Sunday, 23 September 2012

Five lessons from the de-listing of MEK as a terrorist group

Glenn Greenwald                         Guardian/UK                      September 23,  2012
The Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), is an Iranian dissident group that has been formally designated for the last 15 years by the US State Department as a "foreign terrorist organization". When the Bush administration sought to justify its attack on Iraq in 2003 by accusing Saddam Hussein of being a sponsor of "international terrorism", one of its examples was Iraq's "sheltering" of the MEK. It is a felony to provide any "material support" to that group.
Nonetheless, a large group of prominent former US government officials have become vocal, relentless advocates for the group, specifically for removing them from the terrorist list. These former high-ranking US officials - who represent the full political spectrum - have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK. "'Your speech agent calls, and says you get $20,000 to speak for 20 minutes. you get $25,000 more when you are done, and they will send a team to brief you on what to say.' . . . The contracts can range up to $100,000."
What makes this effort all the more extraordinary are the reports that MEK has actually intensified its terrorist and other military activities over the last couple of years. In February, NBC News reported that "deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by [MEK] " as it is "financed, trained and armed by Israel's secret service". While the MEK denies involvement, the Iranian government has echoed these US officials in insisting that the group was responsible for those assassinations. In April, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported that the US itself has for years provided extensive training to MEK operatives, on US soil. In other words, the US government provided exactly the "material support" for a designated terror group which the law criminalizes.
Despite these reports that the MEK has been engaged in terrorism and other military aggression against Iran - or, more accurately: likely because of them - it was announced on Friday the US State Department will remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations. It is worthwhile to take note of the five clear lessons it teaches:
Lesson One: There is a separate justice system in the US for Muslim Americans.  The past decade has seen numerous "material support" prosecutions of US Muslims for the most trivial and incidental contacts with designated terror groups. Any Muslim who gets with sneezing distance of such a group is subject to prosecution.
Lesson Two: The US government is not opposed to terrorism; it favors it.   The history of the US list of designated terrorist organizations, and its close cousin list of state sponsors of terrorism, is simple: a country or group goes on the list when they use violence to impede US interests, and they are then taken off the list when they start to use exactly the same violence to advance US interests.
Lesson Three: "Terrorism" remains the most meaningless, and thus the most manipulated, term in politics.. This list has nothing to do with terrorism. It is simply a way the US rewards those who comply with its dictates and punishes those who refuse. Terrorism means little other than: violence used by enemies of the US and its allies.
Lesson Four: Legalized influence-peddling within both parties is what drives DC.  MEK achieved its goal the same way most groups in DC do: by buying influence within both parties, and paying influence-peddlers who parlay their political celebrity into personal riches.
Lesson Five: there is aggression between the US and Iran, but it's generally not from Iran.   Over the last decade, the US has had Iran almost entirely encircled, thanks in part to large-scale ground invasions of the nations on its eastern and western borders. Some combination of Israel and the US have launched cyber warfare at the Iranians, murdered their civilian scientists, and caused explosions on its soil. The American president and the Israeli government continuously and publicly threaten to use force against them. And now, the US has taken a key step in ensuring that a group devoted to the overthrow of the regime, a group that sided with Saddam in his war against Iran, is able to receive funding and otherwise be fully admitted into the precincts of international respectability.                                   [Abridged]

  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/23/iran-usa      

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Embassy Protests and Middle East Unrest in Context

by Stephen Zunes                           Pub. byForeign Policy In Focus              September 18, 2012

