Friday, April 03, 2009

Crimes Against HumanityNOW AVAILABLE: Crimes Against Humanity: A Beginner's Guide, by Adam Jones (OneWorld, 2008; 168 pp., US $14.95 pbk). See "A remarkable book that is immediately accessible for the novice in the field, or students, and yet also engages with its topic in intellectually interesting ways for the more seasoned reader." (James Gow, Professor of International Peace and Security, King's College London.)

Genocide Studies Media File
March 16 - April 3, 2009

A compendium of news stories, features, and human rights reports pertaining to genocide and crimes against humanity. Compiled by Adam Jones. Please send links and feedback to

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"Afghan Leader Accused of Bid to 'Legalise Rape'"
By Jerome Starkey
The Independent, 31 March 2009
"Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, has signed a law which 'legalises' rape, women's groups and the United Nations warn. Critics claim the president helped rush the bill through parliament in a bid to appease Islamic fundamentalists ahead of elections in August. In a massive blow for women's rights, the new Shia Family Law negates the need for sexual consent between married couples, tacitly approves child marriage and restricts a woman's right to leave the home, according to UN papers seen by The Independent. 'It is one of the worst bills passed by the parliament this century,' fumed Shinkai Karokhail, a woman MP who campaigned against the legislation. 'It is totally against women's rights. This law makes women more vulnerable.' The law regulates personal matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance and sexual relations among Afghanistan's minority Shia community. 'It's about votes,' Ms. Karokhail added. 'Karzai is in a hurry to appease the Shia because the elections are on the way.' The provisions are reminiscent of the hardline Taliban regime, which banned women from leaving their homes without a male relative. But in a sign of Afghanistan's faltering steps towards gender equality, politicians who opposed it have been threatened. 'There are moderate views among the Shia, but unfortunately our MPs, the people who draft the laws, rely on extremists,' Ms. Karokhail said. The bill lay dormant for more than a year, but in February it was rushed through parliament as President Karzai sought allies in a constitutional row over the upcoming election. Senator Humeira Namati claimed it wasn't even read out in the Upper House, let alone debated, before it was passed to the Supreme Court. 'They accused me of being an unbeliever,' she said. Details of the law emerged after Mr Karzai was endorsed by Afghanistan's Supreme Court to stay in power until elections scheduled in August. Some MPs claimed President Karzai was under pressure from Iran, which maintains a close relationship with Afghanistan's Shias. The most controversial parts of the law deal explicitly with sexual relations. Article 132 requires women to obey their husband's sexual demands and stipulates that a man can expect to have sex with his wife at least 'once every four nights' when travelling, unless they are ill. The law also gives men preferential inheritance rights, easier access to divorce, and priority in court. [...]"


"Brazilian Archbishop in Hot Seat after Claiming More Catholics Than Jews Died in Holocaust"
By Bradley Brooks
Associated Press dispatch in The Los Angeles Times, 2 April 2009
"A Roman Catholic archbishop whose statements about the Holocaust have come under fire met with Jewish leaders this week to clarify his claim that Jewish domination of the media has obscured the toll of non-Jews killed by the Nazis. Jewish groups including the Anti-Defamation League condemned the comments by Archbishop Dadeus Grings, who was quoted by Brazil's Press magazine last week as saying: 'More Catholics than Jews died in the Holocaust, but this isn't known because the Jews control the world's media.' Grings, who leads one of Brazil's largest dioceses and is the chancellor of the Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, has been criticized before for his views on the matter. In 2003 he argued that only 1 million Jews died in the Holocaust, although he backed away from that in an interview with The Associated Press this week, saying it 'is evident that 6 million Jews were killed.' However, he repeated the suggestion that Jewish media power was distorting the picture. The ADL issued a statement Wednesday saying: 'The incident involving Archbishop Grings, who has a history of Holocaust denial, marks the third time in as many months where a Catholic clergyman has publicly denied or diminished the Holocaust.' Last month, a British bishop was removed from leading a seminary in Argentina after claiming that only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. That bishop, Richard Williamson, has not recanted. In January, Italian priest The Rev. Floriano Abrahamowicz was quoted in an Italian newspaper as saying 'I know the gas chambers existed at least for disinfecting but not whether they caused deaths or not.' Henry Chmelnitsky, vice president of the Jewish Federation of Rio Grande do Sul, said that in claiming more Catholics than Jews were killed, Grings was including Catholics who died on the battlefields of World War II, whereas 'The Jews, the Gypsies, the communists, and the handicapped were persecuted for being who they were.' [...]"


"Khmer Rouge Jail Boss Begs for Forgiveness"
By Andrew Buncombe
The Independent, 1 April 2009
"The man who was in charge of a notorious prison operated by the Khmer Rouge in which thousands were tortured and dispatched for execution has offered his 'heartfelt sorrow' for his actions 30 years ago. Appearing in front a genocide tribunal in Cambodia, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, said he did not expect the families of those who died to forgive him now but he hoped that at some point they would. 'My current plea is that I would like you to please leave an open window for me to seek forgiveness,' he said. He would give his full co-operation to the UN-sponsored tribunal, he said, adding: 'This is only the remedy that can help me to relieve all the sorrow and crimes I have committed.' Up to 1.8 million people died or were murdered by the Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled from 1975 to 1979. Duch, 66, was the head of the Tuol Sleng prison in the capital, Phnom Penh. Also known as S-21, the converted school was used to interrogate and torture so-called 'internal enemies,' namely regime members suspected or accused of dissent. Of the 14,000 prisoners sent to the jail, only a dozen survived. Just a handful are still alive today. Duch is one of five senior Khmer Rouge leaders being tried for genocide. While his statements amounted to a confession of guilt, defendants are not required to enter pleas. A panel of judges will deliver a verdict. After the prosecution's opening arguments, which described Duch as a key cog in the Khmer Rouge killing machine, the defendant asked permission to make a personal statement. He began by reading from a document but then put down his papers, removed his spectacles and stared at the 500 or so people gathered in the court room. He claimed that he had tried to avoid being made commander of S-21, but once assigned he feared for his own life and his family's safety if he did not carry out the job. He then apologised to his victims' families but said he was not asking to be pardoned for such 'serious crimes that cannot be tolerated.' The tribunal has made clear that it will not be a defence for those in the dock to claim that they were simply following orders. [...]"

