Amnesty International releases its 2012 report on executions globally and Guardian Films features one story from Iran about a lawyer who saves juveniles from the hangman:
This is how power works, a rare window into modern politics. If you thought the war in Libya was truly about liberating the Libyan people, 99% of players behind it had other ideas. Here’s the UK Telegraph:
A major Tory donor whose oil firm was given government help to set up a supply deal in Libya was a dinner guest at Downing Street, it has been disclosed.
David Cameron invited Ian Taylor, the boss of the oil company Vitol, weeks after it emerged that a secret “Libyan oil cell” run from the Foreign Office had brokered a lucrative deal for Vitol to supply oil to rebel forces in the north African country.
When the controversy blew up last September, No 10 had to fend off accusations that Vitol, which has close links to the international development minister, Alan Duncan, was given preferential treatment.
Weeks later, on Nov 2, Mr Taylor, who has donated £466,100 to the Conservative Party since Mr Cameron became leader, was one of six guests at an intimate dinner party with the prime minister in Downing Street.
Last night Opposition MPs demanded to know whether Vitol’s deal with the National Transitional Council in Libya was discussed at the dinner, which was also attended by Mr Taylor’s wife, Christine. Labour said the dinner added to “the perception that policy is purchased by donors”. Downing Street said Mr Taylor, 55, was invited to “the social dinner for strong and long-term supporters of the party”.
Mr Cameron went ahead with the dinner despite a series of questions about possible preferential treatment for Vitol, the world’s largest oil trader.
The Government had admitted that a secret committee, said to have been set up at the suggestion of Mr Duncan, arranged meetings between Vitol and the Libyan rebels fighting Col Muammar Gaddafi. Mr Duncan is a close friend of Mr Taylor, having worked for Vitol in the 1990s, and as a consultant for Arawak, a company part-owned by Vitol.
Mr Duncan said the work of the oil cell was above board and other companies were not prepared to take the risk of opening a supply route to the Libyan rebels. But oil industry insiders suggested that Vitol benefited from “good contacts”. Last night Michael Dugher, shadow minister without portfolio, said: “Questions have to be asked about the Prime Minister’s relationship with Ian Taylor.”
The private dinner in November was one of four disclosed by Downing Street yesterday that were attended by people who have donated more than £50,000.
The Washington Post explains how Canberra is desperate to help America maintain hegemony:
The United States and Australia are planning a major expansion of military ties, including possible drone flights from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean and increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports, as the Pentagon looks to shift its forces closer to Southeast Asia, officials from both countries said.
The moves, which are under discussion but have drawn strong interest from both sides, would come on top of an agreement announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard in November to deploy up to 2,500 U.S. Marines to Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast.
The talks are the latest indicator of how the Obama administration is rapidly turning its strategic attention to Asia as it winds down a costly decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. government is finalizing a deal to station four warships in Singapore and has opened negotiations with the Philippines about boosting its military presence there. To a lesser degree, the Pentagon is also seeking to upgrade military relations with Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.
Although U.S. officials say the regional pivot is not aimed at any single country, analysts said it is a clear response to a rising China, whose growing military strength and assertive territorial claimshave pushed other Asian nations to reach out to Washington.
The Pentagon is reviewing the size and distribution of its forces in northeast Asia, where they are concentrated on Cold War-era bases in Japan and South Korea. The intent is to gradually reduce the U.S. military presence in those countries while enhancing it in Southeast Asia, home to the world’s busiest shipping lanes and to growing international competition to tap into vast undersea oil and gas fields.
“In terms of your overall influence in the Asia-Pacific zone, the strategic weight is shifting south,” said a senior Australian official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the military talks. “Australia didn’t look all that important during the Cold War. But Australia looks much more important if your fascination is really with the Southeast Asian archipelago.”
Is there anything Canberra won’t do to please its Washington masters (hint: no)?
As Julian Assange tilts at the Senate, new laws have been passed that will make it harder for organisations like Wikileaks to operate legally – and there are more to come, writes Matthew da Silva
The Labor Government is tightening up Australian law in areas that will have a direct impact on organisations such as WikiLeaks. Only the Greens are challenging the new bills in parliament, and they are receiving scant media attention.