It seems bizarre that right-wing pundits would be so desperate to use the recent anti-American protests in the Middle East—in most cases numbering only a few hundred people and (except for a peaceful Hezbollah-organized rally in Lebanon) in no cases numbering more than two or three thousand—as somehow indicative of why the United States should oppose greater democracy in the Middle East. Even more strangely, some media pundits are criticizing Arabs as being “ungrateful” for U.S. support of pro-democracy movements when, in reality, the United States initially opposed the popular movements that deposed Western-backed despots in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, and remains a preeminent backer of dictatorships in the region today
What incited many of the protests was an outrageously offensive anti-Islamic movie produced by Christian extremists in California, but there is a lot more to the protests than this triggering event. For years, the Christian right and Islamic right have sought to provoke extremism and hatred as part of an effort to seemingly validate the stereotypes of the other.  The attacks on two U.S. consulate offices in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, are far more significant, though these appear to have been the work of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist Islamist militia which took advantage of a protest to launch their armed assault avenging the killing of a Libyan-born al-Qaeda leader by a drone strike in Pakistan. Ironically, the United States allied with these extremists in the armed uprising against the Gaddafi regime last year.
Where uprisings against dictatorships came largely in the form of unarmed civil insurrections, radical Islamists have been severely weakened, as the popular revolts demonstrated how U.S.-backed regimes could be toppled without embracing terrorism or extremist ideologies. The need to manipulate a hysterical reaction to an obscure, albeit offensive, film is indicative of just how desperate the far-right-wing Islamists have become in asserting their relevance.  Ironically, the Prophet Muhammad faced worse defamation in his lifetime but refused to curse his enemies, following the words of the Qur’an to “Repel evil with something that is better, lovelier.”
In short, anti-democratic forces in both the United States and the Arab world want to discredit the pro-democracy struggles in the Middle East: on the one hand, Republicans and others who unconditionally support pro-Western dictatorships, U.S. interventionism, and the Israeli occupation; and, on the other extreme, radical Islamists who want to counter their increasing marginality. Fortunately, the reactions by these chauvinistic forces are more a relic of the past than they are a harbinger of the future.
In thinking about an appropriate U.S. response, it is important not to repeat the mistakes of U.S. policy in recent years. It is extremely unlikely that such vitriolic anti-American protests would have taken place were it not for decades of U.S. support, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, of allied dictatorships and the Israeli occupation, not to mention the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the ongoing military strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Indeed, interviews with demonstrators in Yemen and elsewhere not surprisingly found grievances towards the United States that went far beyond the film itself.
It is particularly tragic, then, that the victims of last week’s upsurge in violence included Ambassador Christopher Stevens, one of the United States’ most knowledgeable and respected diplomats. The outpouring of grief and remorse from Libyans and others indicates that most Arabs, despite their understandable resentment of U.S. policy, recognize that there can still be good individuals representing the United States abroad.
The best thing that can be done in the memory of Stevens and other victims, then, is to redouble efforts to end U.S. support for Arab dictatorships and Israeli occupation forces. Indeed, the best defense against extremists are political systems that honor people’s demands for freedom and justice.                [Abridged]
© 2012 Foreign Policy In Focus        http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/18
Stephen Zunes is a professor of politics and chair of Middle Eastern studies at the University of San Francisco

Burma: The truth behind the Suu Kyi photocalls

Before she flew to Washington to collect a deserved accolade, Burma's leader told Justin Forsyth what still worries her most: children used as soldiers, prostitutes and cheap labour
Justin Forsyth                        Independent/UK                         19 September  2012
When I met Ms Aung San Suu Kyi a few weeks ago at her house in the country's new capital, Naypyidaw, she was cautiously optimistic about the political changes sweeping Burma and the chance for her country to turn a corner. Yet while the world's attention seems focused on the political reforms, Ms Suu Kyi, who met Hilary Clinton, yesterday, told me that one of her greatest concerns was also with the social and development problems facing her people, as such changes have also revealed very stark problems, hidden by years of authoritarian rule.

According to the 2012 World Report from Human Rights Watch, children are still recruited as soldiers. Elsewhere, gangs entice poor parents to sell their children unwittingly into sexual slavery and child mortality remains high, with many children dying before their fifth birthday. The reality of these problems really struck home a few days later as I sat on the floor of a small wooden stilted house in a small township slum on the outskirts of Rangoon, meeting children from a local youth group.

The eldest, a boy of 17 who did not wish to be named, told how he was taken and forced to fight. Three years ago, while selling balloons on a street to earn money to help his family with school being a distant dream, two men approached him offering a better future with a car and house. After deciding to go with them, he ended up being taken to Mandalay and locked in a warehouse for 10 days by himself. When he was eventually brought out, he realised he was one of 250 young people forcibly recruited into the army. He was made, along with a group of 10 other young people, to clear landmines in the "no man's land" between the army and rebels.onstantly under fire, some of his friends were killed and two were blown up by a mine. The youngest in his group was just 10. During one break from the front, he managed to phone his parents, who came to get him. But it was to be one more year before he was released by the army. He was one of thousands of children caught up in the conflict.

The government has now agreed to release all child soldiers, and with the support of the international community, including Save the Children, a programme started last week to help thousands of former child soldiers return home and start a new life. But there is evidence that, despite the commitment of senior army officers to end child recruitment, it continues.  Despite a recent reshuffle, the government is still dominated by generals and there is little transparency about where the money goes.
Child trafficking is another major problem. The small township where I met the former child soldier is one of the places where gangs entice poor parents to sell their children into sexual slavery. Challenging them is dangerous, as the trade is big money. Yet people want to challenge them. I was struck by how open people were to talking about the problems of the past and the present, in a way they never could have done a few years ago.

