Archives for October 2011

The Occupy movement has rattled the establishment

Occupy London protestors outside St Paul's Cathedral challenge the church to live up to its principles.

Time reports: The London arm of the worldwide Occupy Wall Street movement has proved its ability to shake up an institution, as a third senior cleric from St. Paul’s Cathedral has resigned in less than three weeks.

The Occupy London protest has been camped outside the historic church for a little more than two weeks, and St. Paul’s muddled response to the anti-corporate greed protesters has already resulted in public backlash, dissent within the church’s governing body and even resignations.

On Monday, Reverend Graeme Knowles, the dean of St. Paul’s, announced that he would be resigning from his position in the wake of criticism over the cathedral’s managing of the protest camp issue. With his announcement, Rev. Knowles joins two other senior clerics who’ve recently left St. Paul’s over the protest. Last week, canon chancellor Giles Fraser resigned, saying he thought that the cathedral’s opposition to the protest signaled they were “set on a course of action that could mean there will be violence in the name of the church.” Just days later, a part-time chaplain, Fraser Dyer, resigned because, as he noted on his blog, he was dismayed by St. Paul’s decision to evict the camp, and he did not “relish the prospect of having to defend the cathedral’s position in the face of the inevitable questions that visitors to St Paul’s will pose in the coming weeks and months.”

Andrew Rawnsley writes: A big mistake is to think that because the protesters tend to be youthful it follows that they should be treated like children. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has made that error by suggesting to the campers that they ought to leave in return for a debate under the dome of St Paul’s – gosh, thanks my Lord Bishop. He further asks them to go on the grounds that: “I am involved in ongoing discussion with City leaders about improving shareholder influence on excessive remuneration.”

I am sure that the bishop is well-meaning, but that is not going to cut it. There has been “ongoing discussion” for years. The result, according to the latest report by Incomes Data Services: Britain’s top executives gave themselves a 49% increase in their salaries, benefits and bonuses in the past year. It does not even occur to the business and financial elite that it might be good old cynical public relations to moderate their greed while so many of their fellow citizens are suffering the consequences of corporate follies.

Who is truly the more adult: the protesters or an establishment that regards itself as older and wiser? The protesters have largely been very decorously behaved. They have thus far displayed no propensity to riot or to loot. Their tents are erected in rather neat rows. They hold laboriously consensus-seeking meetings at which they keep minutes and take votes. Their spokespeople are polite and articulate. If they do not have all the answers, they are at least posing some of the right questions. I don’t see why they should be criticised for the absence of a manifesto when the leaders of Europe spent months quarrelling and flailing over the euro crisis before scrabbling together an expensively botched compromise.

The protesters shun formal leaders and hierarchies – and I also don’t see why they should be criticised for this at a time when conventional leaders and hierarchies have been so conspicuously useless. Here are some recent scenes in establishment politics. Silvio Berlusconi displays his incomparable charms by describing Angela Merkel as “culona ichiavabile” (“an unfuckable lard arse”). Rick Perry, contender to become Republican candidate for the great office of president of the United States, questions where Barack Obama was born five months after the White House released his long-form birth certificate, and excuses himself by saying: “It’s fun to poke at him.” A punch-up breaks out on the floor of the Italian parliament between one right-wing member of the government and an even more right-wing member. Nicolas Sarkozy tells David Cameron to “shut up” because he is “sick” of him. David Cameron elevates the tone at prime minister’s questions by shouting: “Complete mug!” at Ed Miliband.

Protesters or leaders? I know who looks the more grown-up.

A Guardian video: Occupy London, a street level view: ‘How clear are we all on what consensus actually is?’

As St Paul’s reopens its doors, and the cathedral joins with the City of London Corporation to take legal action to evict the Occupy London protest, the activists come to terms with a manifesto being leaked to the press.


An investment banker says bankers must listen to the Occupy movement

Ken Costa, one of the best-known investment bankers in the City, London’s financial district, recognizes that the Occupy movement resonates with a wide constituency that cannot be ignored.

A cloud of public anger has appeared on the horizon; it is growing. It may currently be no bigger than a man’s fist but it presents us with a clear choice to take the underlying arguments seriously and to strengthen the foundations of the market economy or to risk the consequences.

When such a wide range of people are singing a tune perhaps discordant to a City worker’s ears but seemingly in tune with the global view that the market economy has failed to deliver growth, jobs, and hope, we need to listen. The cure is not more legislation, or increased regulation. It is the pressing need to reconnect the financial with the ethical.

Free markets may be free in the sense that they permit uncoerced transactions between individuals but they do not exist in a moral vacuum. For markets to work freely, they need somehow to be nurtured and sustained by a moral spirit. This is not the box-ticking morality with which we have become familiar but somehow, improbable as it may seem to the many critics of the City, by a desire to do well, by doing good.

This argument is conservative inasmuch as it was outlined by Adam Smith who regarded moral foundations as integral to the success of the market economy. It is also radical in that it reflects the desire for change prevalent in the emerging generation. So what do I mean by “connecting the financial and the ethical”?

