Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Richard Falk on the Israeli assault on Gaza

Writing in the Nation Richard Falk had this to say:

The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions, both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war.

Those violations include:

Collective punishment: The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.

Targeting civilians: The airstrikes were aimed at civilian areas in one of the most crowded stretches of land in the world, certainly the most densely populated area of the Middle East.

Disproportionate military response: The airstrikes have not only destroyed every police and security office of Gaza's elected government, but have killed and injured hundreds of civilians; at least one strike reportedly hit groups of students attempting to find transportation home from the university.

Earlier Israeli actions, specifically the complete sealing off of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip, have led to severe shortages of medicine and fuel (as well as food), resulting in the inability of ambulances to respond to the injured, the inability of hospitals to adequately provide medicine or necessary equipment for the injured, and the inability of Gaza's besieged doctors and other medical workers to sufficiently treat the victims.

Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response. I note that Israel's escalating military assaults have not made Israeli civilians safer; to the contrary, the one Israeli killed today after the upsurge of Israeli violence is the first in over a year.

Israel has also ignored recent Hamas diplomatic initiatives to re-establish the truce or ceasefire since its expiration on 26 December.

The Israeli airstrikes today, and the catastrophic human toll that they caused, challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel's violations of international law. That complicity includes those countries knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks, as well as those countries who have supported and participated in the siege of Gaza that itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe.

I remind all Member States of the United Nations that the UN continues to be bound to an independent obligation to protect any civilian population facing massive violations of international humanitarian law--regardless of what country may be responsible for those violations. I call on all Member States, as well as officials and every relevant organ of the United Nations system, to move on an emergency basis not only to condemn Israel's serious violations, but to develop new approaches to providing real protection for the Palestinian people.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ahmedinejad as mediator

The News reports:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is dashing to New Delhi early this week for talks with the Indian leaders with regard to the alarming situation prevailing in the neighbourhood. He may visit Islamabad immediately after concluding his discussions in the Indian capital. The Iranian president, who is deeply concerned about the rising tension between the two neighbouring nuclear states on its southeast, has been maintaining interaction with both the countries termed friends by Tehran.

The Iranian president will convert his endeavour into shuttle diplomacy if he gets encouraging signals from both the capitals. Pakistan will welcome such an effort. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehar Mottaki has already spoken to his Pakistani and Indian counterparts about the situation separately.
Iran has always had friendly relations with India supporting India against Pakistan in the Organization of Islamic Countries. Given that Pakistan has already acquiesced and that Indian approval is likely, the Iranian mediation might actually happen. The wildcard here is the US which probably will not like Iranian involvement, however useful it might be.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Forever more

The Guardian reports:

Israel stood defiant last night in the face of mounting international condemnation, as it vowed to continue a massive bombing offensive against key targets in the Gaza Strip that left 205 dead and 700 others injured.

As world leaders called for an immediate end to the biggest air assault on Gaza since 1967, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, refused to rule out a ground invasion in the next few days saying that the retaliation against rocket attacks by Hamas had only just begun. "It won't be easy and it won't be short," said Barak. "There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight."

And in the spirit of supreme sacrifice in a move reminiscent of our own John McCain:

He said he was withdrawing from campaigning for Israel's February elections to focus on the operation.

But not to worry:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the operation "may take some time" - but he pledged to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories would probably have some difficulty believing that pledge. Here is what he had to say about the Israeli occupation of Gaza in June of 2007:

There is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody history of the human species. Its massiveness, unconcealed genocidal intent, and reliance on the mentality and instruments of modernity give its enactment in the death camps of Europe a special status in our moral imagination. This special status is exhibited in the continuing presentation of its gruesome realities through film, books, and a variety of cultural artifacts more than six decades after the events in question ceased. The permanent memory of the Holocaust is also kept alive by the existence of several notable museums devoted exclusively to the depiction of the horrors that took place during the period of Nazi rule in Germany.

Against this background, it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust.’


Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy. If ever the ethos of ‘a responsibility to protect,’ recently adopted by the UN Security Council as the basis of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is applicable, it would be to act now to start protecting the people of Gaza from further pain and suffering. But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force.

