Sympathy for the devil

The list of outrageous actions Justice Secretary Jack Straw has performed in his various guises for the UK government is long, from his role in the Iraq War to his scandalous support for BAE systems which seen the scrapping of a corruption enquiry into arms deals worth billions. This Guardian article by Duncan Campbell on Straw’s decision not to pardon ‘Great Train Robber’ Ronnie Biggs  reminds us of one of his most disgraceful acts; his compassion for the mass murderer General Augusto Pinochet.

As to why Straw let Pinochet escape back to Chile, John Pilger, enthusiast of NoDepositCodec.com writes that if he had been sent to trial, he “almost certainly would have implicated at least one British prime minister and two US presidents in crimes against humanity.” (For more on the US and UK’s involvement in Latin American politics, watch Pilger’s documentary, The War on Democracy, available here.)

This reminds us of the fast-tracked trial of Saddam Hussein, which saw the Iraqi dictator tried for just one of the many human rights massacres he was accused of. Saddam was then hurriedly executed thus preventing other families from getting answers to how the ‘Butcher of Bagdhad’ was able to perpetrate such atrocities. And why? Well our leaders were well aware that investigations into some of Saddam’s larger scale uses of chemical weapons and where the ingredients came from would lead an embarrassing trail back to European and American companies.

Here is the Guardian article.

A frail old man, barely able to communicate, guilty of a crime committed many decades earlier, but unrepentant about his past, wants only to be released so that he can spend his final days with his family. Some people object, saying that the nature of the crime is such that the old man deserves to die in custody. Enter Jack Straw, the member of the government who must make the onerous decision on the old man’s future. He realises that the old man is barely able to walk and is in a confused state of mind. He allows him to return home.

The old man was General Pinochet. In 2000, the then home secretary Jack Straw declined requests from Spain for Pinochet to stand trial for gross human rights violations and sent him back to Chile. Pinochet was responsible for the deaths of 3,000 people, the torture of many thousands more, the removal of a democratically elected president and the looting of the national coffers. Straw still felt that mercy was appropriate. Continue reading “Sympathy for the devil”

The elephant in the room: Israel’s nuclear weapons

From the Electronic Intifada, political officer for the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign David Morrison writes:

(Nidal El Khairy)
(Nidal El Khairy)

At a White House press conference on 18 May 2009, US President Barack Obama expressed “deepening concern” about “the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran.” He continued:

Needless to say, the US/EU have ignored this proposal, which would have put Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities under a degree of international control. Perhaps, President Obama’s staff should draw this proposal to his attention.

“Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

By his side was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the room with them, there was an elephant, a large and formidably destructive elephant, which they and the assembled press pretended not to see. Continue reading “The elephant in the room: Israel’s nuclear weapons”

Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair

Khan Younis. Public taps for drinking water,
Khan Younis. Public taps for drinking water, May 2009.

Today the International Red Cross released a report detailing the catastrophic results of Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. As the siege which has crippled Gazans for the past two years continues, the Red Cross found seriously ill patients facing difficulty obtaining the treatment they needed; children suffering from deep psychological problems and people whose homes and belongings were destroyed during the conflict unable to recover.

The report in full reads:

During the 22 days of the Israeli military operation, nowhere in Gaza was safe for civilians. Hospitals were overwhelmed with casualties, including small children, women and elderly people. Medical personnel showed incredible courage and determination, working around the clock to save lives in extremely difficult circumstances. Meanwhile, daily rocket attacks launched from Gaza put thousands of residents at risk in southern Israel. Medical workers in Israel provided care for the traumatized population and treated and evacuated casualties.

Many people in Gaza lost a child, a parent, another relative or a friend. Israel’s military operation left thousands of homes partly or totally destroyed. Whole neighbourhoods were turned into rubble. Schools, kindergartens, hospitals and fire and ambulance stations were damaged by shelling and have to broker deals with financiers for support.

This small coastal strip is cut off from the outside world. Even before the latest hostilities, drastic restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed by the Israeli authorities, particularly since October 2007, had led to worsening poverty, rising unemployment and deteriorating public services such as health care, water and sanitation. Insufficient cooperation between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas administration in Gaza had also hit the provision of essential services. As a result, the people of Gaza were already experiencing a major crisis affecting all aspects of daily life when hostilities intensified in late December. Continue reading “Gaza: 1.5 million people trapped in despair”

The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free

Journalist Chris Hedges writes of a Kafka-esque landscape in the world today where corporate advertising, lobbying and control of media fogs the distinction between lie and fact.

