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MSM ignoring real Wikileaks story; US killing Iraqi civilians

Posted: 03 Sep 2011


The good mercenary life in Africa

Posted: 03 Sep 2011

Who said being a private security thug wasn’t profitable in the age of capitalism on crack (via South African paper The New Age)?:

Thirty-five Special Forces-trained South Africans were responsible for this week’s audacious operation that spirited Muammar Gaddafi’s wife and three children from Libya to safety in Algeria.

The “battle hardened Iraq veterans”, who were apparently paid $15000 (R105000) each, were recruited three weeks ago, after being interviewed at a Sandton hotel.

Details of the operation were revealed to The New Age this week by a source close to the group, who said he was invited to take part but declined.

And while Libya’s Transitional National Council was this week seeking the return of Gaddafi’s family from Algeria, the group of mercenaries is believed to be on standby to conduct further similar operations.

“We’d like those persons to come back,” rebels’ spokesperson Mahmud Shammam said of the Gaddafi family after Algiers on Monday announced that Gaddafi’s wife, Safiya, two sons, a daughter and their children, had crossed the border into that country.

The New Age has learnt reliably that interviews for the extraction operation were conducted on August 17 at the Balalaika hotel in Sandton by Sarah Penhold, who operates from Kenya.

The New Age has seen copies of an email sent to a former SA Special Forces operative, inviting him for an interview.

Penhold describes herself on the internet as an executive protection and security specialist proficient in a wide range of firearm handling and safety techniques.

Her LinkedIn profile reads: “Trained in advanced and tactical high-speed driving. Medically trained to first aid level 2 and 3, with a focus on trauma injuries.”

She describes herself as an “excellent communicator, with good interpersonal skills” who is “able to work as part of a team or as an individual”.

She describes herself as being a “resourceful operator, with well-honed planning and communication skills, who is adaptable and able to work well under pressure and to tight deadlines”.

The mercenary group left South Africa two days after the interviews, flying from OR Tambo airport to Dubai.

From there they flew to Tunisia, which shares borders with Algeria and Libya, where they were issued with firearms. They then travelled by road into Libya.

According to a source close to the men involved, some members of the group last week phoned home, saying that they were holed up in a Tunisian hotel.

“They described their situation as very complicated,” according to the source, who asked not to be named as he feared retribution from the South African authorities.

Although the men may not have not breached any international laws, they can expect problems with the South African authorities on their return home, according to Prof André Thomashausen, professor of international law and director of the Institute of Foreign and Comparative Law at the University of South Africa.

“The draconic Foreign Military Assistance Act leaves no loophole for South Africans to sell their military skills abroad,” Thomashausen said. “It gives the government enormous powers to pursue and prosecute.”

The gospel according to Tony Abbott (future Australian leader?)

Posted: 02 Sep 2011

The Liberal Opposition leader Tony Abbott is interviewed in today’s Murdoch Australian by Greg Sheridan, a man who never saw a war he didn’t love to watch (from a distance). The message? Abbott loves America, Israel, the West, the “war on terror” and anything Washington asks. That’s not a foreign policy; its sycophancy:

I ask him whether Australia should oppose a resolution at the UN to declare a Palestinian state regardless of negotiations with Israel. Abbott replies: “My instinct would be to do nothing which would prejudice the continued viable existence of Israel. There are a number of countries close to Australia in outlook and values and Israel is certainly one of those [ed: so Australia values a violent occupation of another people?]. Israel is under existential threat in ways that probably no other country on Earth is and it does no good for Australia to seek brownie points with other countries by trifling with Israel’s security.”

Howard was the most pro-Israel prime minister Australia has produced. Abbott would be in Howard’s tradition, and perhaps even more so than Howard.

Abbott’s choice of the statesman he has most admired is, unsurprisingly, Winston Churchill, “the greatest democratic leader the world has seen”.

“In more recent times, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan would rank up there with the best of them.”

But then he adds a perhaps surprising choice: “At least as a foreign policy prime minister, I also think Tony Blair made a very important and influential contribution.”

