Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Armenian hero Turkey would prefer to forget

Robert Fisk                             Independent/UK                            27 May 2013

 Confronted by the chilling hundredth anniversary of the genocide of one and a half million Armenian men, women and children at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915, Turkey’s government is planning to swamp memories of the Armenian massacres with ceremonies commemorating the Turkish victory over the Allies at the battle of Gallipoli in the same year.  Already, loyalist academics have done their best to ignore the presence of thousands of Arab troops among the 1915 Turkish armies at Gallipoli -- and are now even branding an Armenian Turkish artillery officer who was decorated for his bravery at Gallipoli as a liar who fabricated his own biography.
Now these academics are even claiming that the Armenian army captain invented his two medals.  Yet one of the most the outspoken Turkish historians to have fully acknowledged the 1915 genocide, Taner Akcam, has tracked down Torossian’s family in America, met his grandaughter, and inspected the two Ottoman medal records.
Turkey, as we all know, wants to join the European Union.  I also, by chance, happen to think it should join the EU.  How can we Europeans claim that the Muslim world wishes to stay ‘apart’ from our ‘values’ when an entire Muslim country wants to share our European society?  We are hypocrites indeed.  Yet how can Turkey still hope to join the EU when it still refuses to acknowledge the truth of the Armenian genocide – and symbolises this denial by a scandalous attack on a long dead Ottoman officer? 
His memoirs, ‘From ‘Dardanelles to Palestine’, were first published in Boston in 1947.  Ayhan Aktar, professor of social sciences at Istanbul Bilgi University, first came across a copy of the book 20 years ago and was amazed to learn – given Turkey’s attempt to annihilate its entire Armenian population in 1915 – that there were officers of Armenian descent fighting for the Ottomans.  The eight month battle for Gallipoli – an Allied landing on the Dardanelles straits dreamed up by Winston Churchill in the hope of capturing the Ottoman capital of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul) and breaking the trench deadlock on the Western Front – was a disaster for the British and French, and the mass of Australian and New Zealand troops (the ANZAC forces) fighting with them. 
In his book, Torossian recounts the ferocious fighting at Gallipoli and other battles – until, towards the end of the Great War, he found his sister among the Armenian refugees on the death convoys to Syria and Palestine.  He eventually travelled to the US where he died.
The gutsy Professor Aktar, however – noticing his colleagues’ unwillingness to acknowledge that Arabs and Armenians fought in the Ottoman Army -- decided to publish Terossian’s book in the Turkish language.  Initial reviews were favourable until two historians from Sabanci University took exception to Ayhan Aktar’s work.  Dr Halil Berktay, for example, wrote 13 newspaper columns in ‘Taraf’ to declare the entire book a fiction and Torossian a liar, a view that came close to what Aktar calls “character assassination”.  “
This book, along with Aktar’s introduction, pokes a hole in the dominant narrative in Turkey about the Gallipoli war being a war of the Turks.  As Aktar shows in his introduction, not only Torossian and other Christians played an important role in Gallipoli, but some of the military units were also composed of Arabs.”
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke at Gallipoli two years ago and gave a perfectly frank account of how Turkey planned to define the Armenian genocide on its hundredth anniversary.  “We are going to make the year of 1915 known the whole world over,” he said, “not as an anniversary of a genocide as some people claimed and slandered (sic), but we shall make it known as a glorious resistance of a nation – in other words, a commemoration of our defence of Gallipoli.”
So Turkish nationalism is supposed to win out over history in a couple of years’ time.  Descendants of those who died in the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli, however, might ask their Turkish hosts in 2015 why they do not honour those brave Arabs and Armenians – including Captain Torossian – who fought alongside the Ottoman Empire.

Our Twisted Politics of Grief

In the "endless war," some kinds of grief are more useful than others
by Norman Solomon               Common Dreams                   May 27, 2013

Killed in a bombing by the US military in eastern Afghanistan on April 7, 2013, the lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony. (AP Photo / Filtered)
The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.
The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.
However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.  
In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.”
A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place.  It won’t work in this shrunken world. To be killed is bad enough.  But to be killed with impunity? To be killed by a machine, from the sky, a missile fired by persons unseen who do not see who they’re killing from hundreds or thousands of miles away? To be left to mourn for loved ones killed in this way?
Presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. [But}if the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand—like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans—is vital. And grievously incomplete.   [Extracts only, from a long article.] .