First we have to recognise that there is such a thing as morality. Good and bad do exist, not simply as opinions. They are objective rather than subjective; real rather than endlessly pliable; relevant to public life rather than restricted to private life; and, above all, necessary.

Put bluntly, ultimately businesses cannot work, banks cannot lend, economies cannot function and societies cannot flourish without mutual trust and respect, or without fundamental honesty and integrity. In the short term they can, as we have also seen, much to the advantage of practitioners. But such a system is simply unsustainable.

Second, we all need to learn the grammar of morality, not in a judgmental way but by becoming more comfortable in thinking, writing and talking openly about values and ethics. For many this will be like learning an entirely new language.

Third, leaders need to show that they read the signs of the times. Governments will not be able to resist the continuing anger and will be goaded by ever more strident calls for intervention. They have to advance the case for the free market vigorously in language that is compelling to this generation. We will only win the debate if we take seriously the need to reconnect the robust desire for profit and financial incentives that is core to the free market economy with the moral values that are its foundation. The price of economic freedom is moral vigilance. We forget this at our peril.


Celebrations as UNESCO welcomes Palestine as full member

Karl Vick writes: Monday’s lopsided 106-14 vote in Paris serves as a reminder of the popularity most of the world feels for the Palestinian bid for full membership in the U.N. itself. That application is now pending before the U.N. Security Council, where the United States is threatening to use its veto — but really, really would rather not. In light of the Arab Spring and other perceptual challenges, Washington would much prefer that the Palestinians simply fail to muster the nine votes necessary to move the application forward at all. At least a couple of non-permanent Council members are on the fence, and the hope in Ramallah is that this gust from the Unesco vote — cheers went up in the assembly hall when the final tally was announced — might tip them their way.

Elise Labott at CNN writes: The U.S. didn’t waste any time cutting funding for UNESCO after the United Nations devoted to promoting education, culture and science granted the Palestinians full membership.

Currently the U.S. covers approximately one fifth of the UNESCO costs but by cutting that funding it will be even harder for the American agenda at UNESCO to be accomplished.

That agenda is not just about protecting previous cultural sites, or teaching Afghan women, children and even police officers to read, or about helping to continue the Tsunami early warning system. It’s also about protecting Israel.

The irony of the decision to cut funding is that UNESCO is one of the few United Nations groups where the U.S. finds a sympathetic ear on issues related to Israel. UNESCO is actively working with America to promote tolerance and is working to deepen understanding of the Holocaust in countries where people don’t even believe it existed.

Even more important U.S. interests will be at stake if the World Intellectual Property Organization grants Palestinians membership, which as an affiliate of UNESCO they are almost certain to do. That is where you start directly encountering obvious and significant interests to American business. When an intellectual property dispute involves the Googles or the Apples of the world and China, it is critical for the U.S. to be a member of good standing, which it will not be if Congress cuts funding.

Even more concerning is when the Palestinians make good on their promise to apply for membership to other U.N. bodies, like the International Atomic Energy Organization, which the U.S. views as critical to curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Or the World Heath Organization, where US money spent goes directly to keeping people alive.

A cut in funding to these UN agencies will mean more than a loss of U.S. influence and prestige. It has the potential to affect American national security in ways lawmakers may not have envisioned when it passed the legislation as a punitive measure.

Unless Congress grants President Obama waiver authority to continue funding to specific U.N. agencies that grant Palestinian membership, it won’t just be the Palestinians who are punished.


Nuclear powers plan weapons spending spree, report finds

The Guardian reports: The world’s nuclear powers are planning to spend hundreds of billions of pounds modernising and upgrading weapons warheads and delivery systems over the next decade, according to an authoritative report [PDF] published on Monday.

Despite government budget pressures and international rhetoric about disarmament, evidence points to a new and dangerous “era of nuclear weapons”, the report for the British American Security Information Council (Basic) warns. It says the US will spend $700bn (£434bn) on the nuclear weapons industry over the next decade, while Russia will spend at least $70bn on delivery systems alone. Other countries including China, India, Israel, France and Pakistan are expected to devote formidable sums on tactical and strategic missile systems.

For several countries, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel and France, nuclear weapons are being assigned roles that go well beyond deterrence, says the report. In Russia and Pakistan, it warns, nuclear weapons are assigned “war-fighting roles in military planning”.

Max Fisher writes: After 10 years of close but unproductive talks, the U.S. and China still fail to understand one another’s nuclear weapons policies, according to a disturbing report by Global Security Newswire and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. In other words, neither the U.S. nor China knows when the other will or will not use a nuclear weapon against the other. That’s not due to hostility, secrecy, or deliberate foreign policy — it’s a combination of mistrust between individual negotiators and poor communication; at times, something as simple as a shoddy translation has prevented the two major powers from coming together. Though nuclear war between the U.S. and China is still extremely unlikely, because the two countries do not fully understand when the other will and will not deploy nuclear weapons, the odds of starting an accidental nuclear conflict are much higher.

