Monday, November 26, 2007

Peace in the Mideast...via Annapolis?

So President Bush--after butchering the name of Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas--inaugurated his bid for a Mid East peace plan in Annapolis, Maryland this week. For the record, I'm all for peace--the world could certainly use more of it. But the notion that this administration, which has engaged in a pre-emptive unjust war in Iraq, supported repression at home and abroad, backed violent military take-overs to sow renewed chaos in Somalia and is now saber-rattling daily at Iran, is now trying to promote peace seems beyond bizarre. Is this some bid for Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to recapture her tarnished image, when just little over a year ago she allowed Israel to bomb Lebanon with near impunity--actually blocking any chance for an early end to the conflict? Does the Bush Junta think the world will suddenly have a change of heart and nominate them for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Sorry, call me a cynic, but I see little in the way of "peace" that will come out of this--not when major regional players like Iran and Hamas (you know, the entire *other half* of the Palestinians!) are completely shut out and ignored. And if this summit goes as most others, the Palestinians I'm sure will be asked to give up everything but the clothes on their backs, while the Israelis offer feeble gestures (we'll stop occupying your land, but retain the right to invade whenever we see fit) and hide behind their need for security--because goodness knows the most powerful military in the mid-East, equipped with several hundred nuclear bombs, can't protect itself. Again, call me a cynic. But I don't appear to be alone.

The following story by Eric Margolis in the Toronto Star I thought summed it up nicely.


November 26, 2007

After the disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, the misery and bloodshed in Palestine, looming war against Iran, the mess in Pakistan, and worldwide anger against America, President George Bush desperately needs a foreign policy success in the final year of his ill-starred term.

So a group of US Mideast Arab allies and Israel have been dragooned into reluctantly appearing at a hastily-arranged meeting at Annapolis, Maryland this week that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice actually claims will lead to a final Palestinian-Israeli settlement over the next year.

The attendees includes Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian semi-leader Mahmoud Abbas, and delegations from US Arab allies. Syria, which fears a joint US-Israeli invasion, finally decided to send a junior minister. To no surprise, Great Satan Iran was not invited to Bush’s Maryland clambake.

Israel’s strategy has long been to talk about talks about peace while steadily continuing to expand by building settlements on the West Bank and the former Syrian Golan Heights. According to Israeli human rights groups, Israeli settlements and military bases now occupy over half the entire West Bank and its best farmland and water resources –in violation of international law and numerous UN resolutions.

To make sure nothing substantial is achieved at Annapolis, Israel’s rightwing parties in parliament rammed through a resolution that any change in the status of Jerusalem would require a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority, an impossibility under the Knesset’s fragmented party system. Next, Olmert issued a new demand that the Palestinian leadership and other Arab nations recognize Israel not just as a state but as `a Jewish state.’ This means the 20% of Israeli’s who are Muslim or Christian would become non-people. Olmert knew perfectly well that this insertion would make it extremely difficult for the Arab states to recognize Israel. That, of course, was his objective: a diplomatic poison pill.

West Bank Palestinians have been squeezed into arid land and squalid towns forming a giant outdoor gulag, reminiscent of the science fiction film `Escape from New York,’ filled with misery, crime, 50% unemployment and malnutrition, all surrounded by Israeli `security walls,’ checkpoints and hilltop settlements.

Mahmoud Abbas can’t even control his own extreme factions within Fatah who launch attacks on Israelis, never mind militant Hamas Islamists who stupidly lob rockets at Israel from that other open air prison, Gaza. Israel responds to each pinprick attack with massive force, killing ten Arabs for every dead Israeli. Palestinian infighting and bitter divisions provide Israel’s government with a perfect excuse not to deal with them.

Meanwhile, Washington and Israel are trying to starve Hamas and Gaza into submission while building up the ineffectual but obedient Abbas, whom they engineered into power after PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s mysterious death. The US and Israel have been arming Abbas’ Fatah faction in hopes they will go after Hamas – which, however unloved in the west, remains a legitimate government that won power through a democratic vote.

The Bush Administration’s goal is to get Israeli PM Olmert to agree to a feeble Palestinian mini-state made up of tiny cantons – call them Arabistans - isolated by Israeli-only roads, led by US and Israeli appointed yes-men who will keep their more volatile compatriots in line. This was also the goal of former Israeli PM Ariel Sharon, who is now in deep coma. Had his health held up, Sharon might have pulled it off.

