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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Shock: US MSM takes swipe at Bush!

The recent Newsweek scandal was a classic case of media manipulation. Thankfully, some journalists in the American mainstream media smelt a case of diversion when they saw it. Take the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson:

"That was an awfully neat parlour trick the Bush administration performed last week, focusing attention on the reporting and editing process at Newsweek and away from more inconvenient facts: the copiously well-documented physical and psychological abuse of Muslim prisoners; the way this abuse has poisoned hearts and minds against America over the past three years; and the eruption of deadly riots in Afghanistan, a country we were supposed to have fixed."

"White House spokesman Scott McClellan ought to be explaining why the administration turned away from still-problematic Afghanistan so quickly to rush pell-mell into Iraq. Flacks at the State Department and the Pentagon ought to be scurrying to assure the world that the disgraceful prisoner abuse has come to an end and that those responsible, including the higher-ups who hid behind "deniability" while making the abuse possible, will be brought to account."

"Let me get this straight: The White House makes a mistake on the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, relying heavily on its own unidentified sources who turn out to have their own political agendas, and what follows is a war in which tens of thousands of Iraqis die. I'm being vague on the number because the administration refuses to count. Thousands of young Americans are maimed and more than 1,600 lose their lives; the flag-draped coffins are flown home, as in previous wars, but this administration doesn't want you to see them. And we're supposed to blame Newsweek's editorial procedures. Watch my right hand, ladies and gents. Nothin' up my sleeve."

Game, set and match.

In news from Iraq, independent journalist Dahr Jamail reports on the ongoing insurgency and criminal behaviour of US forces: "I can’t tell you how many Iraqis I’ve interviewed after their homes were raided who complained of money, jewellery and other belongings being looted by American soldiers."

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), meanwhile, while not trying to save Sydney - a series virtually ignoring the incestuous relationship between NSW's Bob Carr government, developers and private industry - reminds one of a March report by UK Medialens that revealed the failure of the "liberal press" in the UK to seriously examine the issues in climate change, preferring to view Tony Blair, as the SMH does Bob Carr, like Canadian philosopher John McMurtry explains:

“Tony Blair exemplifies the character structure of the global market order. Packaged in the corporate culture of youthful image, he is constructed as sincere, energetic and moral. Like other ruling-party leaders, he has worked hard to be selected by the financial and media axes of power as ‘the man to do the job’. He is a moral metaphor of the system.”

The reality, of course, is that a person like Blair or Carr are incapable of delivering real leadership on major environmental issues because of their closeness to the fossil fuel industry, as but one example. Greenpeace explained this blatant hypocrisy in April:

"New South Wales premier, Bob Carr, is famously vocal against climate change. The joke is, his government is considering building another coal fired power plant."

But we digress...

In Iraq, doctors are being threatened to leave their hospitals, causing a massive shortfall in health care:

"The letter came to Baghdad's main cardiac hospital late last month. It was handwritten and unsigned, but its message was clear: it threatened the hospital's top doctors and warned them to leave their jobs immediately.

Four of the hospital's top surgeons stopped going to work. So did six senior cardiologists. Some left the country.

It was far from an isolated incident. The director of another hospital, Dr Abdula Sahab Eunice, was shot dead on May 17 on his way to work, officials said.

In the past year, about 10 per cent of Baghdad's 32,000 registered doctors - Sunnis, Shiites and Christians - have left or been driven from work, according to the Iraqi Medical Association, which licenses practitioners.

The exodus has accelerated in recent months, said Akif Khalil al-Alousi, a pathologist at Kindi Teaching Hospital and a senior member of the association. The vast majority of those fleeing, he said, are the most senior doctors."

In other assorted newsbytes today, further information on the scandal - virtually ignored in the compliant Australian media - of Israel's Washington uber-lobby AIPAC, the Bush administration and intelligence leaks. Anti-war's Justin Raimondo wonders whether the resignation of Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith is connected to the forthcoming revelations of collusion between the Israeli government, the Bushies, the war in Iraq and potential conflict with Iran.

Read the whole article because it deconstructs the real agenda behind America's Middle East policy and its corruption from within. This is not conspiracy; this is reality in 2005.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Few mates for Alan

Norman G. Finkelstein is an American academic always guaranteed to generate debate and controversy. His insights into the Israel/Palestine issue have made him, in the words of Avi Shlaim of St Antony's College, Oxford University: " of the most radical and hard-hitting critics of the official Zionist version of the Arab-Israeli conflict and of the historians who support this version."

When he accused Harvard celebrity Alan Dershowitz of deception and plagiarism over his best-selling The Case for Israel, Finkelstein moved from notoriety to infamy. By early this year, Dershowitz was harassing Finkelstein's publisher and threatening legal action. A new publisher was found, University of California Press, and the book, "Beyond Chutzpah", should be released in August. Dershowitz even sent letters to the office of Californian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger because UC Press receives state funding as part of the California school system. Publisher's Weekly (PW) recently revealed: "A response from that office to Dershowitz obtained by PW shows that it reads, in part, that the governor 'is not inclined to otherwise exert influence in this case because of the clear, academic freedom issue it presents.'"

The past weeks has seen this issue explode. The New York Times covered it and Dershowitz hit back at Finkelstein, claiming that Noam Chomsky, journalist Alexander Cockburn and Finkelstein himself were conducting "literary McCarthyism" in their attempts at discrediting him.

"The mode of attack is consistent," Dershowitz wrote. "Chomsky selects the target and directs Finkelstein to probe the writings in minute detail and conclude that the writer didn't actually write the work, that it is plagiarized, that it is a hoax and a fraud. Cockburn publicizes these 'findings,' and then a cadre of fellow travellers bombard the Internet with so many attacks on the target that these attacks jump to the top of Google."

Dershowitz's suggestion that his voice is being marginalised is ludicrous. He appears regularly on TV and in newspapers around the world. His pro-Zionist agenda dominates the American mainstream media. To feel seriously challenged by three prominent leftist writers suggests a man not comfortable with scrutiny.

"The Case for Israel" is a book for people who like to be told that Israel is the Middle East's only democracy that behaves humanely towards the Palestinians. Let them live with these delusions.

Finkelstein is a brave soul determined to challenge the region's cliches. Don't believe me? Read his Holocaust Industry and discover the ways in which the Jewish genocide has been used and abused by Jewish individuals and groups to further their bigoted agenda towards Israel.

Real face of aid

The foreign aid industry has become a powerful force for change in the last 20 years, though not always for good. John Pilger writes about the situation in Cambodia and the ways in which successive Western governments have failed this struggling Asian nation.

"Cambodia was never allowed to recover from the trauma inflicted by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Pol Pot. During the 1980s, with Pol Pot exepelled by the Vietnamese, an American and British-led embargo made reconstruction almost impossible. Instead, a "resistance" was invented by the Americans with the British SAS contracted to train the Khmer Rouge in secret camps in Thailand and Malaysia. In 1990, when the United Nations finally arrived in Cambodia to organise "democracy", it brought corruption on an unprecedented scale, along with Aids and "aid". This was misrepresented as a "triumph" for the "international community". Cambodia today is a victim of this "aid". As in Africa, the "donors" (the west and Japan) have perpetuated the myths of a "basket case": that Cambodians cannot do anything for themselves and that genuine development aid and rapacious capitalism are compatible."

The amount paid to foreign aid workers in Cambodia amounts to a small fortune, doing the work a Cambodian could often easily do for a much smaller amount. Many of the budgets cited by Britain and America, when defending their "generous" aid packages to countries such as Cambodia, conveniently forget to mention the exact amount spent on foreign workers. How much of our tax money is going straight into the pockets of wealthy Western aid workers?

I remember speaking to a friend many years ago who used to work in the foreign aid business. She told me that many of her colleagues would demand to fly business class, only work for excessive daily rates and want to stay in five-star accommodation. The question was routinely asked: who exactly were they trying to help other than themselves?

The less than healthy side of globalisation.

Pilger explains:

"The ActionAid report quotes Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch: "In the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt satirising US army recruitment commercials with the slogan, 'Join the army. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them'. In the new millennium, it could be rephrased, 'Join the aid community. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And make a killing'."

Rabbi speaks

"For only the sixth time in 127 years, the Great Synagogue, the mother church of Sydney's Jewish community, has formally welcomed a new leader."

