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West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 2)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Part 1.)

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Imperfect Arbiter

The drafters of the NPT, as with any treaty, sought to balance the needs of different parties. In this case it was between NWS — states with nuclear weapons — and non-NWS — those without. Signatories (or the treaty’s signers) among the latter forfeited their rights to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. The former, meanwhile, promised to roll back the numbers of their weapons with an eye toward total disarmament. In addition, they would assist non-NWS to establish their nuclear-energy programs and use their own possession of nuclear weapons to extend an umbrella of deterrence to certain non-NWS.

Ideally, the NPT bestows equal benefits on all parties. But, like many treaties, it’s riddled with loopholes and gray areas. For example, Article VI — debated nigh unto death — is chock full of them. It reads:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Where there should be key words are noncommittal terms. For example, preceding “to pursue” with “undertakes” adds a preliminary step that almost seems designed to allow parties with nuclear weapons to stall. “Good faith” may be inherent to contracts, but in the context of a nuclear treaty it sounds Polyanna-ish. “Effective measures” and “early date” are much too open to interpretation.

With regards to disarmament, a recent report that the Obama administration may be considering reducing the total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to as low as 300 generated a flurry of excitement — and a blizzard of overwrought reactions from conservatives. Whether or not the leaked news was just red meat for conservatives, no weapon reductions will be enacted until after the election.

In fact, even though President Obama assumed office with an apparent personal investment in disarmament, his administration seems to have suffered few qualms about letting it, if not exactly die, wither on the vine. When push came to shove over the New START treaty, it bet the farm to secure Republican ratification of a treaty that guaranteed little more than verification and confidence building. The administration proposed to increase funding for nuclear-weapon modernization to $88 billion during the next decade — 20 percent more than the Bush administration sought. Even the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee balked at such exorbitance in the current economic climate and allocated $500 million less than the administration’s $7.6 billion request for fiscal year 2013.

As Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: “Obama has let the bureaucracy suffocate his plan to move step by step toward, as he said in Prague, ‘the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.’” He explained that “there are far more entrenched officials and contractors that benefit from the sprawling nuclear complex than officials who believe in the president’s stated vision.”

The apparent intention on the part of the United States to fund, at however fluctuating levels, its own program into perpetuity likely isn’t lost on non-NWS. This realization has finally begun to rear its head in established media such as the London Review of Books. In the February issue, national-security specialists Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka write of the vast sums that the Obama administration committed to nuclear-weapon modernization.

What clearer demonstration could there be that the US government is not serious about reducing its stockpiles? Central to the idea of nonproliferation is the presumption that if smaller states are to be discouraged from acquiring a bomb, nuclear states will need to take real steps towards disarmament. Otherwise, non-nuclear states will regard their demands as self-serving and hypocritical — reason enough to think about creating an arsenal of their own.

Extending this line of thinking one step further, New START may not only seem perfunctory to non-NWS, but a smokescreen for continued nuclear-weapons funding.

West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 1)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

When dueling narratives clash and the subject is nuclear weapons, the sparks that fly could make flashing sabers seem dim in comparison. According to conventional thinking in the West, Iran is not abiding by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restraining itself from all nuclear weapons activities. Thus it should be denied its right to enrich uranium. But, in the view of much of the rest of the world, the West is making little more than cosmetic efforts to roll back its nuclear arsenals. Therefore, it has no business denying Iran nuclear energy — not to mention nuclear weapons (but that’s another story).

In other words, the side that committed to disarming thinks that the side that promised not to proliferate is. And the side that promised not to proliferate thinks that the side that committed to disarming is not.

