25 December 2005

The Divine Right of Certain 'Ginnigogs'

Common Sense
John Maxwell

About 35 years ago, having returned to Jamaica after my five-year exile in Britain, I was struck by a particularly poignant story. It had happened on the other side of the block of buildings where I used to work for the BBC, at India House, in Holborn behind Bush House in the Strand.

The high commission had been taken over by militants, Sikhs, if I remember correctly, and everyone inside the embassy was a hostage. The siege was broken when a sharpshooter from Scotland Yard killed one of the terrorists.

The sharpshooter had to be taken to hospital to be treated for shock. He had done the job he was trained to do. But he was a civilised human being, and the idea of killing another person was too much for him. I have always wondered what became of him.

It was Goethe apparently, who warned us to "beware of those in whom the urge to punish is powerful". That English policeman was not one of those, and though I may never meet him, he is a friend.

There are others, nearer home, who I could not consider friends and of whom I beware, because they have a lust for punishment. They know better than anyone else who is a sinner, a criminal, who deserves punishment, and they are ready to mete out that punishment.

Immediately after having been acquitted of murder in the Kingston Circuit Court on Tuesday, Senior Superintendent of Police Mr Reneto deCordova (etc) Adams delivered himself of a few choice words, among them:
"Those [criminals] who returned from England, Canada, America and the Caribbean, or, from everywhere, since we have left the streets - talking about they have returned to take over the streets, I am imploring them, beseeching them to return whence they came, because so it was in the beginning so shall it be in the end.

"My men and I will continue where we left off: and that is in the protection of the Jamaican people against criminal elements. The only difference now is our resolve will be multiplied tenfold."
I don't know if Mr Adams frightens the criminals. He certainly frightens me.

Especially since his large and vociferous regiment of supporters are calling the talk shows, baying for blood. Adams must be let loose they say, to 'deal with the criminals', as if Mr Adams is a one man war against crime whose mere presence on the streets renders the Commissioner of Police and the rest of the police force, as well as the Minister of National Security, redundant and surplus to requirements.

Clearly, Mr Adams believes that he is entitled to make policy on behalf of the 'forces of law and order'.

There is just one small difficulty. There is a man named Lucius Thomas who seems to be under the impression that he is the Commissioner of Police. He doesn't seem to heed Mr Adams and insisted on Wednesday that Mr Adams and his co-accused would not be reinstated into the Jamaica Constabulary Force until they had undergone a period of counselling and psychological testing, mandated by JCF policy.

Mr Adams and his men have in just two incidents, killed nearly a dozen people, none of whom the police would say were 'known' to them. In the latest incident four people were killed in the course of a shootout with the police.

Two of them were women, and a little girl who was in the house when the police first arrived, testified that the women were alive when the police got there and that she, the little girl, was ripped from the arms of one of them and taken outside while the 'shoot-out' proceeded.

No gunpowder residue was found on the hands of the dead people which suggests that they had not fired at the police or at anyone else. Another witness, a policeman told a story of being directed by Supt Adams to go to a certain address in Kingston and pick up something for him. This turned out to be a firearm which was, according to the police witness, then planted at the scene of the 'shootout'.

I do not intend to go into the details of the case, or to discuss the Chief Justice's summation of the evidence and his directions to the jury, nor even to question his apparent displeasure at Dr Carolyn Gomes, head of Jamaicans For Justice. The CJ accused her of gesturing, indicating disagreement with something he had said. Dr Gomes claims she was simply taking notes.

I cannot say the Chief Justice was wrong; I was not there; for all I know Dr Gomes was making 'monkey faces' in court. Except that anyone who knows her (and her husband is one of my doctors) would find it hard to believe that she could have been foolish enough to signal her disapproval of the Chief Justice in any way in his court. His outburst, and it was an outburst, seemed peevish and personal and has probably given even more licence to those who believe that human rights activists are on the side of criminals.

"And these criminal rights organisations are trying to stop me from doing my job while these hoodlums continue to destroy the only livelihood that we have. I will not allow criminals to take over our island, Jamaica."

According to an item in Friday's Gleaner, from which the above is taken, those are the words of Superintendent Adams, who is apparently about to launch himself on a musical career on the dancehall circuit. He has, according to the Gleaner, made a song, entitled "To Protect and Serve", "on the Carbine Rhythm" appropriately enough, recorded two days before his murder trial began. "And SSP Adams takes no prisoners in his lyrical onslaught on crime".

The problem is that criminal intelligence depends on prisoners and informers.

Dead men tell no tales. But, Mr Adams proposes, and Mr Adams disposes. Stand clear, the rest of you vagabonds and lowlifes!!!

I believe that any competent lawyer could find a serious case of libel and criminal libel against the SSP. He is clearly alleging that Dr Gomes and her fellow human rights campaigners are accomplices of criminals, who attempt to obstruct him in the execution of his duty.

People like me are no doubt included in SSP's rhetorical gunsights. I would be most grateful were he to vouchsafe his opinion of me and others of my ilk.

As one who has been writing for more than 40 years about Jamaican police brutality and the impunity which they enjoy, I commend and support Jamaicans For Justice in everything they do, because were it not for them, there are odious crimes which would otherwise have gone unexamined in this country. Even if they are not punished, ventilating them is important.

The case of Michael Gayle, beaten to death by a state security cordon, is one such.

We are inhabitants of a country which still has an umbilical connection to slavery and its mores, when the proper punishment for anything was a flogging, or for more serious offences, death. We still believe in brutalising offenders, thereby guaranteeing that they will become even worse offenders. We neglect our children, and betray our working class who are all potential criminals.

And, as the people of the ghetto told a university investigating team 10 years ago, they know how they are seen. In a column I wrote in May 1996, discussing what the people told the UWI investigators, I reported:
"The police are universally seen as brutalising the youth, provoking more violence, the people say.