The Sydney Morning Herald reports today on London-born and Oxford-educated Jeremy Lawrence being welcomed into the Sydney Jewish community. Lawrence has already "pioneered Sabbath greetings via SMS and set up adult education classes using his amateur magicians skills to bring Judaism to life for those who have had no prior religious instruction."

He cautions any expectation of a more progressive attitude towards women, making it likely that only men will continue to be able to study the Torah. No mention of the Israel/Palestine conflict, either. With the Jewish state being a central platform around which many Jews congregate, we can probably presume that his position is reactionary and therefore predictable. But, I hope to be surprised. We can only hope in Australia for a mainstream Jewish figure taking a firm stand against oppression in the mould of US-based Rabbi Michael Lerner.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Still in denial

Many in the mainstream press still deny the legitimacy of blogging. Sad, really. As John Naughton writes in today's UK Observer:

"Large swathes of the journalistic profession...are still in denial about blogging. In that sense, they resemble music industry executives circa 1999, denying the significance of online file- sharing. But the claim that blogging is a threat to journalism - that inside every blogger is a 'journalist-wannabe' trying to escape - is just daft."

We're here to stay.

The Corby Case and Australia-Indonesia relations

The Schapelle Corby case continues to dominate headlines. Once again, the obsessive focus on this one case appears to be excessive and completely disproportionate. Scott Burchill, lecturer in international relations at Deakin University, has a few words to add:

"Jolted by public outrage at Indonesian state terrorism in East Timor following the September 1999 independence ballot, the Howard Government reluctantly intervened to liberate the territory, aware of the consequent damage to the bilateral relationship but unwilling to defy community sentiment ventilated in response to shocking TV images.

For a while relations deteriorated. The exploitation of events for domestic electoral advantage (Tampa and the 'boat people'), bravado (failing to correct a journalist's "deputy sheriff" phrase) and clumsy diplomacy (the policy of pre-emption), coupled with an incompetent and disinterested Indonesian president ensured that suspicion and paranoia would prevent a normalisation of government to government links.

In Australia this state of affairs was deeply troubling to those in and outside government who place a premium on stability and good relations with Jakarta at all costs. The Indonesian military (TNI) has always been seen by the Jakarta Lobby as the best guarantor of social and political control of the Indonesian population. The Lobby has therefore sought to present the best possible image of the Indonesian military to the Australian public, playing down both its domestic repression and regular massacres during its brutal 24 year occupation of neighbouring East Timor. Australia's de jure recognition of Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor in 1985, the Timor Gap Treaty in 1989, and the 1995 agreement on security signed by the Keating Government and the Suharto regime, were the high watermarks of the Lobby's influence.

The challenge of rehabilitating the reputation of a military force guilty of crimes against humanity - particularly during a so called 'war against terror' - has not been easy for those who want to restore formal ties between TNI (including the notoriously brutal Kopassus) and the ADF. The gap between popular perceptions of the Indonesian Government and its military, and the view of the policy elite, has long been a yawning chasm. Until recently the Lobby has been furious with the Howard Government for its neglect of the bilateral relationship with Jakarta.

However, in the last three years the tide has turned again. Opportunity (co-operation between the AFP and Indonesian police investigating the Bali bombings), happenstance (replacement of Megawati with the more technocratic SBY), expressions of goodwill (Tsunami aid) and sacrifice (deaths of ADF humanitarian personnel on Nias) have repaired much of the damage caused in 1999 and following months.

The Indonesian President has visited Australia and agreed to sponsor Australia's participation at a regional summit to be held in Malaysia later in the year. And in regular ritualised pledges, the Howard Government has expressed greater support for Indonesia's territorial integrity than is evident amongst those who actually live in the Republic's Western (Aceh) and Eastern (West Papua) provinces.

Like its reluctant intervention in East Timor six years ago, the Howard Government's response to the Corby case is driven by popular pressure. On the one hand the Government instructs the population that intervention in the judicial affairs of another country is inappropriate while on the other it goes to extraordinary lengths to do precisely that.

A letter to the court about an investigation into QANTAS baggage handlers, the facilitation of a remand prisoner as a witness for the defence, suggestions of a one-off prisoner exchange agreement with Jakarta, the visit of the Australian Justice Minister to lobby against the death penalty, and the offer of QCs for the appeal process are extraordinary interventions by themselves. In contrast to the Government's responses to more than 40 similar drugs trials across Southeast Asia involving Australians, they are even more remarkable.

The Government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono must be as bemused by Canberra's attention to this case as many Australians are. Contrasting attitudes to sentences for the Bali bombers Amrozi, Muhklas and Imam Samudra, as well as the case of radical cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, must look hypocritical at best and at worst - racist.

And how must the people of East Timor feel? An Australian gets 20 years for importing marijuana while those who orchestrated and committed mass murder in East Timor - including Wiranto, Zacky Anwar, Hendropriyono, Sjafrie Sjamsuddin and Mahidin Simbolon - are either not even prosecuted or receive no punishment for their crimes because as defence minister Juwono Sudarsono conceded, "we can't go up into the high ranks as they were just carrying out state policy."

Foreign Minister Downer promised that these "rogue elements," as he described them in 1999, would be prosecuted by an independent UN tribunal if they didn't receive justice from the Indonesian legal system we are now told to respect for its independence. Judgement about the Corby case and the state of the Indonesian judicial system should therefore be reserved until those who have been waiting many years for justice see that the leopard has changed its spots."

All I would add to Burchill's incisive commentary is this: believing in Corby's innocence is one thing (though the evidence presented in the Indonesian court by the defense was far from conclusive) but what is this kind of behaviour really going to achieve? Are people seriously suggesting that Corby should simply be released because we "think" she's innocent? That they're shouldn't be an appeal? That she should be treated differently to every other drug case in Indonesia, or Asia or even the world? Dangerous precedents are on the cards. Let calmer heads prevail.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Hold that thought

I'll be at the Sydney's Writer's Festival all weekend, so posting will be minimal, at best. Read a book and ignore the web. It'll be hard for us all.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Crime and Punishment

Clinton Fernandes is a Melbourne writer, historian and military man. His 2004 book, Reluctant Saviour, revealed Australian involvement in the 1999 East Timor massacres.

In the wake of the Schapelle Corby guilty verdict today, Fernandes has a few thoughts about Indonesian justice:

"Commit mass murder in East Timor = no punishment.
Import marijuana = 20 years.

Foreign Minister Downer has praised the new Indonesia with "an independent judiciary and a democratic political system and a free press". Fair enough. But remember that in this new Indonesia, its first civilian defence minister, Juwono Sudarsono, rejected calls to investigate high-ranking war criminals within its military: "We can't go up into the high ranks as they were just carrying out state policy"*.

Accordingly, no action has been taken against the architects of the ethnic-cleansing campaign in the final days of the occupation of East Timor**:

a. Feisal Tanjung remained active in party politics after he lost ministerial office in October 1999.
b. Mahidin Simbolon, the deputy commander of the military region that included East Timor, was promoted to his own command in West Papua, where pro-democracy activists began to experience another reign of state-sponsored terrorism.
c. Former information minister Yunus Yosfiah remained free of meaningful legal sanction.
d. Zacky Anwar Makarim remains in the Indonesian army, attached to the headquarters without specific assignment.
e. Sjafrie Sjamsuddin, who presided over atrocities against students in 1998 when he was chief of the Jakarta garrison, was appointed official spokesman for the military.
f. Hendropriyono, the former transmigration minister who helped organise the mass deportations, was appointed head of the new National Intelligence Body."

* "Reluctant Saviour", p 75.
**"Reluctant Saviour", p 117.

Dumbing down

Does the ABC have a problem? The Age's Gay Alcorn thinks so:

"If worthy can be dull, and frivolous can be entertaining, how hard is it to be dull and frivolous at the same time? It is a challenge (Melbourne) 774 ABC radio appears to have set itself and, for this longtime listener, it is getting there."

The ABC needs reform. New energy, ideas and bravery would be a good start. Programs on Radio National are often fascinating though do tend to appeal to an older, more conservative audience. I used the word conservative advisably. Perhaps audiences "set in their ways" is more appropriate. What about the yoof? And the next generation of ABC listeners?

