access.  Instead, the Pentagon simply conducted its own 3o-day review and announced that everything was fine at Guantanamo.

Today, the ACLU called for a full investigation into the “apparent suicide” of Salih and the conditions of confinement there.  The ACLU’s Ben Wizner said:

Tragic deaths like this one have become all too common in a system that locks up detainees indefinitely without charge or trial. . . .

There is no room for a system of indefinite detention without charge or trial under our Constitution. Detainees against whom there is legitimate evidence should be tried in our federal courts — not in the reconstituted military commissions now being proposed.  Those against whom there is no legitimate evidence must not be given a de-facto life sentence by being locked up forever.

I continue to be amazed by the people who spent the last eight years vehemently protesting this system of indefinite, charge-less detention yet are now supporters of it all because the location will change (maybe) and it will be conducted under a different President.

 

UPDATE II:  A 30-year retired police officer from Texas and periodic commenter here, Diana Powe, wrote in comments:

As someone who has literally had to fight to arrest people who only faced the prospect of a potentially limited confinement after a conviction at trial, the fact that some Americans believe that it’s somehow defensible to dismiss someone facing the rest of their life in a cage committing suicide makes me despair for our country.

Also in comments, Affirming Flame notes that the Penatgon’s status report on Salih  reported:  “When the detainee gets released, he hopes to go back to Yemen and get married. Once married, the detainee intends to go to school and become a history or geography teacher.”  Affirming Flame adds:

This an intensely human tragedy that this man gave up on his dreams and his life. Obviously I can’t know what was going through his head during his final moments, but I do not think it is wildly speculative to imagine that he had given up any hope of ever being sent home and so found the only “release” available to him.

It’s very difficult to know why someone commits suicide, if that’s what happened here.  And since he had no trial, one can’t know what Salih did or didn’t do.  But what is not hard to see is that it is simply wrong to imprison people for life with no charges.  That should not be something that we even have to debate.

McChrystal was Cheney’s Chief Assassin May 16, 2009

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Seymour Hersh says that Dick Cheney headed a secret assassination wing and the head of the wing has just been named as the new commander in Afghanistan.

 

[]

In an interview with GulfNews, (the Persian Gulf’s largest daily English language newspaper published from Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates) on May 12, 2009 Pulitzer prize-winning American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, said that there is a special unit called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that does high-value targeting of men that are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities. 

According to Hersh, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was headed by former US vice president Dick Cheney and the former head of JSOC, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal who has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan.

McChrystal, a West Pointer who became a Green Beret not long after graduation, following a stint as a platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne Division, is currently director of Staff at the Pentagon, the executive to Joint staff to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Most of what General McChrystal has done over a 33-year career remains classified, including service between 2003 and 2008 as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, an elite unit so clandestine that the Pentagon for years refused to acknowledge its existence.

On July 22, 2006, Human Rights Watch issued a report titled “No blood, no foul” about American torture practices at three facilities in Iraq. One of them was Camp Nama, which was operated by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), under the direction of then Major General Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal was officially based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, but he was a frequent visitor to Camp Nama and other Special Forces bases in Iraq and Afghanistan where forces under his command were based.

An interrogator at Camp Nama known as Jeff described locking prisoners in shipping containers for 24 hours at a time in extreme heat; exposing them to extreme cold with periodic soaking in cold water; bombardment with bright lights and loud music; sleep deprivation; and severe beatings.

When he and other interrogators went to the colonel in charge and expressed concern that this kind of treatment was not legal, and that they might be investigated by the military’s Criminal Investigation Division or the International Committee of the Red Cross, the colonel told them he had “this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there’s no way that the Red Cross could get in.”

In the July 2, 2006 report, When Human Rights Watch asked whether the interrogator knew whether the colonel was receiving orders or pressures to use the abusive tactics, Jeff said that his understanding was that there was some form of pressure to use aggressive techniques coming from higher up the chain of command; however neither he nor other interrogators were briefed on the particular source.

“We really didn’t know too much about it. We knew that we were only like a few steps away in the chain of command from the Pentagon, but it was a little unclear, especially to the interrogators who weren’t really part of that task force.”

The interrogator said that he did see Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, visiting the Nama facility on several occasions. “I saw him a couple of times. I know what he looks like.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the international body charged under international law with monitoring compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and it, therefore, has the right to inspect all facilities where people are detained in a country that is at war or under military occupation.

