Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Reagan’s Third-World Reign of Terror

by Dennis Hans

As the nation pays tribute to Ronald "Dutch" Reagan on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, media coverage is every bit as laudatory as when he turned 90. I wrote in 2001 about PBS's fawning tributes on the Charlie Rose show and the Jim Lehrer NewsHour. Then, as now, one of the most glaring omissions was the human cost of his foreign policies. In the interest of filling out the Reagan portrait, let us consider a few regions unfortunate enough to capture his attention, starting with Central America.

In January 1981, the newly inaugurated Reagan inherited Jimmy Carter's policy of supporting a Salvadoran government controlled by a military that, along with the security forces and affiliated death squads, killed about 10,000 civilians in 1980. In the first 27 months of the Reagan administration, perhaps another 20,000 civilians were killed. El Salvador's labor movement was decimated, the opposition press exterminated, opposition politicians murdered or driven into exile, the church martyred.

In April 1983, seeking to shore up shaky public and congressional support for continued aid to El Salvador, Reagan went on national television before a joint session of Congress and -- with a straight face -- praised the Salvadoran government for "making every effort to guarantee democracy, free labor unions, freedom of religion, and a free press." The Great Communicator/Prevaricator achieved his objective; aid -- and blood -- continued to flow.

In neighboring Nicaragua, the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship slaughtered perhaps 40,000 civilians from 1977 to 1979 in a desperate bid to hold power. Candidate Reagan was sad to see Somoza go, and once in office his administration turned to officers from Somoza's hated National Guard to spearhead a "liberation" movement. Known as the contras, they never managed to hold a single Nicaraguan town in their eight years as Reagan's proxy army, though they were quite proficient at raping, torturing and killing defenseless civilians. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans died in a war that never would have been were it not for good ol' Dutch.

A common criticism of Reagan is that this self-proclaimed fighter against the scourge of terrorism traded with a designated "terrorist state" -- the hostage-holding fundamentalist regime in Iran -- to generate funds for the contras after Congress turned off the tap. That's true as far as it goes. But the contras themselves were terrorists, as were those elements of the Honduran army that the CIA and Ollie North employed to help the contras, as was the notorious Salvadoran air force that assisted in the contra resupply effort. All murdered noncombatants to achieve political objectives. If they were "terrorists" -- and if words have meaning, they were -- what does that make their paymaster and cheerleader in the Oval Office?

In Guatemala, after the "born-again butcher" Efrain Rios Montt implemented in 1982 a scorched-earth military campaign that left thousands of Indian civilians dead, Reagan was furious. Not at our blood-soaked ally, but at Amnesty International and others who documented his depridations. Rios Montt was getting a "bum rap," Reagan whined.

In Southeast Asia, Reagan picked up where President Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski left off in collaborating with the Chinese government to support Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge, which had been driven from power in 1979 by a Vietnamese government that had grown weary of the Khmer Rouge atttacking villages on Vietnam's side of the border. Along with two hapless non-communist Cambodian guerrilla groups, the ousted Khmer Rouge utilized neighboring Thailand -- with the blessing and backing of the U.S. and China -- as a base from which to launch attacks inside Cambodia.

A bit odd, Reagan backing communist mass murderers. But he did so for a high-minded principle: self-determination. So strongly did he believe in this principle that he instructed his U.N. Ambassador to recognize the deposed Khmer Rouge, rather than the regime imposed by Vietnam, as the legitimate government of Cambodia.

Alas, it was all an act. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Indonesia continued to occupy East Timor, the island it had invaded in 1975 with the blessing of the Ford administration. In this case, Reagan chose to oppose the Timorese resistance and support the Indonesian occupiers. Hey, what good are principles if they're not flexible - or disposable?

To give Reagan his due, a crucial difference between the occupations must be noted: Vietnam's (which he opposed) ended a bloodbath; Indonesia's (which he supported) constituted a bloodbath.

In southern Africa, Reagan was an enthusiastic champion of South Africa's illegal occupation of Namibia and vicious destabilization of Angola and Mozambique. He considered the apartheid government a card-carrying member of the "Free World" and thus worthy of a "constructive engagement" policy. Like Dick Cheney, he dismissed Nelson Mandela's African National Congress as communist terrorists.

Reagan's African heroes were Zairian kleptocrat Mobutu Sese Seko and Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. When Savimbi's horrific human rights record could no longer be denied, even some conservatives who had once sung his praises turned against him. Reagan stood steadfast. He had earlier hailed Savimbi as a "freedom fighter," just as he had elevated the Nicaraguan contras and the extremist Islamic fundamentalists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan (many of whom are now fighting us in alliance with the Taliban) to "the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers."

