Thursday, December 30, 2010

Disappearances in Pakistan: Lessons learned

Difficult to believe that the New York Times could publish today’s headline with a straight face. “Disappeared with reported ties to Pakistan worries U.S.”
“WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is expressing alarm over reports that thousands of political separatists and captured Taliban insurgents have disappeared into the hands of  Pakistan’s police and security forces, and that some may have been tortured or killed.”
According to the Times, many of those who have vanished have nothing to do with  the Taliban, but are Baluchis, a restive people in Pakistan long intent on forming an independent state. Equally alarming, the Pakistani authorities are refusing to admit any knowledge about most of the cases.
The matter has become so grave that U.S. military is now actually refusing to train Pakistani military units who have been involved in torturing and killing detainees.  

Of course, the U.S. will have nothing to do with such brutal tactics. Of course, the Obama administration is alarmed.

One can imagine the Pakistani officials shaking their heads wonder. One can also wonder how U.S. officials could make their protests without a sickening sense of cynicism and shame.  

I mean, c’mon guys---this, is the same U.S.—different President, but same country—that disappeared thousands of suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants—some only teenagers—into places like Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo or rendered others off to allies for brutal interrogation. And aren’t CIA drones currently blowing apart scores of supposed Taliban and others in Pakistan—and elsewhere—without the inconvenience of arrest, questioning and trial?    

We could go on and on about all this but we won’t. Surely, someone at the Times will bring it up in an editorial or Op Ed piece in the next one or two days.

[They might even point out another subtler irony: that the restive Baluchis also live in Iran. And that is where, according to investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, under the Bush administration, the CIA began aiding the Baluchis to carry out terrorist attacks in hopes of undermining the regime in Teheran.
Nor that different from the tactics the Pakistini Intelligence Organization, the ISI, are using in supporting some Taliban in Afghanistan—even as they arrest others in Pakistan.]

Friday, December 17, 2010

The War on Terror-Christmas at the Forgotten Front

Almost ten years ago, President Bush announced the global War on Terror… Since then  hundreds of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries have been dispatched to Central Asia and the far corners of the globe, and hundreds of billions, probably trillions, of dollars have been poured into the effort.

But over that same period, the lot has only worsened of some of the most terrorized people on the planet, millions of people across a huge swathe of Central Africa, living in constant fear—of a horde of bloody marauders known as the Lords Resistance Army.

At Christmas time, the threat is only worse.

One survivor of  the LRA’s bloodlust is Josephine, [not her real name] an eighteen year old girl, who was having lunch with her family when a group of men stormed into her village.

 “They tied us up and then shot and then killed my grandfather right in front of me.” Two of her brother were led off.  She never saw them again. She was forced to pack heavy loads for her captives, repeatedly raped, then  assigned as a “wife” to one of her captors, a young boy.  “They sometimes would take one boy,” said Josephine, “Tie him up, then force another boy to kill him by hitting him on the back of the head with a heavy stick or a machete.”

Another young man who was kidnapped was tied to other boys from his village, then forced to carry the loot the marauders had stolen, as they continued their attacks. 

“We walked three kilometers to the next village, where the LRA men did the same thing, kidnapping more than 100 people. This time though, they counted out 20 people, tied them up, and killed them by hitting them on the back of the head. .

Every few kilometers we would stop and they would count out another 20 people and walk them into the bush. After a while, I was among the group that the LRA separated from rest. They tied our arms together behind our backs and forced us to kneel down. They took hammers, machetes and heavy sticks and began killing people one by one. One of the LRA men took a big stick and hit me hard on the back of my head. I blacked out.”

“When I woke up, I was still tied up and had several dead bodies piled on top of me. I spent four days drifting in and out of consciousness, tied up and bleeding in that stack of bodies. When people arrived to bury us, they discovered that I was still alive’. They untied me and carried me to the nearest hospital, where I took six months to recover.”

Over the past few years across a huge expanse of Central Africa, such tales have become commonplace:  thousands of civilians have been hacked, stabbed and bludgeoned to death; thousands of girls have been raped, young boys kidnapped and murdered or  forced to commit heinous atrocities themselves, turned into criminal outcasts, so they will never be able to return to their tribes. Instead, they have come to fill the ranks of the LRA.  

What’s remarkable is that, despite the widespread savagery and terror across the region, the LRA probably has only a few hundred ragged men and boys under arms.

Their leader is a demented despot by the name of Jospeh Kony, a character out of Conrad-- a faith-healer, self –styled revolutionary and Christian fundamentalist, who launched the LRA more than twenty years ago in Northern Uganda with support from the Sudan. Over the years, the group has morphed into an increasingly bloody band of killers, intent on rape, plunder and murder.

