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Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

Where is Bush? Where is Obama?

Over 500 civilians have been killed in the last few days of the Israeli invasion and bombing raids in Gaza. One Israeli soldier has been reported killed during the fighting.

500 civilians to 1 soldier.

And for those that are about to jump on the “Israel is protecting its borders from rocket fire!” bandwagon, let’s take a look at the context, and roll back a few months:

Last summer, Egypt brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is Gaza. This ceasefire lasted through October. By November, the ceasefire continued (for the most part) to be upheld on both sides. Israeli casualties during this period were zero according to reports I’ve seen.

Hamas offered repeatedly to extend the truce, even after Israel failed to meet its side of the bargain, which included allowing in humanitarian aid. Israel only did so after pressure from outsiders, including the U.S., yet didn’t permit as much aid as was agreed and rejected outside NGO workers, so the supplies were poorly distributed and likely never made it to the people that needed them most.

On November 4, Israel broke the ceasefire and invaded Gaza, directing attacks at “militants in Gaza.” Several Palestinians… civilians and “suspected militants” alike were killed. Home-made rocket fire from Gaza began sailing over Israel’s borders again in response.

The Obama team seems content to carry on the Bush torch and re-write history regarding Israel and Gaza:

First, they remain silent despite the enormous bombardment, aggression and violence perpetrated by Israel, hiding behind the “There is only one president.” bullshit line that hasn’t held up for the economy, the Mumbai massacre or nearly anything else that has come up during the transition. Yet it’s conveniently used now so Obama doesn’t have to publicly condemn the actions of Israel.

Second, an Obama spokesperson reported on the news that it was Hamas who broke the ceasefire, apparently forgetting the Nov. 4 attacks by Israel into Gaza.

So why is Israel attacking now? Why have they been mentally preparing the Israeli public for a large military operation through daily news reports and other means for nearly a month now?

Elections are coming up in Israel soon and it’s chillingly customary for the incumbent to show their toughness with an often horrific and deadly military display just prior. And, since Lebanon was such a failure in 2006 to wipe out Hezbollah (even though, like this massacre, the Lebanese civilian-to-Israeli soldier casualty ratio was off the scale), it’s always good to wipe away the failures of past military ventures with new ones before the voters hit the polling booths.

For those that need a refresher on 2006:

The Lebanese top police office and the Lebanon Ministry of Health, citing hospitals, death certificates, local authorities, and eye witnesses, put the death toll at 1,123 — 37 soldiers and police officers, 894 identified victims, and 192 unidentified ones.[145] The Lebanon Higher Relief Council (HRC) put the Lebanese death toll at 1,191,[26] citing the health ministry and police, as well as other state agencies.[145] The Associated Press estimated the figure at 1,035.[145] In February 2007, the Los Angeles Times reported that at least 800 Lebanese had died during fighting,[147] and other articles have estimated the figure to be at least 850.[148][149] Encarta states that “estimates… varied from about 850 to 1,200” in its entry on Israel,[150] while giving a figure of “more than 1,200” in its entry on Lebanon.[151] The Lebanon Higher Relief Council estimated the number of Lebanese injured to be 4,409,[26] 15% of whom were permanently disabled.[152]

The death toll estimates do not include Lebanese killed since the end of fighting by land mines or unexploded Israeli cluster bombs.[145] So far, these have killed 29 people and wounded 215 — 90 of them children.[153]

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Cynical as that might sound, you can look at Israel’s election history and it’s usually peppered with some sort of military incursion a month or two before voting day.

Fast forward to today: The BBC is reporting 500 civilians dead in Gaza and the first Israeli soldier was killed this weekend… after 7 days of fighting.

500:1 is a massacre, people. It’s time to stand up and speak out.

Sure, Israel has a right to defend its borders… and no one is denying them that right… but invading another territory and (clearly) killing indiscriminately is not a legitimate way to secure its homeland or reach its goals.

Write your Congresspeople or your elected officials or whatever representatives you have and demand action from your leaders. There needs to be a resounding voice from the world that puts an end to this bloodshed.

Would we tolerate any other country invading another territory and killing civilians in a 500:1 or even a 50:1 ratio? No, we wouldn’t no matter the supposed “cause” or “reason” for the aggression.

Obama’s first foreign policy test is on the docket and right now he’s failing. If we speak up now and he might not flunk the thing altogether.

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Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he was directly involved in approving severe interrogation methods used by the CIA, and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open indefinitely….

“I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared,” Cheney said in an interview with ABC News.