There’s a new extradition law that will make it easier for foreign governments to request extradition of Australians and a new spying law that broadens ASIO’s reach, which has been dubbed the WikiLeaks Amendment.
And finally there’s a bill that will make it easier to retain digital data for Australians, and easier also to pass that information to overseas law enforcement agencies. Senator Scott Ludlam, the Greens’ spokesperson for communications, told New Matilda that the Attorney-General wants all digital records for all people for all time to be trapped and recorded so that intelligence agencies, law enforcement agencies, and welfare agencies can mine the data.
The new extradition law contains elements that make it easier for foreign governments to request that people be extradited from Australia. The new federal law also enables people to be prosecuted in Australia for alleged crimes overseas.
Amira Hass in Haaretz on the international community’s continual insistence to fund the Palestinians to remain occupied:
Israel’s position in its periodic report to the donor-coordination group for the Palestinian Authority reminds one of the boy who kills his parents and then demands an orphan’s pension. Israel describes the failings of the Palestinian economy as if the colonialist occupation is not their primary cause.
The authors of the report express the view that the dependence of the Palestinian Authority on foreign aid will not diminish in the coming years. In doing so, they are showing disrespect for the intelligence of the donor countries’ representatives, who met last week in Brussels. Who better than these delegates knows the great service the family of nations is doing to Israel by providing massive, ongoing aid to the Palestinians? Taxpayers around the world are the ones who are relieving Israel of its obligations as an occupying power and repairing the damage it is causing. It turns out it’s easier for the family of nations to fund the occupation than to force Israel to put an end to it. The guys in our finance and defense ministries – upon whose data the report is based – state, in fact, that the donor countries should get their checkbooks ready, because our policy this year won’t be different.
With smug arrogance, the report’s authors ignore Israel’s complete domination over the resources essential to economic progress and expansion: land, water, time, a Palestinian population registry, currency, territorial expanse, air space, radio-frequency spectrums, territorial contiguity, banking services and television broadcasts, freedom of movement, border crossings, foreign nationals who are allowed entry and the duration of their stay, highways, and personal and communal security.
With all the precision of a shopkeeper, the drafters of the report recount all of the measures that Israel, in its great magnanimity, has taken “to support economic growth in the West Bank.” But beyond all the means of support detailed in the report, there are the unmentioned hours wasted by Palestinian, American and European bureaucrats seeking to convince their Israeli counterparts to put them into practice.
A true democracy is a nation that respects the rights of all its citizens (or at least strives to). Israel is not that country.
More evidence for the prosecution by Dimi Reider in the New York Review of Books:
This should be a year in which Israeli democracy is much on display. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been reconfirmed as head of the right-leaning Likud Party, seems to be pushing for early national elections; while candidates to lead the centrist Kadima Party, the main opposition party, are now campaigning for their March 27 primary. But even as the country prepares for its most important democratic exercise, a far-reaching series of laws now pending or already passed by the Knesset suggests Israel is moving in an alarmingly anti-democratic direction.
Consider the following: In January, the Knesset passed an amendment to a fifty-year-old law against “infiltrators”—persons crossing into Israel illegally. The original law targeted citizens and residents of “enemy states”—in other words, armed and unarmed Palestinian refugees slipping across the newly established border. The amendment removes the focus on “enemy state,” effectively criminalizing anyone seeking asylum in Israel—including thousands of refugees who have fled the genocide in Darfur and now face a minimum of three years of detention. The law also has no age bar, meaning that young children and the elderly can also be placed in detention. Yet despite protests from civil society activists and well-known public figures, who described the law as unbefitting a state founded by refugees, only eight of the Knesset’s 120 members voted against the amendment.
Other recently passed legislation includes a law that prescribes the withdrawal of government funding to any organization or institution marking Israel’s Independence Day as an occasion for mourning; a law allowing communities in the Negev and Galilee regions that are smaller than 400 households to refuse to accept new residents on the basis of race, faith, and other collective identifications; a law that allows any settler who claims economic injury (even if without proof) from a call to boycott settlement produce to sue the organizers of the boycott for damages; and a law binding migrant workers’ visas to their initial employers—effectively rendering them unable to quit a job for fear of being instantly deported. Yet another recent law allows the revocation of citizenship from any person convicted of terrorism or espionage. (The espionage charge was most recently applied to IDF whistle blower Anat Kamm, who passed classified information on what she believed were war crimes not to a foreign agent, but to an Israeli journalist, and now is serving a four and a half year prison sentence; under the new law she could have also lost her citizenship.)