Friends of the national broadcaster fail miserably when they claim that more funding would alleviate all the ABC's problems. There is a culture of fear inside the ABC. I've discovered this during research for my book. Many journalists and editors are self-censoring themselves, especially when discussing domestic or international politics. Watch the ABC TV's 7pm news bulletin and try not to be struck down with its parochialism.

Tim Blair may call the ABC "selective, self-serving [and] devious" but he's a believer in privatisation. A better way to describe people like him is, "those who can't stand journalists questioning the status quo because it shows them to be little more than propagandists." A strong, independent national broadcaster is essential, and so is more funding. But we must stop modelling the ABC on the BBC. It failed the independence test during the Iraq war. Numerous studies have proven, despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise, that the BBC was in fact thoroughly pro-war before the Iraq invasion and afraid to question the dubious claims emerging from Downing Street.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Taking responsibility

Australia's treatment of asylum seekers is an issue I've written about previously and one that causes me great pain. Both Labor and Liberal have failed miserably on this issue. Today Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone defended the policy of locking up children. How enlightened.

The introduction of a private member's bill by a brave Victorian Liberal backbencher, Petro Georgiou, is a welcome sign that maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning on this issue. The ending of mandatory detention is but one of the prerequisites for a humane refugee policy.

The blunders of the Immigration Department, including the locking up of innocent people and forced deportation of Australian citizens, was canvassed during last night's ABC Lateline. Interviewer Tony Jones grilled Vanstone in a way rarely seen in the genteel world of Australian journalism:

Tony Jones: "...There was a time in Australian politics when the head of a department which had overseen a failure at this level might have considered resigning."

Meanwhile, Murdoch minion and potential future Liberal MP, Andrew Bolt, always ready to slam "evil" wherever he finds it (usually on the Left, laughably), appears to have turned into the devil in his latest photo. Check it out. Andrew, squinting towards your proud or inflamed readers is a sure way to channel evil onto the entire Murdoch empire. Perish the thought.

Fight dem back!

Far right activity in Australia and New Zealand usually escapes the attention of the mainstream media. "Fight dem Back" aims to change all that:

"We are brought together by the strong belief that all people, regardless of race, religion or creed, are created equal and by our uniform opposition to all groups who would seek to propagate racial hate and division.

"Our members reflect the intrinsic benefits of multicultural understanding and tolerance. We are Muslim, Jew and Christian; Anglo, Asian, and African; blackfella and whitefella; Maori and Pakeha; Aussie and Kiwi - together."

Get reading, involved and active. The team has already scored a number of successes but the battle is just beginning.

Blair's liars and the lying liars who tell them

Tony Blair's New Labour lies? A British documentary tells all:

"Britain's Channel 4 documentary "Undercover in New Labour" includes footage from "a reporter wearing hidden cameras who volunteered to work on the party's election campaign and ended up being drafted to work at its national PR headquarters." The documentary shows Labour staff using "party supporters in key professions from medicine and the law to the armed forces and the police, who were prepared to appear on TV and in the papers and lie through their teeth that their support for this or that policy was entirely unsolicited," writes reporter Mark Borkowski. But "is singling out New Labour for criticism reasonable," Borkowski asks, when astroturfing "has been going on for decades in business, especially among the oil, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries?" Undercover reporters were placed with Britain's three main political parties, "but it was decided the strongest story was the way the Labour campaign was run," an anonymous source told the Guardian."

This gets me thinking. Why don't Australian filmmakers, documentary makers or current affairs programs more actively engage in undercover work? Gaining information through deception is ethically problematic, I agree, but sometimes the greater truth is much more important. Take this 2004 BBC documentary expose on Britain's far right party, the BNP. Perhaps our journalists lack the requisite fortitude?

The friends we keep

George W. Bush gave a speech in November 2003 at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy at the United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. He discussed freedom and democracy in the Middle East and beyond:

"We've witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500 year story of democracy. Historians in the future will offer their own explanations for why this happened. Yet we already know some of the reasons they will cite. It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world's most influential nation was itself a democracy."

"The United States made military and moral commitments in Europe and Asia, which protected free nations from aggression, and created the conditions in which new democracies could flourish. As we provided security for whole nations, we also provided inspiration for oppressed peoples. In prison camps, in banned union meetings, in clandestine churches, men and women knew that the whole world was not sharing their own nightmare. They knew of at least one place - a bright and hopeful land - where freedom was valued and secure. And they prayed that America would not forget them, or forget the mission to promote liberty around the world."

Praying for American help may be enough to convince conservative campaigners that the "world's most influential nation" can bring democracy, but a report out this week by the New York based Arms Trade Resource Center challenges the underpinnings of such a naive assertion:

"...a majority of U.S. arms sales to the developing world go to regimes defined as undemocratic by our own State Department. Furthermore, U.S.-supplied arms are involved in a majority of the world’s active conflicts."

Democracy for all the world's citizens? Not quite.

"In 2003, the last year for which full information is available, the United States transferred weaponry to 18 of the 25 countries involved in active conflicts. From Angola, Chad and Ethiopia, to Colombia, Pakistan, Israel and the Philippines, transfers through the two largest U.S. arms sales programs (Foreign Military Sales and Commercial Sales) to these conflict nations totaled nearly $1 billion in 2003."

"In 2003, more than half of the top 25 recipients of U.S. arms transfers in the developing world (13 of 25) were defined as undemocratic by the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Report: in the sense that "citizens do not have the right to change their own government." These 13 nations received over $2.7 billion in U.S. arms transfers in 2003, with the top recipients including Saudi Arabia ($1.1 billion), Egypt ($1.0 billion), Kuwait ($153 million), the United Arab Emirates ($110 million) and Uzbekistan ($33 million)."

American responses to charges of gross hypocrisy are telling. Frida Berrigan, the report’s co-author, says that the sales are, "often justified on the basis of their purported benefits, from securing access to overseas military facilities to rewarding coalition partners [but] these alleged benefits often come at a high price."

Countries benefiting from America's largesse are routinely engaged in human rights abuses. Extremism breeds in such a toxic environment. Recruiters for al-Qaeda are given a gift with such revelations.

We are faced once again with a realisation that American, and therefore British and Australian, definitions of democracy are only for those who deserve it, whose resources we need or whose military we can defeat.

Amnesty International's 2005 Report paints a depressing picture of human rights abuses across the world, including America, Britain and Australia. Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty, writes in the foreward of the report:

"The US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to "re-define" torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding "ghost detainees" (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process."

We expect abuses in despotic countries such as Sudan, Nigeria and Uzbekistan. We are now receiving information daily that American breaches make a mockery of its claim of spreading democracy. Today's New York Times reports: "Newly released documents show that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, complained repeatedly to F.B.I. agents about disrespectful handling of the Koran by military personnel and, in one case in 2002, said they had flushed a Koran down a toilet."

The only people seriously swayed by Bush's delusional rhetoric (echoed in Australia by our foppish Foreign Minister Alexander Downer) are those so convinced by the rightness of "our" mission in the Middle East, that human rights abuses are merely dismissed as an inconvenience. We will be paying the price for such cultural arrogance in the years to come.

Oppressed in their own land

Here is my review from last Sunday's Sun Herald of Suad Amiry's "Sharon And My Mother-In-Law: Ramallah Diaries." Amiry is a guest of this year's Sydney Writer's Festival and will undoubtedly talk about life under Israeli military occupation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Far from freedom

Ominous news from Bahrain:

"Three Bahraini bloggers are facing criminal charges, including defaming the king, for running a web forum that allows free political debate."

The expression, "fighting a battle they will never win", comes to mind.

"The government said bloggers had to register with the ministry of information - and has even proposed a bill to regulate the use of Bluetooth technology on mobile phones."

In more positive news from the Middle East comes this interesting piece of blog writing on the bankruptcy of Syria's Ba'ath Party:

"It does not mean anything like a political party or any political or organizational entity. It just exists around us and between us like that black-cloud of pollution on top of Damascus and Banias, like the sewage stink, or like the Mukhabarat's Peugeot white cars."

President Bashar Assad will not be pleased.

