Categorized | Middle East



Keeping kids behind bars has become the Australian way

15 Oct 2010

With news that Australia may soon release a number of families and children from immigration detention to live in the community while their claims are processed, Mary Crock, Professor of Public Law at the University of Sydney, says how isolated our policy really is:

What strikes me is how unaware we are of what other countries are doing.

We are really by ourselves when it comes to keeping asylum seekers in detention for the length of their processing time. Every other country around the world has mechanisms for allowing people out if they don’t pose any threat to the community.


Wikileaks and avoiding September 11

15 Oct 2010

A provocative question in the LA Times:

If WikiLeaks had been around in 2001, could the events of 9/11 have been prevented?

Decisions to speak out inside or outside one’s chain of command — let alone to be seen as a whistle-blower or leaker of information — is fraught with ethical and legal questions and can never be undertaken lightly. But there are times when it must be considered. Official channels for whistle-blower protections have long proved illusory. In the past, some government employees have gone to the media, but that can’t be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources. For all of these reasons, WikiLeaks provides a crucial safety valve.

How torture was freely used in a post 9/11 moral haze

15 Oct 2010

What the Bush administration stood for and remember how little Barack Obama has changed this mindset:

In 2002, as the Bush administration was turning to torture and other brutal techniques for interrogating “war on terror” detainees, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz loosened rules against human experimentation, an apparent recognition of legal problems regarding the novel strategies for extracting and evaluating information from the prisoners.

Wolfowitz issued his directive on March 25, 2002, about a month after President George W. Bush stripped the detainees of traditional prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions. Bush labeled them “unlawful enemy combatants” and authorized the CIA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to undertake brutal interrogations.

Despite its title – “Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research” – the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to “prisoners of war.”

“We’re dealing with a special breed of person here,” Wolfowitz said about the war on terror detainees only four days before signing the new directive.

One former Pentagon official, who worked closely with the agency’s ex-general counsel William Haynes, said the Wolfowitz directive provided legal cover for a top-secret Special Access Program at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which experimented on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects and to achieve “deception detection.”

“A dozen [high-value detainees] were subjected to interrogation methods in order to evaluate their reaction to those methods and the subsequent levels of stress that would result,” said the official.

Serco and friends line up for dirty and profitable work

15 Oct 2010

How many more people can we exploit for profit? Far too many, it seems:

Jimmy Mubenga died during deportation from the UK, and the first fingers of blame will undoubtedly be pointed at the Home Office-contracted private security firm, G4S. But we need to look at ourselves and ask how we became a society that will now effect deportations by almost any means possible.

Anyone employed as an immigration adviser, as I am, is aware of the use and abuse of state-sanctioned force against immigrants that lies just beneath the Home Office UK Border Agency‘s “firm but fair” rhetoric. I’ll never forget representing a 24-year-old Ugandan woman who was HIV-positive and weighed only six stone, who bravely spoke out to the BBC about her treatment by officers inside Colnbrook immigration removal centre: “Two were holding my arms, two were holding my legs and then they hit my head on the floor,” she said. “I was feeling pain and then they twisted my arms and pressed my head on the bed. “I couldn’t breathe and then I was shouting ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ but they were just twisting it harder.”

For his part, Tom Riall, chief executive of the home affairs division of Serco, which runs Colnbrook, said staff there do their jobs “with care and decency and considerable respect for all of those in our charge”. “We only use physical restraint as a last resort,” he added.

The NGO Medical Justice has documented allegations of brutality during immigrants’ detention and removal, while the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture provides a shocking catalogue of injuries sustained by failed asylum seekers on being removed from the UK: “Loss of consciousness; tooth coming loose, bleeding from the mouth; testicular pain; difficulty passing urine; nose bleed, sprained neck from having neck forcibly flexed (head pushed down); bony tenderness over the cheekbone from a punch to the face; abrasion over the cheekbone from being dragged along the ground; lip laceration (splitting) from having head pushed down against the ground; bruising under the jaw and tenderness over the larynx from fingers being pressed to the throat; laceration over the temple from having head banged against hard object …”


Meeting Tony Abbott in Sydney and shooting the Palestinian breeze

15 Oct 2010

Last night I attended an event in central Sydney at Gleebooks with Leader of the Liberal Opposition Tony Abbott and writer and speech-writer Bob Ellis.