Among pending proposals is a bill, already making its way through the Knesset, that would impose a 45 percent income tax on organizations receiving donations from “foreign state entities” but not state sponsorship. This category includes nearly all Israeli civil and human rights organizations, such as Association for Civil Rights Israel, B’tselem, and Physicians for Human Rights, and the proposed tax would effectively cripple their activities. Another bill, already past first reading, is aimed to increase the penalty for defamation from around $12,000 to $80,000, likely to result in a significant chilling effect on Israel’s independent press, perhaps most especially on the growing Israeli blogosphere.
“Israel has always been a highly nationalist society, but there’s also always been the aspiration or the pretense to have this nationalism go hand in hand with some key liberal values, especially freedom of speech” Michael Sfard, a leading Israeli human rights lawyer, told me. “As someone who deals with freedom of speech, I can tell you that many Western countries could be proud of the way it has been enshrined here in Israel. And these values are currently being taken apart.”
Equally important may be the decline of Israel’s independent press. In 2010, Yisrael Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu free sheet owned by Newt Gingrich’s donor Sheldon Adelson, surpassed the still-independent Yedioth Arondot to become the most read paper in Israel. Meanwhile, the third largest daily, Maariv, which controls over 13 percent of the market, has been acquired by a pro-Netanyahu oligarch and is currently being edited by the prime minister’s former spokesman, Nir Hefetz. The Israel Broadcasting Authority is now managed by another former spokesman of Netanyahu’s, Dr. Amit Gilat. And a far more prominent commercial channel, Channel 10, after it aired a damaging expose on Netanyahu’s travel expenses, found the government reluctant to allow it to spread its debts into installments, which meant, effectively, the channel would go bankrupt and shut down.
The explosion of these companies post 9/11, increasingly operating in developing countries with little oversight, shows no sign of abating. Today’s Express Tribune in Pakistan confirms it (though the role of foreign mercenaries is yet another area requiring far more investigation):
Private security guard companies continue to operate in a legal black hole, as key legislation meant to regulate the industry more strictly remains pending.
Worryingly, the government has been silent on the matter.
Sources within the fast-expanding industry say that the regulatory laws do not have the relevant clauses to keep them in check. This provides security companies with many advantages, especially when it comes to dealing with penalties or restrictions imposed by the provincial home departments.
“Why would we complain that the government is sleeping on the issue when we ourselves are at an advantage,” said one leading private security company owner.
The All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (Apsaa) General Secretary Col (retd) Tauqirul Islam admitted that “quite frankly, at present, private security guard companies in the country are operating under the law of the jungle.”
What he meant was that the provincial ordinances, such as the Sindh Private Security Agencies Ordinance 2000, which were promulgated during the regime of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, have inadequate clauses to keep a strict check on and penalise the security companies for any wrongdoing.
“The situation is the same in all the other provinces, where the companies are operating only through no-objection certificates (NOC) issued from the federal interior ministry and the general standard operating procedures that come along with it,” he said.
A businessperson or a group that intends to establish a private security company has to first approach the Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), which registers it after all legal formalities are met under the Companies Ordinance 1984. After the registration, the SECP asks the ministry of interior to grant an NOC that is obtained after clearance is given by all the intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
However, this NOC is not enough to operate in a province unless a licence is granted by the respective provincial home departments, which continues to be done under the old ordinances.
Islam, however, disputed the notion that bodies such as Apsaa were not concerned about the law since this is in the interest of the security companies.
“In fact, in Sindh, we drafted a new law in coordination with the home department which suggested tighter controls on our industry, but unfortunately it remains pending at the provincial law ministry since May 2009,” he said.
He added that the association was aware of the need for changes in the law in all other provinces as well and once the draft gets approved in Sindh, it would be replicated in all other provinces.
