The extraordinary story of how President Bush wanted to shaft Al Jazeera, the privately owned TV station based in the Gulf statelet of Qatar, by dropping a cruise missile into their letterbox will run and run, well into this century. It is a supreme example of high- tech hubris. It would have been the perfect fly-on-the-wall experience to have been in the vice-presidents office, where presumably this idea first saw the light of day. "They hate us because we are free! We have the ordnance let's do it. Hey, this could be a re-run of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Sorreee, our maps are out of date - we thought it was Sadrcity". Whatever, it takes one's mind back to early in the occupation, when the al- Jazeera TV office and the Arab media centre was destroyed and journalists killed in an airstrike by not one, but two guided missiles. Again 'unfriendly' fire killed an al-Jazeera journo in Kabul. Many suspected that this was all about free speech for us - but not for them. Al Jazeera at its launch was described as the CNN of the Arabic world. It has an immense market in the Arabic speaking world as it describes events from an Arabic perspective. Freedom House, the eminently respectable oldest American NGO, founded in the 1940's by Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Wilkie, say this of al Jazeera in their annual "Freedom of the Press Report of 2005" : "… the most popular satellite television channel in the region …has gained international recognition as a daring and controversial source of news from the middle east and central Asia….both the station and the government (Qatar) attest to its editorial independence." That falls well short of 'evil' even by the standards of the current White House. Their sin of course was to take the idea of independent journalism literally and show pix hateful to westerners and to give reports way off-message with that version of events spun out by the White House propaganda machine.
THE (SELF) -DECONSTRUCTION OF DICK CHENEY
In an Orwellian frenzy of double-speak the Vice-President has been attacking those who have attacked him, over the lies and deceptions of the 2002 rush to war in
IRAQ, accusing THEM of lies and deception. He seeks to defend the president from the calumny of deliberately deceiving the nation, and indeed the world: "any suggestion that pre-war information was distorted, hyped or fabricated, by the leader of the nation is utterly false." But as Senator Kennedy pointedly remarked: " The vice-president doesn't say whether he or someone else distorted, hyped or fabricated that information and fed it to the president". Given the extraordinary situation where Cheney's right hand man, Lewis Libby is indicted on a series of charges involving misinformation to a grand jury, about the events surrounding a campaign to 'get' Ambassador Wilson, this is all of a piece with Senator Kennedy's obvious suspicions probably being correct.
Wilson had pointed out publicly that having been sent to Africa to establish the truth in the assertion that Niger had been asked to supply the 'yellow cake' uranium material to
IRAQ and that he had reported it to be untrue, only to hear the president repeat the assertion in his address to the nation as one cause of his decision to go to war. Is it credible that the top functionary in Cheney's office was seeing numerous journalists and spending so much time on the events surrounding Wilson's wife, a secret (until then ) CIA agent, without the knowledge of his boss? Not a lot of people think this.
It was indeed Dick Cheney that pursued from 2002 even through the 2004 elections, the false intelligence of an illusory pre-9/11 meeting in Prague between one of the suicide bombers and a senior intelligence agent of Saddam's Iraq. It was clearly a put-up job (commissioned by who - let's guess)? The then Czech president, Vaclav Havel having interrogated his own intelligence service, purportedly the source of the story, phoned George W Bush within a day or so of the story hitting the media, to warn him to have nothing to do with it - that it was just plain untrue. But the V-P nevertheless continued for years to retail the story as though it was fact - probably still does.
The proposition that Saddam and his Taqriti clan (already condemned by them as apostates), had a common purpose with the religious freaks of al Qaedar, and to repeat that over and again to audiences usually in the boonies as Cheney did, has resulted in many Americans believing to this day that it was Iraqis and not Saudis who made up the killing parties of 9/11.