An Increasingly Unchecked Surveillance State

The US government extensively monitors its citizens' internet activities, with dangerous effects on personal liberties.
by Murtaza Hussain          Published by Al-Jazeera-English            May 21, 2013

Companies could face fines if they refuse to share client data requested by government agencies. The most egregious rights violations tend to happen against the voiceless; those who have neither the platform nor resources to articulate their grievances to the broader world. Last week, however, the US Department of Justice was caught in a very public transgression against the freedom of an influential and empowered private organisation when it was revealed that it had engaged in a spying campaign against the Associated Press (AP) - one of the country's largest news agencies.
In what has been described as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion", AP revealed that Obama's Department of Justice had engaged in a surveillance campaign targeting its reporters and editors. This campaign included the covert acquisition of phone records from AP staff; including from their home and personal cell numbers. In a public letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, AP President Gary Pruitt said the surveillance would: Reveal communications with confidential sources and disclose information... that the government has no conceivable right to know.
It would seem, however, that soliciting such confidential knowledge was just what the government was after, as it sought to obtain information regarding AP's reporting on CIA operations in Yemen. Indeed, far beyond this incident of spying on the press, it has been demonstrated over the past several years that the US government under Obama has developed a seemingly insatiable appetite for its citizens' private information. Furthermore - and to the detriment of the American right to privacy - they have shown few qualms about the means they are willing to employ to acquire such data.
Digital documentation :   In 2010, the Washington Post's landmark report "Top Secret America" - an investigative effort to document the rapidly expanding and unaccountable security apparatus developing in the country - uncovered a stunning fact about the depth of surveillance Americans today find themselves under.   According to the report: Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.
In a world where such media have become the primary means of communication for millions of citizens, this level of undisclosed documentation is incredibly significant. Government spying on citizens' internet activities is not simply an intrusion into their external communications, but in many ways it represents surveillance of a significant chunk of their mental lives as well.
Never before has such an immense repository of information been available to a state - but without so much as public disclosure, this huge trove of knowledge is being created by the US government for purposes that have never been properly articulated.
A particularly insidious example of how Americans have been robbed of their right to privacy can be seen in government monitoring of social media and email platforms. When services such as Twitter, Facebook and Gmail first launched and millions of Americans rushed to take part in what seemed to be another opportunity for benign internet socialising, they could not have been expected to know that they were sharing intimate private thoughts and information not just with friends and family, but with the state as well.
In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security quietly began a programme to monitor social media in conjunction with the military contractor General Dynamics. This programme - disclosed only after privacy organisations filed lawsuits that revealed its existence - casts its surveillance net broadly enough that any internet user who uses certain keywords (some apparently as innocuous as "wave", "pork" and "Mexico") would be considered suspicious and subject to more intensive investigation.
The above is the first half of a long article. A.

UN Human Rights Chief Slams US Over Gitmo, 'War on Terror'

'Time and again' U.S. commits 'profoundly disturbing' rights violations
- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer               Common Dreams                  May 27, 2013

