Wednesday, 27 October 2010

WikiLeaks reveals private security contractors killed Iraqis with impunity

WikiLeaks’ release of nearly 400,000 US military documents from operations in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 brings to light new evidence that private security contractors killed civilians with impunity.

The armed contractors, who directly serve the interests of the US occupation, now number 40,000 in Afghanistan and Iraq. These numbers are set to increase substantially; in August it was announced that the Obama administration intends to double the number of private mercenaries in Iraq, as it reduces the number of soldiers under US uniform in the Obama administration’s “draw-down.”
The mercenaries, some of whom earn more than $500 per day, are accountable to no one. Soon after the US invasion of Iraq, Paul Bremer issued “Order No. 17,” giving security firm employees total immunity from Iraqi laws. Nor has any US court punished the contractors, even for known instances of murder. They are also not under the jurisdiction of the US military, freeing them from the court martial and even the often-flouted rules of engagement laid out in the US Army Field Manual.
WikiLeaks documents analyzed by Al Jazeera, the Arab-language media service, reveal at least 14 previously unknown cases in which employees of the most infamous private security firm, Blackwater International, fired on civilians. These attacks resulted in 10 confirmed deaths and seven serious injuries.
Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, is most notorious for a 2007 attack it carried out in Baghdad’s crowded Nissour Square, killing 17 civilians and seriously wounding 18 more. Five Blackwater mercenaries were charged with murder, but a US judge ruled the prosecution had engaged in misconduct and threw the case out.
The documents, field reports from US soldiers, reveal that Blackwater carried out many other killings that were not acknowledged by the US military or the Iraqi government, and that went unreported by the western media.
In February, 2006, as Blackwater mercenaries were escorting US diplomats through Kirkuk (part of a $465 million contract the State Department had awarded the firm), they opened fire on civilians, killing two. Protests erupted in Kirkuk after these murders.
In May of 2006, Blackwater guards let loose “uncontrolled fire” in north Baghdad, killing an ambulance driver, Jasem Abed Sarhan. The shooting apparently came as blind retaliation for their vehicle hitting a roadside bomb. After the killing, Blackwater refused to cooperate with a US army investigator.
In May of 2005, US soldiers witnessed Blackwater contractors “shoot up a civilian vehicle,” along the “Route Irish,” the code name for the road to the Baghdad airport, before speeding off in a white armored vehicle. The driver of the civilian vehicle was killed, and his wife and daughter were maimed. The field report noted that the contractors also fired in the direction of the US soldiers during the incident.
In April 2006, US soldiers came upon the scene after Blackwater mercenaries had gunned down three civilians in Baghdad. Blackwater guards claimed they had been engaged in a shootout with insurgents, who had escaped.
No Blackwater mercenary has ever been punished for killing an Iraqi. Only Monday the US Justice Department announced it was dropping charges against Andrew J. Moonen, a Blackwater employee who killed the bodyguard of an Iraqi Vice President on December 24, 2006. Moonen has admitted to being drunk at the time of the shooting, which took place in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
Blackwater, since February of 2009 known as Xe Services, still receives lucrative CIA and State Department contracts. On October 1, the Obama administration renewed Xe Services’ Afghanistan contract for another five years. The next day, the US-controlled Afghan regime of President Hamid Karzai banned it and seven other private contractors from operating in the country, in a bid to ease popular anger against the Kabul government’s complicity in crimes against the population.
Blackwater was not the only private security firm that killed and brutalized Iraqis. According to the Guardian, which also analyzed the newly-released documents, in terms of the number of incidents uncovered in the WikiLeaks documents, Blackwater is “closely followed by Erinys, a British private security company registered in the Virgin Islands, which seems to have an unusually high number of vehicle crashes.”
The New York Times also found incidents of security contractors attacking civilians. Mercenaries working for the Romanian firm Danubia Global killed three Iraqis in Falluja in 2006, “then refused to answer questions on the episode,” it reports.
According to another military report, in July 2009 contractors with a firm known as 77th Security Company entered a neighborhood in the northern city of Erbil and began a shooting spree. This set off a gunfight with an off-duty police officer, during which three women were wounded. The field report concluded that “this drunken group of individuals” was “out having a good time and firing their weapons.”
As chilling as the new revelations are, they vastly underestimate the number of killings by private security firms. Firstly, they include only instances in which US soldiers directly observed the contractors in action, or came upon the scene soon after violence had been committed.
Secondly, as Pratap Chatterjee of the Guardian notes, field reports on mercenary attacks appear to understate their gravity.
Chatterjee was surprised when he could not find information related to the Blackwater massacre in Nissour Square. “Eventually, I tracked down the incident by trying a few other methods,” he writes. “It is easy to see why I missed the record: there is no mention of the company, or the location, and even the death toll is incorrectly recorded as nine, suggesting that the Pentagon casualty record is incomplete.”
He continues, “Quite possibly, there were many more incidents in which civilians were injured, or even killed, which were never reported. Some of the reports may have been altered before they were entered into the military system. But given the other records that I found, at the very least, WikiLeaks has revealed that Blackwater and other private security companies are guilty of many more injuries and killings than the media have previously reported.”
In contrast, the American press has sought to shield the private security companies.
The New York Times article concerns itself primarily with the dangers the mercenaries themselves confronted. It notes the frequency with which US or Iraqi government troops accidentally fired on the contractors’ speeding vehicles, generally unmarked SUVs and pickup trucks; the many traffic deaths among contractors; deaths resulting from IED explosions on their unarmored vehicles; instances in which confused mercenaries wound up accidentally shooting at each other; and two cases in which contractors murdered their own colleagues.
Though killings reported by Al Jazeera had not been previously reported, this did not stop the American media from claiming the opposite. In its Tuesday editorial, the Washington Post asserted that all “the incidents were extensively reported by Western journalists and by the US military when they occurred.” This shameless lie is designed to hide the Post’s complicity in the cover-up of these and countless other crimes against the Iraqi people.
Significantly, security firms are taking measures to defend themselves against charges of war crimes. On Tuesday two requested that a federal appeals court grant their employees immunity from lawsuits brought by torture victims and bereaved relatives of victims murdered at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Lawyers for L-3 Communications of New York and CACI International of Virginia argued that “war on terror” rules—which prevent US soldiers and intelligence operatives from being sued in US courts—should apply to private firms working under government contracts. (WSWS)