Neither the U.S. nor China has any interest in any kind of war with one other, nuclear or non-nuclear. The greater risk is an accident. Here’s how it would happen. First, an unforeseen event that sparks a small conflict or threat of conflict. Second, a rapid escalation that moves too fast for either side to defuse. And, third, a mutual misunderstanding of one another’s intentions.


U.S. turned a blind eye to torture in Afghan prisons

The Washington Post reports: Across the street from U.S. military headquarters in Kabul, shrouded from view by concrete walls, the Afghan intelligence agency runs a detention facility for up to 40 terrorism suspects that is known as Department 124. So much torture took place inside, one detainee told the United Nations, that it has earned another name: “People call it Hell.”

But long before the world body publicly revealed “systematic torture” in Afghan intelligence agency detention centers, top officials from the State Department, the CIA and the U.S. military received multiple warnings about abuses at Department 124 and other Afghan facilities, according to Afghan and Western officials with knowledge of the situation.

Despite the warnings, the United States continued to transfer detainees to Afghan intelligence service custody, the officials said. Even as other countries stopped handing over detainees to problematic facilities, the U.S. government did not.

U.S. Special Operations troops delivered detainees to Department 124. CIA officials regularly visited the facility, which was rebuilt last year with American money, to interrogate high-level Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects, according to Afghan and Western officials familiar with the site. Afghan intelligence officials said Americans never participated in the torture but should have known about it.

When the United Nations on Aug. 30 brought allegations of widespread detainee abuse to Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. military commander here, he took swift action ahead of the public release of the findings. Coalition troops stopped transferring detainees to Department 124 and 15 other police and intelligence agency prisons. They also hastily began a program to monitor those facilities and conduct human rights classes for interrogators.

But the prospect that U.S. officials failed to act on prior warnings raises questions about their compliance with a law, known as the Leahy Amendment, that prohibits the United States from funding units of foreign security forces when there is credible evidence that they have committed human rights abuses.

The State Department is investigating whether the law applies and what funding might be affected, according to U.S. officials.


Attacks on Americans in Kabul get Haqqani network’s message across

Rod Nordland reports: Every bomb, they say, has a return address.

When car bombs blew up in West Beirut, or explosions cut down worshipers in Sadr City mosques, survivors generally knew who was to blame, and more or less why — even when no one claimed responsibility.

So, too, with the suicide car bomb that on Saturday delivered the worst blow that NATO forces have suffered yet in Kabul, smashing into an armored bus full of troops and killing 13 foreigners, most of them Americans, and at least 4 Afghans.

The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility, but Afghan and American officials suspect that, more specifically, it was the fearsome Haqqani faction, whose fighters have proved better trained and organized than many Taliban, and which in recent months especially has focused its attacks on military targets rather than civilian ones.

The message the Haqqanis are sending — to the world and, especially, to the Afghan public — is that they are willing and able to kill foreign troops. And with the Haqqani bombs comes a particularly troublesome return address: Pakistan, where the group is based.

One Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic ground rules, said it was clear that if the Haqqanis were behind the attack, the militants were reacting to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent trip to Pakistan. During the visit, she again demanded that the government do something about the Haqqanis, whose bases are in the Pakistani territory of North Waziristan.

“No one goes to this much trouble if they don’t think you’ll get the message,” the diplomat said.

An Afghan political analyst, Haroun Mir, agreed. “These are planned attacks in response to the pressure from the United States on Pakistan against the Haqqani network,” Mr. Mir said. Beyond that, he added, “the Pakistanis are sending another message, too: They are not willing to abandon their support of the Taliban.”

The New York Times also reports: Just a month after accusing Pakistan’s spy agency of secretly supporting the Haqqani terrorist network, which has mounted attacks on Americans, the Obama administration is now relying on the same intelligence service to help organize and kick-start reconciliation talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.

The revamped approach, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called “Fight, Talk, Build” during a high-level United States delegation’s visit to Kabul and Islamabad this month, combines continued American air and ground strikes against the Haqqani network and the Taliban with an insistence that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency get them to the negotiating table.

But some elements of the ISI see little advantage in forcing those negotiations, because they see the insurgents as perhaps their best bet for maintaining influence in Afghanistan as the United States reduces its presence there.

The strategy is emerging amid an increase in the pace of attacks against Americans in Kabul, including a suicide attack on Saturday that killed as many as 10 Americans and in which the Haqqanis are suspected . It is the latest effort at brokering a deal with militants before the last of 33,000 American “surge” troops prepare to pull out of Afghanistan by September, and comes as early hopes in the White House about having the outlines of a deal in time for a multinational conference Dec. 5 in Bonn, Germany, have been all but abandoned.

But even inside the Obama administration, the new initiative has been met with deep skepticism, in part because the Pakistani government has developed its own strategy, one at odds with Mrs. Clinton’s on several key points. One senior American official summarized the Pakistani position as “Cease-fire, Talk, Wait for the Americans to Leave.”

