Category Archives: Terrorism

TSA goons add to the US’ bad name

PUBLIC relations was born in the United States with its father being Edward Bernays, the grandson of Sigmund Freud. As a result the US is extremely good at projecting itself as this, that and the other.

But in recent years, no matter the excellence of the spin, the US is getting a bad name. And one of the agencies responsible for this is the Transport Security Administration.

The TSA was set up in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. Its responsibilities are ostensibly to provide security for airlines and to screen passengers.

It does such a ham-handed job that it is universally hated. But it seems to revel in being disliked and, in fact, often tries to make itself more unpleasant than it needs to.
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Zero Dark Thirty is a work of fiction

FOR Americans, September 11, 2001, is a date that tends to awake their sense of patriotism. There are few in that country who can regard this day with even a shred of objectivity and realise that the attack was the result of the US of A’s actions in the Middle East.

Thus, the reaction to the third-rate Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden, is not surprising.

To briefly summarise the plot, it shows the activities of a CIA officer, who is credited with being the one to analyse information and come to the conclusion that Bin Laden was hiding in Abottabad in Pakistan. Seal teams then went in without informing the Pakistan government and killed the man in cold blood.

Most objections to the film have been that it shows torture as being used as a means to obtain information that led to the killing of Bin Laden. In other words, people like Dick Cheney, not the most popular American around, were justified in the approach they took.

And, after all, Americans are good people. They don’t torture or do anything illegal. How could director Kathryn Bigelow portray the people from the land of the brave and free in this manner?

For an individual like me, that matters little. But it is surprising to me that people cannot see the film for what it is: a cheap travesty from Hollywood, one that is just looking to make people feel good and also rake in the moolah.

For starters, the myth that a woman was responsible for analysing the information is just that: a myth. But it plays well to the gallery; after all, a woman operating in a man’s world and showing up the rest will always make for a better story.

This is contradicted by an account of the killing by Peter Bergen, surely the most credible writer on matters concerning Bin Laden. Bergen says the CIA agent who was researching information about Bin Laden for the eight years before his death and was convinced he was hiding in Abottabad was a man.

But Hollywood has had great success in portraying women in such roles; remember the film Saving Jessica Lynch which was totally fiction, yet was passed off as being a true tale of valour that happened after the invasion of Iraq? Zero Dark Thirty has had a good basis on which to cast a woman.

The acting is poor, wooden at times, and over-stated at others. And who would believe that you could converse with militants in Americanese? That’s what happens for most of the film. The militants whom the Americans captured right from late 2001 when they invaded Afghanistan seem well up in American slang. I thought they spoke Pushtu, Farsi or Urdu.

And then the actual raid itself is boring as batshit in the film. It’s meant to convey reality, yet one can’t conceive of such a bunch of bunglers executing a raid of this nature. Why is this part of the film so geared towards reality (or so Bigelow would have us believe) when the director adds on the fiction wherever she wishes in the rest of the film?

Films like this are meant to be part of the historical record. This one is not, it is wildly inaccurate and silly. It caters to jingoism and is meant to make money. That it will.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow: Al Qaeda has won

Today marks 11 years since Al Qaeda flew planes into the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and made the US aware that it was not safe on its own soil. Sad to say, the US has used the attacks down the years to curtail freedoms for its own residents.

All kinds of ridiculous curbs have been put in place; fear has been used time and again to restrict the lives of ordinary citizens, with the government all the while claiming to be doing so in the cause of freedom.

With the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, the US has been claiming that it has emerged victorious over the attackers. But is that really the case?

Bin Laden’s stated goal behind the attacks was to hit the US economy in such a way that it would lose its clout. In that, Al Qaeda has succeeded to a remarkable extent.

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, the US economy tanked as money flowed out of the country. In order to push things along, interest rates were lowered and a flood of cheap money hit the streets. This money was used to build up a housing boom, much of it being loans to people who could not afford them.

The US also undertook an invasion of Iraq, a foolish move that began bankrupting the country. Billions have been spent in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, both missions mounted in reaction to the 2001 attacks.