By providing apologetics, diplomatic support and/or military aid to some of the worst governments, rebel forces and terror-prone proxy armies of the 1980s, Reagan was an accomplice in hundreds of thousands of deaths. That's a big part of his legacy, and it's no cause for celebration.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

JGPO: ‘We do listen’

Friday, 04 February 2011 00:40 by Janela Buhain Variety News Staff

* ‘But money pending because PA unsigned’

JOINT Guam Program Office Forward Director John Jackson said yesterday that the military is in fact listening to the “top concerns and issues” of the people of Guam, but that some of the projects associated with the military buildup can’t move forward without the signing of the Programmatic Agreement.

During a presentation at the Rotary Club of Guam yesterday, Jackson discussed why the military realignment is important for Guam and “half of the population of the world” in maintaining security.

He also touched on the top concerns of the island that the Department of Defense is addressing, and the myths circulating in the community about DoD’s plans to improve Guam.

In his presentation, Jackson identified 15 key issues and concerns the local community has been voicing since the introduction of the military buildup. Of those 15 issues, seven were identified as the “top concerns” that the DoD has addressed and is working to improve not just for the federal government, but for the people of Guam, Jackson said.

The seven include addressing wildlife refuge and threatened and endangered species; $160 million in funding for sufficient and sanitary drinking water through the aquifer; improving Guam’s roadways with $49 million allocated this year for roadways and $67 million possibly next year; improving wastewater treatment plants; returning part of the federal footprint back to the people of Guam; ensuring that brown tree snakes do not spread to other island through cargo ships; and modernizing the port.

The other eight issues that the military failed to or has yet to address include culturally sensitive resources throughout the island; legacy issues like war reparation, compact aid, Jones Act Exemption and voting rights; Guam Public School System; stressed socio-economic support structures; the closure of the Ordot landfill and opening a new landfill; private development; power plants; and the public health system.

Jackson said about $960 million is required for infrastructure improvements. This includes $740 million from the government of Japan for water, wastewater and power; $104 million for the Port Authority of Guam, which was already awarded; and $116 million for roadways over the next two years.

Additionally, he identified about $321 million that’s still pending from the government of Japan.
“Why are they pending? They’re pending because the Programmatic Agreement has not been signed,” he said.MisconceptionsOther issues Jackson discussed were common misconceptions about the military buildup. Jackson said the military will not be shooting into Pagat or in the water near Pagat from the firing ranges they are proposing to build along Route 15. Thus, pristine and culturally sensitive areas will not be destroyed.

Also, the military is going to spend money to ensure all citizens of Guam benefit from the military buildup and are not burdened.DOD is also looking to shrink its federal footprint, from 27 percent to about 24 percent, he said.
Jackson also stressed that the military realignment is strategically and vitally important to “half the population of the world.”

Further, Jackson said the military buildup is important for Guam because of what its senior citizens had experienced during World War II.

“I think the best example of that is for our senior citizens here on Guam who have experienced what it’s like to live under the domination of a foreign power,” Jackson said. “We don’t want to see that repeated. It’s very important economically; it’s important to the people of Guam to have that security, to ensure the citizens of all our islands can go to bed at night knowing that tomorrow morning they still can live under the flag they choose to live in.”Very upsetBut Speaker Judi Won Pat, who was at the meeting, said she was “very upset” with Jackson’s statements, particularly referencing his statements regarding senior citizens, and the key issues and concerns that were left out of what the military is addressing.

“How dare he say why it is important strategically and to use our senior citizens and what they had to go through, and what they did for us, our generation, so we don’t go through it again. How dare he say that. Those are my parents; my grandparents. He cannot talk about them like that, he cannot relate to any one of us who know what our parents went through,” Won Pat lamented.
While the military addresses the facts in black and white, Won Pat said they failed to address the emotional issues tied to the military buildup.

“This buildup isn’t just about money. It’s not just about the military’s goals, or their perception that Guam is a ‘strategic location.’ This is about our hospital already brimming with patients.

This is about our already stressed school system. This is about the further environmental degradation of our island. This is about the cultural survival of our island. These are critically emotional issues. More than that, they are the issues that will affect our people the most. And they are the issues that should be the focal point of these conversations,” Won Pat said.

Sen. Rory Respicio, who was also at the meeting, said DoD should consider Sen. Ben Pangelinan’s suggestion to have a supplemental draft and final EIS and Record of Decision inclusive of all the military’s promises excluded from the ROD.