To the youth in one area it seems the police are 'trained' to think that everyone in the community is bad. Regardless of your age or sex they diss you everyday. Even if you show your work ID they tell you that you work in the days to buy bullet to kill at night.

'Dey handle we like we a prisoner.'

The police are suspected to be in cahoots with criminals, selling them guns, giving away 'nformers' and 'living on' those they know sell ganja. Some police are described as lazy, ineffectual and unpredictable. In some areas they do little about many crimes and/or instances of domestic violence.

One community reported that the police tied a youth to a tree for 'target practice' and only the screams of his mother saved him. The police, 'hooligans with legal power', refer to one area as 'bird bush', where they go hunting. To chat on a 'corner' is to invite violent attention from the cops, even if you are shirtless and clearly unarmed."
Mr Adams needs to read that report. It is called: "They Cry Respect'! Urban Violence and Poverty in Jamaica" and if I had the money, I would buy 10,000 of them to distribute to every policeman and woman in Jamaica.

Justice, Where?

If justice is done, it should be manifestly be seen to be done. It may have been justice which freed the policemen, but justice is not satisfied by that verdict. The civil rights of four dead people would appear to have been abrogated by the police, whether by accident or design.

I personally do not believe the police story, given in unsworn testimony which meant that they could not be cross-examined. The jury believed them, and the jury were far better placed than I, to judge. The jury however, did not have the opportunity of hearing from Mr Danhai Williams, from whose premises the allegedly planted gun was sourced. His absence from court seems to have passed without any censure from the Chief Justice or any other officer of the law.

Curious. Especially since his statements outside of court appeared to back up the story of the policeman who said the gun was planted.

I would not allow this matter to rest where it is. I would expect the Attorney-General to order an inquiry, even at this stage, to determine whether, even if the police did not murder these people, they may have unlawfully deprived them of their constitutional rights as human beings and citizens of Jamaica.

I would also advise the relatives of the deceased to launch some suits in the Constitutional Court, to get justice for the dead, even if it won't do them any good.

This case, like the case of the Braeton Seven, leaves a stink in the nostrils of a great many Jamaicans, and it will not be banished by the loudest protestations and flagwaving of Mr Adams and his claque (correct) .

18 December 2005

Oliver Twist in Hong Kong

Common Sense
John Maxwell

On Friday morning, as I write, the Leviathan called Globalisation seems headed for the rocks in Hong Kong. Stark failure faces the Doha round of negotiations for a new world order in which imperialist capitalism would adopt a new persona - a kinder, gentler face disguising the same old rapacious exploitation of the poor of the world.

Masked protesters from the Philippines lead other protesters in marching towards the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in continuing protest Friday Dec 16, 2005 against the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference in this former British colony. The activists have been holding daily protests against WTO's trade liberalisation. (Photo: AP)

Among the rocks in Globalisation's seaway are the newly awakened giants of the Third World or so-called Developing World - India, Brazil and others, as well as - Surprise! Surprise!! - the primary producers of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), former colonies of metropolitan Europe. Marooned in their miserable alms houses, these minor mendicants are saying to the rich masters "Please, Sir, we want more!"

The masters of the alms houses, the Americans, Europeans, Japanese and other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are bemused by these demands, not quite understanding what the little beggars want when they say they are demanding justice.

Absent from the global forum are the Haitians, the people who began the whole process of decolonisation and freedom from plantation slavery. And that is where the apparently intractable quarrel about economic justice began between the rich and the poor of the world.

The Haitian revolution began a 200-year-long process of decolonisation which is ending, as it began, with the Haitians struggling to free themselves from slavery. They were not defeated by force of arms but by compound interest; to escape the French and American trade embargo of their newly independent country, the Haitians agreed to pay the French reparations for their war of Independence.

In neighbouring Jamaica, the planters were recompensed for losing their property when slavery was abolished. Nothing was paid to the ex-slaves, guaranteeing, as in Haiti, the continuing supremacy of the usurers and the shopkeepers. Haiti was the first highly indebted poor country, having to pay the French a penalty estimated by President Aristide to equal US$25,000,000,000 in today's money.

When the Haitians defeated two of Napoleon's armies, a British army and the remnants of the Spanish army in San Domingue, they began a process of exporting revolution and freedom, a process for which they have never been forgiven. It was the Haitians who armed and dispatched Simon Bolivar on his final and successful mission to free Latin America from Spanish rule.

Although slavery was not abolished in Brazil and the United States for another half century, and Cuba did not gain its full independence for another century-and-a-half, Haiti began the process which finally transformed piracy and the plantation economy into the system known today as capitalism. The plantation economy is moribund - not quite dead.

It survives in severely truncated form - as a paraplegic and dysfunctional system in the ACP countries.

There, in Jamaica and other places, its traditions remain strong: social dysfunctions, including seasonal unemployment, economic emigration, social stratification and the stranglehold of elites on primitive economies. In these economies, political parties which claim to represent the masses enjoy the fruits of office while the elites enjoy the much richer perquisites of economic power.

In these economies, it is the commission agents and the shopkeepers who are in power, expressing their displeasure with mass movements by withdrawing their confidence and their bank accounts from time to time to enforce 'fiscal discipline' and usurious rates of unearned rent - income from 'government paper' issued by the representatives of the wealth creators for the greater good of the wealth consumers.

Reparative Justice?

The helplessness and intellectual bankruptcy of the plantation economies is nowhere better expressed than in last Thursday's speech in Hong Kong by Jamaica's minister of foreign affairs, the Hon K D Knight, QC.

