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January 31, 2006

"Gangsters and silence"

So sounds the title of the article by the Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa which deals with the scandal of CIA flights in Europe and the inquiry the Swiss parliamentarian Dick Marty has been conducting since November 2005 and reported before the Council of Europe last week. In the inquiry Marty accused the United States of “gangster tactics” and the European governments of turning a blind eye to “CIA’s illegal anti-terror activities in Europe”. (see the text of the speech)

Italy is involved in the first place as an investigation is underway in Milan into the disappearance of an Egyptian cleric allegedly abducted by CIA agents. Other 11 cases are reported to have taken place and the Italian secret service is suspected of having known it. In the article on the left-leaning il manifesto the journalist argues that “the European intelligence agencies must have been aware of what was happening in their territories with the ‘extraordinary renditions’. Now we’ll see how they’ll cover it up and tamper with the evidence”. Chiesa goes on by adding that this is the way Europe is acting now: “slavish governments willing to support the international war on terror and, consequently, the violations of fundamental human rights”. George Bush is depicted as "an emperor ready to breach any international regulations and, together with Dick Cheney, to trample on the American laws and Constitution". But, the journalist concludes, “Europe is guilty of letting the American gangsters damage democracy and Western values as a whole”.

Marty’s interim report before the continent’s human rights watchdog was criticised by the British parliamentarians for its lack of unpublished and new evidence (The Independent). The 21st of February is the deadline by which the 46 countries belonging to the Council of Europe will have to reply to a series of questions on the matter. Then the opinion of the Venice Commission on the legality of secret detention centres and the transport of prisoners by other States through the European territory will follow. The Commission is an advisory body of the Council and is expected to adopt its opinion on 17-18 March 2006.

In the meantime, the European Parliament has launched its own investigation. Il manifesto in the same page of Chiesa’s article, runs an interview with Claudio Fava, the Italian member of the temporary commission which will delve into the matter. “We must start from what Marty found. The existence of CIA prisons is not under discussion, our task now is to discover where they were and whether the European governments were involved or not in the violations”.

Posted 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2006

Two Views of One Phonecall

Monday's recent election, in which Steven Harper's Conservative Party ended the 13-year rule of the Liberals, continues to dominate headlines in Canada. The two major national papers - the right-leaning, Calgary-based National Post and the center-left Globe and Mail of Toronto - offer telling differences in their coverage of the election's aftermath.

The Globe and Mail leads with a cover story on a 20-minute phone call between George W. Bush and the Prime Minister-designate. No details of the conversation are availible, but the paper runs a photograph of a smirking Bush talking into the phone, obviously pleased with what he's hearing. This picture dominates the front page and, given the unpopularity of Bush in Canada, can't but be interpreted as a provocative gesture. In some ways, this is an oblique reference to the Liberal campaign's strategy of trying to link Bush and Harper, with the suggestion that a Conservative victory will serve to bolster the un-Canadian Bush, and may lower resistance to such unpopular, US-backed initiatives as national missile defense, the war in Iraq and domestic surveillance.

How does the right respond? What is the National Post's take on the phone conversation between the two leaders? We don't know - the Post runs an inoccuous wire version of the story, without picture, stuffed in the back pages of its print edition.

Posted 11:46 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2006

La Paz Effect in Pakistan

The ripple effect of Evo Morales’s stunning presidential win in Bolivia is being felt – and closely watched – as far away as Pakistan, as shown by a recent op-ed in The News, one of Pakistan’s leading English dailies.

The recent sweep of left leaning presidents in Latin America (referring to the election of anti-neo liberal candidates in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Venezuela and Chile, as well as Bolivia, over the past year) is instructive for Pakistan, writes Farooq Sulehria: “Latin America was the first continent turned into a laboratory for neo-liberal experiments. Ironically, it also is the first to stand up in rebellion.” While Pakistani President Musharraf is “busy implementing…come what will” the free trade and privatization directives of the World Bank and IMF, Sulehria argues that there are lessons to be learned for Pakistan about the rising of Latin resistance to this model:

“By opening up economies to ‘market forces’, Latin American countries were promised significant poverty reduction. In fact, what happened was a significant increase in the hold exercised over Latin American economies by multinationals, especially US corporations. Between 1990, and 2002, multinational corporations acquired 4,000 banking, telecommunications, transport, petrol and mining interests in Latin America.”

Sulehria closes with this warning:

“For the last two decades, Washington has forced neoliberalism (read poverty) down third world throats in order to make the world better for US business. To many the US economic empire, spreading at gunpoint, seemed unassailable. But now, unable to defeat rag-tag Iraqi militias and rapidly losing allies in Latin America, the empire stands exposed to others on the globe. Others, including Pakistan, are watching and learning.”


