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What Wikileaks should cause; rage at our criminal leaders

25 Oct 2010

Wow. The kind of column that most Western newspapers would never run. But here’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in yesterday’s Independent on the justified and burning rage caused by Wikileaks:

Bad boy Julian Assange, the pretty, blondish founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks was hugely admired when he uncovered oppressors and political chicanery in places like China and Kenya, but now he takes on Western duplicity and crimes. Can’t have that. This spawn of Beelzebub, say our masters, a traitor whose insolence is a crime against the secretive states of the US and UK. Disregard the pique and dyspepsia of officialdom. It is a distraction, smoke from fires deliberately started to stop us seeing what lies before us.

The audacious website first released confidential and candid material on the hellish war in Afghanistan and now opens up a new front, more than 400,000 classified US files documenting the previously untold horrors of the Iraq war. Revealed are countless atrocities and the deaths of 66,000 Iraqi civilians at the hands of US and British soldiers and Iraqi personnel who had joined the allies. Men were burnt, some had parts removed, others were killed slowly; women were shot, children too, killed before they grew. Anything goes, it seems, during a military conflict and no questions are asked. As an Israeli army trainer said, when asked about the death of Rachel Corrie, the young, pro-Palestinian activist mown down by an Israeli tank: “During war there are no civilians”.

The authorities in Iraq did not investigate reports of abuse and killings. An Iraqi friend tells me the rape of girls, women, boys and men was widespread, a tool used both to intimidate and punish. Apparently, there are images from Abu Ghraib prison of these sadistic “punishments”; they were never released because of the feelings they could arouse in Muslim countries. So morally deformed are these men of war that they care more about inconvenient outrage than they do about crimes against the people they supposedly went to save.

They should have heeded the words of Martin Van Creveld, an erudite Israeli war historian who compared the disastrous American Vietnam War with the Iraq adventure: “He who fights the weak – and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed – and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins, also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel.” By this reasoning, to fight the weak who are not in any sense your enemy is extreme brutishness and totally self-defeating.

Key figures in the British Army and Government must have been privy to this information. They held their tongues and presumably sidestepped any ethical niggles. The Americans were in command and you don’t get to lick the arse of the world’s only superpower and then turn round and kick it. That, you understand, is the pact, the unbreakable deal behind our special relationship.

Manfred Novak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, says Obama’s administration must investigate and come clean – after all, this President vowed to change the image and behaviour of the US which, for too long, has co-operated with tyrants and violated human rights across the world, including in Guantanamo Bay, which is still open and where captured, lost boys became broken men.

Fewer and fewer global citizens now believe the rapturous anthems and sombre panegyrics of God’s own America. After this week, the number will have tumbled further, which, in some ways, is a pity. There is much to praise about the US, its history of perpetual resistance to unacceptable state power, its energy, creativity, business, intellectual and cultural buzz. When such a great nation does great wrong, its mirror is shattered and even if the shards are stuck back together again, the cracks will always remain. And when the custodian of the free world behaves so appallingly, how do we liberal Muslims promote democratic values across the Muslim world?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (sounding like a clone of Condi Rice) slammed the Wikileaks exposé and warned that lives of US civilians and forces and their allies were now in serious danger. At one level, I fear she is right. The internet traffic over the past two days has been so fast, furious and volatile, it could indeed fuel terrorism, recruitment into jihadi cells, even more violence in unstable Iraq, suicide bombers in Afghanistan and ugly attitudes towards the West, home to millions of Muslims.

But keeping the stories hidden was always wrong. Innocent Iraqi people should never have been made to suffer by the allies and even the guilty should have faced due process to prove commitment to justice and decent values. When there was evidence of liberators behaving monstrously, action should have been taken and in the public eye. Clinton must know this, as a lawyer. It is a primary principle of her profession.

I wonder if some staunch supporters of the Iraq war will now think again about the purpose and execution of that illegal and vainglorious expedition. The sanctions and war killed, maimed and destroyed more civilians than Saddam did, even during the most diabolical periods of his rule. Blair, Bush and their armies have never had to face proper, international judicial interrogations.

Now imagine good Muslims worldwide, who know all about universal rights, but can see that there is no universal accountability, that Third World despots are made to pay while others earn millions writing autobiographies and lecturing the world on good leadership and governance. Hundreds of savvy, smart, keenly aware young people email me from various Muslim states asking: “What’s the point? They say one thing and do the opposite. They say they want to help us and kill our people. Why should we trust the British and Americans?”

What do our army commanders and American leaders advise me to tell these disenchanted Muslims? And Mr Blair, I wonder if he has some wise thoughts? He is, they tell me, still one of the greatest prime ministers this country has had. And his wife, the hot human rights lawyer, does she think these abuses her husband just might have known about should be investigated? No answers will be forthcoming. Those who took us into this war are not obliged to explain themselves, not liable. In that they are worse than the dictator they toppled. Not comfortable that thought, but true.