In short, the United States is in the position of having to rely heavily on the ISI to help broker a deal with the same group of militants that leaders in Washington say the spy agency is financing and supporting.

“The Pakistanis see the contradictions in the American approach,” said Shamila N. Chaudhary, a former top Obama White House aide on Pakistan and Afghanistan. “The big question for the administration is, What can the Pakistanis actually deliver? Pakistan is holding its cards very closely.”


Obama administration plans to increase military support for autocratic Gulf rulers

The New York Times reports: The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

The plans, under discussion for months, gained new urgency after President Obama’s announcement this month that the last American soldiers would be brought home from Iraq by the end of December. Ending the eight-year war was a central pledge of his presidential campaign, but American military officers and diplomats, as well as officials of several countries in the region, worry that the withdrawal could leave instability or worse in its wake.

After unsuccessfully pressing both the Obama administration and the Iraqi government to permit as many as 20,000 American troops to remain in Iraq beyond 2011, the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative.

In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.

With an eye on the threat of a belligerent Iran, the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.

The size of the standby American combat force to be based in Kuwait remains the subject of negotiations, with an answer expected in coming days. Officers at the Central Command headquarters here declined to discuss specifics of the proposals, but it was clear that successful deployment plans from past decades could be incorporated into plans for a post-Iraq footprint in the region.

For example, in the time between the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States Army kept at least a combat battalion — and sometimes a full combat brigade — in Kuwait year-round, along with an enormous arsenal ready to be unpacked should even more troops have been called to the region.

“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”

Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.


Inequality in America is even worse than you thought

Justin Elliot reports: There has been no shortage of headlines this week about the growing income and wealth inequality in the United States. A new study from the Congressional Budget Office, for example, found that income of the top 1 percent of households increased by 275 percent in the 30-year period ending in 2007. American households at the bottom and in the middle, meanwhile, saw income growth of just 18 to 40 percent over the same period

But less attention has been paid to the fact that not only are the numbers bad in America, they’re particularly bad when compared to other developed nations.

A new report (.pdf) by the Bertelsmann Foundation drives this point home. The German think tank used a set of policy analyses to create a Social Justice Index of 31 developed nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The United States came in a dismal 27th in the rankings.


Occupy Baltimore wins support of police and fire fighters unions


Bank of America’s death rattle

Bill Black writes: Bob Ivry, Hugh Son and Christine Harper have written an article that needs to be read by everyone interested in the financial crisis. The article (available here) is entitled: BofA Said to Split Regulators Over Moving Merrill Derivatives to Bank Unit. The thrust of their story is that Bank of America’s holding company, BAC, has directed the transfer of a large number of troubled financial derivatives from its Merrill Lynch subsidiary to the federally insured bank Bank of America (BofA). The story reports that the Federal Reserve supported the transfer and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) opposed it. Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism has written an appropriately blistering attack on this outrageous action, which puts the public at substantially increased risk of loss.

I write to add some context, point out additional areas of inappropriate actions, and add a regulatory perspective gained from dealing with analogous efforts by holding companies to foist dangerous affiliate transactions on insured depositories. I’ll begin by adding some historical context to explain how B of A got into this maze of affiliate conflicts. [Continue reading…]


U.S. drone kills 28 in south Somalia

Another attack by a US assassination drone has claimed the lives of at least 28 civilians, while injuring dozens of others in southern Somalia, Press TV reports.

The incident took place in the town of Gilib, 350 kilometers south of Mogadishu, a Press TV correspondent reported on Sunday.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday: The Air Force has been secretly flying Reaper drones on counterterrorism missions from a remote civilian airport in southern Ethi­o­pia as part of a rapidly expanding U.S.-led proxy war against an al-Qaeda affiliate in East Africa, U.S. military officials said.

The Air Force has invested millions of dollars to upgrade an airfield in Arba Minch, Ethi­o­pia, where it has built a small annex to house a fleet of drones that can be equipped with Hellfire missiles and satellite-guided bombs. The Reapers began flying missions earlier this year over neighboring Somalia, where the United States and its allies in the region have been targeting al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group connected to al-Qaeda.

On Friday, the Pentagon said the drones are unarmed and have been used only for surveillance and collecting intelligence, though it would not rule out the possibility that they would be used to launch lethal strikes in the future.

Mindful of the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” debacle in which two U.S. military helicopters were shot down in the Somali capital of Mogadishu and 18 Americans killed, the Obama administration has sought to avoid deploying troops to the country.

As a result, the United States has relied on lethal drone attacks, a burgeoning CIA presence in Mogadishu and small-scale missions carried out by U.S. Special Forces. In addition, the United States has increased its funding for and training of African peacekeeping forces in Somalia that fight al-Shabab.

The Washington Post reported last month that the Obama administration is building a constellation of secret drone bases in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, including one site in Ethi­o­pia. The location of the Ethio­pian base and the fact that it became operational this year, however, have not been previously disclosed. Some bases in the region also have been used to carry out operations against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.