Seven years after the attacks, the global financial crisis manifested itself, with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The US is now technically bankrupt. It has a national debt close to $US16 trillion.

So who has the better claim to being the victor?

Afghanistan: lies and damn lies. No statistics

THIRTY-TWO Australians have died needlessly in Afghanistan. All of them were young, in their 20s and 30s, and have left young families behind. If there was some point to their dying, if they had sacrificed their lives for a worthy cause, then at least their loved ones would have some means of consoling themselves.

But that isn’t the case. They have died for nothing. They have died because one man’s vanity led to him thinking that he could do better than the old Soviet Union, the British Empire and even the much reviled Genghis Khan.

That one man is George Dubya Bush.

When the US sent troops into Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 2001 in order to wreak havoc on Osama bin Laden and his followers, it was a justified reaction. Had the US smashed the al-Qaeda network and exited the country in six months, all would have been well.

But that wasn’t the case. The US and its allies decided that they would stay and try to indulge in nation-building. The long-term motive was to obtain mining concessions in Afghanistan and to try and build a pipeline through Central Asia for an alternative supply of gas. (That, incidentally, hasn’t worked. All the concessions, bar one, went to China and India; Canda was granted one.)

There has been some curious muddle-headed thinking by many in the Western camp; people like David Kilcullen have concluded that if the Afghans were given all the Western accoutrements of development, they would suddenly fall in love with their Western invaders. Kilcullen has a ridiculous hypothesis that the Taliban, who were ruling Afghanistan when the West invaded, has to draw on ordinary citizens for support and that these citizens can be weaned away by improvements in local conditions. Exactly how he came to this conclusion is unknown.

Things haven’t worked out that way. Had Bush asked someone to read the history books and find out what had happened to nations that tried to subjugate the Afghans, he might have found out that it was a mission that would end in failure. (Bush himself cannot read.)

But nobody among all the Western nations, Australia included, bothered to read up on the history of Afgnanistan and note that no invader has ever managed to get the better of the Afghans.

Now Australia has moved up its date of departure. Late next year, the Australian Labor Party will have to face an election which it will find very difficult to win; the Afghan involvement should not be present as an election issue.

For the US, something similar exists; Barack Obama goes to an election later in 2012 and if Afghanistan is an issue, it will not be helpful to him. So the American pullout will continue apace.

In the end, the Taliban will come back to power within six months of the West pulling out. The same Taliban which was ruling when the US invaded.

In the interim, the US, other NATO countries and Australia will tell their citizens any number of lies to quell the queries from the media. But in the end, it all amounts to nothing.

Once the troops have left Afghanistan it will all be back to square one.

Three years on, Sri Lanka still bleeds

A MONTH and two weeks from now, it will be three years since Sri Lanka won its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, effectively ending the campaign for a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

But there has been no movement on achieving a political solution to put the minority Tamils at ease. Instead, the triumphalism that has pervaded the country has seen the government act in a manner that can only serve to remind the Tamils that during the days when the Tigers were in the ascendant they were at least not marginalised in the way they are right now.

The Tigers had ensured that the north of the country was more or less completely occupied by Tamils. Now, the army is everywhere in the north and Sinhalese people are being resettled in large numbers to change the population mix. And, to rub it in, there are signs in many places that are only in Sinhala, a language that Tamils, cut off from the rest of the country for decades, cannot even speak.

The government was under pressure to institute an inquiry when allegations of war crimes by both sides began to surface after the conflict ended. It launched its own inquiry, called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, with hearings all over the country. An eminent panel of jurists and academics was chosen to head the body.

The LLRC’s report was released in December last year. While it fell short of being comprehensive in many respects, it did make some recommendations that were sensible – the launching of an independent inquiry to find out how many civilians lost their lives, making restitution to those who suffered, and healing the wounds that have been created over the decades of ethnic strife.