Tuesday, 26 October 2010

WikiLeak’s Iraq logs confirm torture, civilian deaths and Western complicity



The WikiLeaks website has released more than 400,000 secret US documents about the Iraq war covering a period up to 2009. The leaks reveal details of rape, torture, murder, the killings of civilians from helicopter gunships and many other incidents by coalition forces and Iraqi forces, even under Obama’s watch in 2009. It also shows how coalition soldiers turned a blind eye to reports of torture and extrajudicial killings by the Iraqi government they installed.
This is a horrific picture that reveals just how the occupation is actually being executed on the ground. Numbering in the tens of thousands, these are clearly not isolated incidents carried out by individual ‘bad apples’ as is typically maintained by western military, government and media sources.
Much of this abuse had been know by many but went unreported or ignored by some in the mainstream western media keen to support their troops and maintain domestic opinion for the war, as western casualties increased in an unwinnable war.
Some have argued that ‘war is messy’ – shamefully implying that the loss of innocent lives is inevitable and to be expected. After these latest leaks, some in the British press appear to gloat over what they portray as the actions of ‘American soldiers’, conveniently forgetting the many incidents involving British soldiers in Iraq including the now infamous case of Baha Mousa who was tortured to death in British custody – he died of 93 separate injuries.  Such a vast catalogue of killings of innocent civilians over several years of war exposes the rampage of western forces in Muslim lands without any means of restraint, control or accountability.
The initial reactions of the US government – which at every opportunity pronounced the mantra of winning heart and minds in Iraq and Afghanistan – has been to deride the leaks as  irresponsible and Hilary Clinton claimed they endangered the lives of US and UK soldiers. As if the lives of the innocent women and children killed have no value. UK politicians have so far been silent, seemingly happy to let their US allies take the brunt of these revelations. There are no calls from these liberal leaders to investigate the multitude of reports. These democratic governments, which preach the rule of law and their belief in human rights, are silent about how such systematic abuses of the rules of engagement could take place, on such a large scale, and over such a long period of time.
As western governments draw down troop numbers while maintaining a controlling influence over Iraq, its politics and economy, these leaks are yet another reminder of their brutal occupation, which has destroyed the lives of a generation Iraqis. It should not be a huge surprise that the Maliki regime and its predecessors – imposed, sponsored and supported by western governments – is guilty of torture. After all, the torture by coalition forces at Abu Ghraib led the way in the earlier years of this occupation. Nevertheless, these latest reports will not prevent Maliki and his like being welcomed to the White House and Downing Street.
As with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, the lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – the list can go on – this catalogue of falsely legitimised torture and killings of innocents has forever exposed the fallacy of the freedom and democracy agenda. It has woken a generation of Muslims to scrutinise western propaganda, be more politically aware and seek answers from Islam to the occupation of Muslim lands and to how a Muslim government – the Khilafah – will put an end to torture, defend Muslim lands against foreign aggression, and run the affairs of state independent of foreign governments. (HTB)
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The WikiLeaks documents and the rape of Iraq