To hide prisoners or facilities from the ICRC or to deny access to them is a serious war crime. But many US prisons in Iraq have held “ghost” prisoners whose imprisonment has not been reported to the ICRC, and these “ghosts” have usually been precisely the ones subjected to the worst torture. Camp Nama, run by McChrystal’s JSOC, was an entire “ghost” facility.

The decision by Obama’s administration to appoint General McChrystal as the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan and retaining the military commission for the US war-on-terror detainees held in the Guantanamo Bay prison are the latest examples of the new US administration walking in Bush’s foot steps with regards to torture and denial of habeas corpus.

Canada Should Bar or Prosecute Bush: Lawyer March 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush.
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Foreign Affairs stays silent on upcoming Calgary visit

by Jeremy Klaszus

As George W. Bush’s St. Patrick’s Day visit to Calgary draws near, the federal government is facing pressure from activists and human rights lawyers to bar the former U.S. president from the country or prosecute him for war crimes and crimes against humanity once he steps on Canadian soil.

 

[Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson says that because Bush has been 'credibly accused' of war crimes, Canada should deny him entry. (Photo/Mark Mushet)]Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson says that because Bush has been ‘credibly accused’ of war crimes, Canada should deny him entry. (Photo/Mark Mushet)

Bush is scheduled to speak at the Telus Convention Center March 17, but Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson says that because Bush has been “credibly accused” of supporting torture in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Canada has a legal obligation to deny him entry under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The law says foreign nationals who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, including torture, are “inadmissible” to Canada. 

“The test isn’t whether the person’s been convicted, but whether there’s reasonable grounds to think that they have been involved,” says Davidson, who’s with Lawyers Against the War (LAW). “…It’s now a matter of public record that Bush was in charge of setting up a regime of torture that spanned several parts of the globe and resulted in horrendous injuries and even death. Canada has a duty.”

In February, Davidson sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other cabinet ministers asking the Canadian government to either bar Bush from Canada, prosecute him once he arrives, or have the federal attorney general consent to a private prosecution by LAW against the Texan. She hasn’t received a response, and concedes she’s fighting “an uphill battle” with “terrific challenges.” Davidson laid torture charges against Bush during his visit to Vancouver in 2004, but a judge quashed them within days.

The federal government is keeping silent on the upcoming visit. “We have no comments to offer on the visit of Mr. George W. Bush to Calgary,” said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alain Cacchione in an e-mail to Fast Forward. When told about Davidson’s letter, a spokesperson with the Canadian Border Services Agency said “we wouldn’t comment on something like that.”

Davidson is one of many voices around the world calling for Bush’s prosecution. Earlier this year, Manfred Nowak, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, said the U.S. has a “clear obligation” to prosecute Bush and former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld for authorizing torture – a violation of the UN Convention on Torture. “Obviously the highest authorities in the United States were aware of this,” Nowak told a German TV station in January.

Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director for Human Rights Watch, says that while there’s legally “all the reason in the world” to prosecute decision-makers in the Bush administration, “it’s a different story” politically. “The Obama administration certainly has not given much in the way of encouraging signals for such a prosecution,” says Mariner, who’s based in New York. “Obama has consistently said that he wants to look forward.” Mariner says that while a U.S. justice department investigation is unlikely, a congressional investigation is more probable – and “that could lead to recommendations for prosecution.”

Mariner’s not expecting a Canadian prosecution against Bush. “Obviously the Canadian government would have to be in favor of it, and that seems rather unlikely,” she says.

Calgary activists, meanwhile, are organizing a number of events for the week of Bush’s visit, culminating in a noontime rally outside the Telus Convention Center during Bush’s speech. “We want to give him the welcome that he deserves – which is we want him to go back to the States, or we want him arrested,” says organizer Collette Lemieux. Activist Julie Hrdlicka, who visited Iraq twice during the American occupation, agrees. “We need to send a clear message to him that he’s not welcome,” she says.

Lemieux is hopeful that Bush will eventually be prosecuted. “Do I think that it’s going to happen very soon? No,” she says. “But I think that it’s very important that we keep the pressure up…. We have to make it clear that there’s accountability.”

The Plaza Theatre, meanwhile, is screening three Bush-themed documentaries for a “Bush Bash Film Fest” the night of the visit. Half the box office proceeds will go to the United Way.

