You are browsing the archive for Countries in Conflict.

U.S.-backed Yemen Govt Massacres Three Dozen Demonstrators, Hundreds Wounded

8:55 am in Countries in Conflict, Terrorism by Jeff Kaye

In news coming out of Yemen, the UK Guardian is reporting that “soldiers and plain-clothed government loyalists opened fired on protesters trying to march through the Yemeni capital” Sana’a earlier today, killing “at least” 35 people, including a child, and wounding hundreds.

Witnesses say the first shots were fired by security forces trying to disperse the protesters and they were joined by plain-clothed men who fired on the demonstrators with Kalashnikovs from the roofs of nearby houses….

“They shot people in the back of the head as they were running away,” said Mohammed al-Jamil, an Indian doctor treating the wounded. “Whoever did this wanted these people to die.”

The violent attack on demonstrators, who have been protesting the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, is not the first, but it is the most deadly in recent weeks in this country which fought a bloody civil war in the 1990s. The opposition is a disparate group of Islamists, socialists, Houthi, tribalists, and southern secessionists who seek a return to the days when South Yemen ruled itself. Al Qaeda has pledged support to the opposition, but has not been welcomed by the latter.

Just a week ago, the U.S. gave strong support to a supposed “reform” initiative proposed by Saleh (emphasis added):

“The idea of the president’s downfall is not a real solution to the country’s woes,” U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein said in an interview with the state daily al-Syasiah….

Meanwhile, EU called for all Yemeni political parties to positively respond to the Thursday’s reform initiative of President Saleh, urging them to engage in an open and constructive dialogue….

The government said that while security forces are busy protecting the protests, al-Qaida wing on Friday gunned down four more policemen on a patrol vehicle in southeast province of Hadramout, bringing the death toll of security and army personnel targeted by the terrorist group to 20 since Feb. 11.

US President Barack Obama’s top anti-terror advisor John Brennan on Friday called Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh to welcome his pledge to devolve power and urged the opposition to support the plan.

The Saleh government’s lies about protecting protesters has been met by the truth of many dead. Xinhua is reporting this morning 41 dead, including a child, and more than 200 wounded.

This blood is partly on the hands of U.S. and EU leaders who are propping up a murderous, corrupt dictator — including by drone assassinations — while claiming the mantle of justice while attacking another dictator in Libya. The main difference? Libya has a lot of oil, while Yemen is running out of oil.

The cynicism of the Obama administration knows no bounds. Will the American press, which follows the rulers of America like a puppy dog, raise a fuss over this atrocity? Not while U.S. forces are operating in Yemen, and the administration screams about terrorists. While Al Qaeda is present in Yemen, the vast majority of the protesters have legitimate grievances, if not at times at odds with each other, as the opposition is quite fractious.

So while the eyes of the world are on Libya and the Japanese nuclear reactors, U.S. ally Saleh is given the green light to shoot protesters down in the street.

Where is the conscience of this country? Has militarism and fear completely taken hold so that, as I imagine the Pentagon and intelligence community believe at this point, the U.S. Executive Branch can do whatever they want, that there are no real consequences?

SF Chronicle Columnist Slimes Waterboarding Victim in Bid to Stop Berkeley Resolution on Guantanamo Detainees

12:40 pm in Afghanistan, Military, Torture by Jeff Kaye

How thoughtlessly do the apologists for America’s gulag at Guantanamo defame those who have been seriously tortured!

San Francisco Chronicle/SF Gate columnist Debra Saunders has written a hit piece against activists in Berkeley who are seeking to pass a City Council resolution to resettle cleared Guantanamo detainees within the city limits of this college town for the University of California, the home of the Free Speech Movement, People’s Park, and also known for other antiwar and progressive causes over the years. A vote on the resolution before the Berkeley City Council is scheduled for Tuesday night, February 15.

Last December, the City of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission passed a recommendation asking the Berkeley City Council to adopt the resolution, officially called “Resolution to Assist in the Safe Resettlement of Cleared Guantanamo Detainees.” A full copy of the resolution is available here. Sponsors include No More Guantanamos; Code Pink Women for Peace, Golden Gate Chapter;  Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture (UC Law School); Ecumenical Peace Institute; Legislative Committee, Tenants Assn., Strawberry Creek Lodge (senior citizens); and others.