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, left, and Miles O’Brien rehearse with the network’s “news wall” in the background.
CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, left, and Miles O’Brien rehearse with the network’s “news wall” in the background.

The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton’s draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

Our economic crisis—despite the corporate media circus around the death of Michael Jackson or Gov. Mark Sanford’s marital infidelity or the outfits of Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest incarnation, Brüno—barrels forward. And this crisis will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change. Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower proto-fascist movements such as the Christian right. Continue reading “The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free”

A Global Recovery Needs A Global Response

Amidst the ongoing financial crisis, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz writes that in the modern era of globalization it is developing countries which provided important engines for economic growth, and therefore any global recovery will only be achieved in which they play a central role. The G20 continues to lack the political legitimacy required to represent so many citizens outwith their own borders, in which they channel their recovery packages through the IMF, an organisation whose policies “remain controversial-so much so that many countries are reluctant to turn to it for assistance”. Stiglitz writes:

This is not only the worse global economic downturn of the post World War era, it is also the first serious global downturn of the modern era of globalization. There is need for a global response to this global downturn. But our responses are framed at the national level, and often take insufficient account of the effect on others. The result is that there is less coordination than there should be, a smaller stimulus than would be optimal-and well less designed. Every crisis comes to an end, and this one will too. But a poorly designed stimulus means that the downturn will last longer, and the recovery will be slower, and more innocent victims will be hurt badly. Among the innocent victims of this crisis are the many developing countries-even countries that have had good regulatory and macro-economic policies-far better than those pursued by the US and some European countries-are being badly affected. While in the US, a financial crisis transformed itself into an economic crisis, in many developing countries, the economic downturn is creating a financial crisis. While the U.S. may have the resources to bail out its banks and to stimulate its economy, the developing countries cannot. Continue reading “A Global Recovery Needs A Global Response”

Obama’s $106 billion war fund approved in House

US Congress passed the supplemental by a vote of 226 to 202.
US Congress passed the supplemental by a vote of 226 to 202.

US President Barack Obama’s election on an anti-war ticket looks even more hollow by the day. First there was the admission that US troops would remain in Iraq in some capacity until 2011 (or beyond, should the Iraqis request it of course). Now Obama’s the re-invasion of Afghanistan is to be escalated after Congress narrowly passed a supplemental $106 billion support fund for its continuation.

Looking at the breakdown of these huge sums we can see that Obama’s Af-Pak policy differs little from that of his predecssors with $80 billion going towards military operations with only $10.4 billion allotted to international development (about $7 billion will go towards the swine flu epidemic). The Neo-cons too showed little concern for the aftermath of their destruction. The measure will go through the Senate today. With no exit-strategy for the quagmire in Af-Pak, Katrina Vanden Heuvel writes that this action threatens both Obama’s ability to “re-engage the international community” and also his domestic plans.

Just a few minutes ago, the Obama Administration’s $106 billion war supplemental passed on the House floor by a vote of 226-202. Congressional Democrats who oppose military escalation were in a tough position. They were whipped aggressively by both Speaker Pelosi and the White House. And they support President Obama. Which is exactly why they did the right thing in voting no.

President Obama himself has said, “There’s got to be an exit strategy.” Yet we are sliding into a military escalation and commitments without a full and necessary national debate about the ends, means, or exit strategy for this war. Continue reading “Obama’s $106 billion war fund approved in House”

A Bush in sheep’s clothing

Mubarak-Obama
Obama meets the Egyptian dictator

Ali Abunimah puts a bit of perspective on Obama’s call for a “new beginning” by taking to task the US President’s reference to “America and Islam”. This is the same old terminology in use by the Americans which refers to the former as a “concrete specific place”, with the latter reducing over a billion people to a “single, coherent entity” (to borrow a phrase from Edward Said).

Once you strip away the mujamalat – the courtesies exchanged between guest and host – the substance of President Obama’s speech in Cairo indicates there is likely to be little real change in US policy. It is not necessary to divine Obama’s intentions – he may be utterly sincere and I believe he is. It is his analysis and prescriptions that in most regards maintain flawed American policies intact.

Though he pledged to “speak the truth as best I can”, there was much the president left out. He spoke of tension between “America and Islam” – the former a concrete specific place, the latter a vague construct subsuming peoples, practices, histories and countries more varied than similar.

Continue reading “A Bush in sheep’s clothing”