War pimps and pigs at the trough

Condoleezza Rice was key speaker at the pro-Zionist American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIJAC) Annual Policy Conference on May 23:

"Let me begin by saying that Israel has no greater friend and no stronger supporter than the United States of America. (Applause.) For over half a century, AIPAC has strengthened the religious, cultural and political bonds that unite our two great nations, and I thank you for that. (Applause.)"

And America is touted as an honest broker in the Israel/Palestine conflict?

Rice: "The United States and Israel share much in common. We both affirm the innate freedom and dignity of every human life, not as prizes that people confer to one another, but as divine gifts of the Almighty."

The sheer hypocrisy of such a statement is breathtaking. Indeed, many in the Arab world recognise this. Israel's treatment of Palestinians and American forces abuse of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, along with so-called "rendition" of "terror" suspects to dictatorships for torture, shows the world the real face of Bush's much touted freedom and democracy. Rice continues:

"Some in the Arab media have even asked why the only real democracies in the Middle East are found in the "occupied lands" of Iraq and the Palestinian territories. What an incredible thought. Today, citizens in the region are demanding that their governments respond to this simple, audacious question."

Freedom of speech is indeed missing from most of the Middle East but to legitimise two illegal occupations, and suggest that only through occupation can truly open expression occur, is classic imperial thinking: only "we" can bring what "they" want.

I spent some time today with cultural critic and political thinker, Tariq Ali, in Sydney for the Writer's Festival. His eloquence on the Israel/Palestine question reminded me of the lack of real debate on this matter in Australia. In the West, he told me, many official organs are only capable of seeing issues as what serves Western interests. In the Middle East, for example, Islamist parties could well win government in many countries if true democracy would be allowed to flower. This, of course, would be totally against American interests and is therefore unacceptable. Take the Bush rhetoric on democracy with this in mind.

Scribe Publishing recently released a collection of Ali's talks called "Speaking on Empire and Resistance." Many issues are discussed, but on Israel and America's role towards the Middle East's Jewish "democracy", he has this to say:

"In the US, they [Israel] don't need to worry, because the House and the Senate essentially passed a blank cheque of support for Israel. It's unheard of - they don't give that sort of support to their own government, but they're prepared to give that support to Israel. There is an Israeli offensive against dissent, abroad and at home...the Palestinians have become the indirect victims of the Judeocide of the Second World War."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

What is news?

"Professional journalism relies heavily on official sources. Reporters have to talk to the PM's official spokesperson, the White House press secretary, the business association, the army general. What those people say is news. Their perspectives are automatically legitimate...This is precisely the opposite of what a functioning democracy needs, which is a ruthless accounting of the powers that be."

(Robert McChesney, professor of communications, University of Illinois)


I've deliberately avoided commenting on the Schapelle Corby case for a variety of reasons. Some in the blogosphere, such as Weezil, have thrown themselves into fighting for her freedom. All well and good for a woman seemingly set for a long prison term in Indonesia. Personally, the case against Corby has always seemed highly questionable, to say the least.

Believing her innocence is one thing, slamming Indonesian justice is another. Last night's ABC Media Watch revealed a presenter on Sydney's 2GB Radio, Malcolm T. Elliot, making some utterly unacceptable racist jibes against our northern neighbour. Some "highlights":

"I believe right now Bambam Yodhoyono is sitting up there and his hands are tied because it’s a legal matter. Wham Bam Thank You Mam Yiddi-yono is going to be called into all of these — well, that’s what he is, isn’t he — have you ever seen them? Whoa, give them a banana and away they go ..."

"I have total disrespect for our neighbouring nation my friend. Total disrespect. And then we get this joke of a trial, and it’s nothing more than a joke. An absolute joke the way they sit there. And they do look like the three wise monkeys, I’ll say it. They don’t speak English, they read books, they don’t listen to her. They show us absolutely no respect those judges."

"What about that little midget woman who was up there, what was her name? Midget. Who was the president? Megawati. Megawati midget, yeah. Goodness."

The emotion charged proceedings, and foreign surroundings of the Indonesian justice system, has brought up the sadly familiar Australian trait of mocking a foreign culture. If an Indonesian radio presenter made similiar statements about the Australian legal fraternity, rest assured Ray Martin, Channel 9 and the pack of media hounds would be demanding an official apology. But it's silence when directed elsewhere.

Professor Tim Lindsay, a specialist in Indonesia law and society and Director of the University of Melbourne's Asian Law Centre, argues that the Indonesian legal system has been woefully misrepresented over the past months. Take this exchange from a recent ABC World Today interview:

ELEANOR HALL: "Is it the case that the Indonesian legal system is based on the presumption of guilt?"

TIM LINDSAY: "No, that is completely false. As a matter of fact it is completely the opposite. The system in Indonesia is the same as the system in Australia, and our Commonwealth system. Article 66 of the Criminal Procedure Code specifically states that the burden of proof to prove guilt in a criminal case lies with the prosecution. In other words, that unless the prosecution can prove guilt, the person is innocent. So the common furphy that is being circulated in Australia in the media at the moment that people in the Indonesian system are presumed guilty until proven innocent is totally false."

Presenting these facts is no justification for the myriad of failures at the heart of the Corby case, not least of which was the absence of fingerprinting the suspect's bag of marijuana. My point simply lies in not presenting this case as a prime example of a debauched system up north and a perfect, more fair and equitable arrangement in Australia, one clearly more likely, in the eyes of critic, to return a not-guilty verdict.

On the other hand, many in the Australian media have prejudiced the case beyond belief, making assumptions and claims that would be completely unacceptable if the case was running here. Last weekend's Australian carried a remarkable headline: "Meet the Corbys - a dad with a drug record, a brother in jail, a former bankrupt who wants 50 per cent of the action." ABC's Tony Jones asked Attorney General Phillip Ruddock last night if such behaviour was prejudicial:

RUDDOCK: "Oh, look, I think if it was run in an Australian court, it would be seen as very prejudicial and unhelpful and wouldn't be run in the media. But you still have to look at these matters in the context of how, right from the beginning, these matters have been addressed by the defence using the media."

TONY JONES: "Yes, but this is a case of the media apparently making up its mind about a family and putting out a headline which suggests the family essentially have criminal connections, at a time, just a week away from the actual verdict. Now, given the Internet, given satellite broadcasting, given the judges may actually read that headline, could it be prejudicial to the trial in Indonesia?"

RUDDOCK: "Well, I think you made the point right at the beginning that people have been barracking for both sides. It seems to me that's been part of the barracking that's occurred on both sides, and I've made the point that I consider it very unhelpful."

Today's Sydney Telegraph reveals the Australian pastor who baptised Corby behind bars and her snap decision to embrace God. Media organisations are struggling to find new angles only days before the verdict. Nothing surprising there, that's what journalists should be doing.

Unacceptable is the denigration of a country, its legal system and people simply because one woman may well be innocent. Indonesia has a history of avoiding taking responsibility for past crimes (including those behind the 1999 massacres in East Timor) but this should not be carte blanche to express cultural superiority.

Racism is never far away in the Corby debate.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Held in contempt

The New York Times published an article on May 21 that should have been on the front page of Australia's leading broadsheets. It told the real face behind America's "War on Terror" (WOT):

"For many Muslims, Guantánamo stands as a confirmation of the low regard in which they believe the United States holds them. For many non-Muslims, regardless of their feelings toward the United States, it has emerged as a symbol of American hypocrisy. "The cages, the orange suits, the shackles - it's as if they're dealing with something that's like a germ they don't want to touch," said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah, in the West Bank. "That's the nastiness of it."

Expressing skepticism towards America is healthy, especially in light of so many scandals involving US forces around the world. Showing contempt, however, is a more worrying trend. Being against the policies of George W. Bush is one thing but harboring deep-seated hatred for what America now stands for suggests a world community fundamentally at odds with the radical agenda of Bush's neo-cons. The long-term effects of such sentiments are patently clear.

Human Rights Watch released a report last week that revealed the smokescreen of the Newsweek scandal:

"U.S. forces in Afghanistan were involved in killings, torture and other abuses of prisoners even before the Iraq war started. These crimes, known to senior officials in the military and Central Intelligence Agency, have not still been adequately investigated or prosecuted."

Blind defenders of American and Australian foreign policy, and tacit acceptance of abuses by the US military and their bureaucratic masters, are contributing to a rising hatred of all things American. How can the US be taken seriously in world affairs when it refuses to fully investigate systemic issues at the core of the WOT?