The Water Torture of Djamel Ameziane

It’s no surprise to discover that Saunders’ column was picked up by a number of conservative outlets, especially as it retails the lie that the detainees are dangerous, or likely to “return” to terrorism if released. Besides uncritically accepting Department of Defense figures, she lies about what they actually say, and then tries to impugn the stories of the two Guantanamo detainees mentioned by the Berkeley commission, one of whom, Algerian Berber Djamel Ameziane, has the distinction of being the only Guantanamo prisoner to have suffered a form of waterboarding.

Petitioned by lawyers from Center for Constitutional Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, intervened on Ameziane’s case in 2008 with the U.S. State Department to ask for guarantees of humane treatment for Ameziane.

From the petition before the Inter-American Commission, p. 24 (PDF):

In another violent incident, guards entered his cell and forced him to the floor, kneeing him in the back and ribs and slamming his head against the floor, turning it left and right. The bashing dislocated Mr. Ameziane’s jaw, from which he still suffers. In the same episode, guards sprayed cayenne pepper all over his body and then hosed him down with water to accentuate the effect of the pepper spray and make his skin burn. They then held his head back and placed a water hose between his nose and mouth, running it for several minutes over his face and suffocating him, an operation they repeated several times. Mr. Ameziane writes, “I had the impression that my head was sinking in water. I still have psychological injuries, up to this day. Simply thinking of it gives me the chills.”

Ameziane left discrimination against his Berber ancestry and his Muslim faith, and the chaos of civil war in Algeria in the early 1990s, as a young man in his 20s to work in Vienna, where — yes, Debra Saunders — he was the highest-paid chef  at the well-known Italian restaurant Al Caminetto Trattoria. But Ameziane ultimately lost his work permit, due to anti-immigrant hysteria in Austria, and then went to Canada, where he spent five years waiting upon his claim for political asylum. Only after it was denied did Ameziane leave for Afghanistan in 2000, believing that the only place for him after all might be an Islamic country that ruled with Sharia law. After 9/11 and the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, he was arrested in a mosque and later turned over to the Americans, probably for bounty money.

Saunders quotes Thomas Joscelyn, right-wing columnist and senior fellow for the neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, as writing that Ameziane must have been a jihadist, because he was caught in a lodging supposedly owned by Abu Zubaydah, and that “to ‘gain admittance to a Taliban guesthouse, recruits need a certified Taliban or al Qaeda member to vouch for their commitment’ to jihad.” Except, Zubaydah was never a member of the Taliban or al Qaeda, and the guesthouse was not associated with them either. But what do such little facts matter to these conservative hirelings for the torturers?

In fact, not only were the others captured at this “safe house” later released or cleared by the Americans, but two different Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearings for Ameziane found that “while in Afghanistan, the detainee did not receive any military or terrorist training and did not see any fighting.” Nor was any evidence of any terrorist or military activities ever produced.  ”Has Ameziane been cleared by U.S. authorities? Not that I can find,” writes Saunders. Perhaps she never read the Reuters headline: Obama team clears 75 at Guantanamo for release. Nor is she likely aware that the Anglican Diocese of Montreal has said they would sponsor his settlement in Canada.

Russian Prisoner Already Welcomed by Massachusetts Towns

Saunders also attacks the other Guantanamo detainee mentioned by the Berkeley commission as a possible candidate for resettlement, Ravil Mingazov, a former Russian ballet dancer, who was conscripted into the Russian army and performed for two years in the Army’s ballet troupe. A convert to Islam, he found himself subjected to discrimination in Russia, had his house ransacked by the KGB (according to a report by Andy Worthington), and like Ameziane and many others left for what they thought of as an Islamic refuge in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

Mingazov has already been sponsored for settlement in resolutions similar to that up for vote in Berkeley, specifically in the Massachusetts towns of Amherst and Leverett. The Guantanamo prisoner, the last Russian to be held in the U.S. torture prison in Cuba, was granted his habeas corpus petition last Spring. In his opinion (PDF), Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. noted that the only real “evidence” supplied by the government was Minagzov’s stay overnight at Issa House, owned by Abu Zubaydah. But the government could not prove that the house was associated with al Qaeda, Kennedy wrote. Nor could the government prove for the purposes of even a habeas hearing that Mingazov had ever been at a training or terrorist camp, or involved with the Taliban or al Qeada. He was a classic case of the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Court simply will not conclude that a one-night stay at Abu Zubaydah’s house, where Mingazov was unable to communicate with most if not all other occupants, from which he was sent away shortly after his arrival, and which goes in no way to show that Mingazov was part of Al Qaeda’s command structure, meets the standard for lawful detention.