What Abbott likes about these leaders is that they didn’t apologise for Western civilisation and Western values. Apology is unlikely to be the dominant motif of Abbott’s foreign policy either.

Australia’s dyfunctional neighbour that we keep on funding

Posted: 02 Sep 2011

This Wikileaks document is revealing because of the general lack of public discussion in Australia about the massive amounts of aid given to Papua New Guinea or the resource curse that besets the nation:

Papua New Guinea is entrapped by deeply corrupt politicians who have enriched themselves on resource revenues and Australian aid programs, according to United States diplomatic reports.

Australian government officials are reported as saying that generational change in PNG politics following the eventual departure of the ailing founding father and former prime minister Sir Michael Somare is a “false hope”. They describe the PNG government as a ”totally dysfunctional blob”.

The damning assessments of Australia’s nearest neighbour and former trust territory are contained in confidential US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to The Saturday Age.

In a 2008 briefing the US embassy in Port Moresby noted that resource revenues and Australian aid have served “more to enrich the political elite than to provide social services or infrastructure. There are no large-scale local businessmen, but numerous politicians are relatively well off”.

PNG is Australia’s largest recipient of foreign aid and in 2011-12 will receive more than $480 million. The Australian development assistance agency, AusAID, says PNG has “some of the worst health and education outcomes in the Asia-Pacific region”.

Anxious to avoid diplomatic offence, Australian government ministers and officials rarely talk openly about corruption and maladministration in PNG, preferring to speak of “strengthening governance” and helping “institution building”. But the cables provide grim assessments of PNG’s chaotic political system and failing administration.

In a May 2007 cable titled “Ponzi politics”, the US embassy gave a damning account of PNG politics.

“Steeped in traditional magic and innocent of modern economies, PNG’s citizens prove easy marks for Ponzi schemes which proliferate throughout the country,” the embassy observed. “Now it’s election time … and the politicians are dusting off their bottles of snake oil … it’s an appalling spectacle of disregard for governance.”

While the Wikileaks revelations continue, questions to be asked

Posted: 02 Sep 2011


The US and Australia schemed unsuccessfully in 2005 to block Mohamed ElBaradei’s election to a third term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a newly leaked US diplomatic cable shows.

Both countries were unhappy with Mr ElBaradei’s “unhelpful” response to Iran’s nuclear program, but the bid to prevent his re-election to the nuclear regulatory agency’s leadership ultimately failed for lack of international support.

The February 18, 2005 State Department cable released by WikiLeaks overnight opens a window into the effort, describing a lunch conversation between Australian officials and a US special envoy for nuclear non-proliferation, Jackie Sanders.

The cable spotlights US and Australian concerns over the Egyptian diplomat’s interpretation that Iran had a “right” to civilian nuclear power, and his reluctance to declare Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


A secret State Department diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks has revealed that one of the primary reasons behind Israeli objections to Palestinian statehood is that lack of statehood keeps Palestinian territories outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes war crimes.

Military Advocate General for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Avichai Mandelblit met with US Ambassador James B. Cunningham in February of 2010 to discuss investigations into allegations of misconduct during Israel’s attacks on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, called Operation Cast Lead.

Mandelblit noted to Cunningham that Palestinian Authority Justice Minister Ali Kashan had requested that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo investigate alleged Israeli war crimes in the occupied territories since 2002, up to and including Operation Cast Lead. The cable reads: “Mandelblit said several legal opinions had been delivered to Ocampo noting that the ICC had no legal jurisdiction due to the PA’s lack of statehood…”

The dialogue is unusually blunt, since Israel’s public objections to Palestinian statehood at the United Nations, to be voted upon this month, have been mundane and political in nature.

After requesting multiple times that the US “state publicly its position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Israel regarding the Gaza operation,” Mandelblit “warned that PA pursuit of Israel through the ICC would be viewed as war by the GOI [Government of Israel].”

Mandelblit seems to deflect allegations of war crimes, not by denying they took place, but by dismissing them via a legal technicality. Accompanying Mandelblit was IDF Head of the International Law Department Col. Liron Libman who “noted that the ICC was the most dangerous issue for Israel,” reads the cable.