Anti-terror policies implemented by the U.S. and governments around the world have grossly violated human rights, warned United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday, warning that the U.S. government's Guantanamo Bay detention center and international rendition and drone programs have done far more harm than good.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay (Reuters/Susana Vera) "Time and again, my Office has received allegations of very grave violations of human rights that have taken place in the context of counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations," Pillay warned. "Such practices are self-defeating. Measures that violate human rights do not uproot terrorism: they nurture it."
In the speech, given at the opening of the spring session of the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, Pillay most explicitly slammed the U.S. for Guantanamo, in which 166 prisoners remain in indefinite detention without charge or trial.  "The United States’ failure to shut down the Guantanamo detention center has been an example of the struggle against terrorism failing to uphold human rights, among them the right to a fair trial," Pillay stated.
166 detainees in Guantanamo continue to be held without charge or trial, while half have been cleared for transfer. Over 100 remain on a hunger strike that began over four months ago, garnering international attention for the prisoners' plight.
Pillay continues: The continuing indefinite detention of many of these individuals amounts to arbitrary detention, in breach of international law, and the injustice embodied in this detention center has become an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists. [...]  I have repeatedly urged the Government of the United States of America to close Guantanamo Bay in compliance with its obligations under international human rights law.
Pillay did not stop there, however. Many European states are complicit in the U.S.'s human rights abuses committed in name of the "war on terror," Pillay warned—namely through the global kidnapping and rendition program spearheaded by the U.S.  Pillay pressed for a thorough investigation into all countries involved:
I am dismayed by the continuing failure of many European States to undertake public and independent investigations of past involvement in the U.S. renditions program, under which terrorist suspects were captured and delivered to interrogation centers without regard for due process. Some of them still languish in Guantanamo.
Pillay went on to condemn the use of armed drones for counter-terrorism purposes, calling drone strikes "profoundly disturbing" on the basis of human rights. "The worrying lack of transparency regarding the use of drones has also contributed to a lack of clarity on the legal bases for drone strikes, as well as on safeguards to ensure compliance with the applicable international law," Pillay said.
Pillay's statements follow President Obama's speech last week at the National Defense University in Washington, in which he promised to modify the U.S. drone program and take measures to close Guantanamo Bay.
The speech, however, was criticized as both "long overdue" and "not good enough" by rights groups.
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Should Memorial Day Include Commemoration of Thoreau?

by Juan Cole                          Pub. by Informed Comment              May 27, 2013

Memorial Day began as a commemoration for the dead in the US Civil War, and especially for the Northern dead. Southern states for the most part had their own days of mourning for Confederate dead (some still do). Only after World War I when the day was repurposed as a commemoration of the soldiers killed in all American wars was it gradually adopted by all the states; ultimately it became the subject of Federal legislation.
In its original incarnation as a product of the Civil War, Memorial Day was divisive and triumphalist, a Northern institution. If it were more widely remembered that the day began with this focus, we might be less enthusiastic about it today. After all, we have mixed feeling about having fallen into civil war in the first place. Perhaps repurposing is central to our commemorations today.
Progressives have long been uncomfortable with the idea of a day dedicated to soldiers killed in the nation’s wars. Conflicts like James K. Polk’s Mexican War, William McKinley’s Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt’s Philippines War, Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War, and George W. Bush’s Iraq War were wars of aggression, seeking territory or resources or both. No one would want to exalt these seedy episodes in American history, however much we regret the soldiers’ lives expended.
Polk imposed a poll tax to pay for his Mexican War, which Henry David Thoreau declined to pay. He had authored, the first year of the war (1846), a work he entitled “Civil Disobedience,” staking out the right of individuals to decline to obey unjust laws. Thoreau went to jail for a night over the stance he took on the poll tax, until someone paid his bail. There is an anecdote that his friend, the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to see him in jail. Emerson exclaimed, “What are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what you are doing out there?”
Thoreau was saying that in times of an unjust law and an unjust war, honorable persons will likely be in jail.  Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” went on to influence Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King (which is how we got the Civil Rights movement and an end to Jim Crow segregation.)
While the American soldiers who have died in the nation’s wars deserve to be memorialized, not all the wars they fought in do. A wise nation would barbecue with a sense of unease today, a sense of regret at all the unnecessary and merely greedy wars the nation has fought.
Memorial Day, it seems to me, should also honor the Thoreaus, the conscientious objectors, the anti-war protesters, who attempted to forestall or shorten the more unjust or immoral of these wars. It isn’t only the fallen soldiers who served the nation, but also those who worked to ensure that no soldiers fell in unjust wars, in wars that after the UN Charter was passed in 1945, would be designated as “illegal.”
© 2013 Juan Cole
Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