Obama and Israel’s Military: Still Arm-in-Arm March 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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 Stephen Zunes | March 4, 2009

Foreign Policy in Focus, http://www.fpif.org

 

In the wake of Israel’s massive assault on heavily populated civilian areas of the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Amnesty International called for the United States to suspend military aid to Israel on human rights grounds. Amnesty has also called for the United Nations to impose a mandatory arms embargo on both Hamas and the Israeli government. Unfortunately, it appears that President Barack Obama won’t be heeding Amnesty’s call.

During the fighting in January, Amnesty documented Israeli forces engaging in “direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, and attacks which were disproportionate or indiscriminate.” The leader of Amnesty International’s fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip and southern Israel noted how “Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes.” Amnesty also reported finding fragments of U.S.-made munitions “littering school playgrounds, in hospitals and in people’s homes.”

Malcolm Smart, who serves as Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East, observed in a press release that “to a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with U.S. taxpayers’ money.” The release also noted how before the conflict, which raged for three weeks from late December into January, the United States had “been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of [its] weapons.”

Amnesty has similarly condemned Hamas rocket attacks into civilian-populated areas of southern Israel as war crimes. And while acknowledging that aid to Hamas was substantially smaller, far less sophisticated, and far less lethal — and appeared to have been procured through clandestine sources — Amnesty called on Iran and other countries to take concrete steps to insure that weapons and weapon components not get into the hands of Palestinian militias.

During the fighting in early January, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization initially called for a suspension of U.S. military aid until there was no longer a substantial risk of additional human rights violations. The Bush administration summarily rejected this proposal. Amnesty subsequently appealed to the Obama administration. “As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart. “The Obama administration should immediately suspend U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Obama’s refusal to accept Amnesty’s call for the suspension of military assistance was a blow to human rights activists. The most Obama might do to express his displeasure toward controversial Israeli policies like the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories would be to reject a planned increase in military aid for the next fiscal year and slightly reduce economic aid and/or loan guarantees. However, in a notable departure from previous administrations, Obama made no mention of any military aid to Israel in his outline of the FY 2010 budget, announced last week. This notable absence may indicate that pressure from human rights activists and others concerned about massive U.S. military aid to Israel is now strong enough that the White House feels a need to downplay the assistance rather than emphasize it.

Obama Tilts Right

Currently, Obama is on record supporting sending up to $30 billion in unconditional military aid to Israel over the next 10 years. Such a total would represent a 25% increase in the already large-scale arms shipments to Israeli forces under the Bush administration.

Obama has thus far failed to realize that the problem in the Middle East is that there are too many deadly weapons in the region, not too few. Instead of simply wanting Israel to have an adequate deterrent against potential military threats, Obama insists the United States should guarantee that Israel maintain a qualitative military advantage. Thanks to this overwhelming advantage over its neighbors, Israeli forces were able to launch devastating wars against Israel’s Palestinian and Lebanese neighbors in recent years.

If Israel were in a strategically vulnerable situation, Obama’s hard-line position might be understandable. But Israel already has vastly superior conventional military capabilities relative to any combination of armed forces in the region, not to mention a nuclear deterrent.

However, Obama has failed to even acknowledge Israel’s nuclear arsenal of at least 200-300 weapons, which has been documented for decades. When Hearst reporter Helen Thomas asked at his first press conference if he could name any Middle Eastern countries that possess nuclear weapons, he didn’t even try to answer the question. Presumably, Obama knows Israel has these weapons and is located in the Middle East. However, acknowledging Israel’s arsenal could complicate his planned arms transfers since it would place Israel in violation of the 1976 Symington Amendment, which restricts U.S. military support for governments which develop nuclear weapons.

Another major obstacle to Amnesty’s calls for suspending military assistance is Congress. Republican leaders like Representatives John Boehner (OH) and Eric Cantor (VA) have long rejected calls by human rights groups to link U.S. military aid to adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. But so have such Democratic leaders, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who are outspoken supporters of unconditional military aid to Israel. Even progressive Democratic Representative Barney Frank (MA), at a press conference on February 24 pushing his proposal to reduce military spending by 25%, dismissed a question regarding conditioning Israel’s military aid package to human rights concerns.

Indeed, in an apparent effort to support their militaristic agenda and to discredit reputable human rights groups that documented systematic Israeli attacks against non-military targets, these congressional leaders and an overwhelming bipartisan majority of their colleagues have gone on record praising “Israel’s longstanding commitment to minimizing civilian loss and…efforts to prevent civilian casualties.” Although Obama remained silent while Israel was engaged in war crimes against the civilian population of Gaza, Pelosi and other congressional leaders rushed to Israel’s defense in the face of international condemnation.