Let it be understood that I am not defending American government policy. Far from it. I'm not a believer in America being the only superpower able to implement positive change. I'm constantly amazed at the cultural amnesia in our mainstream society on this matter. Take today's editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald. The issue is America's relationship with the Uzbek dictator and the contradiction between Bush's stated belief in freedom and democracy and reality in the Central Asian country. The final line is priceless: "Mr Bush's own claim to global moral leadership is at stake." Implicit in such a statement is that America under Bush is capable of delivering on such lofty promises, despite vast evidence suggesting otherwise. This delusion, common in much allegedly progressive commentary, is part of a simliar problem with viewing America's role in the world. Is it not time to assume that America is simply incapable of delivering moral leadership on any issue? Blood stains its hands in virtually every corner of the globe.

Attitudes towards the US in the Muslim world are becoming so toxic that issues like Guantanamo Bay are proving to be the ultimate recruitment tool for extremists. And guess whom we have to blame?

Putting on the pounds

Morgan Spurlock, agent provocateur of anti-McDonalds documentary, Super Size Me, returns with a book called "Don't Eat This Book", exclusively extracted in yesterday's Independent on Sunday. Adults clearly bear much responsibility for the kind of food their children are consuming, but as Spurlock suggests, "they're going up against billions and billions of dollars spent every year in corporate marketing, all aimed at teaching kids to make exactly the opposite sorts of choices."

"...McDonald's marketing genius M Lawrence Light - the guy who rolled out the 'I'm lovin' it' campaign - wants to surround the youth of the world with McDonald's brand images. 'Light wants to turn everything he can into an ad for McDonald's,' wrote Business Week magazine in July 2004. "He's pushing the Oak Brook chain to open clothing shops so kids will walk around in T-shirts with the Golden Arches logo, just as they already do with Old Navy or Disney. He envisions a deal with the National Basketball Association to play the five-note tagline of the 'I'm lovin' it' ad in the stadium every time a player shoots a three-pointer. He's even toying with making the jingle available over the internet so it could be downloaded as a mobile phone ring tone."

Some may argue that McDonalds has the right to advertise to whomever it chooses. True enough in our economic system, but surely there is a need for debate around the ways in which young children are being sold a message of "consume and be happy".

It'd be a pleasant thought indeed to see companies like McDonalds sued by concerned parents who argue that their children are not happy after consuming a Big Mac. False advertising?

BBQ Boys

For us men, sometimes less than adept in the culinary department, get ready for a revolution. The BBQ Boys have arrived, "helping guys with the basics of barbecuing. Simple stuff to help you relax, have some fun and enjoy grilling for a change. No fancy-schmancy recipes here."

The just released DVD isn't yet available in Australia, but I'm reliably informed that this will change shortly. Find the perfect meat before the next religiously appropriate holiday.

Finally, evidence

A leading Australian conservative proves incapable or unwilling to criticise the Howard government. "Most on the right support the Howard government", he says. Nothing to complain about? No issues? No questions? Forgotten your role as a journalist to question official perspectives, rather than simply channeling them?

On Iraq: "Either you believe democracy can be introduced, or you don’t." Supporting the war is one thing, discussing the numerous failures since March 2003 is another. Prisoner abuse scandals, torture in American-run prisons, inability to establish functioning infrastructure for the majority of Iraqis and heavy-handed anti-insurgency attacks leading to civilian casualties. The list goes on and on. But, our Court Reporter insists, it's about democracy, it's about democracy, it's about democracy...and hammering the Left into submission.

John Howard must be so proud of his disciple. This is not journalism, it's propaganda.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

The truth hurts

In today's Guardian, Seymour Hersh explains the lack of accountability at the top levels of the Bush administration:

"It's been over a year since I published a series of articles in the New Yorker outlining the abuses at Abu Ghraib. There have been at least 10 official military investigations since then - none of which has challenged the official Bush administration line that there was no high-level policy condoning or overlooking such abuse. The buck always stops with the handful of enlisted army reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company whose images fill the iconic Abu Ghraib photos with their inappropriate smiles and sadistic posing of the prisoners."

"There is no evidence that President Bush, upon learning of the devastating conduct at Abu Ghraib, asked any hard questions of Rumsfeld and his own aides in the White House; no evidence that they took any significant steps, upon learning in mid-January of the abuses, to review and modify the military's policy toward prisoners. I was told by a high-level former intelligence official that within days of the first reports the judicial system was programmed to begin prosecuting the enlisted men and women in the photos and to go no further up the chain of command."

But we shouldn't be surprised. With the lack of a real opposition in America, Britain or Australia, speaking truth to power is left to figures such as British MP George Galloway, saluted here by Scott Ritter:

"Galloway has...had the courage to stand up to unjust charges and an unjust war - and that is the only way that opinion will shift. Two years ago I wrote that the accusations of corruption against Galloway were too convenient, designed to silence one of the Iraq war's harshest critics. The honourable member for Bethnal Green and Bow has entered the lair of a conservative American political body to confront it head-on about a war and occupation that many on both sides of the Atlantic, politicians and public alike, seem only too willing to sweep under the carpet. So, Mr Galloway, please accept from this American three cheers for a job well done."

Independent American journalist Dahr Jamail, a regular visitor to Iraq without major news organisation backing, explains "living in two worlds", between an American public not being told the truth about Iraq and average Iraqis struggling to understand a country blighted by violence.

Meanwhile, back on planet Bush, pictures of Saddam Hussein, published in Murdoch's Sun in the UK, have further enraged the American administration. Once again, more concern is expressed about an American solider (presumably) leaking photos than actual abuses in Iraqi jails and beyond. The "mother of all smokescreens", as Galloway said earlier in the week.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Keeping media free

Bill Moyers was a PBS radio personality and outspoken critic of media consolidation. During a recent media conference on reform in St Louis, Missouri, Moyers unloaded on the challenges ahead for independent media and the institutional acceptance of many in the mainstream media that it isn't news unless an official says so. Sound familiar?

Some highlights:

In a recent essay, media commentator Jonathan Mermin discussed the failures of the mainstream media to fully understand its role, especially in time of war.

"Mermin quotes David Ignatius of the Washington Post on why the deep interests of the American public are so poorly served by beltway journalism. The “rules of our game,” says Ignatius, “make it hard for us to tee up an issue...without a news peg.” He offers a case in point: the debacle of America’s occupation of Iraq. “If Senator so and so hasn’t criticized post-war planning for Iraq,” says Ignatius, “then it’s hard for a reporter to write a story about that.”

"Mermin also quotes public television’s Jim Lehrer acknowledging that unless an official says something is so, it isn’t news. Why were journalists not discussing the occupation of Iraq? Because, says Lehrer, “the word occupation...was never mentioned in the run-up to the war.” Washington talked about the invasion as “a war of liberation, not a war of occupation, so as a consequence, “those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.”

“In other words,” says Jonathan Mermin, “if the government isn’t talking about it, we don’t report it.” He concludes, “[Lehrer’s] somewhat jarring declaration, one of many recent admissions by journalists that their reporting failed to prepare the public for the calamitous occupation that has followed the ‘liberation’ of Iraq, reveals just how far the actual practice of American journalism has deviated from the First Amendment ideal of a press that is independent of the government.”

"Take the example (also cited by Mermin) of Charles J. Hanley. Hanley is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Associated Press, whose fall 2003 story on the torture of Iraqis in American prisons - before a U.S. Army report and photographs documenting the abuse surfaced - was ignored by major American newspapers. Hanley attributes this lack of interest to the fact that “It was not an officially sanctioned story that begins with a handout from an official source.” Furthermore, Iraqis recounting their own personal experience of Abu Ghraib simply did not have the credibility with beltway journalists of American officials denying that such things happened. Judith Miller of The New York Times, among others, relied on the credibility of official but unnamed sources when she served essentially as the government stenographer for claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction."

We are increasingly fed government sanctioned leaks as "news". In Australia, and the intimacy of the establishment press, taking a risk on a story requires more than just a hunch and a great lead. Progressives need to better engage with the wider public and convince people that stories like this (a suggestion by outgoing ASIO director-general, Dennis Richardson that "ASIO's powers to question and detain those suspected of being involved with terrorists or having information about them should be permanently enshrined in legislation") are simply another unacceptable step in interfering with our lives. Besides, like the torture debate, to give power to institutions that have become so politicised under the Howard reign, would be folly in the extreme.

As Crikey reported this week, we are likely to see before year's end a major overhaul of the country's cross media laws. Christian Kerr's report should be required reading for anyone arguing greater diversity will be the result of the changes.

To our friends in the empire...

Perhaps you're feeling confused about the recent decision of British university lecturers to boycott a handful of Israeli institutions claiming they were complicit in the ongoing oppressive occupation of Palestinians. Personally, I find it highly regrettable that the situation has escalated this far, but I've read enough about the general gutlessness of Israeli academia to stand up for what's right, and international attention and pressure may be the best way forward.

And now, something special for our US readers, from media critic and author Jeff Cohen:

Looking for an easy way to protest Bush foreign policy week after week? And an easy way to help alleviate global poverty? Buy your gasoline at Citgo stations.

And tell your friends.

Of the top oil producing countries in the world, only one is a democracy with a president who was elected on a platform of using his nation's oil revenue to benefit the poor. The country is Venezuela. The President is Hugo Chavez. Call him "the Anti-Bush."

Citgo is a U.S. refining and marketing firm that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company. Money you pay to Citgo goes primarily to Venezuela - not Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. There are 14,000 Citgo gas stations in the US. (Click here to find one near you.) By buying your gasoline at Citgo, you are contributing to the billions of dollars that Venezuela's democratic government is using to provide health care, literacy and education, and subsidized food for the majority of Venezuelans.

Instead of using government to help the rich and the corporate, as Bush does, Chavez is using the resources and oil revenue of his government to help the poor in Venezuela. A country with so much oil wealth shouldn't have 60 percent of its people living in poverty, earning less than $2 per day. With a mass movement behind him, Chavez is confronting poverty in Venezuela. That's why large majorities have consistently backed him in democratic elections. And why the Bush administration supported an attempted military coup in 2002 that sought to overthrow Chavez.

So this is the opposite of a boycott. Call it a BUYcott. Spread the word.

Of course, if you can take mass transit or bike or walk to your job, you should do so. And we should all work for political changes that move our country toward a cleaner environment based on renewable energy. The BUYcott is for those of us who don't have a practical alternative to filling up our cars.

So get your gas at Citgo. And help fuel a democratic revolution in Venezuela.

Cowardice award

The Newsweek controversy. Left and right wingers are using the so-called stuff-up of the establishment mouthpiece to prove their respective points. Tiresome, mostly. The key issues have been ignored and it's taken muckraker extraordinaire Greg Palast to lay some facts on the table:

"It's appalling that this story got out there," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on her way back from Iraq. What's NOT appalling to Condi is that the US is holding prisoners at Guantanamo under conditions termed "torture" by the Red Cross. What's not appalling to Condi is that prisoners of the Afghan war are held in violation of international law after that conflict has supposedly ended. What is NOT appalling to Condi is that prisoner witnesses have reported several instances of the Koran's desecration. What is appalling to her is that these things were REPORTED."

"Newsweek has now publicly committed to having its reports vetted by Rumsfeld's Defense Department before publication. Why not just print Rumsfeld's press releases and eliminate the middleman, the reporter?"

The reluctance of the American media to investigate allegations of abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay has been explained. God forbid an editor or journalist discovers something shocking, what individual, other than the bravest, will want to be chastised by Bush and his cronies?

I would have thought it was a badge of honour to expose the duplicity of the current regime and its client states. Thankfully, some people still think so.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Taliban Country

Carmela Baranowska is an independent filmmaker based in Melbourne. Her documentary, Taliban Country, won a Walkley in the short documentary category. She was incorrectly reported missing while in Afghanistan but the source for this incorrect information has never been found.

SBS Dateline screened the program in a shortened version but last night I finally watched the disturbing 45-minute version, after being given the original on DVD by Carmela last month. The film documents allegations of abuse by US Marines in some of the most remote areas of Afghanistan. The US military has supposedly investigated the claims and unsurprisingly concluded that the charges are without basis.

A blog run by an American friend of Carmela's is "dedicated to providing an on-going record of US military interrogation and detention policies in Iraq and Afghanistan." Take a look around as much of the information rarely gets an airing in Australia.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

No torture please, we're Australian

There is little more I can add to the current torture debate. My personal view is clear. Torture cannot be justified and those supporting opening the door just a little are playing with fire. Surely history teaches us that figures in authority cannot be trusted on matters of such grave importance? Abu Ghraib stands as a living testament to out of control power. Giving such power to a government or unregulated, secretive body to harm people is not something a democracy should be granting. Besides, because many countries currently practice torture (so-called democracies and despots alike) is hardly reason to condone placing electrodes on a person's genitals. Where would it stop? To prevent a terrorist act? A murder? Bank heist?

The best explanation of "why not" is Tim Dunlop at Road to Surfdom.

Let's not forget that we've had this debate before. Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz argued in 2003 that Western democracies "should never under any circumstances allow low-level people to administer torture. If torture is going to be administered as a last resort in the ticking-bomb case, to save enormous numbers of lives, it ought to be done openly, with accountability, with approval by the president of the United States or by a Supreme Court justice."

Dershowitz may argue that the process would not lead down a slippery slope, but this is a man who believes Israel to be a prime example of a country upholding human rights.

As Australians, we should listen to the sane voice of Richard Slade of Quakers Hill, letter writer in today's Sydney Morning Herald:

"Clarke and Bagaric need to study history before they say any more about the reasons torture should be allowed. Our species has a long and terrible history of using torture for "noble reasons". History is full of stories of victims who will say anything they think the torturers want to hear in the hope that the pain will stop. Of course, the fanatic is the one person least likely to yield to torture, so what good things will torture achieve? And how does the torturer choose appropriate victims with certainty?"

Our media lacks self-criticism

My latest freelance article is now live at Online Opinion. A thorough examination of the mainstream's delusions when it comes to true journalistic investigations. Our establishment reporters are frequently reluctant to challenge the status-quo, making alternative media an even more essential outlet. The how, why and who is examined.

I'm pretty busy at the moment, so pardon the lack of posts. Life dramas followed by book deadlines makes a very busy boy.


"Britain has been increasing sales to Uzbekistan of equipment with potential military use, despite condemnation of its human rights record by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw. Export licences have been approved for "strategic exports" ever since Uzbekistan became an ally in the "war on terror". The government said last year it approved export licences for "armoured personnel carriers", which could be used for internal repression."

The Guardian reports that British actions are contradictory. In one breath, Blair's government condemns human rights abuses in the country while at the same time doesn't want to upset the US relationship with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.

Britain's hypocrisy is nothing new. In 2000 it was revealed that the country was licensing the export to Zimbabwe of spare parts for Hawk aircraft. Such activity was likely to allow the Zimbabwe government to continue its deadly bombing runs in the Congo. The editor of Zimbabwe's non-governmental newspaper, the Zimbabwe Independent, said the sale was prompted "purely" by economic considerations. "The British government", he said, "was opposed to Zimbabwe's involvement in the Congo war and is opposed to human rights abuses perpetrated by the Mugabe regime, but it is willing to support the Mugabe government by selling it arms." The British government finally buckled under public pressure and revoked all licences to Mugabe's dictatorship.

Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook gave a famous speech in 1997 where he discussed a new era in foreign policy:

"Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves. The Labour Government will put human rights at the heart of our foreign policy..."

The reality, however, was far different. Despite the Guardian still offering support for Cook's message in 2001, a 1997 BBC interview with Cook revealed the real pragmatism behind the policy. He was forced to admit Britain was still selling military hardware to Indonesia although was assured the arms would not be used against the still occupied East Timorese. British oil companies were operating in Burma as Cook lamely defended his government's high ideals. Cook did indeed resign from the Blair government over the Iraq war and became a constant critic of Britain's obedience to the US but his principles were sorely lacking while in government.

British historian Mark Curtis has written extensively on Britain's largely secret trade in arms. He said in 2004:

"It has always struck me that many people on the British left know far more about US foreign policy horrors than those committed by this country. This is, perhaps, unsurprising since the mainstream media and British academics systematically keep the public in the dark about such abuses."

Curtis then revealed the litany of arms sales to numerous countries around the world both before and after Cook's "ethical foreign policy" speech. These included:

2001: British arms exports to Israel are twice those for the year before, reaching £22.5m as Israel steps up aggression in the occupied territories.

2002: Britain gives £3m military aid to Nepal, whose forces are responsible for the majority of deaths in a vicious civil war with Maoist rebels.

May 2003: Indonesia intervenes in Aceh province, using British aircraft and tanks.

June 2003: Amid mounting violence, rigged elections in Chechnya are welcomed by Britain as Russia widens its war in the Caucasus to the neighbouring Russian republic Ingushetia.

June 2003: With human rights atrocities by government and allied forces proliferating in Colombia, Britain organises international donors to increase support to the government of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe Velez, and steps up covert military aid to Bogota.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Letter of the week/month

Come on down, Mark Slater of Page in the ACT:

"Of course John Howard has confidence in Amanda Vanstone. He is confident she will stonewall, blame-shift and protest ignorance just as his ministerial code of misconduct demands. After all, she's learnt everything she knows about accountability from the Little Master; say as little of substance as possible and deny everything because eventually people will forget."

(Sydney Morning Herald letters)

Friends and allies

"The Jordanian businessman accused of passing oil money from Saddam Hussein to George Galloway has revealed that he is once again trading in Iraq and making trips to America with the approval of the US authorities."

The Independent reports today that Fawaz Zureikat says "neither the new government in Baghdad nor US officials had raised any objections to him renewing his trade with Iraq." These allegations emerge as Galloway himself will face his accusers in Washington over charges he received vouchers for 20 million barrels of oil from Saddam during the Oil for Food program.

I’m happy to be proven wrong, but somehow I suspect that the mud being thrown at Galloway will not stick. I smell a Republican hatchet job.

Gerry's delusions. Again.

Gerard Henderson is known for being boring. He exceeds at his chosen craft, writing weekly in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on matters of national importance and defending those groups, individuals or countries desperately in need of assistance. Today, the establishment's friend and ally wraps his warm embrace around Bush's America. Phil Gomes takes him to task:

"Gerard Henderson uses one reported case of sanity within the US diplomatic corps to disprove the madness of the rest":

'So much for the mythology that the Bush Administration is dominated by adventurous and unfeeling ideologues.'

"Apparently guys like John Bolton aren't on Gerry's reading list."

When will Fairfax dump Gerry and find somebody, anybody, to replace a man running a close second to the Australian's Greg Sheridan for getting up close and personal with those in power? But then, Fairfax wouldn't want to rattle their ever-increasing senior readers. While at Fairfax, I was told that Miranda Devine was only chosen as a columnist - and poached from Murdoch - to "cause a bit of controversy." Yawn. Content clearly ran a far second. How many writers with a direct line to the Bush/Blair/Howard phone does a newspaper need? A few outsiders are just what the mainstream needs. I'll offer my services for a reasonable fee. Give me editorial control and I'll give you a rattled readership.

Liberal future?

What is the future of the Australian Liberal Party? When John Howard finally leaves the stage, what will remain? There is much evidence to suggest an organisation controlled by far right thugs. Enter Alex Hawke, Federal President of the Young Liberals.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May 2004 of a physical altercation between moderates within the party and hardliners. Hawke is backed by his boss, conservative upper house member David Clarke, a Christian against abortion, gay marriage, harm minimisation and drug law reform.

"The right were accusing the others of being pro-gay marriages, of being poofter lovers and pro-abortion. They were telling people to f--- off out of there and pushing and shoving," said one eyewitness, a moderate. One right-winger said: "These people brought people along who have written articles against the government, a lot of people who are Muslims and who are listed on the site" The result was scuffles and police involvement.

Today we learn that the NSW Liberal Party is likely to soon have on its state executive a conservative Right wing in leadership. Conservatism isn't the issue here, their tactics and attitudes are. The SMH explains: "It might all seem like another internal storm in a teacup except that the Right's rise to power could change the face of the NSW Liberal Party from a secular party with liberal social values to one with strong links to Christian church groups and a conservative social platform." Threatening tactics has been alleged by all sides as the party appears to be moving towards a more exclusionary future.

Hawke is a former staffer to Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan, a so-called liberal within the party. What does all this mean? Quite simply, that although many commentators have recently argued that Peter Costello as Prime Minister would soften the party, direction at the grassroots is already proving that to be a mirage.

The situation is reminiscent of current debates in the USA. With the Republican Party moving further to the Christian Right and dissenters being shut out, moderates within the party are struggling to find a place. Let's hope both the Republican and Liberal Party implode within the decade.

UPDATE: This was highlighted in comments but it's worth repeating here. The Liberal Party, and Tony Abbott, has a long history of attracting far-right extremists to the party. Crikey reported the goings-on in 2003.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Junking the sceptics

"For the past three weeks, a set of figures has been working a hole in my mind. On April 16th, New Scientist published a letter from the famous botanist David Bellamy. Many of the world's glaciers, he claimed, 'are not shrinking but in fact are growing. ...555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980.' His letter was instantly taken up by climate change deniers. And it began to worry me. What if Bellamy was right?"

George Monbiot's latest column is a fascinating tale of how environmental fact is skewed by dubious science and hijacked by the far right. The result is a world sicker by the day.

This story has it all. Hater Lyndon Larouche, architects posing as scientists, human error and conspiracy.

(PS. Yes, glaciers are in fact melting.)

Spotlight on Uzbekistan

With another Central Asian nation suddenly in the news and the outbreak of violence causing hundreds of deaths (blamed both on Muslim extremists and the army), let's take a look at this virtually ignored country in the region.

As widely reported, Uzbek President Islam Karimov is a staunch ally in George W. Bush's "War on Terror" since giving the Americans the use of an airbase in 2001. Washington cut some financial aid in 2004 and announced that the Uzbek leader had failed to meet certain human rights targets.

Karimov is a dictator, however, who runs a one-party police state, making a mockery of Bush's message of spreading democracy around the world. When democracy suits, in other words. Short-term military needs appear to be America's priority, said John Schoeberlein, head of the Program on Central Asia and the Caucasus at Harvard University in 2002. "The Uzbek government is serious in recognizing the need to satisfy the US on this...but it is not sincere. Basically, it's just PR."

After 9/11, Washington and Tashkent formed a mutually agreeable relationship in their battle against Muslim extremism. American officials claim that closeness with regimes such as Uzbekistan allows greater ability to press for human rights improvements. In theory this may be true, but the reality is far removed from this utopian vision. Human rights campaigners in the country bristled at the sight of Karimov travelling to the White House in 2002 and receiving thanks from Bush for his anti-terror coalition.

The human rights abuses are notorious. Evidence has emerged that America has sent "terrorist" suspects to Uzbekistan for "interrogation", while the US government issues reports outlining the gross violations in the country's jails. The New York Times reported earlier this month about Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. Murray complained to his former British superiors of the use of torture in gathering intelligence.

"Mr. Murray, who has previously spoken publicly about prisoner transfers to Uzbekistan, said his superiors in London were furious with his questions, and he was told that the intelligence gleaned in Uzbekistan could still be used by British officials, even if it was elicited by torture, as long as the mistreatment was not at the hands of British interrogators. 'I was astonished,' Mr. Murray said in an interview. 'It was as if the goal posts had moved. Their perspective had changed since Sept. 11.'"

The US State Department's most recent report on human rights in Uzbekistan found the following: "Torture was common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts."

Comments in 2004 by Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staffs, perfectly explained the attitude of the US towards despotic regimes. The US had "benefited greatly from our partnership and strategic relationship with Uzbekistan", he said. And after explaining the concerns over human rights abuses, the following: "In my view, we shouldn't let any single issue drive a relationship with any single country. It doesn't seem to be good policy to me."

And America wonders why an increasing number of countries, including Russia, reject the Bush doctrine of spreading freedom and democracy around the world and charge Bush with double-standards. Hypocrisy never gets a country anywhere, least of all respect. But then, America has never been very good at learning from history.

