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Millions of Egyptians Protest in Tahrir Square: There Can Be No Agreement, Mubarak Must Go

8:27 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A protester carrying a banner: “Leave you thief! Mubarak should be tried in front of an international court.” by Hossam el-Hamalawy

*Originally posted at WLCentral.org

At 2:30 PM Egypt time, there are well over a million Egyptians in and around Tahrir Square. The atmosphere is being described by Al Jazeera as a festival atmosphere. CNN has Anderson Cooper reporting from the protests. And, reports are circulating on Twitter indicating Egyptian State TV is running images of Cairo looking serene, void of protesters, and flashing a “Protect Egypt” banner on screen during music videos.

The millions are deliberating over whether to march to the presidential palace or not. Having a foothold in Tahrir Square gives Egyptians control over Cairo, the power to keep the city’s business halted, and that gives them tremendous leverage as the opposition continues to push for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

The U.S. government, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs representing the government’s delicate stance on the unfolding revolution, has repeatedly spoke of how Mubarak must begin to establish a “transitional process” for “free elections.” The U.S. government has been sticking to calls for the Mubarak regime to uphold “freedom of speech, association, communications, and assembly” as well as suggestions to lift “decades-old emergency laws, the release of political prisoners and changes in the Egyptian Constitution.”

What is the likelihood that Mubarak would reform his regime? As the uprising continues to grow, a power shift is certainly making it harder for Mubarak to cling to authoritarian policies of government that have pushed Egyptians to revolt.

Typically, Mubarak has been averse to calls from the U.S. (and presumably other governments) to reform. A WikiLeaks cable, 09CAIRO874, provides insight into Mubarak’s attitude toward reforming his regime:

4. (S/NF)No issue demonstrates Mubarak,s worldview more than his reaction to demands that he open Egypt to genuine political competition and loosen the pervasive control of the security services. Certainly the public “name and shame” approach in recent years strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views. However, even though he will be more willing to consider ideas and steps he might take pursuant to a less public dialogue, his basic understanding of his country and the region predisposes him toward extreme caution. We have heard him lament the results of earlier U.S. efforts to encourage reform in the Islamic world. He can harken back to the Shah of Iran: the U.S. encouraged him to accept reforms, only to watch the country fall into the hands of revolutionary religious extremists. Wherever he has seen these U.S. efforts, he can point to the chaos and loss of stability that ensued. In addition to Iraq, he also reminds us that he warned against Palestinian elections in 2006 that brought Hamas (Iran) to his doorstep. Now, we understand he fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf. While he knows that Bashir in Sudan has made multiple major mistakes, he cannot work to support his removal from power.

The above mentioned cable highlights Mubarak’s disdain for all these “freedoms” the US (and other countries) think he should grant Egyptians: “As with regional issues, Mubarak, seeks to avoid conflict and spare his people from the violence he predicts would emerge from unleashed personal and civil liberties. In Mubarak’s mind, it is far better to let a few individuals suffer than risk chaos for society as a whole.” (In addition to Mubarak’s attitude toward “reform,” the cable also indicates Mubarak was not open to talking about the Egypt economy, specifically Egyptian poverty, which has fueled the revolution.)

On elections, cables released prior to January 31, indicate that Egyptians might not be so confident that organizing free and fair elections with Mubarak still heading the regime would in the end be free and fair. A cable, 10CAIRO213, shows fear of police has led Egyptians to be afraid of “procuring voter registration cards” for elections. Another cable, 10CAIRO197, highlights a round of Muslim Brotherhood arrests that took place just before parliamentary elections in 2010. The arrests were regarded by observers as “part of a continuing GOE campaign to suppress the NDP’s only significant political challenge ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

It is tough to analyze the past few years of governance in Egypt by Mubarak’s regime and not understand why the opposition does not want to compromise or form an agreement for moving forward with Mubarak.

The opposition will continue to make demands and call for Mubarak to step down from power. The Egyptian people do not want reform. They want Mubarak gone. They do not want Mubarak in power when elections are held this year.

Update

Wall Street Journal reports, “Participants in a private meeting Monday morning at the White House’s Roosevelt Room said a long discussion of Mr. Mubarak’s future left them with the understanding that the White House sees no scenario in which Mr. Mubarak remains in power for long. White House officials said they made no explicit predictions about Mr. Mubarak’s future.”

For the latest, tune in to Al Jazeera’s live stream.

The Brazil Cables: US Upset Brazil Puts Interests of Activists Ahead of Counterterrorism

11:41 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola


Former President Lula of Brazil by Marlon Dutra

Cables from Brazil released by WikiLeaks reveal the United States has been pushing Brazil to take the threat of terrorism more seriously and institutionalize counterterrorism into their legal system. They reveal the U.S. has attempted to have Guantanamo detainees resettled in Brazil but has had no success and that sometimes law enforcement. And, they demonstrate that Brazil may be hesitant to charge suspects with crimes that amount to terrorism because it might become a playground for fighting the “war on terror.”

