Thursday, April 30, 2009

RIGHTS-US: Calls for Torture Inquiry Aren’t Going Away

By William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Apr 29 (IPS) - A coalition of 19 human rights, faith-based and justice organisations is calling on President Barack Obama to investigate torture they charge was sanctioned by the administration of former President George W. Bush.

The group, led by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), is proposing both a special prosecutor and an “independent, non-partisan commission to examine and report publicly on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in the period since September 11, 2001.”

The campaign’s call for accountability comes just days after the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on interrogation and torture and the Justice Department legal memos sanctioning torture and inhumane treatment.

Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, told IPS, “NRCAT supports both the establishment of an independent, non-partisan commission of inquiry to investigate the use of torture and a Department of Justice investigation for criminal culpability of those who authorised or carried out acts of torture. Each process is important and can be pursued independently.”

He added, “A commission will help us understand how the illegal interrogation policies came into effect and how they were implemented so that we can ensure that safeguards are in place to prevent future administrations from following the same path.”

“A criminal investigation will send the clear message that government officials cannot violate laws against torture without facing serious criminal sanctions. If we hope to end the practice of torture by agents of the United States once and for all, we must pursue both avenues.”

The coalition proposes a commission, “comparable in stature to the 9/11 commission,” to “look into the facts and circumstances of such abuses, report on lessons learned and recommend measures that would prevent any future abuses.”

The group’s online petition says that a commission is “necessary to reaffirm America’s commitment to the Constitution, international treaty obligations and human rights. The report issued by the commission will strengthen U.S. national security and help to re-establish America’s standing in the world.”

Organisations endorsing the effort include Amnesty International USA, the Constitution Project, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Institute, and Physicians for Human Rights.

NRCAT and its partner organisations say they have “worked together to end U.S.-sponsored torture. During 2008, the religious community advocated for a Presidential Executive Order ending torture. It happened. On January 22, President Obama issued an Executive Order halting torture.”

The coalition says the task now is “to make sure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again. To accomplish this goal, our nation needs to put safeguards in place to prevent its recurrence. We will better understand what safeguards are needed if we have a comprehensive understanding of what happened – who was tortured, why they were tortured, and who ordered the torture. As a nation we need the answers to those questions.”

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the coalition also urges the appointment of a special counsel to investigate criminal acts relating to the confinement and interrogation of detainees since Sep. 11, 2001.

The letter notes that excerpts of a recently released report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concluded that detainees “had been subjected to torture – a crime under both domestic and international law.”

It says, “The ICRC report, which describes conduct of shocking brutality, shows that a limited investigation is simply insufficient in this case. Government officials, from the lowest CIA officer, to the highest levels of the Executive Branch may be criminally culpable for the use of torture.”

“Because such an investigation will include a review of the conduct of very top officials of the previous administration, and because the appearance of absolute impartiality in determining whether and whom to prosecute is critical to the public’s support and understanding of such prosecutions and the laws at issue, we believe it is both wise and necessary for you to refer this investigation to a Special Counsel.”

NRCAT twice asked former Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special counsel to investigate both the destruction of the CIA videotapes that documented the use of “harsh” interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists and whether such techniques violated U.S. and international law.

“While an investigation was initiated into the destruction of the tapes, the investigator, John Durham, was not given the independent status of Special Counsel. Further, Attorney Durham’s investigation was limited to the destruction of the tapes; he apparently does not have the authority to investigate the lawfulness of the interrogation conduct depicted on said tapes,” the group said.

“A full, independent and public investigation into possible violations of U.S. law by high-ranking government officials in the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is necessary.”

“The American people need to know how detainees have been treated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo and elsewhere around the world. And they need to know that every measure has been taken to ensure that no violations of U.S. law with respect to torture and ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’ will be permitted in the future. An independent investigation is a necessary part of achieving this goal,” the group said.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Kashmir shuts in poll protest, troops patrol

Reuters – Indian policemen stop traffic at a security barricade in Srinagar April 29, 2009. Government forces locked …

SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Government forces locked down Kashmir’s main city on Wednesday to thwart planned protests against India’s general election, renewing tensions in the disputed region after a short period of relative calm.

Troops patrolled deserted streets and erected barricades in Srinagar, cutting off residential areas after separatists called a two-day strike from Wednesday. Shops and businesses also remained closed. Voting is scheduled on Thursday.

New Delhi is frustrated by our resistance movement, and not allowing us to carry out peaceful protests against the polls is a shameful act,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the separatists alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference.

The boycott call, which came suddenly after two rounds of voting in rest of India, is seen as a bid by the separatists to deny New Delhi any credit for holding an election in Kashmir.

Analysts say the rebels also want to avoid a repeat of a successful local election last year when Kashmiris voted in large numbers, though many saw it as a vote for better governance rather than acceptance of Indian rule.

Hurriyat’s decision came after United Jihad Council (UJC), a Pakistan-based amalgam of 13-militant groups fighting Indian troops in Kashmir, asked it to support their boycott call.

India’s general election began this month, but voting in the Kashmir valley has been split into three phases starting from April 30. The staggered voting is to allow thousands of security forces to move around the troubled region.

Most of the senior separatist leaders including Farooq, hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik were placed under house arrest, police said.

The Muslim-majority region last year witnessed some of the biggest pro-independence protests since a separatist revolt against Indian rule erupted 20 years ago. But those protests tapered off and a state election was held peacefully in December.

Aside from Congress, other parties contesting the polls include the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the regional National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party.

More than 47,000 people have been killed in the region since discontent against New Delhi’s rule turned into a full-blown rebellion in 1989. Separatists put the toll at 100,000.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

George Galloway tours U.S. for Palestine

By Aaron Moore and Jacqueline Moore | Socialist Worker, April 28, 2009

GARDEN GROVE, Calif.–”With controversy comes interest, and with interest comes more support.” These are words that British MP George Galloway must be intimately familiar with. His support of the Palestinian cause is not the only brush with controversy that Galloway was referring to at an Al Awda event drawing some 1,000 people on April 7.

Galloway is well-known as an unflinching supporter of social justice causes that are often considered to be politically unpalatable to his colleagues. He has also challenged the government’s policies on Iraq, arguing that “Iraq is not separate from the question of Palestine,” and has written a biographical portrait of Fidel Castro.