The nearly 400,000 documents released by WikiLeaks give some indication of the barbaric reality of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The military reports contain ample evidence of war crimes, for which the highest levels of the US military and political establishment are responsible.
The major revelations contained in the documents include:
  • Reports of thousands of previously undisclosed civilian causalities. The Iraq Body Count, which has kept a conservative estimate of the number of deaths based on reports in the media, has found in the military logs some 15,000 civilians deaths not included in its earlier count. This is despite the fact that the documents report no civilian deaths in connection with major US atrocities, including the US assault that reduced much of Fallujah to ruins in 2004. The documents lend credence to other reports giving a much higher death toll, including one study by the medical journal Lancetestimating over one million killed.
  • Clear evidence of specific war crimes. This includes the killing of two Iraqis seeking to surrender to a US helicopter gunship in February 2007. The soldiers in the helicopter spoke by radio with an army lawyer who advised them that people cannot surrender to aircraft—a falsehood—and they proceeded to kill the individuals in cold blood. The soldiers were part of the same crew that was involved in the July 2007 killing of 12 unarmed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, captured in a video released by WikiLeaks earlier this year.
  • The killing by US forces of 834 people at military checkpoints, including at least 681 civilians and 30 children.
  • Systematic torture carried out by the Iraqi stooge army and police, with the de facto sanction and complicity of the American military. US soldiers reported more than 1,300 claims of torture between 2005 and 2009, including beatings, burnings, electric shocks, sodomy and rape—similar to the atrocities carried out by the US at Abu Ghraib. The US military was also aware of cases in which the Iraqi puppet regime murdered detainees. A March 25, 2006 report on one prisoner kept by the Iraqi Ministry of Justice is typical: “His hands were bound/shackled and he was suspended from the ceiling; the use of blunt objects (pipes) to beat him on the back and legs; and the use of electric drills to bore holes in his leg.”
  • US soldiers were ordered not to investigate prisoner torture carried out by the Iraqi stooge forces on the grounds that these incidents did not involve American troops. More than 180,000 people were detained at some point between 2004 and 2009, or one in 50 Iraqi males.
There will no doubt be further revelations as these documents are examined. They include a trove of information that has been withheld from the population of Iraq, the United States and the world.
The US-led conquest of Iraq stands as one of the most barbaric war crimes of the modern era. Writing in April 2003, one month after the invasion, the World Socialist Web Site noted that during the buildup to World War II “it was common to speak of the Nazis’ ‘rape of Czechoslovakia,’ or ‘rape of Poland.” What characterized Germany’s modus operandi in these countries was the use of overwhelming military force and the complete elimination of their governments and all civic institutions, followed by the takeover of their economies for the benefit of German capitalism. It is high time that what the US is doing is called by its real name. A criminal regime in Washington is carrying out the rape of Iraq.” (See, “The rape of Iraq”)
The devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people has only intensified over the past seven-and-a-half years. The US has engaged in sociocide—the systematic destruction of an entire civilization. In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed, millions more have been turned into refugees. There has been a staggering growth of disease, infant mortality and malnutrition. The US military has destroyed the country’s infrastructure, leaving an economy in ruins, with an unemployment rate of 70 percent.
To the horror of the world’s population, the Iraqi people have been made to suffer an unimaginable tragedy at the hands of the most powerful military force on the planet. And for what? To establish US domination over the oil-rich and geostrategically critical country.
Every major institution in the United States is complicit in this crime. In the face of broad popular opposition within the US, both Democrats and Republicans authorized the war and have supported it ever since, expending hundreds of billions of dollars in the process. The American people have sought repeatedly to end the war through elections, only to be confronted with the fact that the war continues regardless of which corporate-controlled party is in office.
Obama, elected as a result of popular hostility to Bush and the Republicans and their policies of war and handouts to the rich, has continued the same policies. Running as a critic of the Iraq War, he now praises the US military occupiers as “liberators.”
The Democratic administration has expanded the war against Afghanistan and Pakistan, vastly increasing the use of drone attacks and targeted assassinations. The Obama White House asserts the right to kill anyone it chooses, including US citizens, merely on its say-so that the victim is a terrorist.
The US media, including its liberal wing, promulgated the lies used to justify the war and, as “embedded journalists,” covered up the atrocities committed by the US military. Its response to the WikiLeaks revelations compounds its complicity in war crimes. On the one hand the US media downplays the significance of the documents, echoing the Pentagon line that they reveal “nothing new,” and on the other they witch-hunt WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange for helping to bring these atrocities to light.
The absence of any significant protest within the political or media establishment in the face of these enormous crimes testifies to the wholesale descent of the American ruling class into lawlessness and criminality.
The architects of these war crimes remain at large. Those who planned and oversaw the illegal invasion of Iraq—including all the top officials of the Bush administration and the US military—have yet to be held to account. Obama and his top officials—Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates—have added their own expanding list of crimes to those of the preceding administration.
The release of the WikiLeaks documents coincides with an upsurge in the class struggle. Millions of workers—including most recently in France—are coming into direct conflict with the corporations and their political representatives, who are demanding unprecedented austerity measures to pay for the economic crisis. The struggle against imperialist war must be made a central component of this offensive of the working class, above all in the United States.
The interests of workers throughout the world are the same, and workers of every country face the same class enemy. Imperialism, Lenin noted, is reaction all down the line.
The corporate aristocracy that has unleashed such violence on Iraq will not hesitate to use violence and terror against the American working class to protect its wealth and power. The forces turned into hardened killers and sociopaths in colonial wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually be flung against those fighting within the US against unemployment, poverty and homelessness.
To succeed, the struggle of the working class against war and social reaction must be guided by a new political perspective and strategy. To end imperialist war the international working class must wrest power from the blood-soaked hands of the capitalists and their political representatives and establish democratic control over the world economy. (WSWS)


