Wednesday, February 16, 2005

War News for Wednesday, February 16, 2005 Part Three of Six - American Values

We sure hear a lot from the pro-Bush faction about American values and how people who oppose the administration’s policies don’t have any. Here are some articles that reflect directly on how core American values are being perverted by Bush’s Iraq war and the so-called war on terror.

This first piece seems to be a ray of sunshine. The Senate is finally going to investigate wrongdoing in the CIA. Good, they should. Time will tell if anything comes of it. But what about secret prisons run by the Pentagon? What about torture and renditions being carried out by the Defense Department? When will that be ‘reviewed’?

Open government: The Senate intelligence committee is moving toward adoption of a plan to conduct a formal inquiry into the CIA's handling of suspects captured in the U.S. effort to curb terrorism, congressional officials from each party said last week.

The inquiry would be the first by Congress to address the CIA's conduct in what has remained a shadowy corner of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The agency is believed to be holding at least three dozen senior members of al Qaeda at secret sites around the world, and former intelligence officials say it has been involved in the extrajudicial handing over to third countries of scores of other suspects, in an arrangement known as rendition.

One of the most disquieting trends in the post-911 world is the privatization of military functions, giving coercive powers to private organizations that work without even the minimal oversight of governmental bodies. This is a decision that will come back to haunt us.

Rule of law: There are new allegations that heavily armed private security contractors in Iraq are brutalizing Iraqi civilians. In an exclusive interview, four former security contractors told NBC News that they watched as innocent Iraqi civilians were fired upon, and one crushed by a truck. The contractors worked for an American company paid by U.S. taxpayers. The Army is looking into the allegations.

They worked for an American company named Custer Battles, hired by the Pentagon to conduct dangerous missions guarding supply convoys. They were so upset by what they saw, three quit after only one or two missions.

"What we saw, I know the American population wouldn't stand for," says Craun.

They claim heavily armed security operators on Custer Battles' missions — among them poorly trained young Kurds, who have historical resentments against other Iraqis — terrorized civilians, shooting indiscriminately as they ran for cover, smashing into and shooting up cars.

"These aren't insurgents that we're brutalizing," says Craun. "It was local civilians on their way to work. It's wrong."

Isn’t simple justice a core American value? Aren’t we supposed to be known for our ideals of fairness and our support for the underdog? When did that change?

Compensation for injuries received: The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by American pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And it has taken a strange twist. The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime. The rationale: Today's Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

A crucial American value is that we are a country ruled by laws, not men. Everyone is subject equally to the law. This story is from Britain, but the same principle applies. When did we agree to give it up?

Equality before the law: Opponents of the invasion of Iraq prosecuted for trespass on military bases were denied justice, the high court was told yesterday, because they were not allowed to argue they had acted to prevent war crimes in an illegal conflict.

At their trials, district judges refused to hear the war crimes defence. The high court was asked to rule on this. Maurice Mendelson QC, representing 14 Greenpeace activists, told Lord Justice Waller and Mr Justice Jack that it had been wrong to rule the defence "non-justiciable" on grounds it related to policy decisions that were a matter for the government, not the courts.

The high court was asked to rule on this. Maurice Mendelson QC, representing 14 Greenpeace activists, told Lord Justice Waller and Mr Justice Jack that it had been wrong to rule the defence "non-justiciable" on grounds it related to policy decisions that were a matter for the government, not the courts.

"It is crystal clear that crimes under the International Criminal Court Act are justiciable in the English courts, whether or not those crimes are committed pursuant to defence or foreign policy," he said. To argue otherwise would in effect "grant the executive immunity from the criminal law".

Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The free flow of information. An informed electorate. Aren’t these core American values?

A free press: America and its key ally Saudi Arabia are being accused of quietly seeking to muzzle al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite news station that has often incurred Washington's ire for its coverage of Iraq and President George Bush's "war on terror".

According to reports in the US and the Gulf, the Qatari government, owner of al-Jazeera since its foundation in 1996, has ordered privatisation plans for the station to be speeded up. Many al-Jazeera employees fear this could lead to a loss of editorial freedom. A set of proposals is already said to have been presented to al-Jazeera's board of directors.

With a regular audience of between 35 and 50 million, al-Jazeera is the most popular source of news in the Arab world. It is a rare beacon of uninhibited reporting and free expression in a region where strict state control of the media is the norm.

But it has rarely been profitable and relies on an estimated $100m (£53m) annual funding from its government sponsor. Assuming privatisation goes ahead, the station is likely to be listed on Qatar's stock market, where most of its shares would be available only to citizens of member countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). This could allow Saudi Arabia, the richest GCC member and a prime source of media funding across the region, to gain a major stake in al-Jazeera. The Saudi regime has also been a vigorous critic of al-Jazeera's coverage of opponents of the regime. It has already suspended advertising on the station - adding to its financial problems.

Add Your Voice. Speak Out.

Will not fade away: The day itself has now become history. Two years ago today, somewhere between one and two million people marched in central London to protest against the impending war in Iraq.

Neither their actions, nor those of like-minded people in cities as far apart as Sydney, Ankara and Seoul, managed to stop the war, but the day's legacy lives on. It lives on in literature, where the post 9/11 paranoia and placards of February 15 2003 form the backdrop to Ian McEwan's new novel, Saturday, and in the anti-war movement's continuation.

The decision to go to war was divisive then, and remains so today. The arguments may have shifted with events - the anti-warriors protest against the presence of foreign troops, while proponents talk of democracy instead of WMD - but the commitment, especially on the anti side, shows little sign of fading.

Make your voice heard: Hundreds of people opposed to the US-led war in Iraq were due to demonstrate across Britain, including a mass "die-in" outside the Houses of Parliament in London, organisers said.

The event, organised by the Stop The War Coalition and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), will mark the second anniversary of a huge anti-war march, which attracted more than one million people to the British capital in an ultimately futile bid to stop the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

In addition, the organisers plan to hold another demonstration in London on March 19 -- two years after the war began -- to demand that British troops be brought home. .


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