What you can do

For more information on Viva Palestina and to read about the tour, visit their Web site.

Banned from scheduled speaking events in Canada due to “national security concerns,” this was Galloway’s last speaking appearance on his latest tour of North America. After an introduction by Al Awda co-founder Zahi Damuni, Galloway started his lecture with a description of how he became active in the Palestinian cause in the 1970s, and the events that took place along the route of his Viva Palestina project.

The Viva Palestina project succeeded in bringing over £1 million in aid to Gaza in February, after making stops throughout Europe and Africa. One theme of his talk was that common citizens are generally in support of the Palestinian cause once they hear the truth about the illegal Israeli occupation. He explained how he became involved in the issue after listening to a Palestinian activist.

Galloway noted the turning tide of public opinion toward a desire to end the occupation and reach peace. “There’s a new atmosphere in the U.S. over Palestine,” he said. “The phenomenal response to this tour demonstrates that.”

He argued that activists shouldn’t settle for a two-state peace solution, but should instead demand a one-state solution where people of all ethnicities and religions can dwell together in peace with equal rights for all.

He argued that Israel has “spent its entire bank of public support” during its recent 22-day assault and ongoing siege on Gaza. Galloway condemned Israel for “[taking] the precautions of locking all the doors,” giving the population of Gaza nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the violence of the assault.

Galloway emphasized the gravity of the current situation in Gaza under the siege, and condemned the lack of media attention it has been getting: “At least when they were being bombed, they were in the news. Now they suffer in silence.” He also condemned the lack of support from surrounding Arab nations, specifically Egypt, stating, “This is an Arab siege, unless Egypt is no longer a country.”

He went on to announce plans to launch Viva Palestina USA, a convoy modeled after Europe’s to cross the Egyptian border into Gaza with aid from Americans. He said it would be co-led by Vietnam veteran and long-time peace activist Ron Kovic, who was also present at the event. The convoy would leave on July 4, as a symbolic gesture to acknowledge that Gaza’s right to self-determination is as significant as America’s

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Obama has ‘not done enough’ to distance US from Bush crimes

Morning Star Online
Wednesday 29 April 2009

NEW AGE: Obama needs to do more to prove that change is not skin deep.

AMNESTY declared on Wednesday that US President Barack Obama must do more to shake off the legacy of torture, impunity and unlawful detention he inherited from the previous US administration.

The human rights group released a report to coincide with the first 100 days of Mr Obama’s administration which applauded his decision to close the Guantanamo detention camp within 12 months and his rejection of torture.

But it stressed that more needs to be done, especially at Guantanamo Bay, where the US continues to hold 240 people without charge.

Only one detainee - Ethiopian national and British resident Binyam Mohamed - has been released since Mr Obama took office.

And no-one has yet been charged under the new administration.

Report author Rob Freer said: “From the perspective of the detainees, the change in administration has meant pretty much nothing.

“Some have been held for seven years and need their cases resolved quickly,” Mr Freer stressed.

Noting that “Guantanamo is the creation of the US,” Mr Freer argued that Mr Obama should have changed former president George W Bush’s policy that no Guantanamo detainees would be released into the US.

Amnesty also highlighted the fact that Mr Obama has not changed the US policy on Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where hundreds of people are being held without charge with no access to the outside world.

“The closure of Guantanamo must mark the end of the policies and practices it embodies, not merely shift those violations elsewhere, whether to Bagram airbase in Afghanistan or anywhere else,” Amnesty concluded.

US State Department spokesman Robert Wood claimed that it is “too early” for rights activists to start criticising Mr Obama’s administration.

Tags: , , ,

Obama’s 100 Days — The Mad Men Did Well

By John Pilger | ZNet, April 29, 2009

The BBC’s American television soap Mad Men offers a rare glimpse of the power of corporate advertising. The promotion of smoking half a century ago by the “smart” people of Madison Avenue, who knew the truth, led to countless deaths. Advertising and its twin, public relations, became a way of deceiving dreamt up by those who had read Freud and applied mass psychology to anything from cigarettes to politics. Just as Marlboro Man was virility itself, so politicians could be branded, packaged and sold.

It is more than 100 days since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The “Obama brand” has been named “Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008″, easily beating Apple computers. David Fenton of describes Obama’s election campaign as “an institutionalised mass-level automated technological community organising that has never existed before and is a very, very powerful force”. Deploying the internet and a slogan plagiarised from the Latino union organiser César Chávez - “Sí, se puede!” or “Yes, we can” - the mass-level automated technological community marketed its brand to victory in a country desperate to be rid of George W Bush.

No one knew what the new brand actually stood for. So accomplished was the advertising (a record $75m was spent on television commercials alone) that many Americans actually believed Obama shared their opposition to Bush’s wars. In fact, he had repeatedly backed Bush’s warmongering and its congressional funding. Many Americans also believed he was the heir to Martin Luther King’s legacy of anti-colonialism. Yet if Obama had a theme at all, apart from the vacuous “Change you can believe in”, it was the renewal of America as a dominant, avaricious bully. “We will be the most powerful,” he often declared.

Perhaps the Obama brand’s most effective advertising was supplied free of charge by those journalists who, as courtiers of a rapacious system, promote shining knights. They depoliticised him, spinning his platitudinous speeches as “adroit literary creations, rich, like those Doric columns, with allusion . . .” (Charlotte Higgins in the Guardian). The San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford wrote: “Many spiritually advanced people I know . . . identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who . . . can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet.”

In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government. He has kept Bush’s gulag intact and at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice. On 24 April, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo Bay prisoners were not “persons”, and therefore had no right not to be tortured. His national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, says he believes torture works. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, the US experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of “defence”, Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, has been retained by Obama.

All over the world, America’s violent assault on innocent people, directly or by agents, has been stepped up. During the recent massacre in Gaza, reports Seymour Hersh, “the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ’smart bombs’ and other hi-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel” and being used to slaughter mostly women and children. In Pakistan, the number of civilians killed by US missiles called drones has more than doubled since Obama took office.

