Saturday, May 08, 2004

The feeding frenzy continues 

You can't accuse the left of being too shy at exploiting the right's own goals for their own benefit. Blood's in the water and the sharks are circling around.

"The Economist" now thinks Rumsfeld should go; Kerry wants Bush to accept the ultimate responsibility; and a Democrat Senator Joe Biden wants even "Lord God Almighty himself" to resign, if He is responsible in any way for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

Meanwhile, somewhere else not in Iraq, "a local jury (Panchayat) in Pakistan's Punjab Province recently ordered the rape of two village women, both related to each other by marriage, as retribution for the alleged illicit relations of a landlord's daughter with the brother of one of the girls."

Pakistani President Musharraf is said to be unhappy about the incident and has ordered an official investigation. If you ever manage to come across any official outrage about the incident, any international protests, strong and principled condemnation from world leaders, and any calls for Musharraf to apologise or resign over the incident, please feel free to send me an email.


Giving them the benefit of the doubt 

Ramesh Thakur, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Australia's most senior official at the UN, in today's "Age":

"Note the alacrity with which George Bush sought full and immediate action... and appointed people of impeccable integrity to investigate the... scandal. He is committed to full co-operation with the panel in providing all necessary documents and records, requiring [other]... officials to co-operate with it, and making its report public... How many national governments respond so quickly, with the promise of being as thorough and transparent, when... scandals erupt?

"We surely must remain more sceptical of these charges in the meantime... I will be deeply distressed if any official is proven to have been [implicated]. But if any are, they will be punished, and Bush will most likely give permission for them to be prosecuted in courts.

"Judge [the United States], by all means: but on the basis of facts established by and action taken after the investigation, not on the basis of wild charges."

Surprised by this staunch defence? You should be - I substituted Bush and the United States for all the references to Kofi Annan and the United Nations. Thakur was after all writing about the UN's response to the Food for Oil scandal.

In the past, Thakur wasn't as ready to wait and see and maintain the same sort of "let's give them benefit of the doubt" attitude. Consider his take on the liberation of Iraq:

"Say I have a rat in my kitchen. I call in the exterminators. When they are finished, my crockery and glassware are shattered, my kitchen shelves and cupboards are broken, the food in my pantry is poisoned, and even my house is wrecked. If I complain about the cost being too high in relation to the removal of one rat, does that mean I like having a rat in the kitchen?

"Was the war worth it? For Hussein's tribal supporters in the Tikrit region, no. For the minority Kurds and majority Shiites, yes. For the world as a whole? You be the judge."

The world 0, oppressed Iraqis 1.


So many trees, so little forest 

Elsewhere in "The Australian", the editor-at-large Paul Kelly joins in the worldwide media mass self-flagellation:

"These events [at the Abu Ghraib prison] strike at the last surviving justification for the war. No weapons of mass destruction have been discovered. No link has been found between Saddam and September 11. And now the argument of saving the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator is mocked with the prison's change of ownership.

"It is difficult to imagine a worse propaganda defeat. The US might just as well have invited Osama bin Laden to write the script. George W. Bush, attacked for his obsession with morality, is under fire for his immorality."

Others, who unlike Kelly, are able to maintain some sense of proportion might query his conclusion that putting fake electrodes on people and snapping photos of naked prisoners "mocks" the argument for removing a "brutal dictator." Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, not to mention dead Iranians and Kuwaitis, might want to argue with that proposition.

And George Bush "under fire for his immorality"? Hello, did I miss something? Like Bush posing for a photograph with his thumbs up next to a naked hooded prisoner? Or Bush ordering the prison abuse? Or Bush knowingly acquiescing in the abuse? Or Bush covering up the abuse? Or Bush downplaying it and haughtily refusing to apologise for it? This is a pretty repugnant piece of moral relativism that seemingly puts Bush on the same level with people like Saddam. Might be good enough for Michael Moore, but it shouldn't be good enough for somebody of Paul Kelly's stature.

Elsewhere in his opinion piece, Kelly approvingly quotes the words of Colin Powell's chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, who had this to say: "I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. Utopians I don't like." But in Kelly's own universe of absolutist morality one cannot see the forest for the trees and one scandal such as prisoner abuse somehow overshadows and negates the far greater good of seeing the end of Hussein's tyranny.

Thank God there were no photographers in the prisons in Germany and France (much less Russia) after the Allied victory in 1945, or Kelly's commentariat predecessors might have deemed the Second World War an immoral adventure that wasn't worth fighting.


Media priorities: naked pics trump gigantic fraud 

The media frenzy begins:

"Steve Stefanowicz, the civilian at the centre of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal enveloping the White House, wrote to an Adelaide friend on Thursday, saying he wanted to leave Iraq... Friends contacted yesterday by The Weekend Australian say Stefanowicz, a former US navy reservist, wants to return to his life in Adelaide, where he became engaged to an Australian and worked in IT sales for 18 months until October 2001."

Wow, hot on the footsteps of the Israeli connection to the Abu Ghraib abuse, we now have an Aussie connection. And Stefanowicz is not even in Australia yet. Just wait for the media welcoming committee when he gets back to Adelaide.

Remember how not that long ago Australian media hound-dogs descended at Benon Sevan, the UN official at the heart of the Food for Oil scandal, who for a period of few weeks was hiding away from international media at a Queensland resort?

Neither can I. Nor anyone else for that matter.


Friday, May 07, 2004

The swinging Dutch royals 

The Dutch royal family - first "a former SS officer, a minister in a brutal dictatorship and a one-time friend of a drug lord" and now an stripper.