Obama’s Defense of Israeli Attacks on Civilians

Following the 2006 conflict between Israeli armed forces and the Hezbollah militia, in which both sides committed war crimes by engaging in attacks against populated civilian areas, then-Senator Obama defended Israel’s actions and criticized Hezbollah, even though Israel was actually responsible for far more civilian deaths. In an apparent attempt to justify Israeli bombing of civilian population centers, Obama claimed Hezbollah had used “innocent people as shields.”

This charge directly challenged a series of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. These reports found that while Hezbollah did have some military equipment close to some civilian areas, the Lebanese Islamist militia had not forced civilians to remain in or around military targets in order to deter Israel from attacking those targets. I sent Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt a copy of an exhaustive 249-page Human Rights Watch report that didn’t find a single case — out of 600 civilian deaths investigated — of Hezbollah using human shields. I asked him if Obama had any empirical evidence that countered these findings.

In response, LaBolt provided me with a copy of a short report from a right-wing Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli government headed by the former head of the Israeli intelligence service. The report appeared to use exclusively Israeli government sources, in contrast to the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, which were based upon forensic evidence as well as multiple verified eyewitness accounts by both Lebanese living in the areas under attack as well as experienced monitors (unaffiliated with any government or political organization) on the ground. Despite several follow-up emails asking for more credible sources, LaBolt never got back to me.

Not Good for Israel

The militaristic stance by Congress and the Obama administration is hardly doing Israel a favor. Indeed, U.S. military assistance to Israel has nothing to do with Israel’s legitimate security needs. Rather than commencing during the country’s first 20 years of existence, when Israel was most vulnerable strategically, major U.S. military and economic aid didn’t even begin until after the 1967 War, when Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.

If all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately halted, Israel wouldn’t be under a significantly greater military threat than it is today for many years. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces.

Under Obama, U.S. military aid to Israel will likely continue be higher than it was back in the 1970s, when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war, Syria’s military rapidly expanded with advanced Soviet weaponry, armed factions of the PLO launched terrorist attacks into Israel, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its border and demarcation line with Israel, and Iraq embarked on a vast program of militarization. Why does the Obama administration believe that Israel needs more military aid today than it did back then? Since that time, Israel has maintained a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone. Syria’s armed forces were weakened by the collapse of their former Soviet patron and its government has been calling for a resumption of peace talks. The PLO is cooperating closely with Israeli security. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel with full normalized relations. And two major wars and a decade of strict international sanctions have devastated Iraq’s armed forces, which is in any case now under close U.S. supervision.

Obama has pledged continued military aid to Israel a full decade into the future not in terms of how that country’s strategic situation may evolve, but in terms of a fixed-dollar amount. If his real interest were to provide adequate support for Israeli defense, he wouldn’t promise $30 billion in additional military aid. He would simply pledge to maintain adequate military assistance to maintain Israel’s security needs, which would presumably decline if the peace process moves forward. However, Israel’s actual defense needs don’t appear to be the issue.

According to late Israeli major general and Knesset member Matti Peled, — who once served as the IDF’s chief procurement officer, such fixed amounts are arrived at “out of thin air.” In addition, every major arms transfer to Israel creates a new demand by Arab states — most of which can pay hard currency through petrodollars — for additional U.S. weapons to challenge Israel. Indeed, Israel announced its acceptance of a proposed Middle Eastern arms freeze in 1991, but the U.S. government, eager to defend the profits of U.S. arms merchants, effectively blocked it. Prior to the breakdown in the peace process in 2001, 78 senators wrote President Bill Clinton insisting that the United States send additional military aid to Israel on the grounds of massive arms procurement by Arab states, neglecting to note that 80% of those arms transfers were of U.S. origin. Were they really concerned about Israeli security, they would have voted to block these arms transfers to the Gulf monarchies and other Arab dictatorships.

The resulting arms race has been a bonanza for U.S. arms manufacturers. The right-wing “pro-Israel” political action committees certainly wield substantial clout with their contributions to congressional candidates supportive of large-scale military and economic aid to Israel. But the Aerospace Industry Association and other influential military interests that promote massive arms transfers to the Middle East and elsewhere are even more influential, contributing several times what the “pro-Israel” PACs contribute.