A cable sent on May 24, 2005, reads, the Government of Brazil (GOB) “still contends that it cannot accept Guantanamo migrants because it is illegal to designate someone not on Brazilian soil a refugee.” When a US diplomat tries to convince Brazil to take Cuban refugees at Guantanamo, Brazilian officials maintains that due to Brazilian legislation no migrants could be accepted from Guantanamo.

An “action cable” details a requested to resettle detainees at Guantanamo, specifically Uighurs. Marcelo Bohlke at Brazil’s Ministry of External Relations United Nations Division responds to the request with a demand for an explanation on why “Uighurs are not eligible for refugee status or resettlement” since they could not be resettled to Brazil unless designated as refugees.

A representative from UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR Luis Varese, explains the reason for Brazil’s position:

…refugee status in Brazil is usually granted after the refugee has been recognized by the host country (in this case, the U.S.). According to Varese, the GOB and CONARE believe that the migrants at Guantanamo Bay do not fit into this category because the USG has not “formally recognized” them as refugees. If they were formally recognized, CONARE believes, the USG would allow them to resettle in the U.S. so resettlement would not be an issue. Varese told PolOff that the “formal recognition” issue caused the GOB to reject the USG’s proposal in 2003…

The cable demonstrates that Brazil has a respect for the principles of the National Commission on Refugees (CONARE) and will not abandon them no matter how much pressure the US applies.

Pressure on increasing counterterrorism measures, especially implementing legal means for targeting terrorists, is met with great pushback. As one cable reveals, in November of 2007, the Presidency’s Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI), which had been working for years on counterterrorism, began to downplay the importance of passing such legislation. In the face of criticism from people like the Brazilian bar association president Cezar Britto, who characterized the legislation as a “thinly veiled move to criminalize the actions of social movements and those fighting for equality,” Brazilian political leaders abandoned the initiative. President Lula’s chief of staff “quashed the proposed legislation” that many believed could be used against activists and advocacy groups and political leaders determined it was “impossible to reach consensus within the government on how to define terrorism.”

Andre Luis Soloszyn, a Brazilian War College analyst on strategic intelligence and author of numerous articles on counterterrorism topics, tells a US diplomat, “leftist militants who had been the object of military dictatorship-era laws designed to repress politically-motivated violence, [were afraid Brazil] was going to put forth a bill that would criminalize the actions of groups it sympathizes with, such as the Landless Movement (MST), for “there is no a way to write an anti-terrorism legislation that excludes the actions of the MST”"

The fears of Brazilian activists are the same as the fears of many American activists, who still believe measures designed to fight terrorism can be (and are being) used to criminalize protest and activism. Environmental, antiwar and international solidarity activists have been hit with lawsuits that use U.S. anti-terrorism laws to suppress dissent (for example, the case of the RNC 8).

The cable shows the U.S. was (and likely still is) dead set on having Brazil pass measures like the U.S. PATRIOT Act and its expansions, which have irked organizations committed to defending American civil liberties, and that the U.S. firmly believed (and likely still believes) those legal measures are necessary in order to fight terrorism.

But, Brazil does not believe legal measures will ever deter terrorism. As an advisor, presumably with some connection to the Israeli Embassy, argues, “The success of any potential terrorist attack against the Israeli Embassy in Brasilia is not going to be determined by whether there is a law on the books outlawing terrorism.”

Moreover, the cable shows officials explaining that terrorism is not perceived as a daily threat. One official says, “Terrorism perpetrated by Islamic extremists is too remote for Brazilians to worry about.” Sure, Brazil could enlist its media to propagandize the public into thinking terrorists are hate Brazil for its freedom and manufacture consent for giving up rights through “counterterrorism legislation” but it appears that Brazil is confident it can combat terrorism without altering its laws.

The Brazil cables show the US is working closely, giving trainings to police and other law enforcement organizations who can use the training to secure what is called the Tri-Border Region, an area with a lot of illegal movement of arms, money, drugs, etc. They show law enforcement is using a “if you see something, say something” strategy as “moderate, second generation Arabs, many of whom were successful businessmen in Brazil, to keep a close eye on fellow Arabs who may be influenced by Arab extremists and/or terrorist groups.”

Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is the fact that the way U.S. has crafted itself as the top policeman on the terrorism beat may have countries like Brazil doing all it can to police itself but not arrest people under charges of terrorism. One might suppose the fear would be if Brazil was found to have an uptick in terrorism the U.S. might set its sights on Brazil as a country worthy of military or security intervention.

A cable reveals, “The Federal Police will often arrest individuals with links to terrorism, but will charge them on a variety of non-terrorism related crimes to avoid calling attention of the media and the higher levels of the government. Over the past year the Federal Police has arrested various individuals engaged in suspected terrorism financing activity but have based their arrests on narcotics and customs charges.”