The Sri Lanka government’s reaction has been surprising. It has asked the army to find out about civilians who fell victim during the conflict; the perpetrator of many of the deaths is thus investigating itself. Many of the top army brass have been promoted as ambassadors and now enjoy immunity from prosecution so that makes it very difficult to hold any of them responsible.

In the meantime, the Sri Lanka government has not eased up in any way on the restrictions on the media in the country. It has tightened things considerably by passing a law that all reporting on security matters should be passed through an official censor. And the abduction of people who are known to be opposed to government policies continues apace.

As one commentator put it, it is inconceivable that security forces which could bring an end to a highly organised and motivated group like the Tigers cannot track down any of those who have been abducted or find out who is behind the continuing episodes where white vans turn up and take people away.

Last month the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution asking Sri Lanka to conduct an independent inquiry into the war. Pushed by the US, Britain and Canada – each for its own reasons which I will explain – and backed by India – again for its own separate reason, on which I will elaborate – the resolution embarrassed the Sri Lankans no end as they had put in considerable diplomatic efforts to scuttle the resolution. It is doubtful, however, whether it will serve to push Sri Lanka any more than it has done.

The US is interested in Sri Lanka because China has a big foot planted in the tiny island. The US tried for many years to get a base in Trincomalee but failed; it would have been ideal as a spying post for the entire south Asian region. The Americans are now worried about the extent to which China has made inroads into Sri Lanka and the little island is just one more spot where the fading super power and China match wits.

Britain and Canada have big Tamil populations in certain areas and this issue plays directly into local politics. Else, neither country would give a stuff. Additionally, in Britain, there have been two excellent investigative programs from Channel 4 which provided stark proof of the extent of war crimes by the Sri Lanka government. The media pressure on the British government to do something has been intense.

India is the big power in the south Asian region. But in the case of Sri Lanka, it voted for the resolution against its neighbour because Colombo had broken a promise. During the dying days of the war, the main Tamil leaders had managed to contact US and other Western diplomats and there was considerable pressure on Colombo to allow them to escape. Sri Lanka was wavering when a boat was even sent to the northern area to evacuate them. But India was not about to forget that the Tiger leader Velupillai Pirabhakaran was responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi back in 1991; the Indian naval vessel monitoring the situation from international waters moved a little closer to the area when news of the proposal for the evacuation came through. In effect, India challenged the US to act. The US did not dare to do anything.

The Sri Lanka government was happy about India’s reaction and as a quid pro quo agreed to get serious on devolving power after the conflict was over. It then went ahead with plans to kill all the Tiger leaders. But it never bothered about keeping its word. Having seen no sign of a move in this direction and, increasingly facing calls from its own Tamils for intervention, India had no option but to act against Sri Lanka when it came to voting on the resolution.

The Sri Lanka imbroglio will not sort itself out. The president needs to make some meaningful moves to resolve things politically. Else, to use a cliche, while he did manage to win the war, he will end up losing the peace.

Journalism of the very best kind

CHANNEL 4 has done journalism proud, with a follow-up to its documentary on the war in Sri Lanka. Last year, in June, the television network screened a documentary titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields which provided powerful evidence of war crimes by both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers during the civil war which ended in May 2009.

The follow-up, titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, screened on the night of March 14 in London; it is available on YouTube and is a powerful reminder that in a day and age when journalism is often referred to as a dying profession, good investigative reports are worth more than their weight in gold.

The documentary presents four cases of killing, all of which graphically point to planning and execution at the highest level of government. One case is that of the 12-year-old son of Tiger supremo Velupilla Pirapaharan who was executed after being questioned.

The fact that so much footage continues to emerge is a clear indication that many of the soldiers who took part in the war had reservations about what they were asked to do. The footage could only have been taken by soldiers, nobody would have been able to approach the areas in question.

There is some footage taken by Tamil sources, including the media unit of the Tigers, but the main evidence of targeted and planned killings could only have come from inside the army.

There is no over-dramatisation; presenter Jon Snow is sober throughout. The footage that Channel 4 obtained speaks for himself and the Sri Lankan government will be hard put to deny these charges.

