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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The Bay Area-based Haiti Action Network has come out with another
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
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:
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."
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
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.