In Afghanistan, the US “strategy” of killing Pashtun tribespeople (the “Taliban”) has been extended by Obama to give the Pentagon time to build a series of permanent bases right across the devastated country where, says Secretary Gates, the US military will remain indefinitely. Obama’s policy, one unchanged since the Cold War, is to intimidate Russia and China, now an imperial rival. He is proceeding with Bush’s provocation of placing missiles on Russia’s western border, justifying it as a counter to Iran, which he accuses, absurdly, of posing “a real threat” to Europe and the US. On 5 April in Prague, he made a speech reported as “anti-nuclear”. It was nothing of the kind. Under the Pentagon’s Reliable Replacement Warhead programme, the US is building new “tactical” nuclear weapons designed to blur the distinction between nuclear and conventional war.

Perhaps the biggest lie - the equivalent of smoking is good for you - is Obama’s announcement that the US is leaving Iraq, the country it has reduced to a river of blood. According to unabashed US army planners, as many as 70,000 troops will remain “for the next 15 to 20 years”. On 25 April, his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, alluded to this. It is not surprising that the polls are showing that a growing number of Americans believe they have been suckered - especially as the nation’s economy has been entrusted to the same fraudsters who destroyed it. Lawrence Summers, Obama’s principal economic adviser, is throwing $3trn at the same banks that paid him more than $8m last year, including $135,000 for one speech. Change you can believe in.

Much of the American establishment loathed Bush and Cheney for exposing, and threatening, the onward march of America’s “grand design”, as Henry Kissinger, war criminal and now Obama adviser, calls it. In advertising terms, Bush was a “brand collapse” whereas Obama, with his toothpaste advertisement smile and righteous clichés, is a godsend. At a stroke, he has seen off serious domestic dissent to war, and he brings tears to the eyes, from Washington to Whitehall. He is the BBC’s man, and CNN’s man, and Murdoch’s man, and Wall Street’s man, and the CIA’s man. The Madmen did well.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Slaughtering Iraq’s Minorities

Layla Anwar, An Arab Woman Blues

28khaledalrahal.jpg, April 29, 2009

I don’t think you have read this in any of your news outlet.

Someone jumping from the 10th floor in some dump in Indianapolis is more important than the slaughter of the minorities in Iraq, in particular the Christians of Iraq whom you generously came to “liberate” along with others…

Two days ago in Baghdad, a Sabaen/Mandaen family was murdered in broad daylight. Their only crime was their religion.

Yesterday, 5 Chaldeans from Kirkuk were murdered in cold blood. They belonged to two families. They were just sitting at home, trying to keep safe. The names I was able to memorize are : Bassem, Mona and Suzanne.

The Chaldean Archbishop, Louis Zako issued a plea for the world to save the Christians of Iraq from murder. He textually said :

” This is a deliberate policy on the part of the government, they fail to protect us…they want us to leave Iraq. We are Iraqis through and through. This is our land too. I ask my congregation to remain steadfast and not to leave this land…”Z

Another archbishop from Erbil added - “Since 2003, our situation has deteriorated greatly. Persecution of Christians and other minorities first started in Basra, then Baghdad. In 2008, in Mosul (the Nineveh Province - North of Iraq), entire Chaldean and Assyrian families were kicked out from their homes. And today it is Kirkuk.
The government is not protecting us despite several of your pleas. The government refuses to give us information as to who is committing these murders even though it knows their identities. We are helpless. Someone help us please.”

Hundreds of Chaldeans, Assyrians, Sabaens/Mandaens, Shabak, Yazidis have been forced into exile since 2003.

The Christian population of Iraq has dwindled from 2 Million or so, to less than 600′000.

The Chaldeans were the first to embrace Christianity in the Middle East. Their history dates back to Babylonian times and some say they were the ones who built the tower of Babel. Their language is still Aramaic.

The Assyrians, another ancient minority, came about a 100 years after the Chaldeans. They too embraced Christianity.

Both Chaldeans and Assyrians are one of the oldest, most ancient communities in the Middle East.

They are the first surviving inhabitants/communities of this land. They are Iraq. Iraq is not Iraq without them.

During the reign of the “tyrant”, they and other minorities were the most protected and safeguarded.

Millions of Dollars were offered to the Christians of Iraq to build new churches, and they were allowed to practice their faith in all freedom. Ditto for the other smaller minorities.

Never, and I repeat never in the contemporary history of Iraq, and I defy anyone who will tell me the contrary, anyone belonging to a minority group — been harassed, discriminated or persecuted against because of their religion. Killing a Christian because of their Christianity was unheard of.

It took “Christian” America, the “Christian” West, to obliterate the oldest living people in the Middle East.

I wonder what Jesus Christ has to say about that ?

I find myself making another appeal. Seems to me that since 2003, we have done nothing but appeal to someone out there…

So am appealing again — In the name of Allah, God, Jesus, Mohamed…STOP the persecution, forced exile and killing of Iraq’s minorities.

They are part of us and we are part of them. We are one blood, running in the same veins. They are Iraq and Iraq is not Iraq without them.

Painting : Iraqi artist, Khaled Rahal.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Stunt to Silence Meaningful Debate on Racism

Nobody has explained what was offensive about the Iranian president’s speech. He presented the unvarnished truth. The offence was refusing to listen, says Stuart Littlewood.

Middle East Online,

First published: April 22, 2009

The truth never suits Israel’s flag-wavers and stooges. They have to twist it or strangulate it.

When Mr Ahmadjinedad got up to speak at the UN racism conference the British Ambassador, Peter Gooderham, was among those who walked out in the worst show of diplomatic bad manners this century. Gooderham is reported to have said that “such inflammatory rhetoric has no place whatsoever in a United Nations conference addressing the whole issue of racism and how to address it.

“As soon as President Ahmadinejad, started talking about Israel, that was the cue for us to walk out. We agreed in advance that if there was any such rhetoric there would be no tolerance for it.” Referring to the Iranian leader’s accusation of Israeli racism he added: “That is a charge we unreservedly condemn and so we had no hesitation at that point in leaving the conference hall.”

TV inquisitor Jeremy Paxman asked Gooderham the difference between Zionism and racism, to which he replied that Zionism is a political movement and racism is something else - we recognise it when we see it.

The trouble is, these dummies don’t recognise it at all. Nor are they daily on the receiving end, as the Palestinians are, of Israel’s brutal racist policies. Nor were they under Israel’s genocidal blitzkrieg on Gaza that vaporized and incinerated women and children in their hundreds and blew their body-parts to kingdom-come.