Prominent Egyptian blogger in military detention

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports: Alaa Abd El Fattah, a prominent blogger and activist, will be held for 15 days of military interrogation, his lawyer said on Sunday. Meanwhile, Bahaa Saber, another activist and blogger, has been released but is still under investigation.

Abd El Fattah was called into the military prosecution office for questioning regarding his involvement in the clashes between mostly Coptic protesters and the military on 9 October in which 28 people were killed. Abd El Fattah is accused of assaulting military personnel, stealing machine guns that belong to the armed forces, and inciting violence against the military, his lawyer, Ahmed Saif al-Islam said.

Saber was released from detention because the military prosecutors believe he will not attempt to flee. Saber faces charges of inciting violence against the military and assaulting military personnel, but is not accused of stealing weapons, his lawyer, Ramy Ghanem, said. He may still face a military trial.

According to Saif al-Islam, a prominent human rights lawyer who is also Abd El Fattah’s father, his client refused to answer the military’s questions. Saif al-Islam believes Abd El Fattah is being punished for not cooperating.

Abd El Fattah would not cooperate because he believes the military is implicated in the crime of which he is accused, his lawyer said, adding that he believes the military hopes to send a message to other protesters that they should not opt to be uncooperative.


Egyptians protest against torture and murder of prisoner


The murder brigades of Misrata

In this Friday, Oct. 28, 2011 photo, a road sign pointing to the town of Tawergha, a former bastion of support for Moammar Gadhafi, has been painted over with “Misrata,” in Arabic, as part of score-settling following Libya’s eight-month civil war. Tawergha’s roughly 25,000 residents have fled, fearing retribution from the neighboring city of Misrata.

Daniel Williams writes: If anyone is surprised by the apparent killing of Moammar Gadhafi while in the custody of militia members from the town of Misrata, they shouldn’t be.

More than 100 militia brigades from Misrata have been operating outside of any official military and civilian command since Tripoli fell in August. Members of these militias have engaged in torture, pursued suspected enemies far and wide, detained them and shot them in detention, Human Rights Watch has found. Members of these brigades have stated that the entire displaced population of one town, Tawergha, which they believe largely supported Gadhafi avidly, cannot return home.

As the war in Libya comes to an end, the pressing need for accountability and reconciliation is clear. The actions of the Misrata brigades are a gauge of how difficult that will be, and Misrata is not alone in its call for vengeance. In the far west, anti-Gadhafi militias from the Nafusa Mountains have looted and burned homes and schools of tribes that supported the deposed dictator. Anti-Gadhafi militias from Zuwara have looted property as they demanded compensation for damage they suffered during the war.

The apparent execution of 53 pro-Gadhafi supporters in a hotel in Sirte apparently under control of Misrata fighters is a bad omen. It is up to the National Transitional Council to rein in all the militias and quickly establish a functioning justice system. The NTC should take control of the many makeshift detention facilities, expedite the return of displaced Libyans, and ensure the investigation, trial and punishment of wrongdoers acting in the name of vengeance. That includes Gadhafi’s killers if the evidence showed crimes were committed. The NTC, and its foreign backers, have comprehensively failed to start setting up a justice system — even in Benghazi, where they have been in charge since the spring.

Clearly the NTC is up against the passions of a nasty war. Misrata withstood a two-month siege at the hands of Gadhafi’s forces with near-daily indiscriminate attacks that killed about 1,000 of its citizens. The town’s main boulevard, Tripoli Street, is in ruins. Facades of public buildings and private homes collapsed from tank fire and are charred inside and out. The pockmarks of bullet holes disfigure construction everywhere.

The fierce fight for Misrata has left a penetrating bitter aftertaste. Misratans say they detest anyone who backed Gadhafi. They are not welcome in Misrata, even if the city and its environs was their home for generations.

The Misrata militia is focusing its greatest wrath on Tawergha, a town of about 30,000 people just south of the city. Both Misratans and Tawerghas say residents there were enthusiastic Gadhafi supporters. Hundreds of erstwhile civilians in that town took up arms to fight for him. Misratans say Tawergha volunteers committed rapes and pillaged with gusto, though Misrata officials decline to produce evidence of the alleged rapes, saying family shame inhibits witnesses and victims from coming forward.

In any event, Misratan militia members are venting their anger on all Tawerghas, who are largely descendants of African slaves. Most fled their town as Misratan fighters advanced there between Aug. 10 and Aug. 12.

Witnesses and victims we interviewed provided credible accounts of Misratan militias shooting and wounding unarmed Tawerghas and torturing detainees, in a few cases to death. In Hun, about 250 miles south of Misrata, militias from Benghazi have taken it upon themselves to protect about 4,000 refugees. They say Misratans are hunting down Tawerghas.

One hospitalized Tawergha told Human Rights Watch how he was shot in the side and leg and abandoned to die near Hun: “They left us at the edge of the road, put a blanket over us and then started swearing, ‘You are dogs, hope you die.’”

