There’s a dark side to the flurry of reports and testimony on drones, helpful as they are in many ways. When we read that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose drone strikes that violate international law, some of us may be inclined to interpret that as a declaration that, in fact, drone strikes violate international law. On the contrary, what these human rights groups mean is that some drone strikes violate the law and some do not, and they want to oppose the ones that do.
Which are which? Even their best researchers can’t tell you. Human Rights Watch looked into six drone murders in Yemen and concluded that two were illegal and four might be illegal. The group wants President Obama to explain what the law is (since nobody else can), wants him to comply with it (whatever it is), wants civilians compensated (if anyone can agree who the civilians are and if people can really be compensated for the murder of their loved ones), and wants the U.S. government to investigate itself. Somehow the notion of prosecuting crimes doesn’t come up.
Amnesty International looks into nine drone strikes in Pakistan, and can’t tell whether any of the nine were legal or illegal. Amnesty wants the U.S. government to investigate itself, make facts public, compensate victims, explain what the law is, explain who a civilian is, and — remarkably — recommends this: “Where there is sufficient admissible evidence, bring those responsible to justice in public and fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.” However, this will be a very tough nut to crack, as those responsible for the crimes are being asked to define what is and is not legal. Amnesty proposes “judicial review of drone strikes,” but a rubber-stamp FISA court for drone murders wouldn’t reduce them, and an independent judiciary assigned to approve of certain drone strikes and not others would certainly approve of some, while inevitably leaving the world less than clear as to why.
The UN special rapporteurs’ reports are perhaps the strongest of the reports churned out this week, although all of the reports provide great information. The UN will debate drones on Friday. Congressman Grayson will bring injured child drone victims to Washington on Tuesday (although the U.S. State Department won’t let their lawyer come). Attention is being brought to the issue, and that’s mostly to the good. The U.N. reports make some useful points: U.S. drones have killed hundreds of civilians; drones make war the norm rather than an exception; signature strikes are illegal; double-tap strikes (targeting rescuers of a first strike’s victims) are illegal; killing rather than capturing is illegal; imminence (as a term to define a supposed threat) can’t legally be redefined to mean eventual or just barely imaginable; and — most powerfully — threatened by drones is the fundamental right to life. However, the U.N. reports are so subservient to western lawyer groupthink as to allow that some drone kills are legal and to make the determination of which ones so complex that nobody will ever be able to say — the determination will be political rather than empirical.
The U.N. wants transparency, and I do think that’s a stronger demand than asking for the supposed legal memos that Obama has hidden in a drawer and which supposedly make his drone kills legal. We don’t need to see that lawyerly contortionism. Remember Obama’s speech in May at which he claimed that only four of his victims had been American and for one of those four he had invented criteria for himself to meet, even though all available evidence says he didn’t meet those criteria even in that case, and he promised to apply the same criteria to foreigners going forward, sometimes, in certain countries, depending. Remember the liberal applause for that? Somehow our demands of President Bush were never that he make a speech.
(And did you see how pleased people were just recently that Obama had kidnapped a man in Libya and interrogated him in secret on a ship in the ocean, eventually bringing him to the U.S. for a trial, because that was a step up from murdering him and his neighbors? Bush policies are now seen as advances.)
We don’t need the memos. We need the videos, the times, places, names, justifications, casualties, and the video footage of each murder. That is to say, if the UN is going to give its stamp of approval to a new kind of war but ask for a little token of gratitude, this is what it should be. But let’s stop for a minute and consider. The general lawyerly consensus is that killing people with drones is fine if it’s not a case where they could have been captured, it’s not “disproportionate,” it’s not too “collateral,” it’s not too “indiscriminate,” etc., — the calculation being so vague that nobody can measure it. We’re not wrong to trumpet the good parts of these reports, but let’s be clear that the United Nations, an institution created to eliminate war, is giving its approval to a new kind of war, as long as it’s done properly, and it’s giving its approval in the same reports in which it says that drones threaten to make war the norm and peace the exception.