Even if the pressures exerted on Gaza were to be acknowledged as having genocidal potential and even if Israel’s impunity under America’s geopolitical umbrella is put aside, there is little assurance that any sort of protective action in Gaza would be taken. There were strong advance signals in 1994 of a genocide to come in Rwanda, and yet nothing was done to stop it; the UN and the world watched while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Bosnians took place, an incident that the World Court described as ‘genocide’ a few months ago; similarly, there have been repeated allegations of genocidal conduct in Darfur over the course of the last several years, and hardly an international finger has been raised, either to protect those threatened or to resolve the conflict in some manner that shares power and resources among the contending ethnic groups.

But Gaza is morally far worse, although mass death has not yet resulted. It is far worse because the international community is watching the ugly spectacle unfold while some of its most influential members actively encourage and assist Israel in its approach to Gaza. Not only the United States, but also the European Union, are complicit, as are such neighbors as Egypt and Jordan apparently motivated by their worries that Hamas is somehow connected with their own problems associated with the rising strength of the Muslim Brotherhood within their own borders. It is helpful to recall that the liberal democracies of Europe paid homage to Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games, and then turned away tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. I am not suggesting that the comparison should be viewed as literal, but to insist that a pattern of criminality associated with Israeli policies in Gaza has actually been supported by the leading democracies of the 21st century.


Israel is currently stiffening the boycott on economic relations that has brought the people of Gaza to the brink of collective starvation. This set of policies, carried on for more than four decades, has imposed a sub-human existence on a people that have been repeatedly and systematically made the target of a variety of severe forms of collective punishment. The entire population of Gaza is treated as the ‘enemy’ of Israel, and little pretext is made in Tel Aviv of acknowledging the innocence of this long victimized civilian society.

To persist with such an approach under presentt circumstances is indeed genocidal, and risks destroying an entire Palestinian community that is an integral part of an ethnic whole. It is this prospect that makes appropriate the warning of a Palestinian holocaust in the making, and should remind the world of the famous post-Nazi pledge of ‘never again.'
At that time our compassionate leader Obama had also chimed in with a letter decrying how the Gaza siege had been forced on Israel.

Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza, and that a resolution or statement could be forthcoming from the Council in short order.

I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condemn the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel…

All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this… Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.

The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks… If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

And now that he is the President-Elect
Brooke Anderson, Obama's national security spokeswoman, said only that Obama "is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza."
Probably trying to develop his understanding further.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The divine rule of kings

Rick Perlstein, who it seems is a liberal journalist, has this to say of the shoe attack on W

Liberals should not make light of or license the physical assault on the leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he's deservedly hated. This is not how we do politics, unless we're in favor something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.

This seems open and shut to me: the Iraqi journalist should go to jail for a rather long time.

To which Bernard Chazelle, an actual intelligent person, says:

Whenever a liberal "of impeccable credentials" shouts "long prison sentence!" I reach for my deconstruction toolkit. First, a rhetorical question: Should Marylin Klinghoffer, of Achille Lauro fame, have gone to jail for a rather long time after she spat in the faces of the terrorists who murdered her husband? After all, no one wants to make light of or license the physical assault on any man, no matter how much he's deservedly hated. This is not how we do justice, unless we're in favor of something tending toward anarchy, or fascism.

The question is useful because it disposes of the rejoinder: "You're not being serious by defending shoe throwers." For Perlstein, the parallel stops there. He is clear about it. It's not about the person but the authority behind it: a "leader of a sovereign state, no matter how much he's deservedly hated" deserves respect. Two interesting points: first, Perlstein presumably confines his sphere of respect to "our kind of leaders" (not Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, Saddam, etc.) Second, Kant's theory of respect-for-persons as an end in itself is neatly swept aside. It's OK to spit at a terrorist but not at a president. Why? Because, as liberal bloggers write, out of spectacular ignorance, one should "despise the man but respect the office." Do they realize the essence of the Enlightenment was to reach precisely the opposite conclusion? That shoes should be aimed at kings and presidents, not at the persons behind them.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Meet the new boss - environment edition

From a NYT article on the appointment of Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary:
He must deal with the sharp tension between those who seek to exploit public lands for energy, minerals and recreation and those who want to preserve the lands.

He will be responsible for ending the department’s coziness with the industries it regulates.
The industries don't seem to fear any end of the coziness:
Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar’s performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. “Nothing in his record suggests he’s an ideologue,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. “Here’s a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue.”