Such openness, combined with how desperate people are to be involved in their country's return from isolation, will help build on the momentum that brought about such political change to help tackle social and development problems. But Burma cannot do this alone, and as Ms Suu Kyi said in a recent speech in London, "so many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached".

As the Congressional Medal will recognise Ms Suu Kyi's past struggles, the international community should also offer a plan of support that will recognise the future challenges and help support the work to tackle Burma's social and developmental problems. We cannot allow Burma to become the child-trafficking centre of Asia or the sweatshop of the region.

That is why international aid and engagement has to be focused on giving children – the future of Burma – a decent chance in life. We need to help reduce child and maternal mortality along with growing hunger. NGO's such as Save the Children need to work closely with the government to help protect children from being recruited as soldiers or exploited as cheap labour. Education has to be improved to keep children in the classroom rather than at risk on the streets.

And we, the international community, have to demand transparency and accountability on the use of aid to ensure that people benefit from the changes, even in the remotest areas. Such change is new and fragile. The government and opposition will need to be focused and determined and move quickly to chart a new way forward, and the world should be there to help.
Justin Forsyth is the chief executive of Save The Children                                [Abridged]      

                     http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/burma-the-truth-behind-the-suu-kyi-photocalls-

The only surprise is there aren't more violent protests in the Middle East

The Muslim eruption reflects a deep blowback from US intervention in both Libya and Afghanistan
Seumas Milne                     Guardian/UK                        18 September 2012
Eleven years after it began, Nato's occupation of Afghanistan is crumbling. The US decision to suspend joint Afghan-Nato operations in response to a wave of attacks by Afghan soldiers and police on Nato troops cuts the ground from beneath the centrepiece of western strategy. Nato is, after all, supposed to be training up Afghan troops to take control in time for the withdrawal of combat forces in 2014. Instead, those client regime troops are routinely turning their guns on a long-reviled foreign occupation force. No wonder support for a continued military presence is falling rapidly in the main British political parties – long after it has among the populations of all the occupying states.
The US-British invasion of Afghanistan was of course launched in response to the 9/11 attacks: the poison fruit of US-led support for the Afghan mujahideen war against the Soviet Union. Why do they hate us, many Americans asked at the time, oblivious to their country's role in decades of coups, tyranny, sanctions regimes and occupations across the Middle East. In the aftermath of the killing of the US ambassador to Libya and assault on the consulate in Benghazi, as protests against a virulently Islamophobic US-made video spread across the Muslim world, Hillary Clinton echoed the same sentiments. "How could this happen in a country we helped liberate?" she asked, "in a city we helped save from destruction?"
This is the start of the blowback from US and western attempts to commandeer the Arab uprisings. Something similar is likely to happen in Syria. The invasion of Afghanistan more than a decade ago not only didn't destroy al-Qaida, it spread it into Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and north Africa, and today the flags of its offshoots are flying across the Arab world. In Libya, Nato's intervention sharply escalated the death toll, triggered large-scale ethnic cleansing, spread war to Mali, and left thousands in jail without trial and the country in the control of multiple armed militias. Western governments hailed July's elections, in which most seats were not open to political parties, as bucking the Islamist trend across the region.
The fact that the attack on the US consulate, along with often violent protests that have spread across 20 countries, was apparently triggered by an obscure online video trailer concocted by US-based Christian fundamentalists and émigré Copts Рeven one portraying the prophet Muhammad as a fraud and paedophile Рseems bafflingly disproportionate to outsiders.
But in the wake of the Rushdie affair and Danish cartoons controversy, it should be clear that insults to Muhammad are widely seen by Muslims as an attack on their collective identity.  Those feelings can obviously be exploited. . But it would be absurd not to recognise that the scale of the response isn't just about a repulsive video, or even reverence for the prophet. What set these protests alight is the fact that the injury to Muslims is seen once again to come from an arrogant hyperpower that has invaded, subjugated and humiliated the Arab and Muslim world for decades.
Since launching the war on terror, the US and its allies have attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq; bombed Libya; killed thousands in drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; imposed devastating sanctions; backed Israel's occupation and dispossession of the Palestinians; carried out large-scale torture, kidnapping and internment without trial; maintained multiple bases to protect client dictatorships throughout the region; and now threaten Iran with another act of illegal war.
The video is manifestly only the latest trigger for a deep popular anger in a region where opposition to imperial domination is now channelled mainly through the politics of Islam rather than nationalism. The idea that Arab and Muslim hostility to the US would have been assuaged because it intervened to commandeer Libya's uprising (an intervention most Arabs reject) is absurd.  About two-thirds of people in the Middle East and North Africa say they distrust the US, polling shows, rising to more than three-quarters in Pakistan. After 11 years of the war on terror, following decades of baleful intervention, the only surprise is that there aren't more violent anti-US and anti-western protests in the region.
Western war in the Muslim world has also fed a toxic tide of Islamophobia in Europe and the US. What is it about Muslims that makes them so easily offended, Europeans and Americans commonly demand to know – while Muslims point to cases such as the British 19-year-old who was convicted in Yorkshire last week of posting a "grossly offensive" Facebook message that British soldiers in Afghanistan "should die and go to hell", and ask why they're not afforded that protection.
The events of the last week are a reminder that an Arab world which has thrown off dictatorship will be more difficult for the western powers to hold in thrall. The Economist called the deadly assault on the US consulate in Libya an example of "Arab dysfunction" and urged the US not to retreat from the Middle East but go in deeper, including in Syria. As Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya have already shown, that would only bring disaster.
Twitter: @SeumasMilne   http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/18/violent-protests-blowback-us-intervention

