The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism
Site Search:
Home ArticlesLettersArchives
Empire Notes Needs Your Help
More info: How to Help

Empire Notes

"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

Subscribe to our E-Mail List (hit "Enter")
March 11, 2005

Documents on the Torture of Children

Because of the ACLU's recent release of documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the U.S. media has rediscovered that some of the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were children, a fact that was apparent from press reports last year after the scandal was first noticed. Apparently, the transcript of an interview of Brigadier General Janice Karpinski is "the first documented evidence of a child no older than 11 being held prisoner." Of course, it all depends on who is doing the documenting.

The AP report I linked to says that "Military officials have said that no juvenile prisoners were subject to the abuses captured in photographs from Abu Ghraib," before it goes on to document several "abuses" that juvenile prisoners were in fact subjected to. In particular, take a look at this:
Another soldier said in January 2004 that troops poured water and smeared mud on the detained 17-year-old son of an Iraqi general and "broke" the general by letting him watch his son shiver in the cold.
In other words, they tortured this Iraqi general's child in order to break him. I've written before about the U.S. practice of taking hostages, women and children related to men who they suspect of being involved in the resistance and also about the practice of torturing those hostages; those posts are from May and July of last year, yet we've seen almost nothing in the media since then about this most despicable practice.

Under the Same Sun has a very substantial torture archive.

Posted at 2:23 pm
March 9, 2005

Debating Democracy on Democracy Now

I was on Democracy Now today, debating about Bush's putative plans to democratize the Middle East, against Farid Ghadry, a Syrian businessman from something called the Reform Party of Syria and a remarkably dishonest fellow, and Steven Cook, who's with the Council on Foreign Relations, and was very honest and liberal-leaning, even admitting that a Syrian withdrawal might not actually be a good thing (we disagreed, of course, on whether or not Bush is actually trying to bring democracy, but agreed on many points).

You can read the transcript or watch the show here.

Posted at 4:30 pm
March 9, 2005

The Lebanese People Have Spoken?

More details have emerged on the Shi'a protest called by Hezbollah. As you can see from the page I linked to previously (the article at that link has changed), "conservative estimates" (like that published by the AP) are that 500,000 people came out in favor of the Syrian presence. Lebanese officials placed the number at 1.6 million; even though that is bound to be an overestimate, it's quite possible that 500,000 is an underestimate.

By contrast, the largest anti-Syrian protest by the "Lebanese opposition" had about 70,000 people.

To understand the enormity of the pro-Syria, the entire population of Lebanon is about 3.8 million, a little over 40% of which is Shi'a.

George W. Bush, never a math whiz, interprets these numbers thusly (speaking at the National Defense University): "... the Lebanese people are demanding a free and independent [of Syria] nation."

His Imperial Majesty's gall, of course, does not stop there:
History is moving quickly, and leaders in the Middle East have important choices to make. The world community, including Russia and Germany and France and Saudi Arabia and the United States has presented the Syrian government with one of those choices -- to end its nearly 30-year occupation of Lebanon, or become even more isolated from the world. The Lebanese people have heard the speech by the Syrian president. They've seen these delaying tactics and half-measures before. The time has come for Syria to fully implement Security Council Resolution 1559. All Syrian military forces and intelligence personnel must withdraw before the Lebanese elections, for those elections to be free and fair. (Applause.)

The elections in Lebanon must be fully and carefully monitored by international observers. The Lebanese people have the right to determine their future, free from domination by a foreign power. The Lebanese people have the right to choose their own parliament this spring, free of intimidation. And that new government will have the help of the international community in building sound political, economic, and military institutions, so the great nation of Lebanon can move forward in security and freedom. (Applause.)

 Today I have a message for the people of Lebanon: All the world is witnessing your great movement of conscience. Lebanon's future belongs in your hands, and by your courage, Lebanon's future will be in your hands. The American people are on your side. Millions across the earth are on your side. The momentum of freedom is on your side, and freedom will prevail in Lebanon. (Applause.)
The "nearly 30-year occupation of Lebanon" isolates Syria from the world but the nearly 38-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights does not isolate Israel. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, passed a few months ago, which is of the class of resolutions that do not authorize the use of force (which is done by invoking Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter) and are sometimes referred to as "optional," must be obeyed; resolution 425, calling for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, was irrelevant for 20 years (let's not mention resolutions regarding occupation of Palestinian territories).

Better yet, in the case of Lebanon Bush seems to understand that foreign occupiers must withdraw in order for elections to be "free and fair," although in Iraq, this hardly seems to have crossed his mind. Best of all, I think, is the call for international observers in the Lebanon election, since the much-acclaimed Iraqi election was distinguished by that fact that it had not a single international observer in the country.