According to this newspaper on Friday, Mr Knight told the Ministerial Meeting of the WTO that the deliberations would only be successful "to the extent that there was a discernible movement on the development agenda". This, according to Mr Knight, meant:
  • The promotion of the productive sectors through trade;
  • The sustained development of the commodity sector;
  • Building supply capacity and competitiveness and increasing market access for developing countries in the areas of exports, including agriculture, commodities, apparel and labour and resource intensive manufactures and services.
Which, being interpreted, means: "Give us a 'bly' enabling us to build more free zones, dig bigger and more destructive holes in the landscape and have enough left over for food stamps." The argument over Universal Human Rights and Justice which began in Haiti 201 years ago is now subsumed into a piteous cry for bigger, better, kindlier and gentler alms houses.

The Third World are asking, like Bustamante in 1944 in Jamaica, for a 'lickle more bread and a lickle butter'. There are some others who are asking for an entirely different menu, for what some describe as a 'preposterous' demand for reparations, compensation for the injuries and injustices of the last five centuries. Their argument is that just as the Germans had to recompense the Jews for the injuries inflicted on them and their fellows by Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich, so should the Americans, English, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Belgians pay for their depredations in Africa and the New World.

These depredations continued after slavery and continue to this day, as the Europeans, made rich by their exploitation, have maximised and entrenched their extortion of wealth by new profit-making systems in the form of tariffs, protectionism, quotas and, most of all, unfair terms of trade and ruinous interest rates.

These systems in turn, finance a wealth distributive system in subsidies and social services which keep the metropolitan working classes out of political and trade union mischief.

What Mr Knight and his Third World backers want is that the rich recognise that we too, have domestic constituencies to be mollified. The unspoken rider to this argument is 'Hey! food stamps are insurance against civil unrest and a lot cheaper than an expeditionary force'.

Meanwhile, the colonial elites, amassing new fortunes by the week, don't put their money where their mouths are - their funds are in Cayman, Nassau, Bermuda, Liechtenstein and Jersey.

From there, the money which could be invested in Jamaican enterprise, becomes part of the immense fund of Foreign Direct Investment which is channelled by the global casino bosses into China, Taiwan and other places whose ministers are never tired of echoing the European masters' preachments that we are poor because we are poor and/or shiftless, or socialist, or corrupt or simply stupid.

In the 1970s, as part of the many short, sharp shocks administered by the international financial institutions (IFI), we were told we could not subsidise our farmers or our poor. Subsidies distorted the market. Our subsidies, instead, were added to the subsidies paid to American agro-industry and European farmers. It makes sound economic sense to subsidise the millionaire Fanjuls in Florida sugar or market colossi like Archer Daniels, Monsanto, Chiquita (ex-United Fruit), Boeing and Microsoft.

The British are refusing to give up their £8,000,000,000 annual subsidy from Europe and the French will fight to the death to retain their even larger dole from the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

The electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) of the IFIs works no better on countries than it did on the mentally ill in 'asylums'. Nor does the intellectual and emotional lobotomisation of whole generations of political leaders. We now have leaders whose mental processes have been surgically separated from their cultural roots, but out in the grassroots, crazy people still speak of socialism and absurd concepts such as the greatest good for the greatest number.

Paradoxically, political ECT may yet prove beneficial; if only we could persuade the rich and powerful to behave as brutally as their perceived self-interest tells them.

Nothing would be better for us than a Cuban-style embargo, forcing us to think for ourselves, forcing us to look to our real resources, in our cultures, our imaginations, our ingenuity, our people.

We prattle about agro-industry, forgetting that sugar was the original and most deadly of all agro-industry. Mr Kinght's prescriptions lead to an intellectual, economic and cultural dead end. If we were to wake up and realise that if we stopped paying extortionate interest - exporting barrels of money to Cayman, Bermuda, and similar ratholes - we would immediately triple the amount at the disposal of the government; we would understand that salvation is in our own hands and not in the hands of the successors to Enron, or the psalm-singers of Microsoft or the cooing doves of Citibank, Standard & Poors and the US State Department.

If the people of Jamaica were to understand that the government of Jamaica exports twice as much of their own hard-earned money to develop foreign capitalism as it spends on developing Jamaica, things would soon change. And we would not have to repatriate Haitians running away from tyranny.

Democracy and Development

The US-written Master Narrative of Cuba is so pervasive that most of us find it almost impossible to imagine what life could be like in "Communist Cuba". There are some fascinating snippets in the news about the fates of the people of New Orleans which was devastated three months ago by Hurricane Katrina.

New Orleans, a city of 600,000 people, was devastated because safety precautions which were known to be necessary were never taken. The levees (dikes) which should have prevented most of the storm surge failed and thousands of people were left homeless and jobless. The dikes should have been strengthened years ago.

Further, the emergency management systems failed, mostly because of incompetence and malign neglect. The result is that most of the hurricane refugees are still scattered to the four winds, some as far away as Alaska, and the culture of the most cosmopolitan city in the US has been scattered with them.

One harrowing story in the December 8 New York Times (NYT) tells of Tracy Jackson and Jerel Brown and their four young children who "share a twin bed and thin mattress on the floor [in] the 14th place they have laid their heads since Hurricane Katrina struck just over 14 weeks ago."

As the NYT says: "The immediate aftermath of the hurricane exposed the deep divide between New Orleans's haves and have-nots, as middle-class families rushed to hotels while the poorest of the poor suffered in the squalor of the Superdome.

"The chasm remains, more than three months later. the Jackson-Browns, who are not married and lack high school diplomas, credit cards, even driver's licenses, are among the legions of desperately destitute still lost and in limbo."

Three days later, the NYT said in an editorial: "We are about to lose New Orleans. Whether it is a conscious plan to let the city rot until no one is willing to move back or honest paralysis over difficult questions, the moment is upon us when a major American city will die, leaving nothing but a few shells for tourists to visit like a museum.