Everyone knows that the Zionist project aims to create a Jewish state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Euphrates to the Nile by ethnically cleansing the Arab population from their homeland, stealing their lands and resources at gunpoint, and effectively wiping Palestine off the map. If that isn’t naked racism, what is it? Haven’t Mr Gooderham and his colleagues read the manifestoes of the Likud and Kadima parties?

The question is, why do supposedly moral and civilized people support it and seek to perpetuate it?

Right on cue David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary, condemned President Ahmadinejad’s remarks about Israel being a ‘racist government’ as “offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable.” He didn’t say why.

Indeed, nobody has explained what was offensive about the Iranian president’s speech. He presented the unvarnished truth. The offence was refusing to listen. But truth has been a major casualty at the UN for 60 years. It doesn’t help when its Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, whines about “this august platform” being used “to accuse, divide and even incite. This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve.” And what exactly are the powers-that-be seeking to achieve, if not to whitewash the truth as usual?

Last November’s Bulletin Board of the Board of Deputies of British Jews - the equivalent in Britain of AIPAC - announced that Elizabeth Harris, their Director of Public Affairs, attended the “preparatory committee” meeting in Geneva for the Anti-racism Conference and used the opportunity to have “constructive” meetings with the British Ambassador and representatives of other European countries. No doubt that’s when the stooges received their orders.

So the walkout at the UN had long been premeditated and pre-planned. It was a stupid stunt.

The biggest disgrace is that racist thugs in Tel Aviv are able orchestrate such a thing. It is now self-evident that Zionists have infiltrated and embedded themselves in the political, financial, economic and social fabric of the western world to everyone else’s detriment.

Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Iraq insists US troops leave urban areas by June 30

Morning Star Online, Tuesday 28 April 2009

THE Iraqi government insisted on Monday that all US troops must pull out of urban areas by June 30, as specified under a deal agreed between Baghdad and Washington in January.

Top US commander in Iraq General Raymond Odierno has talked of possible “exceptions” to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in light of the spate of deadly suicide bombings that have rocked Baghdad and Mosul in recent weeks.

But Iraqi Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari emphasised that US troops must leave all cities by then and could only return with the permission of the Iraqi government.

“The general position of the Iraq Defence Ministry is to adhere to the timings in the SOFA,” he said.

Since the SOFA went into effect at the beginning of this year, the US military is obliged to get the green light from the Iraqi government before mounting operations.

And it states that US soldiers are liable to face Iraqi justice if they commit crimes off base.

The SOFA faced its first major test on Sunday, when US troops staged a pre-dawn raid in Kut, killing two civilians and detaining six.

After local residents took to the streets in outrage, Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki branded the raid a “crime” and a “violation of the security pact.”

The US military released the six detainees and apologised, but that did not placate Sheikh Ahmed Abdul-Munim, who lost his wife and brother in the raid.

Truth commission to proceed despite Obama’s wishes

By John Byrne | The Raw Story,

Published: April 28, 2009

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) plans to proceed with a special commission to investigate alleged Bush administration abuses of power, despite lacking President Barack Obama’s support, according to a report Tuesday.

Sen. Leahy called for a “Truth Commission” in February to probe Bush administration policies on torture, interrogation and surveillance and to — as he puts it — “get to the bottom of what went wrong.” Such an idea would be modeled around truth commissions established in South Africa and Chile, which offered immunity to officials who committed abuses in exchange for the truth.

“Many Americans feel we need to get to the bottom of what went wrong,” Leahy said when announcing his idea in February. “I agree. We need to be able to read the page before we turn the page.”

President Obama, meanwhile, has expressed disinterest in investigating the activities of his predecessor, saying it’s time for the country to move on. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), says he doesn’t want the commission to begin until an inquiry headed by Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) examines the Bush administration’s legal defenses of torture techniques.

But Leahy plans to proceed despite lacking the approval of party leaders, sources familiar with the proposal told Politico’s John Bresnahan Tuesday.

“Leahy plans to move ahead with his proposal anyway,” Bresnahan writes. “While he has not found a GOP co-sponsor for legislation creating a truth commission, Leahy is expected to begin circulating a draft soon.”

In a statement, Leahy said his commission will ultimately jibe with the President’s wishes.

“When I first proposed establishing a nonpartisan commission of inquiry in February, I thought then, as I do now, that it was the best approach to conducting a thorough review of national security policies on detention, interrogation and rendition since Sept. 11,” Leahy said in a statement to Bresnahan. “Whether such a comprehensive review happens immediately or in the weeks and months ahead, the evidence that our country committed torture demands a review of the process by which these flawed policies were developed and implemented. President Obama was correct when he said that any review should be done outside of politics. A nonpartisan commission will accomplish just that.”

Speaking in February, Leahy applauded Obama Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to rule out prosecutions during his confirmation hearing.

“There are some who resist any effort to investigate the misdeeds of the recent past,” he said. “Indeed, during the nomination hearing of Eric Holder, some of my fellow Senators on the other side of the aisle tried to extract a devil’s bargain from him in exchange for the votes — a commitment that he would not make… That is a pledge no prosecutor should give and Eric Holder did not give it. But because he did not it accounts for some of the votes against him.”

Some liberals have critiqued the proposal, asserting that Bush officials shouldn’t be granted immunity from prosecution even if they’re forthcoming in a congressional investigation. Conservatives have attacked the proposed commission as a political

Tags: , , , , ,

30,000 Flee Army Raid on NW Pakistan: Local Official

Published on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 by Agence France Presse

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Around 30,000 people in northwest Pakistan have been displaced by a military offensive to flush out Taliban militants, a provincial minister said Tuesday.

[Pashtun women in burqa await a ride while sitting inside a refugee camp in the outskirts of Peshawar, located in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, April 26, 2009. (REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)]Pashtun women in burqa await a ride while sitting inside a refugee camp in the outskirts of Peshawar, located in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, April 26, 2009. (REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood)

“Up to 30,000 people have left Maidan in Lower Dir district over the past few days,” Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in the government of North West Frontier Province, told a news conference.”We are making arrangements for them in Peshawar, Nowshera and Timargarah districts.”

Residents said thousands of terrified people, mostly women and children, left the area with their belongings after Pakistan troops and helicopter gunships launched the operation over the weekend.

One local charity said it had registered 2,241 displaced families so far.

Around 50 insurgents were killed in the operation in Lower Dir, near the Taliban-held Swat valley, officials said.

The military said eight paramilitary soldiers had also been killed since it launched Operation Black Thunder Sunday.

Heavy shelling by the paramilitary Frontier Corps continued in the Maidan area of Lower Dir overnight, a senior military officer said Tuesday.

“We destroyed several militants hideouts in heavy artillery shelling of suspected bases in the area,” the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

In an earlier statement the military said Lal Qila, a Taliban stronghold in Lower Dir, “has been fully secured after the successful operation.”

“Search and cordon operations are continuing in the area to flush out militants,” it added.

“The military had to retaliate after militants blocked roads, attacked convoys and killed some government officials,” the minister said.

The Pakistan government in February agreed to allow the Islamic justice system of sharia to be imposed in Swat valley and its surrounding districts in the Malakand region, which have been troubled by two years of rebellion.

But the agreement was followed by further militant encroachments, and the government has been in talks with the militants to try to restore peace there.

The Taliban suspended peace talks with the government Monday after the military launched Operation Black Thunder following intense US pressure to stop the extremists’ advance.

“My uncle was working in the fields when he was wounded in helicopter shelling,” Hayat Khan 36, one of those who fled the fighting, told AFP.

“I came to Timargarah with my wife, children and a sister whose husband lives in Dubai. I cannot see them dying there,” Khan said, adding that his uncle had been admitted to a hospital in Timargarah.

“I saw helicopters targeting hills in Maidan yesterday,” said 40-year old Omar Zeb, who arrived in Timargarah with 16 other relatives including brother, nephews and nieces.

“There was intense artillery shelling last night, my children were scared, none of us could sleep the whole night. We left at dawn, fearing the fighting would escalate.”

Information minister Hussain said the government remained “determined to fully implement the deal but some outsiders who do not want peace have infiltrated in Buner and Dir districts to sabotage the accord.”

He invited Soofi Mohammad, leader of a sharia movement in the area, to resume talks to avoid any delay in the implementation of the deal.

Taliban spokesman Amir Izzat Khan said the operation in Lower Dir could endanger the peace deal.

“There can be a reaction to the government action,” he told AFP.

However, President Asif Ali Zardari said Monday the peace deal with the Taliban remained valid until the North West Frontier Province government told him otherwise.

“There will be a reassessment of the situation by the provincial government and if needed we’ll come back to parliament and the parliament will decide,” he said in an interview with foreign journalists.

Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dictator Mubarak’s Expanding Enemies List

Rannie Amiri |, April 28, 2009

A telltale sign of a dictator’s waning influence is increasing paranoia. And this is exactly what Egypt’s U.S.-backed dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, is suffering from.

At a time when criticism over Egypt’s abetting of the Israeli siege and attack on Gaza is intensifying, and its traditional role as leader of the Arab world is being eclipsed, Mubarak’s standing and legitimacy in the eyes of his people has plummeted. His paranoia, conversely, has skyrocketed.

This was on display when the state-controlled Egyptian daily Al-Ahram published an article last Saturday accusing the following nations, people and organizations of attempting to destabilize the country, or in the words of the paper, to “ … bring Egypt to the brink of chaos and facilitate a coup”: Iran, Syria, Qatar, Hezbollah, Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahdi Akef, and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network. Lebanon also joined the ever-expanding list a few days later.

Relations had already deteriorated earlier in the month when Egyptian security officials made public that they had uncovered a Hezbollah-sponsored “espionage ring” and “terrorist cell” operating in the Sinai. Twenty-five “agents” were arrested, and the hunt continues for an equal number more. Nasrallah did admit that one of those captured was a Hezbollah member, tasked with helping to smuggle arms into Gaza. He denied however, the constantly shifting Egyptians claims that the group’s real objective was to instigate the Sinai bedouin population against the government, attack tourist sites in the Sinai, topple the regime, or to launch attacks on the Suez Canal, Egypt or Israel.

“If helping the Palestinians is a crime, I officially admit to my crime … and if it is an accusation, we are proud of it,” Nasrallah replied.

According to Al-Ahram, the alleged “conspiracy” to depose Mubarak was first hatched when Hamas violated the ceasefire agreement with Israel – quite a remarkable plot indeed, considering the purported breach by Hamas never occurred. This is a myth routinely peddled by the Israeli government to justify their Gaza onslaught, and now one apparently being parroted by Egypt.

The reality is that Hamas abided by the ceasefire and only responded with rocket fire when Israel violated it, as they did on Nov. 5 when seven Palestinians were killed in an unprovoked airstrike. This is notwithstanding the inhumane 18-month siege to which Gazans were subjected; denying them food, clean water, medicine and basic humanitarian supplies. This embargo was not just a flagrant breach of international law but a prima facie act of war (and one in which Egypt, by keeping the vital Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed, was complicit).

The juvenile tone the Egyptian government-controlled press has adopted in discussing the current tension mirrors that of the leadership well. The Al-Ahram article called Qatar – Egypt’s new rival in the Arab world – a “tiny state.” According to the Los Angeles Times, one Egyptian columnist referred to that country’s emir, Sheikh Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani as “the chubby prince” while the state-owned Al-Gomhuria called Nasrallah a “monkey sheikh.”

Such childish language speaks poorly of the state of journalism and reporting by these mouthpieces (as one might expect). More important though is how Mubarak’s rousing conspiracy theories and deepening paranoia have caused Egypt to align itself closer to Israel than at any time past, yet further alienating him from ordinary Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world.

Although busy identifying enemies all around, Mubarak surely has not forgotten his greatest one: the Egyptian people. By attempting to distract them by laying blame on phantom menaces, he believes the credibility he lost during the Gaza war will somehow be restored.

But it will not. Nor will the people believe in the validity of his enemies list or the claims of his hired journalists.


Because they know that when Mubarak’s regime falls, it will not be at the hands of outside forces, but at their own.

- Rannie Amiri is an independent Middle East commentator.

Tags: , , , ,

Activists Serve Blackwater With ‘Statement of Foreclosure for Moral Bankruptcy’

Activists march on Blackwater’s Illinois facility, saying no matter how many times it changes its name, Blackwater can’t hide from its bloody history or its lawlessness.

By Jeremy Scahill |RebelReports, April 27, 2009

This weekend, I addressed a conference on Blackwater/Xe and other private armies in Stockton, Illinois, about 2 hours west of Chicago, where Blackwater has established a facility in Jo Daviess County (Here is some local media coverage). The conference was co-sponsored by the citizens’ group Clearwater and the Catholic Worker Movement. There were about 100 people in attendance, including representatives from several activist groups across the country. Among them, the folks from Blackwater Watch in North Carolina, Blackwater’s home state.

Other speakers who addressed the conference were Kathy Kelly, the co-founder of Voices for Creative Non-Violence and Col. Ann Wright. Kelly recently has been camping out at Creech Airforce Base protesting the US bombing of Pakistan using weaponized drone aircraft. Col. Wright is an outspoken former US diplomat who reopened the US embassy in Kabul post-9/11 before publicly opposing the Bush administration’s wars. She has since worked tirelessly in campaigning against US war policy and for accountability for US torturers and their bosses. The conference comes as Blackwater continues to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan the Obama administration has made clear its intention to use private forces in US war zones, as well as in Israel/Palestine. (See here and here for details).

Today, activists are marching on Blackwater’s Jo Daviess facility where they will engage in a nonviolent direct action protest. Within the larger protest, twenty people are planning to do civil disobedience, which could result in arrest. “The citizens will be going onto Blackwater’s property to serve a notice of foreclosure on the property of a company that is morally bankrupt,” says Dan Kenney of Clearwater. “Even though they are making billions of tax dollars, Blackwater, who recently changed their name to Xe to hopefully escape public attention, is also being investigated for tax evasion, they are being investigated by the AFT for illegal possession of firearms at their North Carolina site, they are under investigation for illegal smuggling of weapons into Iraq, and are fighting in the courts nine wrongful death lawsuits. Five of their contractors are also facing voluntary manslaughter charges for the shooting in September of 2007 that led to the death of 17 unarmed, innocent Iraqi citizens.”

Below is the statement issued by the activists this morning:

April 27, 2009

As Catholic Workers and other concerned citizens of the United States we come today to this northwest Illinois Blackwater training site in an act of nonviolent protest. We are here to make a citizens foreclosure on this property of a company that is morally bankrupt. We are here to reclaim it for the people of this nation who promote democracy and security by humanitarian efforts.

We stand here today as citizens who live in solidarity with and in service to fellow citizens who struggle with joblessness, homelessness, and inadequate wages. We are here to stop the flow of billions of tax dollars to the privatization of our military and the miniaturization of our police by companies like Blackwater; a company that is responsible for:

· Killing innocent Iraqi civilians
· Smuggling weapons illegally into Iraq
· Tax evasion
· Illegal possession of firearms

We are here to hold them accountable for all their illegal and immoral actions.

No matter how many times this company changes its name, it can run but it cannot hide from its bloody history or its lawlessness.

Tags: , , ,

The Bloodbath in Sri Lanka

Why Battering the Tamil Tigers Won’t Bring Peace

By MITU SENGUPTA | Counterpunch, April 28, 2009

Over the course of a long and brutal war with Sri Lanka’s armed forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE) emerged as one of the world’s most formidable insurgent groups. Besides engaging the Sri Lankan government in a bloody battle for more than 25 years, the LTTE (or, more informally, the ‘Tamil Tigers’) managed to seize substantial chunks of government territory, and operated these as a quasi-state for well over a decade. Today, however, the mighty Tigers are on the verge of total military defeat. Will their demise bring peace to Sri Lanka?

Unsurprisingly, the LTTE’s hammering has come at an enormous price. Since its beginnings in the early 1980s, the war has claimed more than 70,000 lives, rendered some half a million Tamils refugees in their own country, and driven an equal number out of Sri Lanka. The last six months of fighting have been particularly intense, with the Sri Lankan government at its most aggressive in decades. Reports from the United Nations, Red Cross and several other reputed humanitarian organizations indicate that the country is on the brink of a colossal humanitarian disaster. Some 6,500 civilians have been killed since January, and another 100,000 are caught – facing carnage, and without adequate food, shelter and medicine – in the crossfire between the Tigers and government forces. An additional 40,000 or so that have fled the war zone are being held in military-run camps, where conditions, according to the most recent reports, are similar to those in Nazi-run concentration camps (journalists and humanitarian workers have been banned from these camps for over a month).

Led by the United Nations, concerned voices in the international community have repeatedly pleaded for a halt to the fighting, or even a ceasefire of a reasonable length, in which more civilians may be moved to safety, and aid workers allowed access to the sick and wounded. Determined to run the Tigers to the ground, however, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has remained undeterred, apparently confident that a full purging of the LTTE – now perhaps only days away – will have been worth the carnage and dislocation, and the palpable damage to his country’s international reputation. Rajapaksa evidently believes that a Sri Lanka free of the Tigers will be a Sri Lanka whither all good things will come.

Over the years, the LTTE has earned the reputation of being a ruthless organization; one that turns children into hardened soldiers; that has perfected suicide bombing as a tactic; that relies on extortion and smuggling for funding, and that has zero tolerance for critics and competitors. While there are no reliable measures of the extent of support for the LTTE among Tamils in Sri Lanka, or within the vast diaspora, Tamil human rights activists both inside and outside the country have spoken out against the LTTE’s cruel ways, totalitarian structure, and uncompromising, maximalist demands. The LTTE has duly assassinated many of these detractors. Indeed, given all of this, it is tempting to presume that Sri Lanka will be infinitely better off without the LTTE, and that its elimination will necessarily steer the country towards order, stability and reconciliation. But though appealing, this conclusion ultimately rests on a wrongheaded view of the Tigers’ role in the conflict. The LTTE is the product, not the cause, of Sri Lanka’s deadly politics.

To begin with, the conflict, if not the war, predates the LTTE by a few generations. Its origins may be traced to the effects of the nefarious “divide and rule” policies devised by British colonial administrators to govern Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The British used the island’s Tamil minority to keep its Sinhalese majority in check, and in return, gave Tamils the best government jobs and the benefit of English education. With independence in 1948, however, the Tamils were deprived of their patrons, and found themselves outnumbered and marginalized inside the new Sri Lanka’s unitary state and majoritarian institutional framework. With the Tamils rendered politically irrelevant, short-sighted politicians competed with each other for the Sinhalese vote, and soon discovered that the political party with the stronger anti-minority stance was almost always guaranteed electoral success.

Such “ethnic outbidding,” as scholars have characterized the dreadful process, led to the rise of a ferocious Sinhala nationalism that demanded revenge for the Tamils’ supremacy during the colonial period, along with a revival of Sinhala language and culture. It saw Sri Lanka as for the Sinhalese alone, and insisted that the Tamil minority submit to its second-class position or, better still, simply leave the island. In the first few decades following independence, Sri Lanka’s Tamils were systematically stripped of their erstwhile social and economic privileges, with the demotion of their language (Tamil) to secondary status, and the imposition of strict quotas that shrank their employment and educational opportunities. Sinhalese farmers were encouraged to settle in and around the island’s north-east, in an obvious attempt to reduce the concentration of Tamils in these areas.

Initially, the Tamils attempted to resist these changes through democratic means, forming political parties that pressed for federalism and various minority guarantees. While many sensible Sinhalese politicians warmed to such appeals, the forces of majoritarianism always seemed to triumph. Any government seen as making too many concessions to the Tamils was swiftly pulled down, a disheartening ritual that eventually left most Tamils alienated, and the Tamil parties largely discredited. By the late 1970s, the conflict had taken a violent turn, with the surfacing of several militant outfits, including the LTTE, which called for armed struggle and secession – the creation of a Tamil ‘homeland’ (‘eelam’) out of the Tamil majority areas in Sri Lanka’s north-east. The LTTE proved the strongest of these militant groups, and, out-powering its rivals, became locked in bitter conflict with the Sri Lankan state.

As an insurgent force, the LTTE has been remarkably successful. By the early 2000s, it had captured much of the north and east, and was governing these territories as though they were already a separate state (the LTTE provided schools, postal services, and even rudimentary hospitals). The LTTE brought forth a harsh and authoritarian regime, but one that was, perhaps, an inevitable response to the harsh and authoritarian regime that the Sri Lankan government had become. Human Rights Watch has characterized the Sri Lankan government as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances. Indeed, in many ways, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state have been reflections of each other’s total lack of generosity. Both have squandered numerous opportunities for peace, though it is unlikely that the Sri Lankan government would have agreed to negotiate at all – as it did in 2003, following a ceasefire – had it faced a lesser organization than the Tigers. The annihilation of the LTTE will mean that only one of the two fearsome, unbending contenders in the country’s long and bloody war will have left the arena and, that too, probably not for good. Far from being a recipe for peace, this will probably ignite a new cycle of grotesque injustice and pitiless retaliation.

One danger that looms heavily is that the Sri Lankan state will try to use its victory to seek a permanent solution to its “Tamil minority problem.” The government might begin by preventing Tamil civilians interned in its military camps from returning to their villages. These camps have already taken on an air of permanence, with the government arguing that no-one can be moved until the LTTE is fully flushed out, and the military demines the conflict zone. This could take months, if not years. It is entirely possible that while tens of thousands of Tamils languish in these camps, encircled by razor-wired fences, the government will move large numbers of Sinhalese settlers into the island’s north and east, thus stamping out, once and for all, the geographical rationale for a separate Tamil homeland. The counterpoint to the government’s expected belligerence might be an even darker phase in the Tamil resistance; one with a more lucid and focused fury that will bring great disquiet to Tamils everywhere.

To most governments, the bloodbath in Sri Lanka is the consequence of a sovereign power besieged by a brutal domestic insurgency. This is to be expected in a world where states are generally considered legitimate, no matter what they do, and those that challenge their authority are immediately viewed as criminal – a distinction that’s been sharpened, of course, by the menacing language around the “war on terror.” Indeed, following Sri Lanka’s success in having the LTTE proscribed as a terrorist organization by 31 countries, including the United States, the sense that the Sri Lankan state is on the right side of history has gone from strength to strength, which might explain the muted condemnation of its actions in the rapidly unfolding tragedy.

It’s probably too much to expect the US government – or any other government for that matter – to accept the argument, however rigorously advanced, that the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE have mirrored each other’s unyielding attitudes and methods, and, that ultimately, the noble sovereign power and the sinister terrorist organization are two sides of the same bloodied coin. The one, small opening for peace that the LTTE’s retreat may provide, however, is that without its looming spectre, the Sri Lankan government will be less able to shield its decaying democracy and ugly human rights record from the eyes of the world. It will, hopefully, be the subject of an international initiative that helps rein in the country’s majoritarian forces, thus barring any further acceleration of the vicious cycle of injury and retribution these tend to set in motion.

Mitu Sengupta, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. She may be reached by email:

Tags: , , , ,

Sri Lanka war zone closed to UN

Al Jazeera, April 28, 2009

Thousands of civilians are trapped inside a strip of land held by Tamil Tiger fighters [AFP]

The United Nations’ humanitarian affairs chief has failed in his attempt to bring a halt to fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka.

John Holmes was unable to get permission from Mahinda Rajapkase, the Sri Lankan president, to allow a UN aid mission into a pocket of rebel-held land that is surrounded by the Sri Lankan military.

“We don’t have agreement on this [failure to get a UN team into the conflict zone] … I am disappointed about this,” Holmes said during his visit to the country on Monday.

The United Nations estimates that up to 50,000 non-combatants are still in the conflict zone, although the government maintains that the number is less than 20,000.

The Sri Lankan military said on Monday that it had ordered its troops to end the use of heavy weaponry and aerial bombardment in their fight against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers.

‘No change’

Holmes met Rohitha Bogollagama, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, before visiting camps in northern Vavuniya where more than 113,000 civilians have sought refuge in camps that are overcrowded and still without enough supplies.

Focus: Sri Lanka

Q&A: Sri Lanka’s civil war

The history of the Tamil Tigers

Timeline: Conflict in Sri Lanka

‘High cost’ of victory over Tigers

Caught in the middle

But David Chater, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, said that the UN official had not managed to secure access to the combat zone for a small team from the world body.

“Absolutely nothing has changed as a result of John Holmes’ visit, apart from another ten million dollars in humanitarian aid being pledged,” Chater reported.