Misrata militias, with the momentary compliance of local officials, insist that no Tawerghas should return to the area. Ibrahim Yusuf bin Ghashir, a representative of the NTC, said: “We think it would be better to relocate them somewhere else.” The allegations of rape, he added, “cannot be forgiven and it would be better to resettle them far away.”

This unforgiving campaign is not limited to Tawerghas. Many Misratans say that any tribe or group that supported Gadhafi — thousands of people — should not return to the city. The graffiti on tumble-down town walls express Misratans’ view: “(Expletive) No returnees.”

Human Rights Watch has interviewed refugees from Misrata who tried to return and were forbidden to enter the city without a permit from the local council. A Misrata militia member told the media that all pro-Gadhafi travelers are barred from the city.

As painful as the losses have been for Misrata and the rest of Libya, everyone who fought Gadhafi should remember what they were fighting for: an end to torture, to arbitrary detention, to pitting one tribe against another; for respect and equality among neighbors. Otherwise, the agony that preceded victory will breed vengeance, rancor and a divided new Libya — one that in disturbing ways may resemble the old.

Daniel Williams is a Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch

The Associated Press reports: For the past two months, Tawergha has been a ghost town, with access roads blocked by earthen mounds and other obstacles. Road signs pointing to Tawergha have been painted over. Misrata brigades have scribbled slogans on the walls of abandoned homes.

“The Tawergha are the rats of Gadhafi,” read graffiti on one facade, using Gadhafi’s derogatory name for his opponents. The fallen regime had tried to ensure Tawergha’s loyalty with promises of jobs and investment, and while some of the homes there were ramshackle, the town also boasted a modern school, medical clinic and rows of new apartment buildings.

A tour of Tawergha on Friday showed widespread vandalism. The school, clinic, small shops and modern apartments had been ransacked, with some rooms burned and contents of closets strewn on the ground.

Human Rights Watch said its team saw militias and individuals from Misrata set 12 homes on fire during a three-day period in early October. On Oct. 25, the team saw trucks drive out of Tawergha with furniture and carpets that had apparently been looted, and that Misrata fighters who claimed to be guarding the town did not intervene.

Two Misrata fighters driving through Tawergha on Friday said the town’s residents are no longer welcome. “They will have to find a different place and build houses there,” said 22-year-old Naji Akhlaf, standing outside a small grocery that had been largely emptied out, with cartons of juice strewn across the entrance.

“This is the best solution so we can relax and get on with our lives,” he said.

Tawerghans also lived in other parts of Libya, including in Misrata where a rundown apartment complex that once housed hundreds of them is to be razed. City officials say the complex is also home to non-Tawerghans and is being torn down because it’s unsanitary and unsafe. Tawerghans have fled those apartments and their neighbors said they won’t allow them back.

Human Rights Watch, citing interviews with dozens of Tawerghans, said they gave credible accounts of arbitrary arrests and beatings of detainees by Misrata militias, including descriptions of two deaths in custody.

About 10,000 Tawerghans have reached two camps on the outskirts of the eastern city of Benghazi, until recently the seat of the National Transitional Council, and U.N. officials say that number is growing. Thousands more have sought refuge near Tripoli, Tarhouna and in remote areas of the south.

An NTC-funded aid group, LibAid, is providing food and other supplies to some of the displaced, said Mohammed el-Sweii, an official in the group. El-Sweii said guards have been stationed at the camps to prevent acts of revenge.


The American way of bombing?

At Open Democracy, Derek Gregory writes: The problems with remote-controlled warfare are legion. The human operator ‘is terribly remote from the consequences of his actions; he is likely to be sitting in an air-conditioned trailer, hundreds of miles from the area of battle.’ He evaluates ‘target signatures’ captured by various sensor systems that ‘no more represent human beings than the tokens in a board-type war game.’

The rise of this new ‘American way of bombing’, as it’s been called, has two particularly serious consequences. First, ‘through its isolation of the military actor from his target, automated warfare diminishes the inhibitions that could formerly be expected on the individual level in the exercise of warfare’. In short, killing is made casual. Secondly, once the risk of combat is transferred to the target, it becomes much easier for the state to go to war. Domestic audiences are disengaged from the violence waged in their name: ‘Remote-controlled warfare reduces the need for the public to confront the consequences of military action abroad.’

All familiar stuff, you might think, except that these warnings were not prompted by the appearance of Predators and Reapers in the skies over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia or Yemen. They appeared in Harper’s Magazine in June 1972, the condensed results of a study of the US air war in Indochina by a group of scholar-activists at Cornell University. As they suggest, crucial elements of today’s ‘drone wars’ were assembled during the US bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. There were three of them: drones, real-time visual reconnaissance, and the electronic battlefield.