I hate to be a wet blanket, but that’s stunning. Drones make war the norm, rather than the exception, and drone murders are going to be deemed legal depending on a variety of immeasurable criteria. And the penalty for the ones that are illegal is going to be nothing, at least until African nations start doing it, at which point the International Criminal Court will shift into gear.
What is it that makes weaponized drones more humane than land mines, poison gas, cluster bombs, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, and other weapons worth banning? Are drone missiles more discriminate than cluster bombs (I mean in documented practice, not in theory)? Are they discriminate enough, even if more discriminate than something else? Does the ease of using them against anyone anywhere make it possible for them to be “proportionate” and “necessary”? If some drone killing is legal and other not, and if the best researchers can’t always tell which is which, won’t drone killing continue? The UN Special Rapporteur says drones threaten to make war the norm. Why risk that? Why not ban weaponized drones?
For those who refuse to accept that the Kellogg Briand Pact bans war, for those who refuse to accept that international law bans murder, don’t we have a choice here between banning weaponized drones or watching weaponized drones proliferate and kill? Over 99,000 people have signed a petition to ban weaponized drones at http://BanWeaponizedDrones.org Maybe we can push that over 100,000 … or 200,000.
It’s always struck me as odd that in civilized, Geneva conventionized, Samantha Powerized war the only crime that gets legalized is murder. Not torture, or assault, or rape, or theft, or marijuana, or cheating on your taxes, or parking in a handicapped spot — just murder. But will somebody please explain to me why homicide bombing is not as bad as suicide bombing?
It isn’t strictly true that the suffering is all on one side, anyway. Just as we learn geography through wars, we learn our drone base locations through blowback, in Afghanistan and just recently in Yemen. Drones make everyone less safe. As Malala just pointed out to the Obama family, the drone killing fuels terrorism. Drones also kill with friendly fire. Drones, with or without weapons, crash. A lot. And drones make the initiation of violence easier, more secretive, and more concentrated. When sending missiles into Syria was made a big public question, we overwhelmed Congress, which said no. But missiles are sent into other countries all the time, from drones, and we’re never asked.
We’re going to have to speak up for ourselves.
I’ll be part of a panel discussing this at NYU on Wednesday. See http://NYACT.net
“Other optimists claim that the likes of Goldberg et al would not be trying so hard to position this as a victory over Iran unless the US did in fact plan to reach a deal with Iran this time around. In other words, they’re pre-emptively trying to prepare the public for a deal with Iran…”
I am greatly amused by efforts of our chattering classes to rewrite the history of the past 10 years to pretend that the reason for the lack of progress thus far in the US-Iran nuclear debacle has been Iran’s intrasigence. The Leveretts point out that much of the media coverage starts out with the assumption that it is Iran’s burden to make compromises to meet US demands, not vice versa, as if the obstacle to the resolution of the standoff thus far has been Iran and not the US with its excessive demands that Iran abandon enrichment. Joel Rubin of Politico claims that the negotiations are “the result of years of painstaking efforts by the Obama administration and lawmakers to pressure the Islamic Republic … to pursue diplomacy” and furthermore he writes, “Now that Iran has made a clear decision to engage seriously in diplomatic negotiations with the West over its nuclear program…” Then there’s former Israeli border guard Jeffrey Goldberg who claims that Iran is only now “ready at least to have a facsimile of a serious discussion about its nuclear program” because supposedly “The crippling of the Iranian economy by the U.S. sanctions regime is the only reason Iran is even negotiating at all.”
It would be only natural for the proponents of the sanctions policy thus far to claim that any progress on the nuclear file must be attributable to the “success” of these sanctions — when in fact such progress happened despite the sanctions, not because of them. Though a crowing rooster takes credit for the rising sun, the truth of the matter is that the sanctions regime on Iran has already started to falter, and Iran’s economy is already expected to start growing in 2014. It is certainly doubtful that the sanctions are hurting Iran enough that the government is willing to give up the sovereign right of enrichment, as the US demands, because they know that the Iranian people massively support their nuclear program and would consider such a concession to be traitorous. It will be hard enough selling any sort of deal with the US in which Iran somehow ends up being treated differently than any other NPT signatory.
