Sunday, July 31, 2005

Preparing for a Shipwreck in the Middle East

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR newspaper in Beirut.

By Michael Young

Several months ago, when interviewing Walid Jumblatt, I was struck by how the Druze leader perused the news like a lookout on the Titanic. It was not long after elections in Iraq, and Jumblatt was carefully weighing whether Ahmad Chalabi would become defense minister. He worried that Chalabi's appointment would enhance Iraqi federalism, which could deeply affect communal relations in Lebanon.

I pictured Jumblatt anxiously scouring the horizon daily for infinite calamitous icebergs.If so, we should all engage in that exercise, as the Middle East has moved closer to the abyss than at any time since the end of the second Gulf war in 1991.

The American adventure in Iraq - creative, bold and potentially revolutionary - threatens to sink under the weight of a Sunni insurgency that has fed off the Bush administration's frequent incompetence in prosecuting postwar stabilization and rehabilitation. In the Palestinian areas, the Palestinian Authority is more than ever looking like a futile, corrupt artifact in front of Islamist parties that promise only violence and the suffocation of tolerant politics. In Syria, the kleptocratic regime of Bashar Assad is disintegrating, but its death may linger in the absence of alternatives. And in Iran, the situation has been complicated by the election as president of the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, delaying the expansion of liberty in the society, even as the regime must shift its attention to Ahmadinejad's poor electorate - conservative by nature but potentially violent if its expectations are not met.

Gliding above this is the apocalyptic specter of Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, whose latest exploits in London and Sharm al-Sheikh brought standard condemnations from representative institutions in the Arab and Muslim worlds, usually blended in with standard condemnations of Western behavior toward Arabs and Muslims. The effect was a cowardly canceling out of meaning; nonetheless, pro forma expressions of remorse often came across, intentionally or not, as precisely the opposite.

In truth, when it comes to fighting terrorism and expanding democracy in the Middle East, a global dialogue of the deaf prevails. The Arab world in particular hardly ever transcends its songs of lament to consider just how much it would suffer from the continuation of Al-Qaeda's attacks, Iraq's descent into civil war, the persistence of despotic and selfish regimes that endure solely because of a fear of chaos if they are removed, and the advances of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who feed off a shortsighted belief that armed resistance can bring victory and salvation.

There will be those protesting that one cannot speak of the "Arab world" or the "Muslim world" in such sweeping terms. They might add, maybe with justification, that one cannot consider half the problem, namely the maladies of the Arabs, without mentioning the other half: how the West, and particularly the United States, has exacerbated them. The reality is, however, that the Arab world usually speaks with a single, undiscerning voice of the West; rare are those avoiding the ritualistic dilution of indigenous Arab evils by casting them as foreign-imposed.

Yet it's the Arabs who will alone confront the impending hopelessness. In thriving for intellectual evenhandedness in the blame game, they miss an essential point: What the region faces in the near term is not intellectual; it is real, and it is deeply troubling.

At the heart of the breakdown is Iraq. Even the war's supporters (this writer included) cannot honestly say that the postwar plan, if indeed there was one, was commensurate with the profound importance of the project. From the moment of Baghdad's fall, the Bush administration made error after error, steadily diminishing prospects for success in its transformation of Iraq into a pluralistic society.

Success is still possible, thanks largely to the Iraqis, but hope is evaporating. The question is whether the U.S. still believes in Iraqi democracy, and the answer may be less and less.

Thinking is shifting toward such schemes as partition or loose confederalism, which are expedient but also potentially disastrous.

One wagers that many in the Arab world would be delighted with an American admission of failure. The more sensible would merely maintain: "I told you so"; countless others would say: "Good, it will teach Washington a lesson." But such reactions would only confirm the Arab world's predisposition toward self-marginalization. By accepting decade after decade of stultifying political, economic and cultural stalemate; by offering no alternatives to Saddam Hussein; by applauding him even as he perpetuated his most bestial crimes; by displaying considerable indifference toward the mass graves found after the overthrow of the Baath regime, many Arabs implicitly justified, even invited, outside interference in their affairs. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. However, when American involvement came (and, let's recall that it is still consistently demanded to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), there was no effort to exploit it for domestic reasons. Instead of seeing how they could benefit at home from sovereignty and democracy in Iraq, even if that meant pragmatically and momentarily buttressing American efforts there, a great many Arabs - Islamists, nationalists, liberals, and permutations thereof - fell back on a threadbare argument that the failure of the American venture would represent a defeat for arrogant pro-Israeli "neo-imperialism." Though the fallout of such "freedom" is likely to be carnage, it doesn't matter: the Americans will take the blame.

Only rarely does the Arab world offer a fresh narrative to confront its shortcomings. The 2002 Beirut Arab League declaration on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict was certainly an example, and was shot down by Israeli intransigence. However, such proactiveness is a rarity, and today, as Israel disengages from Gaza, all that Arab societies, and intellectuals, can do is recap that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan is designed to avoid final-status talks. It is, but it also represents an Israeli withdrawal from Arab land, and the only ones exploiting that fact are Islamists seeking to portray it as a military victory.

Politically, most other Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority are utterly unprepared for the aftermath. In fact the Arab world is utterly unprepared for all that lies ahead. It is unprepared to deal with a possible collapse in Iraq - though Arab states like Syria and Saudi Arabia continue to play sorcerer's apprentice there, as do Iran and Turkey.

The Arab world is unprepared to deal creatively with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to take advantage of the Gaza pullout. It is unprepared to deal with alternatives to dictatorship and regime corruption, or to deal with economic development and the myriad other requirements made routine in a world demanding more openness.

In Lebanon, we will acutely feel the repercussions of our surroundings. We will pay a price for breakdown in Iraq, as we will for Assad's efforts to cling to power and to punish us for our independence. We will pay for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' limitations, and for the Palestinians' desire to retain their weapons in Lebanon (didn't Sultan Abu al-Aynain, the Palestinian delegate to the Lebanese, say days ago that disarming the Palestinians meant disarming a "resistance," placing himself in the same trench as Hizbullah?). We will pay the price for Ahmadinejad's victory in Iran. We will pay the price for the compulsive distress of a Middle East that has become a headache to the world, because all it seems to generate with any consistency are angry young men and an uncanny resistance to amelioration.

Many of us will continue to dream of a liberal Arab world, because that's the only exit from a nightmare that has lasted for far too long. Iraq was to be the first step. But the plot is apparently much more complicated than anyone imagined, and the characters involved too mediocre. The region is heading toward a shipwreck: too few lookouts, too many icebergs.

We Must Not Take The Bait

Rami G. Khouri is editor at large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper.

By Rami G. Khouri

Following the two consecutive transit system attacks in London earlier this month, the deadly bombings in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, on Saturday represent a particularly dangerous turn in what has become a global terror scourge. They must spark a qualitatively different, and more effective, political and police response than the ne that has prevailed to date in recent years.

It would be irresponsible, incompetent and morally vacuous leadership, verging on criminal negligence, for Egyptian, British, American or any other national leaders simply to say that security will be ensured, the terrorists will be beaten, we will go on with our lives and we will preserve our values.

Someone should tell the emperors that they are collectively wearing no clothes, and that continuing their policies will only perpetuate and exacerbate the global terror problem, rather than defeat it.

The Sharm el-Sheik bombings are particularly troubling, and politically significant, for several reasons. The most important one is that they affirm the depth, resiliency and determination of those terrorists who practice such savagery in the face of a very powerful and even more fierce and determined Arab state. The political iconography here is profound.

The Egyptian state has fought a ferocious battle against Islamist militants and terrorists since the early 1990s, and by the late 1990s had largely defeated them—but at a very high price. Thousands of suspects have been put in jail and remain there, and the fragile security achieved has brought with it the militarization of the state and its institutions. The almost absolute control of state and society has required the banning, neutralization or humiliating marginalization of all other possible civil political forces that could peacefully politically contest the ruling power of the combine of the armed forces and President Husni Mubarak's eternally incumbent National Democratic Party.

So now the ruling Egyptian elite is challenged by two home-grown forces at once. It is challenged peacefully by its own civil society and political opposition that have launched a growing campaign to retire Mubarak after his 24 years of rule. It is also challenged violently by a brazen, self-assertive new generation of Egyptian terrorists allied to Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, who now attack the symbols of the Egyptian state head-on. This is in-your-face terrorism, by small groups of men who are not afraid of one of the mightiest Arab states that has been unable to respond to the challenge through any means other than police force—which only generates more angry, humiliated young men who become terrorists.

Sharm el-Sheik is not just a sparkling Red Sea tourist resort. It is the icon of everything Egypt wants to be in the region and the world. Sharm el-Sheik is where Egypt routinely hosts Arab-Arab and Arab-Israeli summits, global anti-terror summits with American presidents and other Western leaders, and other emergency gatherings of very important people. It is the showcase of Egyptian modernity, foreign investment, tourism expansion, foreign currency earnings, sound planning, and, above all, strict security ensured by the state and its hundreds of thousands of armed soldiers and police.