“I certainly share the Speaker’s sentiments … his response regarding senior citizens knowing what it’s like to suffer under enemy hands and foreign control, but it’s no different from the last 66 years in which we had to suffer under the hands of the American system where we haven’t been truly liberated,” Respicio said.

“If they really believe that their superpower can be all things to everyone, then how do they explain war reparations being defeated? How do they explain the unresolved status and the fact that we’re an unincorporated territory? Jackson implied that we have to understand that they’re here to serve us but at what cost to our environment and our island way of life?” Rory stated.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

When Corporations Choose Despots Over Democracy

Published on Wednesday, February 2, 2011 by TruthDig.com

by Amy Goodman

“People holding a sign ‘To: America. From: the Egyptian People. Stop supporting Mubarak. It’s over!” so tweeted my brave colleague, “Democracy Now!” senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous, from the streets of Cairo.

More than 2 million people rallied throughout Egypt on Tuesday, most of them crowded into Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Tahrir, which means liberation in Arabic, has become the epicenter of what appears to be a largely spontaneous, leaderless and peaceful revolution in this, the most populous nation in the Middle East. Defying a military curfew, this incredible uprising has been driven by young Egyptians, who compose a majority of the 80 million citizens. Twitter and Facebook, and SMS text messaging on cell phones, have helped this new generation to link up and organize, despite living under a U.S.-supported dictatorship for the past three decades. In response, the Mubarak regime, with the help of U.S. and European corporations, has shut down the Internet and curtailed cellular service, plunging Egypt into digital darkness. Despite the shutdown, as media activist and professor of communications C.W. Anderson told me, “people make revolutions, not technology.”

The demands are chanted through the streets for democracy, for self-determination. Sharif headed to Egypt Friday night, into uncertain terrain. The hated Interior Ministry security forces, the black-shirted police loyal to President Hosni Mubarak, were beating and killing people, arresting journalists, and smashing and confiscating cameras.

On Saturday morning, Sharif went to Tahrir Square. Despite the SMS and Internet blackout, Sharif, a talented journalist and technical whiz, figured out a workaround, and was soon tweeting out of Tahrir: “Amazing scene: three tanks roll by with a crowd of people riding atop each one. Chanting ‘Hosni Mubarak out!’ ”

Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid for decades, after Israel (not counting the funds expended on the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan). Mubarak’s regime has received roughly $2 billion per year since coming to power, overwhelmingly for the military.

Where has the money gone? Mostly to U.S. corporations. I asked William Hartung of the New America Foundation to explain:

“It’s a form of corporate welfare for companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, because it goes to Egypt, then it comes back for F-16 aircraft, for M-1 tanks, for aircraft engines, for all kinds of missiles, for guns, for tear-gas canisters [from] a company called Combined Systems International, which actually has its name on the side of the canisters that have been found on the streets there.”

Hartung just published a book, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” He went on: “Lockheed Martin has been the leader in deals worth $3.8 billion over that period of the last 10 years; General Dynamics, $2.5 billion for tanks; Boeing, $1.7 billion for missiles, for helicopters; Raytheon for all manner of missiles for the armed forces. So, basically, this is a key element in propping up the regime, but a lot of the money is basically recycled. Taxpayers could just as easily be giving it directly to Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics.”

Likewise, Egypt’s Internet and cell phone “kill switch” was enabled only through collaboration with corporations. U.K.-based Vodafone, a global cellular-phone giant (which owns 45 percent of Verizon Wireless in the U.S.) attempted to justify its actions in a press release: “It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone ... but to comply with the demands of the authorities.”

Narus, a U.S. subsidiary of Boeing Corp., sold Egypt equipment to allow “deep packet inspection,” according to Tim Karr of the media policy group Free Press. Karr said the Narus technology “allows the Egyptian telecommunications companies ... to look at texting via cell phones, and to identify the sort of dissident voices that are out there. ... It also gives them the technology to geographically locate them and track them down.”

Mubarak has pledged not to run for re-election come September. But the people of Egypt demand he leave now. How has he lasted 30 years? Maybe that’s best explained by a warning from a U.S. Army general 50 years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He said, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

That deadly complex is not only a danger to democracy at home, but when shoring up despots abroad.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Washington's Sudden Embrace of Al Jazeera Won't Erase Past US Crimes Against the Network

by Jeremy Scahill

If it weren't for Al Jazeera, much of the unfolding Egyptian revolution would never have been televised. Its Arabic and English language channels have provided the most comprehensive coverage of any network in any language hands-down. Despite the Mubarak regime's attempts to shut it down, Al Jazeera's brave reporters and camera crews have persevered. Six Al Jazeera journalists were detained briefly on Monday, their equipment seized. The US responded swiftly to their detention with the State Department calling for their release. "We are concerned by the shutdown of Al Jazeera in Egypt and arrest of its correspondents," State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley tweeted. "Egypt must be open and the reporters released."

