Posts Tagged ‘The Empire (of America)’

The Guantánamo Bay Files are just another case in point for the Guardian’s editorial policies. The files spell out the Americans’ suspicions about individual detainees’ involvement with terrorism, their intelligence value and the threat they are considered to pose if released. They give an insight for example into

• Innocent people interrogated for years on slimmest pretexts
• Children, elderly and mentally ill among those wrongfully held
• 172 prisoners remain, some with no prospect of trial or release

The files were shared with the Guardian and US National Public Radio by the New York Times, which says it did not obtain them from WikiLeaks.

For more and extensive information on the Guantánamo Bay Files go to the Guardian website.

Americans snatched Sami al-Hajj from Pakistan, believing him to be an al-Qaida courier and source of information on Bin Laden

Ian Cobain | The Guardian – The Guantánamo Files

Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj speaks after his release from Guantánamo Bay.

An al-Jazeera journalist was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about the Arabic news network, the files disclose. Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman, was detained in Pakistan after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp where he was allegedly beaten and sexually assaulted.

His file makes clear that one of the reasons he was sent to Guantánamo was “to provide information on … the al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL”.

The file shows that the camp authorities were convinced that al-Hajj was an al-Qaida courier who had provided funds for a charity in Chechnya suspected of having links with Bin Laden.

However, the contents of the file also appear to support complaints made by al-Hajj to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that during his first 100-plus interrogations he was never once questioned about the allegations he faced, and that he eventually demanded that he be questioned about what he was supposed to have done wrong.

Stafford Smith believes the US military authorities were attempting to force al-Hajj to become an informer against his employers.

Al-Hajj was finally released in May 2008.

Call me elitist, but there’s something to the supposed 80/80 rule in advertising and therefore the lack of public intelligence or, more benignly, people’s gullibility or ignorance. Many of my friends seem to fall into the latter categories when they blithely vote for Labor in Australia believing it will give the conservative writing of history a break, only to be disappointed when finding out that history is still treading common ground. (Just think of Gillard continuing the Northern Territority intervention policy or clawing back through attacks on live-saving cures, childcare centre rebates and long-term unemployed the millions lost by not attacking the international super-profiting mining companies).

The great illusion called democracy that strips everything, from education to press bites to politicians’ words, down to a bunch of outright lies and truth distortions is most dangerous at the hearth of the demon’s kitchen: the United States of America. Just think of elections that gave birth to such presidencies as the 4oth (Reagan) or the 43rd (Bush). Elections in America generally are lethal time bombs for hundreds of thousands of innocent people outside the empire.

In that context now think of kooky Miss USA pageant owner and reality TV addict Donald Trump . He already shares with Dubya a history of having bankrupted companies (could he bankrupt the nation too?) and of buffoonesque behaviour (although he might not be as dumb as Bush). Now we can add with certainty that he is equally as as dangerous and lethal to the innocent. Just take this interview with CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley:

Trump: “Somebody said, what would be your theory or what would you do in terms of Libya? I’d do one thing. Either I’d go in and take the oil or I don’t go in at all. We can’t be the policeman for the world.”

Crowley: “You’d just take their oil?”

Trump: “Absolutely. I’d take the oil. I’d give them plemty so they can live very happily. I would take the oil. You know, in the old days, Candy …”

Crowley: “Well, wait, we can’t go …”

Trump: “Candy, Candy, in the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation is yours.”

Sounds like Iraq mark II. And would the dumb American public fall for it again? There’s no way we could say with certainty: “NO”.

To interrupt Obama to speak out against the incarceration of Bradley Manning is certainly a justified action on many grounds, but to volunteer US$ 76,000 for the privilege somehow takes the edge of the meaning of protests. But then: you’re a protester of a special kind guess when you actually love the guy you heckle!

Protesters Interrupt Obama to Sing Support for Bradley Manning

Updated at 4:10 p.m to identify the female protester who led the song.

Protesters supporting WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning managed to infiltrate a private fundraiser for President Barack Obama on Thursday morning in San Francisco, interrupting his remarks with a song.

As Obama was speaking at the $5,000-a-plate breakfast fundraiser, California activist Naomi Pitcairn (above), sitting at one of the tables, began humming and singing a modified version of the song “Where’s Our Change?”, decrying Manning’s treatment in prison. Pitcairn removed her blazer and shirt to reveal a T-shirt with a picture of the young Army intelligence analyst who is suspected of leaking a massive cache of classified and sensitive documents to the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks.