 

ABC offers nice PR for complicit Israeli car firm Better Place

25 Oct 2010

This is quite an achievement. A story on ABC radio today about Israeli electric car company Better Place that completely ignores any mention of its operations in the occupied, Palestinian territories and involvement of former members of the IDF suspected of war crimes.

 

Baltzer speaks on Palestinian rights

25 Oct 2010

I spent time last week here in Sydney with visiting American Jewish writer and activist Anna Baltzer, a passionate advocate for the Palestinian cause; quiet, determined and strongly calling for BDS and a one-state solution.

She was interviewed tonight on ABC PM Radio:

MARK COLVIN: It’s only weeks since the launch of the latest round of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but they already seem stalled. Israel’s decision to resume full-fledged settlement building in the West Bank brought them to a near halt.

Now the Palestinians have said they’re considering sidestepping Israel by seeking UN Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Anna Baltzer is a Jewish American who argues for the Palestinian side of the debate. She’s touring Australia at the moment, speaking at the ANU this evening and addressing Federal MPs tomorrow.

I asked her first whether Israel would ever be able to negotiate with people and states that don’t recognise its right to exist.

ANNA BALTZER: The question about recognising Israel’s right to exist is a very interesting one and one that is oftentimes not given too much context. So, like I said, Israel is not the state of the people who have lived there for generations but very exclusively of the Jewish people, including even me, even if I never go there. But not of Palestinians, most of whom have been removed from the area.

So when you ask a Palestinian person, do you recognise the right for there to be a state on your historic homeland that explicitly excludes you and your children and your people for eternity simply because of your ethnic and religious background? You know if they say I don’t think there’s a right for that, that’s not anti-Semitism.

You know, did the Aboriginals recognise the right for there to be a state that should exclude them? You know they recognised that there was a state created and it should include them, rightfully so, and this question as to Palestinians is really pushing them into a corner and asking them to, not only, you know, see that Israel is discriminating against them but that they’re supposed to recognise Israel’s right to do it.

MARK COLVIN: Israelis believe that the wall has prevented the endless cycle of suicide bombs. Has the wall actually been a positive force?

ANNA BALTZER: I would argue no. It is true that there are fewer suicide bombs now than they were prior to the wall’s construction but that has to do a lot with other factors and one of those main factors is that the construction of the wall correlated with a decision on the part of Hamas, a strategic one, they were transforming from a paramilitary organisation to a political one to prepare for elections and eventually went back to violence.

With the removal of settlers from the Gaza strip, Israel was able to actually seal up the Gaza strip and that is actually where the majority of suicide bombs originated. And so what we’ve seen today is that violent resistance has simply transformed. Now from the Gaza strip instead of suicide bombs, they’re rocket attacks.

The wall around Gaza precisely proves the point that when you sort of choke people more and more and tighten that noose it does not end violence. You really have to look at the roots of the violence to move forward. The wall is a very short-sighted type of institution and it’s very porous. You can get from one end to another.

One anecdote people find interesting is a friend of mine who lives in a refugee camp near Bethlehem and every morning she wakes up at 3.30 in the morning. She goes to the first road block, has to get out of the car, walk around, take a taxi to the next one, walk around, take a settler bus into west Jerusalem where she works a full day as a nurse in a hospital. Does the same thing on the way home.

So she gets through easily. You know she has to change her headscarf from looking like a Muslim to looking like a settler. But if you want to get through, you can get through. It doesn’t prevent the most determined people. It’s simply prevents daily life from being able to go on as usual: people getting to school, hospitals, jobs.

MARK COLVIN: Some people say that if the Palestinian resistance transferred itself into a completely non-violent mode then things would change really radically. What do you think?

ANNA BALTZER: First of all the vast majority of Palestinian resistance is non-violent and it’s good that people are increasingly aware of it and historically speaking has been as well. There’s, you know, civil rights marches, people marching to the wall bearing witness, protesting, carrying freedom signs. It’s actually quite extraordinary to see.

MARK COLVIN: But every time a bunch of teenagers on one of those marches picks up stones and starts throwing them at troops that non-violent image is undermined, isn’t it?

ANNA BALTZER: Absolutely. And of course there is still violence on the part of Palestinians but it is not true, I think, to say that absent that violence you would see something different. Hamas, for example, held to the ceasefire until Israel refused to renew it and that led up to the Operation Cast Lead in late 2008.

There have been multiple chances that Israel has had but those have not been taken advantage of because frankly given my government’s unconditional support of Israel and as well as by the way Australia’s support of Israel. We see, for example, in the newspaper today discussion about Australian parliamentarians being funded in trips to Israel, that sort of allegiance that leaves no room really for the Palestinian narrative and Palestinian human rights.