The huge amount of U.S. aid to the Israeli government hasn’t been as beneficial to Israel as many would suspect. U.S. military aid to Israel is, in fact, simply a credit line to American arms manufacturers, and actually ends up costing Israel two to three times that amount in operator training, staffing, maintenance, and other related costs. The overall impact is to increase Israeli military dependency on the United States — and amass record profits for U.S. arms merchants.

The U.S. Arms Export Control Act requires a cutoff of military aid to recipient countries if they’re found to be using American weapons for purposes other than internal security or legitimate self-defense and/or their use could “increase the possibility of an outbreak or escalation of conflict.” This might explain Obama’s refusal to acknowledge Israel’s disproportionate use of force and high number of civilian casualties.

Betraying His Constituency

The $30 billion in taxpayer funds to support Israeli militarism isn’t a huge amount of money compared with what has already been wasted in the Iraq War, bailouts for big banks, and various Pentagon boondoggles. Still, this money could more profitably go toward needs at home, such as health care, education, housing, and public transportation.

It’s therefore profoundly disappointing that there has been so little public opposition to Obama’s dismissal of Amnesty International’s calls to suspend aid to Israel. Some activists I contacted appear to have fallen into a fatalistic view that the “Zionist lobby” is too powerful to challenge and that Obama is nothing but a helpless pawn of powerful Jewish interests. Not only does this simplistic perspective border on anti-Semitism, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any right-wing militaristic lobby will appear all-powerful if there isn’t a concerted effort from the left to challenge it.

Obama’s supporters must demand that he live up to his promise to change the mindset in Washington that has contributed to such death and destruction in the Middle East. The new administration must heed calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to condition military aid to Israel and all other countries that don’t adhere to basic principles of international humanitarian law.

 

Stephen Zunes, a Foreign Policy in Focus senior analyst, is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

UK must come clean on torture accusations February 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer, www.onlinejournal.com


Feb 26, 2009, 14:33

 

During the murky eight years of George W. Bush’s White House tenure, there is little doubt that the hands of some British officials became grubby trying to please their US ally.

It has only been a month since ex-President Bush flew off to relative obscurity in Texas but it feels like an age ago. So much has changed climate-wise.

The new administration is making nice with Muslims around the world, has pledged to proactively seek a two-state solution and is rushing to get out of Iraq.

Moreover, President Barack Obama has promised to close Bush’s Guantanamo and has already taken steps to outlaw the practice of torture. His attitudes are as day to Bush’s long dark night. The problem is Bush’s exit leaves Britain holding the baby.

These are all moves which must have provoked a sigh of relief among Whitehall’s mandarins. After all, the former Blair government was arguably arm-twisted into Iraq and was never comfortable with kidnapping individuals on flimsy pretexts before locking them up while awaiting the verdicts of kangaroo military tribunals.

That was the official stance. But now there is evidence that the British secret service may have been complicit in the torturing of “detainees” (a nice innocuous word that deprived incarcerated suspects of their rights under the Geneva Conventions).

And it must be said that if the UK was seriously offended by their treatment, the government would not have waited years before seeking the repatriation of its own citizens and residents.

Now that torture has once again rightfully reverted to being a dirty word within so-called free and democratic societies, Britain’s Foreign Office is trying its best to wipe the stains from its carpet or, to be more precise, is endeavouring to hide them under a rug.

For years, former British detainees eventually allowed to return home have spoken of undergoing harsh interrogations at Camp Delta carried out by American and British interrogators.

Ruhal Ahmad — one of the “Tipton Three” featured in the 2006 docudrama, The Road to Guantanamo — told newspapers that he was interrogated in Afghanistan by an M15 officer and a representative of the Foreign Office.

“All the time I was kneeling with a guy standing on the backs of my legs and another holding a gun to my head,” he recounted. However, such firsthand accounts were not taken seriously until recently.

The case that has recently hurtled the UK’s possible involvement in torture into the spotlight is that of an Ethiopian with British residency, who returned to Britain Monday after being confined to Guantanamo for seven years, where, according to a medical report, he suffered malnutrition, stomach complaints, sores, organ and ligament damage, as well as physical and emotional bruising.

His British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, claims “he has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper. What Binyam [Mohammad] has been through should have been left behind in the Middle Ages.”

But when Mohammad’s plight was taken to a British court, the judges were hamstrung by Foreign Secretary David Miliband who suppressed evidence under the banner of national security.