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WikiLeaks releases documents exposing US war crimes in Iraq




The secret US army files made public Friday by the WikiLeaks web site provide massive documentation of the criminal character of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

WikiLeaks posted nearly 400,000 army field reports, filed by low-ranking soldiers after combat or reconnaissance operations, describing the death tolls due to US military action, attacks by anti-US insurgents, or the internecine civil conflict sparked by the US occupation. The reports cover the period from January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2009, and therefore provide no data on the mass killings that took place during the initial US invasion in March 2003.
The documents were made available several weeks in advance to selected news organizations, including the Guardian in London, the New York Times, the German news magazine Der Spiegel, the French daily Le Monde, and al Jazeera, the Arabic-language broadcaster based in Qatar. These outlets published extensive accounts of the underlying material, posting them on their web sites Friday night.
The Guardian focuses on the scale of the bloodshed, including 15,000 civilians killed in incidents not previously reported by the US military—which publicly denied it was even counting civilian deaths, while keeping an extensive internal log. The newspaper’s report begins: “A grim picture of the US and Britain's legacy in Iraq has been revealed in a massive leak of American military documents that detail torture, summary executions and war crimes.”
The newspaper continues: “The war logs, seen by the Guardian, contain a horrific dossier of cases where US troops killed innocent civilians at checkpoints, on Iraq's roads and during raids on people's homes. The victims include dozens of women and children. The US rarely admitted their deaths publicly.”
The Guardian also details the failure of the US military to investigate torture and murder by the Iraqi forces recruited as part of the buildup of a puppet regime in Baghdad. The newspaper states: “Numerous reports of detainee abuse, often supported by medical evidence, describe prisoners shackled, blindfolded and hung by wrists or ankles and subjected to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. Six reports end with a detainee’s apparent death.”
Another article in the Guardian draws attention to the role of the Wolf Brigade, an Iraqi special forces unit created by the US military and directed by Colonel James Steele, whose experience in counterinsurgency, torture and murder includes his role as an adviser to US-backed death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s.
According to the newspaper: “The Wolf Brigade was created and supported by the US in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard, this time to terrorise insurgents. Members typically wore red berets, sunglasses and balaclavas, and drove out on raids in convoys of Toyota Landcruisers. They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and sometimes executing suspects.”
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, told the BBC television program “Today” that the US government had an obligation to investigate the allegations that the American military handed prisoners over to Iraqi jailers for torture and execution, not only to “bring the perpetrators to justice, but also to provide the victims with adequate remedy and reparation.” Failure to do so, he said, would violate US obligations under international law.
This particular human rights violation is ongoing under the Obama administration, the documents confirm, with a report that the US military this past December received a video showing Iraqi army officers executing a prisoner in Tal Afar, in northern Iraq. According to the US army log, “The footage shows approximately 12 Iraqi army soldiers. Ten IA [Iraqi army] soldiers were talking to one another while two soldiers held the detainee. The detainee had his hands bound… The footage shows the IA soldiers moving the detainee into the street, pushing him to the ground, punching him and shooting him.”
The logs conclude that “no investigation is necessary,” because no US soldiers were involved in the torture and killing. This is a policy formally adopted by the US army in 2004 in a military order known as FRAG0 242.
The Guardian notes that the army reports, however grisly, significantly underestimate the death toll from US military action, even compared to the figures produced by Iraq Body Count (IBC), which are well below estimates, based on demographic studies, of a million or more Iraqis killed. The newspaper writes:
