Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by M K Bhadrakumar, was published in the Asia Times, November 9, 2009
Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun.
For a fleeting hour or two, a question hung in the rapidly chilling autumn air in the Hindu Kush: did British Prime Minister Gordon Brown speak last weekend at the behest of United States President Barack Obama or did he speak out of turn, as even experienced politicians are wont to? Then it went away. It really does not matter either way.
The damage has been done. Brown's speech on Afghanistan at the Royal College of Defense Studies in London on Friday was appalling in its content, timing and context. Perhaps, the indiscretion was deliberate. Politicians all over need to ventilate frustrations once in a while. Whenever cornered, they instinctively look for a scapegoat.
Things are not going well for the British troops deployed in Afghanistan. Ninety-three men have been killed this year - and, as Brown poignantly said, "That 93 is not just a number. Ninety-three families whose lives will never be the same again; 93 families without a dad, or a husband, a brother or son; 93 families this Christmas with a place at their table no one else will ever be able to fill."
A truly tragic situation, indeed. This tragedy was brought down on the British people by Brown's predecessor, Tony Blair, who should not have so enthusiastically volunteered for the war in 2001 when the George W Bush administration was contemplating the invasion of Afghanistan as one of the options to mitigate the anguish and anger the American people felt after the September 11 attacks. Of all countries in Europe, Britain knows Afghanistan best, after all. It is not the Falklands.
The British government is under pressure to explain the meaning of this war to a baffled public opinion. At the same time, paradoxically, the British establishment is keeping its fingers crossed and hoping against hope that Obama doesn't waffle.
Hanging onto the American coat-tails and keeping an open-ended presence in the heart of Asia bordering Iran, Central Asia, Xinjiang and Kashmir is critically important for Britain strategically to sustain its residual standing as a "global power" at the present transformational period in the world order, when the US is increasingly turning its attention to the East.
However, all this play still does not justify Brown's speech. Simply put, Afghans do not like Britain's tutorial - not only on good governance but on any topic under the sun. There is a long history behind contemporary Anglo-Afghan relations, which Afghans haven't forgotten. Two, Brown could have avoided the use of undiplomatic language - "Cronies and warlords should have no place in the future of a democratic Afghanistan." That's old-fashioned imperial language.
Three, Brown went far too "personal" - finger-pointing at President Hamid Karzai repeatedly by name. You don't finger-point at the president of a sovereign country. Four, Brown butted into a "no-go" zone - Karzai's appointments of cabinet ministers and provincial governors in his new government, having been re-elected for a second five-year term.
These appointments are central to the political contract in Kabul and it is extremely doubtful if Karzai is in a position to oblige Britain or any foreign power. At any rate, it is a bad idea for outside powers to arbitrate between Afghan groups and personalities during a cabinet formation.
The efficiency bar is never applied to power brokers in this part of the world. Look at India, Bangladesh or Pakistan, the three biggest "democracies" in South Asia. Few technocrats or professionals hold ministerial posts in the governments in Delhi, Dhaka or Islamabad. There is a cultural context that cannot be overlooked. Ministerial positions are considered as sinecure positions in these countries. Often there is a need to ensure equilibrium between different interest groups by accommodating them in cabinet positions.
In this part of the world, no one asks uncomfortable questions as to whether the politicians holding ministerial posts are indeed worthy of their exalted status - whether they have had formal education or are intellectually endowed and can think through problems and issues or are professionally competent. It is simply assumed that they are where they are because of what they are as politicians.
Besides, according to the Afghan constitution, Karzai has to go to parliament and seek endorsements for his cabinet appointments - a criteria that is lacking in India or Bangladesh or Pakistan. There is a power calculus at work in Kabul, one that cannot be micromanaged by Karzai.
Therefore, what Karzai can be expected to do is to appoint efficient civil servants to assist the political figures - "cronies and warlords" - who sit in his cabinet. On the contrary, what Western countries are trying to do is to impose on Karzai an English-speaking cabinet. Such an approach can only have one outcome, that is, a government that pulls in a dozen or more directions with no one in charge. That will be a sure recipe for greater inefficiency and corruption.
Therefore, Britain seems to be needlessly muddying the waters in the Afghan leader's difficult equations with the West, and this right on the eve of Obama's announcement of his new war strategy. What the calculation behind this could be is hard to tell. If any North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country is singularly responsible for the deterioration of Karzai's equations with the West, it is Britain. And it all began as a scuffle over the appointment of provincial governors in Helmand and over the creation of the post of a viceroy for Lord Paddy Ashdown to browbeat Karzai, and it progressively widened into a rift that inveigled third parties.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry didn't even take a full day to rebuff the British leader's "instructions on the composition of Afghan governmental organs and the political policy of Afghanistan".
Now, what does London do? Is the British contingent in Helmand going to be withdrawn, which was precisely what Brown threatened he would do? Clearly, Karzai should be allowed to have a team of his choice in Kabul. He is entitled to it, just as is any occupant of No 10 Downing Street in London.
For argument's sake, what are Britain's choices today? If Karzai chooses his ways and policies and doesn't follow London's guidelines, will Britain remove him from power? Even assuming that Britain had such profound influence or clout, who would replace him? The three Afghan leaders in the succession chain would be Karzai's first and second vice presidents and the speaker of parliament. From the current lineup, Britain will have to settle for Mohammed Fahim, Karim Khalili or Younus Qanooni.