NZ should abolish its armed forces

Being military-free would be something to be really proud of and would help New Zealand's economy to boot.
By Sir Bob Jones             NZ Herald                   May 21, 2013

In conversation recently, the subject turned to the most anger-making aspect of humankind. For me it's the disgraceful waste of trillions of dollars annually on militarism.
Currently our navy is soliciting armament manufacturers for the latest submarine detector equipment costing tens of millions of dollars. Why? Opposition defence spokesman Phil Goff summed it up well, saying, "There might be foreign submarines in our waters or there might not. Who cares?" I'll tell you who should. The sucker taxpayer in any visiting submarine's home country, having to pay for this silliness.
We provide aid to Tonga and Fiji yet both maintain costly armies, navies and air forces. Why? Who's going to attack them? Belgium? Moldova? Guatemala?
Well, actually nobody. Apart from earning mercenary fees the only function the Fijian army has served is to usurp democracy and establish military dictatorships headed by screaming halfwits. Come to think of it, the first of these, the Rabuka buffoon, promised a libel action against me for saying he failed school certificate three times.  Apparently he only failed it twice, but I'm still awaiting the writ. It's unsurprising Samoa has no armed forces for the praying nonsense aside, they're sensible people, inclined towards measured consideration before any action.
Many readers will know Spain and be saddened reading of its current woes. While the source of their troubles is the ill-considered euro, Spain's 26 per cent unemployment rate and horrendous 60 per cent with its under 25s, plus the forced austerity, are compounded by it wasting €8 billion annually on ridiculous armed forces. Who are they worried about? Tunisia? Malta? Austria? No one threatens them. Excluding brief skirmishes when they lost their colonies, the last external war Spain was involved in goes back two centuries to Napoleonic times.
This farcical situation arises because they're members of Nato, a military pact now redundant with the end of the Cold War. The perceived Russian expansionism threat was an ideological rather than territorial ambition. Similar preposterous waste exists worldwide. Consider Bulgaria, currently reeling economically, so much so six young men have publicly committed suicide by immolation in recent months, protesting the austerity measures. Yet Bulgaria maintains sizeable armed forces.
Again, why? They even have a navy which perchance not long ago I viewed in the company of a retired US admiral. He shook his head in wonderment and told me modern technology would wipe the lot out in two minutes from 160km away. So again, why? The answer: the idiots joined Nato. If Bulgaria wiped out its armed forces it could pay its national debt off inside four years. Much the same applies to numerous other nations.
Countries needing military forces are few in number. Obviously Israel, likewise Japan because of the North Korean lunatic, Taiwan to make a mainland military unification threat not worthwhile, India and Pakistan because of ... well, because of no good reason other than infantile mutual contempt, both spending massive sums while hundreds of millions of their citizens are impoverished.
We need a small navy for fisheries and that's it, although it could be a division of the police. Late last year our navy engaged in war games with Australia, Britain, Singapore and Malaysia off the coast of China, now our largest trading partner. Why? Imagine the hullabaloo if the Chinese reciprocated with their newly reconditioned aircraft carrier off our coast, accompanied by the rest of their navy.
The great example to the world is Costa Rica. Surrounded by similarly impoverished, highly militarised tin-pot nations, but fed-up with military coups, it abolished its armed forces in 1949. Ever since it's flourished, now having the highest education and health standards in Latin America, Chile excepted.
It's even rated the world's greenest nation thanks to its now affordable Government measures. Meanwhile its Central American neighbours wallow in poverty, spending 60 per cent of their budgets on scruffy armies, despite having no potential enemies. Panama sensibly emulated Costa Rica and abolished its armed forces a decade back, and is enjoying a rapidly rising living standard now they're no longer wasting half their budget.
Idle armies often cause mischief in underdeveloped nations, as we constantly witness in Africa. Consider the infamous 1969 soccer war between El Salvador and neighbouring Honduras.
In their World Cup eligibility series, each game was followed by rioting resulting in some deaths. In protest El Salvador invaded Honduras. Both sides bombed one another's capitals with decrepit airplanes. Over 3000 deaths ensued, mainly Hondurans and unsurprisingly, as is usually the case, mostly civilians. Outside action duly put a stop to it.
New Zealand should wipe out its armed forces. Early in her Administration Helen Clark took a progressive step, grounding our air force's ridiculous fighter planes, thereby saving around $3 billion in running costs until they were finally sold.
Instead of childish rubbish such as the nuclear-free boast, being military-free would be something to be truly proud of and if the Aussies and Americans don't like it, well, bad luck, they'll get over it.
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Wednesday, 22 May 2013


