foreign policy


It has only been a few days since Libya has been liberated from Gaddafi, after forty years of authoritarian rule, a staunch police state created to indulge the ego of an erratic leader. Long gone are the days when developing countries needed the helping hand of the West; the Arab Spring has proved that direct action and a nationwide thirst for freedom can also pave the way to democracy and individual liberties. Most western countries have watched in silent shock and admiration the steadfast rise to freedom in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Many lessons have to be drawn from this seemingly unstoppable quest to free one country from the shackles of dictatorship: one, that the era of western-led colonialism is over, and that we must stand on a pedestal of equality. Two, that our foreign policies need to stop feeding blood thirsty tyrants in our quest for domination over national resources. A piece by Antonio Fernandez on heroes, monsters and men.

“Clearly, the narrative tells more about the corrupt nature of international politics than about Gaddafi himself”

Recent events in Libya point in the direction of the fall of 40 years of Gaddafi’s rule in that country. Witnessing the cascade of articles and editorials written on the subject not only these days but since the uprising began, it is difficult to say something original or add some new illuminating perspective on the conflict, how it began, how it might end and what to expect for the people of Libya who, after all, have been trapped in a mostly western-led geopolitical turmoil. What we have seen in most media as regards the escalating violence in Libya is yet another narrative of monsters and horror. In a peculiar turn of events, the one-time considered authoritarian despot by the West, Muammar el Gaddafi, became its ally in a so-called “war against terror”, to finally be turned overnight into a grotesque monster that bombs its own people. Clearly, the narrative tells more about the corrupt nature of international politics than about Gaddafi himself and the people of Libya; their democratic demands did not raise much interest in the West until Gaddafi the friend got out of control like a maddened Frankenstein. From this perspective, the Libyan uprising contains all the ingredients of a horror story, which is the very same story of colonialism, as Frantz Fanon described so well in his analysis of the psychological effects of colonial rule on Algerian people (1). It has monsters and grotesque creatures (Gaddafi), vampires (colonial bloodsuckers) and ghosts (the people of Libya represented through the  decorporealising lens of the media). Creating monsters has always been a useful strategy for colonial powers in order to legitimise the control and appropriation of natural resources out of their territory.

“The myth of Frankenstein is also a rich source of metaphors in the horror story of Western domination over foreign countries”
In the 19th century, the Palestinian population of what is now Israel and the West Bank was described by explorers and travellers with terms that made them resemble grotesque human creatures rather actual human beings; Mrs Mary Rowlandson, a colonial American woman, described the Indians that captured her for eleven weeks as children of the devil so, alas, we have another element in the horror story of colonialism. (2) I do not want to suggest that Rowlandson herself is responsible for the denigration of the culturally different other, but her views were certainly part of the zeitgeist as many pamphlets and caricatures of the indigenous found on those years do show. The British Empire did not fall short of creativity in their representation of Asians as dark, passion ridden creatures as Edward Said so cleverly describes (3). If we want more recent examples of horror stories, we just have to turn our eyes to the Nazi propaganda of the Russians during the Second World War or the North American propaganda of its own Gulf War, where Iraqis were said to take children out of incubators and let them to die in hospitals during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Years later the story was shown to be a bluff, like so many others, but as I said before, the end justifies the means and the US gathered massive support to their military adventure in Iraq. A horror story was instrumental.

The myth of Frankenstein is also a rich source of metaphors in the horror story of Western domination over foreign countries. There we find Augusto Pinochet, who was responsible for creating, literally, rivers of blood in Chile. His description certainly fits that of a monster in his lack of humanity and excess of cruelty towards a large part of the Chilean population he governed. He showed as much insensitivity and lack of empathy towards the suffering of Chileans just like a psychopath for its victims: none. Pinochet, like Frankenstein, can be seen as the monstrous creation of a lunatic who crosses all ethical thresholds in his pursue of power and glory. The CIA brought Pinochet (and many other tyrants in South America) to life in the laboratories of the School of the Americas. It was there that Pinochet and his army were trained to commit monstrous deeds against a part of the population whose dangerous demands for a better society caused them to be rendered by the military juntas as communist monsters that deserved to be killed. And let’s not forget Saddam Hussein, a monster “fed” and cared by the United States, who, in a quintessential Frankensteinian turn, rebels against his creators. Paradoxically, the only act of rebellion -invading Kuwait- makes his creators realise he actually is a monster; massacring an entire Kurd village with chemical weapons did not suit the creators’ definition of monstrosity while he was under control.