Thereby hangs a tale. It is yet to sink in that Karzai's victory signifies a turning point in Afghan politics. He rubbished the shenanigans in the Western political armory. Karzai's appearance on the victory rostrum in front of the Western media, flanked by Fahim and Khalili, said it all. If the West has not grasped the meaning of it, then it has lost its way completely.
Secondly, a splendid occasion is at hand to gracefully "legitimize" Karzai II, as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner suggested last week in an interview with the New York Times. Kouchner pointed out that Western political experts who knew nothing about Afghanistan detected fraud by sampling ballots. "This is science. But politics is not science. It's the common touch," he said.
Kouchner obviously desires a good working relationship with Karzai's government. France has deployed a 3,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. That is a sensible approach. Of all Western statesmen today who articulate on Afghanistan, Kouchner has a special claim to offer advice. He knows Afghanistan. He was a participant in the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, living and working inside Afghanistan as a young doctor assisting the mujahideen.
Equally, Kouchner underlined that NATO is in a virtual quagmire in Afghanistan. He asked with biting sarcasm, "What is the goal? What is the road? And in the name of what? Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem. We [NATO] need to talk to one another as allies."
The West should propose to Karzai to seek help from all available quarters, especially from regional powers and other regional security bodies that are wiling to cooperate. At the present stage, as a reconciliation process with the Taliban is about to commence, the attempt should be to lend credence to Karzai's standing as far as possible, but at any rate not to discredit it for whatever reason. Karzai is not the enemy. He still prefers to be on the side of the Western alliance. Allow him to continue to the extent he can while navigating his way in a political arena of immense complexity.
It is not in the interests of Afghanistan's stabilization that a cabal of foreign countries - the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - continues to hold the strings of conflict-resolution. Clearly, this is not the time for Britain's "great game" maneuverings in pursuit of its lost glory as a world power. The best bet for NATO is to get behind Karzai as quickly as possible.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
This editorial, by Clara Gutteridge, was published by The Guardian, September 11, 2009
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today admitted that MI6 had referred "a case" to the attorney general, involving complicity in torture by one of its agents operating abroad. In a letter to the shadow foreign secretary, Miliband reveals little else, except that the torture happened in an undisclosed foreign country; and unlike the tranche of recent cases where MI5 agents have been accused of complicity in torture, the victim in this case was not a UK national, or a UK resident.
There are many instances of individuals known to have been held in US secret prisons where it would have been a grave dereliction of duty for the British intelligence services not to have been involved in questioning the prisoners.
One such example is Abu Zubayda, accused of being an al-Qaida facilitator, arranging travel for would-be jihadists from the UK, among other countries, to attend training camps in Afghanistan. We also know that Abu Zubaydah was tortured by the US – he was waterboarded 83 times – and that during his interrogation, he implicated people who have turned out to be innocent. He was saying what he thought his torturers wanted to hear. And herein lies the question: were UK agents involved in the interrogation of people such as Abu Zubaydah – in principle, they should have been – and if they were, what did they do about his torture?
My bet is that they were involved, and that they did nothing about the torture, and that information about their activities is starting to leak out as things start to open up in the US with the various inquiries into torture and abuse getting under way across the Atlantic. Just as the US military attempted to blame the systematic abuse at Abu Ghraib on a few "bad apples" acting beyond their orders, the British government appears to be trying to ringfence the rising tide of evidence of its complicity in torture abroad.
To refer an individual agent for investigation by the attorney general conveniently places the blame squarely on the shoulders of a subordinate, and keeps people higher up the chain, including government ministers, out of the picture.
If there is one thing we should have learned from the various official reports and documents that have been released since Obama took office, it is that the abuse that has taken place in the name of "counter-terror" in the past eight years was anything but the actions of a few rogue agents. Rather, in the US at least, the torture was institutionalised. We now know that techniques such as almost drowning people, slamming their heads against walls and staging mock executions were operational norms in US prisons abroad. We also know that the torture programme was systematic, ordered from the top, and that it involved professionals – doctors, psychologists and lawyers.
Against such a cultural backdrop – one that legitimised and bureaucratised torture – it is looking increasingly untenable that British government ministers were unaware of what was going on, or that UK agents colluding in this programme were acting beyond orders.
Thus, as the government has tried to do with the MI5 agent who was involved in interrogating Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan, this recent referral is likely just a last-ditch attempt by the those in command to avoid justice. It is about time the leaders of our country stopped attempting to scapegoat a few unfortunate field agents and started to answer some questions about exactly how the Britain became the sort of country that is involved in torture.
This article, by Seumqs Milne, was originally published by the Associated Press, May 3, 2009
Politicians crave a whitewash – but Britain must hold a fully open public inquiry into the bloodbath it helped to create
It's hardly surprising that those responsible for the human and social catastrophe unleashed by the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, on both sides of the Atlantic, should be desperate to rewrite its history – or try to salvage the shattered reputation of those armies that carried it out. In Britain, as the bulk of its troops withdraw after a campaign that has already lasted longer than the second world war, that propaganda offensive has now reached fever pitch.