As the rest of the group at Pitcairn’s table joined in with her song, they held up signs that read “Free Bradley Manning“.

“Each of us brought you $5,000 — we’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true. Look at the Republicans, what else can we do,” the group sang.

As White House aides escorted Pitcairn from the room, she said, “Free Bradley Manning. I’m leaving. I hope I don’t get tortured in jail.”

“That was a nice song,” Obama said as she finished singing. “You guys have much better voices than I. Thank you very much.” Then he turned back to his speech. “Where was I?”

Pitcairn told the San Francisco Chronicle that she paid $76,000 to get the protesters tickets to the event, which was held at the swanky St. Regis hotel downtown.

The protest was arranged by a new group calling itself the Fresh Juice Party, which is promising to pay protesters various amounts of money if they videotape themselves singing the song in public forums and handing out Fresh Juice bills.

Participants can earn $50 if their performance is before 20 people who are “within earshot of the song,” and $75 if the singer dons a costume. The nature of the costume is up to the singer.

The price goes up to $100 for singing the song in a Bradley Manning mask and T-shirt, or for singing within the legal perimeter of a state capitol building, the U.S. Capitol building or the White House.

The lyrics of the Bradley Manning version of the song follow.

Dear Mr. President, we honor you today, sir.
Each of us brought you $5,000.
It takes a lot of Benjamins to run a campaign.
I paid my dues, where’s our change?
We’ll vote for you in 2012, yes that’s true.
Look at the Republicans — what else can we do?
Even though we don’t know if we’ll retain our liberties
In what you seem content to call a free society.
Yes, it’s true that Terry Jones is legally free
To burn a people’s holy book in shameful effigy.
But at another location in this country
Alone in a 6 x 12 cell sits Bradley,
23 hours a day and night.
The 5th and 8th Amendments say this kind of thing ain’t right,
We paid our dues, where’s our change?

Photo: Logan Price

Kim Zetter is a senior reporter at Wired covering cybercrime, privacy, security and civil liberties.
Follow @KimZetter on Twitter.

Great power rivalry at the UN

The UN Security Council is in desperate need for reform, and Brazil is leading the charge.


By Nikolas Kozloff for Al Jazeera

Few would argue that the United Nations Security Council, which has long been dominated by five powers including the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom and Russia, would not benefit from some degree of democratic reform.

Indeed, it can hardly be said that the United Nations, which was originally set up in 1945, truly reflects a more diverse 21st century world.

Though ten other nations besides the big five currently serve on the council, they only stay for two years and are relegated to inferior “non-permanent” member status.

The non-permanent countries are elected on a regional basis and do not have the right to veto. Long excluded from power, influential nations such as Japan, Brazil, Germany and India have sought either permanent member status or a system of so-called “semi-permanent” membership.

In this new, revamped Security Council, newcomers would be elected for an extended 15 year term without initially being granted the right to veto.

Vying for a seat

Such changes are certainly long overdue. The real question, however, is which country is most likely to provide a much needed progressive voice on the council and to advance the social agenda of marginalised people throughout the Third World?

Of all the aspiring countries Brazil is probably the most satisfactory, though far from ideal. Currently Brazil is a non-permanent member of the council and in recent years the South American juggernaut has undergone a political transformation of sorts, with former Workers’ Party president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva closing ranks with leftist leaders in the immediate neighbourhood.

By all accounts, incoming president Dilma Rousseff will likely continue in the footsteps of her mentor Lula by extending friendly ties to neighbouring Venezuela, Bolivia and even Cuba.

Brazil has been campaigning for a larger role on the Security Council in accordance with its increased economic profile, which authorities say gives the South American powerhouse rightful leadership throughout the region.

Indeed, Brazil is now Latin America’s biggest economy and has become a huge exporter of key commodities such as iron ore and soy meal.

Judging from US diplomatic cables recently disclosed by whistle-blowing outfit WikiLeaks, Brazil will stop at nothing when it comes to securing greater international visibility.

Don’t expect, however, for Brazil to provide a serious ideological challenge to Washington. Indeed, the documents reveal that the South American nation is exceedingly interested in placating Washington while extending its own business interests.

Moreover, in private Brazilian diplomats express grave misgivings about South America’s “Pink Tide” to the left.

An opportunistic player, Brazil will not be deterred in its quixotic quest to advance its status on the United Nations Security Council, even if that means becoming politically compromised.

The Haiti imbroglio

Brazil’s wider ambitions were surely placed on display when it came to the island nation of Haiti.