Furthermore, European courts have already started the process of dismantling the sanctions on Iranian banks too. The sanctions were always illegal anyway, as they violated the terms of international trade rules that prohibit secondary sanctions. The only reason why European and Asian trading partners with Iran did not mount a legal challenge to these extraterritorial sanctions at the World Trade Organization is because of a poltical agreement not to do so, and that can last only so long before the floodgates break. After all, China and India need Iran’s oil and aren’t about to make their economic development indirectly subject to US veto.
And then there’s the NY Times, typically promoting nonsense and inaccuracy as news as usual. They have the usual load of hot, steaming bullshit posing as a “Q&A” about Iran’s nuclear program entitled “Examining the Status of Iran’s Nuclear Program and Talks” — in which they promote the usual propaganda lines: Fordo was a “secret facility” (never mind that Iran declared it to the IAEA first, and before it was legally required to do so) and Iran has “refused to allow inspectors to visit Parchin” never mind that Iran allowed it twice in 2005 and nothing was found then, and never mind that Iran is not under any legal obligation to allow any such “transparency” visits which are themselves illegal and outside of the NPT. The NY Times also claims that the Arak heavy water reactor “could be a source of plutonium, another fuel for a weapon” — when in fact practically EVERY nuclear reactor “could be” a source of plutonium since that’s what’s produced in the highly-irradiated fuel rods for reactors in Iran or anywhere else — however removing and using the plutonium is an extremely complicated process called reprocessing, and Iran has no such facilities as the IAEA itself has noted repeatedly and has no interest in developing – a fact left out of the NY Times version of reality.
But here’s the bigger picture issue I want to deal with: what does all the speculation and spin around the Iran nuclear negotiations indicate about the substance and direction of those negoiations, if anything? naturally we’re seeing some jostling even on the part of Iran hawks like Jeffrey Goldberg to spin the recent news of Iran-US negotiations as being attributable to an Iranian shift. The consistency of this narrative is such that it suggests a metaphorical “talking points memo” has been issued amongst the chattering classes, emphasizing the need to put this spin on the news: Iran has shifted, therefore the US can now potentially compromise with Iran.
This is of course total bullshit, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out. Iran has been making the same compromise offers it is now making for a very very very long time. Better ones, in fact. The problem had always been the US insistence on Iran giving up enrichment, a demand that was deliberately used by the US to kill off negotiations and to ensure that there could be no peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue as long as the regime is still in power in Iran (the nuclear issue as always been just a pretext for regime-change, just as “WMDs in Iraq” was always just as pretext) Even former IAEA head Elbaradei concluded as much.
So the question is, are these talks any different than the previous occasions when there was a lot of hype and speculation, but no progress because the US continued to insist on nonsensical demands on Iran? Has the US really started to deal seriously with the nuclear issue now for once instead of pulling the rug out from under their own negotiators as they did to the Turks/Brazilians (because of an additional demand that Iran also give up enrichment which the US added after Iran had said yes to the deal) and the EU-3 prior to that? Has the US given up on regime change, or is it simply shifting tactics?
Well, according to Trita Parsi, these talks are different in the sense that the US has finally conceded to negotiating an “end state” – in other words, telling Iran what it hopes to achieve in the end with negotiations (specifically the question of concern to the Iranian side is whether the US concedes that Iran has a practical right to enrich Uranium or not). This would be important for the Iranian side since they know what they’re finally negotiating in the first place: a US recognition of Iran’s enrichment rights, or Iran’s gradual and practical repudiation of those rights.
Other optimists claim that the likes of Goldberg et al would not be trying so hard to position this as a victory over Iran unless the US did in fact plan to reach a deal with Iran this time around. In other words, they’re pre-emptively trying to prepare the public for a deal. This view actually has some merit, but as an argument it is speculative. There are multiple other reasons why the likes of Goldberg would be engaged in such spin, entirely on their own and not because of any actual expected ”progress” at the negotiations. In the meantime, apart from trying to read tea leaves and engage in speculation, we won’t know if the US is serious or not until after the final deal is announced. In the meantime, there is absolutely no reason why we should assume these negotiations to be anything more than a set-up, as in the past.