Gordon Brown claimed yesterday that the wreckage of blood-drenched Iraq was a "success story". The defence secretary John Hutton insisted Britain should be proud of its "legacy" in the devastated cities of the south. Hilary Benn, the environment secretary boasted of his support for the original aggression on BBC's Question Time yesterday, declaring that " we leave Iraq a better place" – a line repeated word for word by the Sun today and echoed across much of the media.
But the politicians' craving for a whitewash is no reason for anyone else to give house room to such an absurd travesty of the truth. The Iraq war has been a monstrous crime. Based on a false pretext, it has left hundreds of thousands dead, created more than four million refugees, unleashed an orgy of ethnic cleansing and laid waste to the broken infrastructure of a country already on its knees from 12 years of sanctions and a generation of war.
On the eve of the 2003 invasion, Tony Blair told parliament that while there would be civilian casualties, Saddam Hussein would be "responsible for many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict". Amnesty International reckoned annual deaths in Iraq linked to repression at the time to be in the low hundreds. Civilian deaths alone in the six years since the US-British attack are now estimated anywhere between 150,000 (the Iraqi government's figure) and a million-plus.
But when paying tribute to the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq, ministers could not bring themselves to honour the victims of the bloodbath they helped inflict – let alone to acknowledge the tens of thousands of prisoners held without trial, the massacres and rampant torture Britain shares responsibility for: the very crimes of the former regime used to justify the war.
Yet to this day only one Briton has been found guilty of a war crime in Iraq: Donald Payne, convicted of inhuman treatement of detainees in Basra. No wonder a majority in Iraq and Britain have long wanted all foreign troops withdrawn – or that Iraqis find claims of a "burgeoning democracy", Britain's "successful mission" and tales of "reconstruction" hard to take remotely seriously. From Basra to Baquba, basic services, power supplies, sewage treatment and clean water are in grimly short supply, while a corrupt sectarian carve-up by a tightly licensed political elite survives only with the protection of US firepower.
That's why the prominent Basra-based president of the Iraqi oil workers' federation Hassan Juma'a wrote this month that history would not look kindly on Britain for its role in Iraq and that its troops' retreat would be the occasion for a "festival".
Of course Britain's withdrawal is welcome in both countries. But the occupation continues. The British army is handing over control of Basra to the Americans, while 400 British troops are to stay on as "advisers" and "trainers" – a reprise of the role they had in Iraq before 1958. In an ominous marker for the future, Brown yesterday declared he was anxious for Britain to get involved in "protecting" Iraqi oil supplies – which of course lay behind the invasion in the first place.
The British refusal to let go reflects the continuing slippage on a much larger scale of Barack Obama's own staged withdrawal plans. Not only does it seem all US combat troops will not after all be pulling out of Iraqi cities by the end of June, but there are persistent US hints that "agreement" may be reached with the Iraqi government to stay on after the announced full withdrawal by the end of 2011. The aggressors are clearly not going to go quietly.
Meanwhile, all the extravagant claims about a post-surge transformation of Iraq's security are once again looking foolishly premature. The killing of three US soldiers in Anbar province on Thursday confirmed a rising trend of resistance attacks in April, combined with a string of horrific suicide bombings and increasing civilian deaths, now running at over 400 a month.
There can only be a durable stabilisation of Iraq once the occupation has ended and all representative political forces are brought into a negotiated settlement. In the meantime, a political accounting for what has been inflicted on Iraq – which must include a fully open public inquiry – has yet to begin in Britain. That is essential for Britain's own corroded political culture – but also because the same blunders and crimes are now being repeated in the escalation of another US-led war: in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This article, by Nigel Morris, was originally published in The Independent, March 13, 2009
They disclose that the intelligence services were sceptical over the "iffy drafting" of government claims that Saddam Hussein could mount a missile strike on his neighbours within 45 minutes of ordering an attack.
Officials privately mocked assertions that the Iraqi president was covertly trying to develop a nuclear capability and wisecracked that perhaps he had recruited "Dr Frankenstein" to his supposed crack team of nuclear scientists.
The release of a series of confidential memos and emails, following a protracted Freedom of Information battle, reignited the controversy over accusations that Tony Blair's government "spun" Britain into war.
Last night both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats renewed their demands for a full public inquiry into the decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq.
The 45-minute claim – presented to MPs in a notorious dossier on 24 September 2002, six months before military action began – was central to the Blair government's justification for war.
But a memo sent 13 days earlier by Desmond Bowen, head of the Cabinet Office defence secretariat, to John Scarlett, who was head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, suggested he had grave reservations over the threat. His comments were copied to Mr Blair's press secretary Alastair Campbell and to his chief-of-staff Jonathan Powell.
Mr Bowen wrote: "The question we have to have in the back of our mind is: 'Why now?' I think we have moved away from promoting the ideas that we are in imminent danger of attack and ... intend to act in pre-emptive self-defence."
He argued instead that the Government should stress Saddam's disregard for international law and his continuing drive to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
Another memo, dated 16 September 2002, from an unnamed official, also suggests exaggerated claims were being included in the about-to-be-published report. It said: "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared. Page 4 Bullet 4: '[Iraq] has assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme' – Dr Frankenstein I presume? Sorry. It's getting late."
A further email released yesterday, arguing for amendments to the report, says: "We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!"
A fourth email, sent by the then foreign secretary Jack Straw's private secretary, makes clear he wants language that can be conveyed very simply by the media. He wrote: "This should be brief enough to get on to the Sky wall – ie no more than five bullets."