The Taba bombings some months ago in the northern part of the same Sinai Peninsula triggered a significant increase in security in all Sinai, along with the jailing of hundreds of suspects. Yet the terrorists Saturday still challenged the Egyptian state in its crown jewel, and bombed it almost at will. Someone should please tell the great leaders of the mighty Arabs and the Free World that the moral depravity and criminality of this terror deed is fully matched by its political audacity and symbolism; to condemn the crime without grasping its political implications, and underlying causes, would be the height of amateurism by any political leader.

But this is what Blair, Bush, Mubarak and most other leaders seem to be doing, stressing motives of religious extremism, distorted education, social alienation, poverty, historical yearnings, psychological traumas, mystical impulses and cultural angst as the primary causal detonators of suicide ombers. The leaders do not sufficiently acknowledge the complex, cumulative political processes and legacies that drive ordinary young men to become suicidal terrorists. The path from common citizen to criminal bomber is paved primarily with the consequences of the policies of many Arab, Western, Israeli and other governments, and not primarily the frailties or inclinations of individual human beings.

The combination of the London and Sharm el-Sheik bombings in such close proximity to one another also highlights the dangerous new trend of terror groups and movements decentralizing and localizing all over the world, while simultaneously using more lethal techniques and materials. Harder to track down and eliminate, these neighborhood killers also are not afraid to directly challenge the great and powerful states that are their nemeses, such as the United States, England and Egypt, among others.

Sharm el-Sheik highlights all this in a frightening way.Gravely, we have probably now passed the tipping point in the business of producing or deterring terrorists: the policies of the United States, Britain and most Arab governments now are promoting and fostering more terrorists than they are killing, capturing or deterring. The American- and British-led global war on terror, with its purported fulcrum in Iraq, may have started to produce a new generation of skilled, wily and localized killers operating throughout the world. Including Saturday in Sharm el-Sheik.

Delayed Justice

Following is an editorial from the Jordan Times in Amman.

Fortunately the eight-day hunger strike by 10 inmates at Swaqa prison ended rather peacefully and just one day after 10 other inmates at the Qafqafa correctional and rehabilitation centre halted their 12-day strike.

The detainees at both prisons were protesting the unusual delay in their trials or the severity of their sentences. Some were convicted of state security-related crimes but their appeals remain pending, which means their convictions are not yet final.

There is a well-established legal principle accepted across the globe that justice delayed is justice denied. The National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR) has repeatedly protested this delay in the legal proceedings and reiterated this complaint in its recent annual report.

There is no denying that persons who threaten the security of the country and commit or plan to commit crimes against the state must be apprehended and brought to justice. Likewise for persons who commit common crimes. But detentions pending a court process cannot be indefinite.

The issue here therefore is not about taking state security seriously or taking certain administrative measures to prevent the commission of common crimes, but rather the speed with which the judicial process is being conducted and to what extent such detentions are made subject to judicial reviews.

Previous reports issued by the NCHR and other human rights monitoring groups operating in the Kingdom have consistently found many detainees kept in prisons for extended periods without ever being taken to court for trial according to the due process of the law. The incidence of administrative detention is frequent and this system of detention is not subject to judicial scrutiny. The government has acted in part against this form of detention in the past and called on governors to resort to this form of detention conservatively.

Under the Crime Prevention legislation, Ministry of Interior officials can detain people for an extended period of time for fear that a crime would be committed if they are set free.

While comprehending and appreciating the reasons behind administrative detentions, the detentions should be subject to judicial review and not left to local governors alone to set the standards for their application. Caseloads on the courts are on the rise. With that in mind the judicial reform process slated for the country may benefit from a system of differentiated case management, where each case is processed not on a first- come first-serve basis but rather in accordance with the timeframe and judicial system resources required. The system means cases are moved more expeditiously and court resources, including personnel, are utilised more efficiently.

Friday, July 29, 2005


By William Fisher

As some Latin American analysts complain that Washington has declared "electronic war" on Venezuela with a plan to target the country for special radio and television broadcasts, it remains uncertain whether the project will ever get off the ground.

If approved by a joint congressional committee, the broadcasts would be financed by the U.S. government and implemented through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the quasi-independent corporation established to carry out Washington's "public diplomacy" broadcasting programs worldwide.

"The BBG may want to start numerous new broadcast services, or revive VOA (Voice of America) services that have been canceled," said Adam Clayton Powell III, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy.

"But where is the money? Until the U.S. is prepared to commit resources to produce, transmit and market new services, this is moot," he said.

The broadcasts were approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2005, introduced by Republican Congressman Connie Mack of Florida.

The U.S. Senate has already passed its own version of the act that does not include the Mack proposal. The House and Senate must now meet in a joint conference committee to reconcile the two versions of the legislation before it goes to the president for signature.

It is unclear whether the Mack Amendment will survive the negotiations in the conference committee. The congressman was not available for comment.

The move came as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez launched his own television network, called Telesur. According to officials, the station's goal is to promote South American regional integration with newscasts, films, documentaries and music by Latin American and Caribbean producers, and to provide a counterweight to existing programming from the United States.

Mack, a member of the International Relations Committee, has been an outspoken critic of Chavez and what he calls "his ongoing, radical shift toward socialism and the elimination of freedom for the Venezuelan people."

The congressman has charged that Telesur is "patterned after Al-Jazeera" and will "spread (Chavez's) anti-American, anti-freedom rhetoric".

Powell said there was another alternative to creating special broadcasts to counter Telesur.

"For a far lower investment, the U.S. government could make certain that its views are represented on Telesur by making certain government spokesmen are available for Telesur interview and discussion opportunities," he said.

Alvin Snyder, also a senior fellow at the Centre on Public Diplomacy, injected another note of caution.

He said, "Telesur is a pan-Latin American channel. To counter its influence, a U.S. channel should be targeted to all of Latin America, not solely to Venezuela."

"A sound business plan needs to be developed including due diligence stating the objectives of the enterprise with specifics on how those objectives will be achieved. A satellite TV channel must have a vibrant Internet presence, with additional distribution through the growing technologies such as mobile video cell phones and podcasting."

Mack has proposed a three-point plan regarding Venezuela. It involves "the creation of institutions that will foster a free press, the freedom of speech and religion, and free and fair elections for Venezuela; a Venezuelan Security Zone that will isolate Chavez and limit his ability to destabilize Latin America; and promotion of economic development in Venezuela through free markets, privatization, and other means that will create lasting prosperity and opportunity for all Venezuelans."

The U.S. House has earmarked nine million dollars for 2006 and another nine million for 2007 to support opposition political parties, media and civil society organizations in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan Congress was quick to approve a resolution opposing the House decision on broadcasting. The Venezuelan resolution passed with the votes of the ruling alliance, which holds a majority, and the center-left Movement to Socialism, an opposition party.

Telesur, a pan-Latin American station, is a Venezuelan government initiative undertaken in association with Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay. The governments of Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay have not commented on the bill passed by the U.S. House.

On Wednesday, Andrés Izarra, Venezuela's information minister, resigned his post to assume the presidency of Telesur, saying that he wanted to assure the public that the new continent-wide television channel would not suffer from any conflicts of interest.
Telesur drew the wrath of the U.S. even before it went on the air last Sunday. It began broadcasting from Caracas on Jul. 24, the anniversary of the birth of South American independence leader, Simón Bolívar.

Pres. Chávez has called the Mack amendment "a preposterous imperialist idea that should not surprise us because we know what the U.S. government is capable of," and vowed to "take measures to neutralize the attempt."

Venezuelan critics of the Mack initiative contend that Washington is trying to repeat the failed initiatives of Radio and TV Martí, the U.S.-government funded stations created to broadcast programming and news aimed against the Cuban government.

Long before the broadcasting debate, it was clear that Bush and Chavez were on a collision course. There are many reasons, but the hubris of both men is high on the list. This confrontation is not only unnecessary; it is unproductive. The sour fruits of this approach can be seen in the enormous dividends Cuba and the U.S. have reaped over the years through their policies of non-engagement: in the U.S., getting Latino votes; in Cuba, getting tourists and investors from other countries.

Except for a few politicians, a lose-lose proposition if there ever was one!

Thursday, July 28, 2005


By William Fisher

The five elderly women stood in front of an Army recruiting office in Tucson, Arizona, and began to sing. To the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, they belted out the lyrics they wrote:

There’s no business like war business
The worst business we know
Never mind the homeless and the hungry,
Never mind the people without jobs
Nowhere can you get that special feeling
Than when you’re – piling up the bombs.

There’s no business like war business
The best business we know
Multinational profits going through the sky
They multiply while children die
The same amount buys food and clothes
For everyone all over the world.

The group, known as the Raging Grannies of Tucson (RGT), have been performing their ‘act’ outside the recruiting office every Wednesday for the past three years as a protest to the war in Iraq.

But this Wednesday was different. They decided to go inside the office – to enlist in the Army.

“We would rather offer ourselves up and have our grandchildren brought home out of harm’s way, ” said RGT spokesperson Pat Birnie.