“A key example of the failure by US forces to record civilian casualties they have inflicted comes in the two major urban battles against insurgents fought in 2004 in Falluja. Numerous buildings were reduced to rubble by air strikes, tank shells and howitzers, and there were well-attested deaths of hundreds of civilians. IBC has identified between 1,226 and 1,362 such deaths during April and November. But the leaked US internal field reports record no civilian casualties at all.”
Both the Guardian and Der Spiegel published accounts of the casualties of all kinds inflicted during a single 24-hour period in the fall of 2006, the period of the most intense civil war, when sectarian killings of Sunni and Shiite civilians were at their peak. The Guardian chose October 17, 2006, when 146 were killed; Der Spiegel examined November 23, 2006, when 318 people died. Each gave the summary the title, “A Day in Hell.” No such material appears in the New York Times.
Both the Guardian and Der Spiegel draw attention to a particularly notorious incident in which an American Apache helicopter gunship trapped two insurgents, who attempted to surrender. When the pilot contacted his base for instructions, he was told by a military lawyer that “they can not surrender to aircraft and are still valid targets.” The two men fled but the copter hunted them down and strafed them, killing them.
In its analysis of the army reports, al Jazeera tabulated all the instances in which American soldiers shot and killed Iraqi civilians at checkpoints along the highways—arriving at a total of 681, many of them women and children. Many of these involved the massacre of entire families, with the worst involving 11 people in a van, including four children.
There is a stark difference between the approach taken by the European and Arab publications and that of the New York Times—largely echoed by the rest of the American media. The non-US publications all focus, quite correctly, on the horrific character of the bloodbath caused by the US-led invasion, and the importance of the material for documenting war crimes.
The Times seeks to draw attention away from the evidence of US government criminality, combining diversions—suggestions that the documents provide new evidence of the role of Iran in the events in Iraq—and secondary issues—a front-page examination of the role of private contractors—with a filthy smear campaign against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. (See “New York Times tries character assassination against WikiLeaks founder Assange”)
The American media in general combines vilification of WikiLeaks with efforts to downplay the significance of the material. The coverage in the Times and the Washington Post starts with the assertion that there is little new information in the army documents—an assessment that would seem to be contradicted by the shrill statements from the Pentagon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denouncing the exposé.
Another theme propounded by the American media is that the WikiLeaks material provides an argument for continuing the US military presence in Iraq, because it demonstrates that the Iraqi military and police, under the control of Prime Minister Maliki, is a lawless and criminal force.
Thus the Post writes: “But the logs are perhaps most disturbing in their portrayal of the Iraqi government that has taken control of security in the country as US forces withdraw.” And a Times article suggests that greater details on Kurdish-Arab conflicts in the north of Iraq could support keeping US forces there as peacekeepers.
Despite the censorship and distortion by the US media, the truth about the criminal nature of the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is reaching an ever-wider public. All over the world, the US government is regarded as imitating the methods of the Nazis, both in its violence and its systematic and shameless lying.
WikiLeaks has performed an immense public service. It has posted documents that are the raw material for a future war crimes prosecution of US presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush and all of their top military, intelligence and foreign policy aides. (WSWS)

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Another decade of neo-colonial war in Afghanistan

In the lead-up to next month’s NATO summit in Lisbon, the Obama administration and its allies, confronting widespread anti-war sentiment at home, are attempting to dupe the public by claiming that the US/NATO combat role in Afghanistan will end by 2014, with troop withdrawals to begin next year. Behind closed doors, however, the talk is not of an end to the war, but rather of an open-ended, neo-colonial occupation.