"German magazine De Bild uncovered Argentine Laura Vina, 22, who has carved out a reputation for herself as a stripper in a club in Buenos Aires. Vina was only too happy to confirm she is a cousin to Princess Maxima, wife of Crown Prince Willem Alexander.

Vina is rather uncharitably described as "the black sheep of the... family," which is pretty rich, seeing that her Princess Maxima's father and Vina's uncle, Jorge Zorreguieta, was a civilian minister in the Argentinian military dictatorship during the 1970s.

And we thought that the British royal family was entertaining.


Everything always comes back to the Zionists 

Of course, there had to be an Israeli angle to it all, and trust Al Jazeera to be the ones to find it: "The torturing of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghuraib prison by US occupying forces has shocked the world - but for most Palestinians they come as no surprise. In fact, tens of thousands of Palestinians who have served time in Israeli prisons and detention centres see striking similarities between Israeli treatment of Palestinian prisoners and American treatment of Iraqi detainees."

Hisham Abd al-Razzaq, a Palestinian Authority minister in charge of looking after Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (what a job) is quoted as saying: "I am inclined to think that the Americans copied the Israeli techniques. I can't prove it in an objective manner, but the striking similarities are overwhelming."

Seeing that most of the American guards involved in the abuse seem like they would have problems learning how to tie their shoelaces, doesn't it seem a bit preposterous to suggest that they have learned their "techniques", or anything else for that matter, from the Israelis.

Hey, but while we're talking about inspirations, why not blame the S&M art photography legend Robert Mapplethorpe and his photos of women leading naked men on the leash? Or an installation artist Spencer Tunick with his penchant for piles of naked bodies? Those darned avant-garde artists corrupting our innocent prison guards!

MEANWHILE: Back in the Middle East it seems you are free to criticise any government you want, as long as it's the American one. Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, got one of his regional headquarters blown up, only a few days after downplaying the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Talabani told the media that the incidents were "very isolated" and didn't "represent the policy of the United States of America... [The abusers] should be punished. There is no excuse for them. But it is not also a matter to be so much exaggerated as if what happened is something very cruel, something ... to make a change in policy... This kind of violation of human rights is happening in every army."

That will teach him.

MEANWHILE 2: "The Washington Times" reports that "[t]housands of Iraqi Kurds have fled homes in Fallujah to northern Iraq after being threatened by Arab insurgents for supporting the coalition and refusing to fight against the U.S. military."


A snapshot of the Anglosphere 

Some very very interesting research conducted by the international pollster Roy Morgan in the "Anglosphere" countries of Australia, the US, Great Britain and New Zealand (yes, I know, I have my doubts about that last one too). Here's some of the highlights, and many of them ain't pretty:

- In all four countries, at least 50% of those polled agree with the statement that "Globalisation brings more problems than it solves", (lowest in the US on 50%, highest in Australia on 60%).

- Environmental concerns are a strong undercurrent in all countries, with at least 74% agreeing that "if we don’t act now we’ll never control our environmental problems" and at most 30% holding the belief that environmental threats are exaggerated (both responses from the US).

- The level of distrust in the current government is pretty significant across the board, with the lowest level of distrust in the US (41%) and the highest in the UK (62%). Doesn't bode too well for Tony Blair's New Labour. In one of those political ironies, Blair is more popular among the Americans, and Bush is more popular among the Kurds than either of them are at home.

- At least 77% of those polled believe that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing, but only 34% of the Americans (versus 57% of the Australians) think that it's the government's job to support people who can't find work.

- Less than a third of people believe that terrorists deserve the same rights as ordinary criminals, which is a clear vindication of Bush's strategy of seeing the war on terror as a military operation rather than a law enforcement issue. By the same token, also less than a third (often significantly less) believe that "freedom is more important than the law" - a result that will not cheer up our libertarian friends. Around two thirds across all four countries believe that "the fundamental values of our society are under serious threat" - again the right seems to be much more in tune with the public sentiment these days.

The whole paper is highly recommended as an interesting snapshot of what unites - and what divides - the English-speaking democracies.


The war and the voters 

Dennis Shanahan at "The Australian" makes some interesting comments about how the war in Iraq enjoys a highly fluctuating support, but it doesn't seem to be actually shifting votes, either in Australia or in Japan (or for that matter the United States). Shanahan sees the explanation partly in the fact that "there are myriad other things that people consider important - indeed, more important than continued commitment to the rebuilding of Iraq, as distinct from the invasion - when casting a vote."

This is probably right to a large extent. You have to remember that the question of Iraq only truly excites a small group of hard-core lefties who were against the invasion and continue to be against the occupation, and a small group of hard-core right-wingers who are in favour. I underline the word "excites" - because just about everyone has some idea of what's going on in Iraq and has some opinion as to the rights and wrongs of the situation and Australia's (or for that matter any other country's) involvement there. But the average guy and gal in the streets have far more important things on their minds, like paying off their mortgage, getting good education for their kids, and last but not least, keeping up to date with the latest football scores.

For that silent (and largely disinterested) majority, Iraq will not necessarily be a vote winner even if all goes extraordinarily well, and certainly not if it just muddles through. But neither will it be a vote loser, unless things in Mesopotamia go belly up in spectacular fashion and there's some sort of a domestic blow-back. I would venture a guess that this silent, non-excited majority of voters are more process- than outcome-oriented as far as foreign policy is concerned; that as long as they think that their leaders have done what they think is right, done it with the best intentions and based on the best available information, and done it in the best, most efficient and most honourable way, they will not punish the government in Newcastle for the problems in Najaf.


The Terror Olympics Pt II and other news from the blogsphere 

The official Athens Olympics website cannot bring itself to name the capital of Israel and instead refers the visitors to the United Nation's website for "further information." Check out this amazing piece of appeasement on Israellycool.

Meanwhile, Gnuhunter puts the Iraqi prisoner abuse in perspective. What if crime and misconduct among the Coalition soldiers in Iraq is actually lower than average for this size population? (particularly if you consider they're mostly young males). And as we're on the topic of crime, check out Niner Charlie's comments on how both Australia and Great Britain have significantly overtaken the dreaded US as crime hot-spots.

And lastly this: "Gabrielle Reilly... [Right wing] Political Commentator, Bikini Supermodel, Speaker and Diplomat" - you think I'm kidding? (via Powerline Blog)

UPDATE: Not only does the Athens Olympics website omit the capital of Israel, it also lists Israel as an European country, while its other neighbours are listed as Asian states. Now the dirty truth is out - Israel is a Crusader state. (via WND)


Thursday, May 06, 2004

UN brothels - coming soon to an Iraqi city near you 

If the Iraqis have low opinion of the Coalition troops, they will love the UN "peacekeepers".

BBC quotes a new Amnesty International report which alleges that the UN personnel in Kosovo is behind just about the only growth industry in that Balkan protectorate: the sexual exploitation of women and trafficking on a quite spectacular scale. "[A]fter 40,000 Kfor troops and hundreds of Unmik personnel were sent to Kosovo in 1999, a 'small-scale local market for prostitution was transformed into a large-scale industry based on trafficking run by organised criminal networks'," says the report.

That many UN peacekeeping missions tend to develop unpleasant side-effects is hardly a news to anyone who's been observing the "international community" in action in recent years. The stories about industrial-scale whorification by the UN personnel have been coming out of the Balkans in particular for quite some time. As you can hardly open a newspaper today without being assailed by news and commentary about the Iraqi prisoner abuse, it's instructive to compare and contrast how the United Nations deals with its own embarrassing stories. Take the case of David Lamb, a Philadelphia cop who's been investigating on behalf of the UN the allegation of peacekeeping personnel involvement in prostitution and women trafficking in Bosnia a few years ago. Lamb had eventually been driven into going to the media after his investigation has been consistently obstructed, sabotaged and eventually quashed by his superiors.

"Within weeks, Lamb said, his preliminary inquiry found more than enough evidence to justify a full-scale criminal investigation. But Lamb and his colleagues said they also faced physical threats and were repeatedly stymied in their inquiries by their superiors, including a senior Ukrainian police officer who ordered an end to the investigation of the Romanians' conduct."

The UN power structures disagreed with the results of Lamb's investigation - there was "insufficient evidence" and besides, "the responsibility for prosecuting U.N. police officers belongs to their home countries, not the United Nations." "The Washington Post" reported that in "nearly every case [of corruption or misconduct], U.N. officials handled the allegations quietly by sending the officers home, often without a full investigation."

Jacques Klein, the U.N. secretary general's special representative to Bosnia, had this to say: "Placing undue and unfair emphasis on U.N. peacekeepers diverts attention away from those ultimately responsible for trafficking. The focus of our efforts should be on corrupt government officials and members of organized crime who perpetrate the trade and allow it to flourish" - forgetting that in many cases this was precisely the accusation against the UN personnel. In the end, the whole scandal was conveniently buried, no prosecutions were made, no disciplinary actions taken. As the Kosovo story shows, these sorts of unsavoury practices still continue while the UN averts its gaze.

Imagine if that had been the US tactic in Iraq. Instead we have 20 separate American inquiries into abuse going on, perpetrators facing all sorts of sanctions for their actions, and US government officials apologising in the media to the Arab world for the mistreating of prisoners. The UN in the meantime continues to bury any embarrassing stories, while basking in a self-generated glow of moral superiority. Go figure.

Iraqi men, understandably, don't like being stripped naked and humiliated; but just wait for their reaction when the UN peacekeepers, that the world community is so keen to see in Iraq, start taking interest in their women.


Sharia versus bad TV 

If like me, you sometimes wish that crappy reality TV shows would just disappear from the air, you might take heart in the recent efforts on the part of the conservative religious establishment in Bahrain to can the Arab version of "Big Brother", on the account of its bad influence on young people. And the fact that it's a part of the American conspiracy to take over the region.

Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader has recently had this to say about "Big Brother": "The aim of these programs is to mislead the [Muslim] nation and to keep it from its own reality, so that it will live [in the reality of] these lesser things."

And columnist Fawziyya Rashid wrote this in "Akhbar Al-Khaleej": "When America invades our homes, our eyes, and our ears so intensively, it is aimed primarily at the Arab youth, which is a large percentage of all Arab countries. The 'declared' goal of this aiming [at the youth] … is to distribute 'new ideas' and take part in 'mutual understanding and tolerance.' If these changes do not occur by means of [American] media and cultural infiltration, then they will be implemented by force, in order, as a senior White House official recently stated, to preserve American interests."

God forbid that the Arab youth should be introduced to such alien and decadent concept as voting people off the show. Who know, this radical idea could even spread into the political arena.


The Queen tells it like she sees it 

While some good souls with a lot of spare time on their hands have wondered in the past whether Prince Charles had not become a secret convert to Islam, it's safe to say that his mom, Queen Elizabeth will, for now at least, stick with the Church of England and the whole "Western civilisation thing". Her Royal Highness, while of necessity very diplomatic, has nevertheless not shied away from nailing her colours to the mast during her speech at the Buckingham Palace to welcome the visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

HRH told the 160 guests gathered at the white-tie banquet that "[a]s we both know only too well, peace and freedom cannot be taken for granted. Europe’s division has ended, but new enemies of liberty have emerged." Britain and Poland had been allies in Bosnia and now in Iraq, "giving the people in these troubled countries a chance to build a better life."

Queen Elizabeth has of course survived both the Nazi assault on her homeland, and forty odd years of the Cold War, not to mention some well-known appeasement tendencies in her own family, so she's unlikely to get weak-kneed about any new threats to the West, God bless her.


Where are all the right-wing American investigative reporters? 

C'mon guys - we can do better than that - it's been a few days since all those ex-US diplomats have released their Bush-bashing letter, and I still can't find any good research being done into the background of the letter's signatories. The Brits ("The Daily Telegraph" in particular) have done a far better job of digging around info about their former diplomats who had a go at Tony Blair in similar terms. Where are all the right-wing American investigative reporters?

I wrote a few days ago: "My not very brave prediction: watch this space and expect the same from the American 'camel corp' - non-disclosure (at least for some of the signatories) of Saudi cash flying around, paid lobbying jobs for Middle Eastern countries, and involvement with foundations and organisations financed by oil money."

Still watching the space. The only thing I can see on the net is Joel Mowbray's short piece, where he has a look at the website of the "Washington Report on Middle East Affairs", a publication that two of the American ex-diplomats have significant association with. But I'm sure there is so much more waiting to be unearthed. I would have expected Daniel Pipes or Steve Emerson to have put out something by now - alas no such luck.

Meanwhile, the concerned US ex-diplomats are going unchallenged and are providing a very good material for Bush's critics, like this editorial from Saudi Arabia illustrates: "Once again experts on whom in normal times a US administration would be expected to rely for sound advice have underlined that Bush White House policies are ill-informed knee-jerk reactions which in their ignorance of the subtleties of regional politics are only making a bad situation worse."

The left is generally very adept at pointing fingers, picking up money trails, and muttering about sinister vast right-wing conspiracies, secretive neo-conservative cabals, and the influence of the Zionist lobby.

So let's not concede the field to them and let's get down to work. I would love to do all the research from down here in Australia, but you guys need to give me a hand with it!


No friends left in Germany? 

One of the Unwilling becomes even more so, with reports that the leader of the conservative opposition in Germany, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union, has revised her party's long-standing pro-American and pro-war in Iraq stance.

"Until now, Merkel has steadfastly condemned German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for his opposition to the US-led war against Iraq, accusing him of driving a wedge between Germany and the United States." Now she's obviously happy to help with hammering in that wedge.

Says Merkel: "The Americans were confident that they would be able to bring democracy to Iraq just as happened in Germany after 1945. But unlike Germany after World War II, Iraq has no democratic tradition to base a transition upon."

Well, good for you Germany. One would have thought that your not that distant history would make you more rather than less inclined to support the spread of democracy and human rights around the world. In 1945 it wasn't all that apparent that Germany would one day regain its status as a democratic and prosperous nation, and a respectable international citizen. With one third of the country already in the grip of Soviet communism, and the other two-thirds in chaos, it was the American (and to a lesser extend other Allied) determination to see the situation through that over time got Germany across the line. The US troops are still in Germany almost 60 years later - why not try to give Iraq a bit more time?


Wednesday, May 05, 2004

In an alternative universe... 

Almost four year on, and some on the left still can't accept the result.

Check out this headline on Drudge Retort (an anti-Matt Drudge site run by the left): "President Gore buys cable TV network."


Pornography of war 

This story just keeps getting weirder and weirder. The authenticity of the photos allegedly showing abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers continues to be under strong suspicion. It seems that devil is in the detail and the details just don't stack up.

Meanwhile, two Arabic websites, Albasrah.net and the Committee for the Defence of Saddam Hussein, have been running sexually explicit photos of American soldiers raping and sexually degrading Iraqi women. The only problem is that “most of the photos are taken from the American pornographic website ‘Iraq Babes,’ and the Hungarian site, ‘Sex in War,’ which is linked to by the American site. Both websites are linked to by violent pornography sites and both describe Iraqi women -- played by ‘actresses’ -- in vulgar terms.”

In case you were wondering, both the Arabic sites are now off the net, and the cached pages unfortunately also do not reveal the photos in question (not that it would be advisable to check it out from work computers anyway).


Welcome to Terror Olympics? 

It looks like Greece is losing at the newest Olympic sport: building the venues.

The AP reports: "The sprint to the Olympics is being run through an obstacle course. Frantic work — including on the main stadium — slogs on in mud, through rainstorms and at night. Roads and squares are ripped up for repaving or new rail lines. Cement mixers and cranes snarl city traffic. Whirlwinds of dust spin through neighborhoods. Ready or not, the Athens Games will start 100 days from Wednesday."

Ah, organising Olympics was so much easier BC than it is nowadays. But maybe Greece shouldn't worry too much about erecting too many new structures:

"Three timebombs exploded outside a central Athens police station early on Wednesday, doing heavy damage to the building but causing no serious casualties, a police official said."

Why tempt luck with stadiums?

UPDATE: OK, you can relax - according to the Australian Olympic Committee it doesn't look like the blasts in Athens were the work of al Quaeda but "local anarchists who are opposed to authorities such as the police, foreign embassies and large multinational corporations." Just like al Quaeda in fact. Still, some good home-grown terrorists will surely give Greece a morale boost before the Olympics. Terrorism? Other Western countries have to import it; we have some of our own.