So in the end, I’d rather wait to see the actual shape of a deal at the end before I get my hopes up. Wendy Sherman’s testimony before Congress suggests that the US is still not willing to recognized a right to enrichment by Iran. She tried to pull some bullshit stunt by making a distinction between enrichment versus the right to enrichment — as if a right that is only exercisable upon the arbitrary approval of outside powers is still really a right. That’s not encouraging and suggests that they’re still trying to finesse the issue instead of coming to terms with it — and they’re insulting our intelligence on top of it all which is what really annoys me. AIPAC of course is making their usual noise, but as far I can tell it is just noise, thus far, which suggests to me that they’ve got something up their sleeve. Perhaps they’re just giving the Obama administration enough rope to hang himself with, knowing that any deal with Iran is DOA in Congress anyway.
In the meantime, Dear Ms. Wendy Sherman: We’re watching, Wendy. We can see what’s going on. Don’t try to pull any bullshit ‘cuz we’re not buying it.
The Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet, reported that Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will meet Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow at the end of November, when discussions will focus on the Syrian crisis.
Hurriyet noted that Erdogan will visit the Russian capital where he will head a delegation of a large number of ministers and will preside over the meeting of the joint ministerial committee of the Turkish-Russian Cooperation Council during 21st to the 22nd November. The meeting will discuss several political, trade and investment issues between the two countries.
Deputy Russian foreign minister, Alexei Meshkv, said that the two sides will address several regional and international issues of mutual interest and will discuss ways to develop bilateral relations. In an exclusive interview with the Turkish newspaper Meshkov asserted that Russian-Turkish relations are evolving in several areas, especially in the energy field. The two sides are also cooperating on the construction of the Mersin Nuclear Power and the South Stream natural gas pipeline project, which will pass through the Black Sea.
In an unprecedented article published in Al Shorouk newspaper on 19 October, the prominent Egyptian-American academic, Amr Hamzawy, berated Egypt’s left-wingers and liberals for their support of the 3 July coup. He said that ever since the coup at the beginning of July, democrats in Egypt have had time to sort the wheat from the chaff.
The article pointed out that the liberals and left-wingers who backed the military intervention, “isolated” the elected president and suspended the Constitution, which displayed an incredible lack of commitment to democratic principles. Communists, socialists, Nasserists and Arab nationalists have all shown us that they are unwilling to make political compromises. By agreeing to take part in the de facto government imposed by the military with total indifference to democratic legitimacy, such political groups pushed their ideologies into a long, dark tunnel. The fact that they not only keep quiet about the repression and state killings but also take part tells us all we need to know about such people; they have stripped themselves of all moral and political credibility.
On the media campaigns, the author said they had succeeded in influencing people and this probably contributed to how the Muslim Brotherhood and their religious allies were portrayed; as being irrational politically whilst being caught up in acts of violence and incitement. In turn, this pushed liberal and left-wing principles towards neo-fascism under which the return of repressive practices reminiscent of the security state became acceptable to the general public. It also prompted the use of phrases such as “war on terror,” “the security solution is the only solution,” “the need to exclude the religious right-wing,” and “human rights, civil peace, and transitional justice are luxuries Egypt cannot afford while facing terrorism,” and so on.
Such involvement in the repressive state apparatus has made it clear that democratic movements in Egypt cannot count on the left-wing and liberal politicians to help them regain the rights and freedoms that people fought and died for in the January 25 Revolution. If anyone was in any doubt about this, the rush by these politicians to back the coup leader, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, as president should have confirmed it. They are indifferent to the deception being practiced on the people of Egypt; the concepts of justice and accountability are being replaced by their demands that the state should act “decisively,” as if promoting bloodshed and killing is the way to end bloodshed and killing in society and restore democracy.