UPDATE: Craig Murray explains the context of the current political unrent:

"The US will fund 'human rights' training in Uzbekistan but not help for the democratic opposition, in contrast to its policy elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. When Jon Purnell, the US ambassador, last year attended the opening of a human rights centre in the Ferghana valley, he interrupted a local speaker criticising repression. Political points, Purnell opined, were not allowed. The western news agenda has moved the dead of Andijan from the 'democrat' to the 'terrorist' pile. Karimov remains in power. The White House will be happy. That's enough for No 10."

Battlefield of liars

Patrick Cockburn is the UK Independent's Iraq correspondent. He paints a depressing picture of current day Iraq.

"There is no doubt that the US has failed to win the war. Much of Iraq is a bloody no man's land. The army has not been able to secure the short highway to the airport, though it is the most important road in the country, linking the US civil headquarters in the Green Zone with its military HQ at Camp Victory."

"Ironically, the extent of US failure to control Iraq is masked by the fact that it is too dangerous for the foreign media to venture out of central Baghdad. Some have retreated to the supposed safety of the Green Zone. Mr Bush can claim that no news is good news, though in fact the precise opposite is true."

"Embedded journalism fosters false optimism. It means reporters are only present where American troops are active, though US forces seldom venture into much of Iraq. Embedded correspondents bravely covered the storming of Fallujah by US marines last November and rightly portrayed it as a US military success. But the outside world remained largely unaware, because no reporters were present with US forces, that at the same moment an insurgent offensive had captured most of Mosul, a city five times larger than Fallujah."

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, makes a flying visit to Iraq to oversee the looting of the newest US colony.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Society girl

A reassuring sign that Australian television still believes a woman's place is acting like a lady and behaving as a princess. A depressing new program is looking for contestants:

"If you think you’re a ‘diamond in the rough’ who can be transformed into a Princess with poise, elegance, beauty and grace, then fill out the attached registration form and send it to us immediately."

"The chosen contestants will be flown to Sydney and will learn how to walk, talk and act like a real Princess. Paul Burrell, former butler to Princess Diana and the Queen, will lead a team of international experts in etiquette and the royal pursuits, who will give contestants all the skills required in order to fit into proper society."

Girls, boycott. Potential Prince Charmings, look elsewhere. Paul Burrell, can't find regular employment?

'They Came Here to Die'

The Washington Post provides a gripping account of US Marines fighting insurgents in Western Iraq. "They came here to die," said Gunnery Sgt. Chuck Hurley, commander of the team from the 1st Platoon, Lima Company, of the Marines' 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment.

The article fails to mention any effect of the action on the local civilian population.


Does Israel have close to 400 nuclear warheads? Former Pentagon official and whistle-blower, Daniel Ellsberg, made the announcement at a recent news conference before the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference at the UN in New York. "That’s more than Britain, China, India and Pakistan, and probably more than France”, he said.

Israel's arsenal should be abolished and pressure placed on them to do so by the world community. The American acceptance of Israel's nuclear warheads proves their inherent hypocrisy when discussing the reduction of weapons worldwide. Furthermore, the Bush administration has frequently announced its intention to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. How can countries like Iran or North Korea take America seriously when the US is flaunting the weapons themselves? Stephen Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said in 2003: "How can we possibly go to the international community or to these countries and say 'How dare you develop these weapons', when it's exactly what we're doing?"

Ellsberg disclosed the secret Pentagon documents in the early 1970s that proved the real agenda and situation behind the Vietnam War. "The Pentagon Papers" remains the quintessential insider's leak. His bravery can be summarised thus:

"On return to the RAND Corporation in 1967, he worked on the Top Secret McNamara study of U.S. Decision-making in Vietnam, 1945-68, which later came to be known as the Pentagon Papers. In 1969, he photocopied the 7,000 page study and gave it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; in 1971 he gave it to the New York Times, Washington Post and 17 other newspapers. His trial, on twelve felony counts posing a possible sentence of 115 years, was dismissed in 1973 on grounds of governmental misconduct against him, which led to the convictions of several White House aides and figured in the impeachment proceedings against President Nixon."

The Iraq war will bring its own Pentagon Papers eventually, such was the duplicity and deception leading the US and its allies to war.

A landmark 1971 decision by the US Supreme Court allowed the New York Times and Washington Post to publish articles based on the Pentagon Papers, after government stalling, and it remains a fine example of the US Supreme Court realising, as the New York Times reported at the time, that "the courts lack the power to suppress any press publication no matter how grave a threat to security it might pose."

Justice Hugo L. Black explained the reasons behind the decision; his brave words still resonate today, in an age of government reliance on secrecy:

"Paramount among the responsibilities of a free press, is the duty to prevent any part of the Government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Benefits of brown-nosing

Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of Murdoch's Australian, rewrites history again today. Long known for defending the Indonesian military and the Australian intelligence community over the 1975 invasion of East Timor - claiming in his paper that then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was "innocent" of charges he knew about the Indonesian invasion of Timor when subsequently released documents proved that he in fact was fully aware and condoned it - Sheridan has never been one to avoid the opportunity to get up close and personal with the likes of Henry Kissinger (the war criminal still slavishly published by the Australian) and Indonesian Generals, as historian Scott Burchill explains:

"The Australian's foreign editor once wrote - both in an article for his paper and again in a book - about how honoured and excited he was to be invited to dinner with General Benny Murdani during a trip to Indonesia. Murdani, who cheated a war crimes tribunal by recently dying, was one of the Indonesian military's worst monsters - responsible for heinous human rights violations in East Timor during the 1970s, including operational responsibility for the murder of the journalists later known as the Balibo Five."

Today, Murdoch's propagandist offers his insights into the failures of Australia's intelligence community, but begins with this seemingly benign introduction:

"A rogue section of the Indonesian military wants to set up a bogus indigenous militia outfit to snuff out independence movements in West Papua...This scenario is wholly fictional, not least because the modern Indonesian Government doesn't act that way."

Wholly fictional, Greg? Perhaps you should read a little more widely. Take this SBS Dateline report from March this year, detailing evidence of human rights abuses in West Papua, allegedly committed by the Indonesian military and militias supported by them. Killings, the burning of houses and charges of genocide are just some of the atrocities uncovered.

Furthermore, the report alleged, "that the Indonesian military has siphoned off special autonomy funding set up for West Papua, some of which originates from international donors...funds meant for humanitarian purposes have been diverted and used by the military in its campaign of violence and ethnic cleansing in the Highlands."

Acknowledging any of this would undoubtedly upset Sheridan's contacts in the Indonesian military and government as well as the Australian equivalents, an unacceptable situation for somebody long mothered on the propaganda tit.

Sounds like someone else we know...

The pain of "liberation"

The Iraqi town of Al-Qaim is currently being "liberated" by US and Iraqi forces. Virtually no media reports have surfaced from the onslaught, until now:

"...The Red Crescent [is] warning that the US offensive has turned the city into a “big disaster”, as local inhabitants complained about the stench of dead bodies laid on the streets or beneath the rubble of houses as a result of the fierce US offensive."

"Um Mazin, [an] Iraqi woman fleeing the town, said she left the area with her family to escape the American bombings, according to the Associated Press (AP). "The Americans do not hit the gunmen; they hit the houses of civilians", she said.

So why aren't we getting the full picture in Iraq? It's dangerous, to be sure, but it suits the American and Iraqi governments to restrict information to the outside world. The insurgency is raging, and a senior US official admitted this week that it would last for years. The reality is that the Americans, British and Australians are engaged in a battle they can never win. History proves this - citizens of an occupied nation do not want to be occupied and the Western powers, especially the US, have no intention of permanently leaving Iraqi soil. Ever. Catch 22 for the pro-war crowd.

This doesn't excuse the media, however. Tough questions need to be asked, constantly. I just discovered this astounding quote from an American journalist in 2004. Elisabeth Bumiller is The New York Times White House correspondent. She was asked why the mainstream media were so easy on Bush and his intelligence claims before the war:

"'I think we were very deferential's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war. There was a very serious, sombre tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time."

"I really don’t know what to add to that, except it would nice if Times editors would take a position on whether its reporters should refrain from questioning the president because 'it’s scary.'"

Little else needs to be added. If a journalist doesn't ask the brutal questions on the eve of war, and isn't supported by her organisation, the role becomes little more than rewriting press releases, promoting official propaganda and receiving government approved leaks. Welcome to 2005.