"Court Hears Khmer Rouge Testimony"
The Irish Times, 30 March 2009
"An alleged Khmer Rouge torturer faced trial for crimes against humanity today, the first involving a senior Pol Pot cadre 30 years after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths. After years of delays and procedural wrangling, prosecutors for the joint UN-Cambodian tribunal will lay out their case against Duch, the former chief of the S-21 prison, where 14,000 'enemies' of the 1975-79 revolution were tortured and killed. 'I never thought that this day would come,' said 64-year-old Svay Simon, one of hundreds of Khmer Rouge victims gathered at the specially built court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Duch's trial, which formally began with procedural hearings last month, marks a turning-point for the strife-torn country, where nearly every family lost someone during the Khmer Rouge era, one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century. 'The Cambodian people will finally see one of the most notorious Khmer Rouge leaders face trial. But many more need to face the court to really deliver justice to the millions of victims of these horrific crimes,' said Brittis Edman, a Cambodia researcher for rights group Amnesty International. Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, faces charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and homicide. The silver-haired former school teacher is the first of five ageing senior cadres charged for their role in Pol Pot's 'Year Zero' revolution to achieve an agrarian utopia. He is expected to be a key witness in the future trials of 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea, the regime's ex-president Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife. The four others have denied knowledge of any atrocities by the Khmer Rouge during its rule, which began by driving everyone out of the cities with whatever they could carry. There is no death penalty in Cambodia and the five could get life sentences if convicted by the panel of five Cambodian and international judges. Advocates hope the tribunal -- formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) - will serve as a model of professionalism for the country's erratic and politicized judiciary. Critics say the tribunal's integrity is threatened by allegations of corruption and political interference, particularly on the issue of pursuing other Khmer Rouge suspects. Pol Pot's death in 1998 was followed by a formal Khmer Rouge surrender which helped to usher in a decade of peace and stability, threatened now by the global economic downturn."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]

"Cambodia Genocide Court Must Up Caseload: Amnesty"
Agence France-Presse dispatch on Yahoo! News, 28 March 2008
"Amnesty International on Saturday welcomed the opening of Cambodia's first genocide trial, but said the court must increase its caseload and address allegations of corruption. Amnesty said the court should 'urgently expand its prosecution strategy' following the start of the long-awaited trial of Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch. His trial began last month. One of five former Khmer Rouge leaders scheduled to be tried by the court, Duch is due to finally take the stand on Monday. 'Many more need to face the court to really deliver justice to the millions of victims of these horrific crimes,' said researcher Brittis Edman, adding that many suspects were now elderly and could die before facing justice. The Cambodian government has been accused of trying to scupper further trials amid fears that it could target former Khmer Rouge members currently in top posts in Prime Minister Hun Sen's administration. The Cambodian side of the international court has also been hit by claims of political interference and a scandal in which local staff were allegedly forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs. The London-based group said the claims must be quickly addressed. 'Any corruption allegations must be investigated promptly and thoroughly,' Edman said. Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed, as the 1975-1979 regime emptied Cambodia's cities in its drive to create a communist utopia."


"Teaching the Holocaust, One Clip at a Time"
By Katherine Dedyna
National Post, 18 March 2009
"When Victoria resident Peter Schroeder notices a paper clip on the sidewalk, he feels obliged to pick it up. It's not a meaningless bit of metal but a profound symbol of a human life snuffed out by the Nazis. So he places the paper clip in a box and takes it to tiny Whitwell, Tenn. -- home of the Children's Holocaust Memorial. Filled with millions of paper clips mailed from all over the world, it's the only children's memorial to the genocide. And Peter and his wife, Dagmar, helped make it happen. They also co-authored the bestselling children's book Six Million Paper Clips -- in reference to the number of Jews systematically killed in the Second World War. At one point, the Schroeders drove thousands of kilometres across Germany to find and purchase the only remaining railcar used to transport Nazi victims to death camps. That car now holds 11 million paper clips sent to the children of Whitwell to represent both Jewish and non-Jewish people murdered at Hitler's behest. The Schroeders have given countless speeches on the subject, including two at the Simon Wiesenthal Center for human rights in Los Angeles. And they'll lead young Victorians in a question and answer period on March 29 after a screening of the award-winning documentary Paper Clips -- based on their book -- at the Victoria Conference Centre. Their message: To speak out against bullying and intolerance whenever youth see the signs, and to celebrate how young people in an isolated town created an international beacon of tolerance. 'Everybody should do their little part,' says Dagmar, a psychologist. Don't worry about feeling silly. 'Words are very, very important. They can hurt more than slapping someone in the face.' 'This is not Holocaust education,' stresses Susan Kendal, president of the Victoria branch of Hadassah WIZO, the event's sponsor. 'You come out feeling really good.' [...]"
[n.b. Thanks to Jo Jones for bringing this story to my attention.]


"Colombia Orders Return of Stolen Farmland"
By Juan Forero
The Washington Post, 23 March 2009
"As with so many crimes of war, what happened here in the dense, humid jungles of northwestern Colombia more than a decade ago might easily have been forgotten. Illegal militias forced hundreds of poor black farmers off their land, which politically connected businessmen then seized and turned into lucrative palm oil plantations. The displaced farmers, well aware that the hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by Colombia's long civil conflict rarely returned home, thought they would never see their land again. But in this case, the government recently ordered nine palm oil companies to return thousands of acres to the farmers, and the attorney general's office is investigating the firms' operators on accusations of homicide, land theft and forced displacement. The government, however, is motivated as much by self-interest as altruism, say human rights groups, which also charge that state negligence coupled with aid for the palm oil companies helped facilitate the land seizures. President Álvaro Uribe's administration urgently wants a free-trade agreement with the United States, and Democrats on Capitol Hill have made clear that the pact is contingent on human rights advances in Colombia, particularly for blacks and other marginalized groups. ... The plight of Afro-Colombians has been of particular concern to the 42-member Congressional Black Caucus, several of whose members, including Payne, have met with Uribe to raise their concerns. Some have also traveled to Choco, under heavy military guard, visiting areas mired in poverty and violence. Few in this country have suffered as much as Afro-Colombians, who make up more than 20 percent of Colombia's 45 million people, the largest black community in Spanish-speaking America. Black Colombians, the descendants of African slaves, have endured mass killings, forced displacements and fighting on ancestral lands -- the hard reality of a simmering but brutal conflict involving deaths squads, Marxist rebels and drug traffickers. The Afro-Colombian population here in Choco, where the majority of people are black, suffers from an infant mortality rate twice the national average and a poverty rate topping 75 percent. [...]"


"Blood on Their Hands"
By Lindsay Murdoch
The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 2009
"A decade after a massacre intended to blunt East Timor's demands for independence, Lindsay Murdoch finds that the appetite for justice continues unabated. We confronted the mass murderer as his men hosed blood from his balcony; Leoneto Martins angrily denied the massacre in the East Timorese town where he was Indonesia's appointed mayor. Before suggesting it was unsafe for myself and three other journalists to remain in Liquica, a seaside town of 55,000 people 30 kilometres west of the capital Dili, Martins dismissed our questions by claiming clashes between rival groups had resulted in five deaths. We suspected he was lying. Shops and markets were closed and the usually busy streets were largely deserted, except for menacing groups of men wearing bandanas and ribbons in the red and white of Indonesia's flag. Wide-eyed terror in the faces of women searching for family members confirmed the presence of something terrible. But on that stifling April 6 early morning 10 years ago the extent and brutality of what the world would come to know as the Liquica Massacre -- the slaughter of between 30 and 100, probably 86, innocent East Timorese in the quaint Sao Joao de Brito church -- was not immediately evident. Liquica was the first of many attacks across East Timor that left about 1500 people dead and thousands more raped, maimed or wounded. While Catholics across Australia will be asked this weekend to observe a minute's silence, Eurico Guterres, an organiser of the Liquica massacre, will spend the anniversary campaigning in Indonesian West Timor for election to the national parliament. And former general Wiranto, the Indonesian in charge of the military-inspired reign of terror across East Timor that year, will be campaigning to become the nation's next president. In East Timor events have not so neatly moved on. 'When I speak with the victims, the one thing they ask me is "when will there be justice?",' says Christina Carrascalao, a local who has begun her own crusade to improve the lives of survivors, many of them poor and illiterate farmers. 'I tell them I can't answer that.' [...]"


"Former Torture Victim Urges EU to Withhold €122m Eritrean Aid"
By Luc Verling
The Irish Times, 3 April 2009
"A former Eritrean torture victim Helen Berhane last night added her voice to mounting international pressure on the EU to withhold a proposed €122 million development aid package to Eritrea, one of the world's 10 poorest countries. Providing a rare insider's account of conditions within Eritrea, where the government exercises total control of the media, Ms Berhane questioned the wisdom of the EU's diplomatic approach to Eritrea, granting aid with few or no conditions attached, and without accountability or monitoring structures in place. The Eritrean diaspora's newspapers, other governments and international non-government organisations are likewise expressing concern about the EU aid, and protesting at Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki’s behaviour towards both the international community and his own people. Last week Mr. Afwerki defied international opinion by welcoming the Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir to his Horn of Africa state, just three weeks after an international arrest warrant was issued on Mr. Al Bashir by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity. Mr Al Bashir's one-day visit to Eritrea came on the day that the EU's European Development Fund (EDF) committee were to discuss the Eritrean aid package. That discussion was postponed, the EDF said in a statement, for 'technical reasons.' Given Mr. Afwerki's defiance of the international community, Eritrea's poor human rights record, and the policy of self-sufficiency pursued by the Eritrean government -- which has seen a marked deterioration in living conditions in the country and resulted in thousands of Eritreans pouring across its borders in search of food and shelter -- the aid has come under wide criticism with claims that the aid is not getting to the people, and is sending the wrong signals to the Afwerki administration. Eritrea has been ranked by Reporters Without Borders, the international human rights media watchdog, as the worst nation in the world, ahead of North Korea, for press freedom. While stopping short of branding Eritrea a rogue nation, the US has shown signs of deep concern about the country’s role in proxy wars in neighbouring countries. The US ambassador to the UN just this week lodged a formal complaint protesting at the proposal to offer aid. [...]"


"It's Fear That Keeps Baghdad's Peace"
By Hamza Hendawi
Associated Press dispatch on Yahoo! News, 25 March 2009
"The streets are calmer now. The fighting between Shiites and Sunnis has largely ceased. But this is not a sign of normalcy in the Iraqi capital. It's fear that keeps the peace. Only an estimated 16 percent of the mainly Sunni families forced by Shiite militiamen and death squads to flee their homes have dared to return. It takes two sides to have a fight, and there's really only one side left in Baghdad after violence and fear turned parts of neighborhoods into ghost towns. Families that have gone back are sometimes met with spray-painted threats and other forms of intimidation. 'Back after a break, the Mahdi Army,' is a Shiite militia's slogan -- playing off the same words that Iraqi television uses as a lead-in to commercials. The findings -- based on statistics obtained by The Associated Press from U.S. and Iraqi officials as well as AP interviews in key Baghdad neighborhoods in recent weeks -- are acknowledged by U.S. military commanders on the ground. And they point to a troubling prospect. Baghdad has been much calmer since the massacres reached their peak in late 2006 and the first half of 2007. And a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday that attacks nationwide had fallen to their lowest level since the first months of the war. In the capital, however, the calm has been achieved in part because the city is now ethnically divided. Shiites predominate. Sunnis have largely fled. The situation is somewhat similar to Bosnia after the war of the 1990s -- years of calm but no lasting political reconciliation after its populations divided into different regions and governments. 'Baghdad has been turned from a mixed city, about half of its population Shiite and the other half Sunni in 2003, into a Shiite city where the Sunni population may be as little as 10 to 15 percent,' said Juan Cole, a prominent U.S. expert on Iraq. No accurate census has been taken since the bloodletting. But Cole's estimates, backed up by AP observations and U.S. statistics, hold troubling implications for the future should Sunnis come back in greater numbers. A Sunni government employee, Mohammed Abdul-Razzaq, fled his home in the Jihad neighborhood of west Baghdad for majority Sunni Amiriyah after Shiite militiamen threatened to kill him. Iraqi police last year forced out the squatters who had moved into his house, but he has no plans to return. 'Security is still fragile,' Abdul-Razzaq said. 'I was forced to flee once, and it can happen again. Next time they may kill me.' Most startlingly, the ethnic divides remain even though the Iraqi and U.S. militaries have driven Shiite militiamen and death squads off the streets. That suggests Sunnis still do not trust Iraq's government to protect them in the long run. Their mistrust could hold the seeds of future bouts of violence, especially as the U.S. military begins to draw down this year. [...]"