They also act as if stability is achieved when the state uses force and violence rather than justice and the law. These dark voices control the public arena and insist on silence or vocal support; no dissent is allowed as Egyptian politics joins the ranks of the fascist elites of the past. Contemporary norms around the world, ironically in the Western countries which have condoned the coup, promote negotiation, tolerance and respect in order to build civil society and democracy. Egypt today indulges in violence and “security solutions” while promoting hatred and exclusion.
Hamzawy noted that new initiatives have already borne fruit, such as the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” group. Self-criticism is leading to the rebuilding of links between rights and freedoms, elections and referendums, legislative and executive institutions subject to responsibility and accountability, as well as between those in the security forces who are neutral and stick to the rule of the law and citizens whose dignity is preserved and who can participate in the management of public affairs.
Since 3 July, the pro-democracy movement’s acknowledgment of the need to distance itself from the parties and movements that failed the 2013 exam has been matched by the economic, financial and media elites’ lack of commitment to the principles and values of democracy. Out of pure self-interest, the latter have restored a repressive regime against the interests of the people of Egypt.
The way forward for the pro-democracy movement, according to the author, is to learn from the lessons of the past couple of years. The future will be difficult, but their success will depend on how well they can re-boot themselves based on this invaluable, if painful, experience.
- Egypt Aid: Elections versus Democracy (nationalinterest.org)
A few months ago I signed my name as co-defendant to a possible legal action threatened by an Israeli law firm, Shurat HaDin, targeting two Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) academics – Professors Jake Lynch and Stuart Rees for publically refusing to co-operate with Israel’s Hebrew university. Almost two thousand Australian and international academics, writers, human rights activists and other members of civil society have since joined this unprecedented historic act of solidarity signing as co-defendants along with the two targeted professors.
Jake Lynch was practicing a basic democratic right when he made a moral and ethical decision to refuse to collaborate with an academic representing Hebrew university. Part of Hebrew university campus and dormitories were built on illegally annexed Palestinian land in contravention of the four Geneva Conventions. The university also sponsors the archeological digs in the Occupied Territories, appropriating Palestinian historical artifacts, preventing Palestinians from accessing those sites and displacing them from there – an act considered to be plundering under International Humanitarian Law. There is a long list of other violations by Hebrew university such as its links to Elbit systems – one of Israel’s largest military security and surveillance companies that monitors and maintains Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land. But this story is not just about Jake Lynch or Hebrew University, it is a story about how democracy functions.
Defending the rights of academics to express their views on controversial issues is a basic tenant of democracy. Given that democracies are a work in progress, it is up to us as citizens within democratic nations to use our voice to protect our civil liberties. Part of this means we have to empower those who have been disempowered and stripped of their basic human rights, both at home and abroad. This does not bode well for Israel – a state criticized by UN bodies and reputable human rights organizations for its flagrant human rights violations.
Israel’s supporters react to criticism in two ways. The first is by intimidating and slandering critics claiming they are anti-Semitic and/or terrorist sympathizers. The second is by attacking and eroding our democratic rights thus destroying the tools by which we are able to expose its abuses and war crimes.
Academic freedom is hindered when governments interfere with their citizens’ right to form and express independent political views.
In this case, Israel’s network of supporters has launched all the fire power at their disposal, slandering the academics while pressuring the Australian government to erode our democratic right to dissent. CPACS is now faced with the real threat of losing federal government funding for programs unrelated to the campaign “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS), solely on the basis of the political views held by the Centre’s director Jake Lynch.
Academic freedom is hindered when governments interfere with their citizens’ right to form and express independent political views. Last year following lobbying by the National Tertiary Education Union, the former Gillard government introduced a proposal to reform the objectives of the Higher Education Support Act making it a condition of funding that higher education institutions uphold academic freedom. Jeannie Rea, the National Tertiary Education Union president told Sydney Morning Herald, ”these changes…are an explicit acknowledgment that university staff has a right and a responsibility to exercise free intellectual inquiry, including the right to expression of controversial or unpopular opinions without being disadvantaged or discriminated against.”
The significance of this reform was lost on Australia’s new government. Before winning the elections, the now Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop promised to deny funding for projects by all academics who voice support for boycotting Israel regardless of whether or not these projects are related to the Palestine/Israel conflict.