"We said this wouldn't happen. President Bush said it wouldn't happen. He stood in Jackson Square and said, "There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans". But it has been over three months since Hurricane Katrina struck and the city is in complete shambles." (NYT Dec 11).

If a civilisation is to be judged by the care it takes of its most helpless, it may be instructive to compare the situation in Cuba. Although Cuba has been visited by many more and more violent hurricanes than the US, fewer than two dozen Cubans have been lost to hurricanes in the last five years.

In Cuba, the entire country is organised to protect and preserve life and community. The neighbourhood Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) are in fact organisations for community preservation. Every Cuban knows what to do and where to go and the CDRs make sure that no one is left behind, neither man, woman, child, nor domestic pet nor farm animal.

Cuba is even poorer than Jamaica in the IFIs' economic estimation. That the Cubans can do better than the United States at protecting their people is an amazing and perhaps incendiary fact. As you can see, I have refrained from commenting on these facts. Nevertheless, I am certain that merely revealing them is likely to cause me no end of trouble.

11 December 2005

A Maiming of the Soul

Common Sense
John Maxwell

It is hard to feel sorry for a woman who has a supertanker named after her, a woman whose IQ is probably nearly twice as high as most of the men she works with, a woman who if she wanted to change jobs would probably be offered three or four times what she is paid as the second most important official in the US Government.

It is really hard to be sorry for Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state. Last week I felt sorry for her. I was looking at a photograph of Dr Rice and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, taken by the AP's Markus Schreiber at a media briefing in Berlin on Tuesday.

Dr Rice had a hunted look; the face of one cornered, surrounded by enemies, with no place to hide, no way to turn. Frau Merkel just looks terribly sad.

They were surrounded only by journalists, who these days are among the most toothless and harmless alleged predators anywhere. Dr Rice's face reflected an entirely different reality: she was trapped, cornered and hunted by the lies of the Bush administration about its treatment of 'unlawful combatants' or 'battlefield detainees' hidden and tortured in dozens of black holes round the world.

We've known about them and their treatment for a long time. On January 19, 2002, before the start of the Iraq War, I wrote: "The American prisoners of war, or, as they call them, 'battlefield detainees' are causing a great deal of trouble for the United States. A large number of people round the world are repulsed and horrified by the treatment meted out to these men, even if, as the Americans claim, they are 'the most dangerous folks in the world'.

"To sedate them on their flights, or to put hoods over their heads and surgical masks over their faces, to shave them and put them in solitary confinement on a concrete floor surrounded by barbed wire may be, of course, some people's idea of a Caribbean vacation.

"Mr Donald Rumsfeld, that macho symbol of American resolve, says he does not greatly care how the men are treated, although, as their official captor, he is accountable under the rules of war. And the attorney-general of the United States, Mr Ashcroft, the principal lawman for the United States of America, says he doesn't think that the men 'deserve basic constitutional protection'. They are, according to him, 'war criminals'.

"In the words of General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, these most dangerous 'folks' are ready, to chew their way through the hydraulic lines of a C-17 plane, to bring it down. And no doubt, they are capable of levitation, of causing ball lightning and turning people to stone with their basilisk's eyes."

Three years later, I see nothing to retract in that judgment. The US administration never regarded their 'battlefield detainees' as human beings - which is why the administration has now found itself trapped in a semantic and moral maze, leaving it to Dr Rice with her formidable intellect, to convince the world that the United States does not torture its captives despite the enormity of the evidence to the contrary.

According to the Associated Press on May 3, 2003, Dr Rice's predecessor as secretary of state had, "In a strongly worded letter, urged Pentagon officials to move faster in determining which prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can be released".

Even then, shortly after the start of the Iraq invasion, the former soldier was obviously worried about the developing scandal, part of which was the disclosure that children as young as 13 were being held at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay.

According to the US News & World Report that week, "Citing complaints from eight allies whose citizens are among the prisoners, Powell said in the letter that mishandling the detainees undermines efforts to win international co-operation in the war on terror".

In the same story, the AP reported that "Rumsfeld has said the prisoners were being interrogated for any information they had on planned terrorist activities. they would continue to be held indefinitely until it is determined they pose no threat and until interrogators were convinced they had no more useful intelligence to offer".

Long-Range Planners

Al-Qaeda are reputed to be long-range planners, but can anyone believe that any of the detainees who have been in durance vile for two and three years have any plans to disgorge? Yet, the stories coming out of Guantanamo Bay and other places reveal that the torture continues, inexorably, with no end in sight. Occasionally the US releases people who are clearly innocent.

Their stories are heartbreaking. They do not know what is wanted of them, their inquisitors go over the same questions day after day, week after week, month after month. They are humiliated, degraded, treated as less than human. The lucky ones have killed themselves.

After the Korean War, Americans should understand better than anyone that many people can be brainwashed, but many can never be broken. The story I related last week, of Fidel Castro's comrade in arms, Abel Santamaria, proves the point.

The behaviour of Haydee Santamaria, his sister, only makes it more forcefully. In a jail cell, presented with her brother's bleeding eye, torn from his living body, Haydee was told, "This eye belonged to your brother. If you will not tell us what he refused to say, we will tear out the other".

She, who loved her brave brother above all other things, replied with dignity, "If you tore out his eye and he did not speak, neither will I".

Torture does not work. Most of the information gleaned from it is untrustworthy. Those who cannot stand the pain will tell the inquisitors whatever they think they want to hear.

So, can anyone believe that information-gathering is the real purpose of torture? The original inquisitors did not think so. They put their victims "to the test" knowing perfectly well that there was no information to be gained. But they tortured and burnt their victims for the greater glory of God and their own perverse and pathological satisfactions.