"South African to Head U.N. Rights Inquiry In Gaza"
Reuters dispatch in The New York Times, 3 April 2009
"South African judge Richard Goldstone will lead a United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza, the U.N. Human Rights Council said Friday. The four-member team, which also involves experts from Pakistan, Britain, and Ireland, hopes to start its fact-finding work in the region within weeks, according to a U.N. statement. Goldstone, a former war crimes prosecutor, said he would review conduct by both sides in Israel's 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. ... The team's mandate stems from a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council at a special session on January 12. The 47 member-state forum, dominated by Muslim countries and their allies, condemned Israel for 'grave violations' of human rights during its offensive and called for an international mission to probe wrongdoings. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and independent U.N. rights envoy Richard Falk have also called for an investigation into whether Israeli forces committed war crimes in the coastal strip where 1.5 million people live. Pillay, a former judge at the International Criminal Court, has raised specific concerns about the Israeli shelling of a home that killed 30 Palestinian civilians, and a lack of care for young, starving children whose mothers died in the attack. Falk, in a report to the Council last month, said launching attacks without the ability to distinguish between military targets and surrounding civilians 'would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law.' As Gaza's borders were sealed, civilians could not escape harm, which may constitute a crime against humanity, according to the American law professor. He suggested the U.N. Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal on the matter. Israel's military has been rocked by soldier accounts about the killing of civilians in Gaza, and allegations that deep contempt for Palestinians pervaded its ranks. Military investigators said Monday that Israeli soldiers were passing on unsubstantiated rumours when they said Israeli troops shot unarmed Palestinian women and children. [...]"

"U.N. Reports Say Israel Targeted Civilians in Gaza"
By Robert Evans
Reuters dispatch, 23 March 2009
"United Nations investigators said on Monday Israel violated a range of human rights during its invasion of Gaza, including targeting civilians and using a child as a human shield. The accusations came in reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council which also called for an urgent end to Israeli restrictions on humanitarian supplies to Gaza and a full international investigation into the conflict. 'Civilian targets, particularly homes and their occupants, appear to have taken the brunt of the attacks, but schools and medical facilities have also been hit,' said one report by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. The Sri Lankan human rights lawyer visited the region in early February. She cited a long series of incidents to back her charges. In one, she said, Israeli soldiers shot a father after ordering him out of his house and then opened fire into the room where the rest of the family was sheltering, wounding the mother and three brothers and killing a fourth. In another, on January 15, at Tal al Hawa south-west of Gaza City, Israeli soldiers forced an 11-year-old boy to walk in front of them for several hours as they moved through the town, even after they had been shot at. An Israeli commander in the 22-day Gaza invasion said on Monday Israel's efforts to protect troops from Palestinian fire may have contributed to unwarranted killing of civilians. 'If you want to know whether I think that in doing so we killed innocents, the answer is, unequivocally, yes,' Tzvika Fogel, a reserve brigadier-general, told Reuters. Fogel added that such incidents were exceptional. Coomaraswamy's comments formed part of a much longer report from nine U.N. investigators including specialists on the right to health, to food, to adequate housing and education and on summary executions and violence against women. All cited violations by Israel -- and in some cases by the Hamas Islamic movement that controls Gaza -- during the invasion from December 27 until January 17 which Israeli leaders say was launched to stop rocket attacks by Hamas from the territory. Palestinian officials say 1,434 people in Gaza -- 960 of them civilians -- were killed in the fighting, a figure Israel contests. The report from the nine gave the total as 1,440, saying of these 431 were children and 114 women. The overall report was criticized in the 47-nation Council by Israel's ambassador Aharon Leshno Yar, who said it 'wilfully ignores and downplays the terrorist and other threats we face,' and the use by Hamas of human shields. [...]"

"A Religious War in Israel's Army"
By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times, 21 March 2009
"The publication late last week of eyewitness accounts by Israeli soldiers alleging acute mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the recent Gaza fighting highlights a debate here about the rules of war. But it also exposes something else: the clash between secular liberals and religious nationalists for control over the army and society. A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, 'the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.' Dany Zamir, the director of the one-year premilitary course who solicited the testimonies and then leaked them, leading to a promise by the military to investigate, is quoted in the transcripts as expressing anguish over the growing religious nationalist elements of the military. 'If clerics are anointing us with oil and sticking holy books in our hands, and if the soldiers in these units aren't representative of the whole spectrum of the Jewish people, but rather of certain segments of the population, what can we expect?' he said. 'To whom do we complain?' ... In many cases, the religious nationalists have ascended to command positions from precisely the kind of premilitary college course that Mr. Zamir runs -- but theirs are run by the religious movements rather than his secular one, meaning that the competition between him and them is both ideological and careerist. 'The officer corps of the elite Golani Brigade is now heavily populated by religious right-wing graduates of the preparatory academies,' noted Moshe Halbertal, a Jewish philosophy professor who co-wrote the military code of ethics and who is himself religiously observant but politically liberal. 'The religious right is trying to have an impact on Israeli society through the army.' For Mr. Halbertal, like for the vast majority of Israelis, the army is an especially sensitive institution because it has always functioned as a social cauldron, throwing together people from all walks of life and scores of ethnic and national backgrounds, and helping form them into a cohesive society with social networks that carry on throughout their lives. Those who oppose the religious right have been especially concerned about the influence of the military's chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field. He took a quotation from a classical Hebrew text and turned it into a slogan during the war: 'He who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.' A controversy then arose when a booklet handed out to soldiers was found to contain a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy. The Defense Ministry reprimanded the rabbi. [...]"

"Israel's Dirty Secrets in Gaza"
By Donald Macintyre
The Independent, 20 March 2009
"Israel was last night confronting a major challenge over the conduct of its 22-day military offensive in Gaza after testimonies by its own soldiers revealed that troops were allowed and, in some cases, even ordered to shoot unarmed Palestinian civilians. The testimonies -- the first of their kind to emerge from inside the military -- are at marked variance with official claims that the military made strenuous efforts to avoid civilian casualties and tend to corroborate Palestinian accusations that troops used indiscriminate and disproportionate firepower in civilian areas during the operation. In one of the testimonies shedding harsh new light on what the soldiers say were the permissive rules of engagement for Operation Cast Lead, one soldier describes how an officer ordered the shooting of an elderly woman 100 metres from a house commandeered by troops. ... A squad leader said: 'At the beginning the directive was to enter a house with an armoured vehicle, to break the door down, to start shooting inside and -- I call it murder -- to shoot at everyone we identify. In the beginning I asked myself how could this make sense? Higher-ups said it is permissible because everyone left in the city [Gaza City] is culpable because they didn't run away.' The accounts, which also describe apparently indiscriminate destruction of property, were given at a post-operation discussion by graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military course at the Oranim Academic College in northern Israel. The transcript of the session in front of the head of the course -- details from which were published by the newspaper Haaretz -- prompted the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) military advocate general Avichai Mendelblit yesterday to announce a military police investigation into the claims. Haaretz said the airing of the 'dirty secrets' would make it more difficult for Israelis to dismiss the claims as Palestinian propaganda. The course principal, Danny Zamir, told the newspaper that after being 'shocked' by the testimonies on 13 February he told the IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi he 'feared a serious moral failure' in the IDF. [...]"