Mingazov was tortured under U.S. confinement at Bagram, where he “‘endured harsh conditions and suffered physical … abuse,’ in particular being “severely beaten, slammed into the ground, hung by [his] arms for extended periods of time, and deprived of food and sleep.’” But, according to Saunders, Mingazov has not been “cleared” for release, despite Judge Kennedy’s decision.

It is eerie how much both of these cases rely on supposed links to “high-value” prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who the Bush Administration pushed early on as an al Qaeda mastermind, author of the “Manchester” resistance manual, leader of his own terrorist forces, etc., and who was famously tortured in CIA prisons, waterboarded an admitted 83 times. These claims about Zubaydah’s significance, which were quietly dropped in recent years, have been revived in recent months in some court rulings and even in the Center for Public Integrity’s Pearl Project report (see pg. 54).

Statistics and Damned Lies

Perhaps the most egregious lie Saunders spreads was born from the fertile minds of the right, spinning the 2010 “Summary of the Reengagement of Detainees Formerly Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,” put out by the Director of National Intelligence last year. Saunders says the report confirms that “the Director of National Intelligence reported in December that 25 percent of released Gitmo detainees have been confirmed or suspected of engaging in terrorism.” Actually, the report says that “the Intelligence Community assesses that 81 (13.5 percent) are confirmed and 69 (11.5 percent) are suspected of reengaging in terrorist or insurgent activities after transfer.”

Saunders leaves out the part about “insurgent activities,” because to the right-wing, anyone who would oppose with arms the United States, even if the U.S. invaded their country, must be a terrorist. In this, they are assisted by the current administration, who continues to view the “war on terror” with the same point of view of their Bush/Cheney predecessors.

Not only does Saunders not mention that the confirmed number of even this dubious figure is actually 13 or 14 percent, but she hides the fact that the “suspected” figure is questionable itself, as it relies on “[p]lausible but unverified or single-source reporting” (emphasis added). In a press release following the Pentagon’s latest release on “recidivism” figures for former Guantanamo detainees, Center for Constitutional Rights commented, the government “persists in using the language of ‘re-engagement’ to describe individuals, despite the fact that the majority of them should never have been detained in the first place and were known early on by the government to be innocent. It is not possible to return to the battlefield if you were never there in the first place.” Furthermore, “the latest report only summarizes its figures without actually naming any alleged recidivists or including any information that would enable meaningful scrutiny.”

Saunders also quotes Joscelyn as saying that the prisoners who have received transfers or releases from Guantanamo are hardly cleared of terrorist stigma. “They didn’t find any innocent goat herders,” Joscelyn said. But this totally contradicts statements by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, who wrote in a guest post at The Washington Note in March 2009 about “the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan during the early stages of the U.S. operations there.” Wilkerson said that “several in the U.S. leadership became aware of this lack of proper vetting very early on and, thus, of the reality that many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released.” The reason they didn’t, Wilkerson concluded, was because they feared looking bad, and endangering the “war on terror” campaign.

Saunders concludes her article, with the strange assertion that “in a new act of fiction, Berzerkeley plays make-believe by pretending that two Gitmo detainees should be dating your cousin.” While presumably a response to a quote by Berkeley Peace and Justice commissioner Rita Maran earlier in the article, the use of this turn of phrase, so similar to historically racist forms of expression, to the effect that one would not want one of your relatives to date one of those people (Irish, Italians, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, etc.), is not coincidental. The fear-mongering against the Guantanamo detainees has always carried a racist edge to it.