Martin Buber:   “The true meaning of love of one’s neighbour is not that it is a command from God, which we are to fulfil, but that through it and in it we meet God”.
Charlotte Bronte:   “Unless I have the courage to use the language of Truth in preference to the jargon of Conventionality, I ought to be silent.”
G.A.Studdert-Kennedy:   “A pain in the mind is the prelude to all discovery… True life only begins when a man is troubled about life, troubled as to what it means. The difference between a man and an animal is just that capacity for being troubled.”
Fear and Love.          “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” 
John Lennon
Tutu on Human Beings.           “Because God became a human being it means human beings are not just important – they are to be revered, they are very close to being worshiped, because we are all created in the image of God, and therefore each one of us is a God-carrier. And so to ill-treat a human being is not just a criminal act, it is of religious concern, because it is blasphemy”    Tutu – The Authorised Portrait  P. 56
Not Wanted  A rise of 1 percent in joblessness in the United States is accompanied by an increase of roughly 1 percent in the suicide rate.  In our world of increasing inequalities, suicide now claims more US lives than homicide and war combined.
Frances Moore Lappe           
Tutu on Theology            “Theology is not the same thing as religion or faith. Theology is always temporary, transient; there is no final theology.  We are always evolving, always growing in our understanding of things-  Tutu – The Authorised Portrait.”  P. 64 

Inoculating Our Children Against Fear and Hatred

by Frida Berrigan           Pub. by Waging Nonviolence        May 18, 2013      Common Dreams

“Ewww. Don’t do it, Patrick. Don’t do it. Dogs pee here.”A woman was giving my husband a hard time because our 10-month-old son had dropped his banana on the ground. Patrick picked it up, licked it and was about to hand it back to our boy. Seamus grabbed for it eagerly and scarfed it down. The woman was disgusted. I was too. Not by Patrick, but by a judgmental woman. “If we threw away everything this child dropped,” I said “he would be skin and bones. We do this kind of thing all the time. As you can see, he is the picture of health.”
I don’t want my kid to eat dog pee, for sure. But I also don’t want him to live in a hermetic bubble of germophobia. I do try to keep him from eating too much sand, dirt, grass and leaves. But he is a curious child and encounters the world with his hands and mouth first. He usually gets some organic matter in his mouth every time I put him down..But I do not freak out every time he puts something “dirty” in his mouth. Dr. Thom McDade, who directs the Laboratory for Human Biology Research at Northwestern University, found that “microbial exposures early in life may be important… to keep inflammation in check in adulthood.” It is called the hygiene hypothesis and it is gathering credence amongst health professionals.
Recently I listened to Snap Judgment on NPR. The host, Glynn Washington, described moving with his family from Detroit to rural Michigan when he was a little boy. On the first day of school, he got on the bus. The kids all went quiet: “See, we were the only black folk for miles around.” He tries to sit in the first open seat, but a “tow-headed boy spit on the seat, right where I was going to sit. I kept walking down the aisle and every open seat had spit on it, daring me to sit in it.” He finally found a seat at the very back, next to a little girl who silently moved her backpack to the floor to make room for him. They sat together every day after that.
Then the school bus route changed, so that Glynn got on the bus first. He kept sitting in the back with the girl — Mary Jo. One day she got on the bus smelling awful. It was winter and her family’s pipes had frozen, so she could not shower after doing her farm chores. She masked her unwashed body smell with perfume and when she got on the bus, the whole bus erupted, screaming about how bad she stank. Washington called it the odor of “rotting flowers pressed on top of barn filth.”
At first, he wished that she would sit somewhere else. Then he was ashamed, recalling how she had been the only one who accepted him at all. He moved his backpack to the floor and Mary Jo sat down reeking of perfume and chores. They talked for the first time that day — chatted all the way to school. I cried, thinking about how mean kids can be. I cried, thinking about how kids can rise above it all and be so kind and generous.
Where would Seamus have fit into this story? Would he be a spitter? Over my dead body, I thought. No way. His father and I would see to that. No question.
But would he do more than not spit? Would he rail against his classmates’ prejudice and racism; calling them out, calling them to something better? Or would he be the one to silently move his backpack to the floor? Would he be compassionate and accepting? Would he be brave and principled?
That story happened a while ago — Glynn Washington is probably in his mid-40s (You were hoping he was in his 80s, right? And that this terrible experience could be written off as an early 20th century phenomenon?). Forty years ago. Eight years ago. And right now. Racism, sexism, homophobia, violence and good old fashioned ignorance have not disappeared from the playgrounds and yellow buses of the United States.
Isn’t this the real disease? Isn’t this the real dirty, ugly germ cluster that we need to inoculate our children against? Isn’t protecting our kids from this disease more important than sanitizing their toys?
© 2013 Waging Nonviolence        [Abridged]