“Gaddafi came to power claiming the right to exorcise the colonial demons from Libya. The revolutionary rhetoric gave way progressively to 40 years of authoritarian rule”

The Arab world is replete with Frankenstein-like creatures who have been supported and trained by power-thirsty western (and other non-western) elites in order to help them extend and perpetuate their domination of oil and gas resources. Among them, Gaddafi excels in theatrical extravaganza. (4) He is a good example of the dangerous games played by Western elites in their constant fabrication or transformations of simple despots into monstrous creatures with the help, of course, of the media. Like Frankenstein, Gaddafi came to power rebelling against those whom he saw as colonial oppressors only to become a close friend and ally of those very same oppressors when he realised that large sums of money could be drawn by allowing them to vampirise the country’s resources. Perhaps, after all, monsters have a deeper and close affinity with each other that humans can’t understand. The Libya Gaddafi came to save from colonial domination back in the late 60’s had already experienced the vampirisation of its natural resources by Italy. It was in 1911, when Italy claimed that the Turks were arming Libya to justify the launching of a war and the occupation of the country. Needless to say, commercial interests and colonial envy (France took the neighbouring Tunisia, perceived by Italians as closer to their sphere of influence) underpinned Italy’s actions and, of course, the myth of liberating Libyans from the Turks rang high in the Italian war propaganda. A few years later Benito Mussolini considered Libya part of his new Roman Empire (again, like Viktor Frankenstein, infatuated by his own megalomaniac dreams of power) to extract resources and promote settlements for unemployed Italian workers and farmers. Libyan resistance was fierce, which prompted Mussolini’s reaction of creating a number of concentration camps where around 100.000 people were imprisoned; it is also known that Italy’s use of mustard gas against the Libyan population, deportation and displacement were strategies for subduing the population. (5) Monstrosity and horror is probably well embedded in the collective psyche of the Libyans. Gaddafi came to power claiming the right to exorcise the colonial demons from Libya. The revolutionary rhetoric gave way progressively to 40 years of authoritarian rule that showed its more amiable face to western powers as he took a series of steps seeking international acceptance. Little by little, Gaddafi’s well-earned reputation as a terrorist sponsoring ruler (the Lockerbie bombings are a good example) did not seem to matter that much as Gaddafi offered his collaboration in the war on terror in exchange of softening economic sanctions. Now, the friend of the West is portrayed by the same Western media as a grotesque, megalomaniac monster who massacres his own population, but the monster has been fed by the West when it served their geopolitical interests, in what could be called the opposite of vampirisation, namely, the flow of poison (namely european-made weapons) that keep the monster alive.

Another important ingredient in any horror story is the ghost and Libya is no exception in this case either. Seen through the Cartesian distance of the media, the few images of Libyan rebels or Gaddafi supporters that have reached the media appear like shadows, like decorporealised entities, with no trace of human density, like undifferentiated masses of bodies, just like high technology weapons of the NATO provide a surgical distance with the enemy, be it rebel or Gaddafi supporter. It is this surgical distance that dehumanises the inherent humanity of the fighters on both sides as they appear through fragmented pieces of news TV networks covering the conflict. At this point, it is difficult to know how many  thousands of Libyans have lost their life in this conflict; human beings with families, personal narratives, hopes, dreams…they are the ghosts that haunt the emergence of a post-Gaddafi Libya; these ghosts were human beings to whom political elites in Great Britain, Italy, France or Saudi Arabia (who has provided weapons to rebels on demand of the United States) have shown no concern or human empathy in their geopolitical calculations for the region: it is far more crucial for them a “stable” government that gently grants access to Libya’s natural resources, in another vampiresque turn. According to Alessandra Migliaccio, “Eni [the Italian oil company] rose 0.5% to close at 13.46 today in Milan. The shares have gained 7.9% this week after rebel fighters reached the capital, signaling a possible end to the six-month conflict”. (6) Migliaccio’s words point to the irrationality behind the West’s apparently “rational” discourse of humanitarianism and exposes the corruption of European (and some Arab) political elites. Like Viktor Frankenstein, megalomaniac political elites play God with the megalomaniac monsters they sometimes create, finance and destroy when they cease to be useful for their interests, as is the case with Gaddafi.