"Dupes? No, We Were Telling the Truth"
By Johann Hari
The Independent, 20 March 2009
"For months, the opponents of Operation Cast Lead -- the assault on Gaza that killed 1,434 Palestinians -- have been told we are 'dupes for Islamic fundamentalists,' or even anti-Semitic. The defenders of Israel's war claimed you could only believe the reports that Israeli troops were deliberately firing on civilians, scrawling 'death to Arabs' on the walls, and trashing olive groves, or using the chemical weapon white phosphorus that burns to the bone, if you were infected with the old European virus of Jew-hatred. Now the very people who fought that war have confirmed we were simply describing reality. One Israeli Defence Force squad leader says of the orders he was given to target civilians: 'I call it murder.' As he put it: 'In the end the directive was to go into a house, switch on loudspeakers and tell them "you have five minutes to run away and whoever doesn't will be killed".' In a crowded civilian city, there are all sorts of people who cannot run away: the elderly, the disabled, the pregnant, the terrified. This soldier was told to kill them. He is not alone. Anybody who has reported from the Occupied Territories has witnessed a culture of racist contempt for ordinary Palestinian civilians. They are treated as suspects simply for walking around their own home towns, or trying to sell their own produce. This is not a few bad apples: it is endemic to the nature of occupation, blockade and repeated assault. Yet there is a swelling movement of young Israelis who are speaking out -- and refusing to kill on occupied land. It's a strikingly brave move in a country that is drifting to the right. Ehud Olmert, Israel's out-going Prime Minister, has publicly bragged that Israel's response to attack 'will naturally be disproportionate,' just as he boasted about the 2007 war in Lebanon: 'Half of Lebanon was destroyed -- is that a loss?' None of this had to happen. On the eve of the attack, Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, said that the way to stop rocket attacks on Israel was to draw Hamas, the elected Palestinian government, into negotiation and compromise -- but 'Israel, for reasons of its own, did not want to turn the ceasefire into the start of a diplomatic process with Hamas.' Instead, Israel launched an attack on civilians of which her own soldiers are ashamed. It can only increase hatred -- and make the fair division of the land between Palestinians and Israelis recede even further on to the horizon."
[n.b. This is the complete text of the dispatch.]

"After Gaza, Israel Grapples With Crisis of Isolation"
By Ethan Bronner
The New York Times, 18 March 2009
"Israel, whose founding idea was branded as racism by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and which faced an Arab boycott for decades, is no stranger to isolation. But in the weeks since its Gaza war, and as it prepares to inaugurate a hawkish right-wing government, it is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades. Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel's embassy. Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel's actions in Gaza. 'Israel Apartheid Week' drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill. The issue has not gone unnoticed here, but it has generated two distinct and somewhat contradictory reactions. On one hand, there is real concern. Global opinion surveys are being closely examined and the Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel's image through cultural and information diplomacy. 'We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,' said Arye Mekel, the ministry's deputy director general for cultural affairs. 'This way you show Israel's prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.' But there is also a growing sense that outsiders do not understand Israel's predicament, so criticism is dismissed. ... Moreover, Mr. Netanyahu is expected to appoint Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, as his foreign minister. This alone has Israelis and their allies in Europe and the United States worried because of Mr. Lieberman's views of Israeli Arabs that some have called racist. Mr. Lieberman had campaigned on the need for a loyalty oath in Israel so that those who did not support a Jewish democratic state would lose their citizenship. One-fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, and many do not support defining the state as Jewish. ... The gap between Israelis and many liberal American Jews could be seen Tuesday in a blog by Bradley Burston, who writes on the Web site of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz. He said that while visiting Los Angeles he faced many questions that amounted to 'What is wrong with these people, your friends, the Israelis?' He quoted an article by Anne Roiphe, an American Jewish liberal, which said that witnessing the popularity of Mr. Lieberman in Israel made her feel 'as if my spouse had cheated on me with Mussolini.' [...]"


"Kosovo War Massacre: Sole Survivor Found by Telegraph Ten Years On"
By Neil Tweedie
The Telegraph, 2 April 2009
"Vancouver is almost 6,000 miles from Kosovo but Dren Caka visits his homeland most nights. He goes back in his dreams, to his home in Milosa Gilica Street in the town of Gjakova where he lived with his extended family, and to the neighbouring pool hall owned by Luli Vejsa, a family friend. Finally, in his darkest moments, he makes the journey to Luli’s house, back to the night of April 1 1999, when the Serbs came. A decade on from the Kosovo War, that last great exercise in 20th-century European blood-letting, Dren Caka, 20, is a casualty still. 'I have nightmares a lot,' he says, looking out over Vancouver's glistening waterfront. 'I can't sleep at night and feel constantly tired; I usually have bags under my eyes.' He speaks with a Canadian accent now, and looks and behaves like a typical young Canadian, but his history separates him from friends who have known nothing but peace and affluence by the Pacific Ocean. 'If you were to look at me walking along you would think "he's just a normal a [sic] kid,' but I'm not just a normal kid. When I tell them, when I tell my friends, they are speechless.' Dren Caka is the sole survivor -- the miraculous survivor -- of one of the most notorious episodes of the war: the massacre of 19 women and children, including his mother and three sisters, by Serb police. Kosovo has already faded from the popular memory, overtaken by the seismic events of September 11 2001 and their aftermath. Slobodan Milosevic is dead and many of the henchmen responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the former Serbian province have stood trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, but the war continues to cast a shadow over people like Dren. He was 10 years old in March 1999 when the Serbs began their campaign of deportation and murder against the predominantly ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo. On the night of April 1, a week after Nato began bombing Serb forces, the paramilitary police arrived in Milosa Galica Street. Gjakova -- Djakovica to the Serbs -- was a particular target, standing as it does in the shadow of the Accursed Mountains, which separate Kosovo from Albania. Members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), fighting for independence from Serbia, were using mountain tracks to import weapons from Albania and the Serbs wanted to choke off the insurgents' supply routes. That meant clearing Gjakova of its majority Albanian population and fortifying the area. To escape Nato bombs and Serb reprisals, women and children living in Milosa Galica Street slept in the basement of Luli Vejsa's pool hall. The men, including Dren's father, Ali, hid elsewhere -- it was thought only males of military age were at risk. [...]"