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Inhumanity of Our 'War on Terror'

by Robert C. Koehler                   Common Dreams                  May 9, 2013

A detainee is being transported at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention facility. You’re strapped to a metal table, unable to move. They stick a two-foot plastic tube up your nose, then down the back of your throat into your stomach. They squirt in the liquid protein. You gag, bleed, vomit. It’s unbearably painful.  The practice of involuntary force-feeding is condemned by most medical organizations, including the AMA. It’s banned by most governments. It’s torture.
When I read about the process by which authorities are breaking the hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay detention center I was struck by the utter efficiency of it. The “food” is transmitted directly from bureaucracy to digestive system, bypassing the consciousness of the individual hunger striker. The human being inhabiting this body is completely irrelevant; he only dies when we say so. Could anything be plainer? The ruling consensus of the United States is desperate for an enemy, any enemy. There is not the least bit of self-reflection involved. Just think about how powerful we are, how secure we are.
In the overall context of the war on terror and the harm it has unleashed on the world, the Guantanamo hunger strike, involving 100 of the 166 detainees still being held at the facility — about two dozen of whom are now being force-fed — is a fairly small matter, perhaps. But the symbolic significance of it is beyond description, not only because of the hatred it foments against the United States and the combatants it recruits, but also because of the obvious common decency and common sense it flaunts.
Could anything be plainer? The ruling consensus of the United States is desperate for an enemy, any enemy. There is not the least bit of self-reflection involved. “People “create enemies in order to maintain a stable, coherent, clear view of the world,” Nathan A. Heflick wrote in a 2011 Psychology Today article. “This is because they can attribute the negatives of the world (which are inevitable) to these enemies. . . And large institutions, as far as I can tell, have the self-awareness of immature children. Tom Engelhardt, for instance, in a recent essay for TomDispatch, ponders the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the sudden end to the Cold War, which left the world with a single, dominant superpower: “And here was the curious thing after centuries of arms races,” he writes. “When there was no one left to race, the U.S. continued an arms race of one.”
And trillions of dollars later, it’s still going on. We can destroy the world a hundred times over but, as Engelhardt writes, we can’t “win a war against minimally armed guerillas.” We can, however, raid their homes, take out their leaders with drone strikes, rattle our symbolic sabers at defiant heads of state and maintain a gulag of bad, bad people, who have virtually zero rights. The Guantanamo facility gouges the national treasury for about a million dollars per detainee annually, and Americans may have more to fear, in the real world, from 5-year-olds with guns than they do from alleged terrorists, but that’s not the point. We need enemies.
Thus the guilt or innocence of the Gitmo prisoners and all our other detainees is irrelevant. It doesn’t even matter that most Americans would probably prefer to see the facility closed, and by large margins elected a president who once promised to do so. In the minds of the ruling consensus and a compliant media, terrorists are not only “out there,” but they are also “in here,” caged, contained, their evil under our absolute control. They can’t even starve themselves to death as a final act of protest against their detention.
In a world of “what goes around comes around,” we are, of course, not secure at all — not when we abandon our highest values and dehumanize a vast portion of the world. Most of us get this, at least as individuals. But how do we make a nation grow up, especially when its principle shareholders have so much money invested in its continuing immaturity?  The best I can do is echo James Carroll, who wrote this week in the Boston Globe that “the way to respond to the threat of their dying from self-imposed starvation is not to torture them with feeding tubes forced into their nostrils, but to address the legitimacy of their demands.”
In other words, look at their humanity. Once we do, we’ll never be the same.            [Abridged]