Last night William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said: "This is the latest in a steady stream of damaging revelations about the events leading up to the Iraq war. These minutes shed interesting light on the process by which the caveats in the Joint Intelligence Committee's original assessment of Iraq's WMD programmes were stripped out of the dossier that was presented to Parliament and the British people.
"Now British troops are coming home, there is no longer any excuse for delaying a full-scale inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war, other than the Government's concern that its own reputation might be damaged."
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "This confirms the widely-held suspicions that leading officials and political advisers close to Tony Blair were deliberately tweaking the presentation of the intelligence to bolster the case for war on Iraq. The jigsaw of how the public and some MPs were duped nears completion with this crucial revelation, and further strengthens the case for a full public inquiry."
The emails: How 'sexing-up' was achieved
11 September 2002 Desmond Bowen: "The question we have to have in the back of our mind is: 'Why now?' I think we have moved away from promoting the ideas that we are in imminent danger of attack and intend to act in pre-emptive self-defence... In looking at the WMD sections, you will clearly want to be as firm and authoritative as you can be. You will clearly need to judge the extent to which you need to hedge your judgements with, for example, 'it is almost certain' and similar caveats."
11 September 2002 Mark Sedwill: "I would expand the history of weapons inspections. It is an interesting story and would give the media a better feel for the difficulties they faced and the persistence of the Iraqi obstruction... We need a very simple table somewhere... This should be brief enough to get on to the Sky wall – ie no more than five bullets."
16 September 2002 Unnamed official (thought to be intelligence agent): "I note that the paper suggests that Saddam's biotech efforts have gone much further than we ever feared. Page 4 Bullet 4: '[Iraq] has assembled specialists to work on its nuclear programme' – Dr Frankenstein I presume? Sorry. It's getting late... We have suggested moderating the same language in much the same way on drafts from the dim and distant past without success. Feel free to try again!... Lots of 'ranges' close together – iffy drafting."
This article, by John Dean, was posted to AlterNet, January 24, 2009
Remarkably, the confirmation of President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, is being held up by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who apparently is unhappy that Holder might actually investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials who engaged in torture. Aside from this repugnant new Republican embrace of torture (which might be a winning issue for the lunatic fringe of the party and a nice way to further marginalize the GOP), any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work.
It is difficult to believe that Eric Holder would agree not to enforce the law, like his recent Republican predecessors. Indeed, if he were to do so, President Obama should withdraw his nomination. But as MSNBC "Countdown" anchor Keith Olbermann stated earlier this week, even if the Obama Administration for whatever reason does not investigate and prosecute these crimes, this still does not mean that the Bush Administration officials who were involved in torture are going to get a pass.
With few exceptions, the discussion about what the Obama Administration will do regarding the torture of detainees during the Bush years has been framed as a domestic matter, and the fate of those involved in torturing has been largely viewed as a question of whether the Department of Justice will take action. In fact, not only is the world watching what the Obama Administration does regarding Bush's torturers, but other countries are very likely to take action if the United States fails to do so.
Bush's Torturers Have Serious Jeopardy
Philippe Sands, a Queen's Counsel at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International law at University College London, has assembled a powerful indictment of the key Bush Administration people involved in torture in his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. He explains the legal exposure of people like former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney's counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, the former Department of Defense general counsel Jim Haynes, and others for their involvement in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA secret prisons.
After reading Sands's book and, more recently, listening to his comments on Terry Gross's NPR show "Fresh Air," on January 7, 2009 I realized how closely the rest of the world is following the actions of these former officials, and was reminded that these actions appear to constitute not merely violations of American law, but also, and very literally, crimes against humanity -- for which the world is ready to hold them responsible.
Here is what Professor Sands told Terry Gross on NPR: "In talking to prosecutors around the world, as I have done, they all recognize the very real political difficulties of taking on someone who has been Vice President of the United States, or President of the United States, or Secretary of Defense of the United States. But those arguments melt away as you go a little down the chain. And I don't think the same arguments would apply in relation to the man, for example, who was Vice President Cheney's general counsel, at the time the decisions were taken, David Addington ... I think he faces a very real risk of, you know, investigation for complicity in an act that amounts to torture ... " Later, referring to "international investigations," he added that Addington (and others) were at "serious risk of being investigated."
These are remarkable statements from a very well-informed man. Because we have a common publisher, I was able to contact him in London, and pose a few questions. I find his book, statements and responses to my questions chilling.
Q & A With Professor Philippe Sands
The following is my email exchange with Professor Sands:
John W. Dean: When talking to Ms. Gross you said you were not calling for such international investigations because we all need more facts. Given the fact that Judge Susan Crawford has now made clear that torture occurred, do you -- and others with your expertise and background -- have sufficient information to call for other countries to take action if the Obama Administration fails to act?
Philippe Sands: Last week's intervention by Susan Crawford, confirming that torture occurred at Guantanamo, is highly significant (as I explain in a piece I wrote with Dahlia Lithwick: "The Turning Point: How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture"). The evidence as to torture, with all that implies for domestic and foreign criminal investigation, is compelling. Domestic and foreign investigators already have ample evidence to commence investigation, if so requested or on their own account, even if the whole picture is not yet available. That has implications for the potential exposure of different individuals, depending on the nature and extent of their involvement in acts that have elements of a criminal conspiracy to subvert the law.|
JD: If yes, can you share what you and others might do, and when?