But make no mistake about it, this policy of repression will not only target pro-Palestine supporters or critics of Israel, it will impact all sectors in Australian civil society. PM Tony Abbott has plans to re-prioritize about $900m in annual Australian Research Council (ARC) grants ensuring that only projects that are deemed worthy by the Liberal government and in line with their ideological beliefs will receive funding. The National Tertiary Education Union was amongst the first to criticise this infringement on democracy. Other condemnations followed from many peak bodies in the sector including the Deans of Arts, the Council for Humanities Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS), Science and Technology Australia (STA), Social Sciences and Humanities, the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) and Universities Australia.
I asked Jake Lynch to comment on the possibility that he may find himself without funding for his research. This was his response:
“Julie Bishop’s attempts to stifle dissent on a key issue of foreign policy amount to an abuse of office and reflect badly on the integrity of Australian public life. I fully accept that I am entitled to no public money to pursue or publicise the academic boycott of Israel, and indeed I have never sought, nor received any. But Ms Bishop’s threats to withhold government research funding even for unrelated topics is an attack on intellectual freedom, aimed at intimidating others from engaging critically with Australian government policies on the Israel-Palestine conflict.”
At the end of this month we will find out if Professor Jake Lynch will be denied funding for a Discovery Project grant from the Australian Research Council because of his critical views regarding a foreign state; views that are shared by notable human rights advocates world-wide including the Rev. Desmond Tutu. In the meantime, the list of co-defendents will continue to grow as more of us rise to say no to Israel’s bullying tactics that threaten our basic democratic right to non-violently oppose its racist violations of intentional humanitarian law.
Israel is indeed good for western democracies but not for the reasons it claims; it is good because it exposes the hypocrisy and faults that are inherent within other democratic systems. If we cannot openly debate controversial issues within university campuses or hold controversial views on a foreign government then our democratic rights and freedom of expression are in peril.
- Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and Policy Adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network.
A “diplomatic embarrassment” has arisen following the refusal of Pope Francis I to meet with Israel’s prime minister at short notice. Benjamin Netanyahu’s office had already announced that a meeting would take place during his visit to Italy, reported Haaretz, but the pope has no plans in this regard.
According to Haaretz, the Vatican became aware of Netanyahu’s visit to Rome and his supposed meeting with Pope Francis through the media. “The Prime Minister’s Office worked hard to hold the meeting and to avoid any embarrassment but to no avail,” claimed the newspaper.
The Vatican informed Israel’s ambassador to Italy, Naor Gilon, on Sunday that the prime minister will not meet the Pope; Netanyahu’s advisors are said to be “outraged”. Gilon said that the Vatican protocol for meetings is very complex. “To arrange for such a meeting within a week is regarded as an insult, so it has never happened,” he explained.
Israel Radio reported that a new date for a meeting is to be set “as soon as possible”.
On Monday morning at dawn, Israeli settlers stole ripe olives from Palestinian farms in different areas of the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, Israeli forces detained a Palestinian citizen at a moveable military checkpoint in Nablus.
Witnesses and farm owners told the Al-Quds Network that the settlers stole significant amounts of ripe olives from different farms. They also said that the settlers were hindering the arrival of many farmers who were heading to their farms in order to pick the olives.
Palestinian sources said that the settlers stole the olives from the neighbourhoods of Fara, Tal-Farata and Amateen. The sources also confirmed that the settlers were preventing farmers from approaching their farms, despite the farmers’ cooperation with Israeli officials in this regard.
Meanwhile, Israeli occupation forces invaded the Palestinian city of Nablus and detained Aboud Soboh, a Palestinian from the neighbourhood of Ras Al-Ein.
Witnesses reported that after invading the city, Israeli forces set up moveable checkpoints and then they arrested Soboh at one of these checkpoints.
Two of Soboh’s brothers are currently detained in Israeli jails.
Images from alquds.com
- Jewish settlers cut down and burn hundreds of trees in Nablus and al-Khalil (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Illegal Israeli settlers destroy olive trees in West Bank with impunity (sott.net)