The Global Food System Casino

by Vandana Shiva            The Asian Age                September 14, 2012          Common Dreams

Food is our nourishment. It is the source of life. Growing food, processing, transforming and distributing it involves 70 per cent of humanity. Eating food involves all of us. Yet, it is not the culture or human rights that are shaping today’s dominant food economy. Rather speculation and profits are designing food production and distribution. Putting food on the global financial casino is a design for hunger.
After the US subprime crisis and the Wall Street crash, investors rushed to commodity markets, especially oil and agricultural commodities. While real production did not increase between 2005-2007, commodity speculation in food increased 160 per cent. Speculation pushed up prices and high prices pushed an additional 100 million to hunger. Barclays, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan are all playing on the global food casino.
A 2008 advertisement of Deutsche Bank stated, “Do you enjoy rising prices? Everybody talks about commodities — with the Agriculture Euro Fund you can benefit from the increase in the value of the seven most important agricultural commodities.”  When speculation drives up prices, the rich investors get richer and the poor starve. The financial deregulation that destabilised the world’s financial system is now destabilising the world food system. The price rise is not just a result of supply and demand. It is predominantly a result of speculation.

Between 2003 to 2008, commodity index speculation increased by 1,900 per cent from an estimated $13 billion to $260 billion. Thirty per cent of these index funds are invested in food commodities. The world commodity trading has no relationship to food, to its diversity, to its growers or eaters, to the seasons, to sowing or harvesting.  Seasons are replaced by 24-hour trading. Food production driven by sunshine and photosynthesis is displaced by “dark pools of investment”. The tragedy is that this unreal world is creating hunger for people in the real world.
Gambling on the price of wheat for profits took food away from 250 million people. Speculation had separated the price of food from the value of food. Food is an ecological experience, a sensory experience, a biological experience. With speculation grain markets have been transformed, with futures trading by the grain giants in Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis combined with speculation by investors. And as Mr Kaufman says, “Imaginary wheat bought anywhere affects real wheat bought everywhere.” So if we do not decommodify food more and more people will be denied food; as more and more money is poured into the global casino.
In India, the prices of onion jumped from Rs. 11/kg in June 2010 to Rs. 75/kg in January 2011. While production of onion had gone up from 4.8 million tonnes in 2001-2002 to 12 million tonnes in 2009-2010, prices also went up, showing that in a speculation-driven market there is no correlation between production and prices. The price difference between wholesale and retail was 135 per cent.
Food that has been put on a global casino is serving speculative investors and agribusiness well, but it is not serving people. We need to get food off the global casino and back on people’s plates. Food democracy and food sovereignty can only be achieved by putting an end to financial speculation.  When it comes to food, the margins between stability and chaos are perilously thin. Volatility on the markets can translate quickly to volatility on the streets and we all should remain vigilant.”
The growing concern about speculating on food has forced some banks to stop investing in food commodities. Germany’s Commerzbank and Austria’s Volksbanken have both removed agricultural products from their index fund products. Deutsche Bank had earlier done the same. It is time that every government and every financial institution put people’s right to food above the hunger for profits.     [Abridged]
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology.                © 2012  The Asian Age    
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/14-5

