IPS Blog

How Do Buddhist Attacks on Muslims Help Burma’s Government?

Global Post reports on another outbreak of sectarian violence in Burma this week that left “thousands homeless and more than 50 people confirmed dead. Video footage and photos taken at the scene by the local media and wire agencies showed that three days of rioting has transformed the town of Meiktila south of Mandalay in central Myanmar into a war zone scattered with burnt houses, mosques and unrecognizable human dead bodies.”

What was the immediate catalyst for the violence? Radio Free Asia:

Some believe intense business rivalry between Muslims and Buddhists in the city had contributed to the violence.

More specifically…

…a quarrel between the Muslim owner of a goldsmith shop and a Buddhist villager and his wife who had gone there to sell a gold hair pin, a police source said.

An argument broke out when the item was purportedly damaged as it was being authenticated by the goldsmith.

Tension grew as the two sides began to haggle over the price to be offered for the item and people in the shop beat the customers, causing an uproar in the bazaar, the source said.

When the villager was wounded, his sympathizers burned the goldsmith shop and ignited a mass riot, according to the source.…

“This problem erupted because business issues were mixed with religion,” said Pinnyasiha, a prominent Burmese Buddhist monk popularly known as Shwe Nya Wa Sayadaw. … Adding fuel to fire was a report that a Buddhist monk had been killed by Muslims.

The emotions of Muslims in Burma are still rubbed raw over “the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, who rights groups say bore the brunt of the Rakhine violence in June and October last year which had left at least 180 dead and tens of thousands homeless.”

In the aftermath of this latest incident, the government called for a state of emergency. But security forces did little or nothing to stop the attacks. The Global Post again.

… some Buddhist monks publicly called for a boycott of Muslim businesses — against which [the call, that is -- RW] the authorities took no actions at all.


Myint Than, an eyewitness who saw the charred human bodies in the town yesterday, said that police have merely stood by while the arson attacks and the killings occurred over the past few days.

“The police said they had no order to shoot.…,” he added.

Min Ko Naing, a leader of influential 88 Generation Students Group, who visited the conflict area on Thursday, also blamed the security forces’ idleness for the deadly violence. “It is totally unacceptable that the security forces did not take any actions just because they were not ordered to.”


Some observers suspect that the former generals ruling the government and the army which remains as powerful [even though Burma is no longer officially ruled by a junta -- RW] as ever are trying to divert the public attention with sectarian violence and hatred [from] the growing public protests stemming from old grievances against the abuses by the army such as land grabs.

In fact

Myat Ko, an official from Yangon School of Political Science, accused the high-ranking military generals of having a hand in the latest clashes.

“We don’t have the evidence to prove it. But this is happening in our country,” he said. According to Dr.Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at London School of Economics, the army is creating chaos which will continue to strengthen its centrality in politics.

Finally, this is fairly damning.

Writing on his Facebook page today, Zarni said, “There is a consistent and recognizable pattern of violence: the plan is hatched elsewhere. Out-of-town armed mobs are bused in to a targeted locality. All hell broke loose. The police and military stand by until the job is done. Local authorities would say they are waiting for orders from above, which never come.”

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (3/22)

Emphasis, as always, added.

Worst Fatwa Ever

Another clergy member offered biblical justification for the military’s death flights, according to an account by one of the pilots anguished about dumping drugged prisoners out of aircraft and into the sea.

Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War’, William Romeiro and Simon Neumann, The New York Times

Taking Saddam Hussein at Face Value

… the deception measures that the Iraqis were discovered to be making. Both deception and denial measures. … all of the camouflage, the obstruction of UN weapons inspectors, signals deception that was clearly related to the WMD sites.

But there was a single presumption about what that meant. And at a very fundamental level deception is conducted for one of two purposes. You either hide strength, or you hide weakness. It does not seem anybody explored the idea that they were hiding the fact that they had no WMD at all. [Or wanted it known. -- RW] Of course, the target audience for that was the Iranians, and we were the unintended audience for the deception.

Ends and Means, Kalev Sepp, Foreign Policy

Sound Familiar, Americans?

“Economically, culturally, and socially, London has now left Britain behind, blasting off from the rest of the nation like some vast U.F.O.,” says Neil O’Brien, director of the think tank Policy Exchange. “The politicians, civil servants, and journalists who make up Britain’s governing class run one country, but effectively live in another.” As Abrahmsohn sees it, London could “easily declare independence. A lot of these wealthy people don’t even know these outlying regions exist. They don’t care.”

A Tale of Two Londons, Nicholas Shaxson, Vanity Fair

Iraq War: Carrying Collective Punishment to Absurd Proportions

But he never understood the call to invade Iraq. “When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor we didn’t invade China just because they looked the same,” [Tomas Young] said.

The Crucifixion of Tomas Young, Chris Hedges, TruthDig

Depleted Uranium’s Legacy Not That Different From a Nuclear Bomb’s

In July 2010 … a study … showed a 12-fold increase in childhood cancer in Fallujah since the 2004 attacks. The report also showed the sex ratio had become skewed to 86 boys born to every 100 girls, together with a spread of diseases indicative of genetic damage — similar to, but of far greater incidence than Hiroshima. … a log of cases of birth defects amounts to a rate of 14.7 per cent of all babies born in Fallujah, more than 14 times the rate in the effected [sic] areas of Japan.