He claimed that the US administration had warned it would cease sharing intelligence in the event such evidence became public knowledge.

The clearly irritated judges urged the Obama administration to reconsider its position and expressed astonishment “that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence contained in reports by its own officials and relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.”

In reality, the court had been misled. It transpired that the Foreign Office had actually requested the US to issue a letter in those terms to umbrella its own reluctance to disclose British involvement in the torture. This revelation has triggered accusations of cover-up.

Obviously, the right hand does not know what the left hand is up to, as British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has asked Attorney-General Baroness Scotland to investigate “criminal wrongdoing” by UK and US security services related to Mohammad’s allegations.

Now the civil liberties group Human Rights Watch (HRW) is heaping more pressure onto Miliband by alleging that British intelligence officials have interrogated British citizens subsequent to their abuse or torture. HRW has issued a report suggesting at least 10 British detainees have been tortured with the knowledge or collusion of MI5.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office has responded with “our policy is not to participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or inhumane or degrading treatment, for any purpose.” Great! Then prove it!

There is a chance that Mohammad may pursue his case. In that event, Britain should come clean.

If mistakes were made, so be it. There are too many people in the know for them to be swept under a cosy rug.

Mohammad and others like him deserve recompense and an apology. And poised, as we are, on a promised new era of morality and the rule of law, we deserve the truth.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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U.S. Immigration Policies Bring Global Shame on Us February 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration.
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Roberto Lovato, www.huffingtonpost.com, February 26, 2009

As one of the five full-time media relations specialists working for Maricopa County Sheriff and reality TV star Joe Arpaio — “America’s Toughest Sheriff” — Detective Aaron Douglas deals with the world’s media more than most. Though he is a local official, his is often the first voice heard by many of the foreign correspondents covering immigration in the United States.

“We talk to media from literally all over world: New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Chinese and other parts of the Orient,” Douglas drawled in a Southern accent. “We just did a series with a TV station from Mexico City about the isolation of illegal immigrants and why we’re putting them in a tent.” He was referring to a controversial march reported and discussed widely by international media and bloggers last week.

Alongside reports on Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement in Phoenix last week of his plan to revive the American Dream by fixing the U.S. housing crisis that led to the global economic crisis, millions of viewers, listeners and readers around the world also got stories reminiscent of the American nightmare Obama was elected to overcome, Guantanamo. “Immigrant Prisoners Humiliated in Arizona,” was the title of a story in Spain’s Onda Cero radio show; “Arpaio for South African President,” declared a blogger in that country; an op-ed in Mexico’s Cambio newspaper denounced “the inhuman, discriminatory and criminal treatment of immigrants by Arizona’s radical, anti-immigrant Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.” Stories of this week’s massive protest of Arapaio will likely be seen and heard alongside reports of Obama’s speech to Congress in media all over the world, as well.

The proliferation of stories in international media and in global forums about the Guantanamo-like problems in the country’s immigrant detention system — death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards; prolonged and indefinite detention of immigrants (including children and families) denied habeas corpus and other fundamental rights; filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; denial of basic health services — are again tarnishing the U.S. image abroad, according to several experts. As a result, reports from Arizona and immigrant detention facilities have created a unique problem: they are making it increasingly difficult for Obama to persuade the planet’s people that the United States is ready claim exceptional leadership on human rights in a soon-to-be-post-Guantanamo world.

Consider the case of Mexico. Just last week, following news reports from Arizona, the Mexican government, which is traditionally silent or very tepid in its criticism of U.S. immigration and other policies, issued a statement in which it “energetically protested the undignified way in which the Mexicans were transferred to ‘Tent City'” in Maricopa County.

David Brooks, U.S correspondent for Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, believes that immigrant detention stories hit Mexicans closer to home because those reportedly being abused in detention are not from a far off country; they are family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. In the same way that Guantanamo erased the idea of U.S. leadership in human rights in the Bush era, says Brooks, who was born in Mexico, practices in immigrant detention facilities like those reported by global media in Maricopa County may begin to do so in the Obama era if something does not change. “Mexicans have never seen the U.S. as a great model for promotion of human rights. But with Obama we take him at his word. We’re expecting some change,” said Brooks. “But that will not last long if we see him continuing Bush’s [immigration] policies: raids, increasing detention, deportation. Regardless of his excuse, he will quickly become mas de lo mismo (more of the same) in terms of the experience down south.” If uncontested, the expression of such sentiments far beyond Mexico and Mexican immigrants could lead to the kind of American exceptionalism Obama doesn’t want.