PS: I am in the process of completing the epilogue to my book Torture Team, which will be published in May 2009. That will set out, in detail, what I learned when I made a return visit to the European judge and prosecutor with whom I met in the summer of 2007, as described in the book. Watch this space.
JD: If no, what would it take for those like you to call for all countries with potential jurisdiction to take action?
PS: More than 140 countries may potentially exercise jurisdiction over former members of the Bush Administration for violations of the 1984 Torture Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the standards reflected in their Common Article 3. Whether they do so, and how they might do so, turns on a range of factors, including their domestic procedural rules. In the United Kingdom, one criminal investigation is already underway, in relation to the alleged treatment of Binyam Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee who is a British resident. I doubt it will be the last. That said, having set out the relevant facts in one case [in my book], to the best of my abilities, I feel it will now be for others to take this forward as they consider appropriate.
JD: Also, when talking to Ms. Gross you said that you did not think that David Addington and others involved in torture were likely to be travelling outside the United States. Do you know for a fact that any country might take action? Have you discussed this with any prosecutors who could do so?
PS: This will be addressed in the epilogue to Torture Team.
JD: Do you believe that a failure of the Obama Administration to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute, those involved in torture would make them legally complicit in the torture undertaken by the Bush Administration?
PS: No, although it may give rise to violations by the United States of its obligations under the Torture Convention. In the past few days there have been a series of significant statements: that of Susan Crawford, of former Vice President Cheney's confirming that he approved the use of waterboarding, and by the new Attorney General Eric Holder that he considers waterboarding to be torture. On the basis of these and other statements it is difficult to see how the obligations under Articles 7(1) and (2) of the Torture Convention do not cut in: these require the US to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution". What happens thereafter is a matter for the prosecutor, who may decide that, in accordance with applicable standards ("authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State") and the facts of the case, including the prospects for a successful prosecution, that proceeding to actual prosecution is not justified.
JD: Finally, you mentioned the case proceeding in the UK regarding possible torture of a British national. Is it possible that even an American ally like Great Britain could seek extradition, and undertake prosecution, of U.S. officials like Addington and Yoo for facilitating the torture of a citizen of Great Britain -- if the U.S. fails to act?
PS: It is possible. The more likely scenario, however, is that which occurred in Senator Pinochet's case: the unwitting traveller sets foot in the wrong country at the wrong time.
What Will The Obama Administration Do?
As all who have followed this issue know, President Obama hedged after he was elected as to what he may or may not do. So too did his Attorney General nominee. After Eric Holder declared waterboarding to be unlawful, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee truly followed up as to what he was going to do, but it appears they are going to now press him on that point.
My question is how can the Obama Administration not investigate, and, if appropriate, prosecute given the world is watching, because if they do not, other may do so? How could there be "change we can believe in" if the new administration harbors war criminals -- which is the way that Philippe Sands and the rest of the world, familiar with the facts which have surfaced even without an investigation, view those who facilitated or engaged in torture?
One would think that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Gonzales, Yoo, Haynes and others, who claim to have done nothing wrong, would call for investigations to clear themselves if they really believed that to be the case. Only they, however, seem to believe in their innocence -- the entire gutless and cowardly group of them, who have shamed themselves and the nation by committing crimes against humanity in the name of the United States.
We must all hope that the Obama Administration does the right thing, rather than forcing another country to clean up the mess and seek to erase the dangerous precedent these people have created for our country. A first clue may come when Holder resumes testifying.
The year 1989 was a year of a great celebration. For that was the year that that hated and reviled symbol of tyranny, empire, and oppression, the Berlin Wall, came crashing down. Not only were the people of East Germany and Eastern Europe celebrating the demise of the Wall, so were people all over the world, including people here in the United States.
That event was of special importance to Americans, who had lived under the cloud of perpetual war, militarism, military expenditures, and the military-industrial complex during the 45 years of the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, many Americans began thinking about the possibility that they might be able to live normal lives of liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony.
Alas, it was not to be.
Today, we live in an era in which there is the threat of perpetual war — a war that we’re told is likely to last much longer than the Cold War. The war is against an enemy — terrorists — who they tell us are more dangerous than the communists.
We live in a country in which the president has the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war, without even the semblance of the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war.
In fact, we live in a country in which the ruler claims the power to ignore any constitutional restraint on his power, so long as he is operating as the “commander in chief” in the “war on terrorism.”
Who would have thought back in 1989 that Americans would soon be living in a country in which U.S. government agents wielded the power to go into any country on Earth, kidnap any citizen whatever, and “rendition” him to a foreign regime for the purpose of torture or transport him to an overseas military prison for the same purpose and even execution?
We live in a country in which the government spies on its own people with warrantless searches of telephone records, email, and who knows what else. Private corporations have become partners in this endeavor, either with the promise of immunity or the threat of adverse governmental action.
We live in a country in which the president and the military now wield the power to sweep across the land and take any American citizen into custody and transport him to a military prison as an “enemy combatant” — a country which government officials tell us is itself part of the worldwide battlefield in the war on terrorism. As “enemy combatants” in such a war, Americans accused of terrorism by the government can now be denied centuries-old liberties, such as due process of law, trial by jury, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishments.