Iraq: War’s Legacy of Cancer, Dahr Jamail, Truthout

Ugandan Human Rights Group Using U.S. Law to Sue Anti-Gay Pastor

American pastor Scott Lively

American pastor Scott Lively

The Alien Tort Statute gives foreign nationals the right to sue U.S. citizens or corporations for human rights violations committed overseas. The law goes back hundreds of years but has been historically underutilized in the prosecution of abuses by U.S.-based entities. This could begin to change, however, in the case of Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Lively.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the primary rights group in Uganda, has filed suit against evangelical pastor Scott Lively in U.S. federal court in Springfield, Massachusetts. SMUG has accused Lively of promoting widespread anti-gay sentiment throughout Uganda and assisting in the development of a lethal government policy towards homosexuals in the country.

Representing SMUG is the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is working to ensure that the group presents a solid case without violating Mr. Lively’s First Amendment right to free speech. This is precisely the argument for the defense—Lively is only expressing himself, even if he is condemning the entire LGBT community. The CCR argues however, that his rhetoric impinges on the safety and security of an already persecuted population, classifying it as a crime against humanity.

The case focuses on a 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala, “Exposing the Truth About Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda,” in which Lively and two other U.S. pastors compared homosexual acts to bestiality and claimed that gay people were primary offenders in the molestation of children.

Lively also preached to the Ugandan parliament which subsequently introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009—the infamous “Kill the Gays” law. International outcry ensured that this was never passed, but a new version has since been reintroduced in the current session of the Ugandan Parliament.

The homophobia spread to Uganda by American Evangelicals must be blocked before the Parliament passes lethal anti-gay legislation. Advocates hope this case will set international precedent in halting the anti-gay sentiment imported to Uganda and throughout the world.

Renee Lott is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Is Egypt Being Primed for a Coup?

Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi

When an important leader of the political opposition hints that a military coup might be preferable to the current chaos, and when a major financial organization proposes an economic program certain to spark a social explosion, something is afoot. Is Egypt being primed for a coup?

It is hard to draw any other conclusion given the demands the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is making on the government of President Mohamed Morsi: regressive taxes, massive cuts in fuel subsidies, and hard-edged austerity measures whose weight will overwhelmingly fall on Egypt’s poor.

“Austerity measures at a time of political instability are simply unfeasible in Egypt,” says Tarek Radwan of the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “He [Morsi] is already facing civil disobedience in the streets, protests on a weekly, if not daily basis, clashes between protestors and security—he does not want to worsen the situation.”

The “situation” consists of widespread police strikes, particularly in the industrial city of Port Said, but also including parts of Cairo and the heavily populated Nile Delta. The police in Sharqiya have even refused to protect Morsi’s house. At its height the strike spread to half of Egypt’s 27 administrative governorates.

Microbus drivers, angered at rising diesel prices and fuel shortages, blocked roads leading into Cairo, setting off massive traffic jams. Farmers in the Delta joined them, refusing to ship crops and shutting down farm machinery.

Added to the tense political situation are rapidly shrinking foreign currency reserves, an economy that is dead in the water, and an unemployment rate that has risen to 13.5 percent, and close to 25 percent for Egyptians aged 15 to 29. The number of Egyptians living below the poverty line has increased from 20 percent in 2010 to 25 percent today. And tourism, which contributes 11 percent of the gross domestic product, has tanked.

Morsi’s Islamist government appears increasingly isolated, although the Muslim Brotherhood is still the best organized political force in Egypt. Reaching out to the opposition, however, is not its strong point. Morsi was elected with only 52 percent of the vote, and most observers think that support has eroded in the face of economic crisis and political instability. The government managed to ram through an Islamist constitution, but only 33 percent of the voters went to the polls. The government had planned on elections sometime between April and June, but a court recently overturned that decision.

The Morsi government has increasingly resorted to the use of force against opponents, including police tactics similar to those used by the Mubarak government. The government Attorney General recently caused an uproar by asking for “civilians” to arrest “lawbreakers.” The opposition charges that the call is cover for the Morsi government to set up militias dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The plagues being visited upon Egypt may not be of Biblical proportions, but they are serious enough to destabilize the biggest Arab country in the Middle East. They certainly threaten the gains of the January 2011 revolution that overthrew the autocratic and corrupt government of Hosni Mubarak and sent the powerful Egyptian army back to the barracks.

They may not stay there long.

Opposition leader Essam Al-Islambouli of the National Salvation Front told Al-Ahram Weekly, “Today, we don’t just have a convoluted political process, but we are also facing confused and disturbing economic challenges, and we are seeing the threat of citizens bearing arms against each other. We might be reaching a point at which it will become inevitable for the Armed Forces to step in.”

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of Egypt’s Constitutional Party and founding member of the opposition National Salvation Front, told Ahram Online that while he doesn’t “hope the military takes over,” it would be better to be ruled by the military than by Islamic militias.

The Muslim Brotherhood does have a paramilitary wing called the “Hawks” that surfaced in 2006 during demonstrations at Al-Azhar University, and one rumor is that the MB has as many as 5,000 soldiers. There is also a reputed pledge by Hamas to send fighters from Gaza to support the MB. But it is very unlikely that the Brotherhood has anywhere near 5,000 armed men, and Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar denied that the Palestinian organization intends to interfere in Egypt, calling the rumor nothing more than an attempt to smear Hamas. Indeed, relations between Hamas and the Morsi government have recently cooled.

The puzzling thing about the IMF’s demands is that they fly in the face of a recent study by the organization’s chief economist Oliver Banchard, which found spending cuts and taxes hikes only make recessions worse. Stimulus spending are far more effective in restarting an economy.