Thursday, 13 September 2012

We Are at War

by Johnny Barber     Common Dreams     September 11, 2012
“We are at War. Somebody is Going to Pay.” —George W. Bush, Sept 11th, 2001.
Eleven years later, we are still at war. Bullets, mortars and drones are still extracting payment. Thousands, tens of thousands, millions have paid in full. Children and even those yet to be born will continue to pay for decades to come.  On a single day in Iraq last week there were 29 bombing attacks in 19 cities, killing 111 civilians and wounding another 235. On September 9th, reports indicate 88 people were killed and another 270 injured in 30 attacks all across the country
The city of Fallujah remains under siege. Not from U.S. troops, but from a deluge of birth defects that have plagued families since the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus by U.S. forces in 2004. No government studies have provided a direct link to the use of these weapons because no government studies have been undertaken, and none are contemplated.  Dr. Samira Alani, a pediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, told Al Jazeera, "We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine.”  The photographs are available online if you can bear to look at what we have wrought.
Our soldiers, some physically damaged by IED’s, some mentally destroyed by PTSD, will pay for these wars for the rest of their days. Drug and alcohol abuse is out of control. Suicide among the troops is an epidemic. 2,916 Americans were lost in the towers on that fateful day, many, many more have perished in the intervening years.
Today, we will be asked to honor the men and woman of our armed forces, but what does honoring the veterans entail? In its most recent report, The Veterans Administration estimates about 107,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Mental illness plagues 45% of homeless vets and 70% suffer from some kind of substance abuse. So how do you honor our veterans? Are “Support Our Troops” ribbons still in vogue? How does our government honor our veterans other than use them as political pawns in stump speeches and cannon fodder for their wars?
84,000 American troops remain in Afghanistan. While the occupation is rarely mentioned in the U.S. mainstream media, that doesn’t mean the killing has stopped. On average, one U.S. soldier dies everyday. Not an enormous sum, unless it is your mother, father, son or daughter. Afghan loses are not reported. They have loved ones who grieve as well.
On the streets of Kabul it is not unusual to see burka clad women clutching starving children begging for spare change. Poverty and hunger is even worse in Kandahar and Helmand, areas that have seen some of the most intense fighting of the war. In southern Afghanistan, 29.5% of the children are suffering from severe malnutrition. Yet, officially, there is no famine in Afghanistan and hundreds of millions of dollars of humanitarian aid has flowed into the country.
Since America’s intervention in Afghanistan, the heroin trade has exploded, doubling opium production. Afghanistan is now the source of 90% of the world’s heroin. This dovetail’s nicely with America’s “War on Drugs.” The growth in the heroin trade coupled with the despair of daily living has contributed to an eruption of drug addiction. Addicts can be found huddled under bridges throughout Kabul. As these men succumb to addiction, their families are left to fend for themselves. Heroin floods the streets of Europe and Russia. Who in the Afghan government benefits?
In 2011 overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market. Russia was second, with $4.8 billion in deals. Over half of the sales, or $33.4 billion, consisted of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. These sales included F-15 fighter jets, dozens of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, as well as an array of bombs and delivery systems, as well as accessories such as night-vision goggles and radar warning systems. These sales offset the flow of US dollars to pay for Saudi oil, and this explains why there is no outrage directed toward the Saudi regime.
In his acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination for President, Obama said, "Our destinies are bound together. A freedom which only asks what's in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity, is unworthy of our founding ideals." In closing, he said, "We travel together. We leave no one behind. We pull each other up.” Why is it our Presidents fail to include those they bomb in their lofty sentiments? The simple truth is our destinies are bound together with those who lie beyond the borders of our country as well.
Johnny Barber is currently in Afghanistan as a member of a delegation from Voices for Creative Non-Violence. He has traveled to Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Gaza to bear witness and document the suffering of people who are affected by war. His work can be viewed at: www.oneBrightpearl-jb.blogspot.com  and www.oneBrightpearl.com
[Extracts from a long article]             http://www.commondreams.org/author/johnny-barber

Desmond Tutu had a point

.   Sir Geoffrey Bindman agrees with Tutu that the Iraq war was illegal and aggressive and breached UN charter provisions. The International Criminal Court should hear their case
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown                 Independent/UK                         9 Sept.  2012