But even this political Potemkin Village faces fierce opposition in Israel. Olmert, still reeling from the bloody disaster he created last year in Lebanon, is under heavy fire from Israel’s powerful right wingers and their US neoconservative supporters not to cede an inch of Biblical Greater Israel.

Equally important, as election year nears, US Republicans and Democrats are vying to support the ultra-hardline positions of Israel’s expansionist right, ignoring the 50% of Israeli voters who support a real land for peace deal. They are doing Israel a grave disservice by pandering to its most extreme parties while ignoring its mainstream.

As one of Israel’s finest thinkers, Uri Avnery notes about US elections, `the Jewish and Evangelistic lobbies, together with the neo-cons, will not allow one critical word about Israel to be uttered unpunished.’

In North America, anything that is not fulsome praise of Israel is deemed criticism. Failure to fully support Israel means political or professional suicide . Every politician remembers Democrat Howard Dean. His campaign for the presidency was quickly destroyed by the US media after Dean called for an `evenhanded’ approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This means Bush and whoever succeeds him, whether Republican or Democrat, will be most unlikely to put any pressure on Israel to create a viable Palestinian state.

The only peace plan that would work is being ignored: the 2002 Saudi proposal calling for a return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders with some rectifications; sharing Jerusalem; dealing with millions of homeless Palestinian refugees; and normalized relations between the Muslim World and Israel.

Nothing will happen without US pressure. But Bush won’t seize the last chance to do some good for the world though, as a lame duck president, he could at least try without jeopardizing his political future. Israel is happy with the status quo. The Palestinians and other Arab states are too weak and divided to achieve a solution to the world’s biggest international headache.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What's Hardcore? Cry Somalia

So the news is reporting that the UN has named Somalia the most pressing humanitarian disaster in the world at the moment, overshadowing both more popular places of discussion like Iraq or Darfur. To date, some 1 million Somalis have been displaced as their country goes through another round of upheavals. What's most tragic about this, is that just a little over a year ago, Somalia was showing promise. An Islamist group calling itself the Islamic Courts had routed the dreaded warlords and brought peace and stability. While there were differences and controversies amongst the Islamists in their rule (some factions wanted to introduce Sharia law), for the most part they were welcomed by Somalis who had seen decades of chaos and were thankful for peace. Enter however the Bush administration. Deciding that anything with the word "Islam" in it must inherently be dangerous, the US declared the Islamic Courts "terrorists" in league with al-Qaeda. The Bush administration in fact backed the warlords--the very ones they had fought a decade ago--with money and weapons against the Islamist fighters. That gamble failed, as the Somali people chose the Islamic Courts who routed the warlords. Unable to deal with the reality on the ground, the Bush regime decided to change it.

They found a willing and eager ally in the despotic Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who when not oppressing his own citizens always has time to be a US lackey. In short time, American trained, American supplied and American backed Ethiopian troops, supported by US military gunships and intelligence, overran Somalia, pushed out the Islamic Courts and helped install the UN picked transitional government--made up, naturally enough, of former warlords. Since then, Somalia has deteriorated to a state of anarchy and war unseen in decades. The death toll mounts, a million refugees have been created, Islamic insurgents fight against America's proxy Ethiopian occupiers, and a weak propped up government sits in Mogadishu with no popular support. All we're missing to make this Iraq II are the car bombs. Somehow all of this--including the US machinations that have led to this latest set of tragedies--glided beneath the radar of the mainstream press.

Below are several articles or discussions on the issue, some dating back a year to give perspective. The song above is by Somali artist K'naan, who is trying as best he can to talk about the plight of his country. Question is, who's listening?

Destabilizing the Horn Jan. 07 The Nation

Somalia Victimized by U.S., Ethiopia and Their Warlord Allies - Jan. 07 Black Agenda Report

Bush's Somalia Strategy Enables an Ethiopian Despot - Feb. 07 The Nation

U.S. Made Mess in Somalia - Apr. 07 The Independent Institute

The Bush Doctrine in Somalia: Yet Another Success - Nov. 07

Former UN Spokesperson Salim Lone: International Community Turning Blind Eye to Worsening Somalia Crisis - Nov. 07 DemocracyNow


Thursday, November 8, 2007

Water Torture and Slaves

Since we still seem to be having a debate on whether waterboarding is actually "torture," the following excerpt of the water torture of a female slave in antebellum Georgia deserves mentioning. Notice that this act was not done to gain information (so-called "enhanced interrogation"), but merely to punish. This was the intended effect of waterboarding and other forms of water torture--whether it was used during the Spanish Inquisition on "heretic" Jews, by American troops on insurgent Philippinos, on dissenters in Pinochet controlled Chile and elsewhere. It does not extract confessions; it induces terror, plain and simple. Perhaps some of this should have been read to those Senators, Republican *and* Democrat, who voted to confirm the new Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who has yet to define waterboarding as torture.

Narrative of Charles Ball, an American slave, on water torture used on a female slave by a Georgian slave owner.

Excerpt taken from:

Charles Ball. Fifty Years in Chains, or, The Life of an American Slave. (New York: H. Dayton, 1859), 409-412.


When I had been here about a week, my master came into the field one day, and, in passing near me, stopped and told me, that I had now fallen into good hands, as it was his practice not to whip his people much. That he, in truth, never whipped them, nor suffered his overseer to whip them, except in flagrant cases. That he had discovered a mode of punishment much more mild, and, at the same time, much more effectual, than flogging; and that he governed his negroes exclusively under this mode of discipline. He then told me, that when I came home in the evening, I must come to the house; and that he would then make me acquainted with the principles upon which he chastised his slaves.

Going to the house in the evening, according to orders, my master showed me a pump, set in a well in which the water rose within ten feet of the surface of the ground. The spout of this pump, was elevated at least thirteen feet above the earth, and when the water was to be drawn from it, the person who worked the handle ascended by a ladder to the proper station. The water in this well, although so near the surface, was very cold; and the pump discharged it in a large stream. One of the women employed in the house, had committed some offence for which she was to be punished; and the opportunity was embraced of exhibiting to me, the effect of this novel mode of torture upon the human frame. The woman was stripped quite naked, and tied to a post that stood just under the stream of water, as it fell from the spout of the pump. A lad was then ordered to ascend the ladder, and pump water upon the head and shoulders of the victim; who had not been under the waterfall more than a minute, before she began to cry and scream in a most lamentable manner. In a short time, she exerted her strength, in the most convulsive throes, in trying to escape from the post; but as the cords were strong, this was impossible. After another minute or a little more, her cries became weaker, and soon afterwards her head fell forward upon her breast; and then the boy was ordered to cease pumping the water. The woman was removed in a state of insensibility; but recovered her faculties in about an hour. The next morning she complained of lightness of head; but was able to go to work.

This punishment of the pump, as it is called, was never inflicted on me; and I am only able to describe it, as it has been described to me, by those who have endured it. When the water first strikes the head and arm, it is not at all painful; but in a very short time, it produces the sensation that is felt when heavy blows are inflicted with large rods, of the size of a man’s finger. This perception becomes more and more painful, until the skull bone and shoulder blades appear to be broken in pieces. Finally, all the faculties become oppressed; breathing becomes more and more difficult; until the eye-sight becomes dim, and animation ceases. This punishment is in fact a temporary murder; as all the pains are endured, that can be felt by a person who is deprived of life by being beaten with bludgeons;–but after the punishment of the pump, the sufferer is restored to existence by being laid in a bed, and covered with warm clothes. A giddiness of the head, and oppression of the breast, follows this operation, for a day or two, and sometimes longer. The object of calling me to be a witness of this new mode of torture, doubtlessly, was was to intimidate me from running away; but like medicines administered by empirics, the spectacle had precisely the opposite effect, from that which it was expected to produce.

After my arrival on this estate, my intention had been to defer my elopement until the next year, before I had seen the torture inflicted on this unfortunate woman; but from that moment my resolution was unalterably fixed, to escape as quickly as possible. Such was my desperation of feeling, at this time, that I deliberated seriously upon the project of endeavouring to make my way southward, for the purpose of joining the Indians in Florida. Fortune reserved a more agreeable fate for me.