The Morsi government was hoping the international lending organization would front it $4.8 billion to pull Egypt through the current crisis, but Cairo has delayed asking for the loan, in large part because it is afraid of what the reaction would be. Cutting fuel subsidies would fall heavily on the poor, who use kerosene for cooking. However, without the IMF loan, loans from the U.S. and the European Union will be put on hold as well.

The Morsi government’s fear is well founded. Egypt has long been a difficult country to govern without the consent of its people unless rulers can call on a powerful army. Its population of 83 million is concentrated in a few urban areas, the Delta, the narrow strip of land bordering the Nile, and several cities in the Canal Zone.

That concentration makes demonstrations formidable, as the Mubarak government found out in 2011. The Morsi government recently discovered that fact when it sentenced 21 soccer fans to death for their part in a 2012 riot in Port Said that killed 74 people. Port Said exploded at the verdict.

With the police overwhelmed—and on strike—Morsi was forced to call in the Egyptian Army to confront the rioters, but military commanders were less than happy at being caught between the demonstrators and the government. “The Egyptian armed forces is a combat institution not a security institution,” grumbled Gen. Ahmed Wasfi, head of the Army division sent into Port Said. “No one can imagine the Army replacing the Interior Ministry.”

Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi warned the Morsi government not to try and “brotherhoodise” the military, and also hinted darkly that the continued unrest could bring about a possible “collapse of the state.” It was a sobering statement from an institution that has intervened on other occasions in Egypt, including during the 1952 coup/ revolution that put Gamal Abdel Nasser into power.

As long as Mubarak controlled the army, he could rule Egypt. When the army stepped back in 2011, the government fell.

It is an old story. Ancient Egypt was one of the few areas in the Roman Empire that required two full legions just to keep the peace. And the Romans found that when Egyptians got riled, it was best to back off and cut a deal. Cleopatra used the power of Egypt’s population to hold off Roman rule for more than two decades. It is a force that no government can afford to take lightly.

It is no secret that the U.S. is not overly enthusiastic about the Morsi government. During his recent visit, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered aid—and a modest $250 million at that—but only if the government instituted “painful” austerity measures and kept Cairo’s foreign policy consistent with Washington’s. The U.S. has the most powerful voice in the IMF—it outvotes Japan, Germany and France combined—and the fact that the lending organization demands essentially parallel those made by Kerry is hardly coincidence.

The oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the U.S.’s major allies in the Middle East, have been telling Washington “We told you so” about Islamic governments, and GCC member Qatar, which initially pledged $4.3 billion in aid, has yet to make good on it. Qatar and other GCC nations have also reneged on an economic assistance package.

Morsi’s government is hardly radical. Its economic policies reflect its urban professional roots, and what MB business leader Hassan Malek calls “capitalism with attention to the poor,” a pledge that will be hard to reconcile with the IMF’s formula.

But Egypt has adopted a foreign policy that is not always in perfect alignment with Washington, including re-establishing relations with Iran and sharpening the criticism of Israel for its occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights.

The U.S. has traditionally been more comfortable with authoritarian governments in the Middle East than democratic or Islamic ones, and it has influence with the Egyptian military through its $1.3 billion in yearly aid.

Are the statements by Egypt’s opposition concerning the possibility of a military takeover simply a political maneuver aimed at forcing the Morsi government to be more inclusive, or are they laying a foundation for a coup? Loose talk about an Army takeover in Egypt is a little like hand feeding a crocodile: a good way to lose a body part.

Why is the IMF ignoring its own findings on austerity to push a program that can only ignite massive resistance? And why is the U.S. piling on?

Egypt is looking at a summer of higher food prices, rising unemployment, blackouts, fuel shortages, and growing political unrest. If the country were a chessboard, it looks like a lot of pieces are lining up for an assault on the king.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

SOPAC Expedites New Seabed Mining Legislation for Lockheed Martin

Cross-posted from Moana Nui.

FijiCurrently, US military contractor Lockheed Martin is negotiating with Fiji’s Bainimarama administration to fast-track and sponsor new legislation that would allow the private U.S.-based transnational titan to delve into experimental deep seabed mining. Because the U.S. has not ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), U.S. industries cannot engage in deep seabed mining in international waters, outside of a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In the 1970s, before UNCLOS, Lockheed had conducted an analysis of the nodules found in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, just below the Hawaiian Islands. Now, large industrial mining companies are jockeying for position to be the first to successfully vacuum up Pacific resources, which include rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, nickel, manganese, and rare-earth minerals.

Little is known about the deep seabed, and no conclusive environmental study has been completed. What is known is that the life that thrives in this unusual environment is sulfur-based rather than oxygen-based and we do not know how this sulfuric sediment will impact ocean bio-diversity. There is also no regulatory oversight guiding the technology that seeks to raze the deep ocean floor and suck up the minerals.

SOPAC (the Applied Geoscience and Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community) began operation on January 1, 2011 and was established by the Pacific Island Leaders Forum to include the assessment of the potential of ocean and onshore mineral resources, coastal protection and management, and geohazard assessment. However, with no conclusive Environmental Impact Assessment or statement, the concern that SOPAC is working on behalf of Lockheed Martin, one or the world’s largest private military contractors, should not only betray the trust of Pacific Island Forum countries, but also damage the legitimacy of the scientific community at large.