“We were told protesters weren’t allowed on the premises but we said we were there to enlist,” she said.

"We went in saying we were here to enlist, but they didn't believe us. We read a statement, sang songs, and then we left."

Ms. Birnie, 75, said the protesters were well outside the recruiting office when police arrived and said they were trespassing, a criminal offence.

The group -- five ‘grannies’ and two journalists – were charged with trespass and appeared in court earlier this week. They entered not guilty pleas and told to appear an Aug. 19 pretrial hearing.

The women, who range from 55 to 81 years old, are decades older than the maximum allowable age for recruits.

Ms. Birney said the charge was an "overreaction", and that the grannies had been serious about joining the army.

Nancy Hutchinson, an Army spokeswoman in Arizona, told the Associated Press that those opposed to the Iraq war should contact their legislators rather than bother recruiters. "They need to direct their frustrations at people who have the power to change things," she said.

She added that the protesters were not serious about enlisting and were harassing recruiters.

Beau Grosscup, professor of international relations at the University of California, warned that “Anti-war grannies could become a new target for FBI surveillance” He told IPS, “We can expect the authorities to deal more harshly in the legal system with the Grannies than the Pentagon has with soldiers in Iraq accused of murder who have gotten off scott free.”

The RGT are associated with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).

The women are "pretty thoroughly anti-war; we're concerned about the environment and what's happening to civil liberties," said Ms. Birnie, who was with the women when they entered the recruiting center on July 13, but was not charged.

She said two recruiters told the group not to enter, but the women said they had come to enlist, read a statement and sang two protest songs. By the time they returned to the sidewalk outside, police had arrived.

The RGT members contend that recruits have been lied to, said Ms. Birnie. "We feel that our lives are pretty well used up and that the young people so many times are killed in battle or come home traumatized," she said.

The Raging Grannies was first initiated by Canadian activists 19 years ago. The idea has spread throughout the world, and can be traced on the Internet.

The mission of the Tucson Raging Grannies, according to its website, is to promote global peace, justice, and social and economic equality by raising public awareness through the medium of song and humor.

“Our goal is to challenge our audiences to work to bring about the social changes that are required in order to end economic oppression, particularly of women and children, and to end racial inequality, environmental destruction, human rights violations, and arms proliferation.”

An ‘indy-journalist’ (independent) who was with the Grannies when they entered the recruiting center wrote that they “were hoping the recruiters would have shown more humor with the activists. Instead, (the sergeant in charge) called Tucson police and had everyone cited.”

“The mood before the action was light and joyous. Protestors have been showing up in front of the military recruiting offices on Speedway each Wednesday morning since the pledge of resistance began over 3 years ago.

“Nearly 20 people lined the sidewalk this morning with signs and American flags with peace symbols. Most motorists honked and waived at the rally, which delights Granny Pat Birnie.

“They can hear the honks inside,” she said.

“At 9:00 am, the Grannies split off from the rally and made a plan of action.
The Grannies stood in front of the office and sang more songs, prompting (the sergeant) to close the door to his office.

“After a few minutes, they began to enter the office, stating that they wished to enlist. The recruiters tried to turn them away, saying that protestors are not allowed on their property, but the willful Grannies made their way in.

“After spending a few minutes reading a statement and singing a few more songs, the Sergeant told them that they must leave, and that charges were going to be pressed. Both recruiters seemed uncomfortable and were unwilling to confront the elderly choir, keeping their backs turned and pretending to do office work.”

According to an Army Battalion Commander from Phoenix, the charges were pressed by the landlord of the building, not the Army itself. He declined to give any other information about the incident.

“My sense is that it’s such an absurd charge that the judge will excuse it,”
Ms. Birney said.


By William Fisher

Human Rights Watch is calling on Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to pardon three jailed advocates of peaceful reform and urging President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to “show the world that he is serious about pursuing justice,” and “ensure that police torturers are held accountable for their crimes.”

In Saudi Arabia, an appellate court in Riyadh upheld harsh prison terms of between six and nine years for the three after they attempted to circulate a petition calling for a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

HRW said, “The three men were among 12 petitioners arrested in March 2004. Over the following weeks, Saudi security forces pressured the detainees to sign a pledge to stop all future political petition activity in return for their release. The government released the nine detainees who signed the pledge, but continued with its prosecution of `Ali al-Dumaini, Dr. Matruk al-Falih and Dr. Abdullah al-Hamid because they refused.”

The advocacy group said the government prosecuted the men on charges “that had no legal basis”, and “denied the men basic due process rights.“ The court refused to grant the men their request for a public trial, insisting on holding all sessions behind closed doors.

It added that the general court judge denied the men access to counsel of their choice, and imprisoned the lead lawyer, Abd al-Rahman al-Lahim, in November 2004 after he spoke on television about the case. He remains in jail without charge.

A pardon from the Crown Prince is the only legal remedy open to the imprisoned activists.

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, said “Saudi judges seem unable or unwilling to protect Saudi citizens from arbitrary detention when they try to exercise basic rights like free speech. Instead, they have backed the government’s relentless repression of all peaceful political criticism.”

She charged that the verdict “did not specify which laws the defendants had violated, but found that they had “address[ed] the public and appeal[ed] to it in respect of critical issues concerning the system of rule” and engaged in “criticism of the people charged with authority in the Islamic regime” in a manner “contrary to the principle of mutual advice with the ruler.” None of these charges is codified as a punishable offense under Saudi law, which follows Islamic law, or shari`a.

“The government is relying on vaguely defined offenses that it can apply arbitrarily to silence citizens critical of the government,” Whitson said.

“The Saudi Foreign Minister publicly stated his view that Saudi Arabia would become a constitutional monarchy, but three months later the government jailed these ordinary citizens for advocating exactly this.”

On the Nigeria issue, Peter Takirambudde, executive director of HRW’s Africa Division, said that “Despite Nigeria’s progress on democratic reforms, Nigerian police routinely commit brutal acts of torture that have endured since the country’s era of military rule.

In a new report, HRW said, “For too long, the police in Nigeria have gotten away with murder and brutality."

It noted that “The United States and Britain have invested millions in police reform initiatives in Nigeria, but police practices have changed little since the end of military rule,” said Takirambudde. “Diplomatic relations have taken precedence over concern for human rights for too long. It’s time the British and the U.S. governments conditioned further aid to the police to measurable improvements in police conduct.”

The 76-page report, “‘Rest in Pieces’: Police Torture and Deaths in Custody in Nigeria,” said that “Across Nigeria, both senior and lower-level police officers routinely commit or order the torture and mistreatment of criminal suspects. Human Rights Watch urged foreign governments funding police reform in Nigeria to be more critical about police abuses, such as torture.

The report is based on over 50 interviews with victims and witnesses of torture and is the first comprehensive study on the subject. It documents brutal acts of torture and ill treatment in police custody, dozens of which resulted in death.

“If President Olusegun Obasanjo wants to show the world that he is serious about pursuing justice, he should ensure that police torturers are held accountable for their crimes,” HRW said.

It reported that most victims were arrested within the context of an aggressive government campaign against common crime and were tortured to obtain confessions. They were tortured in local and state police stations across Nigeria, often in interrogation rooms especially equipped for the purpose.

Forms of torture documented by Human Rights Watch include the tying of arms and legs behind the body, suspension by hands and legs from the ceiling, severe beatings with metal or wooden objects, spraying of tear gas in the eyes, shooting in the foot or leg, raping female detainees, and using pliers or electric shocks on the penis, the Report said.

In addition, HRW said that witnesses reported that dozens of deaths as a result of injuries and others were summarily executed in police custody.

The Report noted that the majority of the torture victims interviewed were ordinary criminal suspects whose cases were characterized by an absence of due process of law. Typically, suspects were not informed by the police of the reasons for arrest, received no legal representation, and were subjected to excessive periods of pretrial detention. Once the suspects were brought before a court, judges and magistrates often accepted confessions extracted under torture.

It noted that “Police torture in Nigeria is often socially accepted because it has been common for so long. A culture of impunity has protected the perpetrators. When victims and others have tried to attain accountability they have faced harassment, intimidation and obstruction by the police.”

It declared that the “absence of independent mechanisms to investigate police abuses and make referrals to the prosecutor has created a serious accountability vacuum. This has allowed the perpetrators to evade justice. In recent years, not a single police officer has been successfully prosecuted for committing torture in Nigeria.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The London Bombings and Iraq:How the Neocons Now Explain Terror

John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer who resigned over the war in Iraq, edits a daily “Public Diplomacy Press Review” available free by requesting it at

By John Brown

In recent weeks commentators from all sides of the political fence have
tried to make sense of the recent London bombings. The neocons and their
fellow travelers are among these. But they have another, more immediate
concern. They’re eager to decouple the tragedy in England from the
U.S./British occupation of Iraq. That’s because they seek to prevent further
erosion of popular support for the Iraq war, which could mean the end of
their imperial ambitions in the Middle East.

