Categorized | Middle East



Australia’s desire to shame Tamils refugees

Posted: 13 Aug 2010

Two young journalists have produced a remarkable ABC radio documentary about the Australian government’s behaviour towards Tamil asylum seekers in the last 12 months:

In October 2009 a boatload of asylum seekers were rescued by an Australian customs vessel the Oceanic Viking. The 78 were brought to Indonesia to be sent to Tanjung Pinang detention centre but the people refused to get off the boat. What followed was a month-long siege and international headlines. Over the last eight months John Connell and Paul Farrell have tracked down some of the people to find out what happened to them on the boat and afterwards.

ABC featured a small news story about these revelations a few days ago but it only touched the surface, not least the acceptance by Australia of a handful of Guantanamo Bay prisoners in exchange for Washington taking some of “our” Tamils.

This is a tale of lies and secrecy, paranoid officials and scared refugees. To think that Australia can’t provide safe haven for a handful of people fleeing persecution is both absurd and shameful.


Pentagon slashing needs to go to its heart

Posted: 13 Aug 2010

The debate over cuts in the Pentagon is almost comical. America’s empire footprint remains massive and there are no serious plans to reduce Washington’s meddling in the Middle East or beyond.

That’s what matters in the end and how the world views the super-power. More than a few generals need to be axed. It’s a mindset that requires change:

Raymond F. DuBois, a defense official during the George W. Bush administration, said he would advise Gates to take a methodical approach by targeting 20 percent of all four-star commanders and reclassifying their jobs as three-star generals and admirals. Then he would take 20 percent of the three-star officers and take them down to two stars, and keep doing the same until the ranks are flattened out. “Start with the top, don’t start with the bottom,” he said.

But DuBois added that he would be reluctant to cut many one-star jobs, which he said are necessary to keep as career incentives for ambitious colonels and captains.

“In a military that needs to retain its best and brightest,” said DuBois, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “it is an enormously important retention factor.”


Lebanon shouldn’t take Washington’s backing

Posted: 13 Aug 2010

An interesting editorial in Arab News that highlights the growing desire in the Middle East to shake off American bullying:

The Lebanese government is absolutely right to have turned down $100 million of US arms aid because of the malign conditions that were attached to it at the last moment by the House of Representatives in Washington.

In essence, the aid was to be offered on the condition that the arms it would have bought, from US suppliers naturally, could not be used against Israelis. The condition, moved by the chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman is as muddle-headed as it is unjust. It illustrates the blinkers that continue to be worn by senior US legislators. The Lebanese armed forces are woefully underequipped and need the new weapons that the aid would have bought. Their record, however, is hardly one of aggression against Lebanon’s southern neighbor. Lebanese troops have never invaded and occupied a huge swathe of northern Israel. Lebanese warplanes have never sped into Israel and bombed in detail power stations, oil supply depots, bridges and roads. Lebanese artillery has never conduct long-range bombardments of Israeli towns and cities.

Yet the Berman amendment made the ludicrous stipulation that any arms for which the US paid could not be used against Israel. Thus we could have had the situation that when Israel chooses again to wreak devastation in Lebanon the Lebanese defense forces could not fire on the attackers with any of their new armaments. Berman would have effectively ensured that Israel would be free to behave as outrageously and illegally as it liked without the Lebanese defense forces being able to defend themselves.


A little Wikileaks backlash (but missing the real target)

Posted: 12 Aug 2010

So it begins.

The Pentagon warns Wikileaks not to release any more information, as the group is now threatening. Not something to be taken seriously, considering the source.

Then there’s Reporters Without Borders issuing an open letter to Julian Asssange asking him to be far more careful in the future when releasing information and not allegedly risking people’s lives in a place like Afghanistan. It’s a necessary debate:

Defending yourself, you said that it was about “ending the war in Afghanistan.” You also argued that: “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.” However, the US government has been under significant pressure for some time as regards the advisability of its military presence in Afghanistan, not just since your article’s publication. We are not convinced that your wish to “end the war in Afghanistan” will be so easily granted and meanwhile, you have unintentionally provided supposedly democratic governments with good grounds for putting the Internet under closer surveillance.

The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill calls for perspective and an end to hypocrisy:

Four months before WikiLeaks rocketed to international notoriety, the Robin Hoods of the Internet quietly published a confidential CIA document labeled “NOFORN” (for “no foreign nationals”)—meaning that it should not be shared even with US allies. That’s because the March “Red Cell Special Memorandum” was a call to arms for a propaganda war to influence public opinion in allied nations. The CIA report describes a crisis in European support for the Afghanistan war, noting that 80 percent of German and French citizens are against increasing their countries’ military involvement. The report suggests that “Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the [International Security Assistance Force] role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory.”

On July 25 WikiLeaks published its massive cache of classified documents on the war in Afghanistan. Four days later, Time magazine posted on its website its August 9 cover story, featuring a horrifying image of a beautiful young Afghan woman named Aisha with a gaping hole where her nose once was, under the headline “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan”—echoing the strategy laid out in the Red Cell report [see Ann Jones, “Our Afghan Demons,” page 4].

These two media events unfolded in starkly different ways. While Time has been praised for telling Aisha’s story, WikiLeaks has been characterized as a criminal syndicate with blood on its hands. Former Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen called for the United States to use whatever means necessary to snatch WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, including rendering him from abroad. Others have called for the United States to shut down WikiLeaks and prosecute its members. Michigan Republican Congressman Mike Rogers has called for the alleged leaker, 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, to be executed if he is convicted.

Time managing editor Richard Stengel drew the contrast with WikiLeaks in an editor’s letter accompanying the story, claiming that the WikiLeaks documents, unlike the Time article, fail to provide “insight into the way life is lived” in Afghanistan or to speak to “the consequences of the important decisions that lie ahead.” Actually, the documents do exactly that. WikiLeaks may not be a media outlet and Assange may not be a journalist, but why does it matter? The documents provide concrete evidence of widespread US killings of Afghan civilians and attempts to cover up killings, and they portray unaccountable Special Operations forces as roaming the country hunting people—literally. They describe incidents of mass outrage sparked by the killing of civilians and confirm that the United States is funding both sides of the war through bribes paid to the Taliban and other resistance forces.


Bush and Obama both like illegal acts, discuss

Posted: 12 Aug 2010

The ACLU releases a new report, “Establishing a New Normal”, that explains how the Obama administration has followed most of the Bush years’ worst and illegal practices, such as indefinite detention of “terror” suspects, military commissions, Guantanamo Bay, targeted assassinations (murder in other words) and the list goes on.

Change we can believe in.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald further examines the “digital surveillance state“.


Israel has nuclear weapons and shouldn’t

Posted: 12 Aug 2010

“The reality of a nuclear Middle East is becoming increasingly likely“, writes Ze’ev Maoz in Haaretz.

There is already a nuclear power in the Middle East, existing outside any international inspections or norms.


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