This clearly shows suspects were framed for crimes they probably didn’t commit, but is it possible the U.S. is monitoring Brazil so closely that law enforcement is designating certain crimes other crimes to diminish the U.S. campaign to convince Brazilians to support greater counterterrorism efforts?

Throughout the Brazilian cables, there is a deep contempt for Brazil’s handling of terrorism (one might even say their commitment to civil liberties and the rule of law). US diplomats express disdain for how hard it is in Brazil for crimes to be classified as acts of terrorism. One official is even accused of “playing games” or attempting to “define terrorism out of Brazil,” which almost sounds like the diplomat is upset they are not using America’s definitions and descriptions of what constitutes “terrorism.”

Unlike certain Middle East or African countries, it appears Brazil wishes to keep its country safe autonomously and with little direction from the U.S. The election of former Marxist guerrilla Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman president, has likely renewed the U.S. struggle to convince Brazil it should alter its legal system and make it easier to wage a “war on terror.”

There is evidence individuals engaged in terror financing are present in Brazil, but Brazil does not want to stigmatize its large Muslim community (which has been a side effect of the U.S. “war on terrorism”). So, the US will continue to characterize Brazil as a country with little interest in terrorism issues, one where legislation against counterterrorism is impossible because of “leftists,” and it will seek to isolate the country until it can bully Brazil into waging a fight against terrorism in the way it wants Brazil to wage a fight against terrorism.

WikiLeaks Cables: CIA Ordered US Diplomats to Spy

2:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The CIA, which acts as the primary agency for collection of human intelligence (Humint), is implicated in the latest cables released by WikiLeaks, which reveal US diplomats took orders from the agency on what data to collect when spying on foreign officials at the UN and in countries around the world.

The Guardian has taken the lead on this story and is reporting, based on two cables they have cited, that not only were US diplomats asked to gather intelligence on Ban Ki-Moon and other senior UN staff, security council members and other foreign diplomats, but the directive to engage in spying, a possible violation of international, came from the CIA.

What is being referred to as “an intelligence shopping list” by The Guardian was drawn up annually by the manager of Humint, which was a post created by the Bush Administration in 2005 to help coordinate intelligence after 9/11. The manager set out “priorities,” which were sent out to the State Department on an annual basis. Intelligence analysts at the State Department provided input on what “priorities” should be listed.

Specifically, the cables indicate: “US diplomats at the embassy in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, were ordered to obtain dates, times and telephone numbers of calls received and placed by foreign diplomats from China, Iran and the Latin American socialist states of Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. The US is concerned about an increasing Islamist terrorist presence in Paraguay, and the influence of China.”

Diplomats are urged to provide if possible: “office and organizational titles; names, position titles and other information on business cards; numbers of telephones, cell phones, pagers and faxes; compendia of contact information, such as telephone directories (in compact disc or electronic format if available) and e-mail listings; internet and intranet “handles”, internet e-mail addresses, web site identification-URLs; credit card account numbers; frequent flyer account numbers; work schedules, and other relevant biographical information.”

A particular cable reveals the embassy in Paraguay was targeted because Washington believed Paraguay was harboring Iranian agents and Islamist terrorists. It specifically requested “information on the presence, intentions, plans and activities of terrorist groups, facilitators, and support networks – including, but not limited to, Hizballah, Hamas, al-Gama’at al-Islamiya, al-Qa’ida, jihadist media organizations, Iranian state agents or surrogates – in Paraguay, in particular in the Tri-Border Area (TBA).”

The intelligence gathering called for was intended to presumably help develop policy and actions around current issues facing the U.S. government, which are listed: UN Security Council Reform, Iraq, the Middle East Peace Process, Human Rights and War Crimes. UN Humanitarian and Complex Emergency Response, Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorist Threat to UN Operations, Burm and other issues.

Each issue in the cable has with it specific requests for information. For example: on Darfur/Sudan, views of UN member states on contributing troops and air transportation equipment to the UN mission in Sudan; on Afghanistan/Pakistan, plans and intentions of key UN leaders and member states on force protection in Afghanistan; on Somalia, UN views on deploying a maritime force to monitor piracy off of the coast; on Iran, plans and intentions of UN Secretary General and staff to address development, testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran.

In the case of North Korea, not only are the views of UN Security Council members requested but US diplomats are also urged to collect “biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats.” That means fingerprints, palm prints, or DNA, etc.

Given the work the US was engaged in to prevent Spain from prosecuting US officials for torture or war crimes, it is interesting that Humint called for “Plans and perceptions of member states toward establishment of new measures to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other systematic human rights abuses” and “plans and intentions of member states or UN Special Rapporteurs to press for resolutions or investigations into US counterterrorism strategies and treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan or Guantanamo,” to be collected.

The cable also shows that, “Current technical specifications, physical layout, and planned upgrades to telecommunications infrastructure and information systems, networks, and technologies used by top officials and their support staffs.” The purpose of such information would likely ensure the US would have capabilities to spy on countries after they made adjustments to their telecommunications infrastructure and systems.

It was revealed earlier in the week that diplomats had been spying but who was giving the order was unknown. Then, U.S. Envoy to the U.N. contended, “Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests, and work to find common solutions to complex problems.”

How collecting biometrics or very specific and often private biographical information is unclear. One idea is that the information could be used to blackmail individuals into taking certain actions or not taking action on things like investigating war crimes or signing a cluster bomb ban or halting rendition flights or choosing to not help the U.S. clean up its human rights mess and take a Guantanamo detainee.

Spokesman for the U.N, Farhan Haq, has pointed out that a “1946 treaty on ‘privileges and immunities’ of the U.N. states that its offices “shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial or legislative action.”

All of this is not all that new although it does bring into focus a double standard. In May of 2003, the State Department expelled 14 Cuban diplomats who were accused of “inappropriate activities,” which included spying. The move appeared to be political since there was no specific espionage event. The charge was enough. The accused were not to be conducting diplomacy in the United States any longer.

On the other hand, that same year, when it was revealed that US diplomats were spying on countries in the UN Security Council, it was nothing to member countries. Ambassadors said, “It is life,” and, “It comes with the profession, with the job.” It wasn’t a surprise. So, the reaction was similar to the reaction unfolding now.

But, just because ambassadors are desensitized to the practice or don’t think it’s worth challenging because superpowers won’t stop spying doesn’t mean the practice of spying is acceptable. And, if the US is going to cite the practice as reason to expel diplomats (even when it can’t be proven spying took place), the United Nations leadership should be willing to expel US diplomats who violate world leaders and spy.

Cable Leaked by WikiLeaks Reveals Honduras Coup Was Illegal

2:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

One of over two hundred and fifty thousand State Department cables leaked by WikiLeaks reveals the coup in Honduras, the forced removal of President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, was understood to be illegal.

The cable summary explains, “The Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may have committed illegalities and may have even violated the constitution. There is equally no doubt that Roberto Micheletti’s assumption of power was illegitimate.”

Yet, in what might be construed as cover for the fact that it would be difficult to restore Zelaya to power, the cable summary concludes, “The constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.”

According to Just Foreign Policy, this revelation means the U.S. should have cut off all aid to Honduras except “democracy assistance,” as required by U.S. law. But, the State Department chose to maintain matters were murky and who did what to whom was hard to discern. In a press conference, it chose to hide behind semantics and say that this was not a proven “military coup” and instead just a “coup” so that changed what laws the US had to follow.

The semantics are proven to be bogus when one reads the “Comment” section of the cable. The cable, while noting the reality that politicians in Honduras were trying to deal with a man they thought had abused power, states, “No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti’s ascendance as “interim president” was totally illegitimate.” And, it adds, “The coup’s most ardent legal defenders have been unable to make the intellectual leap from their arguments regarding Zelaya’s alleged crimes to how those allegations justified dragging him out of his bed in the night and flying him to Costa Rica.” [emphasis added]

In August 2009, the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) noted that typically the U.S. had “responded to other coups by cutting U.S. aid within days. In these cases – in Africa – there was no lengthy deliberation on whether a “coup” was a “military coup.”

Why would an African coup be treated differently than a coup in Honduras? Just Foreign Policy provided an explanation in their post on this cable:

“…A key difference was that Honduras is in Central America, “our backyard,” so different rules applied. Top officials in Washington supported the political aims of the coup. They did not nominally support the means of the coup, as far as we know, but they supported its political end: the removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. On the other hand, they were politically constrained not to support the coup openly, since they knew it to be illegal and unconstitutional. Thus, they pursued a “diplomatic compromise” which would “restore constitutional order” while achieving the coup’s central political aim: removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras. The effect of their efforts at “diplomatic compromise” was to allow the coup to stand, a result that these supporters of the coup’s political aims were evidently content with…”

Zelaya was moving toward rejecting neoliberalism, an ideology that has come to define US actions in the global economy. Since the US had capabilities to guard against such a move and since political forces existed in Honduras that could provide cover for delegitimizing a leader favoring a shift toward a different way of economics or politics, the US ultimately opted to go along with the illegal coup.

Coups as they relate to US foreign policy are a live issue. They are especially a problem for countries in Central and South America. In addition to Honduras, the US has had involvement in coups in Venezuela in 2002, in Bolivia in 2008 and Ecuador in 2010. And recently, President Evo Morales of Bolivia publicly condemned the US for supporting coups against people they consider to be “left-wing leaders” in the region.

Photo by ¡Que comunismo!