The resolution up before the Berkeley City Council to advocate resettlement of two cleared Guantanamo prisoners is agenda item 18 on the Council’s agenda Tuesday night. The resolution also asks Congress to reverse its position and agree to the release of cleared detainees into the United States. It also predicates any resettlement in Berkeley upon a rescission of the Congressional ban on domestic detainee resettlement.

Update, 2/16/11: According to news accounts, the Berkeley City Council rejected the resolution to resettle detainees from Guantanamo. There were four votes “for,” one “against,” and four abstentions. The resolution needed five votes to pass. Unfortunately, the fate of this resolution speaks volumes about the political situation in the United States today.

Egyptian Workers Hold Key to Uprising, New Union Association Issues Call for General Strike

12:36 pm in Countries in Conflict, Military by Jeff Kaye

While much analysis has focused on the youth-social network driven aspects of the recent uprising in Egypt, or on diplomatic and political maneuvers that thus far have left President Mubarak in office, and given even more power to the state repressive apparatus through the appointment of Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman to the Vice Presidency, it is the Egyptian working class that holds the future of its country in its hands.

While the organized workers movement saw its unions gutted by state privatization and the gutting of union independence though the hated Law No. 100, which guaranteed that union representation would be strongly controlled by the state, recent events, particularly in strategic Suez, have shown that when the social weight of the workers is thrown into the balance, even all the machinations of Hillary Clinton’s State Department will not be able to patch together Mubarak’s state apparatus. The question then will be, what will follow it?

End of Hated Anti-Union Law No. 100 Preceded Uprising

Barely reported in the West, among the crowds at Tahrir Square last Sunday, a new trade union confederation was announced, the Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (FETU), which immediately issued a call for a general-strike. The call has been widely taken up, and many reports now link the uprising to unity with the workers, particularly in Suez, where the battle has been fought most intensely with state police. The new confederation has the support of the International Trades Union Confederation and the AFL-CIO.

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that the general strike call initiated from workers in Suez. Whoever initiated it, the new trade union organizations are jumping on board.

Law No. 100 has regulated union internal activities since 1993, by setting quotas for attendance for elections to union offices, and putting judicial controls on unions that cannot meet the stringent requirements. The FETU leadership includes the head of the Real Estate Tax Authority Workers union, or RETA, the first independent union in Egypt in over 50 years. RETA itself is not recognized by the Egyptian state. The Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS), also a part of the new FETU, had its headquarters closed by the government in 2007, and was only allowed to reopen in July 2008.

In a judicial action that threw Egyptian union politics into turmoil, the Egyptian Gazette reported on Jan. 6 of this year that Egypt’s Constitutional Court had recently thrown out Law No. 100, “citing legal and logical reasons for its verdict.”

The annulment of the law, however, has stirred up a hornet’s nest in the professional unions as some members called for the cancellation of the latest election results in their associations, while others stuck firmly to these election results and said the law could not be applied in retrospect.

“Law No. 100 was so bad that the professional unions suffered extreme stagnation because of it,” said Mohamed Abul Nour, a veteran Bar Association member.

“The law did away with all chances for holding fair elections inside these unions,” he told The Egyptian Gazette in an interview. [Due to the fact that Internet access to the Gazette site appears blocked, I am relying on Google cache pages, which may become outdated in the near future.]

Meanwhile, layoffs of Egyptian workers in the Suez industrial zone have been increasing of late, with international companies replacing these workers with foreign imported workers from India and Thailand, causing much resentment, and even supposed notice from the Egyptian government. Now, companies are starting to pull foreign workers out of the area, as the uprising and protest in Egypt does not appear to be dying down and thousands of foreign workers and other foreign nationals, including from the U.S., are crowding Cairo airport trying to get out of the country before a feared explosion.

Suez Center of Workers Protests

The contradictions of Egyptian society are most intense in the port city of Suez, home to the Suez Canal, and a major industrial center. As a recent Associated Press story put it:

… Mostafa Khaled, 21, said he wasn’t looking forward to graduating from school this year, even in a city where 100 factories produce everything from steel to fabrics, generating $5 billion a year in tax revenue for the national government.

“Suez brings in the highest profit of all the cities in Egypt to the country and yet look at us – we are close to begging. We have no jobs, we scrounge to feed our families,” Khaled said. “We don’t want Mubarak, we don’t want this government, we want our basic human rights.”