Caryl Churchill, the greatest of modern British playwrights, is showcasing her new work at the Royal Court Theatre. Love and Information is a dazzling, inventive, unsettling theatrical piece.  The cast includes EastEnders' Amanda Drew, the talented black actor Rhashan Stone and Linda Bassett. . In one memorable exchange, women talk about the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein before the Iraq war. [Bush and Blair] "didn't know" says the first woman and her friend replies, "didn't want to know, they wanted it to be true". It goes on playing with the idea of truth wished for and willed, truth made up. The masters of our universe ignored public opposition, played us, broke international law and got away with it.
They still cut and paste facts to suit them and have remade their reputations with consummate proficiency. Those who backed the catastrophic desert adventure are rehabilitated with a kiss – Blair and his wife, his Cabinet, chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Tory and media hawks. Blair is a multimillionaire, so successful in the business world that last week he is said to have earned £620,000 for his help in brokering the world's biggest corporate takeover. Campbell, meanwhile, has a flourishing career and is sought out to comment on all human life and on his deeply-held principles.
Valerie Amos got the international development portfolio when Clare Short later resigned in protest at the way her government was building up the case for war. Amos was sent off to sceptical African nations to get them to back the illegal war, a task she carried out with gusto. Now this war cheerleader is the UN Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian aid and emergency relief. All is forgiven, all forgotten. Christian redemption itself has been duped and dishonoured.
Last week the conscientious and watchful Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Tutu upset that wicked, Western consensus of absolution. He refused to share a platform with Tony Blair at a conference in Johannesburg (for which our man was paid £150,000), accused Bush and Blair of behaving like "playground bullies" and fabricating reasons to go to war. He even called for the two leaders to be tried at the International Criminal Court. Well why not? Why should the court only ever try "darkie" and Commie baddies? Blair and Bush  have a case to answer in an autonomous court and ought to be held accountable for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed during action and the many who are still dying every day.
Blair's response to Tutu was typically slippery and soapy: "To repeat that old canard that we lied about the intelligence is completely wrong as every single independent analysis of the evidence has shown". The ex-PM then listed Saddam's many horrendous crimes and sanguinely claimed that Iraqi children were blossoming, investments booming. Perhaps Brits suffering miserably during the recession should migrate to Iraq, now such an oasis of happiness and opportunity.
This month it is ten years since the infamous, discredited September dossier was released. The Prince (as in Machiavelli) and his gang of New Labourites told us that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to mobilise weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Lord Falconer, one of the insiders, now accepts that the war had little public support and had a "hugely damaging effect" on politics and democracy. The esteemed human-rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Bindman agrees with Tutu that the war was illegal and aggressive, breached UN charter provisions and should be investigated by the international court. Pigs will fly before that ever happens. God knows how long we have to wait until the Chilcot report is published.
But watching the ease with which all the main figures shook off any suggestion of wrongdoing and manipulation didn't give me hope that the chairman, a career diplomat, will deliver serious rebukes or accountability. A-level students I went to speak to recently wanted to know why a young person stealing shoes or a bottle of water ends up in jail while Blair and his tribe are not punished and instead get rich.  I couldn't give them an honest answer without dousing their young hearts with cynicism.       [Abbrev.] 
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/yasmin-alibhai-brown/desmond-tutu-had-a-point-

Monday, 3 September 2012

A final warning that the Pope ignores at his peril

Leading article                      Independent/UK                      03 September 2012

If Pope Benedict does attend the funeral in Milan of Cardinal Martini, whose body, robed and mitred, crosier at his side, was laid out for the veneration of the faithful at the weekend, it will surely be with mixed feelings. The danger of not attending the last obsequies of such a high-ranking prince of the Church is that it might appear cowardly, tantamount to a public admission that a rift had grown up between them. But to attend will take real nerves, and humility, for Carlo Maria Martini's parting shot was a devastating and – coming from a cardinal – an almost unprecedented attack on the Catholic Church's leadership, in effect on the Pope himself, in the form of a final interview with an Italian newspaper.
The Cardinal pulled no punches in his indictment of the contemporary Church, describing it as moribund and out of touch. It was 200 years behind the times on numerous social issues, he said, which was why churches built to hold great congregations now served huddles. By failing to accommodate itself to new kinds of patterns of family life, he added, the Church risked throwing away contact with the next generation. "Why don't we rouse ourselves?" he concluded. "Are we afraid?"
The answer to that question from beyond the grave, is, alas, yes. The rest of the Catholic hierarchy is afraid of its authoritarian leader, and seems unwilling even to question, let alone oppose, his hard-line views on contraception, homosexual relationships, the remarriage of divorced people in church, the admission of women to the priesthood, the abolition of clerical celibacy and a lot of other issues.
This culture of silence is not surprising. A policy of replacing liberal bishops and cardinals with conservatives of the same stamp as the Pope, which has been in place since the late 1970s, when Benedict's predecessor and hero, Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, has cleansed the Church's inner sanctum of questioning minds. Martini's promotion to Archbishop of Milan in 1979 came just before the clampdown got going. In other words, we may have heard the last of the more open-minded Catholic leaders, and we may be wrong if we imagine that the Cardinal's call for modernisation will restart a debate inside the Church on topics that the Pope regards as off-limits.
To the Pope's conservative allies, this can only be good: the less discussion the better. They tend to see all or most of the changes that took place in the Church since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s as regrettable, and prize obedience as a virtue. Their allies, in a sense, are those militant atheists who draw satisfaction from the sight of the Catholic Church, and all the other churches, rendering itself ridiculous in the eyes of the modern world by tying itself up in the moth-eaten brocade of worn-out dogmas.
Most of the rest of us will feel regretful that the doors of the papal apartments remain so tightly closed to voices like that of the Cardinal – if only because what he said in his interview ought to have been blindingly obvious.
As Archbishop of Milan, the city from which the Emperor Constantine in 317 issued the historic edict proclaiming toleration for the Christian religion, Martini was keenly aware of the importance of maintaining the Church's association with the broad currents of social and intellectual life in Europe – a partnership that lasted the best part of two millennia but which is dwindling to nothing. His message was about the need to re-engage before it's too late. Perhaps it already is too late, and the Church and Europe are destined to go their entirely separate ways, inhabiting the same space but not involved in any kind of conversation, in which case both sides will be impoverished – the Church, perhaps, more than the world around it, as the Cardinal appeared to recognise.
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-a-final-warning-that-the-pope-

