It’s not easy backing death squads in Iraq

This is what we have created in Iraq by our own actions; turning a blind eye to torture, murder and abuse. In the name of “liberation”, of course:

One:

During the foreboding months of 2005, one police unit struck more fear into Iraqis than the entire occupying US army. They were known as the Wolf Brigade.

Brutal even by Iraqi standards, their soldiers and officers seemingly answered to no one. They were seen as indiscriminate and predatory. The unit’s reputation had been known Iraq-wide and results of their numerous raids are still bogged down in Iraq’s legal system.

But the full range of their abuses and close co-operation with the US army remained in the shadows until the WikiLeaks disclosures showcased them in stark detail.

A visit from the unit to any neighbourhood was sure to bring trouble – as it it did for Omar Salem Shehab on 25 June that year.

“We were at home that night,” Shehab recalled this week. “We were three brothers sleeping above my ice-cream shop. We were woken by soldiers entering our house by force. They came with Americans. They said we were wanted and produced a document. The Americans took our pictures, then the soldiers we now knew were the Wolf Brigade took us to the Seventh Division camp [of the Iraqi army].”

Shehab and his brothers lived in Dora, in Baghdad’s south, a lethal enclave of the city that was rapidly deteriorating into chaos. Like most of Dora’s residents, they are Sunni Muslims.

The trio were at the army camp for a day, then transferred to Baghdad’s main prison, known as Tsferrat.

“We were tortured all the time, he said. “We were never investigated, just tortured. The commander of the Wolf Brigade, Abu al-Walid was one of the torturers. My brother had a kidney problem and they continued to torture him without giving him medicine.

Two:

An Iraqi criminal prisoner was tortured and beaten to death within three days of being turned over to police in Basra by British troops.

This latest detailed evidence of previously covered-up Iraq atrocities has emerged following the leak of a vast number of Iraq war logs compiled by the US army and containing hour-by-hour military field reports.

The 391,832 previously secret field reports, passed to the Guardian and other newspapers by the online whistleblowing group WikiLeaks, has already shown that US authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, rape and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers.

According to the new evidence, British authorities were well aware of the atrocities that were occurring in Basra and were unhappy about them.

An autopsy was conducted on the prisoner, the police officer said to have killed him was named in a UK investigation, and high-level diplomatic protests were made to the Iraqi interior minister, without apparent result.

Documents obtained by the Guardian and by a Danish newspaper detail the arrest of Abbas Alawi by a joint British and Danish patrol on 10 April 2005.

In Operation Grey Wolf, Alawi – code-named Bravo One – was picked up along with three other men in a dawn raid by British infantry of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. The logs record that the prisoners were handed over to the Basra police, controlled by Iraq’s ministry of the interior.

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Wolfensohn: “no-one particularly likes the Jews, no-one particularly likes the Palestinians”

James Wolfensohn, former World Bank President and former head of the Middle East Quartet, was on Australian TV last night talking about Israel/Palestine and the message was clear; America is Israel’s lawyer:

Jim Wolfensohn, I’d like to focus mainly on your personal experience as George W. Bush’s handpicked choice as special enjoy of quartet to the Middle East – the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Right.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Because in your book you suggest a cynicism behind your appointment that over time cut the ground from under you. Now before we get to the detail of that, can you just briefly explain what you set out to achieve in that job?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well I was asked by the quartet to try and assist in two things. The first one was the immediate issue of the withdrawal from Gaza. And the second was to try and see if that could be extended to a resolution of the issues in the West Bank so that ultimately there could be the much-sought-after two-state solution. And the reason that I was asked to do it was to make sure that, initially, the Gaza withdrawal took place satisfactorily.

KERRY O’BRIEN: And very much a part of your intent was to try to help secure some kind of economic underpinning for the future of the West Bank and Gaza so that the Palestinian community as a separate state would actually have some chance of establishing itself.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well the immediate issue then was to make sure that Gaza could survive, and there are a number of things associated with that. You needed to have some sort of industry in Gaza and there were two things which suggested themselves. One was tourism, because it has a wonderful coastline, and the other was agriculture, because there were greenhouses there that were left by arrangements which we made by the Israeli settlers. And so, it looked as though you could have a Gaza that was financially and economically stable. And the second part was that there was agreement for a linkage between the Gaza and the West Bank with the ability for people to travel between the Gaza and the West Bank. And there was also a plan which was announced by Condi Rice for an airport, for a port in Gaza which gave them the possibility of access, not only to the West Bank, but to the rest of the world.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You felt you were making real progress on a number of fronts. You won significantly more money from the G8 for economic aid for the Palestinian authority, …

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: That’s right.