The US fought multiple air wars in Indochina. The air strikes against North Vietnam involved what is now called deliberate targeting, in which targets are identified and assigned to aircrews before take off. To the US military the first series of attacks from 1965 to 1968 (code-named ‘Rolling Thunder’) was an interdiction campaign to close lines of communication and choke off the supply of men and materials from the North to the insurgency in the South. To President Johnson and his civilian advisers, however, its purpose was to open up a different line of communication: bombing was a way of ‘sending a message’ to Hanoi, designed to coerce the North through a ‘diplomatic orchestration of signals and incentives, of carrots and sticks, of the velvet glove of diplomacy backed by the mailed fist of air power.’ From either perspective the campaign had to be carefully controlled and calibrated, but the air intelligence was of variable quality. Starting in October 1964 the US Air Force sought to improve the situation by using reconnaissance drones, which were launched from C-130A transport aircraft on programmed flight paths over target areas in North Vietnam (and Laos) and then recovered off Da Nang.


In rubble-strewn Sitra, faces of the young foretell a grim future for Bahrain

Family members in Sitra in March mourned a 30-year-old man killed by security forces. Government officials are suggesting the crisis in Bahrain has ended. No one in Sitra seems to agree.

Reporting from Sitra in Bahrain, Anthony Shadid writes: Sometimes a name suggests a condition. There was Beirut a generation ago, Baghdad more recently. In Bahrain, a Persian Gulf state so polarized that truth itself is a matter of interpretation, it is Sitra. Here, the faces of young men foretell a future for the country that looks like the rubble-strewn and violent streets of this town.

On a recent night, after clashes that erupt almost daily, one of them entered the house of a relative, squinting as though he had stumbled from a dungeon into the sun. Tear gas. His friend smirked as he showed the smooth scars left by rubber bullets fired at his leg and chest. Another shrugged as he removed his shirt to reveal a back scarred by pellets.

“Sitra,” said the friend, Sanad, “is the crisis.”

When the protests erupted in Bahrain in February, activists cast them as part of the Arab revolts, the wave of tumult that has upended an old order from Tunisia to Syria this year. That was before Saudi Arabia intervened militarily, before a crackdown ensued on the Shiite Muslim majority that was so sweeping they compared it to apartheid, before the most hard-line elements in the Sunni Muslim ruling family became ascendant.

Government officials today suggest that the crisis has ended, even as they acknowledge the damage it wrought in relations between Sunnis and Shiites in a country that had managed relative openness and even cosmopolitanism despite its entrenched inequality. “An open wound,” said Sheik Abdel-Aziz bin Mubarak al-Khalifa, a senior government counselor. But, he added, “We are in a much better place than we were three months ago.”

No one in Sitra seems to agree. This Shiite town of 80,000, a once-bucolic village of fishing and farming turned into a tableau of urban distress, is so restive that even opposition leaders shake their heads at its defiance. Nearly a third of the protesters killed — 10 so far — have come from Sitra, a half-hour drive from the capital, Manama, seething in a caldron of politicization, hardship and repression.

Though the clashes are nothing new — the 1990s witnessed similar bouts — their persistence and breadth signal the intractability of Bahrain’s conflict and mirror the unrest between the police and youths in other neglected Shiite towns.

“Sitra is a miniature version of Bahrain,” said Muhammad, another youth here, who like others interviewed did not want to be identified by his full name.

Added Sanad, his friend: “We are still here, we are demanding, and we exist.”

In scenes redolent of Hama in Syria, or parts of Tahrir Square at the height of Egypt’s uprising, youths build barricades at night to keep out the hated police, then remove some of them in the morning. There are telephone poles and cinder blocks and living room chairs and large trash bins, overturned and disgorging their soggy contents. The police have taken to foot patrols, given the difficulty of navigating the streets. Youths stand on corners, passing their own intelligence by cellphone, Twitter and Skype.

Even the fortresslike walls around the local police station are awash in graffiti, despite their ritual whitewashing. The slogans that remain bear the youths’ messages, revealed by the headlights of the occasional car driving on dark and empty streets. “Down with Hamad,” one reads, in a message to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “We will only kneel before God,” declares another. Nearby, a slogan in red says, “The movement continues.”


Fear and starvation in Mogadishu

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: Three decades ago, Mohamed Siad Barre, commander of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, head of the politburo of the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party and the last ruler of a functional Somali state, built vast concrete buildings all over Mogadishu. The beautiful city on the coast of the Indian Ocean, with its Arabic and Indian architecture, winding alleyways and Italian colonial-era villas, was dominated by these monuments. They were Third World incarnations of Soviet architecture, exuding power, stability and strength. The buildings – like the literacy campaigns, massive public works programmes and a long war against neighbouring Ethiopia in the late 1970s and early 1980s – were supposed to reflect the wisdom and authority of the dictator.

Sycophants and poets sang Siad Barre’s praises in these buildings, and schoolchildren waved ribbons and flew flags in their courtyards to celebrate his birthday. But in the deserts beyond the city walls nomadic tribes were agitating for war. When the Soviet Union fell and the unpredictable dictator could no longer play his hand in the Cold War game of African dictatorships, he was toppled. His clan was defeated by the clans he had marginalised.