The Obama White House has been intently monitoring al Jazeera's coverage of the Egyptian revolt. The network, already famous worldwide, is now a household name in the US. Thousands of Americans—many of whom likely had never watched the network before—are livestreaming Al Jazeera on the internet and over their phones. With a handful of exceptions, most US cities and states have no channel that broadcasts Al Jazeera. That's because cowardly US cable providers refuse to grant the channel a distribution platform, largely for fear of being perceived as supporting or enabling a network that for years has been portrayed negatively by US officials.

For people who have followed Al Jazeera's history with the US, the fact that it is now perceived by the White House and the American public as a force for democracy and freedom is an ironic, some would say hypocritical, development. The contrast between Washington's posture toward Al Jazeera from the Bush era to the Obama presidency could not be more stark.

During the Bush administration, nothing contradicted the absurd claim that the US invaded Iraq to spread democracy throughout the Middle East more decisively than Washington's ceaseless attacks on Al Jazeera, the institution that did more than any other to break the stranglehold over information previously held by authoritarian forces, whether monarchs, military strongmen, occupiers or ayatollahs. Yet, far from calling for its journalists to be respected and freed from imprisonment and unlawful detention, the Bush administration waged war against Al Jazeera and its journalists.

The US bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001. In March 2003, two of its financial correspondents were kicked off the trading floor of NASDAQ and the NY Stock Exchange. "In light of Al-Jazeera's recent conduct during the war, in which they have broadcast footage of US POWs in alleged violation of the Geneva Convention, they are not welcome to broadcast from our facility at this time," said NASDAQ's spokesperson. Later NASDAQ backed off that claim and said the networks accreditation had been revoked for "security reasons."

In April 2003, US forces shelled the Basra hotel where Al Jazeera journalists were the only guests and killed Jazeera's Iraq correspondent Tareq Ayoub a few days later in Baghdad. The US also imprisoned several Al Jazeera reporters (including at Guantánamo), some of whom say they were tortured. Among these was Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who spent seven years at Guantanamo and was repeatedly interrogated by US operatives attempting to falsely link Al Jazeera to al Qaeda. In addition to the military attacks, the US-backed Iraqi government periodically banned Al Jazeera from reporting in Iraq. Indeed Al Jazeera was shut down in Iraq under both Saddam Hussein and the US-backed government.

Then in late November 2005 Britain's Daily Mirror reported that during an April 2004 White House meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, George W. Bush floated the idea of bombing Al Jazeera's international headquarters in Qatar. This allegation was based on leaked "Top Secret" minutes of the Bush-Blair summit. At the time of Bush's meeting with Blair, the Administration was in the throes of a very public, high-level temper tantrum directed against Al Jazeera. The meeting took place on April 16, at the peak of the first US siege of Falluja, and Al Jazeera was one of the few news outlets broadcasting from inside the city. Its exclusive footage was being broadcast by every network from CNN to the BBC.

The Falluja offensive, one of the bloodiest assaults of the US occupation, was a turning point. In two weeks that April, thirty marines were killed as local guerrillas resisted US attempts to capture the city. Some 600 Iraqis died, many of them women and children. Al Jazeera broadcast from inside the besieged city, beaming images to the world. On live TV the network gave graphic documentary evidence disproving US denials that it was killing civilians. It was a public relations disaster, and the United States responded by attacking the messenger.

Just a few days before Bush allegedly proposed bombing the network, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Falluja, Ahmed Mansour, reported live on the air, "Last night we were targeted by some tanks, twice... but we escaped. The US wants us out of Falluja, but we will stay." On April 9 Washington demanded that Al Jazeera leave the city as a condition for a cease-fire. The network refused. Mansour wrote that the next day "American fighter jets fired around our new location, and they bombed the house where we had spent the night before, causing the death of the house owner Mr. Hussein Samir. Due to the serious threats we had to stop broadcasting for few days because every time we tried to broadcast the fighter jets spotted us we became under their fire."

On April 11 senior military spokesperson Mark Kimmitt declared, "The stations that are showing Americans intentionally killing women and children are not legitimate news sources. That is propaganda, and that is lies." On April 15 Donald Rumsfeld echoed those remarks in distinctly undiplomatic terms, calling Al Jazeera's reporting "vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.... It's disgraceful what that station is doing." It was the very next day, according to the Daily Mirror, that Bush told Blair of his plan. "He made clear he wanted to bomb al-Jazeera in Qatar and elsewhere," a source told the Mirror. "There's no doubt what Bush wanted to do--and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it."

