Category Archives: Terrorism

Abbott ratchets up the fear factor to boost poll standings

When a prime minister has discovered that only one tactic — ratcheting up the fear factor — helps to boost his poll numbers, and his poll standing is desperately low, what does he do?

Tony Abbott has made a profession of demonising asylum-seekers and Muslims and pretending that the world faces an existential threat from the terrorist Islamic State group.

In recent times Abbott has gone back to similar tactics. First, he engineered a “request” from the US, for Australia to join in air strikes on Syria.

It was trumpeted as the US asking Australia to join. Not as it really happened.

This is a disgraceful thing to do, showing clearly that Abbott does not mind sacrificing young lives – the men and women of the armed forces – in order to prolong his political life.

And then the farce of the Australian Border Force informing all and sundry that it would be taking what amounts to Stasi tactics on the streets of Melbourne to detect visa evaders and violators added another dose of fear too.

Of course, Abbott denies he was involved in this exercise. So too does the immigration minister, Peter Dutton. The whole thing is put down to a badly written press release.

One needs to keep in mind that Abbott is on the record with an extremely reliable politician, Tony Windsor, as saying that he (Abbott) would do anything but sell his arse to become prime minister. This memorable quote was made to Windsor during the time when neither Labor nor the Coalition had the numbers to form government in 2010 and the support of three independents, Windsor among them, was desperately being sought.

If he was willing to do anything to gain the prime ministership, is it any wonder that Abbott is now trying anything and everything to avoid defeat in the next federal election?

Death of a teenager: why were police not asked obvious questions?

THERE are obvious questions which should have been put to the police in the wake of the shooting of Numan Haider, an 18-year-old Muslim man, in the Melbourne suburb of Endeavour Hills on Tuesday (September 23) night.

But it’s doubtful that any reporter from the mainstream media – which appears to function more as a propaganda arm of government – will ask these queries.

Why did police ask a person whom they acknowledge was under surveillance to come in for an interview at night, and alone?

Why did police search this man’s house without a warrant the same evening? IF someone is suspected of doing something does that equate to guilt?

Why did police agree to come out and meet this man in the car park? Where the hell have they received training for dealing with people like the teenager?

Why did they not insist on meeting him in broad daylight, in the police station, along with a lawyer or someone else so that there would be witnesses to whatever happened?

Was the knife that Haider had on his person allowed under the prevailing laws in Melbourne? Or did it violate the existing laws?

And finally, why have journalists lost that one trait that should be a hallmark of their character – scepticism? Why do they swallow anything and everything that is dished out?

Terror raids reprise one of the oldest games in politics

They call them anti-terror raids, though one has to ask seriously whether they are stopping anything at all. An idle conversation where a man who is worked up blurts out, “I would like to shove a bomb up his arse” can always be interpreted by an over-zealous, dumb police officer as a terror threat.

The timing of the raids in Brisbane and Sydney was very neat – it all happened very close to September 11, the day that all people in the West associate with terrorism. It’s a good time to stage such raids and raise the fear factor.

Politicians all over the world know the value of the politics of fear. Scare the bejesus out of the populace and the ratings of a president or prime minister generally tend to rise. And Tony Abbott has been in sore need of just such a rise in ratings ever since his treasurer, Joe Hockey, brought down an ideological budget that taxes the poor and makes the rich richer.

It is no coincidence that nobody is talking about the measures in the budget which have still to be passed – a fancy parental leave scheme that would benefit the rich, the changes to education that would again ensure that only people with money can acquire an university education, the changes to welfare payments that would deprive young people of the dole for the first six months they are eligible for it… it goes on.

It would appear from all the blather that Abbott and his ministers – particularly the attorney-general George “Metadata” Brandis – have been spouting that Australia is about to be subjected to numerous attacks by terrorists.

One account is that there was a plan to behead someone in public. You know, cut off the head of Mr Average Citizen. Another was to blow up Parliament House. And so on.