Politics 2, movies 1 

It seems there is a political conspiracy going on against action movies.

"A top official Tuesday said it would be impossible for scenes for the new Tom Cruise movie 'Mission: Impossible 3' to be shot at Germany's Reichstag parliament building. Wolfgang Thierse, the parliamentary president, turned down a Babelsberg studios request, saying the 110-year-old building has never been used as a film location and never will be."

That's not exactly true - I do recall some grainy black and white footage shot inside Reichstag by Russians soldiers in 1945.

Meanwhile, a few days ago the makers of "Stealth" had to abandon their Blue Mountains location near Sydney, after local environmental activists have successfully blocked in the court the national park shoot "because of the risk to the habitats of the giant dragonfly and a rare sponge."

However, not all is lost - another habitat of those rare species, the giant no-fly zone and a spineless sponge - the United Nations, has given a rare permission to the director Sydney Pollock to film his new thriller "The Interpreter" inside the UN's New York headquarters. The movie stars Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, but alas other "actors are to play the roles of are diplomats - dashing the hopes of real-life diplomats wanting a cameo role."

Perhaps filming "Mission Impossible 3" would have been more appropriate at the United Nations building. After two highly successful prequels, "Bosnia" and "Rwanda", the time has come to film for the posterity the third installment in this slapstick saga, "Disarming Saddam the Security Council way." Judging by the Food for Oil"(im)balance sheets, there's plenty of money available for dazzling special effects and virtual security sequences.


Moral equivalence: 1200 BC and today 

The imminent release of Wolfgang Petersen's new epic "Troy" brought back the memories of Petersen's remarks early last year that "[t]he black-and-white mentality of a George W Bush is totally inappropriate for this film... I want the audience to be able to identify with both sides... This is not a Bush-style war of good versus evil."

An interesting comment about a situation where a Western power is provoked into a military invasion by the actions of a Middle Eastern statelet.

But back to Troy.

Thanks to Petersen, in case you are tired of all the comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam, enjoy the one between the siege of Troy and the war on terror. Not that it wouldn't be interesting to see Petersen's nuanced, all shades of grey, epic take on the war on terror, possibly titled "Tora Bora." Dustin Hoffman as Osama bin Laden? A chimpanzee as President Bush? Queen Latifah as Condi Rice? The possibilities are endless.

By the same token, regardless of Petersen's nuanced approach to the rights and wrongs of the Trojan war, the tradition tells us that Trojans in the end got their asses kicked and their city was taken and destroyed. Let's hope for some non-nuanced parallels here with our war against al Quaeda.


The moral outrage continues 

Arab editors - lack of self-criticism and conspiracy theories still predominant - so what's new? Al Jazeera reports on some of the reactions from the Arabic press to the infamous "torture photos": "Arab editors have strongly criticised the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US occupation authorities in Iraq, describing the release of the pictures as a media wake up call."

This from Abd al-Barri Atwan of the London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" newspaper: "Human rights violations have been systematic in Iraq, which I am sure the US administration will not be able to hide forever. I believe that honourable journalists will stand up to it. We would like to know now, what they did to Saddam's guard? Goodness knows how he was tortured until he agreed to lead them to the president Saddam's hideout!"

Human rights have been systematic in Iraq alright, but has "Al-Quds al-Arabi" noticed any of them before the American came in? And I just love the concern for that poor guard of Saddam's (by the way, there was no torture involved, just some money, and possibly a blood feud).

And this conspiracy theory from Basim al-Shaikh, editor-in-chief of the Iraqi newspaper "Al-Dostour": "I think the pictures of abused Iraqi prisoners were released to draw the attention of the western audience away from the situation in Falluja, where the US has witnessed a sort of setback."

Wow, those Machiavellian Americans! And guess what - it worked.

If only I had ten cents for every Arab editor and journalist who condemns the American brutality but has stayed silent over the years about far grosser human rights abuses in their own country, or indeed anywhere else in the Middle East. Say what you will about the West, but the actions of those prison guards have been universally condemned by the politicians and the media - including the right-wing media and blogsphere. So, for the sake of their moral credibility, I expect the same sort of condemnation to erupt among the Middle Eastern media the next time a suicide bomber murders more women and children, or another one of Saddam's mass graves is discovered.


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The camel corp rides again - on the other side of the Atlantic 

Following in the footsteps of their British counterparts, former American diplomats with history of professional involvement in the Middle East have written an open letter to George Bush, calling on him to reconsider his support for Israel (you can read the whole letter here).

The 52 Brit diplomats who wrote a similar letter to Tony Blair not that long ago, have turned out to be an interesting bunch. My not very brave prediction: watch this space and expect the same from the American "camel corp" - non-disclosure (at least for some of the signatories) of Saudi cash flying around, paid lobbying jobs for Middle Eastern countries, and involvement with foundations and organisations financed by oil money.

Of course, the fact that the ex-diplomats might be financed in their activities and pronouncements by the Middle Eastern money doesn't mean that their views are insincere. Quite the contrary, the reason they might be receiving such support from Saudi Arabia and others is that they already have a long history of holding pro-Arab and anti-Israeli (or anti-Zionist) views.

But if anything, the whole controversy tells you that the famed "Jewish lobby" is not the only one in town throwing money around to help get their views across. It also tells you something about the culture and biases of the professional diplomatic corp both in the UK (and another link) and in the US.