As long as that happens we’re not going to see the real, really addressing the roots of the violence there today.

MARK COLVIN: So looking forward for the next few years you’re not very hopeful?

ANNA BALTZER: Actually I am hopeful. I am just not hopeful that it will come through the current negotiations where, you know, it’s like a prisoner negotiating with a prison guard, is what we see today. I don’t think that’s going to bear much fruition of peace.

However, if we look at historic models and what’s happening today with the segregated roads in the West Bank and all of different kinds of segregation is that we see a real link to apartheid South Africa and what happened there.

And likewise the struggle against it where people around the world said, you know, if our governments are not going to take a strong stand on this issue and stop the, pouring money into what’s happening, we as citizens of the world are not going to profit off of this anymore as individuals and institutions.

And thus began a campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions which has grown rapidly today, but towards apartheid Israel, to say that until Israel complies with international law we’re not going to treat it like a normal country anymore.

MARK COLVIN: The American-Israeli Palestinian activist, Anna Baltzer, speaking from Canberra.

 

Saddam taught them well (and we knew)

25 Oct 2010

Let’s face it. Australia and Britain are also likely to have blood on their hands, handing over suspected terrorists (aka insurgents) to Iraqi forces:

Fresh evidence that US soldiers handed over detainees to a notorious Iraqi torture squad has emerged in army logs published by WikiLeaks.

The 400,000 field reports published by the whistleblowing website at the weekend contain an official account of deliberate threats by a military interrogator to turn his captive over to the Iraqi “Wolf Brigade”.

The interrogator told the prisoner in explicit terms that: “He would be subject to all the pain and agony that the Wolf battalion is known to exact upon its detainees.”

 

Privatising wars is cosy for all concerned (except dead civilians)

25 Oct 2010

The sickness of relying on private contractors to fight our wars is only getting worse. Western governments can’t get enough of companies operating without direct responsibility to them. What’s a few recorded murders discussed during the annual shareholder meeting?

Pratap Chatterjee writes in the Guardian that the Wikileaks Iraq logs show how out of control the problem has become:

Today, there as many as 40,000 armed private security contractors working in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to data collected by Commission on Wartime Contracting staff during the first quarter of 2010.

Some of them are ill-paid ex-soldiers from countries like Sierra Leone who make just $250 a month; others are former US soldiers, who are paid $500 or more per day. These men are often doing the very same jobs that soldiers once did – like guard duty – but with a lot less accountability.

Until quite recently, these men with guns were untouchable: they were protected from any kind of prosecution by Coalition Provisional Authority Order No 17, issued by Paul Bremer, the US diplomat charged with running Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

For example, Andrew J Moonen, a Blackwater employee, who has been accused of killing a guard assigned to an Iraqi vice-president on 24 December 2006, was spirited out of the country and has never faced charges in Iraq. Nor have the five men accused of opening fire in Nisour Square: Donald Ball, Dustin Laurent Heard, Evan Shawn Liberty Nicholas Abram Slatten and Paul Alvin Slough. Lawsuits in the US have also failed.

Courtesy Wikileaks, we now know that many more deadly shootings have taken place by these unregulated private security contractors than we knew of before. Given this new knowledge, it is time that we demand an inquiry into the privatisation of the military. Right now, the prime facie evidence is that it has considerably increased the number of unnecessary violent incidents, while reducing military discipline and accountability and costing taxpayers a bundle.

 

Mapping every Iraqi death (officially recorded)

24 Oct 2010

 

How the MSM loves to smear Assange

24 Oct 2010

Salon’s Glenn Greenwald on the establishment media’s constant and obsessive campaign to discredit Julian Assange. Shooting the messenger is an old tactic but now corporate journalists are joining in:

It’s not hard to see why The New York Times, CNN and so many other establishment media outlets are eager to do that.  Serving the Government’s interests, siding with government and military officials, and attacking government critics is what they do.  That’s their role.  That’s what makes them the “establishment media.”  Beyond that, the last thing they want is renewed recognition of what an evil travesty the attack on Iraq was, given the vital role they know they played in helping to bring it about and sustain it for all those years (that’s the same reason establishment journalists, almost by consensus, opposed any investigations into the Bush crimes they ignored, when they weren’t cheering them on). 

 And by serving as the 2010 version of the White House Plumbers — acting as attack dogs against the Pentagon’s enemies — they undoubtedly buy themselves large amounts of good will with those in power, always their overarching goal.  It is indeed quite significant and revealing that the John Ehrlichmans and Henry Kissingers of today are found at America’s largest media outlets.  Thanks to them, the White House doesn’t even need to employ its own smear artists.

 

The Wikileaks story step by step

24 Oct 2010

Al-Jazeera comprehensively covers the Wikileaks Iraq dump. The Pentagon, Julian Assange and Iraqi politicians are all canvassed:

 

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