“in the context of the horror of colonial and neo-colonial history, the not-so-new song of humanitarian intervention used as a pretext for military operations in Libya sounds perhaps more cynical than ever before”

It is time politicians (or politishams as South African poet Seitlhamo Motsapi describes them) (7) stop behaving like zombies (alienated and unaware of the world that surrounds them and of the damage, pain and suffering their decisions create) or, like Viktor Frankenstein, stop playing God with dictators that ultimately pretend to grant political elites absolute control over entire countries. The consequences, as we have seen in Iraq and in countless many other examples, can be catastrophic. Nobody know where Libya is heading now; whether the rebel factions that have been supported by the NATO will split in the absence of a clear and identifiable enemy or how Gaddafi supporters (in the event of a likely and imminent defeat) will fit in the new political scenario. Also, rumours and fears of Al Qaeda cells infiltrating the country begin to spread, casting a shadow of unpredictable violence. In the context of the horror of colonial and neo-colonial history, the not-so-new song of humanitarian intervention used as a pretext for military operations in Libya sounds perhaps more cynical than ever before, as if western leaders did not even have to make the effort anymore of masquerading the real geopolitical motivations behind the military intervention. To finish with one more horror note, oil in Libya is a curse more than a blessing and it needs to be added to the three traumas suffered by the Arab world, according to Marc Ferro (8),  the creation of the state of Israel and the partition of Pakistan. As I write this, Al Jazeera is reporting evidence of mass execution by Gaddafi troops. Again, the price to pay to keep Libya’s veins open to foreign vampirisation is too high and unacceptable form an ethical perspective, but for how long will horror be manipulating the democratic aspirations of Arab peoples? For the Arab spring to grow, the former colonial elites and allied Arab regimes must stop interfering in the internal affairs of these countries and respect the right of these countries to manage their natural resources with the freedom they deserve. Continuing the narrative of horror (destabilising the countries with dictators or supporting the most convenient side for geostrategic interests) will not be conducive to democracy and stability as western powers claim, but will only perpetuate the cycle of horror and monstrosity we have witnessed for decades.      .

 

(1) Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, 2006.

(2) Mary Rowlandson, Narrative of the Captivity and restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, Nu Vision Publications, 2007.

(3) Edward Said, Orientalism, Penguin, 2003.
(4) Ronald Bruce St john, Libya: from Colony to Independence, Oneworld Publications, 2008.

(5) Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller (ed.) Italian Colonialism, ed., Palgrave-Macmillan, 2005

(6) Alessandra Migliaccio, “Eni Lobbies to keep oil dominance in Libya after Qaddafi
(7) Seitlhamo Motsapi, “soffly soffly nesta skank

(8) Marc Ferro, El Conflicto del Islam, Catedra, 2004.

Further reading

Michael A G Bunter, The Geopolitics of Libya, Maris BV.

Simon Rogers, “EU arms exports to Libya: who armed Gaddafi?

Advertisements

Sen. Lindsay Graham

The Times Square incident of April 31 must have brought back some very painful memories of 9/11.  There is no telling the extent of the damage had the makeshift bomb exploded. Times Square, New York City, on a Saturday night, was the perfect time and place to send a bloody message to the new administration.

Yet the Shahzad story differs from the regular events that chronicle the war on terror. Unlike the 9/11 masterminds or the underwear bomber, Shahzad is a US citizen. Married with children, cumulatinga BA and a MBA, owner of a nice house in Connecticut, Faisal Shahzad’s only link to Pakistani talibans may have been tedious, az nothing in his past suggested he would suddenly turn against the nation he called home. Despite taking off to Pakistan after cumulating financial downfalls and a separation from his wife, Shahzad is no ideological jihadist nor a professional bomber trained for years in Waziristan – a recent 8 months trip would have provided the informations he needed to come up with his set-up, but this was amateur, likely to fail technology.

Shahzad was arrested and taken for questioning, then immediately confessed.  At that time, he hadn’t been mirandized. The Pentagon issued a statement saying that a court appearance was not time-sensitive as it would put a stop the flow of confessions that could be of prime importance. Senator McCain, the unlucky runner of the 2008 presidential election, is applauding this move. Catering to his radical base, McCain is of the perception that it’s perfectly acceptable to bluntly deny a citizen his constitutional rights, calling Mirandizing a suspected a terrorist “a serious mistake”.

Keith Olbermann said it better than I could: not only could this imply that Shahzad, if experiencing a change of mind or better legal counsel, could walk free on grounds of unconstitutionality -it could also mean the beginning of a terror state, where citizens are no longer protected by the basic civil rights their own constitution provides. It would also be a violation of human rights. The danger here is that Attorney General Eric Holder seems to follow McCain’s logic. But the Constitution is clear: the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, both dating back to the aulde age of Magna Carta, later led to the 1966 case Miranda vs Arizona.  The Supreme Court decision is clear:

The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he has the right to remain silent, and that anything he says will be used against him in the court of law; he must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation, and that, if he is indigent, a lawyer will be appointed to represent him.

