NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: June 19

Preface to Broken Laws, Broken Lives

This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. This story is not only written in words: It is scrawled for the rest of these individuals’ lives on their bodies and minds. Our national honor is stained by the indignity and inhumane treatment these men received from their captors.

The profiles of these eleven former detainees, none of whom were ever charged with a crime or told why they were detained, are tragic and brutal rebuttals to those who claim that torture is ever justified. Through the experiences of these men in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, we can see the full scope of the damage this illegal and unsound policy has inflicted—both on America’s institutions and our nation’s founding values, which the military, intelligence services, and our justice system are duty-bound to defend.

The report: Broken Laws, Broken Lives

Easing of laws that led to detainee abuse hatched in secret

The framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan wasn’t the product of American military policy or the fault of a few rogue soldiers.

It was largely the work of five White House, Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers who, following the orders of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, reinterpreted or tossed out the U.S. and international laws that govern the treatment of prisoners in wartime, according to former U.S. defense and Bush administration officials.

The Supreme Court now has struck down many of their legal interpretations. It ruled last Thursday that preventing detainees from challenging their detention in federal courts was unconstitutional.

The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the “War Council,” drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military’s code of justice, the federal court system and America’s international treaties in order to prevent anyone — from soldiers on the ground to the president — from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes.

Strengthening extremists

When Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza and then seized full power a year ago, there were no good choices for Israel and America. Hamas includes terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists and ideologues, and it has cultivated ties with Iran. It has decent governance by the region’s devalued standards — it is not particularly corrupt; it delivers social services efficiently, and the streets are safe — but it runs a police state and alarms all its neighbors.

Of all the bad choices, Israel chose perhaps the worst. Punishing everyone in Gaza radicalized the population, cast Hamas as a victim, gave its officials an excuse for economic failures and undermined the moderates who are the best hope of both Israel and the Arab world.

Editor’s Comment — The problem with this kind of analysis — notwithstanding the fact that Nicholas Kristoff did what few other commentators would do and went to Gaza to observe the situation for himself — is that he treats Hamas as a static, monolithic entity.

Back when Condoleezza Rice pushed for Hamas to be allowed to participate in the parliamentary elections, the idea was that their participation would legitimize Fatah’s victory. It neither dawned on Washington that Hamas would win nor that Hamas’s own interest in participating in a democratic process was significant.

Hamas was revealing its pragmatism and stepping out of the Islamist trend that regards democracy as a compromise of Islamic principles. Even for those observers who were thoroughly skeptical about the organization’s motives, the smart thing to have done would have been to step back and see how well — or badly — Hamas met the challenge of governance. Instead, blind external opposition to Hamas’s rule has legitimized its authoritarian approach and muted dissent. The end result is that two-and-a-half years have been wasted by not allowing Islamist governance be put to the test.

Deals with Iraq are set to bring oil giants back

Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

The Big Pander to Big Oil

It was almost inevitable that a combination of $4-a-gallon gas, public anxiety and politicians eager to win votes or repair legacies would produce political pandering on an epic scale. So it has, the latest instance being President Bush’s decision to ask Congress to end the federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along much of America’s continental shelf.

This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading. It will make only a modest difference, at best, to prices at the pump, and even then the benefits will be years away. It greatly exaggerates America’s leverage over world oil prices. It is based on dubious statistics. It diverts the public from the tough decisions that need to be made about conservation.

There is no doubt that a lot of people have been discomfited and genuinely hurt by $4-a-gallon gas. But their suffering will not be relieved by drilling in restricted areas off the coasts of New Jersey or Virginia or California. The Energy Information Administration says that even if both coasts were opened, prices would not begin to drop until 2030. The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power — Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — exit the political stage.

Taliban raise a storm in Kandahar

The battle for Kandahar, the city in the southern province of the same name where the Taliban rose to power in the 1990s before taking control of the rest of Afghanistan, has begun.

And while Afghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces are massed in the area around Arghandab, 20 kilometers north of Kandahar, the Taliban have their sights firmly set on the provincial capital.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmedi told Asia Times Online that a faction of the Taliban known as the Khalid bin Waleed group had entered Kandahar to carry out suicide attacks on strategic positions in the city. The Taliban are banking that, once the Taliban march into Kandahar, large sections of the Afghan National Army will defect and join hands with them.

US: Nuclear weapons parts missing, Pentagon says

The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards.

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, recently fired both the US Air Force chief of staff and air force secretary after an investigation blamed the air force for the inadvertent shipment of nuclear missile nose cones to Taiwan.

According to previously undisclosed details obtained by the FT, the investigation also concluded that the air force could not account for many sensitive components previously included in its nuclear inventory.

One official said the number of missing components was more than 1,000.

Are we victims of our own progress?

A debate is heating up inside Iraq — and inside Washington — that will shape America’s relationship with Iraq under the next president.

The debate is over a status of forces agreement (SOFA), a broad strategic framework that will define the long-term role of the U.S. military in Iraq. (The U.N. mandate authorizing the American presence expires at the end of 2008.)

Here’s the big irony about this debate for the Bush administration: The security gains produced by the Petraeus-Crocker strategy in Iraq are leading Iraqis to rethink America’s role.

U.S. blames Shiites for lethal blast in Baghdad

U.S. military officials on Wednesday accused a Shiite militant group of carrying out a truck bombing in northwestern Baghdad on Tuesday evening that killed at least 65 people, the deadliest attack in the capital since March.