We live in a country where the president and the military now wield the power to attack any country in the world, including countries that haven’t attacked the United States, and to occupy such countries indefinitely. Resistance to any U.S. war of aggression among the populace of the invaded and occupied country is now automatically considered an act of terrorism, and the perpetrators are treated accordingly.
We live in a country in which the president and the military set up overseas prison camps and an independent judicial system for suspected terrorists that was intended to be beyond the reach of the Constitution and the federal judiciary. The principles of this independent judicial system are completely antithetical to those that underlie the judicial system on which our nation was founded, and they allow such practices as torture and sex abuse of detainees, secret proceedings, use of hearsay, denial of the right to confront witnesses, and trial by military tribunal.
How did it all come to this? How could Americans have been so filled with hope in 1989 that after 45 years of a garrison, big-government, Cold War state, they would be living in an environment free of the threat of perpetual war and foreign crises, only to find themselves in a much worse situation?
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the president made an important announcement. It was an announcement relating to what had motivated the terrorists to commit the 9/11 attacks. He said that the terrorists had been motivated by hatred for America’s freedom and values. Immediately, that explanation of motive was embraced by the vice president, the secretary of state, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conservative television and radio commentators, and neocon supporters of the president, not to mention many liberal lawmakers, pundits, and commentators.
Every American was expected to immediately embrace this official position with respect to motive. Those who failed to do so were immediately attacked for lack of patriotism and hatred of their country.
Why was it so important for U.S. officials that the American people blindly adopt the official position with respect to the motive of the 9/11 attackers? The reason was that the last thing U.S. officials wanted was for Americans to focus on U.S. foreign policy — and especially the bad things that U.S. officials had been doing to people ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, not only in the Middle East but also — as part of the war on drugs — in Latin America.
Consider, for example, the cruel and brutal sanctions against the Iraqi people. While it is impossible to know how many Iraqi children lost their lives as a result of the sanctions, the most reliable estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked by Sixty Minutes in 1996 whether the deaths of half a million children from the sanctions were worth it, she didn’t dispute the number and instead simply said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” She was, in fact, expressing the official position of the U.S. government. While many Americans might not have been aware of her statement, it reverberated throughout the Middle East. Iraqi children were expendable in the advancement of U.S. foreign policy.
Why were so many children dying from the sanctions, year after year? The answer to that question lies in a Pentagon policy implemented during the Persian Gulf War. In the midst of that war, the Pentagon conducted a study of what would happen if the U.S. Air Force were to destroy Iraq’s water and sewage treatment facilities. The Pentagon reached the same conclusion that U.S. officials would reach many years later when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans — that people who drink untreated, sewage-infested water are in extreme danger of contracting deadly, infectious illnesses. Having reached that conclusion, the Pentagon proceeded to bomb Iraq’s water and sewage treatment facilities. The more than 11 years of subsequent sanctions ensured that the facilities could not be repaired, guaranteeing that a certain number of Iraqi newborns and toddlers would die each year.
While most Americans were unaware of the brutal and deadly effects of the sanctions, people in the Middle East were not. Year after year, a cauldron of frustration, helplessness, anger, and hate was simmering, for everyone knew that there was absolutely nothing that the Iraqi people could do, either militarily or otherwise, to escape the deadly effects of the sanctions. In a crisis of conscience, two high UN officials — Hans von Sponek and Denis Halliday — even resigned their positions in protest of what they called “genocide” of the Iraqi children.
To add a bit more humiliation to Arab sensibilities to the mix, U.S. officials, with the consent of the pro-U.S. regime in Saudi Arabia, stationed U.S. troops near what are considered to be the holiest lands in the Muslim religion, Mecca and Medina. There were also the “no-fly zones” that President Clinton established over Iraq without the approval of either Congress or the UN, which resulted in the periodic killings of even more Iraqis. One 13-year-old boy tending his sheep was decapitated when an errant U.S. missile blew up near him.
On top of the sanctions, the troops near Islamic holy lands, and the no-fly zones was, of course, the long-standing unconditional financial and military support of the Israeli government.
In other words, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when hopes were soaring among the American people for a “peace dividend,” the U.S. government was busy. And its business, by the way, was not only operative in the Middle East, it was also present in Latin America, where the Pentagon was ratcheting up the drug war, an operation that is today manifesting itself in massive terrorist blowback in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.
What was the purpose of the sanctions against Iraq? What was Madeleine Albright referring to when she said that the deaths of the Iraqi children were “worth it”? While the sanctions were often couched in terms of the need for Saddam Hussein to “disarm,” which meant ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, their real purpose was simply regime change. For U.S. officials periodically made it clear that if the Iraqi people would simply oust Saddam from power — through coup, revolution, assassination, or whatever — the sanctions would be lifted. As long as Saddam remained in power, U.S. officials emphasized, there was no chance whatever that the brutal sanctions would ever be lifted.
The concept of regime change is important and, in fact, is a core element in U.S. foreign policy. It involves the installation of rulers in foreign countries, oftentimes brutal dictators, who will do the bidding of U.S. officials when needed, e.g., they will participate in coalitions of the willing, vote a certain way in the UN, or provide funds for the IMF. When foreign aid fails to secure the loyalty of a foreign ruler, U.S. officials oftentimes resort to more extreme measures, such as sanctions, embargoes, assassinations, coups, and invasions to effect regime change.