In a broader, more general aspect, the International Convention of Political and Civil Rights (ICCPR) states the same in Articles 9-1 and 9-2:

Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law. […] Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.

This is getting scarier and scarier. In order to accelerate the freefall into a well of north Korean madness, Senator Graham, no stranger to methods of control and coercion, went even further. One of the majr flaws exposed in the Shahzad hunt lied in that a terrorism suspect, already placed on the no-fly list, could still buy a gun or explosives. Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, convened with the safety of a city becoming a favorite target, suggested that suspected or hunted terrorists be blocked from purchasing firearms or detonating weapons. If that sounds likesheer common sense to you, listen to Graham’s response, as quoted in The Huffington Post (5-5-10):

“We’re talking about a constitutional right here,” he said, explaining that he could not support a bill that would force “innocent Americans” to “pay the cost of going to court to get their gun rights back.”

There is no limit to his hypocrisy. Graham argues his refusal to block anyone from buying guns is out of respect for the 2nd Amendment. Graham is going to considerable lengths to endanger a population in the name of the Constitution. The right to bear arms was written in out of protection against a potential invading enemy. Terrorism is precisely the enemy of the state. In that situation, regardless of their actions, a terrorist who would also be a citizen would receive the protection of the Constitution. It’s a noble, albeit slightly controversial position. But Graham is installing a hierarchy in fundamental rights – the purpose behind Miranda is to guarantee due process of the law, regardless of whether the suspect is a citizen or not. Being in America means receiving a fair trial and being protected by Habeas Corpus. Would this not be America anymore?

The utmost, fundamental, historical rights so clearly tied to America being “the land of the free” could and should be waivered, according to Graham. Let them buy explosives, but god forbid they should be given any rights, like that of receiving legal assistance or not to be indefinitely detained.  The right to kill would prevail over core civil liberties? That Lindsay Graham is allowed to hold office despite an incredibly flawed reading of the law is beyond me. I would put Graham on my no-fly list for reckless endangerment of the nation and of its interests, as  as violation of fundamental rights. Step down, Lindsay, and remember – you do not have the right to remain silent, and you do not have the right to a lawyer.

This is the time of year when one would compile the top 5 Desert Island things that made their year, from album releases to mom’s dishes. Here at SaC we thought we would continue our hard work fighting general illiteracy and list the books that have inspired us the most throughout the year. Be careful, you’re about to enter a zone of serious knowledge. All these books are available for less than $15.

Naomi Wolf – Give me liberty (a handbook for American Revolutionaries) order at Amazon here

Naomi Wolf is one extraordinary writer who puts her English language skills at the service of the Founding Fathers, coming back to the roots of the principles of freedom and justice that make up the American Constitution. Fearing another type of “gathering storm”, Naomi Wolf travelled the country and met scholars, ordinary people, pro-life activists and young software users who were all ready to resist the powers that be in the name of the freedom that was granted upon them as Americans. In that book, she claims that freedom can only be attained by learning the true meaning of democracy and taking it back into their own hands. Her detailed account of how the electoral system is manipulated in favor of certain consistuencies and her intensive research on the laws erecting themselves as obstacles to the right of expression, instead of facilitating it, is empowering.  Probably one of the most important book of the decade, Give Me Liberty is bringing revolution to what it really is: by the people, for the people, giving “patriotism” the meaning it had before the Bush Administration turned it into “imperialism”.  A tool of knowledge and self-awareness for all western countries, it even provides a bullet-point list of all the non-violent possibilities we have to put the citizenry back in charge.


Chris Hedges – The Empire of Illusion (the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle) order at Amazon here

Chris Hedges is no stranger to the powerful meaning of words. A member of The Nation and blogger at salon, the former war correspondant carries an in-depth, profund and stunning analysis of the brainwashing media system corrupting the minds of Americans and coercing them into passivity. Now, if this sounds like a conspiracy theory, Chris Hedges brings out all the arguments into a well-crafted, incredibly constructed book with an amount of research that would make his fellow Harvard graduates cry in shame. From the illusion of literacy and the failure of the educational system, to the illusion of love and the role of the pornography industry in desensitizing people to torture, Chris Hedges tells a tale that we know all too well, paints portraits of people we might recognize ourselves in, and pleads for self-awareness, knowledge, and self-empowerment. Completely disconnected from circonvoluted speeches and party lines, he slams so-called liberal media when needed be, and tries to reinstaure a significant truth among  a puddle of lies: we are being fed distraction so as to stop participating in the forum, the same way Romans citizens were given games to watch in order to turn a blind eye to Julius Caesar’s endless wars and their own hungry stomachs. Where Noam Chomsky did not shy away from calling the United States a “failed state”, Chris Hedges goes further and depicts a failed population, with little to hope for and not much material to think over. Depression, degradation and desenfranchisement are at the heart of this masterpiece that feels like a giant suckerpunch to the jaw. Deconstructing a so-called successful society brick by brick, Hedges is ringing the alarm and hoping there is still time to turn around before we lose everything that made us human.