In opening a debate on the Afghan war in the Australian parliament on Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard spilled the beans. After noting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai expected to assume full responsibility for his country’s security by the end of 2014, Gillard bluntly spelt out that the “transition process” would not mean the end to the Australian military presence in Afghanistan.
“Let me be clear,” Gillard said, “this [transition process] refers to the Afghan government taking lead responsibility for security. The international community will remain engaged in Afghanistan beyond 2014. And Australia will remain engaged. There will still be a role for training and other defence cooperation. The civilian-led aid and development effort will continue... We expect this support, training and development task to continue in some form through this decade at least.”
While ministers and officials in the US and other countries have spoken vaguely about a continuing military role in Afghanistan after 2014, Gillard is the first leader to declare that the US-led military occupation will continue for another decade—at least. Her repeated references to the “new international strategy” highlight the fact that this is the Obama administration’s plan. And if Australia, with its current, modest troop numbers of 1,550, intends to remain for another 10 years, then the US and its closest allies are preparing for a large military presence in Afghanistan into the indefinite future.
Taking her cue from Washington, Gillard justified the ongoing occupation by declaring Afghanistan must “never again become a safe haven for terrorists”. However, the intensifying US-led war is not directed against Al Qaeda—according to the CIA, it numbers no more than 50 in Afghanistan—but against the “Taliban”. The “enemy” are Afghans, predominantly Pashtun tribesmen, who are bitterly hostile to the continued foreign military presence that has wreaked death and destruction on the civilian population for more than nine years. Suppressing “terrorism” means a never-ending neo-colonial war against the Afghan people.
Washington’s “war on terrorism” was only ever a pretext for advancing US ambitions for dominance in the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia. The US strategy was drawn up well in advance of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the subjugation of Iraq in 2003 were part of broader plans for refashioning the Middle East and establishing a greater US presence in Central Asia. Now focussed on the challenge posed by a rising China, the Obama administration is not about to relinquish US footholds in Iraq or Afghanistan that could prove very useful in the future. His troop “surge” in Afghanistan, like that in Iraq, is aimed at securing a permanent US presence, including military bases, while ensuring the puppet Karzai regime and its army take on the lion’s share of fighting to suppress the anti-occupation resistance.
If Gillard was a little more open about the US plans, it was only to demonstrate that her Labor government is in lockstep with Washington. The Australian prime minister has already indicated that she might accompany her defence minister to the NATO conference in Lisbon where she would line up with Obama in pressuring other allies to make a similar open-ended military commitment. Canada has announced that it will be pulling its 2,800 soldiers out of Afghanistan by next year. Italy has set a deadline of 2014 for the complete withdrawal of its 3,300 troops. Gillard is standing unequivocally on the US side, despite overwhelming domestic opposition to the war, in a bid to ensure full US support as Australia shores up its own strategic position in the South West Pacific.
Next month’s haggling over the “transition process” at the NATO conference in Lisbon has been preceded by a preparatory gathering in Rome this week on Afghanistan. US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke insisted that the Lisbon conference would not lay out a timetable for specific provinces to be handed over to Kabul’s military control. He also emphasised that “transition” did not equal troop withdrawals, confirming that the US would be pressing for long-term military commitments.
Leading up to the Lisbon conference, the US has been at pains to stress the advances being made through the troop surge. In the Washington Post for instance, US officials claimed that the aggressive military campaign in recent months has killed or captured hundreds of Taliban leaders and more than 3,000 fighters, forcing some insurgent groups to consider negotiations with the Karzai government. They spoke of “pockets of security” in former Taliban strongholds where schools have been reopened and bazaars are bustling.
The slaughter of Taliban leaders and fighters, particularly in the current offensive around the southern city of Kandahar, is largely the result of intensified special forces operations. Like the reign of terror from aerial bombing, these assassination squads are notorious for killing civilians, thus adding to the bitterness and hatred among Afghans toward the occupation of their country and the corrupt puppet regime in Kabul. The so-called pockets of security in the south—the product of the expansion in foreign troop numbers to 150,000—are paralleled by reports of escalating insurgent attacks in the country’s north.
The optimistic note being sounded by Obama administration and its camp followers like Gillard cannot hide the fact that nine years of war have proven to be an unmitigated disaster for the Afghan people. According to very conservative UN estimates, at least 14,000 civilian deaths are directly attributable to the military conflict. The military occupation is propping up a venal regime in Kabul that is notorious for corruption and ballot rigging. The majority of population is still mired in poverty and lack access to elementary services such as electricity, education and health care.
The only way to end this criminal war and allow the Afghan people to decide their future is to demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all foreign troops and the payment of tens of billions of dollars in war reparations. (WSWS)



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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

US threatens wider war in Pakistan

The week-old standoff between Washington and Islamabad over US military attacks inside Pakistan and the blocking of a vital NATO supply line in retaliation underscores the growing threat that the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan is spiralling out of control.