Asked whether he still believes it was appropriate to use the waterboarding method on terrorism suspects, Cheney said: “I do.”

His comments come on the heels of disclosures by a Senate committee showing that high-level officials in the Bush administration were intimately involved in reviewing and approving interrogation methods that have since been explicitly outlawed and that have been condemned internationally as torture.

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The Senate committee report also indicates that Bush himself was involved in the authorization of torture tactics.

So Cheney (still) thinks Waterboarding is appropriate? Too bad U.S. law doesn’t agree with him.

Torture is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. § 2340.

Torture in all forms is banned by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the United States participated in drafting. The United States is a party to the following conventions (international treaties) which prohibit torture: the American Convention on Human Rights (signed 1977) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (signed 1977; ratified 1992).

…International law defines torture during an armed conflict as a war crime. It also mandates that any person involved in ordering, allowing and even insuffuciently preventing and prosecuting war crimes is criminally liable under the command responsibility doctrine.

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Even the 2006 U.S. Army field manual mentions waterboarding as a prohibited act and defines it as torture:

In late 2006, the military issued updated field manuals on intelligence collection (FM 2-22.3. Human Intelligence Collector Operations, September 2006) and counterinsurgency (FM 3-24. Counterinsurgency, December 2006). Both manuals reiterated that “no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in US law.”[9] Specific techniques described as prohibited in the intelligence collection manual include:

* Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner.
* Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.
* Applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain.
* Waterboarding
* Using military working dogs.
* Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
* Conducting mock executions.
* Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care

So the question is… will our newly elected politicians, especially Obama and crew, live up to their moral obligations? Will the American people keep them in check if they falter?

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The 2008 Olympics have focused our attention on China and its amazing fanfare and beautiful accomplishments in preparation for hosting the worlds premier sporting event. With what little bits and pieces I’ve been able to watch, I am very impressed with the spectacle.

However, every time I sit down to watch a bit of the Olympic games, I can’t help but think about Tibet. In the early 1950s, China invaded Tibet and occupied it and coerced the government into a “17 Point Agreement” that China still uses today to justify its unlawful annexation of Tibet. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties makes it clear that all treaties in international law are binding for the countries that sign and ratify them unless the agreement is signed under conditions of force or intimidation. By all accounts save the victors, this “agreement” was signed under such conditions.

After the initial occupation, Tibet was given a fair amount of autonomy. But, as the years stretched on and the natives resisted China’s rule, the tenor of the relationship become increasingly oppressive. By 1959, the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, was forced to flee the country for his own safety. The much of the legitimate Tibetan government was forced to follow suit and now rules in exile from India.

Last year, the U.S. news was atwitter (rightly so) criticizing the Burmese junta that hindered the distribution of supplies, food and assistance in the aftermath of the cyclone that struck Burma/Myanmar. A bit later, international flak continued as the Burmese government cracked down and committed atrocities against anti-government demonstrators and Buddhist monks.

With the eyes focused on China and the Olympic games, though, we seem to be ignoring the very similar behavior by China against Tibet for fear we might dampen the sporty spirit and miss all the pretty logos and advertisements that are running at a premium during the games. After all, talking about how the death toll of Tibetan monks and civilian demonstrators has passed 150 or the fact that literally thousands of Tibetan demonstrators that were “detained” during protests have yet to be accounted for isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want people to be thinking about when the commercial break hits. If so, they might ignore the car commercial or the new diet pills and get off the couch to do something.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government will likely ramp up the violence to try to keep things quiet so most of us can watch the Olympics in peace. And sure, Bush made some remarks about China needing to curtail violence in Tibet. I find them hallow words, considering they’re coming from a man who has started a war considered near-unanimously throughout the world to be unjust, unlawful and disastrous. And let’s not ignore that these words come from a man who has exploited the atrocities of 9/11 to justify torture and reject human rights and civil liberties for an “any means necessary” agenda.

No, the outcry against China’s abuse of Tibet will continue to be relegated to the back pages of the New York Times and mentioned in the margins, op-eds and opinion pages of mainstream media. And, once the fanfare of the Olympic games fades from earshot, I’m sure the sparse coverage and attention that the protests by the Tibetan peoples have gotten will follow suit.

This means that it will be up to people like you and me to keep the lens of humanity focused intently on the people of Tibet. We’ll need to write our local papers and flood online forums with a steady stream of letters and posts to help ensure that the oppressors and the oppressed are not set loose from our collective conscience and memory as soon as the NBC and CNN camera crews pack up and leave Beijing.

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