In truth, abundant evidence exists that any nuclear-weapons work Iran has done since 2003 is conceptual, if that, which is not expressly forbidden by the NPT. The uranium it enriches to the higher levels that worry the West seems to be for medical isotopes, which are used for radiation therapy, as well as diagnosis. Combined with enrichment at lower levels for nuclear energy, it serves as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

The Lineup: Week of August 20-26, 2012

This week, OtherWords features a column by Sam Pizzigati and Scott Klinger that explains how American taxpayers are subsidizing runaway CEO pay. As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and visit our blog. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Fix the Minimum Wage / Elizabeth Rose
    Americans who work hard should be able to make a living.
  2. Washington, Are You Listening? / Mattea Kramer
    The Bush tax cuts siphon off money that could fund education and other crucial programs.
  3. Avoiding a 21st-Century Dust Bowl / Jim Harkness
    We need a Farm Bill that plants the seeds of resilience.
  4. David Barton’s Make-Believe Version of American History / Mark Potok
    Despite the fact that he has no academic training in history or related fields at all, Barton has become the go-to man for much of the religious far right.
  5. We’re All Subsidizing Free Lunches for America’s CEOs / Scott Klinger and Sam Pizzigati
    It’s time to close the tax loopholes that subsidize runaway executive compensation.
  6. Romney Runs away from his Running Mate / Jim Hightower
    If they were honest with voters, their bumper sticker would read: “Ryan-Romney 2012.”
  7. Oh, Just Call Them Terrorists / William A. Collins
    Sooner or later, if citizens are going to support further wars and impingements on their own civil liberties, they need red meat.
  8. Belt-Tightening Time / Khalil Bendib (cartoon)
Belt-Tightening Time, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Belt-Tightening Time, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Leave It to Bibi

Much attention has been generated in Israel and the United States by Richard Silverstein with his post at Tikkun Olam titled Bibi’s Secret War Plan. He writes:

This is Bibi’s sales pitch for war. Its purpose is to be used in meetings with members of the Shminiya , the eight-member security cabinet which currently finds a 4-3 majority opposed to an Iran strike. Bibi uses this sales pitch to persuade the recalcitrant ministers of the cool, clean, refreshing taste of war. My source informs me that it has also been shared in confidence with selected journalists who are in the trusted inner media circle (who, oh who, might they be?). … I don’t believe the IDF wrote it. It feels more likely it came from the shop of national security advisor Yaakov Amidror, a former general, settler true-believer and Bibi confidant. It could also have been produced by Defense Minister Barak.”

The briefing reads, in part:

The Israeli attack will open with a coordinated strike, including an unprecedented cyber-attack which will totally paralyze the Iranian regime and its ability to know what is happening within its borders. … The electrical grid throughout Iran will be paralyzed and transformer stations will absorb severe damage from carbon fiber munitions. … A barrage of tens of ballistic missiles would be launched from Israel toward Iran. 300km ballistic missiles would be launched from Israeli submarines in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. The missiles would not be armed with unconventional warheads [WMD], but rather with high-explosive ordnance equipped with reinforced tips designed specially to penetrate hardened targets.

The missiles will strike their targets—some exploding above ground like those striking the nuclear reactor at Arak. … Others would explode under-ground, as at the Fordo facility.

We’re looking at this all wrong. Sure, Bibi looks through an attack through rose-colored glasses. But, sticking with the color metaphors, a silver-lining exists: at least he has no plans to use “unconventional warheads” — nuclear weapons.

Besides, Israel’s outgoing civil defense minister assures us at Reuters:

“There is no room for hysteria. Israel’s home front is prepared as never before,” Matan Vilnai, a former general who is about to leave his cabinet post to become ambassador to China, told the Maariv daily.

He believes the war would likely last a month and “Echoing an assessment already voiced by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Vilnai was quoted as saying hundreds of missiles could hit Israeli cities daily and kill some 500 people in a war with Iran, which has promised strong retaliation if attacked.”

To Israelis wondering if they or their loved ones will be among The 500, he basically said, man up: it goes with the territory.

“Just as the citizens of Japan have to understand they are likely to be hit by an earthquake, Israelis must realise that anyone who lives here has to be prepared for missiles striking the home front.”

File that one under Equivalencies, False.

Meanwhile, also drawing headlines has been a petition reported by Haaretz:

More than 400 Israelis, including Tel Aviv University law professors Menachem Mautner and Chaim Gans, have recently signed an online petition calling on Israel Defense Forces pilots to refuse to obey if ordered to bomb Iran.

The petition calls a decision to launch a strike against Iran a “highly mistaken gamble” that would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, without stopping it, and would come “at an exorbitant price.”