"Palestinian Discord over Holocaust Concert"
By Martin Fletcher, 30 March 2009
"Wafaa Younis is a woman whose heart is in the right place; she is an Israeli Arab who has made a real effort to help Palestinian children in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. She started with the boys; she wanted them to put down their stones and learn the violin, in the hope that they would not grow up and pick up a gun. I first met her three years ago when she finally persuaded the Israelis to allow the Palestinian children to leave the West Bank and go to her home in the Israeli town of Ara for violin lessons. She even took them on trips to the coast; even though they grew up 30 miles from the Mediterranean, they had never seen the sea. Her first attempts to teach a few boys the violin grew into a small orchestra of boys and girls. She even rented an apartment in Jenin so that she could teach them there, because it was easier for her to cross into the West Bank than it was for them to leave. Then Younis had an idea; as part of Israel's annual Good Deeds Week, she would arrange a little concert in Holon, near Tel Aviv. Her young musicians from the 'Strings of Freedom' orchestra would entertain Holocaust survivors. They would play their favorite classics, and also some songs of peace; a way to bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis. At the concert last Wednesday, the group of 13 young musicians from Jenin played for about 30 Holocaust survivors and they even dedicated one song to Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who has been held prisoner by Hamas in Gaza for three years. Younis is not the first person to make such an effort – there are literally hundreds of peace groups that have the same aim -- bringing together Arabs and Jews with similar interests and hopes. But playing for the Holocaust survivors turned out to be bridge too far. Adnan Hindi, a Palestinian political leader in Jenin, was outraged by the concert. He called the Holocaust a political issue and said that the Palestinian children had been tricked. He complained that Younis had not told the children they would be playing before such a politically sensitive audience. She answered that she tried to explain to them, but that they made too much noise on the bus and didn't hear her. Other Palestinians said that was a bit late to tell them. Younis said she didn't realize anybody could possibly object to playing a concert for those 'poor old people' -- and anyway, most of the Palestinian children had never heard of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is a particularly sensitive subject for Palestinians. There is widespread ignorance of the details of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews during World War II and there is a sense among many Palestinians that why should they care about Jewish suffering more than 60 years ago when Israelis don’t seem to care about the suffering they are causing Palestinians today. [...]"


"In Peru, Former Leader's Lengthy Human Rights Trial Nears End"
By Joshua Partlow
The Washington Post, 24 March 2009
"It started with a former president red-faced and bellowing his innocence, and it is ending amid worry over whether his health may be enough to derail the whole show. After more than 15 months and more than 70 witnesses, the often tedious, sometimes riveting and always live-televised judicial proceeding that is known here as the 'mega-trial' has entered its final stages. Attorneys for former president Alberto Fujimori, accused of human rights violations involving state-sponsored killings and kidnappings, plan to present concluding arguments this week. Then comes Fujimori's closing statement. If Fujimori is convicted, his sentencing -- he could face up to 30 years in prison -- is expected by mid-April. The trial, taking place in a special forces police base on the outskirts of this seaside capital, has been delayed in recent days because of concerns over Fujimori's health. His attorney said he suffers from hypertension while others describe it variously as a throat infection, diarrhea or simply a stalling tactic. If the proceedings are delayed for more than 12 days, a mistrial can result, prosecutor José Antonio Peláez said, and the proceedings could start over again. But for the most part, lawyers involved in the case and observers say the process is notable for its fairness, thoroughness and transparency, especially for such a politically volatile case. 'This is a major step forward,' said Jo-Marie Burt, a Latin American studies professor at George Mason University who has been an observer of Fujimori's trial. 'Peru is a country in which impunity has been the norm. Powerful people have routinely gotten away with all sorts of things, ranging from massive corruption to grave violations of human rights.' Across Latin America, the political abuses of earlier generations -- the Argentine military's 'dirty war' against its people or Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's state-sponsored killings -- still regularly reverberate in trials, public debates about memorials, books and documentaries. The prosecution describes this case as the first time that a former head of state has been extradited back to his own country for trial on charges of human rights violations. For Peru, the case not only represents a rare high-level reckoning with the past, but also is wrapped up in current politics. [...]"


"In Darfur, Fault Lines Intersect and Inflame"
By Edmund Sanders
The Los Angeles Times, 21 March 2009
"One side of Muhajeria is a ghost town. The only sign of life is the occasional animal left behind when thousands of people fled last month. Most huts have been plundered; hundreds have been reduced to ashes. Straw fences lie tumbled in ruins as wind blows through emptied streets. Not far away are the 'winners' in the recent fighting here. At first glance, their side of town seems equally dismal. Families live under scraps of plastic sheeting with limited food and water. All around are half-destroyed homes. Yet they consider themselves the happiest people in Darfur. They were chased away three years ago and now are back. 'I may have nothing, but it still feels great,' beamed Adam Mousa, 40, a father of seven who arrived two days earlier. The 20-day battle for Muhajeria, one of the biggest clashes in Darfur in recent years, is a window into the complexities of the Darfur conflict and the difficulty of resolving it. Its facets include rebel factionalism, government manipulation, tribal tensions, an environment of impunity -- and at times, disregard for the suffering of thousands of people. At a U.N. peacekeeping base less than a mile from where homes were being systematically burned, commanders said they knew nothing about it -- though everyone in Muhajeria had seen the plumes of smoke. 'It's a very complicated, multilayered story,' said Toby Lanzer, the U.N. humanitarian chief for Darfur, of Muhajeria's recent turmoil. The Darfur conflict started in 2003 with a rebellion against Sudan's Arab-led government in Khartoum. President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of unleashing a brutal campaign against the rebels that killed 35,000 people and led to the deaths of another 100,000 through disease and starvation. When Muhajeria erupted in January, news reports focused mostly on government airstrikes and attacks by pro-government militias known as janjaweed that have been responsible for much of the violence in Darfur, a western region of Sudan. But according to witnesses and victims, janjaweed played a relatively minor role here. Instead, the battle started as a struggle between two Darfur rebel groups. The government escalated the violence with a weeklong bombing campaign that caused more terror than damage. And finally, the most destructive phase appears rooted in long-standing tensions between two Darfur tribes vying for land and resources. Both tribes, the Zagawa and Birgit, had been victims of the janjaweed. Now they're employing the same scorched-earth tactics against each other. By the time the violence ended last month, about 30 civilians and dozens of combatants had been killed, and an additional 30,000 people were left homeless. 'That's the way it goes here,' said Neimat Shafi, 40, a Muhajeria resident from neither tribe, as she rode a donkey through an abandoned neighborhood in search of straw and sticks. 'One side burns down the homes of the other, so the other does the same thing in revenge. And it goes on and on.' [...]"