Two years ago, U.S. troops aiding the Ugandan Army, helped organize an attack on the LRA but failed to capture the major leaders. The result was catastrophic. Determined to exact bloody vengeance, the IRA metastasized, carrying out hundreds of raids again isolated villages, not just in Uganda, but across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, and the Sudan as well.

No one seemed to give much of a damn except the usual NGO’s desperately trying to cope with the situation in the field, often at the risk of their own lives. Trying to get the attention of world leaders who claim to be in an all-out war against terrorism. Problem is, the LRA are not the right brand of terrorists.

If their leader was a radical Muslim instead of wacky Christian fundamentalist, things would be different. Sophisticated spy satellites, high-flying Predators or gung-ho mercenaries and Special Forces killer teams would have taken them out long ago.

Instead, UN peacekeeping forces have more than 80,000 troops stationed in the area trying to end the chaos that has wracked Central Africa for decades. It’s the largest U.N. contingent anywhere, but only 850 of them are in the area where the LRA is active.

As Marcel Stoessel, the Swiss head of Oxfam for the Congo told me by phone, “those figures show that the priority is not here, and it should be here, because the IRA is the most active and deadly of all the groups active in this region.”

But it’s hard to blame the U.N. commanders. Their troops are poorly armed, mostly poorly trained, (often feared themselves by the local population)  and woefully underequipped; lacking for instance, a modicum of helicopters to patrol a huge region where decent roads are virtually non-existent.  Their annual budget it more than  $1.3 billion. Which sounds impressive, until you remember that the U.S. spends that same amount in Afghanistan every four days.

The International Tribunal issued a warrant for Joseph Kony’s arrest more than five years ago,  and world leaders have at various times pledged to take action. Yet Kony and his rag tag forces are more feared and deadly now than at any time in the LRA’s twenty year history—particularly feared as Christmas approaches.

Perversely,  Christmas is the season when the LRA has  carried out some of their most barbarous acts.

According to a press release just put out by Oxfam and other NGO’s operating in the region: 

“On Christmas Eve 2008 and over the following three weeks, 865 women, men and children were savagely beaten to death and hundreds more abducted by the LRA in north-eastern DRC and southern Sudan. Last year, between 14 and 17 December 2009, LRA commanders oversaw the killing of more than 300 people. These attacks have largely gone unnoticed by the outside world.”

Says Marcel Stoessel, “It is unbelievable that world leaders continue to tolerate brutal violence against some of the most isolated villages in central Africa and that this has been allowed to continue for more than 20 years”

Fortunately, over the past few years, the depredations of the IRA and the plight of young people in Central Africa also stoked the outrage of thousands of high school and university students in the U.S., who, through their organizations “Invisible Children” and “Resolve”, launched a massive  lobbying campaign. In response, last Spring the U.S. Congress called for the Obama Administration to develop a plan to deal with the IRA scourge. In November, 2010 a special task force announced a plan of action.

But so far, it is just a plan, long on promises, short on funding and action.

And now it’s Christmas again.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kissinger on gassing the Jews--nothing new.

Alot of Henry Kissinger's remaining fans were stunned by the publication this past Saturday of another batch of secret Nixon White House tapes--in which Henry Kissinger states that the Soviet Union gassing the Jews would not be a U.S. problem.

As the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported today:

"If they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern," then-US sec. of state tells Nixon on 1973 tape.

 WASHINGTON – Henry Kissinger is heard saying the genocide of Soviet Jews would not be an American problem on newly released tapes chronicling President Nixon’s obsession with disparaging Jews and other minorities.
Kissinger’s remarks come after a meeting between the two men and former prime minister Golda Meir on March 1, 1973, in which Meir pleads for US pressure on the Soviet Union to release its Jews.

The men dismiss her plea after Meir leaves.!!

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” The New York Times on Saturday quoted Kissinger, then secretary of state, as saying on the tapes. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”
Nixon replies: “I know. We can’t blow up the world because of it.”
Six months later, during the Yom Kippur War, Nixon rejected Kissinger’s advice to delay an arms airlift to Israel as a means of setting the stage for an Egypt confident enough to pursue peace; Nixon, among other reasons, cited Israel’s urgent need.
Nixon secretly recorded his White House conversations.""

 While startling, such views are unfortunately par for the Kissinger course. What's suprising, is that people are still surprised.

If I may draw  your attention to an article I wrote last February for Counterpunch.

Master of Treachery

Kissinger on Iraq

It is amazing how Henry Kissinger has been able to retain his aura of invincible genius in international relations, continuing to counsel presidents, foreign governments and major global businesses, while occasionally writing lofty Op Ed pieces advising the U.S. on what it should or should not be doing next. This mind you, despite Kissinger’s own history of monumental cynicism and duplicity when he was guiding foreign policy for President’s Nixon and Ford. Indeed, it’s a tribute to the ability of mainstream American media to forgive and forget.
The latest example is an Op Ed piece Kissinger just wrote for the New York Times warning American leaders that they are no longer giving Iraq the attention it deserves.
The fact is, however, when Kissinger was in charge of U.S. policy for Iraq, the results for its people, particularly the Kurds, were disastrous. I wrote about it in my book "Web of Deceit-the History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush."
Over the decades, the Kurds quixotic struggle for some form of independence doomed them to a seemingly endless cycle of rebellion followed by incredibly vicious repression. Those uprisings were usually encouraged by enemies of Iraq’s rulers who made use of the Kurds to destabilize the regime in Baghdad. It was a ruthless, deceitful process, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of Kurds being slaughtered and displaced over the years. And it was an ideal playing field for Kissinger.
For years, the Shah of Iran had been secretly supporting the Iraqi Kurds to put pressure on Baghdad. So were the Israelis, who hoped to distract Iraq’s increasingly virulent leader from joining an Arab attack on the Jewish state. In 1972, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, motivated by fear that Iraq was becoming too cozy with the Soviet Union, agreed to a request from the Shah to help back the Kurds.

For the sake of deniability, the U.S. supplied the Kurds with Soviet arms seized in Vietnam, while Israel provided Soviet weapons that it had captured from the Arabs. According to the Washington Post’s Jon Randal, the clandestine operation was kept secret even from the U.S. State Department, which had argued against any such support. The Kurd’s news friends, however, did not want their protégées to win their struggle. An independent Kurdish state would be much too disruptive for the region, they felt. Their support was carefully doled out—enough to keep the revolt going, but not enough to take it to victory.

The Kurdish leader, Mustafa Barzani, was hard-headed enough to understand his people were being used by Iran, but not worldly enough to comprehend that his American backers could be equally duplicitous. “We do not trust the Shah,” Barzani told reporter Randal in 1973. “I trust America. America is too great a power to betray a small people like the Kurds.”
It was to be a fatal error of judgment. In 1975 the Shah and the leaders of Iraq abruptly agreed to settle their disputes and signed a treaty of friendship. A key part of the agreement was that Iran would immediately cease its support of the Iraqi Kurds. Overnight, Iranian army units that had been supporting the Kurds—with artillery, missiles, ammunition, and even food—retreated across the border into Iran. The U.S. and the Israelis similarly called a sudden halt to their support. At the same time, Iraqi troops began a massive offensive against the hapless Kurds.

Thus, without any warning, the Kurds were abandoned; not just their fighting men, the pesh merga, but their villages, wives, and children, were exposed to a ferocious Iraqi onslaught. Barzani sent a desperate plea to Kissinger for aid. “Our movement and people are being destroyed in an unbelievable way with silence from everyone. We feel, Your Excellency, that the United States has a moral and political responsibility towards our people, who have committed themselves to your country’s policy. Mr. Secretary, we are anxiously awaiting your quick response.”
Twelve days later, a U.S. diplomat in Tehran cabled CIA director William Colby, noting that Kissinger had not replied and warning that if Washington ”intends to take steps to avert a massacre it must intercede with Iran promptly.”

Meanwhile, a quarter of a million Kurds fled for their lives to Iran. Turkey closed its borders to thousands of others seeking refuge. Many of the militants left behind—especially students and teachers—were rounded up by the Iraqi, imprisoned, tortured, and executed. Some 1,500 villages were dynamited and bulldozed.

Over the following weeks and months, as the killing continued, Barzani issued more desperate appeals to the CIA, to President Gerald Ford, to Henry Kissinger. No one answered. Kissinger not only refused to intervene but also turned down repeated Kurdish requests for humanitarian aid for their thousands of refugees.

This duplicity of American officials might never have surfaced but for an investigation in 1975 by the U.S. Congress’s Select Committee on Intelligence headed by New York Democrat Otis Pike. The Pike report concluded that for Tehran and Washington the Kurds were never more than “a card to play.” A uniquely useful tool for weakening Iraq’s “potential for international adventurism.” From the beginning said the report, “The President, Dr. Kissinger, and the Shah hoped that our clients [Barzani’s Kurds] would not prevail.” The Kurds were encouraged to fight solely in order to undermine Iraq. “Even in the context of covert operations, ours was a cynical enterprise.”
The report’s damning conclusions continued: Had the U.S. not encouraged the Kurds to go along with the Shah and renew hostilities with Iraq, “the Kurds might have reached an accommodation with [Iraq’s] central government, thus gaining at least a measure of autonomy while avoiding further bloodshed. Instead the Kurds fought on, sustaining thousands of casualties and 200,000 refugees.”