Israel Hayom’s Dan Margolit tries to make the case that it’s no different from right-wing resistance by the settlers. He zeroes in on former law professor Menachem Mautner.

For some time now Mautner has felt a deep sense of anxiety over the possibility of a military strike in Iran, and when he read Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz he decided to take action, which in essence is a call to thwart a legal order issued by the government. … How has he lent his hand in support of a petition that is a call for an undemocratic rebellion? Indeed, he has always been a champion of democratic virtues.

With his signature, [former law professor Menachem] Mautner gave legitimacy to the “hilltop youth” of Judea and Samaria and to those of their ilk who have authored manuscripts calling for a return to biblical law. … The professor tried explaining that right-wing insubordination is done for the purpose of creating a Halachic state (a state run according to Jewish religious law) and is inappropriate to begin with, while the Left acts to return Israel to its good old values.

Refusing to bomb Iran may be illegal on the part of pilots today. But in the future bombing Iran might be judged not only illegal a war crime.

Author’s Note: For those wondering, according to Google, the phrase “Leave It to Bibi” has not been previously used.

What Next? Will Somali Pirates Issue an IPO?

Somali piracy is down 32 percent from last year, reports Ben Berkowitz for Reuters, but it’s still highly profitable. In fact, they’ve professionalized their operations and now present their victims with a package of material outlining the ransom process — printed on letterhead. Berkowitz writes:

The cover sheet, in memo format, is addressed “To Whom It May Concern” with the subject line “Congratulations to the Company/Owner.”

“Having seen when my Pirate Action Group (P.A.G) had controlled over your valuable vessel we are saying to you Company/Owner welcome to Jamal’s Pirate Action Group (J.P.A.G) and you have to follow by our law to return back your vessel and crew safely,” the memo begins. …

“Do not imagine that we are making to you intimidation,” the memo says, before signing off with “Best regards” and the signature of Jamal Faahiye Culusow, the General Commander of the Group.

However

The tone of the memo belies the violent reality of the pirate’s actions. [They] were responsible for 35 deaths in 2011 alone.

And

Lest there be any doubt about who Jamal is or what he does, his signature is accompanied by his seal — yes, Jamal has a stamped seal — depicting a skull and crossed swords with the name of the group.

The pirates are not the only ones profiting.

A small coterie of companies … offer “kidnap and ransom” policies to shipping companies for just these kinds of situations.

Guess one hand washes the other. But insurance companies have long offered war risk insurance. In fact, writes Berkowitz:

Because the number of attacks have declined, piracy coverage prices have, too, said Amanda Holt, a vice president in the financial and professional liability unit at insurance brokerage Marsh in Norwich, England. “Often if you buy piracy cover you’ll get a discount on your war premium. It makes a lot of sense for ship owners and managers.”

Top 10 Myths of the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts

Military

Members of Congress, led by the team of Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte, are touring military contracting plants, bases and defense-dependent communities this summer raising the alarm about “sequestration.” This is the part of the current budget deal that will force $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to federal spending, unless Congress comes up with the same amount of money some other way. Half is supposed to come from the military, half from domestic programs, beginning January 2.

It is true: cutting everything indiscriminately is no way to run a government. But this alarm-raising campaign, buttressed by defense industry spending to buy and promote “independent”studies, and mount lobbying campaigns, is focused not on federal spending in general, but on military cuts in particular. And the centerpiece of their pitch against these cuts is not the standard line that we need to spend ever more on the Pentagon because it needs every penny to keep us safe. Instead the focus is: jobs.

We’re in the process of ending two wars. Since 9-11, spending on the Pentagon has nearly doubled. Clearly we’re due for a military budget downsizing.

And the urgent need for job creation is on everyone’s mind.

That’s why the military contractors and their congressional allies are departing from the usual script to argue for more military spending.

From the crowd that wants to shrink government because this will create jobs, we are now hearing that we can’t shrink the Pentagon because that would cost jobs.

Here are main points of their case, rebutted one by one.

Myth # 1: The military cuts will cost a million (or, according to the Pentagon, a million and a half) jobs.