"Fake Faith and Epic Crimes"
By John Pilger
New Statesman, 2 April 2009
"These are extraordinary times. With the United States and Britain on the verge of bankruptcy and committing to an endless colonial war, pressure is building for their crimes to be prosecuted at a tribunal similar to that which tried the Nazis at Nuremberg. This defined rapacious invasion as 'the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes [sic] in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.' International law would be mere farce, said the chief US chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, the Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson, 'if, in future, we do not apply its principles to ourselves.' That is now happening. Spain, Germany, Belgium, France and Britain have long had 'universal jurisdiction' statutes, which allow their national courts to pursue and prosecute prima facie war criminals. What has changed is an unspoken rule never to use international law against 'ourselves,' or 'our' allies or clients. In 1998, Spain, supported by France, Switzerland and Belgium, indicted the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, client and executioner of the west, and sought his extradition from Britain, where he happened to be at the time. Had he been sent for trial, he almost certainly would have implicated at least one British prime minister and two US presidents in crimes against humanity. The then home secretary, Jack Straw, let him escape back to Chile. The Pinochet case was the ignition. On 19 January, the George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley compared the status of George W. Bush with that of Pinochet. 'Outside [the United States] there is no longer the ambiguity about what to do about a war crime,' he said. 'So if you try to travel, most people abroad are going to view you not as "former president George Bush" [but] as a current war criminal.' For this reason, Bush’s first defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who demanded an invasion of Iraq in 2001 and personally approved torture techniques for use in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, no longer travels. Rumsfeld has twice been indicted for war crimes in Germany. On 26 January, the UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, said: 'We have clear evidence that Mr. Rumsfeld knew what he was doing but nevertheless he ordered torture.' ... The International Criminal Court, to which Britain is a signatory, has received a record number of petitions relating to Blair's wars. Spain's celebrated judge Baltasar Garzón, who indicted Pinochet and the leaders of the Argentinian military junta, has called for George W. Bush, Blair and the former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar to be prosecuted for the invasion of Iraq -- 'one of the most sordid and unjustifiable episodes in recent human history -- a devastating attack on the rule of law' that had left the UN 'in tatters.' He said: 'There is enough of an argument in 650,000 deaths for this investigation to start without delay.' [...]"


"Obama Encouraged to Lobby against Genocide Bill"
By Bridget Johnson
The Hill, 1 April 2009
"A new report warns President Obama that recognizing the World War I-era killings of Armenians as genocide -- or not lobbying Congress to ditch a bill recognizing as much -- would be a bad foreign-policy move. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report released this week studies the future of U.S. relations with Turkey, in advance of Obama's visit to the predominantly Muslim nation next Monday and Tuesday. 'A near-term uncertainty in the [American-Turkish] relationship is the "Armenian genocide resolution,"' the report states. 'If President Obama takes no action to prevent congressional enactment of the resolution ... endorses the measure, or uses the word genocide himself, the Turkish response will be harsh and trigger a bitter breach in relations.' The resolution, introduced March 17 by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) with 77 co-sponsors, now has 88 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Rep. Gresham Barrett (R-S.C.), a co-sponsor on the day of the bill's introduction, withdrew his sponsorship on March 23. The contentious resolution calls the deaths of as many as 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire starting in 1915 'genocide.' Turkey blames the deaths on civil upheaval toward the end of and directly after World War I, saying that 300,000 Armenians were killed, and at least as many Turks. In a January 2008 campaign statement, Obama vowed to back such a resolution if elected. 'The facts are undeniable,' Obama said. 'An official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy. As a senator, I strongly support passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution ... and as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.' The CSIS report, introduced Monday by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, says, 'Rather than seek to legislate history, the United States and the international community should provide maximum encouragement and support to the diplomatic rapprochement being pursued by the governments of Turkey and Armenia, as well as to emerging regional cooperation.' [...]"


"US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites"
By Mark Danner
New York Review of Books, 9 April 2009
"[...] In the wake of the ICRC report one can make several definitive statements: 1. Beginning in the spring of 2002 the United States government began to torture prisoners. This torture, approved by the President of the United States and monitored in its daily unfolding by senior officials, including the nation's highest law enforcement officer, clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law. 2. The most senior officers of the US government, President George W. Bush first among them, repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The President lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration's policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him. 3. The US Congress, already in possession of a great deal of information about the torture conducted by the administration—which had been covered widely in the press, and had been briefed, at least in part, from the outset to a select few of its members -- passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and in so doing attempted to protect those responsible from criminal penalty under the War Crimes Act. 4. Democrats, who could have filibustered the bill, declined to do so -- a decision that had much to do with the proximity of the midterm elections, in the run-up to which, they feared, the President and his Republican allies might gain advantage by accusing them of 'coddling terrorists.' ... 5. The political damage to the United States' reputation, and to the 'soft power' of its constitutional and democratic ideals, has been, though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring. In a war that is essentially an insurgency fought on a worldwide scale -- which is to say, a political war, in which the attitudes and allegiances of young Muslims are the critical target of opportunity -- the United States' decision to use torture has resulted in an enormous self-administered defeat, undermining liberal sympathizers of the United States and convincing others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us. [...]"
[n.b. Danner's article and the revelations of the Red Cross findings (see also the Washington Post story below) are a major moment in the unveiling of the US torture state.]

"Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials"
By Marlise Simons
The New York Times, 28 March 2009
"A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said. The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor's office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was 'highly probable' that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants. The move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But some American experts said that even if warrants were issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was a near certainty that the warrants would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States. The complaint under review also names John C. Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who wrote secret legal opinions saying the president had the authority to circumvent the Geneva Conventions, and Douglas J. Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy. Most of the officials cited in the complaint declined to comment on the allegations or could not be reached on Saturday. However their defenders have said their legal analyses and policy work on interrogation practices, conducted under great pressure after the 2001 terrorist attacks, are now being unfairly second-guessed after many years without a terrorist attack on the United States. The court case was not entirely unexpected, as several human rights groups have been asking judges in different countries to indict Bush administration officials. One group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, had asked a German prosecutor for such an indictment, but the prosecutor declined. Judge Garzón, however, has built an international reputation by bringing high-profile cases against human rights violators as well as international terrorist networks like Al Qaeda. The arrest warrant for General Pinochet led to his detention in Britain, although he never faced a trial. The judge has also been outspoken about the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Spain can claim jurisdiction in the case because five citizens or residents of Spain who were prisoners at Guantánamo Bay have said they were tortured there. The five had been indicted in Spain, but their cases were dismissed after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained under torture was not admissible. [...]"
[n.b. This is big. Baltasar Garzón is my hero. Are Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush next?]