While some are looking to the new Egyptian unions to lead the way, their linkages to the AFL-CIO may amount to an attempt to rein in or control militancy among workers, especially as news accounts note the presence of leftists, and not just Islamists, among the protesters. The purges of the Egyptian unions themselves were meant to limit the influence of not just the Muslim Brotherhood or other Islamist groups, but of radicals in the union movement.

U.S. Military in Close Contact with Egyptian Officers

The situation in Egypt is quite fluid, and the U.S. government is certain to be a major player in events, or try to be. The L.A. Times reported yesterday that “top Pentagon officials” were in close telephone contact with “their Egyptian counterparts.” It is not out of the question that sooner or later the U.S. will call upon their Egyptian military associates to forcibly quell the demonstrators and lockdown the society, either under Mubarak, or under some other new puppet leader, possibly Suleiman himself.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke to Egyptian Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell, who would not provide details of their conversation.

Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke with Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, the chief of staff of the Egyptian armed forces.

In the 10-minute call, “both men reaffirmed their desire to see the partnership between our two militaries continue,” said Capt. John Kirby, Mullen’s spokesman.

The U.S. has been a primary economic and military backer of Mubarak’s government, seeing it as a central pillar of its Middle Eastern policy, even if that meant turning a mostly blind eye, or making perfunctory complaints about human rights abuses. Perfunctory they certainly were, because the U.S. itself utilized Egyptian torturers as part of the rendition program involved in the interrogation and torture of hundreds, if not thousands, of “war on terror” prisoners caught by the U.S. and its allies.

The last thing the U.S. wants to see is the rebirth of a strong and fully-independent workers movement in the Middle East. In this they may be joined by the autocrats of the other regimes, including the rulers of Saudi Arabia, where trade unions and strikes are banned. Nor, despite some cheering from afar, would trade union leaders in the United States like to see any kind of union militancy spill back past U.S. borders, where the complacency and unimaginative leadership of the U.S. labor movement has presided over the long-term decline in workers salaries and standard of living, as overall union membership continues to shrink.

As we watch events unfold in Egypt, watch closely what happens in the labor movement. While the “street” may move according to news from Twitter and other social networking sites, the only social force with both the economic and social leverage to combat the military, given the power of the latter, is the labor movement, which has the potential to provide leadership to the workers in the oil fields, the factories, the ports, and the Canal itself.

The leadership of that movement was eviscerated by the government over many years, but that may mean that new leaders and forces, ones dedicated to completely rooting out the brutal, torture-loving dictatorship once and for all, can come to the fore.

Grand Guignol in Afghanistan: U.S. Soldiers Kill for “Sport”, Collect Fingers as “Trophies”

1:30 pm in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Military by Jeff Kaye

UK Guardian: "Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret ‘kill team’ that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies."

In the U.S., there’s been little coverage of this tale of U.S. atrocities, first reported last week. It must not be as important as the latest Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck piece. But here’s Hal Bernton at the Seattle Times reporting a story the New York Times and Washington Post have still failed to report:

As part of one of the widest-ranging U.S. war-crime cases to emerge from the conflict in Afghanistan, charging documents released Wednesday allege soldiers took finger bones and other body parts cut from Afghan corpses.

The documents provide new public details of the cases against a dozen soldiers who served a year in southern Afghanistan with a Western Washington-based Stryker infantry brigade.

But wait! Maybe there is a Palin angle:

Army investigators have built a substantial portion of their case upon the statements of Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, who is alleged to have participated in some of the crimes.

War atrocities are unfortunately not that uncommon, but the U.S. sanitized coverage of the military actions of American soldiers abroad guarantees that this kind of thing rarely reaches the ears of "Homeland" citizens. For a disturbing, yet partial list of such atrocities in Afghanistan, see this CommonDreams article from last April. Of course, in no small measure, the impact of the Wikileaks leak of thousands of U.S. documents on Afghanistan was to publicize the killings of civilians and how they were repeatedly covered up. On the other hand, when last year there were reports the Taliban cut off the fingers of two Afghan voters, Fox News and the right-wing war propaganda machine were right on top of it.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →