Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee in Washington D.C. on Tuesday evening that the call from the international community for Israel to temporarily freeze settlement construction in territory it has been illegally occupying since 1967 was an “illogical and unreasonable demand”.[1] Netanyahu’s comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had called on the Zionist state to make “difficult but necessary choices”, a reference to Israeli plans to construct around 1,600 new homes in illegally occupied East Jerusalem which were announced during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to the country.

Clinton used her appearance at AIPAC to underscore her “rock solid” dedication to “Israel’s security”, saying that this is “more than a policy position for me. It is a personal commitment that will never waver”. She went on to say, however, that Israel’s continuing settlement expansion “undermines mutual trust” between the two nations.[2] Such tame chastisement came less than 24 hours after Netanyahu had told his cabinet that, “As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv”.

According to international law, however, there is a clear distinction. Israel has resisted repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions to withdraw from all territory it occupied in 1967, and has continuously expanded illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which have more than doubled in size since the failed Oslo peace accords of 1993. The total number of inhabitants of Jewish-only settlements in illegally occupied territory currently stands at over 650,000.

Despite the fact that the construction of settlements in territory acquired by war is roundly condemned by the international community and the practice is forbidden by international law, the BBC insists on including the concession that “Israel disputes this” whenever settlements’ legal status is mentioned, further clouding the issue and giving the illusion of legitimate contention where there is none.

Aside from their outright illegality, settlements are routinely constructed in strategic areas which give their inhabitants preferential access to scarce supplies of water and arable land to the detriment of the impoverished Palestinian communities who live on their margins. A network of roads and highways administered by Israel cuts through the West Bank, in many cases isolating Palestinian villages from one another and making travel between towns just a few miles apart unfeasible.

Settlements in East Jerusalem have been constructed so as to “ring-fence” the portion of the city under illegitimate occupation, with Israel claiming the whole of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible” capital. The location of such settlements makes any transfer of sovereignty over East Jerusalem to a Palestinian government under a future peace deal practically impossible should the current inhabitants be allowed to remain where they are. The dominant forces within the international community have steadfastly refused to take collective action against Israel’s repeated and flagrant violations of internationally accepted practice in refusing to withdraw from territory it acquired following the 1967 war, and have thus undermined any genuine prospect of peace between the two sides.

British arms sales to Israel skyrocketed under Tony Blair’s stewardship and currently stand at their highest ever level. The prospect of a potential future Conservative government bringing pressure to bear on the Zionist state looks remote to say the least: a Channel 4 programme entitled Dispatches: Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby, screened in late 2009, found that roughly 80% of Tory MPs are members of Conservative Friends for Israel. The United States currently sends Israel, a nation with a population of just over 7 million, around US$3 billion in foreign aid annually, more than to any other single country and more than to every country in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

Speaking at AIPAC on Tuesday, Netanyahu said that illegal settlements in East Jerusalem were an “inextricable” part of Israel and would remain so under any subsequent peace deal. Incredibly, he went on to state that their construction, “in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.”[3] President Barack Obama appeared to agree with Netanyahu’s position in September of 2009, when he dropped an official demand for Israel to cease illegal settlement construction.[4] Even more bizarrely, this humiliating capitulation was reported by CNN as if it were a major step in bringing the two sides together.

Quite how Obama and the United States manage to retain any credibility whatsoever as neutral peace brokers in this conflict is a testament to the power of the mainstream media upon which the majority of Americans and Britons rely for information about world affairs. Obama, who had won glowing praise from the Israeli press for a now infamous performance at AIPAC prior to his victory at the polls in late 2008, effectively extinguished any faint hopes of positive action from Washington on the matter when he appointed former IDF volunteer Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff shortly after being elected. Emanuel is widely acknowledged to be one of the most potent figures in Obama’s administration, and it is against this backdrop that any call by the United States’ government for peace talks to resume can be discarded as fading rhetoric.

Clinton at AIPAC: Iran threatened once again

Speaking on behalf of the planet’s foremost nuclear power, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the latest contribution to the burgeoning collection of threats targeted at Iran by political figures from the United States and Israel, calling for “sanctions that bite” against the Persian nation and stating that the United States is “determined to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons”. Clinton was greeted by applause from the 7,500-strong audience, comprised of members of arguably Washington’s most powerful political lobby representing the interests of a foreign nation, no less than 25 times during Monday’s speech. She called Iran’s mythical quest to procure nuclear weaponry “unacceptable to the United States, unacceptable to Israel and unacceptable to the region and the international community”.

Russia and China have hitherto resisted proceeding with sanctions against Iran, while the U.S. began a programme of sanctions during the presidency of Secretary Clinton’s husband Bill which were dutifully extended by President Obama shortly after the latter took office early in 2009.

The double standard underpinning the frequently recited mantra that Iran is not entitled to obtain nuclear armaments and should be considered a pariah if it wishes to do so is palpable: not only does the U.S. have the world’s most formidable nuclear arsenal; it stands apart from the other members of the coveted nuclear club, having used such weapons to devastating effect against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

In addition, Israel is believed to have several hundred nuclear warheads and senior Israeli politicians have been repeatedly threatening military action against Iran in recent years. Israel allowed “cursory inspections” of its nuclear facilities once a year between 1962 and 1969, going to great lengths to conceal underground areas of its sites which contained incriminating evidence of the country’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme.[5]

When covertly taken photographs and information regarding Israel’s secret nuclear weapons facilities were released to The Sunday Times in October 1986, Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was kidnapped in Rome before being flown to Israel where he served years in prison, spending longer in solitary confinement than any known prisoner in modern history. Iran, meanwhile, denies categorically that it is seeking to enrich uranium for the purpose of weapon development and maintains that its intentions are purely peaceful.

Tom Kavanagh


[1] Benjamin Netanyahu says Mid-East talks face new delay, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8583589.stm

[2] Hillary Clinton warns Israel faces ‘difficult’ choices, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8579766.stm

[3] Netanyahu reaffirms ‘right to build’ in Jerusalem, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8582190.stm

[4] Obama drops demand that Israel freeze settlements, http://edition.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/09/22/us.mideast/index.html

[5] Israel’s Nuclear Weapons, http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/cpc-pubs/farr.htm

Read Full Post »

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has unilaterally taken over the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission, declaring himself the right to appoint all five panel members.  The move comes four months after the commission ordered a rerun of last August’s presidential election in the wake of widespread electoral fraud, with estimates that Karzai had received around one million unsubstantiated votes in order to claim victory against rival Abdullah Abdullah.[i]

This run-off, however, did not materialise, with Abdullah Abdullah withdrawing days before the vote, leading to the second round of voting being abruptly cancelled. Abdullah stated that his “demands for a fraud-free election had not been met”, and that a repeat of the August debacle “might not restore the faith of the people in (the) democratic process.”[ii] The August elections had been marked by voter intimidation and ballot stuffing in Karzai’s favour on the part of election monitors. The governor and other election officials in the northern state of Balkh, for example, noted “voter coercion” and intimidation, “particularly” on the part of election monitors.[iii]

Ballot-stuffing was also a common complaint, with both Karzai and Abdullah facing accusations over huge voting irregularities. The BBC uncovered election cards being sold openly in some cities, and candidates offering thousands of dollars worth of bribes in exchange for votes. The Bareez tribe in the southern city of Kandahar alleged that nearly 30,000 votes had been switched from Abdullah to Karzai, with the president’s brother Ahmed Wali maintaining that the claim was “baseless”.[iv] Ahmed Wali Karzai is himself a controversial figure who does little to bolster the reputation of his brother’s regime internationally, with voluminous evidence linking him to the heroin trade in the war-torn nation.[v]

Prior to Hamid Karzai’s overhaul, the ECC had been dominated by the United Nations, with three of its panel being directly appointed by the UN. Western diplomats were quick to register their outrage at the Afghan President’s decision. The head of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, reportedly struck a deal in private with the Afghan head of state prior to the announcement that the President would determine the five-strong commission, to the effect that at least two foreigners would be part of the panel. This would still leave Karzai-appointees in a dominant position, holding the remaining three out of five seats. The President already controls Afghanistan’s Independent Elections Commission, which was considered to have favoured the incumbent during the August election and was accordingly criticised by Abdullah Abdullah.