Mr. Popovich noted approvingly that Mr. Salazar had tried to engineer a deal in the Senate allowing mining companies and others to reclaim abandoned mines without fear of lawsuits. (The legislation is pending.) He has also supported robust research on technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, something the coal industry favors.

He also backed a compromise that would let oil companies drill for natural gas in limited parts of the Roan Plateau in northwestern Colorado, a plan that most environmental advocates opposed.
And the environmentalists don't seem to be looking forward to an excess of warm and fuzzy feelings.
“He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues.

Daniel R. Patterson, formerly an official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group, said that Mr. Salazar has justifiably become the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees.

“Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and who supports fellow Arizonan Mr. Grijalva for the Interior job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"cravenness of those who enabled it"

Is Paul Krugman talking about the new administration?
Right now, there’s a major effort underway to flush the sheer crazy/vileness of the Bush years — and the cravenness of those who enabled it — down the memory hole. We shouldn’t let that effort succeed. The fact is that an American president deliberately misled the nation into war, probably for political gain — and most of the country’s elite went cheerfully along with the scam.
Vice President-Elect Joseph Biden supporting the Iraq War Resolution:

Yes, Mr. President, you have that power to go to war; you can do that within 1 year. If, in fact, you go to war in 1 year, you can extend that 1 year.

Susan Rice UN Ambassador designate:

Obama's nominee to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had this to say February, 2002, after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell made a wholly absurd presentation a plenary session of the United Nations Security Council regarding the supposed threat posed by those Iraqi imaginary weapons of mass destruction.

"I think he [Powell] has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them," said Rice, a former Clinton administration State Department aide, "and I don't think many informed people doubted that."

So said Rice in an interview with National Public Radio on February 6, 2003.

For the record, that was one day after Powell made his "case" for war to the U.N.

On that day, major newspapers in Europe had already debunked Powell's key arguments

Secretary of State Designate Hillary Clinton:

Here is senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in December 2003: “Now that we’re [in Iraq], we have no choice. We own this issue. There is no doubt that we’re going to be there for years,” and “Whether you agreed or not that we should be in Iraq, failure is not an option.”

Secretary of State-Designate Robert Gates

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet the new boss -- Justice edition

Eric Holder the Attorney General designate in the days before torture became unpopular:

Asked whether terrorism suspects could be held forever, Holder responded: "It seems to me you can think of these people as combatants and we are in the middle of a war," Holder said in a CNN interview in January 2002. "And it seems to me that you could probably say, looking at precedent, that you are going to detain these people until war is over, if that is ultimately what we wanted to do."

Just weeks later, Holder told CNN he didn't believe al-Qaida suspects qualified as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

"One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located," said Holder, the former deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. "Under the Geneva Convention, you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people."

Holder said it was important to treat detainees humanely. But he said they "are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war." He also downplayed criticism that prisoners were being mistreated.

"Those in Europe and other places who are concerned about the treatment of al-Qaida members should come to Camp X-ray and see how the people are, in fact, being treated," he said.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Which Faridkot

Indian media is reporting that the one remaining terrorist from the group that carried out the Mumbai atrocity is Azam Amir Kasav from Faridkot in Pakistan. The Dawn newspaper in Pakistan decided to check on the various Faridkots and could not find an Azam Amir Kasav. The poor villagers in one particular Faridkot also got a visit from the local police eager for an international feather in their cap and Pakistani intelligence.

Faridkot, a settlement in the south of the Punjab province, has been overrun by Pakistani intelligence agents and police for the past three days after it was reported by Indian officials that the lone gunman captured alive in Mumbai came from a place called Faridkot.

Agents from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were still questioning locals yesterday.

"All the agencies have been here and the (police) special branch," said village elder Mehboob Khan Daha. "We have become very worried. What's this all about?"

The Faridkot link is a key plank of India's accusations against Pakistan. The captured gunman, variously named as Ajmal Amir Kamal, Azam Amir Kasav or Azam Ameer Qasab, is said to come from Faridkot, which is described as being near Multan. He is said to speak fluent English and a clear photograph of him shows a young man in western clothes. Shown a picture of the alleged militant, Daha said: "That's a smart-looking boy. We don't have that sort around here."

In Faridkot, no one appeared to be able to speak much English; most could only converse in a dialect of the provincial language. None of the villagers recognised the face in the photograph.

An interesting discussion on the attack on Mumbai is available at DemocracyNow.