It is clear that Dr Rice's torture explanations have satisfied no one. The European foreign ministers, having embarrassed the US to the point where Dr Rice apparently promised no more torture, no more renditions, chalked up a victory.

Their constituents, however, continue to be incensed by the behaviour of the United States and will continue to complain as more horror stories come to light. Last week, as Dr Rice was speaking to the Europeans, a man called Khaled al-Masri was speaking by satellite link-up to a news conference in Washington.

Mr al-Masri is a German citizen of Lebanese origin. On holiday in Macedonia, he was kidnapped and handed over to Americans. He was taken to a prison in Afghanistan where he was held incommunicado for five months and tortured. He was also sodomised by his jailers.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mr al-Masri is suing the Central Intelligence Agency and its former head, George Tenet, and the US government. The ACLU says this is the first case to challenge the kidnapping of foreign nationals for 'interrogations' in secret prisons in third countries.

The German Chancellor, Frau Merkel, brought the case to the attention of Dr Rice on Tuesday. According to Merkel, "The US government has, of course, accepted the case as a mistake". Who told her to say that?

Dr Rice's spokesmen denied that the secretary had accepted al-Masri's case as a mistake; Dr Rice had said only that "Any policy will sometimes result in errors, and when it happens we will do everything to rectify it".

That's odd, because Mr al-Masri was denied entry to the US last weekend when he arrived in Atlanta. If the US is serious about correcting mistakes, that was not a promising start. But perhaps it was all due to an error in interpretation - except that Frau Merkel speaks excellent English.

Values we Share?

Four years ago, shortly after 9/11 I was one of those who counselled the US not to allow anger to distort judgment. "In all the millions of words about Tuesday's horrific tragedy, few have been used to ask Why? to seek the real reasons. Blasting the visible manifestations of a cancer may achieve cosmetic improvement, but the concealed body of the parasitic tumour will not disappear.

"Injustice is the most eloquent recruiter for terrorism. Injustice breeds desperation. Suicidal behaviour is almost always a desperate call for help. People who are willing to destroy themselves along with randomly selected groups of innocents are speaking the language of violence, which they know their enemies understand. Unfortunately, while their enemies understand the language, they do not usually listen to the message."

But Mr Bush was adamant: "Remember. the ones in Guantanamo Bay are killers. They don't share the same values we share" (March 20, 2002).

There was angry and learned dissent, of course. One of the most eloquent came from one of Britain's most senior judges: "The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was, and is, to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts and at the mercy of victors.

"As a lawyer brought up to admire the ideals of American democracy and justice I would have to say that I regard this as a monstrous failure of justice," Lord Steyn said.

Lord Steyn said it was a recurring theme in history "that in times of war, armed conflict, or perceived national danger, even liberal democracies adopt measures infringing human rights in ways that are wholly disproportionate to the crisis. Often the loss of liberty is permanent" (November 26, 2003).

"The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay complies with the minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials," Lord Steyn continued. "The answer can be given quite shortly. It is a resounding 'no'. Prisoners at the Camp Delta base on Cuba are being held in conditions of 'utter lawlessness'."

That verdict was reinforced last week by some of the most learned and respected judges in the world, the British House of Lords, sitting as the Supreme Court of the UK. In a judgment delivered on Thursday, the seven Law Lords denounced torture and any attempt to use evidence obtained by torture in British courts.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice who chaired the panel, said English law had regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for more than 500 years. "The principles of the common law, standing alone, in my opinion compel the exclusion of third-party torture evidence as unreliable, unfair, offensive to ordinary standards of humanity and decency and incompatible with the principles which should animate a tribunal seeking to administer justice."

Lord Hoffman: "The use of torture is dishonourable .It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. In our own century, many people in the United States have felt their country dishonoured by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal 'rendition' of suspects to countries where they would be tortured."

Lord Hope: "Torture [is] one of the most evil practices known to man. practices authorised for use in Guantanamo Bay would shock the conscience if they were ever to be authorised for use in our own country."

Lord Rodger: The torturer is abhorred "not because the information he produces may be unreliable but because of the barbaric means he uses to extract it".

Lord Nicholls: "Torture is not acceptable. No civilised society condones its use. This is a bedrock moral principle in this country. For centuries the common law has set its face against torture."

Lord Brown: "Torture is an unqualified evil. It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished."

04 December 2005

History Will Absolve Fidel

Common Sense
John Maxwell

On my way to Panama last week, I had the theoretical options of going by way of Miami or through Cuba. Obeying my instincts and listening to my intelligence, I decided more than a year ago that my life could do without my tempting fate and the PATRIOT Act. I would no longer apply for a visa to visit the US. 'Coward man keep soun' bone', as the Jamaican aphorism says.

Since the Cubans prefer Canadian dollars to US currency, I decided to change some US dollars at the airport cambio. The lady in charge asked me for my passport, I supposed to ascertain that I was who I said I was. But there was more. She scanned my passport into a machine and then phoned someone.

I presumed that my name had come up on some list connected with my passport. I asked her if she scanned every passport to change $100. She didn't answer, nor did she answer when I asked her whether the joint was run by the CIA.

When I was leaving Panama to return to Jamaica my passport again occasioned surprise at the COPA airline check in. The matter was, however, resolved without my ever knowing what was at issue. I may be paranoid, but as Henry Kissinger once quoted, "even paranoiacs have enemies".

I say this because I would be a fool not to know that I am in some circles considered if not an enemy of the United States, at least unqualified to be embedded with the Marines. I have known this for years, in fact, for nearly 40 years. American paranoia is not a product of the Bush administration. It has almost always been there.