Given Bush's unique understanding of democracy, I doubt that the truly massive turnout in favor of Syria (seen by many Lebanese as one of the few bulwarks against Israeli expansion into Lebanon) will shake his conviction that the "people of Lebanon" are in agreement with his own reckless maneuvering to destabilize the Syrian government. It remains to be seen whether the broadcast media will go along with his conviction or see fit actually to report some of the facts.

Given the confessional divide in Lebanon, politics often (not always) reduces to identity. If, in fact, the vast majority of the 500,000 are Shi'a, this certainly demonstrates far greater fervor in favor of Syria than has yet been shown by the primarily Maronite, Druze, and (some) Sunni Muslim opposition, but it doesn't necessarily reflect that a majority of Lebanese are in favor of a continued Syrian presence. Still, it is a pretty powerful statement. Right now, the main card of the "opposition" seems to be the fact that the United States is cheering them on with all its might.

And to date there is still no reason to believe Bashar Assad was behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and much reason to believe he would never take a risk like that.

Posted at 2:39 pm
March 8, 2005

Lebanon and Ukraine

Today's protest called by Hezbollah involved "hundreds of thousands" of Shi'a Muslims, according to the Washington Post. This seems to confirm the analysis I put forward yesterday that in fact the what we are seeing in Lebanon is at least as much sectarian confessional politics as it is mass mobilization.

In one sense, the situation is very much like what we saw in Ukraine: both sides mobilizing large numbers to bring the political battle out of the parliament chambers and into the streets. In Ukraine, the Western media reporting was seriously skewed, emphasizing the pro-Yushchenko protests (which were far better organized) heavily over the pro-Yanukovych protests. With regard to Lebanon, to date the record is similar, although the Post article is a good start at some balance.

Mainstream U.S. commentators want these stories to be a morality play, with the masses who strain for freedom conveniently arrayed against regimes that the United States opposes, and with U.S. intervention, purely disinterested, being done only for the sake of freedom, democracy, and, of course, an end to certain occupations which are "out of step with the Middle East." (??!**)

The fact is, in both cases, there are very legitimate reasons for all the people who are or were out there in the streets and in both cases both sides represent genuine popular mobilization (even though, in Ukraine and perhaps in Lebanon, there was significant U.S. intervention). And the steely-eyed authoritarians of the Bush administration are perfectly happy to make use of even so distasteful a tool as unruly popular protest if it serves their ends of destabilizing or removing an unruly regime.

The left should be able to oppose this intervention without falling into the trap of denigrating the legitimacy of any of the people who are out there demonstrating.

Posted at 3:25 pm
March 7, 2005

Radio Commentary -- Syria, Bolivia, and Outbreaks of Democracy

This week's commentary for Uprising Radio:

A number of events have come together in time and space, to be suddenly christened as an outbreak of democracy in the Middle East. They include Palestinian elections, the first since 1996, occasioned by Arafat’s death and the need to replace him; the Iraqi elections, forced on the United States by the iron will of Ayatollah Sistani; municipal elections in Saudi Arabia in which half the municipal councils are still royally appointed and where women couldn’t vote; Hosni Mubarak’s agreement, supposedly in response to a snub by Condoleezza Rice, to allow opposition candidates in the upcoming presidential election, something intended to be a meaningless concession, since said candidates have to be approved by the Mubarak-dominated parliament and “emergency” security measures like the prohibition of more than five people assembling in public without permission are still in sway; and the mass demonstrations in Lebanon after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, which have already caused the Syrian-dominated government to collapse and which, in conjunction with massive pressure from the United States, have led to Syria’s agreement to begin a phased withdrawal from Lebanon.

It is, in fact, rather interesting that this last example is being touted as a democratic development here in the United States, just as the mass protests in Ukraine that led to new elections were as well. Normally, our political system and our political commentators, to say the least, look askance at unregulated mass protest that contravenes the all-important regulations that provide for public order and that transcends accepted legal procedures, no matter how stupid those procedures might be.

For example, somehow, no fanfare has accompanied the remarkable developments in Bolivia. 17 months ago, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was forced to resign by massive protest over a proposed gas deal which would give Bolivia minimal royalties while securing large profits for U.S. corporations. Now, his vice president and replacement, Carlos Mesa, has also announced he will resign, again after protests spearheaded by the Movement to Socialism, an organization headed by the indigenous leader Evo Morales. A striking manifestation of people power and democratic culture, in a country that has been plagued by over 190 coups since 1825.

Events in Bolivia do seem to involve a large section of the country and the interests of the non-elite masses. In Lebanon, on the other hand, which, of course, had democratic elections long before the events of the past few months, these demonstrations have a clear ethnic sectarian character. Headed by Maronite Christians, Druze, and some Sunni Muslims, the so-called opposition is paying little or no attention to the desires of the hundreds of thousands of Shi’a. Many of them support Hezbollah, a militant organization and political party with ties to Syria that is the only Arab military ever to force an Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupies

They are also paying no attention to the spirit of the Ta’if accords of 1990 and the ensuing Syrian-Lebanese agreement. It is true that Syria has violated those accords repeatedly and that its recent assertion of political hegemony over the Lebanese government is illegitimate; it is also true that those accords recognize that Israeli expansionism is a severe threat to Lebanon and accept some Syrian military presence in Lebanon in order to deter Israel. The power vacuum being created by simultaneous collapse of the Lebanese government and withdrawal of Syrian troops could well act as a red flag in front of the Israeli bull.

Also not being considered is America’s wider war. The Bush administration’s recent saber-rattling at Syria seems to stem from a conviction, with just as much evidence as they had on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, that the Iraqi resistance is being funded, organized, and run from Syria. They have seized on the Hariri assassination, which has absolutely no traceable links to the Syrian government, to try to destabilize the Syrian government and further the neoconservatives’ dreams of American-dominated regime change.

If this supposed outbreak of democracy leads to more imperial machinations by the United States and Israel and, as the LA Times reports this morning, a muting of congressional criticism of Bush administration policy, the people who suffer the most for it will be the very people of the Middle East now justly being celebrated for their political courage.

Posted at 10:52 am
March 1, 2005

Haiti Resources

The Bay Area-based Haiti Action Network has come out with another pamphlet, We Will Not Forget: The Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti. Although it focuses on events prior to last year's coup (whose one-year anniversary we just passed), its relevance is in helping to understand what people are fighting for right now in Haiti.

There is a near-blackout on news from Haiti in the mainstream media. A quick Lexis-Nexis search on the New York Times shows that in the last three months there have been two wire service squibs, three paragraphs in the World Briefings, one article on Powell's visit to Haiti, and one real article, A Troubled Haiti Struggles to Gain Its Political Balance (although the headline sucks, the article is ok; it points out how anti-democratic Latortue is, but says nothing about the fact that the political "imbalance" is almost entirely derived from foreign intervention).

In particular, frequent reports of massacres committed by the government and sundry anti-Lavalas forces are almost never getting mainstream coverage.

The pamphlet is informative and gives a sense of substantial progress on social spending, social infrastructure-building, and general human development in the 1994-2004 period. Even in this period, change was slow, but that is probably largely imputable to Haiti's lack of resources and specifically in the last few years to the U.S.-mandated freezing of various forms of international development aid.

I would be happier if it included more of a sense of the shortcomings of Lavalas during this period -- in particular, I've never gotten a sense of how justified certain left critics of Aristide were). Given the massive repression by the thugs in power now and the targeting of Aristide and Lavalas by a highly militarist government just a few miles to the north, it's understandable that people would want to avoid discussing the comparatively minor peccadilloes of Aristide and Lavalas in the same breath.

Some of the more impressive achievements claimed are the reduction of illiteracy from 85% to 55% in the last seven years and even the reduction of malnutrition from 63% to 51% from 1993 to 2003 (a period when, in great "success stories" like India, the prevalence of malnutrition has risen).

One passage really sums up the point of the pamphlet:
A few days before the February 2004 coup, a foreign journalist asked a market woman in Cité Soleil (the largest and poorest neighborhood in Port-au-Prince) what she thought of the political situation in Haiti. She responded: "If it wasn’t for Aristide you wouldn’t be asking me for my opinion."
Posted at 1:14 pm
March 1, 2005

More on the State of Our Moral and Political Culture

Via The Carpetbagger Report:
Now we know where Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) thinks the weapons of mass destruction are buried: in Syria, which he said he'd like to nuke to smithereens.

Speaking at a veterans' celebration at Suncreek United Methodist Church in Allen, Texas, on Feb. 19, Johnson told the crowd that he explained his theory to President Bush and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) on the porch of the White House one night.

Johnson said he told the president that night, "Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on 'em and I'll make one pass. We won't have to worry about Syria anymore."

The crowd roared with applause.
This should be shocking, but it's not. In fact, we're inundated with elected representatives like Sam Johnson.

The last time I posted anything like this, several people wrote to tell me that not all Americans are like that; a few even wrote to say I was deliberately giving a distorted view of what Americans think. In fact, I'm just trying to point out that, far from being something you find only on the lunatic fringe, such sentiments are very mainstream. Some of them are even majority sentiments, although wanting to nuke Syria probably isn't.

Unfortunately, in this country, people who couldn't imagine holding such views themselves all too often shield themselves thoroughly from the large groups of people who do hold them, read only publications that don't include them, watch only shows that don't air them, and generally dramatically underestimate their prevalence.

The Bush administration likes to say, or imply, that there's a war for civilization going on in the Middle East. Few point out that there's one going on over here -- or that one side is fighting a lot harder than the other.

Posted at 2:32 am
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and BeyondBush, Iraq, and Demonstration Elections Notes on Bush RNC Speech"Report from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush -- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and FrumIntelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality