Three years ago in Jerusalem, I met a very bright couple in their late 40s, who had emigrated from Russia a decade earlier. When we began to speak of the Palestinians, the husband said: “In my Russian village in 1920, there was trouble with guerrillas. Budenny’s Cossacks came. They burnt the village from which the guerrillas came. The guerrillas returned twice more. The Cossacks burned two more villages. Then there was no more trouble with guerrillas.” This was the culture from which these two highly-educated Israelis came. They asserted that the Budenny method was the only proper one by which to address Hamas, Hizbollah and Fatah. The policies of recent Israeli governments suggest that their view is widely shared.
Between the late 1970s and 1990s, I was one of those foreigners who progressively fell out of love with Israel. I became persuaded that the arrogance of its faith in its own military power had induced its people to go far beyond a belief in defending their own society, to support a polity committed to perpetuating a great historic injustice against the Palestinians. Whatever government is in power in Jerusalem, there is a belief that peace with the Muslim world is unattainable; and thus that Israel must resign itself to a future dependent on its military capability rather than on negotiation. Associated with this is a belief that Jewish colonisation of the West Bank is a price the Palestinians must expect to pay for their refusal to make peace.
The most extraordinary, indeed nihilistic aspect of Israeli military policy towards the Palestinians is that it has sought to punish terrorism by deliberately wrecking the economic base of Palestinian society. On its own terms, this has succeeded. Today the only thriving industries in Palestinian territory are human reproduction, terrorism, and the propagation of grievances. The conditions in Gaza are, to us, almost unimaginable. Few have work. Most live in breezeblock barracks. From one year to the next they see nothing that is beautiful except the sea and sky. Hatred for their oppressors has become the only functioning engine of their society. People who have nothing have nothing to lose. [continued…]
The Israeli government and a coalition of settler organizations have been secretly cooperating to encircle Jerusalem’s Old City with a network of national parks, trails, cable cars, escalators, tunnels and other sites, a report released yesterday claimed.
The detailed secret plan, presented to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in September, has a stated purpose of creating “a sequence of parks surrounding the Old City” so as to “strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel.”
The confidential program, put together by the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) and sponsored by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and the mayor of Jerusalem, was revealed yesterday in a report by Ir Amim, a non-profit organization which promotes “an equitable and stable Jerusalem with an agreed political future.”
“The program is sponsored secretly by the Office of the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Jerusalem, not only without public discussion, but without the existence of the project even publicly known,” Ir Amim said in a statement. “The exposure of the program grants for the first time a comprehensive view of how the government and settlers, working as one body, are creating a ‘biblical’ territorial reign.” [continued…]
Waiting in line to drive through an army checkpoint on the leafy Shami Road of Lahore garrison, my driver hesitatingly utters: ‘Sir, can I ask you a question?’ ‘Yes sure,’ I tell him. ‘This is all a game isn’t it…. Ultimately they want to take away our nuclear weapons … don’t they sir?’
With military operations under way in Dir, Buner and Swat and the question coming from a retired infantry soldier who is now employed as my driver I assume the ‘they’ means the Taliban, the troublemakers, the Islamists, the militants, the rebels or some such. Still, to be sure I ask: who wants to take them away? ‘Why, the Americans, the Jews, the Indians of course. After all they are the ones funding the Taliban!’ he exclaims. I stare out of the windscreen and let my mind wander … to Islamabad, Constitution Avenue, to the information ministry. Do the folks there know how ordinary Pakistanis are thinking? [continued…]
In the Washington of the US president George W Bush, “the other war” was shorthand for Afghanistan; today, however, Iraq has inherited the Cinderella title. That shift is not simply a product of the hysteria fuelled over the past two weeks of the Obama administration predicting an apocalyptic collapse of Pakistan and scaring Americans with the spectre of a nuclear-armed Taliban. No, the US President Barack Obama has always made it clear that he believed Iraq had been “the wrong war” and, taking office at a moment when he hoped Iraq was on course to an acceptable outcome, he immediately recast the battle against the Taliban and al Qa’eda in the “Afghanistan-Pakistan” theatre as America’s strategic priority.
Obama plans to increase the US troop commitment in Afghanistan to some 64,000 soldiers by the summer and he hopes to find those reinforcements by bringing home more of the 134,000 troops currently in Iraq. The new military budget sent to Congress by the US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, for the first time seeks more money ($65 billion) for Afghanistan than it seeks for Iraq ($61 billion). “Af-Pak” as it is known, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the responsibility of a special envoy reporting directly to the president; the Iraq dossier is in the hands of a routine ambassador and a military commander reporting to Centcom chief Gen David Petraeus, whose top priority is the Af-Pak theatre. [continued…]
Sunni parliamentarian Salim al-Jubouri took Muqtada al-Sadr’s recent appearance in Turkey as a good sign. Sadr surfaced in Ankara ostensibly to discuss the situation in Iraq with top Turkish leaders, including President President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey is a predominantly Sunni country, many observers noted, and maybe the militant Shi’ite warlord was making a show of nascent sectarian reconciliation. “The attitude is good,” says al-Jubouri, a member of the Sunni political bloc known in Arabic as Tawafiq. “But so far it’s all talk, we need to see actions.”