I mention all this because of the relative ease with which it is possible to defame people, particularly in Third World politics with the enthusiastic participation of the United States press.

While they demonise Aristide, Castro and Chavez, for instance, they say very little about terrorists like Posada Carriles and his protector and co-conspirator Santiago Alvarez (not the filmmaker). The Master Narrative, as Tom Blivens calls it, omits the context.

There was precious little coverage in the US last week of the arrest of the wealthy developer, Santiago Alvarez in Miami. Apart from the Miami Herald and a few small town newspapers, nobody else seemed interested although the Herald reported: "The case against Posada's close associates has the potential to create a political firestorm for the White House, with hardline exile activists vowing to protest and defend Alvarez against what they see as an attack by Castro."

This is because Alvarez is a prominent supporter of Jeb Bush and is also accused of ferrying the airplane bomber Posada illegally into the United States and giving him shelter once there.

According to the Herald, the the Cuban community in Miami is incensed, saying that President Bush is catering to Castro by arresting a man who they regard as a freedom fighter, but who is a terrorist by any other definition.

The Cuban government has on tape a conversation between Santiago Alvarez and one of his agents who had been sent to conduct sabotage in Cuba. The agent asked Santiago whether he should bomb the world famous Tropicana night-club and Santiago replied, "It's OK with me."

Mr Alvarez also has been accused by Cuba of organising a 2001 'mission' in which three Miami-Dade men were captured trying to land in Cuba with assault rifles.

He is also suspected of being Posada's backer in the expedition to Panama in 2001 in which Posada intended to bomb an auditorium with hundreds of people come to listen to Fidel Castro. "We are seeing signals that indicate that the administration of President Bush is forgetting the promises they made to the exile community in order to cater to Castro,'' said Cuban American National Foundation President Francisco ''Pepe'' Hernandez according to the Miami Herald.

Next day the Herald, valiantly straddling the fence, boldly declared that while storing assassination weaponry was against the law, 'good intentions do not excuse criminal actions: "We, too, would like to see Cubans on the island freed from a tyrant. But good intentions do not excuse criminal actions."

As it happened, on Thursday, in Jose Marti airport, I decided to reread Fidel Castro's speech in defence of the Moncada uprising in 1953. The last defiant line of the speech : "Condemn me; it does not matter. History will absolve me."

I first read the speech in 1960, on my first visit to Cuba. The air was electric. The ammunition ship, La Coubre had just been blown up by saboteurs in Havana harbour, killing hundreds - the crew, dockworkers and innocent people in their houses or at work.

The revolution was hard at work, building prefabricated houses to replace the bohios (Thatched huts) in which the farm workers and peasants lived, building new housing all over the island, providing free medical care for pregnant women of any class, and above all, wiping out illiteracy. On the day I arrived, President Eisenhower approved the end of the Cuban sugar quota. War had been declared.

I was impressed then, and am now, with the revolutionary determination to bring equality of treatment to all. Illiteracy and AIDS are almost non-existent in Cuba, there is a doctor for every 100 Cubans, the infant mortality rate is the lowest in the world and three quarters of the population are in some form of educational pursuit.

As Castro promised in his speech in 1953, every school teacher at every level in Cuba gets a sabbatical year in which to pursue any academic interest.

"History will absolve me" is, first of all, an attempt to lay the legal basis for the revolution; to rescue the Cuban people from Fulgencio Batista, a usurper, a tyrant, a man who tortured and murdered his opponents and sold Cuba's self-respect to the highest bidder, which, usually, was the Mafia or other American interests.

Castro contended that contrary to the charges against him, he was being tried for doing his duty to overthrow oppression. He then denounced the regime's response to the July 26 uprising, in which officers of the Cuban army tortured and murdered some of the men they had captured. Castro was especially bitter because he had defended the army on an earlier occasion, accusing the state of using soldiers as slaves on private estates.

He reported on the fate of his closest comrade Abel Santamaria, who had been captured alive. I have never been able to forget his description:
Frustrated by the men's courage, they tried to break the women's spirit. A sergeant with several other men came with a bleeding human eye in his hand into the cell where our comrades Melba Hernandez and Haydee Santamaria were held. Addressing the latter and showing her the eye, he said, "This eye belonged to your brother. If you will not tell us what he refused to say, we will tear out the other".

She, who loved her brave brother above all other things replied with dignity, "If you tore out his eye and he did not speak, neither will I."

Later they came back and burned their arms with cigarette stubs until at last, filled with hate, they told young Haydee Santamaria "You no longer have a boyfriend, because we killed him too."
Earlier in the speech, Fidel Castro outlined his plans for Cuba in relation to the existing situation, where more than half the land was in the hands of foreigners, while 200,000 peasant farmers did not have "a single vara of land to plant food crops for their starving children".

Except for a few foods, lumber and textile factories, Cuba was still a producer of raw materials, There were 200,000 bohios (dirt floored thatched huts) and hovels in Cuba, 400,000 families lived in slums that lacked even the most basic sanitary conveniences, 2.2 million paid extortionate rents and 2.8 million people (more than half the population) in rural and suburban Cuba lacked electricity.

He spoke about a society moved to compassion by the kidnapping of a single child, but criminally indifferent to the "mass murder" of the many thousands of children who died every year because of poverty, of fathers working only four months of the year, of a million people unemployed. In a country with five and a half-million people, more people were jobless than in France or Italy with populations nearly ten times as large.

Castro proposed revolutionary laws, first to give sovereignty back to the people, a government vested with the power to enforce the people's will and true justice, another to give non-transferrable ownership of land to tenants and subtenants, to introduce profit sharing in business and in the sugar industry, to recover stolen national property which would be then used to subsidise workers' pensions and for hospitals and other charitable work and finally a policy of revolutionary solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the continent.