It can be argued that the Bushies did not know whether the Iraqis did have WMD; true it was the Swedish-led UN inspectorate whom they despised and who were doing a fine job as it turned out that was reporting that no evidence existed at that point of their investigations. Based on this information, wiser, or just less belligerent counsel, (like that of the French president, the German Chancellor, the Russian president), wanted to let the UN go on to the limits of what the inspections could uncover. The decision of the US was otherwise - they had decided on war. But they did know, whatever the state of the CIA's other Iraqi intelligence, that they really had not made the connection between Saddam's secular Baathist
IRAQ and the Islamicists, which untruth was however in the mouth of the administration exploiting the 9/11 populist reaction against the chosen enemy.
THE JUST WAR
Meanwhile, what of the just war against the forces of Osama bin Laden? The president of Pakistan says that he is not on Pakistani territory. President Karzai of
AFGHANISTAN says he is not in his country either and has now requested the US to give up the hunt in his country. What can this mean? Yes, the tribal lands in the mountains separating the two countries are vast and untamed, but nevertheless information there travels fast both ways. Since both presidents are marked-men to al Qaeda, they would hardly encourage the US to go elsewhere were they not rather sure of this central fact. So if he is no longer there, where else could he and his top people be? Dead, of course would be one explanation, but that would be too convenient to be likely. Chaotic Somalia is sufficiently lawless, but for that reason with the price on his head that he has, O-b-L would be at grave risk. Sudan, Yemen, possibly, if the insertion was secretive enough; tribal Oman another possibility, but presumably the world's intelligence agencies will have their paid ears straining and antennae bristling, all over any likely spot. It is now rare however that his whereabouts is even discussed. Enough for our commentary that the war on terror, as led by the pursuit of al Qaeda and the Taleban high commands, has been quite eclipsed by the unnecessary war on
IRAQ. By an application of the political band-aid that has been imposed there, a secular dictatorship has changed into the religio-politics of the clan and the tribe. This in turn is superimposed on a nation, historically so abused by central government that it appears doomed to become a collection of city-states in thrall to religious leaders or tribal aristocracy. But the White House will of course describe that as democracy.
WHAT IS ALL THIS ABOUT TORTURE?
Is anyone out there NOT confused about this ugly topic? Director Goss of the CIA says that the CIA's methods are "unique," but that they don't do torture. Alright, but what then does it mean in the Jose Padilla case, now arraigned on a federal charge, that two very senior al Qaeda witnesses cannot be produced in court to be cross-examined because they had been interrogated and induced to give up vital information "in a variety of unique and innovative ways," But 'unique' has a more precise meaning than the rest of the weasel words and how can 'water-boarding,' (where the pinioned captive is held under water, for longer and longer periods), used in WWII extensively by the Gestapo to break French Resistance and other captives, be described as anything but torture? Curiously, a throw back to more democratic times perhaps, the CIA remarkably has an Inspectorate, which in Spring 2004 publicly criticised the excessive use of a 'near drowning' technique in relation to one of these two, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
If Director Goss is not misinformed and is telling the truth, and since he says CIA "interrogations are legal and none of them are torture," why then are they afraid to produce the al Qaeda witnesses in an open court? How do we know if they are still even alive? Both of them are said to be in CIA secret prisons in Europe (Poland seems to be the favourite), and are not going to see the inside of a US courtroom any time soon. Goss also says that torture doesn't work, but where has he been - of course it does. He perhaps makes a distinction between say, 'putting feet to the fire' as when the Knights Templars in Paris were the victims, being tortured by the Dominicans to confess to heresy; as separate to his people holding their prisoners under water until they talk - or drown. Obviously the body remains unscarred, the feet unroasted with his drowning technique - much better if you have eventually to take the victim into a courtroom. Whichever, it depends on the nature of the information required, but for obvious reasons, that is normally forthcoming. If, as per Goss, it's not torture, why does Senator McCain seek to outlaw it and worse, why do Bush- Cheney feel the need to veto McCain's bill?
