Foreign Leaders Fair Game for Murder
WASHINGTON, DC — In theory, the US has a long-standing policy banning political assassination. But it’s been overlooked at times, and now the Bush administration has basically declared the idea obsolete. After Odai and Qusai Hussein were killed this summer, for instance, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of coalition troops in Iraq, crowed, "We remain focused on finding, fixing, killing or capturing all members of the high-value target list."
L. Paul Bremer, the current Iraq czar, has been candid about his disregard for the ban. Appearing on Meet the Press, he said, "The sooner we can either kill him (Saddam Hussein) or capture him, the better." In the past, officials have usually resorted to smiles, nods, or circumlocutions.
Consider President Reagan’s scripted quip when asked the bombing of Libya in 1986 constituted an attempt to kill Moammar Gadhafi’s: "I don’t think any of us would have shed tears if that had happened."
In advance of the Iraq invasion, former White House flak Ari Fleischer announced that the assassination ban wouldn’t apply during combat. But the ban, spelled out in an executive order signed by President Ford and reinforced by Carter and Reagan, makes no distinction between war and peacetime.
Ford was responding to public revulsion over disclosures about a series of overseas US assassination attempts, including at least eight on Fidel Castro, according to a Senate investigation. Other targets included Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic) Patrice Lumumba (Congo), and Ngo Dinh Diem (South Vietnam). All three were assassinated, although the degree of US involvement isn’t clear.
One rationale for the ban was that trying to kill a foreign leader could produce retaliation, a concern borne out by the US-Libyan stand off. Libyan agents killed two US soldiers at a German disco in April 1986. Days later, Reagan authorized the bombing of Libya. Gadhafi survived, but his 15-month old daughter was killed. In 1988, Libyan agents were behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. That killed 270 people, most of them Americans.
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CARACAS — Unable to overthrow President Hugo Chavez by legal means, the Venezuelan opposition reportedly still hopes to have him "removed." Fanning speculation in July, Venezuela’s Ambassador to Cuba, Julio Montes claimed that the right-wing opposition hasn’t abandoned the idea of killing him.
The failed coup attempt in April 2002 and an unsuccessful opposition strike last winter show that right-wing forces are desperate, he argued. The only ways left are assassination or military intervention.
Montes also said that Latin America should create its own integration mechanisms to confront the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), re-affirming Chávez’ opposition to the US-inspired pact. The FTAA "would be like Latin America signing its own death certificate," said the diplomat, repeating an oft-heard phrase. It’s no wonder Venezuela’s elites want Chavez terminated. These days, such talk can even get you added to the US hit list.
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DURHAM, NC — US anti-war forces have launched a new campaign calling for an end to war profiteering by military contractors. They’re challenging what they term the "second invasion" of Iraq by corporate interests seeking control over the country’s oil, water, and other resources. Endorsed by veterans, faith, labor, peace and other organizations, the Stop the War Profiteers Campaign is the brainchild of the North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies.
"A handful of Bush-connected corporations are poised to make billions in profits while US troops are killed almost daily, and Iraq plunges deeper into a colonial nightmare," says Rania Masri, a campaign coordinator and director at the Institute. Supporters include Veterans for Peace, Global Exchange, United for Peace and Justice, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, and well-known figures such as Noam Chomsky, Jim Hightower, and Howard Zinn.
The goals include congressional hearings to investigate war profiteering and secretive, closed-bid "reconstruction" contracts (TF, Spring 2003). The hearings could be modeled on those held in the 1930s to investigate the role of the "munitions industry" in warping foreign policy. The campaign will also urge passage of an "Excess Profits Tax" on military contractors, and hopes to stop the US-led drive to hand over Iraq’s industries, services and resources to corporations.
A move is underway to privatize public services and soften rules on foreign investment before Iraqis take part in decision-making. During World War II, then-Sen. Harry Truman denounced war profiteering as "treason." Earlier in the century, Sen. Robert LaFollette called profiteers "enemies of democracy in the homeland."
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Make Way for Mini-Nukes
OMAHA, NB – Meeting secretly in August, 150 technicians, scientists and US Defense Department officials discussed prospects for a new generation of nuclear weapons. The session was held at the Strategic Air Command Headquarters near Omaha.
Experts think the US should move toward small, low-yield weapons, or "mini nukes," according to Congressional testimony. Such weapons would be designed to burrow deep underground before exploding. This conforms to the Bush administration’s desire to launch controlled pre-emptive strikes on hidden (or invisible) weapons of mass destruction.
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Going with GATS
AUKLAND — With $19 billion in New Zealand public assets already privatized, including electricity generation and telecom, the government may next open up essential services such as education, transport and public utilities to foreign buy outs. The reason tracks to the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) being re-negotiated at the World Trade Organization.