The program has gone to air just as the US is getting ready to bring a resolution before the UN human rights council, which is meeting in Geneva, urging Sri Lanka to investigate the allegations of war crimes and seek reconciliation.

Pakistan feels the blowback from the US

WHEN Britain engineered the split of the Indian subcontinent back in 1947, there was little indication that the colonial masters would face a big blowback. The old policy of divide and rule was used to give the Muslims a separate state, resulting in one of the bigger bloodbaths in history as people fought during the partition.

India has gone on to become a force in its own right and somehow has survived any number of problems; it has been under democratic rule for all but 26 months since the partition. Pakistan, on the other hand, has been under various forms of dictatorship during its history and become something of a vassal state for the US.

Every state that has gained nuclear weapons has done so in order to be taken seriously by the countries that make global policy; only in Pakistan’s case has this not worked. The US continues to do what it wants within Pakistan’s borders and the killing of 24 innocent civilians recently is but the latest indication that it has scant regard for Pakistan’s internal problems.

But no matter what abuse it receives at the hands of the US, Pakistan cannot move away. Without American aid, the country will wither and die. It has no option but to cater to American demands, outrageous as they often are. It has to subjugate itself to American foreign policy and only hope that Washington can muster the cash to send across every year.

During the years of the cold war, India was firmly in the Soviet camp. But economic dependence did not develop; India has always been able to meet its own internal and external commitments from its own funds. And as the 1990s came along and India became a place where foreign companies came and did business, Delhi has become something of a rising power, able to tell the Americans what they should do and not the other way around.

American companies are now often dependent on the success of their branches in India to report a profit; were any of them to be asked to leave, it would impact adversely on the company’s bottomline. The US needs India, not merely for its economic well-being but also as a bulwark against the rising might of China.

Pakistan, sadly, has not been able to develop its own industry sector even a tenth as much as India. The people are essentially the same but the lack of political stability and the level of corruption have got in the way of the country developing as a whole. And Pakistan has always had to please its masters in the West, something that India has not had to do.

There is a myth in foreign policy circles that India would like to destabilise Pakistan. In truth, the last thing that India wants is an unstable Pakistan; it views with horror even the thought that there could be another 150 million who could become refugees and seek refuge within its borders. Memories of the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh have not gone away altogether.

For Pakistan, the only option is to wean itself away from the US and try to attach itself more firmly onto the Chinese teat. China already provides assistance to Pakistan; the latter will have to solicit a much more closer relationship if it does not want to have its own people dying in numbers due to US drone attacks every now and then.

The people of Pakistan have suffered a great deal due to the machinations of their rulers. At least in the case of many other countries, it could be said that the mess they are in is of their own making. But in Pakistan’s case. its people live in a mess of other countries’ making.

Why was the US attacked on September 11, 2001?

THIS weekend will mark 10 years since the World Trade Centre was brought down by Islamic fundamentalists in a spectacular attack that changed life in the US. But till today, we have had no answer to the question why.

The Middle East correspondent of The Independent, Robert Fisk, tells of an incident shortly after the attacks, when he was interviewed along with Alan Dershowitz, the well-known US lawyer. Fisk, like any good journalist, raised the question of why the attacks had taken place; as he explained it, even in the case of a small robbery, the first thing the police try to find out is possible motive.

In response, Dershowitz called him a dangerous man, anti-American and anti-Semitic. Exactly why he did that is open to question.

Why did 19 young Muslims volunteer to end their lives by staging an attack of this nature? While there are conspiracy theories aplenty on the internet as to the how of the operation, the book Masterminds of Terror offers the authentic account, straight from the mouths of the planners, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Journalists Yosri Fouda and Nick Fielding published this tome in 2003 but then ignorance is rampant and people continue to attribute the attacks to everyone from the Mossad to the US government.

But the why is equally important. American policy in the Middle East has, for ages, been slanted in favour of Israel. For a long time, Muslims, both Arab and non-Arab, had no choice but to accept the repeated humiliations to which the US subjected them. In this light, the fact that some among them hit back is no surprise.