You don’t need to get into the details of the many reasons to question these figures to recognize the big flaw: Cutting military spending will only cost jobs if nothing else is done with the money. As economists from the University of Massachusetts have shown, (findings recently corroborated by economists at the University of Vienna [i]) military spending is an exceptionally poor job creator. Taking those cuts and investing them in other things—clean energy, education, health care, transportation—will all result in a net gain in jobs. Even cutting taxes creates more employment than spending on the military.[ii]

Myth # 2: More Pentagon spending will create more jobs.

A researcher at the Project on Government Oversight recently exposed the shaky foundation of this argument. He found that since 2006 the largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin, has increased its revenues from military contracts, even as it was cutting jobs.[iii]

Myth # 3: Defense sequestration will gut our military industrial base.

Hardly. The Pentagon cuts contained in the budget deal will bring the military budget, adjusted for inflation, to where it was in 2006. Close to its highest level since World War II. More than the next 17 countries (most of them our allies) put together.[iv]

These cuts are easily doable, with no sacrifice in security, because they are being made to a budget that has nearly doubled since 2001.

Myth # 4: The public is buying the myth.

President Obama is actually running an ad criticizing his opponent for advocating military spending increases. The clear pattern in recent polling shows that this is a smart move. Majorities agree military spending is too high.[v]

Myth # 5: The military economy is part of the bedrock of our jobs base.

A researcher at the Project on Defense Alternatives looked at this one. He cited a Congressional Research Service study of aerospace employment. More than 500,000 Americans are employed in aerospace manufacturing. About two-thirds of this is commercial, however. Though the defense industry has worked hard to spread itself around for maximum political effect, more than half (61%) of the nation’s aerospace industry jobs are concentrated in six states.[vi]

By contrast, more than 8 million Americans are employed in education, law enforcement, fire fighting, and other emergency and protective services — working in every community in America.

The effects on the jobs base from cuts on the domestic side of the budget, in other words, will be much larger and more widespread than the effects of military cuts.

Myth # 6: The military economy is part of the bedrock of our overall economic health.

Alan Greenspan, among many others, has contrasted spending on infrastructure, education, and health care with military spending. The former, he noted, strengthens the productivity—the performance—of the economy as a whole; the latter does not.

Military spending is like a family’s insurance policies, he said. The family should spend enough to insure against disaster, but not a penny more, because that family should put as much as possible toward increasing its well-being through education and other enhancements to its quality of life.

Myth # 7: Military workers have already taken their share of the hits.

No. The global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas tracks layoffs month by month. For the past three years, while military spending has absorbed more than half of the discretionary budget (the part Congress votes on every year), the private sector contractors it supports have absorbed an average of only 4% of the nation’s job loss. See this spreadsheet (docx).

During those three years, the defense industry laid off a total of 106,000 workers. During the same period, state and local governments laid off more than 500,000 workers.

Myth # 8: The political campaign against sequestration is consistent with the dominant economic philosophy of the politicians doing the campaigning.

No again. The free marketeers who think shrinking government will create jobs are preaching that the Pentagon budget can’t be shrunk because this will cost jobs.

Congressman Barney Frank has summed up nicely what they are asking us to believe: “that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.”

Myth # 9: The contractors have their workers’ interests at heart.

If they did, they might narrow the gap a bit between the CEO’s and the average worker’s salary. For Lockheed Martin (CEO: $25 million[vii]; average worker: $58,000[viii]) this gap is more than 400 to 1.

Myth # 10: Sequestration will force contractors to warn most of their workers of an impending layoff.

Lockheed is threatening to send these notices a few days before the November election. The argument for this bit of political blackmail is that since the cuts aren’t specified, all workers are at risk. While Lockheed claims these notices are required by law, the Labor Department, i.e. the controlling legal authority, says they are not.

In fact, as researchers from Win Without War and the Center for International Policy recently pointed out,[ix] the defense and aerospace industry is sitting on a pile of cash from yet another year of record revenue and profits in 2011.[x] Lockheed alone has $81 billion in backlogged orders, and more coming in.[xi] They have it a lot better than most companies.