There’s some historical irony here, if one considers what the neocons and
their allies were saying in the fall of last year. At that time of the
presidential elections, über neocon Norman Podhoretz announced in a long
Commentary article (September 2004) that a reason we were in Iraq -- a
campaign, he argued, of World War IV -- was to prevent the terror of Islamic
jihadism, including from Iraq, from reaching our shores.

But today, the neocons -- who had long argued of a link between Al-Qaeda and
Saddam Hussein -- claim there’s no connection between the Coalition’s presence in Iraq and the terror outbreak in England. “Islamist malignancy long predates Iraq,” declared Charles Krauthammer in the Wall Street Journal (July 18) “[I]t is ludicrous to try to reduce [the London bombings] to Iraq,” says Christopher Hitchens (Slate, July 7).

According to the neocons’ “it’s not Iraq, stupid” updated version of
terrorism, what the atrocity in England really represents is the morally
reprehensible behavior of evil, delusional fanatics with Islamic slogans but
no real political program. They will strike anywhere, any time, anyone, and
without reason. There is no place for wishy-washy academic illusions about
the complexity of human nature in trying to analyze terrorists’ motivations,
actions and psychological make-up. They’re mad killers, pure and simple. In
the words of Cal Thomas, in the Baltimore Sun (July 19): “I don't want to
understand why they hate us … since the jihadists have declared war on us, I
want to kill them before they kill me.”

Given the brutality of the London tragedy, it’s hard to argue rationally
against this reaction to terrorism, which on a rudimentary level does appeal
to a basic human emotion, the desire for vengeance against unjust, inhuman
acts directed at persons with whom we share common experiences and values.
But it doesn’t tell the whole story about terrorism. Terrorists may indeed
be driven by hate and resentment, but their actions are also determined by
geopolitical considerations, as Professor Pape of the University of Chicago,
among others, has pointed out. Many terrorists -- and among them there are
educated persons -- have reasons for their horrible deeds: “The central
fact,” notes Professor Pape, “is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist
attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic
objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the
territory that the terrorists view as their homeland” (interview in The
American Conservative, July 18).

The neocons’ response to these observations by specialists is simply to
repeat that terrorists are ogres with nothing more on their minds than death
and destruction (even though, in Commentary, Podhoretz claimed jihadist
fundamentalists had long-term geopolitical plans against the United States).
This crude caveman analysis -- to be fair -- could be an honest effort to
expose the nature of terrorism to ordinary citizens without over
intellectualizing the issue. But it is naïve to assume that the neocons are
only interested in enlightening the public. They have a political agenda,
and their current decoupling of terror from international politics is at
heart an attempt to maintain declining popular support for their no. 1
priority: a forceful, aggressive U.S. military presence in the Middle East
that will assure permanent American-led control of the area (for reasons the
neocons have never made entirely clear). Their catchword for this bloody,
expensive, universally despised U.S. domination? “Democracy in Iraq.”

The neocons can’t fail to realize that terrorist acts, no matter how they
dismiss the current impact of these deeds, threaten their own imperial
ambitions. Let’s face it: if the public in the United States and Europe
increasingly sees a cause-and-effect relationship between the intervention
in Iraq and present and future abominations such as the ones in London,
support for the Iraq war could decline even more than it has in recent
months. Of course, the U.S. and the U.K. are not “pacifist” Spain, and many
in these two countries will continue hoping that “staying the course” in
Iraq and keeping a stiff upper lip at home is the only answer to fighting
terrorism on their own turf. But according to a recent poll by the Pew
Research Center for the People & the Press, 45% of Americans believed “soon
after the subway bombings in London that the war in Iraq was raising the
risk of terrorism in this country. That's up from 36% last fall” (Washington
Post, July 22). Although “about half of the public, 52 percent, favors
staying in Iraq until the country is stabilized,” calls for an American
withdrawal from Iraq could increase, especially if other terrorist attacks
occur. And if American troops leave Iraq, the neocon “Project for the New
American Century” -- imperial hubris gone awry -- is all but over, at least
in the Middle East.

Of course, the thought of what could be interpreted as the U.S. acceding to
the demands of terrorists is by no means comforting to some. But, rather
than expressing surrender or hopelessness, a serious reconsideration of our
role in Iraq would suggest that Americans are not buying the neocon idea
that Iraq and terrorism aren’t connected. More important, Americans, with
the latest barbarity in London, are becoming increasingly aware that the war
in Iraq is a misadventure in which they were misled by weapons of mass
deception, many of them cynically invented by the neocons. Lying and
neoconservatism are becoming synonymous in the American language, and
“liberating” Iraq is now seen as the neocon fabrication par excellence. So
why should we believe their latest fiction -- that terror has nothing to do
with Iraq -- so that they can keep us fighting in the Middle East for
reasons we don’t even understand?

Monday, July 25, 2005


By William Fisher

Michelle Malkin, sometimes known as Bill O’Reilly in drag, opened one of her recent syndicated rants with this question:

“Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Civil-liberties activists, anti-war organizers, eco-militants and animal-rights operatives are in a fright over news that the nefarious FBI is watching them. Why on earth would the government be worried about harmless liberal grannies, innocent vegetarians, unassuming rainforest lovers and other ‘peaceful groups’ simply exercising their First Amendment rights?”

Ms. Malkin was referring to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, charging that the FBI had amassed hundreds of pages of secret files on that organization and similar groups.

Well, let me suggest that this cute-looking new darling of the salivating right is asking the wrong question. What she should want to know is why the FBI is snooping on the ACLU. After all, the rights the ACLU defends include those that allow Ms. Malkin to write exactly what she wants to write, no matter how misinformed.

Ms. Malkin is too young to remember, and obviously hasn’t read much American history, but if she wants an answer to that question, there are lots of answers. Here are a few.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the FBI engaged in widespread spying on ordinary Americans. The targets back then were left-wing groups and individuals, civil rights and anti-Vietnam activists and, of course, President Nixon’s “enemies list”.

The leader of the pack was the FBI’s powerful first director, J. Edgar Hoover. J. Edgar started his witch-hunting career in the 1920s under Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. Palmer’s infamous ‘Red Raids’ were enabled by a national environment of fear and suspicion and led to the jailing or deportation of hundreds of communists, anarchists, Bolsheviks, and other dissidents, including Emma Goldman, the well-known Russian émigré poet.

The FBI under Hoover collected information on all America's leading politicians. Known as Hoover's “secret files”, this incriminating material was used to make sure that the eight presidents under whom he served would be too frightened to sack him. The strategy worked and Hoover was still in office when he died in 1972.

Not even Martin Luther King, Jr. got a free pass. The FBI used wiretaps and a covert operation, personally directed by Hoover, to unearth derogatory information intended to destroy King as a national civil rights leader.
In between the Red Raids and Martin Luther King, there was the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War Two – an action for which the United States Government finally apologized, but which young Ms. Malkin thinks was just a dandy idea.

Even earlier in the life of our Republic, there were the Alien and Sedition Acts, passed in 1798 under the administration of President John Adams. They were sold as measures to protect the United States from "dangerous" aliens, but were actually used by the Federalists to stop the growth of the Democratic-Republican Party.

The four laws making up the Act authorized the president to imprison or deport any alien associated with any nation the United States was fighting in a "declared war, " and deport any alien considered dangerous, even in peacetime, extended the duration of residence required for aliens to become citizens, nearly tripling it from five years to 14, and made it a crime to publish "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" against government or government officials.

These unambiguous violations of the First Amendment were vigorously opposed by such well-known lefties as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Ms. Malkin saves her fiercest invective for the “eco-radicals” who urge their followers to take “direct actions" against American military establishments, urban centers, corporations, government buildings, media outlets, and the financial centers of the country through “massive property destruction”, “online sabotage”, “physical occupation of buildings”, and large-scale urban rioting.

Ms. Malkin conveniently ignores that fact that such eco-radicals have nothing whatever to do with the ACLU’s lawsuit. She also ignores America’s long history of civil disobedience – which started with the Revolutionary War that created the country, continued through the Civil Rights movement, and is still alive and well today.

No one wants to see mass destruction of anything by anyone, but Ms. Malkin would do well to acknowledge that it was acts of civil disobedience that gave her many of the rights she now enjoys.

Ms. Malkin concludes: " ‘Dissent is patriotic’ is a bromide no responsible agent can swallow blindly. Tolerating the unfettered free speech of saboteurs has threatened enough lives already.”

How about your free speech, Michelle?

I forget who said it, but it’s a statement Ms. Malkin needs to think about: The greatest threat to democracy is the unbridled power of government.

Funny how often small-government states-rights conservatives like Michelle Malkin forget what it is they’re supposed to stand for!


Interview conducted by William Fisher

Brian J. Foley is a professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. Recently we interviewed him about what should be done with prisoners detained at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Q. The members of Congress who recently visited Guantanamo Bay seemed to be concerned about primarily about the treatment of detainees. Is this the main issue now?

A. The main issue is and always has been whether these people are in fact guilty of anything at all. Members of congress can satisfy themselves that prisoners can read the Koran, but what if those prisoners are innocent? Reading the Koran does not make up for their loss of freedom, and the lack of any process to prove their innocence.