The global environmental services sector alone is worth $280 billion, and could grow to $640 billion by 2010. This is directly linked to the privatization of public services and utilities. Two fifths of foreign direct investment in New Zealand since the late 1980s has been acquisitions of such privatized or deregulated services.
In Serving Whose Interest, an expose on New Zealand’s commitment to GATS, Prof. Jane Kelsey notes that services now account for 60-70 percent of Gross Domestic Product and employment in industrialized countries. Public health, public education, and water distribution systems aren’t part of the country’s GATS commitments, but leaked documents indicate that the European Union wants to include them.
The environmental and social costs could be high and potentially irreversible. But breaking commitments could open New Zealand to trade sanctions by governments whose companies claim their interests are affected. New environmental regulations could be attacked as "unnecessary barriers to trade."
Water services are being privatized around the world. At a time when it is becoming a scarce resource, multinationals like Bechtel and Vivendi, the world’s largest water company and part owner of Auckland’s United Water, are eager to control this essential "commodity."
Under GATS, the government couldn’t limit the number of water companies or impose "unnecessarily burdensome" regulations on water treatment. Environmental services like sewage and hazardous waste management, as well as refuse collection and treatment, also could be affected.
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Is Global Warming Speeding Up?
LONDON – A leading European scientist claims the extreme temperatures that settled over the northern hemisphere this summer may signal that man-made climate change is accelerating. According to Prof. John Schellenhuber, former chief scientific adviser to the German government and now leading climate scientists at the Tyndall research center, recent parching heat is consistent with a worst-case scenario.
Scientists know global warming is proceeding, but most expected to see such hot spells occurring in 20 to 30 years. We’ve had record or near-record temperatures in Europe, Canada, the US, India, China, parts of Russia, and Alaska. In the Arctic and Alaska, receding glaciers, thawing permafrost, collapsing roads, dying forests, villages being forced to move and animals forced to seek new habitats are a preview of what people farther south can expect in the near future, warns Robert Corell, research chief for the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment team.
Have climatologists underestimated the temperature changes expected with global warming? In July, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned that extreme weather events would become more frequent. Scientists at the Britain’s Hadley center claim to have new evidence that the recent heat wave can’t be explained by natural causes such as sunspots or volcanoes, and instead must largely be due to man-made pollution.
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Belgium Buckles over War Crimes Law
BRUSSELS — The next time President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair visit Brussels, at least they won’t have to worry about being arrested. Under US pressure, Belgium has scrapped a controversial war crimes law.
Under the universal jurisdiction law, passed in 1993, cases emerging from the Iraq war were launched against Bush, Blair, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. That prompted Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to suspend funding for a new NATO headquarters building and threaten a pull out.
The law gave Belgian courts the power to try war crimes cases no matter where the alleged offenses were committed, and regardless of the victim’s or perpetrator’s nationality. The decision to abandon it followed several attempts to water it down. Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx claimed the law had been put to "abusive, even absurd use."
About 29 cases were being processed; most will probably be dismissed. Ten cases involving the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, plus two related to Guatemala and Chad, all involving Belgians, will proceed. The high-profile lawsuits against Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld and US General Tommy Franks, the Iraq war commander, will be automatically dumped.
The issue first came to a head when Rumsfeld lambasted the law, warning that Washington would be reluctant to send officials to Brussels for NATO meetings. US officials denied plans to move the 19-nation alliance headquarters, but fear of lost jobs, money and prestige shook the establishment.
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Greens Refuse to Leave the Field
WASHINGTON, DC – Undaunted by Ralph Nader’s anemic showing in the 2000 presidential election, plus accusations that his run helped elect Bush, the US Green Party intends to field candidates for US President and Vice President in 2004. The move received a clear mandate at a July meeting, announced Ben Manski, national Party co-chair. "We chose the path of growth and establishing ourselves as the true opposition party."
Three presidential hopefuls — David Cobb, Lorna Salzman, and Carol Miller — spoke at a reception. Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Paul Glover, also considering campaigns, sent statements.
The Greens also adopted an African-American Outreach proposal that includes enlisting support from prominent African-American leaders, cultural figures, scholars, and writers. The campaign will target black colleges and universities. In 2000, "the support Ralph Nader gained from some well-known African-American figures, including Randall Robinson, Danny Glover, and Chuck D was vital," noted George Martin, leader of the party’s Black Caucus. "They helped us gain new membership and participation, not just among African-Americans but all Americans who respect their leadership."
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East Timor Trials Point to Tribunal
JAKARTA — Calling the sentence in Jakarta’s last trial on East Timor "a joke," the East Timor Action Network (ETAN) is urging the US and UN to establish an international tribunal. In late February, the joint UN-East Timor Serious Crimes Unit indicted Major General Adam Damiri for crimes against humanity, including murder and persecution. He and other Indonesian officers were accused of funding, arming, training, and directing the militia in a systematic campaign of violence.
Indonesia’s Ad Hoc Human Rights Court for East Timor sentenced Damiri to three years in prison for failing to control his troops in 1999, while he was commander in the region which included East Timor. "The punishment does not fit the crime," says ETAN spokesperson John M. Miller. "An international tribunal is needed if the many victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity in East Timor are to see genuine justice. The East Timorese deserve no less than Iraqis, Rwandans, and Bosnians."
The widely-criticized court delayed its verdict after Damiri missed several court appearances. He claimed to be busy preparing for a military assault on Aceh, the largest operation since the 1975 invasion of East Timor.
Indonesia set up the court to deflect calls for an international tribunal. The UN said that the process must be credible, and promised to revisit the issue at the end of the trials. Of 18 people tried, all but 6 were acquitted. Of those convicted, all but one received less than the legal minimum sentence, and all remain free pending appeal.
None of the top-ranking officers and officials named by Indonesia’s own human rights commission was seriously investigated, much less indicted. Fearing for their safety, most East Timorese witnesses refused to testify. Those who did were harassed. The prosecution failed to make use of vast amounts of UN documentation available to them as evidence.
This summer, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution saying Indonesia’s ad hoc court had "inadequately brought to justice the perpetrators," and called on the State Department "to push for a comprehensive United Nations review" of the ad hoc court and "consider alternative mechanisms of justice for East Timor, including the establishment of an ad hoc international tribunal."
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Visions for 2020
TORONTO — A Canadian survey group is asking political, business and non-governmental leaders, especially in the South, to answer a simple, yet crucial question: What kind of world do you want by 2020? Launched by the 2020 Fund at the King Baudouin Foundation, the survey is part of an ongoing effort to assess long-term visions.
"In many countries, there is dissatisfaction with the overall direction in which our world is currently headed," explains Doug Miller, president of Environics International, which is conducting the survey. Preliminary results were released in January at the World Social Forum and the World Economic Forum.
The initial study found that while most NGO representatives believe increasing globalization is inevitable, 90 percent also think not enough attention is paid to human rights or the environment. Most want more effective government actions.
There is strong support for the UN, and six in 10 favor reforming the World Bank, IMF, and World Trade Organization. Most named sustainable development and the new economic models needed to achieve it as the greatest challenge for reaching the future they want.
Tim Dottridge, a director of Canada’s International Development Research Center, says the Center is already using the results to plan programs. But he was disappointed with level of participation by civil society from the South. Results from phase two may be released in fall, 2003. In phase three, designed to define practical strategies, some participants will be brought to New York to discuss the steps and policies for various regions to address globalization, capacity building, and governance. For more, go to www.gp.org, or call (202) 296-7755.
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Mandela Applauds AIDS Activists
PARIS — Former South African President Nelson Mandela calls the failure to provide poor nations with affordable AIDS treatment "a parody of human rights on a global scale." Speaking at an international conference on HIV/AIDS in July, he termed as "horrible" and "incomprehensible" the fact that, of the 26 million people who have died of the disease, 95 percent were from developing countries.
After his speech before scientists and medical personnel from 120 countries, demonstrators demanding funds for HIV drugs in the developing world disrupted the event.
Mandela was still onstage for a prolonged, standing ovation when about a dozen activists unfurled a protest banner. "AIDS donors’ lies kill," it said. They also chanted, "Treat the six million — where’s the 10 billion?" This refers to six million people with HIV urgently in need of treatment, and the 10 billion dollars needed annually to tackle the global pandemic.
Remaining at the podium, Mandela smiled broadly at the banner and clapped along with the chant. The Paris meeting is a bi-annual event co-hosted by the International AIDS Society in Stockholm, alternating with the International AIDS Conference.
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LOS ANGELES, CA — The American Arab Anti-Discrimination National Committee (ADC) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have joined several Local Arab American and Muslim groups around the US to challenge the constitutionality of parts of the USA Patriot Act. "The case focuses on vastly expanded powers under Section 215 for the government to secretly obtain records and personal belongings of people in the US, including library, internet and medical records," says a statement issued by the groups. The ACLU has agreed to represent them.
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Technology Jobs Leaving Home
DENVER, CO — Momentum is building in the US technology sector to shift more jobs to foreign lands. In July, news leaked that IBM is moving 1000 jobs overseas. Although Microsoft plans to hire 5000 more workers, up to 2000 of them will work outside the US. Oracle Corp. says it expects to almost double the number of workers in its Indian unit to 6000.
Tech-heavy Colorado is being hit hard. Two-thirds of the layoffs over the past few years have come in telecommunications and technology firms. In June, 142,000 Coloradans were looking for work, according to the state’s Department of Labor and Employment. Dozens of companies have already moved or created technology manufacturing jobs outside the country. Now they’re taking tech support, software jobs, and even network operations overseas.