During the Bush era, Brazil formed part of the United Nations Mission to Stabilise Haiti, or MINUSTAH. According to US officials, there was little domestic support for the peace keeping operation, but the ministry of foreign relations “remained committed to the initiative because it believes that the operation serves foreign minister [Celso] Amorim’s obsessive international goal of qualifying Brazil for a seat on the UN Security Council.”

Brazilian diplomats were moreover concerned lest they offend the political sensibilities of the Bush White House which had long demonised former president Jean Bertrand Aristide.

When American officials stressed that every effort should be made to keep the leftist president from returning to Haiti after he was ousted in a coup, the Brazilians agreed, stressing their own “resolve to keep Aristide from returning to the country or exerting political influence.”

By policing Haiti and preventing Aristide from returning to the Caribbean, the Brazilians may have hoped that they could secure Washington’s support for their vital Security Council bid.

Events on the ground, however, quickly took an ugly turn and could have forced Lula to engage in unsavoury public relations to protect Brazil’s wider geopolitical aspirations.

In 2006, the Brazilian commander of MINUSTAH forces in Haiti, General Urano Teixeira da Matta Bacellar, was found dead in his deluxe hotel suite with a bullet through his head.

Initially, Brazilian authorities called the shooting a “firearm accident” but later changed the official verdict to “suicide” even though Bacellar left no note and was known as a religious man with a wife and two children.

In private discussions with US diplomats, Dominican president Leonel Fernández threw cold water on the official story. In a recently disclosed WikiLeaks cable, the Dominican remarked that Bacellar could have been killed by anti-Aristide forces.

Fernández wouldn’t rule out the possibility of “an accidentally self-inflicted wound”, but believed that:

the Brazilian government is calling the death a suicide in order to protect the mission from domestic criticism. A confirmed assassination would result in calls from the Brazilian populace for withdrawal from Haiti. Success in this mission is vital for president Lula of Brazil, because it is part of his master plan to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

 
A single-minded fixation

Other WikiLeaks cables hint at Brazil’s single minded fixation on geopolitics.

In 2005, US officials wrote that the Brazilians were “obsessed” with securing a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Former Brazilian ambassador to the United States Rubens Barbosa reassured Washington that his government would not step on anyone’s toes: if the South American giant was successful in its United Nations bid, Brazil would not insist on being awarded the traditional right to veto resolutions on the council.

Later, in the twilight of the Bush administration, US officials remarked that most of Brazil’s actions on the international stage were carefully crafted to advance the nation’s ultimate goal of gaining a permanent seat on the Security Council. “Brazil”, the Americans remarked, “desperately seeks US support for its aspirations.”

In the Obama era, the Brazilians have been no less shy in pressing their agenda.

In 2009, US officials reported that Lula was determined

to develop and maintain friendly relations with all global players as Brazil seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. The end result is that Brazil often remains reticent to take firm positions on key global issues and generally seeks ways to avoid them. More often than not, the government of Brazil eschews positions of leadership that might require overtly choosing sides.

 
In yet another cable, the Americans remarked that Brazil was busily seeking African diplomatic support for its Security Council bid, arguing that it alone was uniquely qualified to act as a “champion for all developing states.”

Washington’s in no mood to share power

Though WikiLeaks cables reveal Brazil as politically crass, the documents also show the United States to be a Machiavellian player and wary about sharing power on the Security Council.

Indeed, when American diplomats were not pooh-poohing Brazil for the South American nation’s lack of vision and reluctance to take on shared responsibilities at the international level, they were critical of Lula’s foreign diplomacy in the Middle East, a region where Washington is used to calling the shots.

US diplomats were quick to note, for example, Brazil’s convening of an Arab-South America summit. American officials were none too pleased by Brazilian meddling, and characterised the South American nation’s initiatives as “unhelpful”.

Irking Washington yet further, Lula staked out a role in the Middle East peace process by conducting talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

During a press conference, Lula remarked provocatively, “as long as the United States is trying to negotiate peace in the Middle East there won’t be peace… The one who should oversee the negotiations is the United Nations, and that’s why Brazil wants to reform the UN system.”

What is more, under Lula Brazil pursued policies toward Iran that Washington saw as inimical to its own interests.

On repeated occasions, Brazil defended Iran’s nuclear program, and on the Security Council the Lula government joined Turkey in rejecting Washington’s proposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Though US diplomats noted that Brazil was “in no danger of falling into the Iranian ‘orbit’,” nevertheless the South American nation’s “almost obsessive interest in pursuing ‘balanced’ relations” with Iran tended to come at US expense.