Q. The DOD has set up what seems a very complex system for determining the guilt of detainees. Is there something wrong with the Army system?

A. Even if we assume good faith on the part of the Administration, then it’s trying to hold these people because it thinks they are dangerous but can’t prove it objectively. The slowness of the courts is undoubtedly part of their strategy. When it designed a hearing system, the Administration knew that prisoners were going to challenge it in court, and that everything would grind to a halt until a court decides, and then again until an appeals court decides, and yet again until the Supreme Court decides

During this process, the Administration can keep these men in prison, because it can argue that to let them out would endanger us. This is analogous to denying bail to a criminal defendant in our system.

If we were really concerned about the fairness and justice, the government could speed up the process by putting together a panel using the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Decisions would then be seen as proper.

Q. Are there specific problems with the Combat Status Review Panels (CSRPs), which determine whether someone is an enemy combatant, a POW or an innocent person?

A. The CSRPs provide the minimum process possible. For example, the rules include the presumption that the person is an enemy combatant. Also, the standard isn’t "beyond a reasonable doubt," as in our criminal justice system, but a mere "preponderance of the evidence " -- what lawyers generally quantify as "51 percent." The barest majority.

These tribunals are made up of US military officers who have loyalties to the military and their "Commander-in-Chief." Prisoners have no right to counsel – just some soldier who can help them along. That soldier is probably outranked by members of the tribunal. The tribunal can consider secret evidence that the prisoner can never see or even be told about by his military representative.

This violates our own due process rights to cross-examine and confront witnesses, and to have all evidence against you disclosed. The military officers conducting the hearing can consider any evidence they think is "reasonable." That includes hearsay evidence, and evidence and witnesses considered "reasonably available." It’s unlikely the tribunal would fly other people halfway around the world to testify for the prisoner.

Q. Are there specific problems with the "military tribunals"?

A. This is the second part of the justice system our government is creating. President Bush created these bodies out of whole cloth in November 2001. While they provide more legal process than the CSRPs, they’re still less reliable than hearings POWs would receive under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That is something Congress should decide to do .

Military tribunals have a presumption of innocence, but like the CSRPs, they still allow secret evidence against the prisoners. So our regular system tilts toward the defendant, while the Gitmo system tilts in favor of the government.

Military tribunals come up short in other ways. For example, our Constitution provides the right to effective assistance of counsel, protection of the attorney-client privilege, military officers who are lawyers as counsel, the right to confront accusers, the right of compulsory process to bring before the tribunal any witnesses that the defendant needs to testify, and a jury trial. Our Constitution doesn’t allow evidence that was obtained by coercion to be used against a defendant. So there’s a question about whether that evidence is accurate. Accuracy is the heart of due process.

These protections do not apply to current detainees. The fate of these prisoners’ will be decided by military personnel and military "judges" with little or no legal training.

Another problem with the military tribunals is that prisoners’ appeals stay inside the Executive branch. When the Administration clarified the military tribunal rules in 2002, it also announced that it could hold prisoners who are found not guilty by the tribunals, if the President still thinks they are dangerous!

Q. Will we see challenges to these tribunals anytime soon?

A. Last summer, in the cases dealing with enemy combatants, the Supreme Court held that enemy aliens in Guantanamo may file habeas corpus petitions to challenge various aspects of their detention. The Court also noted that enemy combatants could be detained, but that some process would have to be implemented to determine these prisoners’ status and guilt. We can expect to see lower courts coming to varying decisions on whether particular aspects of the process are permissible or not. These will wend their way up to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the government can continue to hold these people.

If you give so little process toward answering this question, no one can reasonably trust the outcome. We need to use a system that can accurately determine whether each individual is dangerous. If they are being held indefinitely because we determine they are dangerous, then we should give them chances over time to show they are no longer a danger.

Q. Does the recent court ruling that prisoners can be tried by military tribunals change things?

A. Yes and no. It reversed the lower court opinion that was holding up at least one trial, and it streamlined the process by saying that the military tribunals, before a prisoner's trial, can fulfill the international law standard of determining whether the prisoner is an enemy combatant or POW. The court didn't address the problem that these tribunals can use secret evidence but indicated that challenges to secret evidence will have to be pursued by prisoners after they're convicted. But it probably didn't change things in the short run because the tribunals likely will be held up by an appeal of this case to the Supreme Court.


By William Fisher

One of America’s most experienced broadcast experts believes that Karen Hughes – the high-profile Bush confidante nominated to help the State Department do a major makeover of the U.S. public diplomacy – may not be able to lay a glove on one of its key programs: international broadcasting.

Alvin Snyder, Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy, says U.S. public diplomacy broadcast efforts are protected by a “firewall” that makes them off-limits to people from the State Department, or anywhere else.

Snyder told me, “One of the basic tools in the U.S. public diplomacy arsenal is its international broadcasting channels. But there's a big ‘firewall’ that makes the U.S. government's international broadcasting channels off limits. The wall is policed by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a government-funded but independent corporation governed eight private sector politically appointed members – four Republicans four Democrats. The Secretary of State is the ninth member of the BBG in case there's a tie vote.”

“The purpose of the firewall is to keep broadcast channels independent from government influence”, Snyder says, “and that government would certainly include the State Department.”

The BBG’s broadcast resources include the Voice of America, the Arabic-language TV Alhurra and Radio Sawa, the Iranian service's Radio Farda, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Cuba Broadcasting's Radio and TV Marti, and the support group for all this, the International Broadcasting Bureau.

The BBG replaced the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) to oversee all U.S. government non-military international broadcast services in 1999, with the passage of the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act.

Snyder has a long career in broadcasting, starting a writer, news editor and executive news editor of CBS News. He won a Grammy in 1966, together with CBS News President Fred W. Friendly and Sheldon Hoffman, for work a Columbia Records album, "Edward R. Murrow: A Reporter Remembers - the War Years." He helped create the White House Office of Communications during the Nixon Administration, and went on to become Special Assistant to the President.

Following Nixon’s resignation in 1974, he became a TV producer at the U.S. Information Agency and in 1982 became its Director of the TV and Film Service. He is the author of "Warriors of Disinformation" and is currently a Senior Fellow at USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy. He writes a weekly "WorldCasting" column.

Snyder told me, “If the ‘firewall’ is off-limits to Ms. Hughes and her team, what they will have is the rest of what was inherited from the USIA, such as educational and cultural exchanges, and the Bureau of Public Affairs, important aspects of U.S. public diplomacy, which appear to be alive and well.

However, he adds, “It remains unclear what impact Karen Hughes will have in strengthening U.S. public diplomacy efforts abroad, since she lacks authority over its most visible broadcast services.”

The BBG says that it has more than 100 million listeners, viewers, and Internet users around the world each week. However, its content had been widely seen as ineffective in communicating U.S. messages and winning friends for America.

What should be done to improve U.S. international broadcasting efforts now?

In the Arab world, Snyder says, “Alhurra’s target audience ought to be those who seek information through TV satellite news channels, whoever they are, and we ought to see for ourselves how well Alhurra is doing this.”

However, Snyder says, “It’s impossible to review a television channel’s programs that you haven’t seen. That’s the situation with Alhurra. According to a 50-year old law, U.S. government broadcasts targeted for oversees audiences may not be broadcast domestically. That means if you live in Peoria or Pittsburgh or anywhere else in America, the only way you can see Alhurra’s news broadcasts is to come to its studios in Springfield, Virginia, near Washington, DC.”

The law is the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which forbids domestic distribution of U.S. government media content meant for overseas audiences.

Snyder quotes retired ambassador William Rugh, former U.S. envoy to the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, as saying that defenders of U.S. public diplomacy efforts in Congress “have no idea what impact America’s broadcast services are having abroad, but they like the idea, and so it gets funding.”

Snyder told me, “That’s yet another reason Congress ought to lift the ban on domestic dissemination of U.S. broadcasts abroad -- to better inform themselves.”

But, Snyder points out, “That law was designed in and for another era, when memories were still fresh of Hitler's propaganda pounded into audiences in Nazi Germany.”

As a consequence, he adds, “Even informed Americans are kept in the dark about how our tax dollars are used to promote U.S. interests through international broadcasting.”

The result, Snyder says, is that “America may soon see the English-language service of the controversial Arabic channel al-Jazeera, but not Alhurra.

Snyder called on Congress to repeal the law.

I asked Snyder how today’s public diplomacy broadcasts compare with those of the Cold War era.

“Our efforts then were most effective when broadcasts informed listeners about themselves. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty provided information about what was going on in the rest the world that impacted on targeted audiences. They also told listeners about what was happening in their own closed societies, that they didn’t know. The Voice of America provided straightforward news and information from a trusted friend,” he said.

He noted that “a lot of audience research was done by the U.S. Information Agency Foreign Service professionals on the ground abroad who knew their target audiences a whole lot better than we did. Ideas for program content flowed from them to us, and we received a lot more than we could handle. This could done just as effectively in today’s world.”