Al Jazeera's real transgression during the "war on terror" was a simple one: being there. That is what Al Jazeera is doing today in Egypt and why it is so dangerous to the Mubarak regime. While critical of US policy, Al Jazeera is not anti-American—it is independent. In fact, it has angered almost every Arab government at one point or another and has been kicked out of or sanctioned by many Arab countries (the one country which Al Jazeera arguably does not cover independently is its host nation of Qatar). It was the first Arab station to broadcast interviews with Israeli officials and is hardly the Al Qaeda mouthpiece the Bush Administration wanted us to believe it was. Now that is abundantly clear to Americans who over the past week have come to depend on Al Jazeera for accurate news on the developments in Egypt.

The real threat Al Jazeera poses to authoritarian regimes is in its unembedded journalism. That is why the Bush Administration viewed Al Jazeera as a threat, it is why Mubarak's regime is trying to shut it down and that is why the network is so important to the unfolding revolutions in the Middle East. It is the same role the network plays in reporting on the disastrous US war in Afghanistan.

Part of why Al Jazeera has become acceptable is that, unlike throughout much of the Bush era, it now has a full 24-hour English language news channel filled with veteran reporters who came to the network from CNN, the BBC and other Western news outlets. When it was an Arabic language only network, it was a lot easier to demonize and malign because fact-checking US officials' fabrications and pronouncements required a real effort.

At the end of the day, the real test of whether there is a substantive change in Washington's stance toward independent, unembedded journalists and journalism will likely not involve Al Jazeera, but some other news outlet or journalist. And that test will be real only when that journalist or media outlets' rights are in direct conflict with Washington's agenda.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Fishermen express anger

A public hearing last night on a bill that aims to ban shark finning and its possession on island caused a stir among local fishermen

Local fisherman John Aguon gives his testimony on Bill 44-31 as Lexi Lee-Sang, 11, and Reagan Singler, 6, of St. John’s School’s Kids for Coral program look on. Photo by Matt Weiss

who say they are being portrayed as the “bad guys” because of the bill.
Bill 44-31, introduced by Vice Speaker BJ Cruz last week, seeks to ban the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins on Guam and imposes strict fines and imprisonment for those caught in the act.

Dozens of high school students, fishermen, activists and scientists filled the legislative public hearing room to provide testimony and show support or opposition to the bill.

Fishermen’s Cooperative Association President Manny Duenas said he opposes the bill because there is no need for it.

“I’m really disheartened by the fact that it’s implying that it’s happening here on Guam,” Duenas said. “Fishermen are not evil.”

Duenas said that there is no evidence that the local shark population is in jeopardy as stated in the intent of the bill.

He said he had scientific data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association to prove that sharks are not in jeopardy in local waters.

Duenas said Guam’s waters may have more dangerous sharks than they did 20 years ago and shared that his nephew was ravaged by a tiger shark.

“Sharks are so abundant around Guam and it’s a nuisance,” he said, adding that sharks were only found in certain parts of the island in the 1970s and 1980s but are now so abundant that they are found all over the island.

Duenas suggested that the concern for shark finning is exaggerated and not appropriate in the Marianas or within any U.S. jurisdiction in the central and western Pacific region because of strict federal fishing regulations already in place.

Local fisherman John Aguon said he was concerned because he catches sharks for subsistence purposes.

“I’m not a destroyer or shark killer but let’s get more educated. Some of these people haven’t even tasted shark how can they say killing shark is bad when it’s feeding me and my family,” Aguon said.

However, Senator Rory Respicio, co-sponsor of the bill, assured Aguon that he will not be affected by the bill if enacted into law because the bill addresses commercial fishing of sharks.


Dozens of students showed up at the hearing from George Washington High School, Simon Sanchez High School and St. John’s School and provided their support for the bill.

Several shared scientific facts they learned through science classes or through movies promoting shark conservation.

“Although Guam does not have a serious issue with shark finning, our island condones it because we allow its importation,” said Angelica Gagan, one of the students.

Evelyn Quiell, President of the Shark Made Club at SSHS, read testimony on behalf of Sharkwater documentary producer Rob Stewart who was on island Monday to show support for the bill.

“Sharks have been on earth for over 400 million years and have survived five major extinctions. Their populations have dropped by over 90 percent in the last 30 years … an estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year,” Quiell read.

Local resident Mitchell Singler suggested that Bill 44-31, if passed into law, could boost tourism on island. He said it would highlight efforts being made to protect sharks and would attract tourists and divers just as Palau attracts tourists because of its marine sanctuary.