The accusation was startling because the bombing in the Hurriyah neighborhood had the hallmarks of earlier large-scale attacks in predominantly Shiite areas that had been attributed to Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq.

A U.S. military spokesman said intelligence reports indicate that Haydar Mehdi Khadum al-Fawadi, the leader of a Shiite “special group,” planned the bombing in an effort to fuel animosity toward Sunnis in the largely Shiite district. The U.S. military uses the term special groups to describe what it says are smaller Iranian-backed militias.

Editor’s Comment — If the line was, “we have reason to believe,” the claim would be met with a reasonable amount of doubt. But when the line is, “intelligence reports indicate,” the claim suddenly becomes impervious to critical analysis. It’s not that we have failed to acquire a healthy level of skepticism about intelligence claims; it’s just that intelligence and transparency are inherently in conflict.

In this case, it isn’t the logic of what the military is claiming that’s hard to understand — it’s simply that we have no way of assessing the quality of their evidence. But not only that — since so much has been trumpeted about al Qaeda in Iraq now being a spent force, the US would clearly have a motive for wanting to tamp down any fears that the jihadists might already be starting to regroup.

Israeli offer of peace talks is all for show – local analysts

Israel’s Wednesday offer of direct peace talks with Lebanon amounts to little more than a ploy in domestic Israeli politics and a sop to US interests in the region without any hope for success, a number of analysts told The Daily Star. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has undertaken a flurry of diplomatic activity recently, with the disclosure last month of indirect Israeli-Syrian negotiations brokered by Turkey and the announcement on Tuesday of a six-month cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza, but his approval ratings have been at historic lows since Israel’s debacle in the summer 2006 war here. Olmert’s political epitaph may well have been written by the court testimony last month of an American businessman who said he loaded Olmert with cash-stuffed envelopes totaling more than $150,000 when the prime minister was mayor of Occupied Jerusalem.

With Olmert’s political fortunes nearly bankrupt, Wednesday’s invitation for direct talks with Lebanon aims partly to deflect attention from his domestic difficulties, said political analyst Simon Haddad.

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Comments

  1. Ian Arbuckle says:

    I am not about to count any Hamas / Palestinian peace chickens before the Israeli / Zionist military planning eggs are hatched. By all appearances one would think diplomacy and negotiated accords, even if indirect, are blooming all over the ME and are the new order of the day, with a Gaza truce, with everything but the kitchen sink in the deal plus a peace deal on the horizon with Syria covering the occupied Golan Heights and talks with Lebanon offered.

    Has muscle, force and bluster finally given way to talks, peace and amicable settlements? Personally I very much doubt it, but I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.

    What I think has happened is that the US and Israel have decided to take a couple of steps backwards to consolidate and give the “enemy” false confidence. They have undoubtedly concluded that the stumbling block to the Israeli/US/Zionist end game is Iran. Although attempts have been made to chip away at the beasts tentacles with the 2006 Israeli incursion of Lebanon, a failed endeavour which actually strengthened Hezbollah, and a very strange bombing of an alleged “planned nuclear facilities” in Syria, I can well imagine it has now been decided that only a full-scale operation against Iran will realistically weaken the grown power of both Hamas and Hezbollah.

    I expect that the troubles in Lebanon in previous months, which came close to bring the country back to civil war, were to a great extent orchestrated from Tel Aviv and Langley, Virginia with the promise to give Israeli air cover to local ground militia giving Israel yet another chance or excuse to have a face saving rematch against Hezbollah. However they probably discovered that they had to withdraw their offer of this air support for the militias of the minority anti Syrian government parties in a freshly whipped up civil conflict, because they learned that about 4000 well targeted short/medium range Hezbollah missiles would be dispatched on Haifa in retaliation for any Israeli incursion.

    So where were these missiles coming from and where were they stock-piled before reaching the hands of the Hezbollah? Perhaps these weapons were North Korean design and technology, assembled by the Syrians as OEM, with Iranian funds. That was possibly the function of that facility said to be “nuclear”, which was bombed. But probably all, or most, of the missiles had long before been delivered, perhaps the wrong intelligence was given to Israel as a decoy, who knows?

    I doubt strongly though that Israel has given up or is sincerely suing for peace anywhere, or is now any closer to denying the use of extreme force in solving conflict. In fact I believe it is just warming up to create a position where it appears to be making peace, a kind of false sense of security, when a very major terrorist attack which will be spuriously tied to Iran will suddenly “appear” to put the whole process into doubt and show bad faith. This event will then be the vehicle to enable what I call Israel’s “operation clean sweep”. Simultaneous American and Israeli attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon, attacks on Syria, and a massive aerial and naval bombardment of Iran, and that will be “the October surprise”. Iran’s retaliation will be the excuse to bomb Iran, Lebanon and Syria “back to the Stone Age”.

    From this point on America will be on a full lock-down war footing, colour bright red alert, with bells and whistles, and with CBS/NBC/CNN commentators bobbing up and down between fear mongering and the November elections and you can bet some major “events” inside the US (a dirty bomb or bio terror attack) will be blamed on Qods military force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

    Sure this is just all a bit of speculation but experience shows with Israel and America, the hammer has always been the favoured tool for establishing reason in a “fair” and balanced resolutions of conflict. One missing link though may be the required Iraqi bases agreement and Iraq and Iran know it too.

    As Bush said with a wink and a glint in his eye at the end of his interview with Sky’s political analyst/reporter Adam Bolton in England; “A lot can happen in 6 months”.

    I wonder what Santa will bring us this Christmas? I’m asking for Peace on earth and good will to all men!