President Bush nominated Karen Hughes to be Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, and she is expected to be confirmed by the Senate next week. Her deputy, already confirmed, is Dina Habib Powell, former White House personnel chief, who is now an Assistant Secretary of State with principal responsibility for educational and cultural exchange programs.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Let's Be Blunt: Bush's Proxy is Spreading Social Darwinism to the State Level

Jason Miller is a 38 year old free-lance activist writer with a degree in liberal arts. He is a husband and a father to three boys. His affiliations include Amnesty International, the ACLU and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He welcomes responses at

By Jason Miller

"Show-Me" the state of Missouri, and I will show you a microcosm of George Bush's domestic agenda for America. Under Governor Matt Blunt, Missouri is rapidly implementing laws reminiscent of the Gilded Age, when corporations ruled and the people were disposable cogs in their profit-making machines. Virtually each day I pick up the newspaper, Blunt has advanced this despicable agenda still further. Watching my former home state (and current neighboring state) become an ally to the American plutocracy in their bid to sweep away the remains of the progressive, humanitarian advances of the Twentieth Century leaves me deeply sickened and saddened.

Legislating immorality….

From the plutocratic point of view, businesses and corporations simply cannot make their owners, executives, or shareholders obscenely wealthy enough without breaking the backs of the poor and working class. For the affluent to afford multiple multi-million dollar homes, cars that cost more than many homes, yachts, trophy wives, and jet-setting lifestyles, the poor must remain extremely poor. Freeing businesses (and corporations) of pesky impediments like paying taxes, having to negotiate with labor unions, and legal accountability for death or injury resulting from their products or services are essential to ensuring astronomical profits to fulfill the extravagant "needs" of the rich. Cutting "socialist government hand-outs" to the poor enables the plutocrats to give themselves additional tax breaks. In the New Corporatcracy, the elderly, the working class, victimized consumers, the homeless, minorities, the disabled, the sick, and the poor will increasingly discover that they are on their own as Social Darwinists implement "survival of the fittest (with the fattest wallets) policies through the government.

Friends in high places, including Dad and himself….

In 2004, Matt Blunt narrowly won the Missouri gubernatorial race by garnering a mere 51% of the popular vote. Did he really win the election though? Unlike George Bush in the 2000 presidential election, he did not need Katherine Harris to hand him a false victory. He had himself. Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt retained his office through the election, meaning he certified the results his own narrow victory in the governor’s race. In Bush-like fashion, Blunt seized the reins of the state of Missouri without an objective measure of how the people had truly voted. Our wealthy, elite rulers were not taking the chance that the “herd” would make the “wrong choice”.

Throughout Blunt’s campaign for governor, Bush and Cheney both heavily endorsed Blunt to ensure that Missouri would be fertile ground for instituting their domestic agenda at the state level. Roy Blunt, Sr., Matt's father, is the House Majority Whip in the US Congress. From that position, he wields a great deal of power and has forged close ties with the Bush administration. While both Blunts assert that Roy's status and connections were not factors in Matt's rise to power in Missouri, facts and logic belie the depth of their denial. During Matt's 2000 campaign for Missouri Secretary of State (the position which propelled him into the governor's mansion), he received contributions from numerous sources from outside of Missouri. State records show that several of the out of state donors had legislation beneficial to them under review by Congressional subcommittees on which Roy Blunt sat. Most reasonable-minded individuals would call that a conflict of interest, but in a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich, it is business as usual.

Who were some of these individuals and entities with such a burning interest in the outcome of the Secretary of State race in Missouri, where they did not reside? Executives from Freddie Mac donated $4,000.00, while two of their lobbyists (who were from Virginia) donated $1,000.00 each. A lobbyist for Phillip Morris donated $1,000.00. Many contributions came from companies and corporations operating in industries encumbered with heavy government regulations. Records also indicate that $65,000.00 of Matt's campaign contributions came from 84 of Roy's colleagues in Congress. And Matt Blunt bristles at the implication that he rode his father's coat-tails into office? If I did not know better, I would conclude that Bush, Blunt, and major corporate interests colluded to position Matt to begin imposing their Social Darwinism at the state level, but in a democracy based on the “freedom and liberty” we are spreading to Iraq, this would not be possible.

Now that Blunt is comfortably nestled into the cozy confines of the governor's mansion, he has begun to systematically engage the perverse social agenda of the Bush administration. In the new "pull oneself up by one’s boot straps" paradigm, laissez faire capitalism and gross socio-economic inequality are beginning to predominate in Missouri. Blunt's pretexts for creating a haven for avaricious corporations and dramatically cutting assistance to the poor are to prevent tax increases and to create jobs in Missouri. In true Social Darwinian form, Blunt has rationalized the enrichment of the "haves" and the abandonment of the "have nots".

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

--John Kenneth Galbraith

Some of Governor Blunt's first targets were those dependent on Medicaid for their basic health needs. In Blunt's short tenure, Missouri is preparing to cut 100,000 from the Medicaid rolls. First Steps, a $27 million program to aid 8,000 children with severe disabilities is fading into history. As a part of this program, the federal government matched the state dollar for dollar. The funding paid for sorely needed therapy and equipment for special needs children. Blunt’s Medicaid cuts will also target children adopted through the state's foster care program, which will most likely reduce the number of those willing to adopt children who desperately need parents. Obviously, in a corporatacracy like the one Blunt is forging in Missouri, the poor, the adopted, and the special needs children (who lack the good fortune of having been born to affluent parents) do not have the right to proper medical care.

You can fool some of the people some of the time….

Blunt's justification for the cuts was two-fold. He stated it would enable him to avoid raising taxes and that it would reduce fraud in the Medicaid system. Neither assertion holds water.

Medicaid spending cuts do project the image that Matt Blunt is a fiscal hero for preventing tax increases. However, leaving that many people uninsured places a financial burden of another kind on those fortunate enough to have insurance. Medical costs for the uninsured receiving treatment without the ability to pay are passed on to the rest of society through increases in prices by providers and higher health insurance premiums. The uninsured people who opt not to get treatment because they are too poor become more infirm, and ultimately become a financial drain on society. The lesson here for the plutocrats is that besides the moral imperative for society (and hence upon our government, the manager of society's public coffers and the makers of society's rules) to care for the weaker and less fortunate, there is a pragmatic imperative to offer medical insurance to the poor.

Blunt's specious argument that the Medicaid cuts will reduce fraud is a pitifully weak when one examines the facts. In 2004, the state of Missouri registered 243 cases of Medicaid fraud that cost about $1 million. 974,559 Missourians were on Medicaid. At .02%, Missouri Medicaid fraud hardly rises to the level of a crisis or warrants an overhaul of the system. Matt Blunt needs to go back to the drawing board if he wishes to come up with a truly convincing justification for his selfishness.

Why worry about human suffering when there are profits to be had?

While many of the poor scramble to obtain basic health services, corporations and businesses are basking in the radiant sunshine of Matt Blunt's state level corporatacracy. $250 million in tax credits for businesses create a virtual paradise. In March, Governor Blunt signed a law making it more difficult for employees to qualify for worker's comp benefits. Under Blunt, collective bargaining rights for state employees are a thing of the past. Is this a precursor to similar laws aimed at the private sector? Handing a gift-wrapped package to the insurance industry, Blunt allowed several executives from major insurance companies help him interview the finalists to become head of the Missouri Department of Insurance, the state department that acts as a watchdog over the insurance industry. Some of the interviewees were also Blunt campaign donors. Blunt has made great strides toward a corporatacracy in his short tenure. Remember the Chicago song “Only the Beginning”?

Fortunately for the working people, not all entrepreneurs agree with the grossly immoral actions of our plutocratic leaders like Matt Blunt. According to Missouri, Garland Land of Jefferson City wrote:

We own a small business that collects sales tax on the merchandise we sell. What most people may not realize is that by state law we get to keep part of the sales tax we collect. Our business, like most, is computerized. It just takes a few minutes each month to complete the form and send the check to the state. I calculated that the state is paying us over $800 per hour based upon the amount wee keep and the amount of time it takes us to process the form.

I question whether it is morally right to keep the sales tax when others are losing services due to the state’s budget problems.

I have decided that keeping part of the sales tax is not doing justice for others. We have decided to send 100 percent of the sales tax we collect to the state. Our decision will not significantly affect the profit margin of our business and it will not make much difference for the state budget, but it is the right thing to do.

I laud Mr. Land for his stance, and hope that other business owners follow his lead.

What other tricks does he have up his sleeve?

Virtually all consumers and voters are vulnerable to some of Blunts other "social evolutions". Blunt has paved the way to higher utility costs by easing restrictions on rate increases. Thanks to the new governor, it is now more difficult for victims of medical malpractice to receive compensation and justice. His tort reforms are even more draconian than the ones former Missouri governor Bob Holden vetoed in 2003 and 2004. Mr. Blunt vetoed legislation that would have made campaign contributions more transparent. The man who purportedly did not ride to office via questionable campaign financing wants to limit public scrutiny of sources of campaign money. How astounding!