In a March 2008 report, Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, concluded that “the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country a national priority, using a comprehensive and coordinated national policy based on clear international obligations.” Asked how his report was received in different countries, Bustamante said, “The non-governmental organizations have really responded. In the United States and outside the United States- in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Indonesia and other countries — NGO’s are using my report to frame their concerns and demands in their own countries — and to raise criticism about the United States.”

For her part, Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, fears a global government “race to the bottom” around immigrant detention policies. “My concern is that as the rest of world sees the United States practices, we increase the risk that this will give the green light to other governments to be just as abusive or more abusive as the United States.”

If there is a positive note to be heard in the growing global chorus of critique of and concern about U.S immigration policy, it is to be found among those human rights activists and groups doing what W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and other civil rights activists did in previous eras: bring their issues to the global stage. Government documents from the civil rights era, documents that were released just a few years ago, illustrate how members of the Kennedy and Johnson State departments and even Kennedy and Johnson themselves were acutely aware of and sensitive to how denunciations in global forums of racial discrimination in United States had a devastating impact on the U.S. prestige abroad.

Such a situation around the rights of migrants today, says Oscar Chacon of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a Chicago-based global NGO run by and for immigrants, creates an opportunity out of the globalization of the images of both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Barack Obama. “The world will be able to see him as the rogue sheriff that he is” said Chacon, who was in Mexico City attending a conference on immigration at which U.S. detention practices were criticized. “And it will be up to the Obama administration to show the world that Arpaio is not a symbol of the rest of the country when it comes to immigration.”

Of Blood and Gold: How Canadian Mining Companies Loot the Congo February 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Canada, Environment.
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Written by John Lasker    www.towardfreedom.com
Thursday, 26 February 2009

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Mining in the DRC

In the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where some analysts say a decade-long “resource war” has taken the lives of millions, a Canadian mining company has caught a fever over gold. Once again, the presence of a foreign mining company in the DRC offers a stunning example of disparity between the “have-mores” of the West and the local Congolese, who seemingly have nothing but violence and struggle. In January of this year the Banro mining company of Canada called on investors to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help them mine one of Africa’s “last great” gold deposits. The deposits are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) province of South Kivu, a region that actually has been spared from the brunt of the long-lasting resource war.

Banro predicts it could mine some 2.6 million ounces of gold over 15 years out of their South Kivu mines. After expenses and paying taxes Banro believes such a haul can generate a net-profit of nearly $600 million US dollars over the 15 years, averaging $40 million per year, if gold stays around $850 per ounce.

Just a few weeks before Banro’s call for mining capital, the United Nations Development Programme released updated statistics for its Human Development Index (HDI). The index tabulates statistics that are critical to revealing a nation’s well-being. The HDI measures life expectancy, standard of living, literacy rate and the number of school-aged children being educated. Out of 179 countries measured the DRC ranks 177th; a ranking for a country with a population of over 65 million.

Life expectancy in the DRC is 46 years. Only 33 percent of the school-aged children are enrolled in some type of school. While the GDP hovers around $300 US dollars, per person, per year. On the other hand in Canada the life expectancy is 80 years. A good education is guaranteed as 99 percent of all school-aged children are in school. And for most adults their yearly average earnings could be around $37,000.

But even with all the disparity Banro will figure out a way to avoid paying their fair-share of taxes to the Congolese, says Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada, a mining industry watch-dog group. “Banro will find ways to get around showing full-profit,” said Kneen. “They will find seventeen different ways to avoid paying the Congolese tax man.”

Kneen has good reason to chastise Banro. Earlier this decade, the UN charged Banro with pillaging minerals from eastern DRC.

What’s more, Banro “wholly-owns” the South Kivu gold mines, says Kneen. “The government owns the resources but the project is owned by Banro. They have to pay taxes and royalties but they can do whatever with the profits.” Banro won 100 percent ownership after suing the DRC government for essentially losing control of the mines during the decade-long war.

According to CorpWatch.org, 60 percent of all the world’s mining companies come from this progressive and multi-cultural nation – mining companies that generate $50 billion a year for Canada. But the irony is, says Kneen, many work outside Canada. In the 1990s they went global, he says, escaping newly enacted and tougher environmental regulations. Environmentally speaking, taking your operation overseas saves your own country from dealing with the mess: 20 tons of waste rock, for instance, comes from the creation of one gold wedding ring.