Frank Shaeffer – Crazy for God: how I grew up as one of the elect, helped found the religious right, and lived to take it all back (or almost) order at Amazon here

We have never been kind to religious extremists over there, but have done our best to understand why they have been trying so hard to undermine the fabric of a society that had already been targeted by other religious extremists on 9/11. After the passing of Proposition 8, it became increasingly clear that the battle of civil rights will be a religious one, and that the divide between atheism and the growing need for a secular state will be met with violent refusal and rebuttal from every fringe of christianity, judaism and islam within the United States. Frank Shaeffer, famous for travelling all over the country preaching the Gospel of Jesus in the 70s then turning his back on what made him rich and famous, is here telling his own story, that of a rebellious, art-inclined little boy who grew up isolated from society in Switzerland, and came to terms with the hypocrisy and contradictions of televangelism, calling out Pat Robertson and cohorts with uncompared grief and anger. This is the story of a father of three trying to find his own path outside his father’s, and seeking for his identity when being religious means being conservative. Too bad Frank Shaeffer is an uncompromising liberal. Aggravating at times, frustrating by moments, but overall terribly touching, Shaeffer isn’t hiding any flaws from the picture he paints of his own family. If there is one book to understand where the religious right comes from, it’s that one. Taboos and prejudices are quickly defeated.

Matthew Alexander – How to break a terrorist (The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq) order at Amazon here

Don’t be fooled by the cover. Don’t be fooled by the main title. Matthew Alexander – writing under a pseudonym – tells the hard story of a man sent to Iraq to capture, preferably alive, Mohamed Al-Zarqawi, presumed head of Al-Qaeda in the region. Yet Alexander did not receive the same training than his future employees. Far from the tragic abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Alexander studied the Geneva Convention at the same time he was studying arabic and the Q’uran, and came to Iraq with intelligence methods in accordance with human rights law and based on the deepest knowledge of the prisoner, not a battle of brutality and violence. This book, which parts were blacked out for Secret Defense reasons, reads like a thriller, with intel on Al-Zarqawi being retrieved at the very end, after Alexander fought resistance to non-violent methods, bureaucracy, legal red tape, and the infamous ticking clock that is supposed to justify the use of torture. A compelling testimony on how intelligence can use brains instead of fists and cultural relativism to its own advantage, instead of retreating to imperialistic and white supremacist techniques that never proved themselves useful. Alexander’s loneliness however proves there is a long way until human rights are used into prison cells in the Middle East, but this is a fantastic start.

Paul Rieckhoff – Chasing Ghosts: a soldier’s fight for America, from Baghdad to Washington order at Amazon here

The first words set the tone of the book: “George W. Bush better be fucking right”. A voluntary soldier entering the US Army after graduating from the prestigious Amherst College, Paul Rieckhoff was not the typical unknowledgeable trooper some would have depicted. A commanding officer in charge of leading his men through one of the deadliest wars of the last three decades, Rieckhoff is quick to realise that not only was this war not properly organized or thought through, but that it wasn’t justified as well. Watching his men die or be wounded, facing dangers and mutilated kids on a daily basis, Rieckhoff came back to America with one ideal in mind: restore the America he had envisioned when he joined the Army. Founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has fought for the GI Bill and relentlessly lobbied for veteran health care and the recognition of PTSD as a war injury, Rieckhoff is a soldier in mind and in heart – and his account of his year in Baghdad is concise, precise, funny at times, but certainly like nothing you may have heard before. This is not the war as our media would want us to know about; this is a soldier’s perspective, losing his ideology and faith, and regaining it through the brotherhood and fraternity only brothers at arms can find. Struggling against phony definitions of patriotism and the overwhelming military-industrial complex (see: Eugene Jarecki, The American Way of War), this book is a mandatory read for anyone wanting to dabble in the never-ending Iraq war debate. Once again, his field experience sets him far away from any of the homeland’s partisan lines, and only reveals an internal monologue revolving around the need of a soldier to find purpose in violence, to find ideology in fear, and to know the rationale behind his actions. As Rieckhoff’s confusion increases throughout the book, so is ours; supporting the troops is not necessarily supporting the war. Driven by the necessity to take care of his men and other CO’s men, the work of the IAVA is priceless, and we strongly encourage you to visit their website as well and follow Rieckhoff on Twitter.