The weasel term "harsh questioning" has emerged. (We don't believe that this means shouting at them). To ask officialdom what it does mean is to invite several lines of legal gobbledygook, which paraphrases to torture. Presumably this is what the secret CIA overseas prisons are for - high value prisoners going to be 'harshly questioned' outside the legal protections of the US justice system. This seems to be a separate manifestation to the practice of 'rendition,' (seemingly of low value suspects as opposed to listed terrorists), dispatched to regimes friendly to the US, known for their routine practice of torture, like Egypt, Morocco,
LIBYA, formerly even the hated SYRIA. The Interior Minister in
IRAQ has been interviewed by the press about his alleged torture chambers in the basement of his ministry, after they had been raided by US troops. None other than the US embassy in Baghdad was reported as having called the abuse intolerable. Not true, the Iraqi minister says, we don't do torture. Well, would he lie?
JUST CONSIDER -THREE YEARS LATER!
In case any British readers start to feel the first flush of moral superiority, a disturbing report has surfaced (after sixty years) of a WWII British torture centre housed in a row of mansions in an affluent area of London. This delay is due to the slow revolving wheels of the democratic process - in this case papers deposited in the national archives. It does not make good reading, particularly the extraordinary revelation that it appears to have continued after the war for a further three years! One moral, if we can refer to morals in this context, is that it is clear that such extra-judicial practices once 'justified' by, and introduced in time of war, are hard to close down. Eternal vigilance being the price of freedom, although sixty years late in this case, this news-event can serve to give a particular focus on the current torture debate in the US; and that on the terms and period of summary incarceration, in the UK.
What prime minister of what country recently said this? "Our wagon is without wheels, but during the trip we will put wheels on it and make round wheels from the square ones, but it is not simple - because we don't have roads yet, either". This was Mikhail Fradkov, Putins's prime minister describing the
RUSSIAN economy, as quoted by a very hard-hitting article we quote in its entirety, by Gary Kasparov the chess genius. He has announced that he will be a candidate for the presidency of
RUSSIA in 2008. The big news from Moscow, which he describes, and on which we also comment, is the selection of two of the Kremlins brightest and best Putin loyalists, to be deputy premiers. As it's not likely to be the square-wheel man, the significance now is which of them will be the Kremlin insiders' (probably unstoppable) chosen successor to Putin
CENTRAL ASIA: THE GREAT GAME CONTINUES
There is to be a presidential election in TAJIKISTAN, which we review in this issue. The dictator here, Emomali Rahmanov, whose story we tell, is certain of victory for another seven year term, unless a 'colour' revolution were to take place. The regime and their Russian patrons are totally aware of this, so before the presidential elections in 2006, all the restrictive methods relating to foreign NGO's will be implemented and any other potential centres of democratic organisation will be effectively shackled; the media as we describe in this months report on
TAJIKISTAN is already emasculated; Opposition politicians are now or soon will be in jail, or in exile; some heads will be broken, some arrests made and life will continue as normal.
World Audit, our sister web site, currently ranks Tajikistan for democracy at 136 out of 150; Freedom House place them at 127 for press freedom and their corruption ranking by Transparency International is 129. This is not a nation within any discernible distance of achieving democracy
There will, or so we will be told, have been a 99% turnout with perhaps 97% voting for Rahmonov and business will continue as usual - except in one respect. The State Department has a vested interest in the democracy programme and no doubt OSCE will attempt to monitor the election; yet the Pentagon has even more of an interest in not rocking the boat of internal Tajik politics. After all, the tenure of their military base is necessarily fragile, given the opposition to it of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (Russia and China). The tensions will be not in this remote central Asian county where the election seems to be a foregone conclusion, but in Washington between State and Defence, as seen recently in Uzbekistan when Condaleezza effectively had her way. This time we tip State to back off and the Pentagon to come out on top.
In TURKMENISTAN, the president-for-life Sapamurat Niyazov has published a book of poems, called "My Dear" which will become mandatory reading for all citizens, we understand. No reviewer has yet told us if his poems are any good, but his main contribution to literature until now has been a treatise on religion and philosophy - the Rukhmana, not widely available outside of
TURKMENISTAN, where it is classed alongside the Quran, the Talmud, and the Bible.