KERRY O’BRIEN: … you were breaking down Israeli barriers to the flow of trade in and out of Gaza on the West Bank. You had built a rapport with both Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. But at a critical point when you ask asked for backup from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice you felt that you were essentially cut of at the knees. Now what happened?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well I think several things happened. The first thing was that shortly after the withdrawal Arik Sharon, shortly after the withdrawal, got sick for a first time, and then as you know became permanently incapacitated. So that took away the leader on the Israeli side. The second thing was that I don’t think the Americans ever were totally committed or convinced that the opening of Gaza would be a peaceful activity, and unfortunately they were assisted in coming to a contrary view by the fact that you had an outbreak of violence in Gaza towards Israel.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But during those talks when Condi Rice was there in the Middle East, …

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Right.

KERRY O’BRIEN: … you were so angry at being …

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I was very angry.

KERRY O’BRIEN: When you realised you were being cut out of the process with Condi Rice, the Palestinians and the Israelis, that you told Secretary Rice that you were resigning.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I did, that night, exactly. And I said that I wasn’t there as a token. I was there – I’d worked very hard to try and bring about a sense of confidence on both sides and I was trusted by both sides. When those negotiations were going on, I was sitting with the Palestinians and really keeping them calm because they were friends of mine. I’d worked with both sides. And, unfortunately I think there was a very different axis between the United States and Israel about what was going to happen, what the outcome was going to be. So I told Condi that I was out at 10 o’clock that night and she said, “No, you can’t get out,” and so he worked till five o’clock in the morning, and I was more or less in the discussions and was there then with the head of the European Union to try and make an announcement at seven or eight the next morning that we had this agreement about the airport, the port, the linkage between the Gaza and the West Bank, all of which sounded great but which very sadly never happened.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well, in fact you say with that agreement, the Condi Rice and the Israelis subsequently took it apart, piece by piece.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: That’s correct. But the reason that they gave for that was the outbreak of violence, which occurred by some extremist Palestinians and some extremist Israelis who were to be found in the military who responded, and the sense of good will which we’d hoped for to build a peaceful working relationship, certainly didn’t happen. And, …

KERRY O’BRIEN: Left you nowhere to go.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: … that was at the moment when Arik Sharon had got sick. And if Arik had been around I think things could have could have been different, but he wasn’t.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Now, the job collapsed for you in April 2006. You walked away.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Yes.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But in October Kofi Anan asked you …

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Right.

KERRY O’BRIEN: … to take up the cudgel again …

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Yes.

KERRY O’BRIEN: … and become special envoy again to the quartet.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Right. With the support of the United States, that offer was made.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But you obviously were a little bit mistrusting of that support because you had a conversation with Condi Rice, asked her some pertinent questions and as a result of her answers, you then declined the offer.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well the key question was: would I be kept informed about what the United States was doing. Because after the previous experience it was very clear to me that there was a direct dialogue between the United States and the Israelis. And if you weren’t part of that, you really had no chance of being central to what was going on. And I warned my successor, Tony Blair, of that issue and I’m afraid Tony is suffering in the same way.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But, the second question you asked related to your own security. Would you have the same security arrangements backed by the United States as you had last time and she wasn’t even prepared to do that?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: They were prepared not to do that, but the Brits were prepared to do it. But I thought it was ridiculous to have British security in the United States but I never got round to arguing it because the other issue was much more important.

KERRY O’BRIEN: So, on the one hand the United States wanted you back in the game, but they didn’t?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: I believe that to be the case. I believe the quartet wanted me back and the US went along with it because I hadn’t done anything wrong, and then they appointed Tony Blair on the same limited terms that I was fighting against. So I think honestly the United States never took the quartet seriously. I think the issue was that they were conducting the negotiations with the Israelis and the quartet was a camouflage.

KERRY O’BRIEN: So when you warned Tony Blair to read the fine print, what did he say?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well, he tried to get an expanded mandate, which unfortunately he never got, so he doesn’t – he has been part of the economic process, but not part of the political process and I think he misses that.