The room was packed with around 200 people and the two men initially talked about the war in Afghanistan (Abbott backs it, “the best of the worst options” for the country), refugees, this year’s election campaign, the release of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks  (“I hope he’s learned his lesson and can move on with his life”) and the Labor government. He’s oddly likeable, even if his politics are laced with hardline Catholicism and conservatism. Abbott can be arrogant and deluded but also self-deprecating and charming. It’s no wonder he nearly won this year’s election against a Labor rabble of belief-free politicians.

I stood up and asked a question about the Middle East: “At what point will you, the Liberal Party and the major parties in the West recognise Israel for what it is rather than what you want it to be? Israel brutally occupies the Palestinians and the West stays largely silent. What will it take for you to look honestly at the situation and not simply mouth pro-Israel platitudes?”

Abbott said he had visited Israel a few times and believed in a two-state solution, a Jewish state and Palestinian state, and acknowledged the situation wasn’t “perfect” but remained far better than every other country in the region. He talked positively about the rights of Israeli Arabs in Israel but ignored the Palestinians in the occupied territories. I sensed he didn’t know too much about it all – at a few points he stated that he wasn’t an “expert” – but he seemed to be mouthing platitudes. The “lines” were repeated over and over again.

After, while signing books, I approached Abbott again and we talked for a few minutes about the conflict. He said he had visited Israel as a guest of the government and only been taken to where they wanted to show him. When I said that there were Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, he said that was “bad” and looked uncomfortable. I urged him to visit the region again and spend time in the West Bank and even Gaza. Abbott told me that he “admired” Israel because of its supposedly thriving democracy, free and open debate and ability of Arabs to vote and participate in the democratic process. It was a postcard version of the truth, ignoring the inherent discrimination within Israel and utterly forgetting the Palestinian territories.


Assange; the importance of making powerful enemies

14 Oct 2010

In the annual “50 People Who Matter 2010” for New Statesman, John Pilger endorses Julian Assange and Wikileaks; guts that matters and so necessary:

The arrival of WikiLeaks is one of the most exciting developments in the enduring struggle of ordinary people for the right to call secret power to account. This is what journalism should do.

For all the lip-service paid to Edmund Burke’s idea of a fourth estate, the media remain an extension of the established order. The current wars demonstrate this. Instead of exposing the lies that have led to the carnage, journalists, with honourable exceptions, have amplified and echoed them. Scott McClellan, George W Bush’s former press secretary, says his administration relied on the media’s “complicit enablers”.

WikiLeaks, says its founder Julian Assange, has “created a space that permits a form of journalism which lives up to the name that journalism has always tried to establish for itself”. This year, WikiLeaks has released tens of thousands of official documents that describe the casual, almost industrial killing of civilians, assassination squads, and attempts at cover-up.

Anyone watching the leaked cockpit video of an Apache helicopter gunning down cameramen and children in Baghdad will not forget the pilot’s reaction: “Nice.” Having witnessed the brutalising effects of war, I felt like cheering when this was exposed and I read that it was viewed 4.8 million times in one week. This is the new “space” for a truth-telling we need urgently, as great power promotes its “perpetual war” and strives for what it calls “information dominance”.

I have got to know Julian Assange, and what strikes me most about him is the unabashed morality he invests in WikiLeaks. It is unusual to hear the words: “The goal is justice, the method is transparency.” He reminds me of one of our compatriots, Wilfred Burchett, the courageous reporter who incurred the wrath of the powerful by exposing the “atomic plague” of the Hiroshima bomb. Like Burchett, Assange has made some serious enemies for blowing such a loud whistle; the Pentagon has already threatened to “terminally marginalise” WikiLeaks. And this is his great risk and his honour.

I asked him what he had learned most from his glimpses of rampant power. “In one way or another I’ve been reading generals’ emails since I was 17,” he said (he is 39), “and what I see now is a vast, sprawling estate that is becoming more and more secretive and uncontrolled. “This is not a sophisticated conspiracy; it is a movement of self-interest to produce an end result that is [the wars in] Iraq and Afghanistan, which are used to wash money out of the US tax base and back to [arms] companies like Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.” Another release of leaked documents is due soon.

I salute such principled audacity.


Using bio-fuel and chocolate to cure the world

14 Oct 2010

I met this lovely British guy, former journalist Andy Pag, in Ubud, Bali last week and he’s on quite a journey:


Serco and friends take refugees and show them the door

14 Oct 2010

Exporting misery is a nice little earner:

The scale of Britain’s largely privatised deportation industry has mushroomed as the Home Office responds to political pressure for the faster removal of failed asylum-seekers and people overstaying their visas.

There are 11 immigration removal centres across the country with space for around 3,000 detainees. Most are operated by private security companies such as G4S, GEO Ltd or Serco; several are managed by the Prison Service.