KAZAKSTAN's presidential election is this month and Nursultan Nazerbayev the local president- for-life is expected to romp home. Like others of his ilk he has fully understood the implications of the 'colour' revolutions and we describe how he has clamped down, using all the lessons learned in communist times to get the result you want. The fickle finger of fate blessed his enormous and so remote nation with quantities of every mineral known to man. In particular, the oil reserves are huge and are now being exploited, with the result that with GDP growth averaging 10% annually for a decade, his economy has been growing faster than any country in the world, excepting perhaps China. Big things are happening in his oil industry as we describe here.
The well informed and feisty British former ambassador to
UZBEKISTAN, Craig Murray fired by the British Foreign office for speaking too truly about this repressive regime, is up and running again. It was he who told the world about Islam Karimov, the Uzbek president-for-life, boiling political prisoners alive. Notwithstanding his diplomatic status, he felt it impossible not to speak out when no-one else was doing so. This was before the massacre of protestors at Andijon, which proved too much for the State Department to swallow and now Murray is fully vindicated, if not reinstated. His comments which we reproduce, make important reading about the Uzbek economy as well as the political and intelligence situation.
In KYRGYZSTAN, the Tulip revolution is far from blooming. We offer a wide-ranging report on how, if at all, the apparatus of a new democracy is emerging. Press freedom - not good! The president and the judiciary are on a collision course, similarly the president and the legislature. There are reports of a growing division between the populations in the north and south of the country, emphatically divided by a spectacular and massive range of mountains. Even a worrying note - the Kyrgyz foreign minister in Moscow finding it necessary to reassure his audience there that the new government, without CIS 'help', will "prevent a civil war"!
There is much more, but one mystery is clearing up. The past president Askar Akayev now in exile, was said whilst in office, to have amassed many millions of dollars, the mystery being how this lightly populated and deeply impoverished mountain state, could generate such millions to be thus siphoned off. Until now it was supposed that the Kyrgyz government, would get its share of Afghan drugs pay-offs coming through that country en-route to Europe, but probably Kyrgyzstan is just a by-way for such traffic. Also, it was reported long ago that any business in the country generating more than a million USD per annum, would be required to take an Akayev family partner. Again it seems that if the president skimmed just ½% off every international payment in and out of the country that might better explain his wealth. But now there is a revelation that the president has personally had a sizeable piece of the federal dollar. All the jet fuel since the Afghan invasion of 2001 supplied to all the US Air Force aircraft refueling on the Bishkek airbase, has been supplied by two companies, the only suppliers available, owned by - guess who. And, yes, it looks as though perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars ultimately from the US Defence budget, have thus been squirreled away into a grand retirement fund. There is a US law against their corporations being complicit in overseas corruption. The new President, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, seems to be accusing Uncle Sam of knowingly being complicit in the graft. Certainly he seeks restitution of funds that should have gone to the state treasury.
AFGHANISTAN: Drama over the appointment of a new Interior minister - a major appointment in a fragile nation which can be described as a democracy, or as a failed state - where the principal source of foreign funds stems from being the world's largest supplier of illegal opiates, and where the warlords, imams and magnates who used to run things here, still do, but now are formally elected by their partisans. In Foreign Affairs, we report that President Karzai has now officially asked for an end to operations against al Qaeda, as earlier he had (unsuccessfully) demanded that the US hand over control of the Afghan national army to his Ministry of Defence. We update the overview of the Afghan economy and report on the politics, including the candidates for the Interior Ministry job.
THE BALKANS COMING ON BOARD
The EU Commission is in a flurry of filling in the gaps in the EU map, in case the 25 existing members formally interpret the French-Dutch referendum rejection of the European constitution as a signal to close the entry doors. They are concentrating on the Balkans where most of the blank patches on the EU map occur. Our reports on
CROATIA, MACEDONIA, ALBANIA, even SERBIA and
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA have stories about their state of play in these EU discussions. Where the last two are concerned, progress is dependent on the capture / surrender of the remaining indicted war criminals with unfulfilled appointments at The Hague.