I can’t exactly remember the last time I took a unilateral decision. It was probably something regarding the ever-regular debate on whether to pay my rent on time and the unilateral decision I made, this is, without the consent or advice of my landlord, proved to be extremely damaging and taught me a lesson my father would have been proud to make himself. This said, I haven’t had my own apartment taken away from me by excessive force nor have I had been under constant oppression for over sixty years, so I can’t really compare the decision Palestine might be taking – unilaterally – to proclaim itself a state, without the consent or advice of Israel.

Yasser Arafat: he had a dream...

The question of recognizing, legally and politically, regionally and internationally, Palestine as a state – with its own government, its own Constitution, its own set of laws and by-laws, and, most importantly and perhaps most decisively, a preset territory, has been at the heart of every potentially successful peace process to be made in the region. There is no possibility to discuss a two-state solution of only one of the parties is actually a State. There is no negotiation to be made between heads of State if only one of the two parties is indeed a diplomatically recognized head of State. There is no legitimacy to be claimed over a territory if there is no State to organize nationwide democratic elections. Moreover, there is no population without a State, as the Palestinians can not claim national protections. Whose and which nationals are they, exactly? Which force is there to protect them from oppression and guarantee them freedom and labour, and if a force stands up and claims it will, how legitimate can it be? The situation of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the West’s heated debate over whether or not this is a legitimate government or a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah is adding fuel to the pan and destroying every embryo of a negotiation. For as long as there is no such thing as a Palestinian state, Palestinians are nothing but Israel’s political prisoners, collateral damage of a forceful sionism that was not even entirely supported by a Jewish community already saturated by the hate and violence they endured.

In short: Palestine wants to be recognized as a State. Israel refuses. The issue of whether the land between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will be attributed to either of the parties is at stake and Israel has much to gain in maintaining a status quo. But after the much criticized Goldstone report, a decision regarding the region has to be reached. The United States, for the first time in a very long time, is pushing towards a two-state solution. This seems to be the only solution. No matter how hard the right-wing Israeli parties are dragging their feet, this is the only outcome. Except that Mahmoud Abbas, currently the leader of the Palestinian authorities, for lack of a better expression, has declared he might take upon himself to do what Yasser Arafat himself did not do – claim a Palestinian state, following the borders created by the 1967 agreement.

Liebermann, currently Prime Minister of Israel, has replied to this claim with as much of a negative answer one could come up with without resorting to weapons of russian manufacture; and President Shimon Peres himself called to a cooling off of the situation, saying that “anger in Palestine must not be turned into a political agenda.” With negotiations at a standstill, and Hamas struggling to maintain a pseudo-democratic facade, how long will Palestine sustain a relative peaceful and downlow demeanour without access to their demands? The White House and the European Union having hurt a wall during their mediation sessions with Israel last summer, Liebermann being strictly opposed to a two-state solution and even refused to freeze Israeli settlements in the West Bank, can a unilateral action, the very opposite of diplomatic action, can be endorsed? What kind of response are we to expect from Israel, if not an armed force one, justified by the fact that their own borders have been unilaterally claimed frioom one side without the consent of the other?

And what will become of the East Jerusalem Palestinians, Jewish Arabs, citizens with no state and residents with no territory, temporary living heads on borrowed time, allowed by a reluctant authority to cultivate the land they have had for millenia? What will become of the brand new settlers, forced to retract backwards, and not knowing which authority to turn to? Should a third party be named and called upon this issue in order to make the decision neither Israel nor Palestine is willing to do without force? What would even happen to a brand new Palestinian state if the decision brings back the painful memories of the blood-spilling power struggle between Fatah and Hamas? Is Palestine capable of running its own people democratically, peacefully, in full cooperation with its reluctant neighbor, and liberating the Gaza Strip without those collateral damages we have become a little too acquainted with?

This is one simple decision, but raising a plethora of questions no one is quite ready to address yet. Unilateral decisions are never favored on the diplomatic scene, for the simple reason they always rile up the party that has not been consulted, like in any divorce, any conflictual relationship, any divided, segregated area. But what if finally standing up to the test and making the decision everyone has been waiting for and hedging one’s bets was the only solution left for the Middle East? What if Palestine had to take their chances?