Looking back at the speech today, more than fifty years, I am struck by two things: the idealism of the aims and the fact that most of those aims have in fact been achieved.

There have been mistakes made, many of them serious, but overall, if one compares Cuba to its nearest neighbours, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and jamaica, it is clear that Cubans enjoy a far better quality of life than citizens of the others. And in World Bank terms, it is poorer than all except Haiti.

For one thing, crime is almost non-existent and violent crime is statistically insignificant. People still steal and profiteer, but civil society seems alive and well in Cuba.

The care given to the weakest and most vulnerable is extraordinary and Cuban health care is recognised as among the very best in the world. The same is true of education, and just as Cubans now have a doctor in every neighbourhood (1 doctor to every 100 Cubans) they are getting university-level centres set up in every borough. And education is almost completely free.

The proportion of people completing the primary education cycle was lowest in the province of Guantanamo in 2004. It was 94%.

The highest unemployment rate in the country is in the province of Havana, where it is 2.3%. Daily food intake is over 3 kilo calories and less than 2% of the population is at risk of malnutrition. In almost every single index of human development, Cuba is far ahead of the rest of Latin America and in many cases, Cuba outperforms many developed countries, including the United States. Cuba carried out its first heart transplant nearly thirty years ago. The level of technology uis world class.

But, I am always asked, what about democracy? What about freedom of speech? Human rights? Perhaps since I am not a Cuban, it would be pretentious to even attempt to answer these questions.

I wish, however, to remind people that the United States has been engaged in what it regards as a war against Cuba for the last 46 years. The overt terrorist is clearly not over, with people like Santiago Alvarez stockpiling assassin's weapons.

When one is under attack, as the United States considers itself to be, there are restrictions on some freedoms, as in the case of the PATRIOT ACT.

But I do not believe that there are prisoners of the Cuban state who are tortured, mistreated and otherwise abused and denied fundamental human rights as are the prisoners of the American state at Guantanamo Bay, ironically, on Cuba soil where the US is illegally squatting.

And Cuba continues to be the victim of a wide range of illegal actions designed to bring down the government. We do have some answers, however, including 'refugees' from Cuba who have chosen to return to their home country. Of course, you don';t hear about them.

But we have all heard about Elian Gonzalez and his father, a security guard in Cuba. If you remember, Juan Miguel Gonzalez was offered a free mansion, millions of dollars and a life of ease if he would only renounce Cuba and relocate to the United States.

All that Cuba could have promised was more of what he was accustomed to - a life as a security guard in a country secure in its integrity and in its people.

I suspect that most Cubans would have made the same choice. I don't know too many Jamaicans who would have. And that is precisely why Castro, Chavez and Aristide are being demonised, traduced and libelled. Humanity is subversive and leaders who listen to people are extremely dangerous to the established order.

27 November 2005

Obituary: the Late, not Great, King Sugar

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The decomposing corpse of the West Indian sugar plantation system was officially certified dead on Thursday, half a century after it had ceased to show signs of life. The declaration was greeted, as such declarations generally are, by much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The 18 African/ Caribbean/Pacific countries which are most affected have lost a pillar of the slave-owning community, a system which has supported for five hundred years the dehumanisation, degradation and inhuman subjection of millions of people, mainly of African descent.

In our part of the world sugar is more than an industry. It is the living ghost of the slave system under which between 18 and 30 million people were transported across the Atlantic, their lives, families, communities and cultures destroyed, to produce wealth for capitalists in Britain, Europe and the United States. It was the acme of human parasitism.

And it has taken an unconscionably long time to die. Among the reasons for its longevity are its offspring; among them modern capitalism, the Industrial revolution, the rotary newspaper press, the steam engine, the railway, the proletarianisation and dehumanisation of millions of people in Europe and elsewhere.

And it is this which makes the plaintive bleats of the bereaved so heart rending. A man would need a heart of stone not to laugh, as somebody once said.

According to the ACP countries, the European Union's cutting of the Gordian umbilical cord last Thursday will bring in its train a host of disasters:for ACP sugar supplying states "and inevitably lead to the destruction of centuries old traditions of sugar production with devastating socio-economic consequences".

I don't know about the devastating socio-economic consequences, but I do know that we are all well rid of the "centuries-old traditions of sugar production". I cannot believe that this argument could ever form part of an appeal by any self-respecting ex-colonial - but it is the official position of the ACP countries.

According to them:
"It is estimated that the [European] Commission's proposal would lead to a loss in income of up to euro 400 million annually in ACP countries. the knock on effects of this reform, which hardly bear contemplating, would include:
  • macro-economic instability;
  • the crippling of national efforts to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals;
  • the closure of countless estates;
  • the complete undermining of modernisation efforts already underway within the sugar industry;
  • the failure of smallholders' cooperatives and collapse of local farmers' banks;
  • massive unemployment, rural instability and urban migration; a dramatic and alarming increase in poverty; increased crime;
  • national destablization in all ACP countries and heightened insecurity in the Caribbean region; and
  • environmental degradation."
If all this were true it would indeed be tragic, except that the foolish virgins of the ACP have known for nearly 40 years that this day would come and did nothing to prepare for it.

If they had had the imagination and the will to act to defend the interests of the ordinary people, the poor, they would not, as Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson has done, concentrate on improving the confidence and bank accounts of the rich at the expense of the poor; they would not, as Mr Patterson has done, undertake billion US dollar 'infrastructure programmes to build new highways when what was needed was to build the social infrastructure for human development and to reduce poverty, inequality and crime and violence.

Get a Life!

For 500 years the best land in Jamaica and in the ACP countries has been sequestered by the agents of Diabetes Inc. to produce a 'good' which has no food value although it is classed as a food.