Karzai’s announcement comes during a parliamentary recess, with the Afghan parliament not due to reconvene until Saturday 27 February. Abdullah Abdullah was critical of the move to seize power of the ECC, calling it a “step backwards”, and affirming that Karzai’s actions “could seriously jeopardise the efforts being made on the military front”. President Obama announced the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan in December of 2009[vi], following the deployment of an extra 17,000 troops in February of last year.[vii]

This significant increase in foreign troops comes at a time when confidence in Afghanistan’s fledgling government is dwindling, with the Karzai regime perceived by many both in and outside of the devastated nation to be riddled with corruption and showing no sign of improvement. Consequently, public opinion in the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries which have troops stationed in Afghanistan has turned sharply against the war, with rising death tolls both among the Afghan civilian population and foreign occupying forces and the obvious shortcomings of Karzai’s government. The number of British troops killed in Afghanistan reached 256 in early February 2010, surpassing the number of dead in the Falklands’ war of 1982, as three British troops were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Helmand province.[viii]

Meanwhile, the Afghan cabinet voiced its condemnation of the killing of 27 civilians in the south of the country following a NATO airstrike in an area under Dutch military control in the border region between the provinces of Uruzgan and Dai Kondi.[ix] A cabinet statement affirmed that “The repeated killing of civilians by NATO forces is unjustifiable… We strongly condemn it.”[x]

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary stated that the victims of the airstrike were all civilians.  He said that two Land Cruisers and a pickup truck containing a total of 42 people came under attack from the air as they approached the Khotal Chowza mountain pass that connects the two provinces.

Tom Kavanagh


[i] Hamid Karzai takes control of Afghanistan election watchdog, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/22/karzai-afghanistan-electoral-complaints-commission

[ii] Abdullah pulls out of Afghan vote, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8336388.stm

[iii] Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply in Afghanistan, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/27/AR2009082704199.html

[iv] Afghan poll: Main fraud allegations, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8244125.stm

[v][v] Reports link Karzai’s brother to heroin trade, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/04/world/asia/04iht-05afghan.16689186.html

[vi] Barack Obama’s war: the final push in Afghanistan, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/01/barack-obama-speech-afghanistan-war

[vii] Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/02/17/obama.troops/index.html

[viii] Afghanistan death toll exceeds Falklands as three UK soldiers die, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/feb/08/uk-soldiers-killed-afghanistan

[ix] Afghanistan slams US-led forces over civilian deaths, http://www.presstv.com/detail.aspx?id=119233&sectionid=351020403

[x] NATO Airstrike Kills Afghan Civilians, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/world/asia/23afghan.html

Read Full Post »

The government of the United States has announced it will seek the death penalty for alleged 9/11 conspirators due to be put on trial in New York city. Among the five Guantanamo detainees due to be transferred to the site of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre is the “self-confessed mastermind of the September 11th attacks”, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, according to The Guardian1.

President Obama affirmed that he is “absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subjected to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it, and my administration insists on it”.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been held in legal limbo at the United States’ Guantánamo Bay prison on the island of Cuba since his capture in March of 2003, has been subjected to indefinite detention without trial and prolonged periods in solitary confinement in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and internationally accepted standards covering imprisonment.

The New York Times reported in April 2009 that a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum revealed that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been subjected to waterboarding 183 (one hundred and eighty three) times in just one month – March of 20032. The memorandum did not mention whether or not Mohammed had been subsequently subjected to additional waterboarding, although the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a term favoured by key members of the Bush administration as an alternative to “torture”, is widely acknowledged to be prevalent at Guantánamo Bay.