And this cushion gives them time to plan for the downsizing, and keep the workers they profess to care about employed, by developing new work in other areas. See Fact Sheet: Replacing Defense Industry Jobs for some ideas on how.

Footnotes

[i] https://www.dropbox.com/s/6s4ix8muj2kmhhx/a%20non%20linear%20defense%20growth%20nexus.pdf

[ii] http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

[iii] http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2012/08/defense-contractor-time-machine-less-spending-more-jobs-analysis-reveals.html#more.

[iv] http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/should-congress-repeal-the-scheduled-cuts-to-defense-spending/7-reasons-to-keep-the-defense-budget-sequestration-cuts

[v] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/08/obama_s_ad_against_military_spending_have_polls_shifted_on_the_defense_budget_.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews

[vi] “US Aerospace Manufacturing: Industry Overview and Prospects,” Congressional Research Service, December 3, 2009. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40967.pdf.

[vii] http://www.businessinsider.com/the-highest-paid-ceos-at-the-largest-us-based-financial-companies-2012-6#2-george-roberts-kkr-49

[viii] http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/0b0ce6af7ff999b11745825d80aca0b8/publication/489/

[ix] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-hartung/lockheed-martin_b_1625183.html

[x] http://www.pwc.com/en_US/us/industrial-products/assets/pwc-aerospace-defense-review-and-forecast.pdf

[xi] http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20120620-709424.html

Oak Ridge Activists Challenge Disarmament Advocates to Step up Their Games

The Berrigans

The Berrigans

As Focal Points readers no doubt have heard, on July 29, three peace activists, representing a modern-day version of the original Plowshares peace group founded by the Berrigan brothers, penetrated the highest-security area of the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility for uranium storage and nuclear modernization in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The New York Times reported:

Inside the complex, the three graying pacifists painted “Woe to the empire of blood” and “the fruit of justice is peace” on the exterior of Y-12’s Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility, and splashed what they said was human blood.

… But despite what appears to have been a slow crawl through the defenses (the three had bolt cutters, hammers, flashlights and cans of spray paint, and went under the fences), they did not draw a prompt response.

In fact,

… they apparently spent several hours in the Y-12 National Security Complex before they were stopped — by a lone guard, they told friends — as they used a Bible and candles in a Christian peace ritual.

Consequently, the actual anti-nuclear activism was eclipsed by the outcry about the poor plant security that the terrorists exposed, as if they were only practicing a dry run for terrorists. But that comes with the territory for those who engage in extreme acts of terrorism. Perhaps attention to Transform Now Plowshares’ mission can be refocused during the trial. Along with a misdemeanor, each of the three is charged with two felonies.

Adding insult to plant-security injury is that one of them, Megan Rice, is not only a nun, but 82 years old. At his Knoxville News Y-12 blog Atomic City Underground, Frank Munger wrote:

I communicated with Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University professor who’s been in the forefront of nuclear policy work for decades with a special focus on control and protection of special nuclear materials, about the recent break-in. … “This should indeed be an embarrassment,” von Hippel responded via email. “An 82-year-old nun with a bolt cutter is certainly within the post-9/11 design-based threat envelope.”

One would think, but as mentioned above, that’s not Transform Now Plowshares’ concern. Sister Rice (Sister Megan?) has been an anti-nuclear, as well as more broad-based, activist for decades and once served six months in a minimum-security prison for a 1998 protest at the one-time School of the Americas. On August 11, at the New York Times, William J. Broad reported on Sister Rice’s reaction to her incarceration.

“It was a great eye-opener,” she said. “When you’ve had a prison experience, it minimizes your needs very much.”

Of nuns’ acts of civil disobedience in general,* Broad wrote:

They also illustrate the fierce independence of Catholic nuns, who met this week in St. Louis to decide how to respond to a Vatican appraisal that cast them as rebellious dissenters.

“We’re free as larks,” Sister Rice said of herself and her older religious friends. “We have no responsibilities — no children, no grandchildren, no jobs.”

… “She’s a pretty sympathetic character,” Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said of the nun. “[A 16-year prison term] would be signing her death warrant.”

…“So the lot fell on us,” she said of fighting nuclear arms. “We can do it.”

In a sense, Sister Rice is absolving the rest of us disarmament advocates, who have families and bills to pay, of acts that require substantial sacrifices. Though she adds, “But we all do share the responsibility equally.”

We live in a time when arms control is being overtaken by creeping incrementalism. As Andrew Lichterman wrote recently for Reaching Critical Will:

US arms control and disarmament groups focus mainly on preventing the expansion of nuclear weapons capabilities and budgets, or on taking advantage of what are perceived as opportunities for incremental progress. The common denominator is that the limits to the disarmament agenda are set by what is thought to be achievable in government for a without challenging anything fundamental about the existing order of things, or the role of US military forces in sustaining it.

Activism, such as the Y-12 break-in, or when the Berrigans and the original Plowshares movement trespassed onto the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in 1980, damaged nuclear warhead nose cones, and poured blood onto documents and file, doesn’t exactly endear itself to the American public. Aside from raising the prospect of a terrorist attack, it violates an ethos arguably more sacrosanct to much of the American public than averting mass destruction — respect for property.

But, along with Sister Rice, her fellow Transform Now Plowshares members Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed hold out the gauntlet to nuclear-disarmament activists (such as this author). What are we willing to sacrifice to abolish nuclear weapons?

*For some reason, in 2005, the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, funded by the Department of Energy, felt compelled to include an interview with her. It serves as a fascinating case study in how a social-justice conscience is nurtured and becomes self-sustaining.

Former Algerian Defense Minister’s Indictment for War Crimes in Switzerland (Part 1)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Khaled Nezzar“The generals are up to their necks in the killing, and their motive is to hang onto power and the oil revenues and business commissions that go with it…The real problem in Algeria isn’t Islamic fundamentalism, it’s injustice.”

– Habib Souaidia, author of La sale guerre, as quoted in Time, April 16, 2001

1.

His name might not ring a bell this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but there is hardly an Algerian who wouldn’t recognize the name of Khaled Nezzar. Once, one of Algeria’s most powerful men, if not the most powerful, in the country, Khaled Nezzar was Algeria’s Minister of Defense and one of five members of Algeria’s High Council of State that suspended the country’s second round of elections scheduled for 1992 and engineered what was in essence a military coup.

That act plunged the country into a horrific civil war in which Nezzar was not merely a participant, but one of the main architects. Nezzar served as Minister of Defense from 1992-1994. He resigned from the High Council of State in 1994 after he was the target of an assassination attempt.

During the war years different human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) cited Nezzar as “one of the main architects responsible for the bloody repression of political opponents, especially Islamicists, the massive campaign of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the first years of the dirty war which eventually cost about 200,000 deaths, 20,000 disappeared and the forced displacement of more than 1.5 million people” In his 2001 expose of the activities of the Algerian counter insurgency program, Habib Souaidia, author of La sale guerre (The Dirty War) accused the Algerian military of repeatedly perpetrating massacres of civilians while disguised as rebels, killing suspects in cold blood and torturing rebels to death during the Algerian civil war, Nezzar being one of those directing such operations.

On October 20, 2011, Khaled Nezzar was stopped by Swiss police in front of a Geneva bank and arrested. He is being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. The indictment alleges that many of the terrorists acts allegedly committed by Islamic radical guerillas during “the dirty war,” among them many of the more heinous crimes, were actually committed by the army’s internal security counter-terrorism units (and members of the Interior Ministry’s internal security counter-insurgency units) which Nezzar directed. The Algerian government’s and Nezzar’s personal lawyers claims of immunity were rejected by the court as was his claim that the court was interfering into Algeria’s internal affairs.

Less than two weeks past, on July 31, 2012, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court released what is considered by human rights groups as a ‘landmark decision.’ Arguing the alleged crimes against Nezzar were too serious to drop, the court rejected Nezzar’s appeal to throw out the case. It ruled that international law as defined by the Geneva Convention of 1949 superseded national law. A number of Algerian political personalities have come out in Nezzar’s defense, but it would be overstating the case to argue that the nation is behind him. The original complaint against Nezzar was made by an organization, the English acronym of which is TRIAL, the Swiss Association Against Impunity. (Track Impunity Always.)

Nezzar was in Geneva to treat his smoking addiction at a medical clinic. After his arrest, he was kept in jail for two days, charged and then released. He was permitted to leave the country on condition that he returns to Switzerland to face charges. Although he promised to do so, it is unlikely that Nezzar will return to Switzerland to face the judicial music. Still, even in his absence, the trial will be politically charged for what it might reveal about the activities of Nezzar and the Algerian government in those dark days.

Others with whom the top Algerian leadership had close relations, such as French intelligence, can only be uncomfortable with the proceedings as well. The leadership of the High Council of State maintained close ties with its former colonial masters in French military intelligence throughout the dirty war. Any whiff of French complicity – until now suspected by unproven – could prove both embarrassing and damaging to French interests. French-Algerian relations run the gamit – including historic, economic and political ties. France is a major importer of Algerian oil and natural gas.

2.

At the time that the Algerian elections were suspended in 1991, all the indications suggested that had the election proceeded, that an Islamicist party, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique de Salut or FIS as it was commonly known), would have swept the elections and come to power, breaking the stranglehold that the Algerian military and its powerful internal security force had enjoyed since 1965 when Houari Boumedienne, a colonel in the Algerian army, came to power in a coup d’etat ‘to restore order’.

It is unclear what a 1991 FIS victory would have meant for the country; that we will never know. But there is not much to suggest that it would have resulted in the implementation of shari’a law and that much of the hysteria an FIS win provoked was simple fear mongering. Clearer though is the fate of the ruling military-security elite. Their grip on power and control of oil profits would have been broken or at the very least seriously compromised. The glory days when they could use the country’s oil and gas profits for a cash cow to buy new weapons systems and send their children on weekend trips to Paris dentists would have evaporated as well.

‘Having it all’ and seeing it all slip through their fingers, the Algerian leadership at the time essentially panicked. From the time Boumedienne had come to power, democracy in the country was little more than a facade. Algeria was a military dictatorship with democratic trappings in which the voice of the people was stifled and then silenced early on. As long as the price of oil remained high, Algeria’s military junta was able to hide the mess that had become the Algerian economy. But as oil prices collapsed in the early 1980s, the facade collapsed. Its left rhetoric and talk of socialism aside, the Algerian Revolution’s failure to deliver on either prosperity or democracy was exposed. Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, was soaring, corruption and misuse of oil profits among the elite was rampant, and repression, long a factor, had intensified. Put another way, the social chemistry that led to the explosion known as the Arab Spring in late 2010 were already percolating in Algeria nearly a quarter of a century earlier. Angry demonstrations – calls for the government to live up their promises, to end the nepotism, corruption and repression became louder.

Somewhat similar to the Polish communists who in 1988 bet that the experience of their party would be able to outflank the new dissident voices in an electoral contest, two years later, the Algerian generals gambled that they would win an electoral contest against an expanding political opposition. The government still tried to hide behind the Algerian Revolution of 1962, claiming they were the generation of the national liberation movement and had provided many of the revolution’s martyrs. In both the cases of Poland and Algeria, the powers that be discovered just how far afield they were from the pulse of the people. It was striking just how out of touch both ruling elites turned out to be with their electorate, as if the governments lived on one planet and the population of the countries inhabited another world.

The Polish Communists lost the 1988 elections by a margin, if I recall correctly, of 99–1, opening up a new dawn for Polish politics that spelled the end of communist power there. The Algerian military did not fare as poorly as the Polish Communists, but still they got trounced and the writing of history was, as the saying goes, ‘on the wall.’ The FIS (mentioned above) swept to victory with 54% of the votes cast. As with the victories of Islamicists in Palestine in 2006 and in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt, polls showed that it wasn’t so much that the population had turned to religion as much as it was a turn away from those in power. In Algeria, a second round was scheduled for 1992. It never took place. In short, the Algerian leadership panicked. The military junta that ruled behind the curtains came out in the open and assumed the full powers that they had held behind the scenes. The president was removed; the military dictatorship came out in the open. It is essentially still in place today despite new sugar-coated democratic trappings.

Then all hell broke loose.

The election suspension triggered a civil war which lasted nearly a decade in which the number of dead might have exceeded 200,000, although we’ll never know the precise count. An armed uprising erupted, the sources of which remain murky. It lasted until 1999 – and in fact – never entirely ended. In response to the uprising, in the name of countering Islamic fundamentalism, the High Council of State unleashed a reign of terror on the country. Jihad versus anti-Jihad? That is how the media spun it, in Algeria, France and the U.S.A. This wasn’t a case of an old fashion Latin America-like military coup of an essentially greedy and pervasively corrupted leadership. No – the Algerian generals were the last line of defense against a Salafist (Islamic fundamentalist uprising) whose goal was to destroy Algerian democracy and modernism and thrust the country, Taliban-like, to some version of 7th century Islam.

Among those leading the charge against ‘the forces of evil’ – or so it was said was General Khaled Nezzar.

But it wouldn’t take long before gaping holes appeared in this version of events and even already in the 1990s, rather stinging questions as to what the Algerian leadership, its military and security force were actually up to began to emerge.

To be continued …

Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The Lineup: Week of August 13-19, 2012

This week’s OtherWords editorial package features an op-ed by Robert G. Gard, in which the retired lieutenant general urges Congress to take action to avoid the upcoming “fiscal cliff.”

We’re still getting letters for Donald Kaul, most of which are from readers of newspapers that picked up his column from this editorial service. Please check out this tribute by his old friend and former colleague, Van A. Tyson, on the OtherWords blog. As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. How Romney Could Blow Iowa / Andrew Korfhage
    The wind energy industry relies on a soon-to-expire tax credit that protects American jobs and our health.
  2. Steering Clear of the Iceberg Ahead / Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard
    It’s time for Congress to get real.
  3. Why We Need the Food from Family Farms Act / Ben Burkett
    Had Congress heeded our advice, farmers and taxpayers would be far better able to deal with a lack of grain, grass, and water from the drought.
  4. Fracking Exports / Deb Nardone
    Selling liquefied natural gas to foreign markets doesn’t serve U.S. interests.
  5. The 64-Gazillion-Dollar Question / Sam Pizzigati
    A top authority on poverty has changed his mind about the urgency of fighting inequality.
  6. Drone on the Range / Jim Hightower
    Those very same pilotless, remote-controlled, undetectable planes that the CIA has been secretly using to spy on and bomb people in Pakistan and elsewhere are headed to our local police departments.
  7. Occupy Wall Street Paved the Way / William A. Collins
    When will the really huge crowds come out to the streets?
  8. Caution, Fiscal Cliff Ahead / Khalil Bendib (Cartoon)
Caution, Fiscal Cliff Ahead, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Caution, Fiscal Cliff Ahead, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

On D.C.’s U Street, Can’t We All Just Swagger Along?

Published in the Washington Post, August 9.

Stephen A. Crockett’s article about “swagger-jacking” on U Street [“Stealing home?,” Metro, Aug. 3] got me all jacked up. I am one of the so-called “swagger-jackers” to whom he was referring. I own two of the restaurants mentioned in the article, and although Mr. Crockett assumed I am not black, frankly, I am not sure what I am. Neither are most of my customers, though most of them seem to find my race irrelevant.

My places were never meant to be black establishments catering to black customers; they are meant to be community cultural hubs that preserve the legacy and history of the District and uplift racial and cultural connections. These connections are essential for a city whose discourse too often digresses into a racial abyss that is neither healthy nor constructive. My places and others named in Mr. Crockett’s article are essential cultural watering holes that can help create community and reconfigure the discourse.

Just days before opening my restaurant at 14th and V streets NW, I was inside waiting for my final inspections. I saw two elderly black women peering through the window. I opened the door and invited them in. They entered with some trepidation, trying to assess my swagger. Standing at the center of the space, they took in the artwork all around them. They saw the mural that depicts the civil rights struggles of the area and the history of the District. I was somewhat nervous about what they thought until I saw a tear come down one of their faces. That’s when I knew that I wasn’t “swagger-jacking.”

Andy Shallal is the owner of Busboys and Poets and Eatonville restaurants, and serves on the board of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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