Former Apsaa chairman Maj (retd) Munir Ahmed also said that a new law proposal was drafted and sent to the law ministry that never saw the light of the day. However, Sindh Law Secretary Ghulam Nabi Shah said he was not aware of any such draft sent to his ministry.
A worrying global trend sees Western officials increasingly working with unaccountable private security firms in the name of “efficiency”. Canada’s conservative government is joining in:
This fall the Government of Canada will reintroduce legislation that would expand the power of citizen’s arrest. In 2010 Bill C-60, as it was called, died on the order paper; this year, it will be part of a larger package of reforms to Canada’s criminal justice system.
The proposed amendments to Section 494 of the Criminal Code would expand the power of private property holders and their delegates to arrest individuals whom they “find… committing a criminal offence on or in relation to [their] property.” Specifically, it would sanction not only immediate arrest, as the existing provision allows, but also arrest “within a reasonable time after the offence is committed.”
This legislation is in some respects a study in how law reform in response to a single event can invite unintended consequences.
The bill was introduced following the trial of store owner David Chen (left) for assault and forcible confinement after he performed a citizen’s arrest outside his Toronto store. Chen had observed on his security camera a man stealing plants from the store. When the man returned an hour later, Chen and his associates grabbed the man, bound him, and confined him in a van for several hours until the police arrived.
Chen was ultimately acquitted. His case drew sympathy from politicians from across the political spectrum, and within a short time Canada’s principal parties — the Conservatives, the New Democratic Party, and the Liberals — each proposed changes to the Criminal Code to allow arrests like that which Chen had effected.
The bill’s impact extends far beyond the classic citizen’s arrest, however.
Although the Chen case is the reference point for the changes proposed by Bill C-60, the major beneficiary of any expansion of the power of citizen’s arrest in Canada would be the private security industry.
To fully understand the potential effects of Bill C-60, therefore, one must also take into account society’s increasing reliance on private security forces as the first line of response to many security threats. In this respect, Canada is in a similar position as many other countries.
How grubby (via the New York Times):
An intense debate within the Obama administration over resuming military assistance to Egypt, which in the end was approved Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, turned in part on a question that had nothing to do with democratic progress in Egypt but rather with American jobs at home.
A delay or a cut in $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt risked breaking existing contracts with American arms manufacturers that could have shut down production lines in the middle of President Obama’s re-election campaign and involved significant financial penalties, according to officials involved in the debate.
Since the Pentagon buys weapons for foreign armed forces like Egypt’s, the cost of those penalties — which one senior official said could have reached $2 billion if all sales had been halted — would have been borne by the American taxpayer, not Egypt’s ruling generals.
The companies involved include Lockheed Martin, which is scheduled to ship the first of a batch of 20 new F-16 fighter jets next month, and General Dynamics, which last year signed a $395 million contract to deliver component parts for 125 Abrams M1A1 tanks that are being assembled at a plant in Egypt.
“In large part, there are U.S. jobs that are reliant on the U.S.-Egypt strong military-to-military relationship,” a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under rules set by the department. In deciding how to proceed, the official said, Mrs. Clinton and her colleagues “were looking at our overall national security goals, as well as any domestic issues.”
Mrs. Clinton’s decision to resume military assistance, which has been a foundation of United States-Egyptian relations for over three decades, sidestepped a new Congressional requirement that for the first time directly links arms sales to Egypt’s protection of basic freedoms. No new military aid had been delivered since the fiscal year began last October, and Egypt’s military has all but exhausted funds approved in previous years.
Mrs. Clinton’s decision provoked sharp criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum, as well as human rights organizations. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, criticized it as “beyond the pale.”
Gideon Levy in Haaretz on the selective outrage by Zionists towards intolerance:
The voice on the other end of the phone was clearly very upset. Its owner had rung late at night to talk about the “pogrom,” as he called it, at Jerusalem’s Malha shopping mall a few days before. As the former head of one of the state law enforcement agencies he was particularly outraged that the incident had attracted no media attention and that no arrests had been made.
On Friday the full, terrible truth of the incident came to light. Oz Rosenberg reported in this newspaper that last Monday night hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem soccer fans rampaged through the mall, chanted racist slogans, spat at female Arab workers and attacked dozens of male Arab workers with their fists, their feet and with sticks.
“They caught some of them and beat the hell out of them,” Rosenberg quoted one shop owner as saying. “They hurled people into shops, and smashed them against shop windows.”
Mall director Gideon Avrahami said he had never seen such a “disgraceful, shocking, racist incident.” On Tuesday he took the praiseworthy step of calling a meeting with the shopping center’s Arab employees and apologizing to them. “How could you see such a thing and do nothing?” one asked.
And indeed, no one did anything. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses, security cameras recorded everything, the police came – and no one was arrested, no one bothered to tell the media (with the exception of my informant, the former lawman ). The incident occurred some hours after the massacre at the Jewish school in Toulouse. Even though what happened in France was much more violent and terrible, there is a straight line between it and the rampage in Malha – both were racist hate crimes. Those who fail to raise their voice now over Malha will get Toulouse in Jerusalem. Sticks today, guns tomorrow.
It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened had hundreds of people burst into a mall in Toulouse and beat up Jews who worked there. Israel and the Jewish community would have set up a hue and cry. The president of the republic would have rushed to Toulouse, met with representatives of the Jewish community and expressed his shock and regret. Our prime minister and foreign minister would have competed with each other in expressing shock, and columnists would be fulminating about anti-Semitism raising its ugly head in Europe. Everyone would agree: Jews were beat up (again ) simply for being Jewish.
It’s also not hard to imagine what would have happened had hundreds of Arabs stormed the Jerusalem mall, beating up Jewish workers. Dozens of rioters would have been arrested and tried. But when it comes to Beitar fans, all is forgiven, all is overlooked. No one was arrested, almost no one said anything, and even after it was made public the mall’s manager was the only one to apologize to the workers, who were beaten up simply for being Arab.
This was not a rare, one-off event, of course. The Beitar entourage strikes again. It starts with their racist and ultranationalist chants and songs, continues to hitting and will end in murders. One of the young rioters boasted the following day (to my informant’s daughter) about what he and his friends had done the previous evening. Apparently anti-Arab violence is a source of cheer: Beitar finally won a game, you have to celebrate somehow. It’s easy to imagine what would have happened had they lost.
True, all of these mini-pogroms must be stopped, their perpetrators prosecuted. True, something should have been done long ago about Beitar Jerusalem’s fans, to the point of dissolving their racist team. But the problem is much bigger than the Teddy Stadium and Beitar’s lousy season, even. The fact that such a hate crime is barely even reported in Israel is much more serious than the blows at the mall. The police allow it to happen, hundreds of eyewitness turn aside. No one saw, no one heard, who cares?
This is almost comical. After years of occupation, mass killings and utter American criminality and incompetence, Foreign Policy reports that Washington just can’t get any love or support:
The first major test of U.S. post-war influence in Iraq is now raging over efforts to stop Iran from funneling arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace, but the Iraqis are either unwilling or unable to assure the United States the shipments will cease.
Last week, the Washington Times reported that the Iraqi government was refusing to halt Iranian cargo flights to Syria that fly over Iraqi airspace, despite the fact that U.S. officials believe the flights carry massive and illegal shipments of arms to aid President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime, which is murdering civilians by the thousands in its struggle to keep power. Publicly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has stated the shipments contain “humanitarian goods, not weapons.” However, U.S. officials aren’t buying that excuse, and have been repeatedly pressing Maliki behind the scenes to make Iran halt the arms shipments, with limited if any success.
One U.S. official told The Cable that there have been 10 to 20 flights from Iran to Syria with suspected illicit weapons stores on board. Another U.S. official said the resupplies take place via the use of Syrian Air Ilyushin 76 strategic airlifters, similar in size to the Boeing C-17, and that U.S. intelligence reports suspect that the planes are carrying mortar rounds, small arms, ammunition, rockets, and light anti-aircraft guns, which can also be used to fire on people.
Iran’s interest in bolstering the Assad regime — its most important ally in the Arab world — is clear. CENTCOM commander Gen. James Mattis told Congress earlier this month that the downfall of the Assad regime would be “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.”