The New York Times evidently does not see the irony in confirming that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed endured simulated drowning 183 times in one month – equating to more than five times each day – before referring to him as “the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks” in the very same paragraph.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who made the announcement that the death penalty would be sought in the civilian trial of Mohammed and four others, said of the decision to bring the suspects to New York to face trial, “Today’s announcement marks a significant step forward in our efforts to close Guantánamo and to bring to justice those individuals who have conspired to attack our nation and our interests abroad”3. The reference to U.S. “interests abroad” is an apparent reference to Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, due to be tried for the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.

Al-Nashiri, however, will not stand trial with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and will instead be tried by military commission. This controversial practice, introduced by the Bush administration in November of 2001 before being reintroduced as the Military Commissions Act in 2006, allows for trial in complete secrecy by a panel of judges appointed by the executive branch, followed by execution if a guilty verdict is passed. Barack Obama provoked outrage in May of 2009 when he clarified that he “supports the idea of the military commissions but opposes the version of the law that had been governing such trials in recent years”4.

Following the passage of the Act in 2006, The Center for Constitutional Rights observed that, “[a]mong other shortcomings”, the Military Commissions Act, “rejects the right to a speedy trial, allows a trial to continue in the absence of the accused, delegates the procedure for appointing military judges to the discretion of the Secretary of Defense, allows for the introduction of coerced evidence at hearings, permits the introduction of hearsay and evidence obtained without a warrant, and denies the accused full access to exculpatory evidence”5.

Remarkably, The New York Times and other prominent newspapers have characterised the announcement that some of those to face trial would be tried in civilian courts as a “major policy shift from the Bush administration, which contended that suspected Al Qaeda members should not be treated like — nor given the rights of — ordinary criminals”6.

Such a statement by no means sets The New York Times apart from other mainstream media outlets and is extremely misleading, belying the fact that, as reported in the same article, the Obama administration is in reality preserving and endorsing the previous administration’s contentious policy of trying “terror suspects” in secret by military tribunal. Quite how such a blatant continuation of a policy widely derided as inhumane and in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution constitutes a “major shift” from the Bush doctrine on terrorism stretches the limits of credibility.

Geoffrey Robertson, writing in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian‘s website under the heading “A nobler, trickier path to justice for 9/11”, states that “This is a trial that must be seen to be fair… Much will depend on the choice of judge, who must be conspicuously independent and of sufficient steel to reject evidence obtained by torture – there is no doubt that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been waterboarded”7.

Robertson goes on to remark that “Obama has taken the more difficult, but more principled, path”, before directly contradicting himself in the very next paragraph by stating that “It is regrettable that the non-9/11 defendants still in Guantánamo are to face military trial… If jury trials are appropriate for the 9/11 conspirators, then they should be afforded to all prisoners whom American prosecutors wish to execute or to incarcerate for the term of their natural life.”

What is truly regrettable is that such obvious double standards dominate the mainstream press’ coverage of last week’s announcements regarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow co-defendants. It is an astoundingly callous display of bravado on the part of an administration which consistently parades itself as an alternative to the human rights abuses and civil rights erosions perpetrated by its predecessor to pursue the death penalty for a man who has admittedly been repeatedly tortured in order to extract from him a confession of guilt.

Furthermore, Obama & Co.’s decision to preserve the abhorrent practice of trial by secret military tribunal is lamentable, and does little to assuage the concerns of those who see his administration as distinct from that of George W. Bush in terms of nothing but rhetoric. This trial will also bring us no closer to understanding who is really responsible for what happened on September 11th 2001; even if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and all who stand charged alongside him are convicted and put to death it will be obvious to anyone who bothers to take more than a passing interest that justice has not been done and that Obama is merely carrying on where his predecessor left off.

Tom Kavanagh

19/11 accused Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be tried in New York court, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/13/911-accused-new-york-trial

2Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/20/world/20detain.html?_r=2&hp

3Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/us/14terror.html

4Obama resurrects military trials for terror suspects, http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/05/14/obama.military.tribunal/index.html

6Accused 9/11 Mastermind to Face Civilian Trial in N.Y., http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/14/us/14terror.html

Read Full Post »