G4S – formerly known as Group 4 Securicor – runs Dungavel in Scotland, Oakington near Cambridge, Brook House and Tinsley House, both on the perimeter of Gatwick Airport, on behalf of the UK Border Agency. Oakington is due to close next month.

The company, which claims to be the second largest private employer in the world with 595,000 staff, is also the main contractor providing services to escort those removed from the UK on repatriation flights overseas.

Additionally, G4S runs the UK Border Agency’s Transport PLUS service, which shuttles asylum-seekers to and from their accommodation and key sites in the UK.

Failed asylum-seekers and deported visa overstayers are either put on scheduled commercial flights or gathered up in periodic round-ups for mass deportations on specially chartered flights. They are always accompanied by private security guards.

There are usually at least twice as many security guards as deportees. The Home Office insists that use of force is a “matter of last resort” if someone becomes disruptive or refuses to comply, or to prevent deportees from harming themselves. Handcuffs and, in exceptional cases, leg restraints can be used.


Australian unions recognise the power and necessity of BDS

14 Oct 2010

Now this is news, a growing realisation that the status-quo in Palestine is simply oppressing Palestinians. Civil society is rising:

Australian unions are signing up to an international campaign to boycott Israeli goods.

But a fight is brewing over a proposal for the Australian Council of Trade Unions to endorse the movement.

The broad-based divestment and boycott campaign is targeting companies that profit from the Israeli settlements.

The Electrical Trades Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Queensland branch of the Rail Tram and Bus Union and the Finance Sector Union have all passed a resolution supporting the international campaign of “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) against Israel.

Communications Electrical Plumbing Union national secretary Peter Tighe told The Australian the electrical branch of his union had adopted the resolution and he would now take it to the broader CEPU, then the ACTU.

“We had a 30 or 40 minute presentation from a delegate who had visited Palestine,” Mr Tighe said.

“The council decided we would support the BDS. We are not anti-Jewish; we just think the human misery over there is outrageous. We think the Israeli government is captive to some extreme views on the Right.

“We think it’s got to a stage where we are going to have to have bans across the board.

“Working people can’t sit on their hands forever.”

Mr Tighe, who sits on the ACTU executive, will take a resolution to the peak union body.

“We will use our influence within the ALP to push this position,” he said.

“Now you have a few unions with the same view and we can influence the political process more, we are not just one voice.”

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes said he would fight any plan to see the ACTU endorse the sanctions.

“We don’t believe that it’s in the interests of Palestinian or Israeli workers to seek to divide them in the peace process,” Mr Howes said.

“Unions are free to do what they wish but certainly I think it’s a bit naive. Some unions are not fully aware of what they are signing on to.”

Of course, the Australian editorial opposes any kind of BDS, simply hoping and praying that someone, somewhere, will convince Israel to give up its occupation. Without pressure and pain, this will never happen:

If there is logic behind the international campaign to boycott Israel and the decision of some Australian trade unions to back it, we are struggling to see it.

Assuming sanctions work (and that is a big assumption), there are many regimes with a far greater claim to global opprobrium than that of Israel, a nation the Left once supported. The frustrating truth is that nothing has changed on the ground to justify the international Left’s perfidy. Everyone of goodwill agrees where this conflict will end, with two states separated by borders that approximate the 1967 boundaries and Jerusalem as a shared capital. So let’s make it happen.

The starting point must be talks without precondition. The Palestinians must dump their disingenuous tactic of linking construction of West Bank settlements with a return to the negotiating table. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, must use the advantages of incumbency to resist pressure from the Right and orthodox religious parties and pursue a path to peace that allows room for compromise. While political chaos would be in nobody’s interests — not that of the Israelis nor the Palestinians — Mr Netanyahu should not hoard a cent of his political capital in the pursuit of peace.

Settlements, however, are not the main issue. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority leader, has negotiated with the Israelis in the past without demanding the sort of freeze on construction he now insists is a precondition to resuming talks. Any further delays would betray a basic lack of enthusiasm among Mr Abbas and his colleagues for negotiations and an attempt by them to drive a wedge between Israel and the Obama administration, which erred by allowing the settlements issue to assume the centrality that it has.

Mr Netanyahu, of course, has not helped by backing legislation in the Knesset that requires new non-Jewish citizens to take a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. The best hope is that this is part of a broader strategy aimed at shoring up essential political support that will assist him in eventually striking a peace deal. The presence of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on a state visit to south Beirut is a salutary reminder of just how urgent it is for both men to get to grips with reality.

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