"The Red Cross on Torture"
By Emily Bazelon, 16 March 2009
"We knew, thanks Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side, that the International Committee of the Red Cross called the Bush administration's treatment of certain detainees in CIA custody torture. Now we know, from the text of the ICRC's report leaked to writer Mark Danner, about the mountain of specifics behind that label. See here for Danner's shorter New York Times op-ed and here for his longer piece in the New York Review of Books. The ICRC interviewed 14 high-value detainees in late 2006 at Guantanamo. The Red Cross points out that the 'consistency' of their accounts 'adds particular weight' to their credibility. Some details also match the stories of former British detainees who described what happened to them after release. What repeats: a month of standing, arms over the head and shackled, in a frigid room with incessant noise. Little sleep. Face-slapping and head-smashing against walls. Doctors checking for vital signs during water-boarding. The ICRC also picks up on refinements. A towel around the neck of one detainee (Abu Zabaydah) during head-smashing turns into a plastic collar for detainees interrogated later. When Walid ben Attash is forced to stand shackled, the stump of his amputated leg hurts, and he kicks away his prosthesis. Then the pressure on his good leg increases, and he calls his captors to give him back his artificial limb. Afterward, they sometimes take away the prosthesis and then measure the swelling in the leg he has left to stand on. ... Here and now, the Obama administration has forsworn water-boarding and is currently holding the CIA to the standards for interrogation of the U.S. military, which preclude the techniques in the ICRC report. But the government has left open what it will let the CIA do in the future, and at his confirmation hearing, CIA head Leon Panetta signaled that he is open to some harsher techniques, case by case. Is it better for the executive branch to answer these questions itself, or for a court to step in, as Israel's did? Does the leak of the ICRC report further the goal of truth-telling for the sake of telling, as Sen. Leahy has been arguing in favor of the truth commission he has proposed for the Senate judiciary committee? Or does knowing what happened mean wanting to know who exactly authorized it, at the highest levels? And then once we know that, how do we thread the president's needle of 'looking forward, not backward' and prosecuting the crimes we have evidence of? The questions are sharpening, not going away. [...]"

"Red Cross Described 'Torture' at CIA Jails"
By Joby Warrick, Peter Finn and Julie Tate
The Washington Post, 16 March 2009
"The International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a secret report that the Bush administration's treatment of al-Qaeda captives 'constituted torture,' a finding that strongly implied that CIA interrogation methods violated international law, according to newly published excerpts from the long-concealed 2007 document. The report, an account alleging physical and psychological brutality inside CIA 'black site' prisons, also states that some U.S. practices amounted to 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.' Such maltreatment of detainees is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. The findings were based on an investigation by ICRC officials, who were granted exclusive access to the CIA's 'high-value' detainees after they were transferred in 2006 to the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The 14 detainees, who had been kept in isolation in CIA prisons overseas, gave remarkably uniform accounts of abuse that included beatings, sleep deprivation, extreme temperatures and, in some cases, waterboarding, or simulating drowning. At least five copies of the report were shared with the CIA and top White House officials in 2007 but barred from public release by ICRC guidelines intended to preserve the humanitarian group's strict policy of neutrality in conflicts. A copy of the report was obtained by Mark Danner, a journalism professor and author who published extensive excerpts in the April 9 edition of the New York Review of Books, released yesterday. He did not say how he obtained the report. 'The ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture,' Danner quoted the report as saying. Many of the details of alleged mistreatment at CIA prisons had been reported previously, but the ICRC report is the most authoritative account and the first to use the word 'torture' in a legal context. The CIA declined to comment. A U.S. official familiar with the report said, 'It is important to bear in mind that the report lays out claims made by the terrorists themselves.' [...]"


"Zimbabwe Prisoners in 'Hell on Earth' Die from Disease and Hunger"
By Jonathan Clayton
The Times, 1 April 2009
"A horrifying investigative film, shot undercover in Zimbabwe, has exposed how prisons under President Mugabe have become death camps for thousands of inmates who are deprived of food and medical care. The documentary, shown last night on South Africa's state broadcaster SABC, documented the 'living hell' for prisoners across 55 state institutions. The result, Hell Hole, was a grim account of a crisis in which dozens of inmates die each day. Describing the conditions in two of the main prisons in the capital, Harare, in late 2008, a prison officer said: 'We have gone the whole year in which -- for prisoners and prison officers -- the food is hand-to-mouth. They'll be lucky to get one meal. Sometimes they will sleep without. We have moving skeletons, moving graves. They're dying.' The film was made by SABC's Special Assignment programme and shot over three months with cameras smuggled into the prisons. Reaction in South Africa, where the authorities try to deny the extent of the crisis in its neighbour, is certain to be fierce. The film showed how prison staff have converted cells and storage rooms to 'hospital wards' for the dying and makeshift mortuaries, where bodies 'rotted on the floor with maggots moving all around.' They have had to create mass graves within prison grounds to accommodate the dead. In many prisons the dead took over whole cells and competed for space with the living. Prisoners described how the sick and the healthy slept side by side, packed together like sardines, along with those who died in the night. Prisoners in the film are suffering from slow starvation, nutrition-related illnesses and an array of other diseases to which they are exposed as a result of living in unhygienic conditions. ... From 1998 to 2000 the Zimbabwe Prison Service estimated that there were some 300 deaths each year because of disease, with tuberculosis the biggest killer. In May 2004 a senior prison officer reported 15 deaths a week, and a peak of 130 deaths in March of that year, in just one of the prisons in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo. Since then the crisis has deteriorated greatly as all the country's services have entered meltdown after Mr. Mugabe's refusal to leave office in the wake of rigged polls. The Times spent ten days in one of the 'better' prisons in Bulawayo last year, surrounded by young skeletal men who fought over small plates of sadza (local maize), and noted severe overcrowding, overflowing toilets, water and electricity cuts, and a lack of blankets and basic commodities such as soap. Those without people on the outside to bring them food face almost certain starvation unless they find another solution, such as resorting to prostitution. Prison populations also have high rates of HIV/Aids infection, with some reports estimating that more than half of prisoners are HIV-positive. Antiretrovirals are unavailable and the dietary requirements of treatment cannot be met in any case. [...]"