Five former Guantanamo detainees, also Spanish citizens, have claimed to be victims of torture during their stint at the high-security Cuban prison. A supreme Spanish court has pointed the finger at six former Bush administration officials – including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales – of facilitating the violation of human rights law upon Spanish citizens. The criminal court is said to be focusing on whether the use of torture in Guantanamo Bay can be legally justified, the burden of proof resting on the United States’ officials’ shoulders.

Baltasar Garzon, the judge earning its fame for ordering the arrest of Augusto Pinochet, has been put in charge of the case. He’s already citing John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who firmly believed the President was not bound by the Geneva Convention and could thus overrule its decisions; Douglas Feith, the the former undersecretary of defense for policy; and Gonzales, for a “well-documented role” in controversial interrogation techniques (including rendition) and dubious, overriding and dangerous reading of the 1975 Convention Against Torture.  Spain is once again establishing itself as a leader in the defense of international human rights and shows a courageous and outstanding commitment to upholding international law, regardless of the political standing of its suspects, regardless of the political climate, regardless of the underlying ties that may affect its future leadership. Before being alleged terrorists and Guantanamo detainees, those five plaintiffs and first and foremost Spanish citizens to whom human and civil rights have been denied, without Spain being granted the smallest decisive right in the entire process. This case is based on national sovereignty in the name of freedom – something almost unheard of.

no more tapas for you, Gonzales.

no more tapas for you, Gonzales.

The New York Times is stressing the importance of the situation by implying that Judge Garzon is not only going to present his case – it may also lead to arrest warrants. Bringing former US public officials to trial in a European country could be a first, capable of paving the way towards a truly respectable and respected international criminal court, where international violations would not be poorly justified by the overheard and overused excuse of “protecting national interest”. Other officials named are other Americans named are William Haynes II, former general counsel for the Department of Defense; Jay Bybee, Yoo’s former supervisor at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and David Addington, chief of staff and legal adviser to ex-Vice President Dick Cheney. Whether Cheney himself might be requested to testify is not known yet, even if his participation in the use of torture in Guantanamo and in Iraq has already been challenged by a Senate Committee on human rights. Spain is taking a drastic step forward from the United Kingdom’s claim that the United States were endangering the lives of several European citizens in Guantanamo Bay last February.

Considering Garzon’s track record in displacing the supposedly irremovable objects placed by the United States Justice Department in Latin America, here’s to hoping the fierce Spanish judge will be as successful in nailing the principles of international conventions into American public official’s heads.

The collective rejoice over the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was supposed to last a few months; the current political climate isn’t prone to optimism, and every ray of light is welcome and worshipped. There was so much to say about Barack Obama’s commitment to human rights and international law; however, the struggle to wipe the Bush slate clean is a long journey into light, one light at the end of a very long tortuous and pitch black tunnel. After the controversy provoked by a more than vague position on rendition, the new thorn in Obama’s side has a name: Bagram. This US-air base in Afghanistan is currently holding 600 detainees (over twice more than Gitmo, which inmates count is at 245) in a $60 million prison complex also defying the laws of international decency.

Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. Abandon all constitutional rights, ye who enter here.

Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. Abandon all constitutional rights, ye who enter here.

Following the decision on Guantanamo, President Obama ordered a report on the Bagram prison with a June deadline; yet, four Bagram inmates filed a suit against the United States government for unlawful emprisonment, and US District Court Judge John Bates has demanded of Obama a clear-cut and quick decision on the status of the detention facility. Everyone expected a swift answer following into Guantanamo Bay’s footsteps, but it has yet to happen. Truth is, Obama is dragging his feet. The Justice Department responded briefly this friday (February 21) by claiming the detainees could not question their detention in a US court. In short, those inmates have no constitutional rights. This shocking decision is being interpreted as a support to Bush’s human rights violations in Afghanistan, and challenged by human rights attorneys counselling the four plaintiffs.

In a remarkable show of self-containment, Tina Monshipour Foster, a human rights attorney representing one of the detainees, told the Associated Press: “The hope we all had in President Obama to lead us on a different path has not turned out as we’d hoped. We all expected better.” The irony lies in that the Supreme Court granted Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to sue for their release; with over 600 inmates, Bagram Airfield Base prison could be causing a serious legal traffic in US courts should they be allowed the same status as Gitmo prisoners.  The four Bagram detainees filed for internment (imprisonment without charges) and unlawful interrogations (interrogations conducted without the presence of an attorney). According to the Justice Department, those claims are not valid since they are not protected by the Constitution. All detainees – Afghan citizens – relied on their relatives to make the claim as none of them have access to any legal help from the prison.