More recently, the Rousseff government may not have ingratiated itself with Washington over the Libya imbroglio: on the Security Council, Brazil abstained when it came time to vote on the mandate to use military action against the Gaddafi regime.

Perhaps, in light of that vote, US diplomats may have reasoned that an expanded council including Brazil might weaken the western bloc of the US, France and Britain and strengthen the hand of non-interventionist countries such as China and Russia.

While attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in the beginning of his presidency, Obama spoke of a new era in Latin American-US relations in which there would be no senior or junior partners but equal standing for all parties.

Since that time, however, the US president has fallen short on his rhetoric. If he was serious about his high ideals, Obama might have endorsed Brazil’s bid at the Security Council.

Brazil is a logical candidate to assume a greater role: the country is a vigorous democracy enjoying a robust economy and has, on balance, steadily increased its international role by participating in peacekeeping missions.

Nevertheless, Washington obstinately refuses to face up to changing twenty first century realities. During his recent tour of Brazil, Obama acknowledged the South American juggernaut’s aspirations but failed to issue a full-throated endorsement of Brazil’s UN bid, remarking in a non-committal aside that the US “expressed appreciation” for Brazil’s larger geopolitical ambitions.

Moving beyond Security Council reform

Judging from WikiLeaks documents, Washington is a crass player and is in no mood to relinquish its international position at the United Nations.

On the other hand, Brazil doesn’t emerge from the cables as a very sympathetic country either: in its bid to enhance its position, the South American powerhouse has played a rather shameless diplomatic game.

Moreover, though Brazil has occasionally pursued an independent foreign policy, it’s doubtful that the South American nation would represent such a progressive breath of fresh air at the United Nations or provide a meaningful voice for the dispossessed.

Indeed, if WikiLeaks cables are any indication, there may be other countries which are far more likely to challenge Washington on issues that matter. Bolivia, for instance, has staked out a much more radical stance on climate change than Brazil.

If the correspondence dealing with the United Nations has underscored anything, it is the urgent need for reform of the Security Council.

Yet, reforming the council to merely include a couple of politically compromised or up and coming powers will not go far enough in democratising the international system.

If anything, the declassified diplomatic cables demonstrate the bankruptcy of business as usual at the United Nations and will hopefully prompt calls for even deeper and necessary reforms.

Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008) and No Rain in the Amazon: How South America’s Climate Change Affects the Entire Planet (Palgrave, 2010).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Rupert Murdoch geography

Crooks and Liars

Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic)

The West and in particular the US like supporting dictatorships when they can economically and in terms of strategic power benefit (and those two objective are often synonymous). One way to support dictatorships is to sell them biliions of dollars worth of weapons, and America’s support of Egypt over the last few days has been highlighted in this regard by the Egyptian police’s use of teargas produced in the US. The Ars Technica article below by Nate Anderson looks at what those teargas canisters contain and what the health effects are.

 

A protestor holds a used tear gas canister (Atlantic)

 

If you’ve been watching any coverage of the Egyptian protests, you’ve no doubt seen the tear gas plumes as canisters are shot at protestors—often to be picked up and hurled back moments later. Many of those tear gas containers falling on the bridges and streets of Cairo aren’t local products, however; they come from Jamestown, Pennsylvania, home of Combined Tactical Systems.

Several reporters in Egypt have commented on that fact this week. ABC News ran a story on the gas today in which it quotes a protestor saying, “The way I see it, the US administration supports dictators.”

It’s no secret that Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US foreign military funding, much of which is designated to purchase US-made weapons; it’s just that Americans don’t often see Egyptians holding empty tear gas canisters stamped “Made in USA” up to a TV camera.

 

But what’s in those canisters?

A wide array of shiny new canisters

 

The US government requires most chemical compounds to have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) outlining the ingredients, the risks of contacting those ingredients, and cleanup procedures in case of an accident. Combined Tactical Systems helpfully makes puts these MSDS files on its website.

The tear gas grenades and canisters are largely filled with a fuel mixture that burns to disperse the tearing agent. The Model 5220 CN Smoke grenade (PDF), for instance, has a small starter mixture of potassium nitrate, silicon, and charcoal. This in turn in used to light the “CN smoke”—a form of tear gas.

The CN smoke is 71 percent fuel, made up of potassium chlorate, magnesium carbonate, nitrocellulose, and… sucrose. The other 29 percent of the smoke is the tearing agent, chloroacetophenone, which has been around for nearly a century and causes severe irritation of the mucous membranes. (Combined Tactical Systems also sells the commonly used “CS smoke” tear gas version, which is powered by chlorobenzalmalononitrile.)

A tear gas cartridge spec sheet

 

Both kinds of tear gas have a “pungent odor,” according to the MSDS. Those handling them should wear a “full face respirator with organic filter cartridge” and should “wash thoroughly after handling.”

That’s because, as the protestor went on to tell ABC, “Your eyes tear up a lot so you can’t see, and you feel like you’re suffocating. You can actually breathe but you feel like you are suffocating so you try to run, but when you run you inhale more.”

As the MSDS puts it, rather more clinically, the gases cause “tearing of eyes, irritation of respiratory tract and mucous membranes,” and asthma may be “aggravated by exposure.”

This is not a long, profoundly philosophical or sociological essay on the American psyche nor is it a simplistic, generalising reflection on the nature of ‘all’ Americans. This post also does not neglect the role violence based on colonialism, racism, religious fanaticism and material/economic greed has put shame on other nations, from the distant past to the present. All I want to do is is to contrast America’s ideological billboard, describing that nation as the shiniest of all beacons of freedom, democracy and human rights with a small list of facts (and that list is small indeed and by no means representational – there is for example an endless number of social and global justice issues I’m not even touching on).

Here are the facts:

  • since so-called white settlers set foot on what is seen as American soil, it’s people have been involved in 26 wars from colonial times to the present
  • this number does not do any justice to the victims of the military history of the United States that has seen at least 294 extra-territorial and domestic military operations between 1775-2009; apart from a few internal ones, these operations took place in countless countries on the European continent (including Russia), in Asia (including India and China), Africa (from Morocco to Somalia), Central and South America and even Greenland – in other words; there are not many places on this planet that in the last 230+ years have not seen American military operations – always in the name of freedom and democracy of course, but mainly driven by America’s economic and hegemonic interests
  • the above facts do not include the 50+ wars against and massacres of American Indians, military actions in slave rebellions, inter-state and county wars, local feuds, combats with internal paramilitary groups and guerilla forces, interventions against striking workers, riots, ‘disorders’ and ‘miscellaneous’ events ranging from smaller internal wars to the Mormon War, the Texan revolution, American embassy bombings, hostage crises, wars on drugs or the Waco siege (see Timeline of US Military Operations for details)

Without jumping to simplistic conclusions, it surely cannot be coincidental that

  • 40% of Americans own a firearm
  • the US had a homicide rate of 6 per population of 100,000, which is three times higher than that of Canada, four times as high as in Australia, six times higher than Germany and 12 time as high as in Britain and Japan
  • the unofficial figurehead of the unofficial Tea Party, Sarah Palin, tweeted after the passing of the healthcare package: “Commonsense conservatives and lovers of America: Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD”; her website featured prominent Democratic politicians and maps of their districts in the crosshairs of rifle sights; one of those politicians was the US senator Gabrielle Gifford, one of the recent Arizona shooting victims
  • misguided Tea Party patriots, bent on taking back ‘their’ country, are extremely militant and openly violent
  • a country with a history of murdering its presidents has right-wing politicians and Fox News commentators calling Obama, who actually is firmly entrenched in the country’s conservative ruling elite and establishment, a “socialist ideologue”, a Muslim, accusing him of “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” and of “Kenyan, anti-colonial” world views; that these commentators can get away with such baseless propaganda is not surprising in a nation in which 25% of Americans believe or think it to be likely that Obama was not born in the US (and therefore was not eligible to become president) and also believe that he (a nominal Christian) actually is a Muslim; Obama gets 30 death threads a day
  • Fox radio personality Rush Limbaugh called for pressure to: “give [Fox News president Roger] Ailes the order and [then] there is no Assange, I’ll guarantee you, and there will be no fingerprints on it”; or that The Washington Times’ Jeffrey Kuhner titled a column “Assassinate Assange” and captioned it with a picture of Assange overlayed with a gun sight and the words “Wanted: dead or alive” with “alive” crossed out

We’re talking here not about a sub-culture of fringe lunatics but about the official America: leading news journalists and leading politicians openly and with impunity promoting the killing of others in their own country and outside of it. All this happens in the same nation that has a long history of hatred, bigotry, aggression, committing colonial and post-colonial atrocities, and inflicting war on other nations and their people. And while there are of course Americans who are peace-loving, tolerant, inclusive and humane, it is hard not to conclude that aggression, violence and hatred are an essential part of the American soul.