In keeping with the tactics of his mentor in Washington, Governor Blunt weaves pleasant fictions to pacify the masses. In May, he spent two days traversing the state to tout his $158 million increase in education spending, "proving" he made good on his campaign promise to improve Missouri schools. The truth is, he was taking credit for something that would have happened whether he had been governor or not. Over 70% of that $158 million stemmed from increased tax revenue that was already committed to education funding (i.e. casino taxes). Is Karl Rove on the Blunt payroll?

Tom Kruckemeyer, an economist with the non-profit Missouri Budget Project commented:

"All or virtually all of this money is from tax sources that are dedicated already to K-12 education, and it is money they had to give them."

Blunt shows them how he really feels

Slapping the 650,000 black residents of Missouri in the face, Mr. Blunt decided to allow the Confederate flag to fly at a Higginsville, MO historical site in June. While one can argue that the flag has multiple meanings, to most black Americans, and to many others, it is a symbol of hatred. The designer of the flag was a South Carolina Congressman who advocated secession from the Union and was an ardent supporter of slavery, one of the most evil institutions in mankind's history. Just as Bush has little regard for the rights or interests of black Americans (other than social conservatives like Condoleezza Rice or Clarence Thomas), Governor Blunt has shown his lack of concern for this segment of the population.

Cake is made to eat, isn’t it?

Blunt’s governorship in Missouri makes it apparent that Mr. Bush intends to apply the “Trickle Down Theory” in a new way. Under the rule of the Social Darwinists, only the "fittest" (and richest) possess the "inalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Blunt exemplifies that their power grab is “trickling down” to the level of state government. With the current Supreme Court vacancy, the plutocrats will move to complete their inevitable seizure of control over the third branch of the federal government. Some have even raised the possibility that Marbury vs. Madison will be overturned, rendering the Judicial Branch virtually insignificant. Middle and working class Americans are witnessing their final shield from tyranny disintegrate. However, the plutocratic and corporate interests are not content simply dominating the federal government. They are shrewdly seeding state governments with men like Matt Blunt to exercise their agenda. To satisfy many amongst their conservative, libertarian constituency, they will need to cede more rights to the states. With men like Matt Blunt waiting in the wings to further the plutocratic agenda, they can safely diffuse their power while still enjoying the delectable fruits of Social Darwinism. America's wealthy are setting out to prove the axiom that you can have your cake and eat it too. Fortunately, it is not too late for the working people, poor, and minorities to prevent that from happening, and I believe we will.

How to beat the terrorists: Lessons from a journey across the Arab world

Rami Khouri is Editor-at-Large for The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut.

Rami G. Khouri

In the last seven weeks I have had the opportunity to make working visits
to seven different Arab countries and to engage in political and other
discussions with local officials, academics, journalists and opposition
activists. The experience has been instructive, and simultaneously
heartening and depressing, but has suggested obvious opportunities and
dangers in the dual quest to respond to the rights of Arab citizens and
defeat the global terror plague.

Based on my visits and discussions in Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt,
Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco, along with meetings with colleagues from
Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria and Kuwait, I sense a common
mood across the Arab world: The prevailing status quo is neither
satisfying to the majority of citizens, nor sustainable for the rulers in
its current state, but neither is it on the verge of revolutionary or
violent change.

The obvious overarching trend throughout the Arab world is that of
citizenries and ruling elite that are worried by the status quo, but
unsure of how to change it. In every Arab society, demons from the past —
a harrowing litany of excesses and errors — now haunt the rulers and the
ruled alike. Tens of millions of educated but underemployed, unemployed,
restive and frustrated young men and women have given unnatural birth to
thousands of active terrorists and anarchists, targeting our own and
foreign lands. A deep distortion of traditional Islamic and Arab values is
manifested in a desperate, violent, criminal search for revenge against
the domestic and foreign forces that have degraded the last three
generations of Arabs. Urban environments are exploding in uncontrollable
spontaneous growth, with increasingly negative impacts on water, arable
land and other vital natural resource bases. Drug- and corruption-based
criminality is our new pan-Arab growth industry, expanding on a regional
and global scale. Tens of millions of armed men and women in official
military, police and security establishments have brought neither
palatable security nor even the more modest goal of honourable national
self-respect to the Arab region as a whole. Some desperate lands in our
midst are ruled like private fiefdoms by thugs, killers, former cops and
men of very limited abilities, in some absurd cases men who have remained
in power for three or four decades without interruption — and in all cases
without any formal, credible ratification by their own citizens.

Everywhere in the Arab world, the calm on the surface is tenuous and
vulnerable. Pressures for change emanate from within the Arab countries,
and equally from external pressures. This is driven by economic stress and
a deeper sense of the average citizen's indignity at living in societies
where power is neither accountable nor contestable, and where citizen
rights are neither codified nor respected.

But these are visceral, not constitutional, societies, and verbal, not
digital or parliamentary, societies. Body language rules here more than
the eloquence or principles of national founding fathers. So do not look
for signs of stress or change in polling data, legislative votes or
political party activity. Those superficial imports from retreating
colonial European powers three generations ago have little anchorage or
meaning in most Arab societies. Here, power relationships are negotiated
over coffee, meals, chance encounters and leisurely chats — and they are
constantly, perpetually renegotiated and reaffirmed, day after day, year
after year, generation after generation.

This is what is going on now in every Arab country. Arab rulers and ruled
alike fervently but quietly search for the mechanisms of orderly change,
aware that the traditional social contract and power equation that have
defined this region since the 1920s are on their last legs. The common
phenomenon I have witnessed around the Arab world is that growing
majorities of ordinary citizens seek peaceful but effective ways to
challenge, and change, state structures and the use of power — because
these state structures mostly do not offer their people sustainable
security, expressions of their real identity, freedom of choice and
speech, relevant education, or minimally attractive job prospects.

A very small minority of violent Arab men and women has turned to terror
as an instrument that expresses their demented frustrations and
desperation; more significantly, the vast mass of Arabs has learned the
lessons of the mistakes of the secular and religious political movements
that challenged the modern Arab security state using violent means
starting in the late 1970s. Citizens throughout this region now challenge
their ruling elite and foreign interference more peacefully, but also more
directly and vocally. They demand more equitable treatment by their own
ruling authorities, less corruption and abuse of power, and a more clear
sense of equal opportunities for all citizens, rather than privileged
access to power and wealth by a small, often family-, tribe-, ethnic-, or
sect-based elite that often includes a criminal component.

Citizens nonviolently but explicitly challenge the legitimacy of their
rulers in some cases, and the conduct of their own security services in
others. The first wave of responses from the befuddled Arab security state
— a thin sliver of reforms dressed up in limited media liberalisation —
has been unconvincing to savvy Arab citizenries that expect a much more
significant acknowledgement of their humanity, and of their human and
civil rights.

The opportunity and the danger for the Arab world both seem rather clear.
The opportunity is to engage and empower the vast majority of Arab
citizens who actively and peacefully seek a better, more humane and
accountable, political order, through orderly and incremental change.
Several hundred million upright, wholesome, ordinary men and women
throughout the Arab world cry out for decency in their political order,
inspired by the deep righteousness of their faiths and the strong moral
values of their cultural and national traditions.

The parallel danger is that Arab and foreign officials will allow
themselves to be so mesmerised and distracted by the criminal antics of a
few terrorists out there that they end up perpetuating the four basic
mistakes that have plagued Arab, American, British and other anti-terror
policies in recent years: Misdiagnosing the root causes of terror,
exaggerating the religious and minimising the political dimensions of
terror, and responding mainly with heavy-handed political and military
policies that, astoundingly, only fuel the criminal hormones of the
terrorists themselves and also further alienate the hundreds of millions
of already fearful ordinary Arabs whose demand to live as dignified,
respected citizens of humane and responsive modern states is, in the end,
the only sure way to defeat terrorism.

This is the simple but profound lesson that I have learned in my travels
and conversations across the Arab world in the past seven weeks. If you
seek stability and an end to terror, mobilise the Arab masses through
democratic transformations that respect their rights as citizens, rather
than alienate them through American, British and other military fantasies
in foreign lands that only degrade the Arab people's already thin sense of
self-respect in the face of their own bitter modern legacy of homegrown
autocrats and Western armies.

Friday, July 22, 2005



By William Fisher

It’s not much of a stretch to argue that the toughest – and perhaps the most thankless – job in the U.S. Government is carried out by a group of people very few Americans have ever heard of.

These are the Inspectors General (IGs) of all Cabinet-level government departments – and in many smaller departments and agencies. The IGs, along with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) – reported by IPS previously -- constitute the government’s two principal watchdog agencies.

The IGs have been around since the founding of the U.S., having been established by the Continental Congress in 1777, to ensure good behavior by the army.

But their work is far more complex and challenging today. What makes the work so difficult?

IGs are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate, but serve at the president’s pleasure – meaning they can be fired at any time for any reason, or no reason at all. Their job is to investigate waste, fraud and malfeasance in the very departments they work in. Often, the subject matter of their investigations is classified, and the production of a declassified version can lead to long delays in public release. In some cases, material contained in an IG report has been classified after the report was written, in order to keep its conclusions and recommendations away from public scrutiny. On some occasions, IGs have refused to take on highly sensitive or controversial subjects, or have taken on only small and less controversial parts of a larger subject – in effect, ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the living room.