No shit 

"North Africa and the Middle East held the worst record of press freedom in 2003, Reporters Without Borders said Monday, noting that 17 journalists were killed in the Arab world beset by various abuses and reinforced self-censorship of the media. 'This was the region with least press freedom,' the Paris-based international press freedom advocate said in its annual report for 2003, coinciding with the World Press Freedom Day.

"Reporters sans frontieres (RSF) highlighted the threat posed to liberal media in Iraq by 'armed groups, terrorists and political movements'. It also pointed out that the occupying US army was 'very aggressive towards journalists, five of whom were killed by US soldiers during and after the fighting. But US officials made no proper investigations of these deaths'."

Of course, the fact that the United States is in Iraq in the first place means that it's "armed groups, terrorists and political movements" that now constitute the threat to Iraqi media, and not Saddam Hussein. Over a year since President Bush declared the end to major combat operations (as the free Western media loves to say), Iraqi media is the freest in the Arab world, with over 200 newspapers, numerous television stations to chose from, and a thriving internet culture.

Not that everyone's happy, like this bizarre article from Al-Jazeera shows:

"If the media's job is to tell the truth, then Iraq's newspapers and broadcasters fall a long way short... [E]xperts say Iraq's new media offers more in the way of quantity than quality. And the political bias and amateurism that is so manifest in its pages and across its airwaves tends to leave the public cold.

Hey, how about that quality journalism during Saddam's reign?

"Hamid Abid Sarhan, a journalist at al-Mashriq newspaper, says the new Iraqi media is far from the success story the Americans claim. Al-Mashriq, which enjoys a readership of 25,000, was set up three months ago and claims to be 'independent'. However, Sarhan says it is also fiercely anti-occupation. He told Aljazeera.net: 'All the new Iraqi newspapers should show the world what the Iraqis are suffering under American occupation. There is no democracy and freedom here'."

One would think that the fact that fact that a "fiercely anti-occupation" newspaper is on the market in Iraq could indicate something like, oh, I don't know, press freedom? After all, we all remember the thriving opposition media in Iraq two years ago.

"Dr Liqaa Meki, from Baghdad University's College of Journalism, said the last year has seen a serious decline in journalistic standards: 'After occupation there was no control and it was a bit of a free-for-all. Now anyone feels that they can be a journalist. There are no standards anymore, no training and no ethics. But journalism is a very hard and a very important job so only trained people should be trusted with it'."

I'm not sure but I think Dr Meki is trying to make a comparison with the high level of journalistic standards and ethics under Saddam.

Well, some people are just never happy. The glass is not only half-empty, but more often than not it's those damned Americans or Zionists who drank the water. Yes, media in Iraq is at a chaotic and rather exuberant stage of development, but that's to be expected in the aftermath of such quick liberalisation. Patience, Iraqis will eventually get their own "New York Times" and BBC. Poor bastards.


Tuesday quickies 

A good comprehensive overview of where the "Food for spOILs" fraud investigation is at, particularly with regards to the now-infamous list of 270 individuals and organisations allegedly on the take.

Niall Ferguson hopes that the United States will be patient with its newest nation-building enterprise. Historically the price of haste is failure.

An excellent analysis by Steve Vincent of that newest opinion poll from Iraq.


The Kurds are back - and they're not happy 

The Kurds are still not happy about Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy who will decide the political future of Iraq. And the Kurds, like everyone else in the Middle East, have long memories:

"When [the town of] Halabja had been bombardment by chemical weapons [by Saddam Hussein] in 1988 killing over 5000 people and wounding more than 20,000 and also during the Anfal Operations to eliminate Kurds when more than 183,000 Kurds disappeared by order of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Brahimi was Under-Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. Not only did Brahimi endorse Saddam Hussein and remain a close ally to him, he also denied that Saddam Hussein, the glory of Arab Leader as he described him, had ever used chemical weapons."

And this:

"Yes, Mr. Brahimi represents the United Nations in an official capacity, but he has conceded his moral authority to the collective passion of Arab political culture, in whose idioms the Kurd is still an occupied voice. He has been conspicuously silent about the atrocities the Syrian tyranny has unleashed on defenseless Kurds. His silence on this and willingness in recent interviews to shift the focus from the victims of Arab tyrannies in Iraq and Syria to the Palestinian question, even when the occasion has nothing to do directly with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is clearly an effort to legitimize one suffering and delegitimize all the others."

The bad news is that the Kurds are expecting to get screwed over again by the US (from the first article):

"History repeats itself. The USA cannot be trusted... Now again the USA is about to betray Kurds and uses them for selfish purposes while having good relationships with other Arabic regimes at the expense of Kurdish people. We can see this now when they bring back Saddam's old high ranking officers to control the situation for them, when they bring Mr. Brahimi to re-establish a fallen state and create another strong monster for Iraqi people in the region... Imagine what will happen if the USA leaves the Kurdish people to the mercy of Arab nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists after they turn power to them and leave Iraq. Kurdish people would be victimized again once by the USA and then by the new Arab nationalist government who would think that the Kurdish people betrayed the country by helping the USA and standing side by side with the USA army during the liberation of Iraq and after the war."

I don't think I'm the only one who hopes that this won't happen. We owe the Kurds, if only for their long-standing strong support. The US and the West cannot afford to alienate one of the very few genuine allies it has in the region.


Still willing 

Memo to the Coalition of the Unwilling: just in case you were salivating over the prospects of the Coalition forces in Iraq losing another partner, you can stop for the time being: "New Polish leader backs U.S. in Iraq." That's Marek Belka, the newly sworn-in left-wing Prime Minister of Poland.