All talk indeed. Sadr’s visit to Turkey a week ago, his first public appearance in nearly two years, has renewed talk in Baghdad about what his plans might be in the months and years ahead. “I think Sadr picked Turkey to show himself in order to prove that he’s against sectarianism… and to try and kill the rumor that he is an Iranian toy,” says Tahseen al-Shekhli, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, which gained the upper hand over Sadr’s Mahdi Army forces in heavy fighting last year. Sadr’s followers, for their part, are notably reticent on the subject. Several figures prominent in Sadr’s political ranks refused to discuss the topic when contacted by TIME. That has left some in Iraq revisiting an old question that no one so far seems to be able to answer well: Where is Sadr living, and what is he planning next? [continued…]
As President Obama prepared last month to release secret memos on the CIA’s use of severe interrogation methods, the White House fielded a flurry of last-minute appeals.
One came from former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, who expressed disbelief that the administration was prepared to expose methods it might later decide it needed.
“Are you telling me that under all conditions of threat, you will never interfere with the sleep cycle of a detainee?” Hayden asked a top White House official, according to sources familiar with the exchange.
From the beginning, sleep deprivation had been one of the most important elements in the CIA’s interrogation program, used to help break dozens of suspected terrorists, far more than the most violent approaches. And it is among the methods the agency fought hardest to keep. [continued…]
Psychologists versed in the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape “SERE” program, which was meant to train American soldiers how to cope with torture if captured by the enemy, warned officials as early as 2002 that reverse-engineering SERE techniques for use on detainees could be ineffective and dangerous, a Senate Armed Services Committee report  revealed last week. What has been little noticed is that the same psychologists helped develop the very interrogation policies and practices they warned against.
The new information re-opens a number of questions that have tugged at the conscience of a whole profession since the Sept. 11 attacks. Is it possible for psychologists to uphold the ethical tenets of their profession while working within a system of interrogation that violates those tenets? Does it matter if they raised objections to the system of interrogation but cooperated with it anyway?
The moral dilemma is encapsulated in the experiences of a psychiatrist and psychologist who worked at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. According to the Senate report, in an Oct. 2, 2002, memo they prepared a list of harsh interrogation techniques that ended up influencing interrogation policy not only at Guantánamo, but also in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same memo, they warned that these methods were likely to result in inaccurate tips and could harm detainees. Those warnings disappeared as the memo moved up the chain of command. [continued…]
The Obama administration is preparing to revive the system of military commissions established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under new rules that would offer terrorism suspects greater legal protections, government officials said.
The rules would block the use of evidence obtained from coercive interrogations, tighten the admissibility of hearsay testimony and allow detainees greater freedom to choose their attorneys, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The military commissions have allowed the trial of terrorism suspects in a setting that favors the government and protects classified information, but they were sharply criticized during the administration of President George W. Bush. “By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” then-candidate Barack Obama said in June 2008. [continued…]
A stockpile of documents about hundreds of Guantanamo Bay detainees, some written by the prisoners themselves, could be destroyed under a little-known provision of a federal court order the Bush administration obtained in 2004.
For four years, records in the prisoners’ habeas corpus lawsuits challenging the legality of their detentions have been piling up in a secure federal facility in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va. Because much of the information is classified, the 750 or so attorneys representing the prisoners are required to do and store all their work on-site.
The provision is part of a broad order  (PDF) issued at the very outset of the habeas cases — at the last official count in January, 220 cases remained — that set rules for how sensitive documents and attorney access should be handled. It calls for the government to destroy all classified records given to, prepared by or kept by prisoners’ lawyers — including originals and copies of writings, photographs, videotapes, computer files and voice recordings — when the cases end. [continued…]
The reported detention of a member of the United Arab Emirates royal family, Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, in connection with the videotaped torture of an Afghan grain dealer is a significant development, but much more needs to be done to restore faith in the country’s police and justice system, Human Rights Watch said today.
UAE officials told American diplomats that the sheikh was put under “house arrest” this week and prevented from leaving the country as the Ministry of Justice conducts a criminal investigation of the incidents on the videotape, ABC News reported today. The government has not released any information about the detention.
“The videotape of this episode shocked the world,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The report of the arrest was reassuring, but now the government needs to make the details public. Secretive prosecutions will not deter further abuses and torture.” [continued…]