CROATIA with a key wanted general still at large is being trusted for the time being, and is further ahead than the rest. Our report on
BOSNIA this month pays tribute to the retiring High Representative, Paddy Ashdown for the way in which he has tackled one of the worlds most demanding jobs.
ROMANIA and BULGARIA are also more advanced candidates for EU membership but they have not got so far that a firm date can yet be set for their entry, which makes for sweaty and tense politics in those nations.
SLOVENIA continues to look good. The only other Balkan nation an EU member and also of NATO, is
GREECE, which as we report is making a long planned bid for supremacy as the regional power. Now a mature democracy after some hard times with a military dictatorship back in 1967,
GREECE is clearly senior and in a position to help and to lead its neighbours. No doubt the Greek foreign service will have speculated about a future leading a Balkans bloc in the EU of some seven or eight votes, but any idea of uniformity in a region where even the independent nation state is a new phenomenon, will be a testing time for even the most diplomatic of Greek diplomats.
In case anyone thinks that this is yet more on Islamic terrorism it is as well to understand that fanaticism has been known on occasion to appear in east Asia, and indeed
NORTH KOREA can still show al Qaeda a thing or two. Without even a half-promise or hint of paradise, or for the boys, the seventy virgins we hear about in other faith-based systems, as we report this month,
NORTH KOREAN mothers are being enjoined to increase their birth norms. But not just to enhance the work force, or even to enlarge the million strong army (with a population of only 23 million), but to bring them up as "human bullets and bombs." One cannot believe that women would write that stuff!
Whilst nuclear negotiations are 'on hold' we take a look at the other issues which need resolution. All of them have been described before and are available in more detail in our archives. They include human abductions, counterfeiting, drug trafficking, refugees fleeing into China and of course human rights - all of which are state level concerns of the five interlocutor nations and the United Nations.
PHILIPPINES: TOLERANCE AT A LOW EBB
Often thought of as an emerging state characterised by a kind of cheerful chaos, we present another, grimmer picture. The ninth journalist this year was just assassinated, making a total of 99 journalists since the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos. In a statistic to rival even the situation in Russia, not a single one of those responsible has been brought to justice! Another favourite target are the left-wing organizers of farm workers, often gunned down by troops or police, which the local media claim is now reaching alarming proportions. In short our summary is that political polarization is on the increase and more violent, whilst the middle ground is becoming deserted.
BREAKING HEADS IN THE CAUCASUS
AZERBAIJAN had its fraudulent election in November and the aftermath was the protest march broken up by breaking heads. Perhaps it is time for the OSCE and other well-intentioned agencies to very publicly decline to monitor such elections (which affords a thin veneer of respectability suggesting that perhaps the elections were not too desperately bad), until a nation has reached some agreed democratic benchmark. In other words, by refusing to be a part of the charade, it can be taken as the clearest signal, demonstrating to all and sundry including the hapless electors, that many nations including their own have not the slightest intention of having a fair election and that they are cheating their own citizens. If they want to 'move up' in the comity of nations they should need to apply for OSCE monitoring, which should not be casually given. Russia and some CIS countries would welcome the non-appearance of OSCE for quite different reasons. They now have a CIS monitoring unit, which always finds its successor totalitarian regimes blameless in their conduct of elections and invariably quarrels with the OSCE findings.
SPIRITUAL REWARDS FOR MOLDOVA
Last month we drew attention to some bullying by RUSSIA of its former satellite
MOLDOVA who are daring to stand up, on another matter, to political pressure from Moscow. The threat had been that Gazprom, the worlds largest Gas supply company and the only source for this tiny nation, would cut off supplies and ensure a cold winter for its citizens. We commented that international financiers who fund gas-pipelines had always speculated whether ex-communist Russia would cut-off supply for political reasons and that now it looked as though they would. Given that rather bigger gas customers, like Germany, Japan, Turkey or China might be concerned about the integrity of their pipeline supplies, this political use of gas seemed unsubtle to say the least.