Human rights groups are criticizing the Obama Administration for continuing the controversial Bush policies of considering himself beyond the law when it came to the “war on terror”. John Hafetz, an attorney working for the ACLU and representing several detainees, explained that “They’ve now embraced the Bush policy that you can create prisons outside the law”. In a response to this accusation, the Justice Department attempted to prove the difference between Guantanamo and Bagram, arguing the latter “is in an overseas war zone and the prisoners there are being held as part of a military action”, adding that “releasing enemy combatants into the Afghan war zone, or even diverting U.S. personnel there to consider their legal cases, could threaten security.” This rethoric being dangerously close to the one used with Guantanamo, those claims hardly had any effect on the plaintiffs and their representatives. Barbara Olhansky, lead counsel for three of the four detainees and visiting professor at Stanford Law School, declared that the Obama Administration had just made clear it wanted to “adhere to a position that has contributed to making our country a pariah around the world for its flagrant disregard of people’s human rights.”

Indeed, several decisions issued by US courts lately have confirmed that the Administration’s support to human rights law worldwide had its limits. Continuing on the Bagram case, the Justice Department ended up confessing that allowing those four detainees to challenge their detention would become contagious among all the “enemy combatant” detainees worldwide, an afflux of suits that the US courts could probably not afford. Judge Bates is now expected to rule on whether those courts have effective jurisdiction in the matter. Concerning the CIA’s “ghost planes”, a case in which a Boeing Co. subsidiary was accused of illegally transporting prisoners (actually abducted and tortured outside of US airspace) the infamous Bush argument of “state secrets privilege”, supposed to help state officials escape any conviction of human rights violations in the name of national defense, has been invoked.

Justice Department attorney Douglas Letter approved of this argument.

AP and Reuters report through Allison Kilkenny’s blog

The controversy surrounding the possible war crimes trial set up to judge Dick Cheney and George W. Bush’s decisions regarding the war in Iraq and the “war on terror” might have spread onto the Old Continent.

Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, calling for a plan to condone torture

Former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, calling for a "plan to condone torture"

The world as a whole breathed a collective sigh of relief as Barack Obama signed the decree authorizing the closing of Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility. But as the prisoners are gradually removed and transferred out, some truths emerge – the kind that many decision makers would rather keep buried, deep under the feet of the unknowing public opinion.  David Davis,a  senior Conservative member of Parliament (MP) has revealed today that Binyam Mohamed, a United Kingdom resident detained in Guantanamo, has been the victim of torture in Morocco, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Davis explained to the High Court that he believes American and British authorities were guilty of authorizing the practice of torture. The High Court said they would open an investigation on torture and other cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment inflicted on the person of Binyam Mohamed. British citizens had already manifested against Tony Blair’s alliance with the United States after 9/11, believing that the UK should not intervene in a war they knew would not be ratified by the United Nations and would probably drive the US and its allies into quicksand. The people was right, and Tony Blair’s political career long suffered from this unpopular move. Gordon Brown may now be the resident on 10 Downing Street, but the shadow of a controversial transatlantic alliance is still floating over Albion’s proverbial head. Indeed, Davis’s ruling also mentions that the United States pressured the United Kingdom into not publishing the details of Mohamed’s case report, a staggering twenty-five lines containing details of the alleged torture.

BBC News reports that Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones were adamant the details ought to be published in the name of the law, free speech and democratic accountability; however, United States representants would have persuaded them not to as the US government could then “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains”.  Despite complete denial from the office of the Prime Minister, Jonathan Beale, a BBC correspondant in Washington, said “a former Bush administration official who dealt with Guantanamo Bay confirmed that US intelligence agencies did tell the UK that they opposed the release of certain US intelligence without their consent.” Members of British intelligence departments, M15 and M16, claimed that the United States’ behaviour was standard practice. They assured that the same would have happened if the United States had tried to publicize details pertaining to matters of British national security.

However, Davis claims that Mohamed’s torture should not be tolerated and plans on using the case to point out that the United Kingdom shall never tolerate torture under any circumstances. He has been supported by several human rights associations saying that the British judges have been “bullied” into not releasing incriminating evidence against the United States. The leader of the liberal democrat party, Nick Clegg, called it “blackmail” and asked for the document to be immediately released to the public.  He also asked for Barack Obama’s administration to take a tougher stance against torture and work towards a better understanding between the two countries without resorting to intimidation. “It is simply incredible that the US government would have halted intelligence co-operation with the UK if this information had been made public”, Clegg said.

Mohamed had been detained in the Cuban prison for four years before charges of war crimes were dropped in October.

Next Page »