But the evidence for all these plots is hidden from public view – that’s a convenient smokescreen to make any and all allegations and make a gullible public scared enough to accept it.

Governments have been doing this kind of thing for centuries. Remember the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incidents which served to kick off the US involvement in Vietnam? Remember the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the weapons which still have not been sighted?

The tragedy in all this is that there are no journalists with the balls to question anything. They dumbly swallow all the tales trotted out and even magnify them to make the whole thing seem scarier. Before the whole charade was kicked off, Abbott announced a sum of $630 million for the security forces over four years – including the “spy” agency ASIO which has never caught a single spy – and, of course, they have repaid his munificence in spades.

Some years ago, the American journalist Matt Taibbi, when writing about the late Christopher Hitchens’ criticism of Michael Moore for his film Fahrenheit 9/11, defended Moore by saying that if one American scribe had shouted out “bullshit” when George W. Bush was ratcheting up the fear factor with his talk of WMD and trying to push an invasion of Iraq, then the whole thing might have just died a premature death. Taibbi made the point to emphasise that Moore’s film was doing just that and would have been unnecessary had the media done its role as the fourth estate.

This time, too, there is no-one to call out that one word, to be sceptical and raise questions about this whole terror play. It is a sad day for the media – and yet people wonder why newspapers are losing readers when they serve as another arm of government propaganda.

Welcome to Team Australia.

Emma Alberici strikes again

EMMA ALBERICI: And the question is: can air strikes drive the Islamic State out of the Middle East? – The ABC’s Lateline programme on August 13, 2014

I KID you not. This was a serious question put to David Kilcullen, a so-called counter-insurgency expert, by Emma Alberici, one of the most glorious examples of incompetence at the Australian national broadcaster.

Now Alberici, one would assume, has some idea about the size of the Middle East. One would also assume that she is aware that in no conflict has air power, no matter how awesome, been able to drive an enemy out of a battle zone.

How did she ask such a dumb question?

Despite her stupidity, this is the woman chosen to front one of the ABC’s national programmes twice or thrice a week. She draws a salary of around $190,000 per annum and sits there, tilting her head from side to side, and asking stupid questions. And this is not the first time I have had occasion to point this out.

The discussion revolved around the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – which now calls itself Islamic State – a militant group which has made rapid gains in taking over towns and cities in Iraq, and some parts of Syria. It is also fighting in the south of Lebanon. The US has launched air strikes on the group to protect minority sects which are being terrorised and fleeing their residences.

The choice of Kilcullen to discuss matters relating to militancy is questionable. According to a genuine expert, Kilcullen was one of those, who along with John Nagl and other counter-insurgency “experts”, devised a strategy in Afghanistan that aimed to unite Afghans by trying to Westernise them via popular elections, installing women’s rights, dismantling tribalism, introducing secularism and establishing NGO-backed bars and whorehouses in Kabul. When the West finally leaves that war-torn country later this year, the Taliban will be back within another six months.

But let’s leave that alone; maybe the choice of Kilcullen was made by someone else. However, no matter who chooses the guest to be interviewed, it is the presenter’s choice to do some preparation and not end up looking stupid. Alberici is a master of the art of putting her foot in her mouth.

A week ago
, a young man named Steve Cannane presented Lateline. He had as his guest Martin Chulov, the Middle East correspondent for the Guardian. Chulov is an old hand in the Mideast and very sound on the subject. Cannane did not put a foot wrong; he had prepared well and asked intelligent questions. The whole interview was gripping and highly informative stuff.

And then we have Alberici. Why, oh why, can the ABC not find a better presenter? In the past, the likes of Maxine McKew and Virginia Trioli were excellent presenters on the same programme; Tony Jones does an adequate job on other nights of the week now.

What is the hold that Alberici has on the ABC top brass? She was a miserable failure at hosting a programme called Business Breakfast which gave many people indigestion. For that, she has been made the presenter of what is arguably the ABC’s second-most important news and current affairs programme after 7.30. At the ABC, it would appear, nothing succeeds like failure.

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.