"Belka, who recently completed a term as director for economic policy for the American-led provisional authority in Baghdad, has said he will continue [previous Prime Minister] Miller's support of the U.S. mission in Iraq, where Poland has some 2,400 soldiers and leads the multinational force."


Monday, May 03, 2004

You thought that Iraqi prisoners had it bad 

Sydney hospitals - more dangerous than Abu Ghraib prison:

"Two nurses have been suspended for hitting an elderly patient at a Sydney hospital - one of two hospitals under investigation after the deaths of 23 patients."

The Labor Carr government in New South Wales continues to be sucked into a quagmire that is the state health system. Where is the exit strategy, Mr Premier?


Do as I say, not as I do 

A timely warning:

"The Federal Opposition is urging Australians not to be fooled by what it says will be a pre-election tax bribe."

"Don't vote for the party that's trying to bribe you and buy your vote," said Wayne Swan, the Opposition's spokesman on Family and Community Services.

Meanwhile, on another planet:

"[The Labor Opposition leader] Mr Latham, who delivers his budget reply speech in parliament on May 13, said Labor was committed to cutting effective marginal tax rates... Mr Latham said Labor's starting point would be to reduce the tax burden on workers who also receive social security payments."

I do hope that all those workers who receive social security will not vote for the party that is trying to bribe them and buy their vote.


A quarter of a century of progress 

God, doesn't time fly? It's been 25 years since Margaret Thatcher came to power.

"Plummeting income tax was an important feature of Mrs Thatcher's era, with the basic rate falling from 33 per cent to 25 per cent, and the higher rate dropping from 83 per cent to 40 per cent."

Ah, tears swell in one's eye.


Americans make me feel like a natural woman 

It transpires that I was too optimistic when I wrote a few days ago, apropos the "Iraqi prisoners torture" scandal, that "I'm venturing a guess that most of those people would swap [mass executions, beatings and torture] for having insulting signs written on their bodies any day."

Along comes a 30-year old Dhia al-Shweiri, described as a "die-hard fighter in the al-Mahdi Army" (al Sadr's boys), who has been twice to Abu Ghraib prison under Saddam, and once under the Americans, and says he prefers the old Saddam version.

"Al-Shweiri said that while jailed by Saddam's regime, he was electrocuted, beaten and hung from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. 'But that's better than the humiliation of being stripped naked,' he said. 'Shoot me here,' he added, pointing between his eyes, 'but don't do this to us'."

Al-Shweiri had to take off all his clothes only once, for a period of 15 minutes. He and his fellow prisoners, all hooded, were made to stand "in a way that I am ashamed to describe," Al-Shweiri recalls - that is slightly bending over with their hands on the wall.

"They were trying to humiliate us, break our pride. We are men. It's OK if they beat me. Beatings don't hurt us, it's just a blow. But no one would want their manhood to be shattered," Al-Shweiri says. "They wanted us to feel as though we were women, the way women feel and this is the worst insult, to feel like a woman."

Ah, those cruel American - making men feeling like women. Al-Shweiri says that he wasn't sexually abused, and from his account it doesn't seem that he was even touched by the Americans. Nor given a full body cavity search which is a pretty standard prison procedure for prisoners back in the United States. I guess if he did have to suffer that indignity, Amnesty International would be up in arms. As it is, "being made to feel like a woman" will I'm sure soon become a quasi-genocide offence under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

There is little doubt that some form of abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners was going on. There is also little doubt that the guilty ones will have not just a book but a whole bloody library thrown at them. Meanwhile, theatrics by people like Al-Shweiri only make you wonder what proportion of the whole controversy is a convenient beat-up (no pun intended) by America's enemies.

MEANWHILE: Oh my God, it had to happen sooner or later. You know how it goes - if Iraq is another Vietnam, then the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is - you guessed it - another My Lai massacre. But of course, because taking photos of naked prisoners is the same as murdering in cold blood several hundred civilians. Oops, I might be trivialising Diane Rejman's argument here: what she's saying is that My Lai was only the tip of the iceberg: soldiers in Vietnam "had seen this kind of massacre all too often. It was more common in Vietnam than anybody in authority was willing to admit... [Why should the perpetrators have] been court-martialed for doing something that was encouraged by military leaders[?]. And in Iraq of course, the abuse of prisoners is as common as war crimes were in Iraq.

The question is, will the prisoner abuse turn out to be as exaggerated as the "widespread war crimes in Vietnam"?


Is this his real crime? 

Australia's very own voice of the feral left, "Green Left Weekly" has taken to calling Osama bin Laden a "Saudi Arabian millionaire". Is it just me, or do I get the impression that "Green Left Weekly" is rather more offended by bin Laden's wealth than his extra-curricular activities?

In other feral news, the Socialist Alliance has launched its new news magazine, hilariously titled "Seeing Red". Speaking at its Sydney launch, University of Western Sydney lecturer, Scott Poynting, "welcomed the arrival of a magazine that would 'see red' in a world where Rosa Luxemburg's choice 'socialism or barbarism' was more pressing than ever." Meanwhile, at the Brisbane launch, Humphrey McQueen, said that "With our 2000 or so members of the Socialist Alliance, we can reach out with this magazine and learn from the 20 million other Australians out there" as part of rebuilding the socialist movement in Australia.

As she was killed way back in 1918, Rosa can be forgiven for being naive enough to think it was all a matter of choices. After that, socialism has been consistently generous in giving everyone a "two-for-one" deal of socialism and barbarism. I'm glad that Australian socialists remain as relevant as ever.


