Global Notebook 10/04


US Loses War Crimes Exemption
NEW YORK – Facing strong opposition, the US has abandoned its quest to obtain UN Security Council exemption from war crimes prosecution against soldiers for a third consecutive year. Washington needed nine “yes” votes in the 15-member council, but more than seven countries vowed to abstain. First adopted in 2002, to the chagrin of human rights advocates, the current exemption ran out June 30.


In the past, the Bush administration threatened to veto UN peacekeeping missions if the resolution giving it immunity from the new International Criminal Court (ICC) wasn’t adopted. UN ambassador James Cunningham declined to say whether it would carry out the threat.


The US rarely faces such opposition in the council, with the exception of its attempt to get UN endorsement for invading Iraq. Since then, the council has backed most US plans. But US abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan made it difficult for members to extend the resolution again.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan advised council members to oppose the move, calling it “unfortunate” that the US was pressing for exemption now. He suggested that passage would discredit the world body. Ninety-four countries, including all European Union members except the Czech Republic, ratified a 1998 treaty creating the ICC. On the Security Council, only Britain planned to support the US this time.
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Children Abused in Iraq Prisons
BAGHDAD – Over 100 children are imprisoned in US-controlled detention centers in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, and some have allegedly been tortured. “Between January and May of this year, we’ve registered 107 children, during 19 visits in six different detention locations,” Red Cross representative Florian Westphal told the German TV show Report Mainz in July.


The show presented eyewitness testimony about the torture and the abuse of some children. One incident involved a 16-year-old being soaked with water, driven through the cold, smeared with mud, and then presented before his weeping father, also a prisoner.


Speaking at an ACLU convention, Seymour Hersh, the New Yorker reporter who first broke the story of torture at Abu Ghraib, recently described pictures and videotapes the US media hasn’t yet shown. “The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling, and the worst part is the soundtrack, of the boys shrieking,” said Hersh. “And this is your government at war.”
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Vanunu Warns of Another Chernobyl

DUBAI – Israel’s nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu, claims that the Middle East is at risk of a “second Chernobyl” from a potential accident at Israel’s aged Dimona nuclear plant. The comments were made during an interview with the Arabic-language Al-Hayat‘s weekly supplement Al-Wassat.


The former technician was jailed for 18 years for revealing information about Dimona to Britain’s Sunday Times in 1986, effectively blowing the whistle on Israel’s nuclear program. Most foreign experts believe Israel currently has up to 200 nuclear warheads.


Vanunu was released in April, but isn’t permitted to travel abroad or associate with foreigners. The Israeli government claims he still possesses information that poses a danger to state security.

Following an accident, he claims, the 40-year-old Dimona plant, located in the southern Negev desert, could leak nuclear radiation, “threatening millions of people in neighboring countries.” He suggests that Jordan test residents in the border regions to be sure they haven’t already been exposed to radiation.

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Ex-President Says Chavez “Must Die”
MIAMI – A former president of Venezuela advocates the use of force to topple Hugo Chavez. Acknowledging that a referendum to remove the current president would probably fail, Carlos Andres Perez, a member of the Socialist International and friend of former Spanish President Felipe Gonzalez, has stated, “I am working to oust Chavez and violence will allow us do so.


“I am not in favor of violence,” he explained, “but the chaos Chavez has caused is so profound that there is no other way out.” Interviewed at his Miami residence, Perez claimed he isn’t actively working to kill Chavez, but believes he “must die like a dog.” Once Chavez is ousted, Perez concluded bluntly, democratic institutions should be dissolved and a dictatorship imposed.


In mid-July, Venezuelan officials said the government might suspend oil shipments to the US in the event of a conflict. “In case of an aggression, that option would be considered,” said Energy and Mining Minister Rafael Martinez.
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Eyes Turn to Florida Votes
BOSTON – While visiting the Democratic convention in late July, popular filmmaker Michael Moore promised to record Election Day in Florida, in part to help prevent a repeat of 2000. The announcement came amid mounting criticism and concerns about the accuracy of touch-screen voting machines that have replaced Florida’s punch-card ballots.


Complaints include the state’s creation of a new possible-felon voter list that contains vast inaccuracies, electronic voting machines that don’t have paper printouts for manual recounts, and concerns that voters will again be intimidated.


An analysis in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper recently found that voters using touch-screen machines were six times more likely to cast flawed ballots than voters using older technology that requires them to make pencil marks on paper ballots. Florida Senator Bill Nelson has called for an investigation, noting that the 15 Florida counties using touch-screen machines contain a majority of the state’s Black and largely Democratic voters.


Florida Representative Robert Wexler was more blunt, calling his state “the epicenter of the greatest crime in political history in 2000.” As a result, he added, “the wrong man has been sleeping in the White House for four years.”

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NATO & US Tricked by Vigilantes

KABUL – Three US nationals were arrested in Kabul after a brief shootout this Summer. With the unwitting help of NATO-led forces, they and some Afghan accomplices had been illegally detaining and interrogating people they believed to be terrorists.


Afghanistan’s peacekeeping force says it believed the vigilantes were members of a genuine military task force, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said. Ironically, explosive disposal teams inspected a compound occupied by the group three times in June. They found traces of explosives and some suspicious electronic components, admitted spokesman Chris Henderson.