Hague is wrong... we must own up to our brutal colonial past

We associate the term 'concentration camps' with the Nazis. But it started with the British
Owen Jones                               Independent/UK                            03 September 2012
Remember all that national soul-searching over Empire and all the horrors committed in its name? No, me neither. There has never been an apology for British imperialism. Consider India, the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire. At the beginning of the 18th-century – before it was conquered – its share of the world economy was well over a fifth, nearly as large as all of Europe put together. By the time the country won independence, it had dropped to less than 4 per cent. India was treated as a cash cow. India was the world's biggest buyer of British exports and provided highly paid work for British civil servants – all at India's expense.
As India became crucial to British prosperity, millions of Indians died completely unnecessary deaths.  As a result of laissez-faire economic policies ruthlessly enforced by Britain, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation needlessly. Millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even as famine raged. When relief camps were set up, the inhabitants were barely fed and nearly all died.
The last large-scale famine to take place in India was under British rule. Up to four million Bengalis starved to death in 1943 after Winston Churchill diverted food to well-fed British soldiers and countries such as Greece. "The starvation of anyway underfed Bengalis is less serious" than that of "sturdy Greeks", he argued. "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion," he said to his Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery. In any case, the famine was their fault for "breeding like rabbits". Churchill had form: back in 1919, he declared himself "strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes", arguing that it would "spread a lively terror".
We normally associate "concentration camps" with the Nazis, but the term entered into general circulation because of the British. During the Boer War at the turn of the 20th-century, up to a sixth of the Boer population – mainly women and children – perished after the British imprisoned them in camps. Their homes and crops were burned, their sheep and cattle butchered in a scorched earth policy.
These sorts of atrocities are not all part of some distant past. In July, three survivors of the 1950s Mau Mau uprising against British rule in Kenya demanded reparations from the Government for alleged torture. In the brutal crackdown of the insurgency, thousands of members of the Kikuyu tribe were driven into detention camps. Estimates of deaths vary widely; historian David Anderson puts the death toll at 20,000.  British crimes were hidden from the population back home in favour of a daily diet of Mau Mau atrocities.
None of this is to single out Britain: a conspiracy of silence remains over European colonialism as a whole. Belgium's King Leopold II should be regarded as a tyrant up there with Hitler and Stalin. Under his tyrannical rule over the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo, about 10 million people – or half the population – died horrible deaths. Millions were forced to collect sap from rubber plants; those that missed their quotas had their hands chopped off. It is difficult to know where to start with other European horrors, like the forgotten German genocide against the Herero and Nama people in South-West Africa in the early 1900s, or the post-war French slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Indochina and Algeria.
European moral superiority is often asserted, despite the fact that the greatest atrocities in human history – colonialism, two catastrophic wars, Nazism, the Holocaust – were all committed by Europeans, and within living memory. But it is all too tempting to airbrush the colonial era from history. It is all too easy for an aggressor to say "let bygones be bygones". Hundreds of millions still suffer from the consequences of colonialism. As the then-South Africa President Thabo Mbeki put it in 2005, colonialism left a "common and terrible legacy of countries deeply divided on the basis of race, colour, culture and religion". Across Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, divisions created or exacerbated by colonialism remain.
We could learn from our colonial past, too. The siren voices of armchair bombers, loudly demanding intervention in foreign lands, would be far less appealing if we were aware of past horrors. In the 19th century, Britain was bogged down in an unwinnable war in Afghanistan; and so history repeats itself.
Both William Hague and Gordon Brown would have us believe that we have tortured ourselves enough over Empire, and that it is time to move on. But a national debate over this largely ignored – and crucial – part of our history has not even begun. It is desperately overdue.           Twitter: @OwenJones84              [Abridged]
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/owen-jones-hague-is-wrong-we-must-own-up-to-our-