Politics of UNreality 

The "international community" accountability update:

From Agence France-Presse: "UN chief Kofi Annan warned that United Nations employees will be stripped of their immunity and be 'dealt with severely' if a probe finds they were involved in corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program."

From "The Daily Telegraph": "The United Nations has threatened to fire two officials who wrote an expose of sleaze and corruption during its peacekeeping missions of the 1990s. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, is understood to have favoured an attempt to block publication of the memoir, 'Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures, a True Story from Hell on Earth', due to be published next month. Still reeling from the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal, officials in the upper echelons of the UN are alarmed by the promised revelations of wild sex parties, petty corruption, and drug use - diversions that helped the peacekeepers to cope with alternating states of terror and boredom."

And from Per Ahlmark, a former deputy prime minister of Sweden: "Not since Dag Hammarskjold has a UN leader been as acclaimed as Annan... But a leader ought to be judged by his or her actions when important matters are at stake. Annan's failures in such situations are almost invariably glossed over... Between 1993 and 1996, Annan was assistant secretary-general for UN peacekeeping operations and then undersecretary-general. One of the two great disasters for which he bears a large share of the blame is the Serbian slaughter of 7000 people in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, perhaps the worst massacre in post-war Europe... No one should be surprised by the UN's inaction, because only the year before it had demonstrated utter incompetence in facing the fastest genocide in history – the slaughter of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in just 100 days. UN forces in Rwanda in 1994 were Annan's responsibility before and during the crisis... One might think Annan far too compromised to become secretary-general but the UN doesn't work that way. Instead of being forced to resign after Rwanda and Srebrenica, he was promoted to the post... Even subsequent revelations about Annan's responsibility for the disasters in Rwanda and Bosnia did not affect his standing. On the contrary, he was unanimously re-elected and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."


Sunday, May 02, 2004

The other "Arab street" 

Several Western news outlets have by now picked up the story of the big anti-terrorism demonstration that took place in the Jordanian capital Amman a few days ago. While initially I quoted (via an Arab news agency) the official estimate of 250,000 participating in the march, other sources are being less generous with their figures. They range from "thousands", through "20,000" (the most common), to "40,000"; with several still sticking to "250,000".

Whatever the actual number, it is a positive sign that at least some regional elites are waking up to the terrorist threat, albeit only now that their own asses seem to be on the line.

The Amman rally received an interesting semi-official imprimatur, with King Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania, leading the march. It must give the Islamo-fascist types apoplexy not only to see some in the Arab world openly disagreeing with their modus operandi, but also being led in that endeavour by a woman.

Rania has released an official statement which says in part: "I believe the silent majority has started to speak out against terrorism in a first-of-its-kind demonstration in the Arab and Muslim world on this scale." Queen Rania seems by all accounts to be a pretty cool royal - check out her profile in "Time" magazine.

As the march took place on Thursday, it's unlikely that it will achieve any more media coverage. Some of the giants of the news business who thought it newsworthy enough included "Sarasota Herald-Tribune" ("Southwest Florida's Information Leader") and "Xposed" ("Men's Online Magazine"). But not "New York Times", "Washington Post", "Los Angeles Times", or for that matter CNN or BBC.

This is not a question of "liberal media bias" - the silence in this case cuts across ideological lines (although Fox managed to bury the mention of the demonstration in the second last paragraph of the general story about the terrorist attacks in Jordan). OK, so it's not a huge news story, but the big media has nevertheless missed out on a chance to let the world news audience hear some moderate voices coming out of the Muslim world. Contrast it with every time half a dozen losers somewhere in the Middle East burn an American flag.

Oh well, maybe Queen Rania should try for 500,000 next time.

MEANWHILE: Unfortunately another anti-terror rally, this time in Phoenix, Arizona, doesn't go nearly as well. Let's hope thought that it's a start of something good.


Al Quaeda's guide to unethical investing 

An interesting short piece, alleging that al Quaeda has been laundering money it earns from drug trade using the helping hand of the Chinese secret service. The money is invested in defence and technology blue-chip companies on the Pacific Rim (including in Australia) and the proceeds used to finance further terrorist activity.

All the conspiracy enthusiasts will be delighted to know that even the spy software "Promis" makes an appearance in the story - sold to the Russians by the KGB agent Richard Hanssen, then resold onto bin Laden, and now used in al Quaeda's money laundering operations.


Not worth a thousand words? 

Could the pictures, published in "The Daily Mirror", of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners be fake? Most probably not, but the "Independent" raises some questions about the photos' authenticity:

"The rifle that one of the men is carrying is an outdated model... for instance, and the webbing and headgear is not standard issue for soldiers in that regiment serving in Iraq... Perhaps most worrying for ["The Daily Mirror"] is the claim that the model of truck, a three-ton Bedford, has not been used in Iraq by the British Army.

"Then there are questions about the fact that the photographs are high-resolution black-and-white images... A former regimental commander was reported as claiming: 'The photographic and weapons intelligence sections which form the battalion intelligence unit both shoot with ... black and white film because the definition is better for that kind of work than colour film... There have been several cases of military photographers stunting up pictures and spoofing scenes for the private amusement of their colleagues.'

"The man pictured is obligingly wearing a T-shirt with the Iraqi national flag on it, a suspiciously convenient form of dress. There was also little physical evidence that corroborated the account of the savage beating meted out to the man as told to the newspaper by the soldiers who passed over the photograph."

A few weeks ago, of course, we can recall the minor furor over the infamous "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my dad th(en) he knocked up my sister!" photo, of which there are so many different versions circulating on the net right now that it clearly shows just how much fun people can have with Photoshop.


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