This week has seen the release of over 250,000 US cables in an orgy of information, including war crimes by the US military in Iraq that unsurprisingly isn’t receiving the kind of coverage it deserves in America itself and an Israeli official saying “we don’t do Gandhi very well” when explaining the desired violent IDF response to non-violent Palestinian protests in the West Bank.

But Salon’s Glenn Greenwald rightly criticises all parties involved in unloading so much information without proper checks and balances. There’s surely responsibility of the people releasing information to ensure as much as possible that people’s lives aren’t threatened (and there is no evidence thus far that this has happened but releasing names and sources of US embassies certainly increases the risk):

A series of unintentional though negligent acts by multiple parties — WikiLeaks, The Guardian’s investigative reporter David Leigh, and Open Leaks’ Daniel Domscheit-Berg — has resulted in the publication of all 251,287 diplomatic cables, in unredacted form, leaked last year to WikiLeaks (allegedly by Bradley Manning).  Der Spiegel (in English) has thebest and most comprehensive step-by-step account of how this occurred. 

This incident is unfortunate in the extreme for multiple reasons: it’s possible that diplomatic sources identified in the cables (including whistleblowers and human rights activists) will be harmed; this will be used by enemies of transparency and WikiLeaks to disparage both and even fuel efforts to prosecute the group; it implicates a newspaper, The Guardian, that generally produces very good and responsible journalism; it likely increases political pressure to impose more severe punishment on Bradley Manning if he’s found guilty of having leaked these cables; and it will completely obscure the already-ignored, important revelations of serious wrongdoing from these documents.  It’s a disaster from every angle.

That said, and as many well-intentioned transparency supporters correctly point out, WikiLeaks deserves some of the blame for what happened here; any group that devotes itself to enabling leaks has the responsibility to safeguard what it receives and to do everything possible to avoid harm to innocent people.  Regardless of who is at fault — more on that in a minute — WikiLeaks, due to insufficient security measures, failed to fulfill that duty here. 

There’s just no getting around that (although ultimate responsibility for safeguarding the identity of America’s diplomatic sources rests with the U.S. Government, which is at least as guilty as WikiLeaks in failing to exerise due care to safeguard these cables; if this information is really so sensitive and one wants to blame someone for inadequate security measures, start with the U.S. Government, which gave full access to these documents to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, at least).

Despite the fault fairly assigned to WikiLeaks, one point should be absolutely clear: there was nothing intentional about WikiLeaks’ publication of the cables in unredacted form.  They ultimately had no choice.  Ever since WikiLekas was widely criticized (including by me) for publishing Afghan War documents without redacting the names of some sources (though much blame also lay with the U.S. Government for rebuffing its request for redaction advice), the group has been meticulous about protecting the identity of innocents.

 The New York Times’ Scott Shane today describes “efforts by WikiLeaks and journalists to remove the names of vulnerable people in repressive countries” in subsequent releases; indeed, WikiLeaks ”used software to remove proper names from Iraq war documents and worked with news organizations to redact the cables.”  After that Afghan release, the group has demonstrated a serious, diligent commitment to avoiding pointless exposure of innocent people — certainly far more care than the U.S. Government took in safeguarding these documents.

That said, there’s little doubt that release of all these documents in unredacted form poses real risk to some of the individuals identified in them, and that is truly lamentable.  But it is just as true that WikiLeaks easily remains an important force for good.  The acts of deliberate evil committed by the world’s most powerful factions which it has exposed vastly outweigh the mistakes which this still-young and pioneering organization has made.  And the harm caused by corrupt, excessive secrecy easily outweighs the harm caused by unauthorized, inadvisable leaks.

Memo to Murdoch hacks; supporting Palestine is legitimate so deal with it

Posted: 02 Sep 2011

In what is becoming a daily obsession by Murdoch’s Australian newspaper, today sees yet more articles comparing BDS for Palestinian rights akin to Nazi Germany, the 9/11 attacks and extremism. First the “news” story:

Victorian unions have voted to embroil the ACTU in a controversial campaign targeting Israeli-owned businesses.