Group leader Jonathan, aka Jack K. Idema, passed himself off as a US government or military official, and members wore US-style military uniforms with US flags on their shoulders. “The military “believed they were providing legitimate support to a legitimate security agency,” Henderson said. “We made a mistake."


With the US military already under scrutiny for its treatment of “suspected militant” prisoners, the arrests are a headache. The US stands accused of “systematic” abuse of detainees by Human Rights Watch. The group had been illegally holding eight people, including several with beards of the type favored by militant Muslims, police said.

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Riggs Bank Helped Pinochet Hide Millions 

WASHINGTON, DC – A US bank reportedly helped former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet hide millions of dollars over an eight-year period, even after he was arrested in London in 1998 and a court froze his assets. In 1994, executives of the Washington-based Riggs Bank approached Pinochet in Chile and invited him to open an account, concluded Sen. Carl Levin, in a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report.


Levin called the 88-year-old Pinochet a “notorious military leader accused of involvement with death squads, corruption, arms sales and drug trafficking.” According to the report, “the bank opened an account for him personally, helped him establish two offshore shell corporations in the Bahamas called Ashburton and Althorp, and then opened more accounts in the name of those shell corporations,” in the US and Britain. From 1994 to 2002, Pinochet deposited between $4 and 8 million in those accounts.


Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973-1990, was arrested in London in 1998 after a Spanish judge demanded his extradition in order to try him on charges of human rights abuses. He was allowed to return to Chile in 2000, on grounds of failing health.


The Senate report shows that when Pinochet was arrested in London and a court order sought to freeze his accounts, Riggs quietly helped him move money from London to the US. In March 1999, while he was still under house arrest, the bank authorized the transfer of $1.6 million.

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Officials Concealed 9/11 Pollution

NEW YORK – An Environmental Protection Agency memo claims New York City and federal officials concealed data that showed lower Manhattan air was clouded with asbestos after the World Trade Center collapse. Officials sat on the alarming information even while they were telling the public it was safe to return downtown, says the internal memo obtained by the New York Post.


Testing by the city Department of Environmental Protection showed the air downtown had more than double the level of asbestos considered safe for humans, according to federal EPA environmental scientist Cate Jenkins, who supplied the memo. Jenkins says she culled the data from state records.

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UK Nazi Party Will Run

LONDON – The November 9th Society, a self-avowed UK Nazi party, plans to contest a number of council seats in 2005 and run parliamentary candidates in the UK’s next General Election. The party named itself after the Kristalnacht (‘Night of Broken Glass"), organized anti-Jewish riots in Germany and Austria on  Nov. 9-10 1938.


The group plans to run on a racially-strict platform, which includes the creation of an “Aryan Homeland” and the removal of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  Anti-fascist activist Gerry Gable calls the party “more openly extreme” than the British National Party (BNP), which has come under fire recently for comments made by its leader to “stand up” to Muslims. 

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Gearing Up to Protect Niger’s Oil

LAGOS – Responding to criticism that the US has no clear policy for West Africa’s oil rich but unstable Niger Delta, the US European Command has begun discussing its options in the Gulf of Guinea. According to Stephen Morrison, director of Africa programs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, effective efforts to fight oil piracy and improve the production environment could be relatively cheap, costing between $10 and $20 million a year.


David Goldwyn, founder of Goldwyn International Strategies, which offers political risk assessment advice to investors, is urging greater US diplomatic, military, and economic engagement. In the short term, he says the US should enhance its own presence and work directly with the regions’ governments. In the long run, it should equip and train a regional maritime security force.


The US currently imports about 15 percent of its oil from West and Central African nations, but that figure could grow to 25 percent by 2020. Despite resource wealth, these nations struggle with poverty, corruption, and ethnic strife. Some conflicts are directly related to disputes over the distribution of oil revenues.


One of the top concerns is the so-called “bunkering,” or stealing, of crude oil from pipelines in the Niger Delta. While it’s difficult to accurately determine the extent of the problem, Assistant Secretary of State Paul Simons estimates that between 75,000 and 150,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen each day.
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Iraq War Cost: Over $3000 for Each Family
So far, the US has spent more than $126 billion on the war in Iraq, a price tag that will ultimately cost every US family an estimated $3415. According to a report by the Institute for Policy Studies and Foreign Policy in Focus, as of mid-June, the price of the war also included the deaths of up to 11,317 Iraqi civilians, 6370 Iraqi soldiers or insurgents, almost 1000 coalition troops, between 50 and 90 civilian contractors and missionaries, and 30 journalists.


On top of the money approved by the US Congress to date, another $25 billion is likely to be spent by the end of the year. The report predicts that the total cost would be enough to provide healthcare for more than half of the 43 million US citizens who lack medical insurance. Danielle Pletka, an analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, called such budget comparisons intellectually dishonest. “That’s not the way budgets work,” she said.


University of Texas economist James Galbraith predicts that although the war spending might initially boost the economy, long-term problems were also likely. These include an expanded trade deficit, inflation, and spikes in oil prices that drag down the economy.


"We are paying this enormously high price for failure," says Phyllis Bennis, the report’s lead author. "It’s not as if we are becoming more safe. It’s not as if we are bringing peace to Iraq or democracy to the Middle East."