The west bleeds Syria to weaken Iran

Seumas Milne                                    Guardian/UK                                  7 May 2013

If anyone had doubts that Syria's gruesome civil war is already spinning into a wider Middle East conflict, the events of the past few days should have laid them to rest. Most ominous was Israel's string of aerial attacks on Syrian military installations near Damascus, reportedly killing more than 100.  The bombing raids, unprovoked and illegal, were immediately supported by the US and British governments. Since Israel has illegally occupied Syria's Golan Heights for 46 years, perhaps the legitimacy of a few more air raids hardly merited serious consideration.  But it's only necessary to consider what the western reaction would have been if Syria, let alone Iran, had launched such an attack on Israel – or one of the Arab regimes currently arming the Syrian rebels – to realise how little these positions have to do with international legality, equity or rights of self-defence.

Israeli officials have let it be known that the attacks were aimed at stockpiles of Iranian missiles bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia resistance movement and governing party. They were, it was said, intended as a warning to Iran and protection against Hezbollah attacks in a future conflict.  That's not how it seemed to the Syrian rebel fighters on the ground, filmed greeting the attacks with cries of "Allahu akbar", unaware of who had actually carried them out. By bombing the Syrian army, which has recently made advances in some rebel-held areas, Israel is clearly intervening in the war.
The raids follow the public declaration by Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah last week that his fighters are supporting government forces inside Syria– which are also backed by Iran, Russia and China. It is Syria's role as the pivot of Iranian influence across the Middle East that has turned the Syrian war into a potential regional conflagration. Having hedged its bets, Israel has now started to make clear it regards the prospect of Islamist and jihadist groups taking over from the Assad regime as less threatening than the existing "Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis", as the Israeli defence ministry official Amos Gilad put it recently.  That has coincided with talk of creating an Israeli buffer zone inside Syria, while Israeli officials have been pushing claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons.

That effort came unstuck this week when the UN investigator Carla Del Ponte reported that there were "strong concrete suspicions" that Syrian rebels had themselves used the nerve gas sarin. The claim was hurriedly downplayed by the US, though the rebel camp clearly has an interest in drawing in greater western intervention. The fact is intervention has long been a central dimension of the war. The regime forces are backed by Syria's old allies in Russia and Iran. Funding and military support for the rebels come from the US, Britain, France and their regional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Jordan. 

Airlifts of arms to the Syrian rebels, co-ordinated by the CIA, have increased sharply in recent months to become what one former US official calls a "cataract of weaponry". British and American forces are training rebel fighters in Jordan. The worth of US aid to the Syrian opposition has doubled to $250m, while the EU has now lifted its oil embargo to allow exports from rebel-held areas.  The result of foreign intervention has of course been to escalate the conflict. Now pressure is building on the Obama administration to go further and supply weapons directly. Among those pushing for more intervention is David Cameron – anxious to ingratiate himself with the Gulf dictators – who has been pressing for the EU arms embargo to be lifted. The intention is to build up the west's favoured groups and weaken the role of jihadists who have taken centre stage as the war has gone on. They include Jabhat al-Nusra, which now controls swaths of rebel-held territory and has declared allegiance to al-Qaida.

The irony of the US and other western governments – let alone Israel – once again making common cause with al-Qaida, after a decade of a "war on terror" aimed at destroying it, is one factor holding Obama back. So is the risk of being drawn into all-out war (publicly raised by Britain's chief of the defence staff); the hostility of American public opinion (mirrored in Britain and the Arab world); and the aftermath of intervention in Libya, where militias have been besieging government offices demanding the ousting of western-backed Gaddafi-era leaders. The reality is that what began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war, manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country's breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves. The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical. The result will certainly be to ratchet up the death toll and spread the war. If they were genuinely interested in saving lives western leaders would be using their leverage with the rebels' regional sponsors to negotiate a political settlement that would allow Syrians to determine their own future. An internationally and regionally backed deal now looks the only way to bring the war to an end. In which case, increased intervention is really about improving the west's bargaining hand, at a cost of yet more Syrian suffering – and yet another backlash to come.        [Abridged]
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'No' to US Military Action in Syria

by Katrina vanden Heuvel               The Washington Post,              May 7, 2013

The reported use of chemical weapons by Syria’s embattled Assad regime has not made much difference in that devastated country. Tens of thousands have been killed in brutal fighting already, and the heart-rending violence continues with no end in sight.  Sen. Robert Menendez (D – NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill on Monday that would explicitly allow for sending US weapons to Syrian rebel forces. The chemical weapons reports have had a dramatic effect in the United States, if not in Syria. The president had warned that their use would be a “gamechanger,” with “enormous consequences.
Alarmingly, liberal humanitarian interventionists also have begun talking up military intervention. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former head of policy planning in the State Department under President Obama, led the charge in a bellicose op-edin The Post, comparing the reports of chemical weapons use to genocide in Rwanda. There, she said, America had been shamed by the Clinton administration’s demand for “more conclusive evidence” of genocide. Now, she argued, Obama was repeating the dodge by seeking proof about what took place in Syria.
Obama has thus far stood up to such howls, and displayed a sensible caution that others would do well to emulate. It is time for everyone to sober up about Syria. Given the terrible costs we have suffered from U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the complexities of the sectarian conflict now taking place in Syria, the president is surely right to avoid any rush into another war in the Middle East.
The lessons of those previous wars are particularly relevant here. Syria has many parallels to Iraq. It is a nation rife with religious, sectarian and class divisions. A minority — Shiite in Syria — in alliance with urban Sunnis, Christians and other minorities, has used a dictatorship to rule over the Sunni majority. The uprising has quickly turned sectarian — in part because of the outside influences of Turkey and the Gulf monarchies who seek to weaken the Iranian-Shiite alliance.
Despite U.S. efforts to cobble together a united opposition, the rebels are divided, with Islamists — many espousing open allegiance to al-Qaeda — providing the fiercest fighters. The violence will not end when the brutal regime falls. Already chaos, criminality, local militias and warlords beset “liberated”areas.
As in Iraq, any intervention will necessarily involve nation-building in the midst of trying to disarm competing militias, many of them openly anti-American. But after war, years of occupation, many lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq, we have not been able to create a stable regime, power sharing or an end to the political violence. And no one, not even the neocons, has the appetite to try that again.
Nor does the United States have any legal basis for waging war on Syria. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad does not pose a terrorist or national security threat to the United States, nor a threat to international security. There is no United Nations resolution that can be stretched to provide even a transparent cover for intervention, as there was in Libya. Fortunately, the American people don’t share the lust for war. Tired of wasting lives and resources on misadventure abroad, most Americans oppose even sending arms and supplies to the rebels in Syria. That is also true of public opinion among our European allies.
The horrors in Syria can’t simply be ignored, however. Rather than escalating our military involvement, Obama should redouble our humanitarian efforts both for the growing numbers of displaced refugees, and for those starving inside of Syria. He can seek to reengage the Russian and Chinese — and through them the Iranians — to restrain Assad. The president should be seeking to reduce the violence, not arm and escalate it.
The last thing the president should do is commit the United States militarily to the overthrow of the regime. As in Iraq, we can win that war, but we will surely lose in its violent aftermath — and we will bear responsibility for deepening the humanitarian disaster with our “humanitarian” intervention.         [Abridged]
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