KERRY O’BRIEN: So do you think he’s doomed to the same failure that you were?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well if he’s happy with an economic mandate, then he’s OK. But you should ask him, but I would be surprised if he felt that his talents were being adequately used in terms of the peace process.

KERRY O’BRIEN: But isn’t the success of the economic mandate contingent on the success of the political mandate?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Very significant.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Aren’t they absolutely inter-related?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Very significantly, but it is possible to contemplate having economic advances, as there are very significantly today in the West Bank. In the West Bank there is very close co-operation between Israeli and Palestinian companies. What is being left out is of course Gaza, for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is the political and the threat that Gaza poses, not just to the Israelis, but also to a united Palestine.

KERRY O’BRIEN: As somebody who takes the whole issue of peace in the Middle East extremely seriously, there are aspects to that saga that must have left you feeling sick in the stomach.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: They did and I am very worried now because I think we’re at the last stage of trying to get a negotiated agreement now. And I worry very much that if the current discussions collapse, I think there isn’t the energy around for looking at getting everybody focused on this issue for quite some time. And I fear the consequences could be substantial violence.

KERRY O’BRIEN: You say that in the end the Israelis and the Palestinians are 11 million people in a sea of 350 million Arabs, and that they need to understand they are not the most important regional issue. What are you saying? What’s the message?

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: Well, I think the most important regional issues are the split between the Sunnis and the Shias and obviously the issue of Iran, which dominates everything. And I think that the 11 million people have had a lot of prominence, get a lot of prominence in the press, but really it’s relatively a small issue. The issue of Jerusalem is a very important issue emotionally, but the issue of the 11 million, where frankly my experience was that no-one particularly likes the Jews, no-one particularly likes the Palestinians, but that’s a very personal comment which probably shouldn’t be on television, but it is what I believe.

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Israel has an Arab “problem”

The always eloquent Jewish writer and blogger The Magnes Zionist:

Israel’s ‘Arab Problem’ was not the inevitable creation of Zionism, or even of the Jewish state idea. It was created by the specific kind of Jewish state that was founded in 1948, a state that embodied the exclusivist ethnic nationalist ethos of the founders, who passed and implemented ethnically discriminatory laws and policies in the early years of the state – and in recent days. The sort of Jewish state that Israel became is more discriminatory and marginalizing of its minority than most contemporary ethnicpreference in immigration to members of its majority ethnic group, Israel bestows automatic and immediate citizenship to anyone who is considered Jewish religiously or racially, provided that he or she was not an adherent of another religion. Again, unlike many other ethnic states, which accord preference in citizenship to native minorities, Israel’s Arab minority is not considered favored in immigration; on the contrary, there are emergency orders forbidding spouses of Israeli citizens to become naturalized, if the citizens are Palestinian Arab. Again, unlike other ethnic states that have procedures for nationalizing those who are not members of the majority ethnic group, Israel has no naturalization procedure besides the fiat of the minister of Interior. A minister of Interior from a rightwing or religious party ensures that there will be no naturalized citizens.

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So we pay contractors in Afghanistan and have no idea what they’re doing?

So while Australian troops are training Afghan warlords here and working with them in their country – something the military establishment is defending because, well, that’s the way it is in Afghanistan and it’s jolly fun to work alongside alleged murderers and rapists in the “war on terror” – the Western war effort is going just swimmingly:

The U.S. military has only minimal knowledge of – and exercises virtually no control over – the thousands of Afghans it indirectly pays to guard its installations, including “warlords and strongmen linked to murder, kidnapping, bribery” and to the Taliban, Senate investigators said in a blistering report released Thursday.

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Israel has problems but hey Hamas is nearby (relevance, Zionists?)

Following my article yesterday in the Sydney Morning Herald on Israel/Palestine, the following letters appear in today’s edition:

For an alternative to Antony Loewenstein’s polemic against Israel (“Western politicians prefer to ignore Israel’s inherent racism”, October 28) I refer readers to Freedom in the World: Israel 2010 by Freedom House, a venerable and widely respected non-governmental organisation.

Under the Freedom House criteria, Israel has the highest of seven rankings for political rights and the second highest for civil liberties. It is the only country in the Middle East rated “free”. Its media is described as “vibrant and independent”.

Although Israel describes itself as a “Jewish and democratic state”, freedom of religion is respected, with Christian, Muslim and Bahai communities having jurisdiction over their members in matters of marriage, divorce and burial.