Canadian mining companies have now spread themselves across the globe, making mining-agreements or concessions with many underdeveloped nations. These days, says Kneen, “the Toronto Stock Exchange is the number one (generator) for mining capital in the world.”

On its web site Banro prides itself “by increasing and developing its significant gold assets in a socially and environmentally responsible manner”. One of its foundations working in South Kivu recently built two high-schools, completed a potable water delivery system serving 18,000 people, built 100 km of roads and shipped in health supplies. On the flip side, China promised to build roads, highways, universities, schools and health centers as part of a $9 billion deal to access Congo minerals.

“Banro will have enough money coming in to do some regional development in South Kivo, which is pretty remote,” says Kneen.

Perhaps hearing the calls for more infrastructure, on February 25th Banro promised another $1 million for Congo projects, adding that they’ll pay more taxes on potential profits.

Nevertheless, in an effort to reassure investors over the region’s off-again, on-again wars – caused mostly by the plundering of Congo minerals by rebels, mining multi-nationals and DRC’s neighboring countries, such as Rwanda and Uganda – Banro has publicly said South Kivu’s lack of infrastructure is actually a good thing.

“There’s very little transportation infrastructure between where the fighting is and where (Banro’s mines are)” said Martin Jones, Banro’s vice-president of corporate development in a February issue of The Northern Miner, a trade-association magazine. The fighting, he claimed, is 200 kilometers or more away and “is unlikely to spread (and) the issues that are being fought over…have limited impact on people in the rest of the Congo.” Keep in mind this is a conflict where the UN says 45,000 women were raped in 2005, and in some cases as reported by the Independent, deliberately wounded in sexual organs by firearms.

The Banro deal in the DRC is the future of Canadian mining in central Africa. To offer some context, here is some past history of several Canadian mining companies in central Africa:

In October of 2004, Anvil Mining, the leading copper producer in the DRC, had to shut down production at their Dikulushi Mine when a so-called “rebellion” took place in a nearby village – a rebellion of “ten to twelve” villagers that had nothing to do with mining, said Kneen. Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), of the DRC government, proceeded to seize the town, says Kneen, then went door-to-door “raping and pillaging”. Between 70 to 100 civilians were killed including women and children. Kneen said the Congo forces had Anvil’s “full cooperation”. Anvil claimed the Congo forces basically put a gun to their chest. Anvil nevertheless offered up trucks and logistics, says Kneen, trucks that transported troops and dead civilians. In the aftermath, the Canadian government essentially looked the other way. “They refused to investigate because there’s no legal mechanism in place,” says Kneen.

Anvil is supposed to adhere to OECD guidelines for multi-national corporations, a voluntary set of moral standards for working in another country established by the think-tank the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, based in France. But the Canadian government – like many Western governments – do not enforce OECD guidelines.

Canada’s Barrick Gold is the world’s largest producer of gold. In a 2005 Human Rights Watch report entitled The Curse of Gold, Barrick Gold and other mining companies are accused of making mining agreements in 2002 with two eastern DRC militias that had control of the mines. Both militias were also in the midst of murdering hundreds of civilians. In return for the gold mines, the militias were given housing and trucks, among other appeasements. Incredibly, as highlighted by independent journalist and Congo-expert Keith Harmon Snow, Barrick’s current and past advisors and directors include former US president George H.W. Bush, former Prime Minister of Canada Brian Mulroney, Vernon Jordan, a close friend to Bill Clinton, and one-time Tennessee senator Howard Baker. Snow says Barrick and one its partners, Anglo-Ashanti, even sent in lawyers to help represent leaders of the militias after some were apprehended by the DRC government.

In 2001 the UN released their “Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo”. Out of the 29 mining multi-nationals the report accuses of stealing resources out of the DRC, eight are from Canada. They are American Mineral Fields, First Quantum, Hrambee Mining, International Panorama Resources, Kinross Gold, Melkior Resources, Tenke and Banro.

Analysts suggest the resource wars in the DRC are partially fueled by the fact that Western multi-nationals – with the help of host governments – are able to invade an underdeveloped nation, and take its wealth right out from under the feet of the general population. And in this case, the DRC could certainly use all the profits to benefit its own development. With that in mind, any Western mining project in the DRC should be looked upon with caution and skepticism.

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John Lasker is a freelance journalist from central Ohio. Photo by Julien Harneis

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