Tribesmen poured into the city and Siad Barre’s state collapsed. The fighters ransacked Mogadishu’s Arab and European quarters and stripped its cinemas and ministries bare, shelled its old stone houses and hammered bullets into the walls and columns of its bars and cafés. Tribal commanders installed themselves as kings of crumbling neighbourhoods. Clan wars fragmented into sub-clan wars and then into sub-sub-clan wars. Tribesmen fought and killed other tribesmen and then turned against men of their own tribe and killed them. The fighters replaced their camels with Japanese pick-up trucks and fitted them with guns, turning them into war wagons. Everyone had been fighting for so long they forgot why they had started fighting in the first place and a miserable lethargy settled in. Generations of young men were born into the war, boys whose real mother was a Kalashnikov and whose only knowledge lay in the killing of other boys.

Twenty years later, Siad Barre’s monuments stand over a city of the dead and dying. They are landmarks in a battleground crisscrossed by front lines. ‘The Hotel Al-Uruba front line,’ people say. ‘There are food shipments at the Ministry of Health line.’ Trees and shrubs grow out of the broken walls and millions of bullets have marked the ruins with hairline cracks. You walk in fear of snipers and kidnappers and then a man comes up to you and points at a crumbling façade and says this was the Italian cinema, or at a pile of ruins on the beach and says that was Bar 54, the best bar in Mogadishu.

In the second decade of fighting, in 2006, when the warlords were exhausted after the long, incestuous wars, an alliance of Islamists called the Islamic Courts Union suppressed the warlords and brought a semblance of stability to Somalia. Most members of the Courts were traditional mullahs teaching the Quran in villages or local clerics dispensing justice according to sharia law in the absence of any other judicial system. Among the Courts there were few jihadis.

The Americans, pursuing their quixotic war on terrorism, hired some of the remaining warlords to work for the CIA, forming the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism. When the alliance was defeated by the Courts the Ethiopian army, with the blessing of the Americans, invaded to crush the Islamists. After fighting a vicious war for more than a year the invading army withdrew, leaving tens of thousands injured and maimed and thousands more dead, most of them civilians. Mogadishu was further destroyed – if that was possible – and tens of thousands joined the long caravan of Somali refugees driven from their homes by indiscriminate shelling.

A corrupt, dysfunctional, ‘transitional’ government was left to rule, guarded by African Union troops. But the worst outcome of the Ethiopian invasion was the rise of al-Shabaab, a small faction of the Courts at the beginning but a formidable power by the end of the war. They were supported by the Eritreans, the Ethiopians’ nemesis, and by 2009 controlled most of southern Somalia and Mogadishu.

That was the first year the rain failed.

Al-Shabaab ruled most of the city and their fighters were young. They imposed a brutal and arbitrary punishment code and beheaded their enemies. The government and its African backers controlled a small sliver of land to the west of the city and used it to try and shell the Islamists into submission.

The war continued and the rain failed again.

This summer al-Shabaab – weakened by internal divisions and the drought and under pressure from African Union troops armed with tanks and artillery – withdrew from Mogadishu. The government and African Union troops took over their positions but the rain refused to come and the city filled with the starving.

Badbaado means ‘salvation’ in Somali. It’s the name of a stretch of ruins and wild scrub on the outskirts of Mogadishu a few hundred metres from the closest al-Shabaab position. Thousands of tents fill the area: it is now the biggest refugee camp in Somalia.


Rebels claim Gaddafi was tied to plot against Iraq

The New York Times reports: When Tripoli, the Libyan capital, fell, rebel fighters found secret intelligence documents linking Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to a plot by former members of Saddam Hussein’s military and Baath Party to overthrow the Iraqi government, according to an Iraqi official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The details of the plot were revealed to Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, this month in a surprise visit to Baghdad by Libya’s interim leader, Mahmoud Jibril, said the official, who demanded anonymity because the matter was supposed to be confidential. This week, Iraqi security forces responded, arresting more than 200 suspects in connection with the plot.

The looted ruins of Colonel Qaddafi’s intelligence headquarters in Tripoli have revealed many secrets. The trove has uncovered ties between the Libyan strongman and the C.I.A. and shed light on negotiations between Chinese arms dealers and Libyan officials during the course of the uprising, an embarrassment to officials in Beijing.

But here in Iraq, the records of Colonel Qaddafi’s plot had special resonance. The Iraqi news media celebrated Colonel Qaddafi’s death last week. But the news that the colonel may have been backing a Baathist-led coup added another layer of intrigue just as Iraq was digesting the weekend news that President Obama had announced that the last American soldier would leave by the end of the year. Some suggested that it was a fiction spread only to allow for the arrests of Sunnis, a reflection of the fragile sectarian tensions.

“The people that were arrested do not deserve this, because many of them were old,” said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of Parliament’s security committee from the Iraqiya bloc, which is largely Sunni. “The timing for this is bad because the U.S. forces are about to leave, and we should focus on national reconciliation.”

On state television, Hussein Kamal, Iraq’s deputy interior minister, said the plot included agitators spread throughout the country’s south and just north of Baghdad, and had been planning “terrorist operations and sabotage” after the withdrawal of the United States military.