The judiciary is independent and regularly rules against the government. Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Workers may join independent unions and have the right to strike and bargain collectively. Women have achieved substantial parity at almost all levels of society. Openly gay Israelis are permitted to serve in the armed forces.

Certainly, some serious discrimination exists in Israel, as in other democracies. But overall, not a bad record for a country faced with neighbours such as Iran and Syria, and organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Peter Wertheim Executive director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Sydney


By all means, let us go back to basics, starting with the United Nations partition plan for Palestine, as [Zionist lobbyist] Colin Rubenstein suggests (”Oath’s emphasis on a democratic nation state is soundly based”, October 28).

The plan showed clear borders of the two states, with Jerusalem as a UN zone which was barred from being the Israeli capital. The war between the Arab nations and Israel led to the occupation of territory clearly intended as belonging to the Arab state. At no time since it unilaterally declared its statehood has Israel confined itself to the boundaries allocated by the UN. Its illegal expansion into Arab territories continues.

The UN requirement that the rights of resident populations be recognised in the new state has been consistently ignored.

The British foresaw problems with the new state and its expansionist ambitions, and abstained from the UN vote. They have since fallen into line, as have we, with the blinkered Western view of the conflict.

Don Brown Narrabeen

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Are we allowed to violently assault asylum seekers? Just asking

Maybe one day, Western governments will ask themselves whether private companies should be tasked (and paid) to do the dirty work of removing refugees. Out of sight and out of mind:

The government’s deportation policy has been thrown into confusion after it emerged that the Home Office banned private security firms from forcing detainees on to flights following the death of a refugee, then lifted the moratorium 10 days later.

The chair of the Commons home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, said he had “huge concerns” over the government’s apparent indecision about whether restraint could be used against deportees and accused officials of “flip-flopping”.

His concerns were echoed by Ed Balls, the shadow home secretary, who said it was now “vital” for the Home Office to release details of the circumstances surrounding the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee who collapsed and died on a British Airways plane preparing for take-off at Heathrow earlier this month.

A ban on forcing detainees on to commercial flights, which officials described as a precautionary but “unprecedented” measure, was introduced on 15 October, three days after Mubenga lost consciousness while being heavily restrained by three guards working for the security firm G4S.

The Metropolitan police have since arrested the guards, who have been released on bail.

The firm, which conducts the majority of the 10,000 forced removals each year, informed the Guardian that use of restraint at boarding by its guards had been halted at the advice of the Home Office.

All private security firms were instructed by the Home Office to halt using force while officials checked that the techniques used to restrain deportees, which are the same used in prisons, were safe.

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Nir Rosen on why Muslims don’t like occupation

The fact that such sensible views are so rarely heard in the mainstream is revealing in itself:

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Peace doesn’t sell on our TV screens

How we view war, conflict and peace and our place in the world is primarily through the media. It’s no wonder, for example, that truly peaceful spokespeople (as opposed to generals and “officials) are routinely excluded from the debate:

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and Media Tenor today announced the results of “Measuring Peace in the Media”, the largest global study analysing the accuracy of international television networks’ coverage of peace, violence and conflict. The results show broad inconsistencies across geographies and networks, with US broadcasters much more focused on violence and conflict than their European and Middle Eastern counterparts.

The study analysed 37 TV news and current affairs programmes from 23 networks in 15 countries* and then cross-referenced this with the 4th annual Global Peace Index (GPI) which measures the levels of peace and violence in 149 countries. BBC 2 Newsnight and ZDF Heute Journal were found to be the programmes whose editorial policies aligned their coverage most closely with the rankings of the GPI.

How Media Outlets Perform:
•         Four programmes included in the study devote more than 50% of their coverage to violence: CBS Evening News, Fox Special Report and ABC World News from the US and ITV News at 10 from the UK
•         The 10 TV programmes reporting the most violence dedicate on average 48% of their coverage to violence; 8 of these programmes are from the US or UK
•         The 10 TV programmes reporting the least violence dedicate 50% less of their coverage (24%) of their coverage to violence; 7 of these programmes are from Africa or the Middle East
•         US and European broadcasters dedicate more than 60% of their coverage on the Middle East to violence

The World’s Eye on Afghanistan
The report includes a detailed case study on coverage of Afghanistan, which shows that a disproportionate amount of coverage is focused on defence and crime, while neglecting news of progress in critical areas needed to build lasting peace.