In an October 2011 press release, SOPAC announced the contracting of Hannah Lily, Solicitor for the British Government to be their legal advisor to the Deep Sea Minerals Project and she has since been working on behalf of Lockheed Martin, advocating for legal changes to Fijian law. Her comments governing the environmental, regulatory and investment agreements concerning deep seabed mining are further troubling since Fiji’s president Bainimarama is viewed to be illegitimate by many. The Bainimarama regime has not held elections since the 2006 military coup, and New Zealand and Australia have only recently restored diplomatic ties with Fiji.

It could very well be that it is through Hannah Lily’s contract with SOPAC, that British PM David Cameron has just pledged to “put Britain at the forefront of a new international seabed mining industry, which he claimed could be worth £40bn to the UK economy over the next 30 years,” according to the Guardian.

Further entrenching SOPAC into what is beginning to look like a cover-up, on March 6, SOPAC requested that the Pacific Network on Globalization (PANG) remove an article, “U.S. giant using SOPAC and Fiji regime to access seabed minerals in international waters” from its website and we have obtained copies of both the article and Hannah Lily’s comments to the draft decree.

Additionally, section 46 of the draft decree criminalizes protest of the Fiji International Seabed Sponsorship Authority (FISSA), which could be read as providing a blanket of coverage for Lockheed Martin to pursue experimental deep seabed mining without public protest.

Here is the removed article:

US giant using SOPAC and illegal Fiji regime to access seabed minerals in international waters

FEBRUARY 28, 2013 · 9:09 AM

The illegal government in Fiji is being squeezed by the American corporate giant, Lockheed Martin, to sponsor its search for seabed minerals in international waters. To that end, Lockheed is pushing the Fiji regime to fast track legislation and is being assisted in this endeavor by the Deep Sea Minerals Project (run by SOPAC, part of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community) and its British lawyer, Hannah Lily.

Fiji’s cabinet is expected to approve a new Decree on seabed mineral management by March the 5th. Consultation on the draft Decree has been fast tracked with relevant stakeholders given less than 3 days to make submissions whilst US giants Lockheed were consulted well in advance. The new law is required before Lockheed will enter into a formal joint-venture with the Fiji regime. Lockheed will then apply in April to the International Seabed Authority for a new exploration licence.

The new law, which SOPAC, has assisted in drafting, makes vague statements about applying a precautionary approach and best environment practices and requiring Environment Impact Assessments but without specifying where or how Fiji is suddenly to get the expertise to manage and enforce these.

Lockheed has already been granted approval by the International Seabed Authority to explore for polymetallic nodules in one area in partnership with the UK government. It now wants to join Fiji as its official national partner for further exploration licences – but first Fiji needs to have the necessary laws to allow seabed mining in place.

The proposed legislation covers the various aspects and issues arising out of experimental seabed mining operations, including establishing a regulatory authority within Fiji, and introducing a licensing regime, provisions on the protection of the marine environment, and delineating Fiji’s and the company’s duties and responsibilities.

Hannah Lily, employed as a legal adviser by SOPAC, has been advising on the drafting process directly on behalf of Lockheed (LH). Here are some of her comments on a draft version of the new law embedded below:

“LH would not accept the jurisdiction of the courts of Fiji, in case of dispute. The sub-contract would specify that the parties would be subject to UK law and courts. LH therefore suggest section 14 be deleted to avoid confusion. However UNCLOS Art 235 requires that: “States shall ensure that recourse is available in accordance with their legal systems for prompt and adequate compensation or other relief in respect of damage caused by pollution of the marine environment by natural or juridical persons under their jurisdiction”. the ITLOS Advisory Opinion summarises this as ‘requiring the sponsoring State to establish procedures, and, if necessary, substantive rules governing claims for damages before its domestic courts’. Whether the proposed Fiji / LH model can navigate this requirement and LH’s requirement for UK arbitration remains a point to be explored.”

“LH consider it unfair both to be charged the admin fee and to require the Company to cover its application costs. They suggest it should be one or the other, not both. “LH would expect a standalone non-disclosure agreement to cover Fiji’s handling of their commercial data.”

“Query whether there is a reason Fiji would like this notice period to be so lengthy? LH would prefer this to be shorter, or if that is not possible to clarify that they would not be penalised for failure to conduct activities during that 6-month notice period.”

“LH request to delete, otherwise Fiji could unilaterally revoke the licence after 2 years’ inaction, which creates too great an uncertainty for the company.”

“LH request that these specific figures are removed from the Decree and replaced with a provision permitting the Government to negotiate financial terms in a Sponsorship Agreement. NB The suggested fees are too high for LH. The UK rates (GBP 10k for application, 15k for first year, 25k after 6 years , 25k on each extension), which use an actual cost recovery mechanism would be more feasible for LH – perhaps with some small room for negotiation, given that this is a developing country.”

“LH would require that the contract stipulates the UK as the prevailing law and dispute resolution mechanism.”

The International Sea Bed Authority (ISBA) which regulates the leasing of seabed deposits have not yet developed a mining code to regulate the exploitation of minerals in international waters. NGOs have raised serious concerns about the experimental nature of the industry as well as its relevance as a development option for island nations. In addition NGOs have raised concerns about the need to protect the marine environment, prevention of pollution from seabed activities and whether states such as Fiji have the ability to monitor the environment impact.

Arnie Saiki is the coordinator for Moana Nui Action Alliance, which focuses on Pacific Island political and economic justice issues.

Way Worse Than a Dumb War: Iraq Ten Years Later

Full article available at The Nation.

Editor’s Note: This statement on the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War was signed by Phyllis Bennis, John Cavanagh and Steve Cobble (Institute for Policy Studies); Judith LeBlanc and Kevin Martin (Peace Action); Laura Flanders (GritTV); Bill Fletcher (The Black Commentator); Andy Shallal (Iraqis for Peace); Medea Benjamin (Code Pink); Michael T. McPhearson and Leslie Cagan (United for Peace and Justice); Michael Eisenscher (US Labor Against the War) and David Wildman. All organizations for identification only.

It didn’t take long for the world to recognize that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq constituted a dumb war, as then Senator Barack Obama put it. But “dumb” wasn’t the half of it.

This Thursday, March 14, 2013, photo shows a general view of the crossed swords monument at the site of an Associated Press photograph taken by Karim Kadim of US soldiers taken on November 16, 2008. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)The US war against Iraq was illegal and illegitimate. It violated the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions and a whole host of international laws and treaties. It violated US laws and our Constitution with impunity. And it was all based on lies: about nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, about never-were ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, about Iraq’s invisible weapons of mass destruction and about Baghdad’s supposed nuclear program, with derivative lies about uranium yellowcake from Niger and aluminum rods from China. There were lies about US troops being welcomed in the streets with sweets and flowers, and lies about thousands of jubilant Iraqis spontaneously tearing down the statue of a hated dictator.

And then there was the lie that the US could send hundreds of thousands of soldiers and billions of dollars worth of weapons across the world to wage war on the cheap. We didn’t have to raise taxes to pay the almost one trillion dollars the Iraq war has cost so far, we could go shopping instead.

But behind these myths the costs were huge—human, economic and more. More than a million US troops were deployed to Iraq; 4,483 were killed; 33,183 were wounded and more than 200,000 came home with PTSD. The number of Iraqi civilians killed is still unknown; at least 121,754 are known to have been killed directly during the US war, but hundreds of thousands more died from crippling sanctions, diseases caused by dirty water when the US destroyed the water treatment system and the inability to get medical help because of exploding violence.

And what are we leaving behind? After almost a decade the US finally pulled out most of its troops and Pentagon-paid contractors. About 16,000 State Department-paid contractors and civilian employees are still stationed at the giant US embassy compound and two huge consulates, along with unacknowledged CIA and FBI agents, Special Forces and a host of other undercover operatives. The US just sold the Iraqi government 140 M-l tanks, and American-made fighter jets are in the pipeline too. But there is little question that the all-encompassing US military occupation of Iraq is over. After more than eight years of war, the Iraqi government finally said no more. Their refusal to grant US troops immunity from prosecution for potential war crimes was the deal-breaker that forced President Obama’s hand and made him pull out the last 30,000 troops he and his generals were hoping to keep in Iraq.

But as we knew would be the case, the pull out by itself did not end the violence…

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article in The Nation.

Pope Francis Has an Opportunity to Redeem Himself for His Sins of Omission During the Dirty War

Cross-posted from the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

Also see Mark’s previous post, Will the Next Pope Embrace Liberation Theology?

In November 2000, as Argentina’s economic crisis escalated, the country’s bishops, led by Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, emerged from a plenary conference with a statement that was hardly welcome news to proponents of economic neoliberalism. Arguing that the true debt of Argentina was not financial but “social,” it blasted the “growing gap between rich and poor,” the “negative aspects of globalization,” and “the tyranny of the markets.”

“We live in world in which the primacy of economics, without a base of reference in…the common good, impedes the resurgence of many nations,” the statement read. It further contended, “To accustom ourselves to living in a world of exclusion and inequality is a serious moral failure that erodes the dignity of mankind and compromises peace and social harmony.”

In a subsequent interview, Bergoglio charged “wildly economistic” ideas with manufacturing poverty.

Almost thirteen years later, Bergoglio has been selected as the new pontiff, Pope Francis I. Despite his statements about the global economy, Bergoglio is no radical. Indeed, figuring out what his selection represents for the Catholic Church, and what it portends for the future direction of the Vatican, involves reckoning with a number of contradictions.

Born in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio is the first pope in the modern era to come from a country in the global South, yet both his parents were immigrants born in Italy.

He is from a region (Latin America) where the Catholic Church was infused with a social justice ethos in the post–Vatican II period, yet he comes from a country within that region (Argentina) whose church remained among the most conservative.

He is from a religious order (the Jesuits) regarded as having progressive leanings, yet he has been a conservative force within that order.

He has made statements championing the interests of the poor against market fundamentalism, yet he has also been a strong opponent of the left-leaning administrations of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner.

Given all this, it is perhaps not surprising that the announcement of Pope Francis has elicited a divided reaction among two constituencies that normally overlap. Many progressive Catholics in the United States seem to be pleasantly surprised by the pick and happy with Bergoglio’s social justice overtures. Latin Americanists, on the other hand, have expressed horror at the role of the Argentine Church during the military junta’s rule and at Bergoglio’s place within that history.

Let’s begin with the first group. A pope that takes the name Francis is starting out on a good foot from a social justice perspective. At least that was reaction of many progressive Catholics. Jubilee USA executive director Eric LeCompte, for example, released a statement with the headline, “Pope Francis; Pope of Peace, Justice and the Poor.” LeCompte said:

Pope Francis will preach that we need to promote access to food, water, education, employment, and healthcare for every person, without discrimination….This Pope will stand up for the rights of poor people, migrants and, workers.

Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis (not a Catholic, but a prominent Christian progressive) was similarly hopeful, praising the cardinal’s warnings against “a self-referential church” and noting, “In Buenos Aires, the cardinal showed real compassion for HIV victims, and he sternly rebuked priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock.”

Those who share these sentiments also note Bergoglio’s personal humility. The cardinal lived in a modest apartment in Buenos Aires rather than the archbishop’s mansion; he took public transportation rather than using a church limousine; he cooked his own food. Yes, these are symbolic gestures. But symbolism matters.

A different strain of reaction has come from Latin Americans and solidarity activists disturbed by Bergoglio’s selection. They focus not on Pope Francis’s coming time in the Vatican, but rather on the Dirty War in the 1970s, when tens of thousands of leftists were killed or “disappeared” by the military. From this perspective, the symbolism of elevating an Argentine bishop is quite different.

In contrast to the Catholic Church in places like Chile and El Salvador, which played an important role in denouncing disappearances, death squads, and military abuses in the 1970s and ’80s, it is well known that the Argentine Church gave aid and comfort to the junta. Writing in 1987, scholar of liberation theology Phillip Berryman put it this way:

In Argentina…the bishops were notably silent even though at least one bishop and some ten priests were murdered. It was the [Madres de Plaza de Mayo], the mothers and family members of the disappeared, who challenged the military, while the bishops temporized and some even made pro-military statements.

My personal pick for the next pope, Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, was also not a radical. (None were in the running.) But he distinguished himself by opposing the Brazilian dictatorship in the late 1970s and taking personal risks to support trade unionists and human rights activists.

Bergoglio earned no such distinction. What he did do is the subject of considerable controversy, accounts of which are now widely available in Spanish and in English. ForDissent, Flavia Dzodan has done a fine job of relating the charges against the cardinal. Most notably, critics claim that he failed to prevent (and tacitly green-lighted) the abduction and torture of two Jesuits identified with liberation theology. Not surprisingly, Bergoglio denies the charges; in recent years, he has claimed that he worked behind the scenes to free the two priests and to help other human rights defenders. His supporters characterize this approach as “pragmatic at a time when so many people were getting killed.”

Even if we take this defense at face value, it is a weak one. To the extent that such behavior was indeed pragmatic, it was the pragmatism of keeping quiet in the face of injustice for fear of being targeted yourself. And it was this type of behavior that allowed the military junta to benefit from the institutional acquiescence of the Catholic Church as it committed its crimes against humanity. There’s no heroism there.

That said, in the wake of Bergoglio’s selection as pope, Nobel Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel has stated that, while some bishops were truly accomplices of the dictatorship, Bergoglio was not among them. If we accept his judgment, the cardinal’s Dirty War sins are ones of cowardice, not of commission.

There was a figure in the hierarchy of the Argentine Church who had a profile more like that of the courageous and revered Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. Enrique Angelelli was known as a progressive voice in CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ council, which played a pivotal role in making liberation theology into a region-wide force. In 1976, shortly after the Dirty War began, Angelelli was returning from a mass held in honor of two murdered priests when the truck he was riding in was run off the road. His death was labeled a traffic accident by the Argentinean regime.

Thirty years later, presiding over an anniversary mass, Cardinal Bergoglio celebrated Angelelli and obliquely held him up as a martyr, but he neglected to charge the junta with the bishop’s murder.

In the end, what can we make of the divided reaction to Pope Francis I?

The Guardian jumped the gun when (in a since-corrected gaffe) it labeled Cardinal Bergoglio “a champion of liberation theology.” A liberationist he is not. And, given that he was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, it basically goes without saying that has been horrible on issues like gay rights and abortion.

Still, in a field of very conservative candidates, Bergoglio was a relative moderate. It may not be saying much, but it looks likely that his tenure at the Vatican will be an improvement over Benedict’s.

I recently argued that, while it is often reported that the Vatican officially rejected liberation theology under the watch of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, that’s not entirely true. Core tenets such as the “preferential option for the poor” have in fact been mainstreamed within the church. Liberation theology’s positions on poverty, inequality, and the tyranny of the market are often echoed in statements like that released by Bergoglio and the Argentine bishops in 2000.

Neither Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, nor Archbishop Romero, who became a human rights icon, was brought into his position as a reformer. But each responded, in Catholic parlance, to “the signs of the times.” We can hope that, out of his many contradictions, Pope Francis will emerge with a ministry that emphasizes peace, social justice, and the rights of the poor, and that moves the church out of a state of reactionary self-isolation.

It’s a faint hope. But if you’re in the habit of looking to Rome for leadership, it’s probably the best you’ve got.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising. You can follow Mark at his Facebook page.

Did the College of Cardinals Foresee the Dirty War Controversy?

In a New York Times piece titled Starting a Papacy, Amid Echoes of a ‘Dirty War’, William Romeiro and Simon Neumann write:

And last November, after the future pope’s tenure as head of the bishops’ conference had ended, the church issued another statement in response to the assertion by Jorge Videla, the former head of the military junta, that Argentine bishops had in effect collaborated with the dictatorship.

That sentence contains two disturbing details. The second first: to whatever extent he’s a “kettle,” Videla still manages to paint the “pot” of the Argentine church pretty black. Meanwhile, re “last November,” bear in mind that the Vatican knew since then that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was tarnished by the Dirty War and, by all rights, should have disqualified him as a candidate for pope. After all, as Romeiro and Neumann write:

Even as the head of the Argentine Conference of Bishops from 2005 to 2011, Francis resisted issuing a formal apology for the church’s actions during the Dirty War, disappointing human rights campaigners.

And it’s not as if he would have been breaking new ground.

This stance by Argentina’s church stands in contrast to the resistance against dictatorships by Catholic leaders elsewhere in Latin America at the time — notably in Chile and Brazil, two nations where far fewer people were killed.

One can only surmise that the College of Cardinals anticipated the Dirty War controversy and figured that Bergoglio would weather the storm. Was the empathy he shows the poor expected to simply outweigh and override the controversy? Whether or not that’s true, insulated and arrogant as ever, the Vatican continues to undermine the legitimacy — and relevancy — of the Papacy.

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (3/19)

U.S. Concerns About Security Only Makes Pakistan More Insecure

“When the U.S. says that they are worried about the security [of] Pakistan’s nuclear arms, it means it fears that these might fall in the hands of such elements as the extremist Taliban,” said a commentary published by Pakistan’s Frontier Post in late 2011. “However, when [former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood] Qureshi says so, he means that these are in danger of being whisked away by the U.S. armed forces.”

Why Almost Nobody Likes News About Pakistani Nuclear Security, Elaine M. Grossman, National Journal

The Lone Gunman

The catalyst for changing course was the shattering defeat Pakistan suffered at the hands of the Indian army in the 1971 war, during which Pakistan lost half of its territory (when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh). Khan argues that a sense of “never again” and a corresponding inability (or unwillingness) to rely upon allies have been powerful motivators for some countries to “go nuclear,” most notably China and Israel. The same held true for Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Nuclear Past as Prologue, Frank Klotz, The National Interest

Wasting Human Resources (Off-Topic From Foreign Policy)

There was a time when academia was society’s refuge for the eccentric, brilliant, and impractical. No longer. It is now the domain of professional self-marketers. As a result, in one of the most bizarre fits of social self-destructiveness in history, we seem to have decided we have no place for our eccentric, brilliant, and impractical citizens. Most languish in their mothers’ basements, at best making the occasional, acute intervention on the Internet.

Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit, David Graeber, The Baffler

Nuclear Whac-a-mole

The Air Force wants to upgrade its aging nuclear missiles and the hundreds of underground silos that hold them. One idea it’s exploring: the construction of a sprawling network of underground subway tunnels to shuttle the missiles around like a mobile doomsday train. … During an atomic holocaust, mobile missiles are harder for an adversary to target than a static silo. Missiles could be positioned at launch holes placed at “regular intervals” along the length of the tunnels.

That’s No Train! Air Force Eyes Subway for Nuclear Missiles, Robert Beckhusen, Wired Danger Room

Cost of One B-29: $605,360; Cost of One B-2 Stealth Bomber: $1.5 billion

… I just always was baffled by the debates over health care which always started with the premise that everything costs a zillion dollars and it’s super expensive. … If you slip and fall and you go to the emergency room, it’s $25,000. The debate was over who should pay for it instead of, “How come it’s $25,000?”

… In something like the giant Lockheed planes, the debate is should we spend, what is it, $400 billion? … Why does each of those planes cost that much money? … What percent of that is profit for Lockheed Martin? Who died and said they have to get a seven percent carry on all their hours, and all their parts, and all their labor? Why?

Podcast: Steve Brill on Healthcare and the Media in America, Mike Webb, Pro Publica

U.S. Policy in Afghanistan a Study in Avoiding the Obvious

Concretely and consistently confronting the Pakistani leadership on its use of extremist proxies, or President Karzai on the criminally extractive nature [aka, corruption -- RW] of his government — and not just in occasional spurts of public huffing and puffing — would have taken a significant investment of political courage and fortitude. And those are attributes that I did not see much in evidence among senior U.S. civilian officials.

What Vali Nasr Gets Wrong, Sarah Chayes, Foreign Policy

“The Gatekeepers”: “We Became Cruel”

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The GatekeepersA good place to start this review is at the end, the very end of The Gatekeepers, the Israeli documentary by Droh Moreh that was nominated for best documentary feature at the 85th Academy Awards.

Just before the film stops rolling, ‘they’ – the six interviewees – all come to the same conclusion: they’ve had it with the occupation, that further repression against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories – that includes extensive torture to create an army of informers, targeted high tech assassination, daily harassment and humiliation of the Palestinian population simply won’t work. And ‘they’ should know, as they perpetrated much of it.

“We’ve become cruel,” one of them says, himself one of the cruelest Shin Bet chiefs of them all, as if the Occupation was ever ‘kind’ in its earlier days?

Despite all their efforts to crush Palestinian resistance and aspirations for an independent Palestinian state, all of them, these former directors of Israeli’s Shin Bet agree that continued repression is useless and that Israel should – like France with the Algerian rebels in the late 1950s, early 1960s – seriously negotiate with the Palestinians, cut some deal with them, and get out. They understand – these technicians of Occupation – that Israel’s future in the region, nothing short of that, depends on withdrawing the Israeli military and the settlers from the Occupied Territories as soon as possible.

Theirs is something of a cautionary message as they make their case at a time when Israeli society has moved dramatically to the right, and its willingness to even address the prospect of ending the Occupation and moving towards a two-state solution have all but evaporated.

The last sentence of the film really says it all, something along the lines of ‘winning the battles’ but ‘losing the war’. And Israel has lost the war – not the war on the battlefield or in the Shin Bet’s torture chamber, but the war to win the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. It’s over. The military giant – that can assassinate Palestinians by exploding cell phones directed from satellites – comes to the realization that for all of its military and technical prowess, long ago, Israel lost the only war that counts – for political legitimacy. In fact, its public relations machine in the USA aside, it never had it.

I found the film mostly disturbing, but not without interest.

I kept waiting to hear Palestinian voices…but there were none. This is in keeping with a long held practice/tradition that the narrative of the Israeli/Palestinian relationship be told entirely by one side – those in power. What was presented is essentially an intra-Israeli view of the Occupation, albeit by former supporters of the Occupation now turned opponents, not for ethical reasons, something of which they are not capable, to be frank, but for ‘pragmatic’ reasons. It is not that the Occupation is oppressive, repressive, a fundamental denial of the human and national rights of one people by another; instead theirs is a functional argument: repression doesn’t work, so after decades of it, let’s try something else. Is this the best that Israel has to offer on the ethical plane?

The idea that six former Shin Bet heads all call for an end to the occupation can be interpreted optimistically: cool, after crushing two Intifadas, cracked so many heads and other body parts, they have finally gotten in touch with their inner selves, become animal rights advocates and now, in retirement, want to work for peace. Something akin to Al Capone deciding he wants to join the American Friends Service Committee?

Aren’t we all happy – cool, calculating killers have found the light and become pacifists? While not impossible, this is still hard to believe.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that those speaking so calmly orchestrated what are defined by much of the world and international law as war crimes. But if you like to hear the words of professional torturers and killers now morphed into ‘professional torturers and killers for peace’ it might be worth seeing the film. All six are frank about the importance of informers, overwhelmingly brought into the Israeli intelligence network through ‘enhanced interrogation’ – otherwise known as torture. Yet they spoke of what amounts to torture, assassination with not the slightest bit of remorse.

There is an inverse relationship between their refusal to use ‘the word’ torture and its extensive practical application by all of them. Indeed, this is a film about 45 years (it starts in 1967, avoids the earlier period) of the impact of Israeli torture to extract information, to neutralize Palestinian political activity, armed or peaceful. On the one hand it does work. Israeli intelligence is very well informed concerning Palestinian political activity, though far less so, as evidenced by the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzkak Rabin, where it concerns the activities, the racist hysteria of the Israeli religious right.

The film illustrates well how Israeli-targeted assassinations are among the precursors to the growing U.S. drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else. What the U.S. is now doing with unmanned drones, the Israelis did mostly with attack helicopters. Some of the most disturbing parts of the film show the targeting and killing of Palestinian militants with so-called precision bombs, many of which, of course, weren’t so precise.

I was struck about something else: that the Israeli policies of counter-insurgency, meant to paralyze the Palestinian national movement in its tracks are based largely on the same counter-insurgency strategies and tactics developed first in Vietnam and Algerian by a profoundly racist French military trying desperately to maintain its control over colonies.

Keep in mind that before the 1967 War, Israel’s maintained particularly close ties with France and that many of the veterans of torturing Algerians lent Israel a helping hand, to help train the Israeli security apparatus in its early days. It is also France that gave Israel’s nuclear weapons program a big boost through training Israeli atomic scientists and information sharing.

French torture methods, euphemistically called ‘counter-insurgency’ were then passed on to the U.S. in its losing effort in Vietnam in the 1960s, to the Argentine junta in its ‘dirty war’ of the 1970s against anything that moved and was slightly left of center. The Argentinean military was largely trained and influenced by former French officers who had tortured Algerians in The Battle of Algiers. They took ‘spiritual guidance’ from extreme right wing Catholic priests, also many of the French who blessed torture and encouraged the inhumane and bloody methods used.

At the same time Israel learned The Battle of Algiers methodology which it has used extensively since 1967 but then it passed it back to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, post-millennial. Kif-kif – the same stuff.

Of what did this shared counter-insurgency methodology consist? A number of key themes emerge:

• The criminalization of the military and the use thereof to fight ‘total war’ against civilian populations, on the grounds that it was impossible to tell the rebels from the broader population. In Argentina’s case, it was war against its own people, in Israel’s counter-insurgency targets the Palestinians.

• To establish a double standard legally – defining those who, because they are acting outside the law should not be granted legal rights – opening the way for torture, assassination and other forms of mistreatment. The rebels, labeled terrorists are no longer considered human with human rights. The only way to deal with them is to exterminate them! (or to permanently expel them).

• The extensive and unbridled use of ‘methods of coercion’, ‘innovative interrogation’, both otherwise known as torture to extract ‘intelligence’ from the population to locate rebel ‘cells’ or units. There is another important purpose of torture, not always emphasized: it is to create a network of informers. To place torture victims back into the general population to spy on their friends, neighbors and family. It was this particular aspect of the program at which the Shin Bet excelled.

The only things these strategies have produced is an unnecessary ocean of human suffering – of torture victims in West Bank prisons, of ‘disappeared ones’ in Argentina, of victims of the U.S. Phoenix program in Vietnam, of indignities and torture in the U.S. prisons at Abu Graib and Guantanemo.

May its French architects – Trinquier, Galula, Bernard Fall from France, its ‘implementers’ – Massu, Aussaresses from France, Videla from Argentina, the entire team of the Bush Administration that implemented torture in Iraq, Petraeus – be condemned for the fascists that they in fact were, and those still alive, including these six former Shin Bet heads be tried for war crimes.

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