A dramatic escalation of US attacks on Pakistan set the stage for the sharp deterioration in relations over the past week. September saw 22 missile strikes by CIA drones against Pakistani targets, a record number since the attacks began.
The Pakistani government and intelligence services have tolerated and collaborated in the drone attacks, but the US military carried out a qualitative escalation of the assault on Pakistan last week, staging a series of cross-border raids by US helicopter gunships based inside Afghanistan.
While the first of these raids claimed the lives of scores of Pakistanis described by Washington as “militants”—and by residents of the area as local tribesmen—the last killed three members of the Pakistani military’s Frontier Corps and blew to pieces a border post.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, defended this attack as an act of “self defense.” It was nothing of the sort. The US military sent its attack helicopters across the border hunting for targets. If there was any act of self defense, it was by the Frontier Corpsmen, who apparently fired shots to warn the helicopter that it had crossed the border in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
In retaliation, the Pakistani government ordered the closure of a vital supply route for fuel and equipment bound for the US-led occupation forces inside Afghanistan. Now in its seventh day, the closure of the border crossing at Torkham has left hundreds of fuel tankers and container trucks stranded on the road from the Pakistani port of Karachi to the Khyber Pass.
The Tehrik-i-Taliban, an alliance of tribal-based militias hostile to the US occupation of Afghanistan and the Pakistani regime’s complicity with Washington, claimed responsibility for a string of attacks on the stalled NATO convoys. On Monday, attackers burned 20 trucks with Molotov cocktails near Islamabad, killing six people, while another two trucks were ambushed in Baluchistan, where a second border crossing has remained open. This follows the burning of 24 trucks and fuel tankers Friday in the south of Pakistan.
A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Office, Abdul Basit, said that the border crossing would be reopened only after “public anger eases” in relation to the US attacks. He attributed the attacks on the NATO convoys to “the reaction of the Pakistani masses.” The statement made clear that Pakistani government and military have lent their tacit support to the attacks as means of retaliation.
The US military incursions and stepped up CIA strikes against Pakistan have apparently been carried out as a means of pressuring the Pakistani government to launch a long-sought military offensive in North Waziristan to root out the so-called Haqqani network, an armed opposition group that operates on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Islamabad had refused to launch the offensive, citing the devastation wrought by the massive flooding of the country and its deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers in relief operations. At the same time, the Pakistani military and its intelligence service, the ISI, have deep ties with the Haqqani network and see it as an asset in defending Pakistani interests inside Afghanistan. Last June, it was reported that top Pakistani officials were engaged in an attempt to mediate a power-sharing arrangement between the network and the US-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
It is likely that the recent revelations in the Bob Woodward book Obama’s Wars have played a role in the ratcheting up of tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
The book quotes Obama as declaring in an Oval Office meeting last November, “We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan.” The objective of the US military intervention in Afghanistan, he added, was to ensure that “the cancer doesn’t spread there.”
It also recounts US threats made last May to carry out a massive bombing campaign against targets inside Pakistan in the event of a successful terrorist attack on US soil that could be traced back to that country. And it quotes CIA Director Leon Panetta as insisting that the drone attacks were not an adequate means of attacking anti-US forces inside Pakistan.
“We can't do this without some boots on the ground,” Panetta is quoted as saying. “They could be Pakistani boots or they can be our boots, but we got to have some boots on the ground.” The implication is clear. If the Pakistani military fails to do Washington’s bidding, the American military will intervene.
While most of this was already known to Pakistan’s military and intelligence, it has now been widely reported in Pakistan, stoking popular anger against US arrogance and further discrediting the government in Islamabad as a servile puppet of Washington.
For decades, the Pakistani military has acted as Washington’s mercenary servant, called upon repeatedly to defend US interests – including in its collaboration with the CIA and Islamist elements like Osama bin Laden in the US-orchestrated war against the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It has also served as an instrument for upholding stability inside Pakistan, including through the imposition of a series of military dictatorships, from that of Ayub Khan in the 1950s to the rule of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who was forced out just two years ago.
Now, however, these two roles are increasingly in conflict, with the war in Afghanistan and Islamabad’s complicity serving to radically destabilize the situation in Pakistan itself.
Moreover, the Pakistani bourgeoisie and military see their strategic interests in the region frustrated at every turn by US imperialism’s military pursuit of hegemony in oil-rich Central Asia.
This US strategy has led to a “global strategic partnership” with Pakistan’s regional rival, India, including an Indo-US nuclear treaty that essentially legitimizes India’s development of nuclear weapons, while exempting it from restrictions under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
At the same time, a key US aim is countering the regional influence of China, which has considerable and long-standing interests in Pakistan. While facilitating India’s nuclear aims, Washington has attempted to block China’s plans to build two nuclear reactors for Pakistan. Washington has also viewed with growing hostility China’s attempt to develop naval and commercial port facilities in Pakistan. The US has likewise worked to stymie a pipeline project between Pakistan and Iran.
Meanwhile, Washington has sought to exploit the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history as a means of further squeezing the Pakistani bourgeoisie, demanding economic structural “reforms” that would further US capitalist interests in return for a pittance of aid.
The attempt to further these aims and to untangle the complex geo-political relations in the region in its favor by unleashing bombs and missiles on Pakistan underscores the increasing desperation gripping the US war in Afghanistan and the reckless and incendiary character of Washington’s policy.
Following the strategy dictated by his generals, Obama, just like his predecessor in the White House, is attempting to exploit US military superiority to offset American capitalism’s long-term economic decline. This course is producing regional and global instability that threatens to drag the people of Pakistan and the entire world into a far bloodier conflagration. (WSWS)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Open Letter to President Obama about Promoting Democracy* and Defending Human Rights in the Middle East