“[That money could provide] at least a bit of relief for those who got out of the combat zone, but no relief for those still inside.”

Aid organisations, journalists and other independent observers are banned from entering the conflict zone, making independent assessment of the continuing fighting impossible.

Sweden’s foreign minister said on Tuesday that he has been refused entry to Sri Lanka on a European mediating mission aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE.

Carl Bildt was due to visit the country on Wednesday with his British and French counterparts, but he told the Associated Press that Sri Lankan authorities did not give him permission to enter the country.

David Miliband, the British foreign minister, and Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, will be allowed into the country, Bildt said.

‘Army halted’

“We ask the international community to intervene in this problem and save our people… We [the LTTE] carry weapons to save our people and protect their rights”

Thileevan, an LTTE spokesman inside the conflict zone

The Sri Lankan government said on Monday that it would stop intensive fighting against the LTTE in an effort to ease the suffering of civilians, although the statement contradicted earlier assertions that it would continue its fight against the Tigers who had offered a ceasefire on Sunday.A statement from the president’s office said on Monday: “Combat operations have reached their conclusion.”

Soldiers will “confine their attempts to rescue civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians”.

The military has also ordered troops not to use “heavy-calibre guns, combat aircraft or aerial weapons, which could cause civilian casualties”, the statement said.

The Sri Lankan government had previously said that no heavy weapons were being used in populated areas and that the operation was merely a “rescue” exercise.

But Chater said that hostilities had not necessarily ended.

“The government is determined there should be no pause in the fighting … [The government] says it knows how ruthless [the Tamil Tigers] are and have no intention of negotiating with them unless they lay down their arms and surrender.”

LTTE accusation

A pro-Tamil Tiger website on Tuesday accused the military of continuing to pound areas of the conflict zone populated by civilian.

Thileevan, an LTTE spokesman inside the conflict zone, also told Al Jazeera that the area had been shelled heavily.

“We don’t know how many people were killed because we could not get out of this area. But when I went to the hospital this morning I saw hundreds of severely wounded people,” he said on Tuesday.

Holmes’ attempt to get access to the conflict zone was rebuffed by Colombo [AFP]

“We ask the international community to intervene in this problem and save our people… We [the LTTE] carry weapons to save our people and protect their rights.”A day earlier, the Tamilnet website quoted S Puleedevan, an LTTE spokesman, as saying the government’s announcement on non-use of heavy weapons was an attempt “to deceive the international community, including the people of Tamil Nadu [a Tamil-majority Indian province]“.

The Sri Lankan military has denied the LTTE claims, but says it is aiming to capture more territory and that its aim is to wipe out the Tamil Tigers.

Tamils in India have been pressuring the Indian government to intervene to bring about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan forces are continuing with “humanitarian operations aimed at rescuing” the remaining civilians trapped in the island’s northeast, where the LTTE is defending a narrow strip of jungle, the military said on Monday.

“We reduced the coastline they have to 6km from 8km last week,” Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said.

“Our operations are continuing, and yesterday we managed to rescue another 3,200 civilians,” he said.

About 110,000 civilians escaped from the LTTE-held combat zone last week after an ultimatum by the government for the Tamil Tigers to surrender.

Sri Lanka’s government has said it is on the verge of defeating the LTTE after 37 years of conflict, and has consistently brushed off international calls for a truce.

On Sunday, the government also rejected an LTTE call for a unilateral ceasefire.

Tags: , , , , ,

Is Bin Laden Dead or Alive? US, Pakistan Not Sure

“No Trace” of al-Qaeda Leader, State Dept Vows to Keep Looking

by Jason Ditz |, April 27, 2009

Since his March broadcast on al-Jazeera, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has seemingly vanished off the face of the earth, with neither US nor Pakistan spy agencies detecting a single trace of him. This has added to the speculation that he may have died.

“The question is whether he is alive or dead,” Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said, “there is no trace of him.” Zardari also said his advisers feel there is substance to the rumors of bin Laden’s failing health, and that “they obviously feel that he does not exist any more but that’s not confirmed.”

US State Department spokesman Robert Wood likewise admitted that they likewise “have no information that indicates that Osama bin Laden is … frankly dead or alive.” He insisted in the meantime the US would continue to operate under the assumption that he was alive and keep looking for him.

The enigmatic Saudi has been on the FBI’s ten most wanted list for over a decade, and US officials have repeatedly speculated that he is located somewhere along the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. At this point though, that seems to be nothing more than a guess.

Tags: , , , ,

Monday, April 27, 2009

Straight to the Top

By Scott Horton | Harper’s Magazine, April 27, 2009

Correction, April 29, 2009:

This post requires correction in two respects. First, as already noted, Ed Whelan, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, has categorically denied attending the July 2003 meeting mentioned there. Second, I wrongly described his writing at the National Review as “defenses of torture enablers.” This phrase is both vague and inaccurate, and I apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused. Whelan has never written anything for the National Review in defense of torture or torture enablers.

The torture trail starts and ends in the White House. That is perhaps the most inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the flurry of documents released in the last week—first the OLC memoranda, then a newly declassified report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and finally an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names. Here’s a key passage:

“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

The report continues to implicate more Bush officials: “On July 13, 2002, according to CIA records, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including Rizzo] met with the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [Bellinger], a Deputy Assistant Attorney General from OLC [likely John Yoo], the head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice [Michael Chertoff], the chief of staff to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Kenneth Wainstein], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] to provide an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah.”

It makes clear that sign-off for torture comes from Condoleezza Rice, acting with the advice of her ever-present lawyer, John Bellinger. Another figure making a key appearance is an Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel named M. Edward Whelan III–presumably the same Ed Whelan who is presently melting his keyboard with defenses of the torture-enablers (Update, April 29, 2009: See correction.) at National Review. (Update: Andrew Sullivan also reported on the appearance of Whelan in the memo, but Whelan responded with a categorical denial that he was involved. This suggests that the memo’s chronology is incorrect and requires some clarification.) The central role played by Rice and Bellinger helps explain the State Department’s abrupt about-face on international law issues related to torture immediately after Rice became Secretary of State and Bellinger became Legal Adviser. It also makes clear that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were fully informed of what has happened and approved.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,