That threat has been withdrawn and the sanction will now be Gazprom supplying but unilaterally putting its prices up to almost insupportable levels.
There is more in our report, and also some solace for beleaguered Moldovan President Voronov. The visiting head of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Alexy II, has awarded him the 1st degree order of Blessed Prince Dmitry Dontskoy - so that's alright then.
'OUTPOSTS OF TYRANNY' THAT CONDI FORGOT SAUDI ARABIA
It can be seen when Condaleezza Rice's congressional hearings for Secretary of State were coming up and she decided to create the 'Outposts of Tyranny' theme, that there would be problem states - problems that is for a US Secretary of State. Energy security is the top foreign policy objective. Dealing with the outfall of the Iraqi invasion has become a time and resource consuming distraction from the original post-9/11 war on terror. Whilst the democracy project had a resonance around the world, there were those like us, that feared that this policy would not be allowed to be evenly applied. The six named 'outposts of tyranny' have in common that they are not oil and gas exporters to US companies; that they were already proclaimed enemies like Cuba and Iran; or geopolitically irrelevant: Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Belarus; and /or are already infamous like North Korea (see above). None of them of course hosts US bases.
Pandora's or Condi's box is now open and whilst not quarreling with the six so far nominated, we do insist on adding candidates.
UZBEKISTAN has twice been suggested here and now the situation has changed there and the US base is being withdrawn in the wake of the Andijan massacre, Condi might privately agree with us. But it is unlikely as long as cars need gasoline that she will see our point on Saudi Arabia. The key fact about Saudi is not that at some point it became a tyranny, like others on hers and our lists. It just hasn't changed! It has striven to retain its medieval social and cultural norms and has been rich enough to buy a kind of selective insulation. It accepts personal jets, air-conditioned palaces, and the comforts of great wealth, in which the USA has been its guarantor, whilst it's hereditary rulers reject the west's democratic baggage as being inferior to its tribal and clan organization and culture. In this it has been reinforced by the strict Islamic cult founded by a 17th C charismatic preacher named Wahhab, whose application of Islam is a part of the thread of life in that kingdom to this day, enforced by a zealous religious police with summary powers under sharia law.
Were it to be a nation state whose citizens accepted the benefits over the drawbacks of this ancient way of life, as 'before oil' in the early 20th century, it would have a level of justification if, as has not happened, the wishes of that population were to have been independently verified. There is a sizeable Shia minority in the north-east of the kingdom who are less than full participating citizens. But since the nation manifestly relies on a large immigrant population to fulfill all the functions of running a state, these people are not granted citizenship but are regarded as 'untermenschen', inferior beings and treated as such.
It was a standing joke at the time of the first Gulf war that the Saudis employed Baluchis and Yemenis to dig their ditches and do the heavy work; Filipinas and Indians to be their domestic servants, Palestinians and Egyptians to be their doctors and school teachers, Canadians and Brits to run their oil-fields, and Americans to do their fighting. Money then can acquire just about everything, but so it was in pre-revolutionary France when the lid blew off the social inequality pressure-cooker. Revolutionary stirrings uncontained by democracy, can emerge not only about redistribution of wealth, but in this country, as can be seen with the hijackers of 9/11, by following the extremist teachings of another charismatic religious leader.
Saudi Arabia qualifies as a tyranny on several counts. Justice for non -Saudis has an awful reputation, primitive punishments - public beheadings, floggings and amputations; women's rights, torture of prisoners, corrupt power-holders, the unconstrained personal power of the top elite. It is unlikely because of its oil wealth to be sanctioned by any world or national body, as with Condi's existing six, but the objective facts remain the same. It is an 'Outpost of Tyranny'.
Clive Lindley. Publisher