This came as the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign gained a reprieve late yesterday when the corporate watchdog rejected sanctions against the activists.

The Victorian Trades Hall Council has further embarrassed the Labor Party on the issue by passing another motion backing the global BDS protests.

The motion came despite bitter opposition to the campaign from the highest levels of the Gillard government and from many state Labor MPs across Australia.

Despite this, the VTHC executive council voted last week to intensify its campaign by seeking to join with the ACTU to confront the Gillard government about any moves to have any industrial or political disputes investigated by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.

Labor was saved some embarrassment late yesterday when the ACCC decided against invoking secondary boycott penalties against the anti-Israel activists on the grounds that the campaign “does not have the effect or likely effect of causing substantial loss or damage” to the shops facing protests. But it left open the option of action if the protests intensified and it warned it would be monitoring proceedings.

The ACCC’s decision will be seen as a big victory by the pro-Palestinian campaign, but Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien cautioned against triumphalism.

“It is outrageous for Trades Hall to seek the Gillard government to interfere with the ACCC in order to protect potentially illegal secondary boycotts against Victorian businesses,” he said.

The Weekend Australian established yesterday that Acting Foreign Minister Craig Emerson also wrote to the ACCC on August 19, just days after the Baillieu government sought injunctive relief to curb the pro-Palestinian campaign.

The ACTU said it had not received notice of the Trades Hall motion. The BDS campaign has targeted the Israeli-owned Max Brenner chocolate and coffee shop chain, with one protest in Melbourne leading to 19 arrests.

A series of pro-Palestinian rallies are planned across Australia in the run-up to September 11, including a rally in Sydney’s Newtown on September 10. This Sunday, the Victorian Young Liberals and several MPs will oppose BDS at a Melbourne protest.

The editorial, headlined “Philistines for Palestine“, once again alleges people loudly backing Palestinian rights are no different to rampaging Nazis in the 1930s. The comparison is both (almost) comical but in reality utterly demeaning to the Holocaust. The message is clear; being “pro-Israel” means being polite to Zionism. Otherwise, you’re a Nazi. Of course, nobody mentions the occupation or why so many global citizens are embracing BDS:

A few weeks ago it was a chocolate shop in Melbourne, targeted by pro-Palestinian activists because it is part of an Israeli chain. On Thursday night it was the Royal Albert Hall in London, where about 30 demonstrators disrupted a Proms concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. So noisy were they that the BBC had to interrupt its coverage twice, although the orchestra, under the baton of one of the world’s leading conductors, Zubin Mehta, kept on and managed to play all four pieces on the program, including Max Bruch’s violin concerto No 1 in G Minor.

It may be that music calms the savage beast, but some of the most sublime music in the civilised world could not tame the brutish, selfish arrogance of an ill-mannered, unrepresentative minority. Their action represents a dark moment in public culture and civility and does nothing to further their cause. We have said before that, given the history of Nazi Germany, there is something deeply offensive about targeting Jewish businesses. That is equally the case for these latest attacks on an Israeli orchestra that adds to the extraordinary contribution Jewish musicians and composers have made to classical music.

The terrible events of May 1933, when more than 25,000 books were burnt on huge public bonfires in Berlin, were directed at Jewish intellectuals and the culture they had helped build in Germany. That night, and the cultural “cleansing” that followed, remains a deeply distressing reminder of the collapse of the basic values that must underpin a civilised society. To see culture, which should be above partisan politics, attacked as it was in London is alarming. That it should happen at the Proms, perhaps the world’s best-known classical music festival, dating back to 1895 and with broad appeal, is doubly upsetting. The Proms represent the tolerance and inclusion that are the best hope for world peace.

If we were a British newspaper, we would be urging readers to patronise the Albert Hall at every opportunity. Instead, we suggest you frequent the Max Brenner chocolate shop chain and take a stand against the appalling campaign being waged against Israel. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is misguided and counterproductive. The protesters have a right to express their views on Israel, but they lose respect and influence when they engage in such crude and uncivilised action.

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