Categorized | Middle East



Muslims and Jews get close in New York

Posted: 14 Sep 2010

This warms the heart. Jews and Muslims praying next to each other in the Bronx. It’s possible:

What erasing Iraq means on the ground

Posted: 14 Sep 2010

Iraqis still remain almost invisible when the war is being discussed. Far easier for the corporate press to interview a US general who blathers about something.

But Iraqi refugee schoolchildren are struggling in Syria and literally millions of Iraqis are displaced, abused and lost.

All these issues are addressed in my friend Mike Otterman’s recently released work, Erasing Iraq.


A massive payout coming the way of Assange?

Posted: 14 Sep 2010

Guy Rundle reports in today’s Crikey that Julian Assange should be defended and supported by those who believe in human rights (and don’t want to back imperial wars in the Middle East or beyond):

The treatment of WikiLeaks’ spokesperson Julian Assange, facing investigations of harassment and rape, has been disgraceful, leading international human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson has said from London, and the Australian government should make a formal protest to the Swedish ambassador on behalf of Assange, an Australian citizen.

“Mr Assange has been the victim of utterly incompetent prosecutors who have severely damaged his rights — the rights that every person in Europe has granted to them under the European convention,” Robertson said, speaking exclusively to Crikey last week.

“The Australian government — now that we have a government — should carpet the Swedish ambassador and make a formal protest against the treatment of Assange.”

Assange, based in Sweden, faces charges of “harassment” arising from inquiries and complaints made by two women to the Swedish police in August, one a press officer for a faction of the Social Democratic Party. A charge of rape was also issued by a duty prosecutor at the country’s prosecution service, before being withdrawn 24 hours later.

The investigation of the rape charge was then reopened by Marianne Ny, head of Sweden’s prosecution service. The two complainants are on record as stating that they were not alleging r-pe charges against Assange, and the latter charges were only reopened after they hired prominent lawyer Claes Borgstrom, also a powerful figure in the ruling Social Democrat Party. Ny is a prominent advocate of extending the crime of rape and sexual assault in wider areas of sexual behaviour, and the rape investigation was reopened after Borgstrom approached her personally.

The charges against Assange came several weeks after WikiLeaks released a cache of nearly 80,000 US government documents covering ongoing Afghan war operations, revealing higher levels of civilian casualties at US-alliance hands, and a bleak picture of US progress in the war.

The timing of these events led many to speculate on the possibility that WikiLeaks’ highest profile figure may have been drawn into a sting based on Sweden’s comprehensive and wide-ranging s-x crime and harassment laws, as a way of splitting progressive support for the organisation. US counter-intelligence bureau documents have previously spoken of destroying WikiLeaks by attacking its existence as a “centre of trust” for diverse groups of activists and whistleblowers.

“Mr Assange may have been naïve but he is not a criminal,” Robertson remarked, and suggested that even if Swedish prosecutors proceeded with charges, higher authorities would come to his aid.

“In due course I predict that the European Court of Human Rights would uphold Assange’s position and order the Swedish government to compensate him. His lawyers should already be preparing for that eventuality.”

The Swedish prosecution service is due to make an announcement on its investigations this week. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks is preparing to release a new cache of documents on the Iraq war, and rumoured to number as high as 200,000. The release will be done in conjunction with the non-profit Bureau for Investigative Journalism, Newsweek, and other outlets.


This web thing will go nowhere

Posted: 13 Sep 2010

The internet will never take off, a mere fad with no human contact.

A writer in 1995 argues.


Sri Lanka must be condemned, without ifs or buts

Posted: 13 Sep 2010

An important editorial in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that undermines its argument by continuing the Western corporate press obsession with the supposed dictatorship of Hugo Chavez. Human rights abuses obviously occur in Venezuela but the nation isn’t a police state and attempts to paint it otherwise, or compare it to the brutal regime in Colombo, are absurd:

On first running for president of Sri Lanka in 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged to abolish the ”executive presidency” because of the excessive powers that had grown around the position to a dangerous degree since the island nation replaced its British-model constitution nearly 40 years ago.

That was then. Since taking office, Rajapaksa has grown to like wielding those powers. Now, buoyed by last year’s bloody victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers and a landslide re-election in January – partly achieved by widespread abuse of those powers, according to impartial observers – the President is taking ever more discretion unto himself.

Last week, after securing the support of a few loose backbenchers to build a two-thirds majority in parliament, Rajapaksa’s government passed an amendment to the constitution removing the article that limits a president to two six-year terms. A second amendment reduces, perhaps removes effectively, a previous limit on the powers of the president to appoint and dismiss members of the supposedly independent commissions that supervise elections, the police, the central bank and the public service and inquire into human rights abuses and corruption. The aim, says the Sri Lankan foreign minister, is not to politicise these institutions but to ”ensure better governance, that effective people are appointed”. But of course!

The whole process of constitutional amendment took only two weeks from the government securing the necessary majority and tabling the legislation. The main opposition parties either boycotted the vote or opposed the amendments. Jehan Perera, the respected head of Sri Lanka’s National Peace Council, contrasted this rush with ”countries with stable and successful political systems [that] have engaged in mass education and public consultations for a considerable period of time prior to changing the constitution”.

Rajapaksa joins Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as the most recent example of incumbent presidents removing constitutional restrictions against running indefinitely. Both are demagogic politicians with a high degree of current popularity. Yet the sad precedent is that as popularity ebbs, such presidents become increasingly authoritarian and corrupt as they enjoy power and fear to step down.

Already Rajapaksa has gone a long way down that path. The end of the war against the Tamils has not led to the lifting of emergency powers. Death squads still do their work around Colombo against critical journalists and human rights activists. A government minister led protests against the UN investigation of abuses. Three of the president’s brothers occupy powerful government positions. We can expect more desperate Tamils fleeing by boat, and more political refugees of all ethnicities coming by regular transport. 


Only fools accept anything coming out Netanyahu’s mouth

Posted: 13 Sep 2010

Haaretz writer Akiva Eldar gets headline of the week:

Obama may believe Netanyahu, but no one else does

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