DAVID MONTERO reports from Islamabad, Pakistan for the Christian Science Monitor.

Posted 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

MLK's legacy undone?

The Guardian marks the 20th celebration of Martin Luther King Day with an examination of what many consider to be one of his most lasting legacies, the racial integration of American schools. Despite the widely-held belief among Americans (78% of whites and 66% of Blacks) that progress is being made towards greater integration, the article references a new Harvard study that indicates there has been a steady increase in school segregation over the last 15 years.

[T]he percentage of black students attending schools where most students are non-white increased across the US from 66% in 1991 to 73% in the 2003-2004 school year, according to the report by Harvard's Civil Rights Project and released at the weekend. In the south, where the desegregation effort was concentrated, the number of black students in schools where most students are non-white rose from 61% to 71% over a 12-year period. More than three-quarters of intensely segregated schools serve children from poor families, the report said.

School desegregation is one of the signal achievements of the 1960's Civil Rights movement, both within the US and throughout the world. That there could be increasing segregation, even a return to late-60's levels, strikes at one of the great symbols of America's commitment to racial equality and domestic reform.

Posted 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

A strategic view from Peshawar

It is generally difficult for those without Arabic, Urdu or Pashtoo language skills to guage public opinion the swath of the greater Middle East that represents the heartland of political Islam. But for those English-speakers curious about the Islamist worldview, and especially that of Al Qaeda and its Afghan and Pakistani sympathizers, there is hope in the form of Pakistan's Peshawar-based Frontier Post. Like any newspaper, it reflects the attitudes and values of its readers, who happen to also represent the regional constituency most sympathetic to Al Qaeda and the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.

The Frontier Post has recently run an editorial about US involvement in the region, titled "How the US views India and Pakistan?" The question mark seems to be a pure formality, since the author, Mohammad Jamil, prefers the declarative mode, and hammers in his points with authority. He sees the US manipulating India against Pakistan, in effect betraying Pakistan, loyal ally in the Cold War struggle in Afghanistan and in the War on Terror. Indeed, far from commited enmity, the piece strikes a tone of hurt betrayal.

Jamil writes about the indignities and double-dealings Pakistan has suffered at the hands of the US:

Anyhow, the way the US has treated a friend that stood by its allies for about half-a-century, got dismembered as a result of its involvement in military pacts, and even risked its very existence by becoming the frontline state against another super power during the Afghan crisis is deplorable. By entering into strategic partnership with India, the US leadership has not only disappointed Pakistan but also spawned despondency in Kashmir, as the Kashmiris always considered the US a country that stood for the right of self-determination of the suppressed nations.
It is surprising to note the double speak of the US administration. On the one hand it acknowledges Pakistan’s prodigious role in the war on terror but on the other it shows lack of trust when US-led forces enter Pakistan in hot pursuit of Al Qaeda operatives or Taliban remnants. Recently, when Washington was lauding President Pervez Musharraf’s determination against terrorism, and Pakistan forces’ action against terrorists in a briefing, eighteen people were killed and many injured in powerful explosions destroying one house and damaging other hutments in Bajaur Tribal Agency near Peshawar reportedly by the US-led allied forces.

It appears that even in Al Qaeda's backyard, it is specific policy positions and behavior - like Friday's missile strike - that motivate hostility, moreso than ideological or religious hatred.

Posted 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

American rocket strike in Pakistan draws fire

On Friday, January 13th an unmanned Predator drone fired a number of Hellfire rockets into a house in Damadola village, in the Bajaur region near the Afghan border. The target was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command of Al Qaeda and, since Osama bin Laden ceased issuing statements last year, the public face of the extremist movement. The CIA was working off of intelligence indicating that Zawahiri would be having dinner at the house. This information proved inaccurate, and no major Al Qaeda figure has been identified among the 18 dead, which include women and children, although some reports suggest that up to 11 may have been lower-ranking Islamic militants.

Pakistan has reacted with shock and anger. In the border provinces, protests sprung up the day after the attack, spreading to major Pakistani cities - Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar - by Monday. In the Western press, the Guardian has published a fairly comprehensive overview of the attacks and the reaction. The largest crowds assembled in Karachi, where 10,000 people marched shouting slogans against the US and Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf. DAWN, a Pakistani newspaper, gives approximate turnout at protests across the country.

While the largest crowds were in Karachi, the most strident were in Peshawar, the main city of the fiercely Islamic and anti-American North-West Frontier Province. The local Frontier Post reports that those rallies were organized by an Islamic party, the Jamaat-e-Islami. Party leaders pledged themselves to Jihad against the US, advocated the partition of the US into 52 successor states (on the model of the former Soviet Union), and bemoaned the fact that Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons has failed to deter American strikes inside the country.