CNN International, BBC World and Al Jazeera English all had similar number of reports on the topics that received the most total coverage – warfare, elections, crime and international politics.  However, Al Jazeera had the greatest breadth of coverage, including more coverage on topics which related progress in creating peace. Al Jazeera News was the most positive and had three times as many positive stories as BBC World, and more than eight times as many positive stories as CNN International Desk.

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Mummy, why are Muslims so ungrateful when we kill them?

Just in case you weren’t sure, Nir Rosen is one of the finest war reporters in the world. His new book, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World, highlights Washington’s idea that guns and a few loaves of bread don’t bring love:

Supporters of General Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan, liked to say “he gets it,” as if there was a magic counterinsurgency (COIN) formula they’d discovered in 2009. But Afghans have a memory. They remember, for example, that the American-backed mujahideen killed thousands of Afghan teachers and bombed schools in the name of their anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s. The Taliban atrocities had not arisen in a vacuum. Similarly, past American actions have consequences. Opinions were already formed. The Taliban were gaining power thanks to American actions and alliances. Warlords were empowered by the Americans. No justice was sought for victims. The government and police were corrupt. The president stole the elections. The message was that there was no justice, and a pervasive sense of lawlessness and impunity had set in.

Afghans who had been humiliated or victimized by the Americans and their allies were unlikely to become smitten by them merely because of some development aid they received. And the aid was relatively small compared with other international projects, like Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda, and East Timor. The Americans thought that by building roads they could win over opinion. But roads are just as useful for insurgents as they are for occupiers. The Americans had failed to convince Afghans that they should like them or want them to stay, and they certainly had not been convinced that President Hamid Karzai’s government has legitimacy. You can’t win hearts and minds with aid work when you are an occupying force.

The Taliban was the most obscurantist, backward, traditional, and despised government on earth. The fact that the Taliban was making a comeback was a testimony to the regime that the U.S. set up there, and to the atrocities that have been committed in Afghanistan by occupation troops and their Afghan allies. It was sheer arrogance to think that adding another 30,000 or 50,000 troops would change the situation so much that the occupation would become an attractive alternative.

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When torture isn’t really about crushing a child’s balls

How we love the New York Times…to obfuscate our crimes:

“Reports indicate meatbag tenderizing procedures”; “War logs show bothersome physical solicitations”; “Leaked war logs reveal that for which there is no emoticon”

Hitting the refresh button repeatedly, one can view dozens of other absurd headlines. The absurdity is the point, Rob Beschizza told me in a phone conversation. Beschizza is the managing editor at BoingBoing, and the above headlines are the result of his “New York Times Torture Euphemism Generator!” which was posted to the popular blog late Friday night. It includes an image of an article on the New York Times website with an interchangeable headline that provides a phrase meant to act as a stand-in for what many journalists consider a politically charged word: “Torture.” In the few days since being posted it has received over 460,000 page views.

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Maybe America likes to fail in the Middle East

Steve Walt on Washington’s knowing cluelessness when it comes to Middle East “peace-making”.

Yes, bringing on-board more failed “leaders” like Bill Clinton and Jews like Martin Indyk is going to work.

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Colombo is being watched and we won’t stop

At least some Western countries want to hold Sri Lanka to account. Australia remains silent, gutless as ever:

David Cameron made clear today that given the serious allegations and alleged evidence that continues to surface in relation to war crimes during the closing weeks of the civil war in Sri Lanka an independent investigation was necessary.

The issue was raised with him by Siobhain McDonagh MP during Prime Ministers Questions. Photos which emerged last week are said to show a massacre of Tamils. The Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris, rejected this evidence as fraudulent. Previously a video, apparently showing government troops summarily executing Tamil men, was examined by the UN Special Rapporteur on summary and extra-judicial executions. His analysis found the evidence credible and strongly suggests the video is authentic.

Ms McDonagh MP also raised concerns over the role of the British PR firm Bell Pottinger, who have been employed by the government of Sri Lanka to rehabilitate their image. They are paying Bell Pottinger in the region of £3million per year – this does not sit well with the fact that the British government have provided Sri Lanka with £13.5m over the past 2 years in humanitarian funding. The Prime Minister has previously spoken of the ‘urgent need to shine the light of transparency on lobbying.’

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