Getting Rid of George W. Bush Wasn't Enough

The issue isn't Obama, any more than it was Bush before him. The issue is US power
by Owen Jones                         Independent/UK                         September 2, 2012
How easy it was to scrutinise US power when George W. Bush was in office. After all, it was difficult to defend an administration packed with such repulsive characters, like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, whose attitude towards the rest of the world amounted to thuggish contempt Many will shudder remembering that dark era: the naked human pyramids accompanied by grinning US service personnel in Abu Ghraib; the orange-suited prisoners in Guantanamo, kneeling in submission at the feet of US soldiers; the murderous assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah. By the end of Bush's term in office, favourable opinion of the US had plummeted.
But US foreign policy these days escapes scrutiny. In part, that is down a well-grounded terror of the only viable alternative to Barack Obama: the increasingly deranged US right. A deliberate shift to a softer, more diplomatic tone has helped, too. But it is also the consequence of a strategic failure on the part of many critics of US foreign policy in the Bush era. Bush seemed to be the problem, and an understanding of US power – the nature of which remains remarkably consistent from president to president – was lost.
This week, the UN's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, Ben Emmerson QC, demanded that the US allow independent investigation over its use of unmanned drones, or the UN would be forced to step in. These drones target militants, it is claimed, but according to a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 282 and 585 civilians have died in Pakistan as a result.
According to Pakistan's US Ambassador, Sherry Rehman, the drone war "radicalises foot soldiers, tribes and entire villages in our region". After the latest strike this week, Pakistan's foreign ministry said the attacks were "a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity and are in contravention of international law". Its Parliament has passed a resolution condemning the drone war. It is armed aggression by the Obama administration, pure and simple. Two months ago, former US President Jimmy Carter described drone attacks as a "widespread abuse of human rights" which "abets our enemies and alienates our friends". He's not wrong:
Guantanamo was iconic of Bush's brutality, and after his election Obama signed executive orders mandating its closure. The camp remains open for business, pledged to take new "high-value" detainees if captured. The same goes for Obama's pledge to shut down CIA-run "black site prisons" in Afghanistan. At least 20 secret temporary prisons remain in place, with widespread allegations of ill-treatment.
Under Obama, the US role in the Middle East remains as cynically wedded to strategic self-interest as ever. Despotic tyrannies like Saudi Arabia are armed to the teeth: in 2010, the US signed an arms deal with the regime worth $60bn, the biggest in US history. Obama has resumed sales of military equipment to Bahrain's dictatorship as it brutally crushes protesters struggling for democracy. Last year, Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain with tacit US support. And even when the US-backed Mubarak dictatorship was on the ropes in Egypt, Obama's administration remained a cheerleader, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arguing that the "Egyptian Government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people".
Coupled with the US's ongoing failure to pressure Israel into accepting a just peace with the Palestinians, no wonder there is rising global anger at Obama. But of course, the issue isn't Obama, any more than it was Bush before him. The issue is US power. But despite its best efforts – and as menacing as it can be for Pakistani villagers and Bahraini democrats – its power is in decline. The US share of global economic output was nearly a quarter in 1991; today, it represents less than a fifth.
With the last remaining superpower at its weakest since World War II, there is an unmissable opening to argue for a more equal and just world order, restricting the ability of Great Powers to throw their weight around. And a word of warning: if we don't seize this opportunity now, one superpower will simply be replaced by another – and our world will be as unequal and unjust as ever.      © 2012 The Independent         
http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/09/02-4

Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair

I couldn't sit with someone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie
Desmond Tutu                  The Observer,                     2 September 2012
The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.
Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.
If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth? Days before George W Bush and Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, I called the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, to urge that United Nations weapons inspectors be given more time to confirm or deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Should they be able to confirm finding such weapons, I argued, dismantling the threat would have the support of virtually the entire world. Ms Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer.
On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers' circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush's chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?
The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.
On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague. But even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.
Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?
Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level. If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children? My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God's family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.
I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on "leadership" with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/02/desmond-tutu-tony-blair-iraq