President Barack Hussein Obama













The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
First of all, congratulations on your victory in November. Like so many others throughout the world, we find ourselves both hopeful and inspired. Your election is proof of America’s continued promise as a land of opportunity, equality, and freedom.  Your presidency presents a historic opportunity to chart a new course in foreign affairs, and particularly in the troubled relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.
We are heartened by your promise to listen to and understand the hopes and aspirations of Arabs and Muslims.  By shutting down Guantanamo Bay and forbidding torture, your administration will inspire greater confidence between the United States and the Muslim world.  Last month, in your first major interview, millions of Arabs heard your call for mutual respect on one of the Middle East’s most watched television channels. They were encouraged to find that you hold a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an urgent priority, as evidenced by the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as your envoy. Reaching out to the people of the region so early on in your presidency is a step of no small significance.  But it is a step that must be followed by concrete policy changes.
Improving relations between the United States and Middle Eastern nations is not simply a matter of changing some policies here and there.  For too long, U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been fundamentally misguided. The United States, for half a century, has frequently supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them and prevent their citizens from participation in peaceful civic and political activities. U.S. support for Arab autocrats was supposed to serve U.S. national interests and regional stability. In reality, it produced a region increasingly tormented by rampant corruption, extremism, and instability.
In his second inaugural address, President Bush pledged that the United States would no longer support tyrants and would stand with those activists and reformers fighting for democratic* change. The Bush administration, however, quickly turned its back on Middle East democracy* after Islamist parties performed well in elections throughout the region.  This not only hurt the credibility of the United States, dismayed democrats and emboldened extremists in the region, but also sent a powerful message to autocrats that they could reassert their power and crush the opposition with impunity.
In order to rebuild relations of mutual respect, it is critical that the United States be on the right side of history regarding the human, civil, and political rights of the peoples of the Middle East.  There is no doubt that the people of the Middle East long for greater freedom and democracy*; they have proven themselves willing to fight for it. What they need from your administration is a commitment to encourage political reform not through wars, threats, or imposition, but through peaceful policies that reward governments that take active and measurable steps towards genuine democratic* reforms. Moreover, the US should not hesitate to speak out in condemnation when opposition activists are unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or elsewhere. When necessary, the United States should use its considerable economic and diplomatic* leverage to put pressure on its allies in the region when they fail to meet basic standards of human rights.
We recognize that taking these steps will present both difficulties and dilemmas. Accordingly, bold action is needed today more than ever.  For too long, American policy in the Middle East has been paralyzed by fear of Islamist parties coming to power. Some of these fears are both legitimate and understandable; many Islamists advocate illiberal policies. They need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the rights of women and religious minorities, and their willingness to tolerate dissent. However, most mainstream Islamist groups in the region are nonviolent and respect the democratic* process.
In many countries, including Turkey, Indonesia, and Morocco, the right to participate in reasonably credible and open elections has moderated Islamist parties and enhanced their commitment to democratic* norms. We may not agree with what they have to say, but if we wish to both preach and practice democracy*, it is simply impossible to exclude the largest opposition groups in the region from the democratic* process.   At the same time, to reduce the future of the region to a contest between Islamists and authoritarian regimes would be a mistake. Promoting democratic* openings in the region will give liberal and secular parties a chance to establish themselves and communicate their ideas to the populace after decades of repression which left them weak and marginalized. More competition between parties of diverse ideological backgrounds would be healthy for political development in the region.
In short, we have an unprecedented opportunity to send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world: the United States will support all those who strive for freedom**, democracy*, and human rights. You, Mr. President, have recently relayed such a message in your inaugural address when you said: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
We are fully aware that, with a worsening global economic crisis, and continuing challenges in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, political reform and progress toward democratic reform  in the Middle East will need to compete with a whole host of other priorities on your agenda. Policy is often about making difficult choices. However, as you work on other Middle East priorities, we urge you to elevate democratic* reform and respect for human rights as key considerations in your engagement with both Arab regimes and Arab publics.
In conclusion, we are writing this letter to raise our profound belief that supporting democrats* and democracy* in the Middle East is not only in the region’s interests, but in the United States’ as well. Perhaps more importantly, what we choose to do with this critical issue will reveal a great deal about the strength of American democratic* ideals in this new era – and whether or not we will decide to respect and apply them in the Middle East. (CSID)
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