One of the officials who testified before the committee in secret session was Henry Kissinger. When questioned by an appalled congressman about the U.S.’s decision to abandon the Kurds to their bloody fate, Kissinger chided the committee, “One should not confuse undercover action with social work.”

Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. The author of numerous articles about Iraq, he produced a documentary about Saddam Hussein that has been shown around the world. He lives in Paris. His latest book is “Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” He can be reached through his blog.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Assange and the Noble Peace Prize. Absurd? Not at all according to my associate, Ed Diamond. 
Diamond, is an investigative reporter based in Paris for Focus, America’s most watched TV new magazine. I quote from Diamond’s blog:
I’ve just heard from an excellent source on the Nobel Prize Committee in Oslo that the committee is seriously considering nominating jailed Wikileaks head, Julian Assange, for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
Word of that possibility has already touched off a storm of controversy between members of the committee, the Norwegian Government and top members of the Obama administration.  The State Department and White House have been pulling out all stops. Rumours are the CIA will also become involved. At 3 A.M. Washington time today, an outraged Hillary Clinton personally phoned the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Soltenberg to warn that if the Committee goes through with the nomination, the U.S. will boycott not only that particular award, but all future Nobel Prize ceremonies.  She also hinted darkly about possible economic sanctions (almost 25% of foreign investments in Norway are made by U.S. companies.)
If Assange is in prison and unable to attend the ceremony, my source on the Committee says they will make use of the same empty chair, that symbolized the absence of Chinese Poet  Liu Xiaobo when he received the award on December 10.
Many, of course, will be shocked by any comparison between the anarchic, self-promoting Assange and the highly respected Chinese dissident.    
But as my source on the Committee put it just an hour ago: “Of course, we realize how controversial this decision is, and how many people may be shocked by it.  On the other hand, consider the fact that the last recipient of the Peace Prize was President Obama, based solely on his lofty utterances, not on any actual deeds.
“Now, when we look for deeds, what do we find: America is still spending a trillion dollars a year building its military might and still has tens of thousands of troops and mercenaries deployed across Central Asia, not to mention clandestine and other forces involved in conflicts around the globe.
“Also, let’s not forget how quickly Obama kowtowed to Israel’s Prime Minister Nethanyahu’s refusal to suspend construction of settlements on the West Bank. So much for an American brokered peace in the Middle East! 
“So, now” said my source on the Committee “we’re looking at Assange.”
There is no question that some of the material leaked by Assange could be detrimental to U.S. diplomacy and security. There is also no question that many of the issues revealed by Wikileaks had not been previously unreported. On the other hand, their content has certainly been judged important enough to be the obsession of the world’s leading media over the past few weeks.
The documents have demonstrated the miasma of duplicity and deceit that underlie much of U.S. policy today. The fact, for instance, that the U.S. continues to pour enormous human and material resources into Afghanistan, even as American diplomats continue outraged by the pervasive corruption and dithering of the feckless leaders the U.S. is supporting. Ditto: Pakistan—only there U.S. forces have operated much more clandestinely. 
-Or the fact that, despite years of U.S. protests, that the Arab countries which are supposedly key U.S. allies in the Middle East—Saudia Arabia and the Gulf States—are still the major source of “charitable” funds that sustain Al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups, sworn enemies of the United States and Israel. At the same time, despite what they are telling their own people, the incredibly wealthy despots who run these countries are quietly assuring American diplomats that they will be delighted if the U.S. were to take military action against Iran.
-Or the fact that, leaders in Yemen who have received impressive U.S. military aid--  supposedly to battle Al Qaeda in Yemen--have in fact used those American resources against their own local opposition groups, blatantly ignoring the continued protests of American officials.
 Question: Who is the Obama administration most concerned about reading these revelations? The Pakistanis? The Afghans? The Saudis? The Yeminis? Or the American public?
Hard to argue that venting such information can only fuel those demanding a change in current U.S. policies—policies that continue to be based on hypocrisy, fear and military force.
“Thus,” sums up my source on the Nobel Committee, “The reason we want to give the Prize to Assange and Wikileaks.”
More as this story develops.
Ed Diamond.