Consider Iran, 1953. The prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeqh, had been democratically elected to that position by the Iranian parliament. He was a man who was highly respected, even beloved, by the Iranian people. Time magazine named him its Man of the Year.
Pursuing a socialist philosophy that was being embraced by countries all over the world, Mossadegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry. That was a cardinal sin in the eyes of the British Empire, given that the Iranian oil industry was almost entirely owned and controlled by British companies.
British officials enlisted the assistance of the U.S government, whose CIA surreptitiously engineered the ouster of Mossadegh from power and restored the brutal dictatorial regime of the shah of Iran. The shah, with the full support of the U.S. government, proceeded to unleash a 25-year reign of terror — complete with a secret police force and torture — on his own people.
Finally, in 1979 the Iranian people revolted against the tyrannical regime of the shah. In their anger over what the U.S. government had done in 1953, they took U.S. diplomats hostage. The reaction of U.S. officials was to play innocent, behaving as if they had done nothing to provoke the anger.
The Iranians knew better. For by that time, they had discovered what the U.S. government had been doing to destroy democracy and support tyranny in Iran.
Guatemala, 1954. Still celebrating the regime change in Iran, one year later the CIA effected another regime change, this time in Guatemala. The Guatemalans had elected a socialist, Jacobo Arbenz, president of the country. Arbenz proceeded to take a section of uncultivated land from an American corporation, United Fruit, and transfer it to Guatemalan farmers. The irony was that Arbenz’s taking from the rich in order to help the poor was no different from the socialist practices of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, whose regime founded the modern-day welfare state in America. Nonetheless, the CIA engineered a coup in which Arbenz was removed from power and replaced with a brutal military general. That regime-change operation produced a 30-year-long civil war that killed more than a million Guatemalans.
Regime change was what the various CIA assassination plans in Cuba, along with the Bay of Pigs invasion, were all about — trying to effect regime change in Cuba in the wake of the successful regime-change operations in Iran and Guatemala.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials have repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum that “9/11 changed the world.” But that’s just nonsense. 9/11 didn’t change anything. Instead, it provided the U.S. government the unhampered ability to continue moving in the same regime-change direction in which it had been headed for many years.
That was what the invasion and occupation of Iraq were all about. All the fear-mongering talk about weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds was designed to muster support for what the 11 years of sanctions had been unable to achieve — the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power. Of course, the secondary aim of the invasion — installing a pro-U.S. regime headed by either Ahmed Chalabi or Iyad Allawi — was foiled when Iraqi Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani engineered the installation of a radical Islamic regime in Iraq, one with primary loyalty to Iran.
Equally important, not only did 9/11 provide U.S. officials with the opportunity to achieve what they had been trying to achieve throughout the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks also enabled U.S. officials to expand their power over the American people in ways that could never have been imagined during the Cold War.
After all, don’t forget that it was the Soviet communists who kidnapped and tortured people; spied on and kept files on its citizenry; conducted secret trials before kangaroo tribunals; held suspects indefinitely; maintained secret prisons; and plundered and looted the citizenry through taxation, fees, and inflation to finance ever-increasing government expenditures. Who would have ever thought that U.S. officials would be justifying the same sorts of things after the fall of the Berlin Wall under the rubric of a perpetual “war on terrorism,” a war whose roots lay in the actions that U.S. officials took in the Middle East after the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Restoring freedom to America
Is there a way out of this mess? Yes, and it’s a rather simple one — dismantling the overseas U.S. empire and ending its foreign policy of interventionism.
That means closing the more than 700 U.S. military bases in foreign countries, bringing all those troops home, and discharging them into the private sector.
It also means ending the decades-old policy of regime change and interventionism, including assassinations, coups, invasions, occupations, and foreign aid.
It means the end of the drug war, which would immediately put drug lords out of business, which would bring to an end all the drug-war violence and the many human-rights abuses committed in the name of the drug war.
Most important, it would mean the restoration of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the rule of law to the nation. No more kidnappings and rendition, no more torture and sex abuse, no more secret judicial proceedings, no more spying on the citizenry, no more suspensions of due process of law and habeas corpus, no more kangaroo tribunals.
Can the American people accomplish such a feat? Why not? If the people of East Germany could bring down the Berlin Wall, why can’t the American people restore a limited-government republic and a free society to our land?
The following report, by Jackie Northam, was broadcast on NPR, January 21, 2008
the verge of signing an executive order — perhaps as early as Thursday morning — setting a one-year deadline to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The still-unsigned executive order is expected to call for an immediate review of how to handle the approximately 245 prisoners who remain at Guantanamo. Some may be repatriated or sent to third nations.
About 60 detainees have already been cleared for release, but the outgoing Bush administration had little luck in finding a home for them.
The executive order will also cover the possibility that some prisoners will be transferred to facilities in the U.S.
Status Of Military Commissions In Doubt
It's not believed that the order will call for a halt to the troubled military commissions which were set up as a legal system to try the detainees. However, hours after taking office, Obama requested that all pending military hearings at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba be suspended for 120 days.
The new president wants a complete review of the military commissions used to try the detainees at the remote prison camp. The move was seen as the first step in closing Guantanamo.
Other executive orders are expected soon, including one that would establish new rules for interrogation methods.
From the start, the military commissions — designed solely for use in Guantanamo courtrooms — were widely criticized as inherently unfair to the detainees: The trials were mired in delays and plagued by legal challenges.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to close the detention camp and signaled that he was not happy with the commissions.
"I think, clearly, the new administration's legal review of military commissions began long before yesterday's inauguration," says Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.
He says it is important that Obama made the decision to suspend the commissions quickly, because the longer the procedures were allowed to continue, the more difficult it would be for him to pull them back later.
21 Cases On Hold
Obama's decision immediately froze Tuesday's trial of a Canadian-born detainee, as well as the trial Wednesday of five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. The five, who were facing the death penalty, protested the delay in their case. Earlier, they had said they wanted to be "martyrs."
The new president's decision effectively brings all 21 pending cases at Guantanamo to a halt until at least May 20, while the new administration studies the process.
Eugene Fidell, the president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says it's unlikely the commissions will be reconstituted.
"Obviously, the military commissions have been severely discredited everywhere — in our legal system, in the court of public opinion and around the world. So I find it hard to imagine that the Obama administration would exert itself to preserve their viability," Fidell says.
People involved with the Obama transition team say the order would also include repatriating some of the detainees — and transferring others into the United States. Ireland and Switzerland signaled on Wednesday that they may be willing to take some of the prisoners.
Geneve Mantri with Amnesty International says these moves by the Obama administration are positive steps.
"What we're really looking forward to seeing is what the administration puts in its place — what human rights safeguard it has, whether it has the safeguards we'd like to see in any legal system, and all the things that most people have criticized this process as lacking," Mantri says.
A 'Mare's Nest' Of Legal Woes
The Obama administration will have to decide what legal system should be used to prosecute the detainees and where they will be detained, says Fidell.
"The Bush administration left the Obama administration with a mare's nest of legal and practical problems. And it's going to take some time, and the best minds that the legal profession has, to sort those problems out," he says.
The new administration will also have to decide what to do with detainees whom the government does not have enough evidence to try — but whom U.S. intelligence agencies say are too dangerous to release. Waxman, the former detainee affairs official, says Obama will have to strike the right balance.
"In trying to navigate these policy dilemmas, the new president needs to balance on the one hand security, with on the other hand, not just civil liberties, but also legitimacy," he says.
Waxman says it's more important now to move competently, rather than quickly, in deciding what to do with Guantanamo.
This brief report, byBarry Schweid, was published by the Associated Press, January 21, 2009.
WASHINGTON -- President Obama is preparing to tap George Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic leader, for a top diplomatic post for the Middle East.
Officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the new administration is preparing to announce the appointment shortly. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they have not been authorized to disclose it publicly.
Mitchell would assist Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama's pick for secretary of State. The Senate was expected to vote on Clinton's nomination Wednesday.
The parameters of Mitchell's role were not immediately clear. Recent reports said Dennis Ross, longtime U.S. negotiator, would be named an adviser to Clinton.
Mitchell, 75, took on difficult diplomatic assignments during President Bill Clinton's presidency.
This article was published by Agence France Presse, January 21, 2009.
New President Barack Obama on Wednesday made a flurry of calls to Arab and Israeli leaders in a signal that Middle East peacemaking is a top priority following an Israeli offensive in Gaza.
A Palestinian spokesman said that Obama had told Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas that he was the recipient of his first call as the 44th US president.
The White House source confirmed the calls, on condition of anonymity, and said Obama also telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II.
Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel, are key mediators between the Jewish state and the Palestinians, including in efforts to clinch a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.
More than a week after Israel launched its December 27 assault in the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire from the Islamist movement Hamas, Obama promised to engage in Middle East diplomacy "immediately" upon taking office January 20.
Obama promised Abbas to work toward a "durable peace" in the Middle East, Abba's spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
"He said he would deploy every possible effort to achieve peace as quickly as possible," the spokesman added. "President Abbas urged him to work towards peace based on international resolutions."
A close Abbas aide admitted surprise at the speed with which Obama moved.
"We were not expecting such a quick call from President Obama but we knew how serious he is about the Palestinian problem," said Yasser Abed Rabbo.
"The speed of the call is a message signalling to all concerned parties that the Palestinian people has one address and that's president Abbas."
The Islamist Hamas movement ousted Abbas' Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in 2007, deepening divisions between the two camps.
"It also shows the level of seriousness that we hope to see translated into practice in the future," Abed Rabbo said.
"This message after the Israeli massacre in Gaza shows that President Obama realizes that the only way out of this tragedy is a political settlement guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinian people."
He was referring to the 22-day Israeli assault on the strip that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, including at least 400 children.
Hillary Clinton, Obama's choice for secretary of state who is expected to face a Senate vote Wednesday for her confirmation, said recently that she would rule out engaging with Hamas.
The Senate will hold a roll call vote on Clinton's appointment the day after Obama was inaugurated, a Democratic leadership source said.
Obama then plans to name former Northern Ireland peacemaker George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy, aides told the Washington Post, adding the move is to send a signal the new administration wants to deal quickly with the conflict.
Mitchell, 75, is a retired US senator who steered the tough negotiations that led to lasting peace in Northern Ireland. He is the son of a Lebanese immigrant mother, and of an Irish father who when orphaned was adopted by a Lebanese family.