Steven Aftergood, head of the Government Secrecy Project of the Federation of American Scientists spends a good deal of his work life ‘watching the watchdogs’.

His assessment: “Like every other system of checks and balances, the Inspectors General are imperfect -- yet indispensable. I think that the overall performance of the IG depends to a very large extent on the individual who holds the position. A bold and persistent IG can have a tremendous impact,” he said, adding, “A lazy, indifferent or corrupt IG may be worse than none at all.”

That potential for ‘tremendous impact’ often translates into extensive media attention and changes in the way government agencies carry out their work. For example:

Late last year, the chief internal watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), reported that the federal government still could not keep foreigners from using stolen passports to enter the country. He found the federal air marshal program in disarray, warned that shipping containers were entering U.S. ports every day without even superficial screening for nuclear material, and chastised the department for failing to fulfill its congressional mandate to come up with a centralized watch list of suspected terrorists. Even Homeland Security’s single most publicized initiative, the screening of passengers and bags at the nation’s airports, had failed to make it any more difficult to sneak guns, knives, and explosives onto planes, the IG report found. The IG, Clark Kent Ervin, was fired two weeks later.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used federal immigration laws to detain aliens in the United States. The IG found significant problems in the way the Department handled these detainees. The IG report concluded that the FBI should have made a greater effort to distinguish illegal aliens the agency suspected of having a connection to terrorism from those who may have violated immigration laws unrelated to terrorism. The department operated under a "hold until cleared" policy, which required detainees to be held without bond until the FBI cleared them of any connections to terrorism. According to the report, the average length of time from the arrest of a detainee to clearance by the FBI was 80 days. Many detainees were held in prison-like environments, without access to lawyers or families.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA), IG found that EPA “senior management,” (meaning political appointees) had rigged data and failed to meet its legal responsibility to protect children’s health. The immediate issue was mercury emissions from coal-fired electric utilities. The IG’s evaluation found that because the assumptions imposed on the analysis were incorrect, the allowable level of mercury pollution proposed by EPA did not meet the minimum standard required by the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Defense Department's (DOD) weapons buying chief and senior Air Force officials sidestepped regulations in a $23 billion proposal to lease and buy as many as 100 Boeing Co. tankers, the Pentagon's IG said. His report is the Pentagon's fullest so far on the failed Boeing deal, shelved last year after questions about cost and criminal conflicts of interest. The decision by the Pentagon's former undersecretary for acquisition to exempt the Boeing tanker program from specific regulations ``was the major failure associated with managing and making decisions on the program,'' said the IG report. A senior civilian Pentagon procurement official and two Boeing executives were convicted and are now serving prison sentences.

Sibel Edmonds, an FBI linguist was fired in 2002 after raising security-related allegations about a co-worker. The IG report concluded that the FBI did not, and still has not, adequately investigated these allegations. Had the FBI investigated the claims thoroughly, it would have found that many of Edmonds’ allegations regarding the co-worker were supported by documentary evidence or other witnesses. Instead, the FBI seems to have discounted Edmonds’ allegations, believing she was a disruptive influence and not credible, and eventually terminated her services. The IG report noted that Edmonds also alleged that the FBI retaliated against her by terminating her services. The IG concluded that Edmonds’ allegations were at least a contributing factor in why the FBI terminated her services. Edmonds sought protection under the Whistleblowers’ Act, and sued the government. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that her case could not go forward because much of the evidence was classified.

Jeff Ruch, who heads the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) – a not-for-profit “watch the watchdogs” organization -- believes the IG system has numerous flaws.

He said, “Many intakes to IGs are ignored; an IG can take as long as it wants, holding reports until they are irrelevant or moot; IGs can reframe the question or pull punches in ways that is hard to detect unless the gist of the original intake is known (but they are not often on any public record).”

He offers these recommendations to improve the IG system:

Give IGs a fixed term, removable only for cause -- rather than serving at the president’s pleasure.

Require IGs to report back to agency employee whistleblower/intakes within a certain time. Give whistleblowers some official status to review and comment on adequacy of an IG report and include those comments in the final published version. Put teeth in whistleblower protection.

Impose a penalty for IG staff who disclose confidential informant identity.

Give IGs a mechanism to pursue officials they believe are guilty of misconduct.


Part one of a two-part series

By William Fisher

For the past few years, Americans have lived with an increasingly secret government. More official documents are being classified than ever before -- more than 16 million last year alone – while the declassification process, which made millions of historical documents available annually in the 1990s, has slowed to a relative crawl. And Federal agencies are creating new categories of “semi-secrets”, bearing vague labels like "sensitive security information."

This increasing secrecy, which accelerated sharply after attacks of September 11th 2001, is estimated to cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually and is drawing protests from a growing array of politicians and activists, including Republican members of Congress, leaders of the independent commission that studied the Sept. 11 attacks and even the top federal official who oversees classification.

Meanwhile, requests for these documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are at an all-time high, and the government is taking ever-longer to respond – or claiming exemptions on grounds of national security and not responding at all. The FOIA law was enacted in 1968 to provide greater access to government documents.

Yet even in this opaque environment, the U.S. Government is still far more transparent than most. And much of the credit goes to two Federal agencies – the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Inspectors General (IGs), who operate in virtually all major government departments.

According to Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy government secrecy project for the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), “Both organizations often have a direct impact on particular policies and programs, and play a vital role in nourishing public awareness.”

Aftergood is part of a smallish group of non-governmental agencies that watch the watchdogs. He said, “Both sets of organizations routinely ‘make news’ and help to inform public debate.”

In this, the first of two articles, we report on the GAO.

Created by Congress in 1921, GAO is independent of the executive branch of government. According to Jeff Ruch, who heads another of the “watchdog watcher” organizations, the Project on Government Oversight, “On a monthly basis, GAO uncovers more problems within executive agencies than all the IGs combined do in a year.”

He said, “While GAO is a creature of Congress, that oversight goes to what it examines and the size of its budget. We have never heard of a draft GAO report watered down by Congressional intervention.”

With a staff of 3,200 and an annual budget of $463.6 million, the GAO is headed by the Comptroller General of the United States (CG), currently David M. Walker, who came to the job with extensive government and private sector experience.

In an effort to de-politicize its operations and ensure continuity, the CG is appointed by the President for a term of ten years; the current CG was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

GAO’s mission is to help improve the performance and assure the accountability of the federal government. Last year it testified 217 times before Congress, and over the past four years has made 2,700 recommendations for improving government operations – 83 per cent of which have been implemented. It claims its work in 2004 saved taxpayers $44 billion

Because of its size and huge budget, the Defense Department has been a frequent target of GOA criticism. This year, it charged that thePentagon was spending over $13 billion to maintain and buy often duplicative business software and computer systems. In another report, it said that over the last three years, the Pentagon disposed of $33 billion in ‘excess’ equipment – for pennies on the dollar. Some $4 billion of this equipment was reported to be in new, unused, or excellent condition. In yet another report, the GAO blasted the Pentagon for its "atrocious financial management," saying the Defense Department was not able to give federal oversight officials a full accounting of the $1 billion being spent each week on the war in Iraq.

"If the Department of Defense were a business, they'd be out of business," said GAO boss Walker. "They have absolutely atrocious financial management."

GAO also reported that the Environmental Protection Agency is failing to protect the public from tens of thousands of toxic compounds because it has not gathered data on the health risks of most industrial chemicals

It criticized the Office of Management and Budget for weaknesses in its security reporting guidance and reported deficiencies in the information security policies and practices at 24 of the largest federal agencies. -- putting financial data at risk of unauthorized modification or destruction, and putting sensitive information at risk of inappropriate disclosure.

GAO found that inaccurate reporting by the Department of Energy (DOE) was covering up the agency’s failure ensure that 50% of subcontracts went to small businesses.

It charged that “plenty” of the 8.8. million passports issued by the State Department in 2004 went to killers, rapists, drug dealers and even terrorists because the FBI did not routinely share with the State Department its list of fugitives wanted by state and federal agencies. Among those who fell through the intelligence cracks were nine murder suspects, five sex offenders, three drug dealers and one alleged bombing suspect. One of the fugitives on the list managed to obtain a U.S. passport less than a year and a half after being on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list.

But the GAO’s work does not always produce success stories. In 2001, it demanded to see the minutes of an Energy Task Force headed be Vice President Disk Cheney – following allegations that the group was “packed” with energy industry executives. For the first time since the GAO’s founding, it filed a lawsuit against Cheney to enforce its right of access to records. After several years, the Supreme Court ruled the minutes were privileged.

Steven Aftergood of FAS injects a further cautionary note. He resists “idealizing the IGs or the GAO as ‘truth tellers’. What they represent, instead, are old-fashioned checks and balances. They are government organizations and officials with a degree of independence and a charter to investigate. If this seems heroic, then that tells something about the times we live in,” he said.