The main problem in the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian question. A deal was signed as far back as 1993 for a two-state solution but it is still to be implemented in full. The main reason for this is the fact that Israel does not want the conflict to end – if it did, its importance would decline and correspondingly its ability to influence US policy. It is much better to always be in the news as a country that is being attacked by Arabs; that way it is easy to generate sympathy from the world at large.

There are other issues in the Middle East. The US is willing to deal with any kind of dictator as long as he does their bidding. Talk of democracy is very selective. Young people in the Arab world are fed up with the double standard. Is it any wonder that the more determined and idealistic among them choose to join fringe groups that use killing as a tactic?

The US has learnt nothing from the attacks. The same kind of arrogance that it exhibited in the past is still seen in its dealing with other countries. The level of hatred that people around the world have for the US has grown by leaps and bounds as news emerges of the way innocent Muslims are kidnapped and tortured in bases around the world. And this feeling of hatred is not confined to the Muslim world; it is evident in Western countries equally.

The adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out to be disasters in terms of image-building and also empire-building. But the US continues to muddle on, antagonising people left, right and centre.

As the song Where have all the flowers gone asks, When will they ever learn?

Sri Lanka is losing the propaganda battle over war crimes

WHEN a sovereign nation has to respond to charges made in a TV documentary that screens in just a few countries, no matter how serious those charges are, then it has well and truly lost the battle to convince people that it is in the right.

Sri Lanka finds itself in this position after having, rather foolishly, decided to respond to a documentary made by Britain’s Channel 4 about alleged war crimes committed during the war against the Tamil Tiger separatist movement that ended in May 2009. (The programme is also available on YouTube; just search for “Sri Lanka killing fields”.)

The Lankan bid to refute the claims came a few days after Channel 4 broadcast even more evidence of Colombo’s complicity in war crimes – evidence given by two unnamed soldiers who went to the extent of claiming that the orders to kill Tamils en masse in order to get the war over with came from the country’s defence secretary, Gotabaya Rakapakse.

That Sri Lanka found it necessary to respond with an hour-long video is, in itself, evidence of the fact that the government is disquieted by the Channel 4 allegations made on June 14, in the programme titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields. But Colombo’s effort at propaganda is rather tame, to say the least.

First, the government video is narrated by Minoli Ratnayake, a good-looking Sri Lankan woman with a British accent, a clear sign of the cultural cringe from which Sri Lanka apparently still suffers, 63 years after gaining independence from Britain. Someone with a Sri Lankan accent would have been far more credible. And when a pretty woman, nicely dolled up, with her head tilted to one side in what is a markedly patronising manner, is chosen to be the face of a programme when she has no experience as a news presenter, it is a clear fact that the people who put here there are trying to use her as a prop, to get past the initial resistance that any sane individual has to government propaganda. Channel 4′s Jon Snow will not win any beauty contests, but he has tremendous credibility as a newsman.

There are lots of irregularities in the government video. First, to numbers of Tamil civilians killed. The Channel 4 video made a claim that as many as 40,000 Tamil civilians were slaughtered in the final days of the war. Gordon Weiss, the former UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, was used as a source. In the government documentary, a figure of 305,000 is cited as being the official number of people in the war zone, the Vanni area, in January 2009. From that, by deducting in dribs and drabs, Ratnayake concludes that only a few thousand were killed. But tellingly, she quietly reduces that 305,000 to 300,000 before beginning her mental pyrotechnics.

The figure of 305,000 itself is dubious. Giving evidence before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, a body set up by the government to supposedly investigate the goings-on during the war, Bishop Rayappu Joseph of the Mannar Catholic Diocese, said there were 429,059 people in the Vanni area as of October 2008. His source was the Kaccheri Office (the government collector or district office). And given this, that figure of 40,000 which Weiss put to Channel 4 looks rather small – the number unaccounted for is well over 100,000.

Ratnayake claims that Weiss had every reason to take part in the Channel 4 programme and spruik his views as he was trying to promote an upcoming book – that, according to the government, is why he participated in the Channel 4 programme. Nonsense. The Channel 4 programme was screened on June 14; I had a copy of Weiss’ book, The Cage, in hand by May 26. As I live in Australia and bought the book from the UK (cheaper by far), I had to place my order about two weeks prior to that date. Promote an upcoming book? Hardly. By the time Channel 4 went to air, Weiss was sitting on a best-seller and he was called in to comment as a result of the book, not the other way round.

The government documentary also claims that a protest by Tamils at the UN office in Kilinochchi, begging the international agency not to leave the war zone, was stage-managed by Tamil Tiger militants who told the people in the area to protest. Channel 4 says this was something which the people did on their own. It is difficult to believe the government claim because it is bolstered by a Tamil from the area – any Tamil who was asked to speak and refused would have been well aware that not taking part would probably have resulted in disappearing in a white van some evening and being never heard of again. Too many people have disappeared in this manner in Sri Lanka ever since Mahinda Rajapakse came to power in 2005.

Ratnayake also tries to cast doubt on the bonafides of Vany Kumar, one of the people whom Channel 4 featured in the programme. According to Channel 4, Kumar is a London-based Tamil, a medical technician, who happened to be in Sri Lanka and got caught up in the conflict. According to the government, she was a member of a front organisation for the Tamil Tigers and landed in Sri Lanka at the beginning of 2008.

The government documentary parades a number of Tamils to speak in its favour – and in such glowing terms that it all looks like stuff made up in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. One of these Tamils talks about Kumar being the head of the Tamil Youth Organisation women’s wing in the UK; here, it is a case of claim and counter-claim.

The rest of the documentary is taken up by telling the viewer about how vile the late leader of the Tigers, Velupillai Pirapaharan, was (true, he was a nasty piece of work) and dragging a number of ex-Tiger cadres before the camera to testify as to how good the government has been to them after the war. It all looks far too stage-managed to have any credibility. Sri Lanka’s government under Mahinda Rajapakse has a reputation for muzzling the press and even murdering journalists; given this, one has to take everything said by these Tamils with a kilo of salt.

What is clear is that, as the UN report into the war (PDF, 9.2 MB) claimed, both sides, the Sri Lankan military and the Tigers, were responsible for some outrageous atrocities. It is time for both sides to admit the truth and take their medicine.

Afghanistan withdrawal timed for US elections

NEXT year, Barack Obama will face the task of trying to get re-elected. In normal times, the elimination of Osama bin Laden would have sufficed to see him through. But these are not normal times; try what he does, the US economy does not seem to be responding.

Hence, he has decided to pull out some troops from Afghanistan. The timing is very good – 10,000 leave this year and another 23,000 by September 2012, a couple of months before the Americans go to the polls. The Afghanistan war is not popular with the American public and for good reason. Obama’s move makes political sense.

The whole Afghanistan adventure has been marked by a lack of purpose. The initial rush of troops to the country was purportedly to exact revenge for the attacks on the US in 2001; the stated aim at the time was to hunt out and either capture or kill Bin Laden. The US took until May this year to kill the man. But long before that the nature of the mission had changed.

One of the main reasons for the American presence in Afghanistan is to build a pipeline to carry natural gas from Central Asia to Pakistan and on to India; work began on this pipeline in 2002. It remains to be seen exactly how the pipeline will be guarded after the US ends its presence in Afghanistan.

All American adventures overseas in recent years have been tied to the country’s energy future; Iraq was invaded because Saudi Arabia is becoming an increasingly unreliable ally. Religious fundamentalism is growing by leaps and bounds and the al-Saud regime often has to cater to domestic political concerns which run directly against American interests.

The US departure from Afghanistan is not as dramatic a move as its hurried exit from Vietnam; nevertheless, there are some things which are similar. The Taliban will come back to power in Afghanistan once the US leaves and there will be internecine warfare between the various ethnic warlords as there was after the Soviets left in 1989.