Posted 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2006

La Paz Effect: Latin Tremors

The ripple effects of Evo Morales’ election as President of Bolivia are continuing to be felt throughout Latin America—most poignantly in the ongoing dissection of the economic reform model known as the ‘Washington consensus’ that was one of Morales’ favorite targets.

Bolivia was supposed to be a laboratory for the ‘consensus’ economic reform model of tight social spending and export-oriented growth. But it was those who perceived themselves as 'disenfranchised' from those policies--millions of small farmers, urban poor and the country’s large indigenous population--who put Morales into the presidential palace in La Paz, and toppled whatever remaining legitimacy for the ‘consensus’ remained within the continent. Shortly after Morales’ election, Argentine president Nestor Kirchner announced that he would pay off the country’s outstanding $9.8 billion debt to the International Monetary Fund, thus unhinging the country from IMF/World Bank constraints; a left candidate for the Peruvian presidency, Ollanta Humalla, surged into second place in the polls; and the Zapatistas, in Mexico over new years, launched “the other campaign” in parallel to that country’s presidential race to highlight issues of indigenous rights--an effort widely perceived as having received a considerable boost from the election results in Bolivia. By January 14, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo featured a debate between John Williamson, the U.S. economist, affiliated with the Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC, considered to be one of the primary architects of what’s become known as the Washington Consensus; and José Luis Machinea, Secretary General of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean at the United Nations, over what, if anything, remains of the “Consensus’.

The changes in Latin America—long in the works, but also intensified by Morales’ election—are not merely ones of rhetoric. Even John Williamson admitted that the World Bank made mistakes in not paying enough attention to the ‘social factors” involved in economic reform. The “Washington consensus,” a complex set of policies so tied to the United States that they bear the name of our nation’s capital, is unraveling just as quickly as a new term is being introduced to suggest a somewhat more welcome economic power in Latin Power: “Chindia,” the combined economic might of India and China. The turn of many Latin countries east—toward Asia as well as toward the European Union—has gone largely un-reported in the United States. But, El Tiempo suggests, such new trading partners offer not only growing and increasingly affluent markets, but none of the political baggage associated with the long history of U.S. intervention in the region:
“Since the end of the communist system in the USSR, the United States has been dreaming of a world dominated by one superpower: the U.S. That is not coming to pass.
The rapid transformation of China into an economic power, with India following in its footprints, signifies that the U.S. better prepare for a different future, one in which it will have to understand how to share power among others like never before. It’s a change that will not be easy.”

Posted 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2006

BLACK SITES, ITALIAN SOLDIERS INVOLVED IN BOSNIA

The leftist newspaper Il manifesto denounces that some Italian soldiers in Bosnia arrested a Muslim student, Nihad Karsic, suspected of terrorism and then handed him over to the Americans who kept him for one week in a Cia secret prison and tortured him.
The author of the article, Andrea Rossini, cites the magazine of Sarajevo Dani as the source of the information. On the 16th of December the Bosnian paper ran an article with the story of Karsic, dating back to December 2001. Only after the scandal of Us “black sites” broke out on the international media, did the student understand that he had been kept in a secret prison and decide to speak.

Karsic was working for an Islamic humanitarian organization when the Italian army force “Carabinieri”, arrested him allegedly for his links with terrorist groups. They questioned him without getting any information, so they handed him over to the Americans. He spent one week in a place he later realized was the base “Eagle” in Tuzla. He was kept in a cell, continuously questioned, forbidden to sleep and beaten. On the seventh day of his detention they freed him asserting “they had made a mistake”, gave him 500 dollars and made him sign a document where he promised not to say a word about what had happened.

Amnesty International has denounced several illegal arrests like this committed by Us forces in Bosnia (and all over Europe). Similar cases are reported to have happened also in the neighbouring Kosovo where the Italian army handed over three detainees to the Americans.

“The story – observes the journalist - raises some questions: Is the Italian army involved in the global fight against terrorism? On which legal basis Bosnian citizens are taken and handed over to Us forces?”. The Italian foreign minister Gianfranco Fini has just visited ex Jugoslavia and appreciated the army’s doings. The journalist says that Italy shouldn’t cooperate with the “kidnappers” in the Balkans, especially now that there have been protests against the kidnappings in the country, thus referring to the arrest warrants issued here in Italy for 22 suspected CIA agents accused of helping to kidnap a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003 (see an article from Corriere della sera).

Posted 11:15 AM | Comments (0)