The best agricultural land is held in latifundia, all over the ACP countries, starving the peasants whose forefathers made the latifundistas wealthy, in a social system which destroys families, corrupts, depraves and and devastate community and erodes and devalues social capital.

Before now I have said that growing sugar cane in Jamaica is as appropriate as it would be for the Jews to make bakeries out of the ovens of Auschwitz and Dachau.

Because of sugar and its sequestration of land and power, parasitic elites, providing moneylending and merchandising services to the industry, have grown up in turn to batten off the surplus labour of the peasants and to despise them privately as they do explicitly to the Haitians, as incapable of governing themselves.

This, incidentally, is a rich irony, as anyone who has read anything by me over the last year or so will realise, and as some scholars such as Sibylle Fischer, Verene Shepherd and Clinton Hutton are pointing out, the modern world had its genesis in the Caribbean where the Haitians were the first to declare and implement the fundamental, inalienable human rights of every human being.

But the elites - and their honorary brothers-in-office - have always been lazy, have always been able to rely on the softness of heart of their European patrons. When it came to the crunch, the metropole would never let them down.

Of course they don't count what happened upon the abolition of slavery because although they thought the empire niggardly, the owners at least were recompensed for slavery while the slaves were not.

Four decades ago then prime minister of Jamaica, Alexander Bustamante, arrived at my workplace, the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, to demand that I be dismissed, fired, because I had dared to expose a truth: that the British, after exploiting us for 300 years, were leaving us with the munificent gift of the Jamaican army headquarters- which they could not take with them - and enough money to service the government for 11 days. It was lèse majesté to speak like that.

What I had forgotten to say at the time was that the British had 'forgotten' to return a quarter of a million pounds they 'borrowed' from us during the war, and had not recognised the blood sacrifice of Jamaicans killed in Imperial service in West Africa, in the Boer War, in both World Wars, or to even say they were sorry about the hundreds of thousands they had sacrificed in slavery in Jamaica and the millions elsewhere.

As the people of Colombia and Peru are now being punished for the American addiction to cocaine, so were we punished for the European addiction to sugar.

Ask the Cubans about the Platt Amendment which yoked them to sugar in perpetuity to the US in order to finance the Cuban elite and the Mafia, but which, when it came to the crunch in 1960, was found to be dispensable, no matter how much hardship its abrogation would cause the ordinary human beings whose production and labour and humanity were devalued at a stroke - by one flourish of President Eisenhower's pen.

Much of the best land is Jamaica has been effectively idle for decades. As Mr R F Innes, then Director of Research for the Sugar Manufacturers Association said in 1963, Jamaica could be producing then, at least 30 per cent more sugar on the land the estates occupied.

Since then production has declined by 70 per cent, but the land is still sequestered from the people who earned it by their tears, sweat, blood and their suffering, their misery and their dehumanisation.

Meanwhile, as Cuba was doing in 1960, Jamaica is doing now; we are importing tomatoes and cabbage and eggs and bread and water and sugar and you name it from the United States and the people who used to grow or make those things are selling hairpins and boxes of matches by the roadside. They are self-employed entrepreneurs - just like the elite.

During the war, Jamaica could not import food from abroad because all the cargo space available was needed for the war effort. The problem was solved by a functionary called (with bureaucratic felicity), The Competent Authority. This worthy simply decreed that 10 per cent of all sugar lands be planted in food crops.

Now, while in Florida, farmers will produce US$60 million worth of citrus on land equivalent to the acreage occupied by the Monymusk and New Yarmouth sugar estates, in Jamaica we stare vacantly and dream about riches from the land overgrown in bush.

While sugar was king, even when, as recently it was a king in exile, it has always been able to prevent Jamaicans from taking action to save themselves, to rescue, rehabilitate and educate their children and to create caring communities in which crime would be the outsider's game.

We have always known, for instance, why people steal farm produce - praedial larceny it is called here, but we have never attempted to understand how we could get the malefactors to grow their own food and so increase the size of the national bread.

Sugar is the antidote to thought.

Sugar is a specific against imagination, against everything except money and depravity. It incites hyperactivity, noise and mindless idleness.

It is time for us to go cold turkey.To kick the habit. To end the addiction and to go to work for ourselves and our people

A 'Heck' of a world

On Tuesday my email was suddenly populated by spam of a peculiarly sinister sort. Under a variety of inducements, these emails instructed me to open an attachment. I didn't obey the summons. Instead I went to my menu, found the "long header" option and redirected the email to (abuse@xxx.com) the internet service provider from whose domains they had come.

One or two thanked me, although one replied huffily, that I had sent them a forbidden type of attachment. That ISP was probably one of those inundated by the Sober worm which was what my emails contained.

Because I didn't open the suspect emails, my computer was neither affected by the virus nor could it dispatch copies of it to my correspondents, as did the computers of those unwise enough to open the attachments.

I bring this up because the person who sent the worm obviously knows a little psychology. Most people who get an email saying it is from the FBI or CIA and alleging that the users have visited 'illegal websites' are almost certain to open the attachment.

In normal times some of us would have opened the emails anyway, simply out of an ingrained sense of guilt. But I believe the reason this worm spread so fast was that so many people have lost confidence in their governments and are afraid of them, afraid that in this age of War Against Terrorism, they may have unwittingly entrapped themselves and thus need to plea bargain with their minders.

If that is true, it is a frightening index of how the War on Terror has corrupted all of us, from the functionaries of the state to the poor, inoffensive non-journalist who is simply out to have fun on the Internet.

Of course, he or she will have read about the British government invoking the Official Secrets Act to ban any further disclosures about President Bush's reported desire to bomb Al Jazeera. Of course, if the story were not true, it would not be an Official Secret, would it?

We really do live in a hell (ooops ! "Heck") of a world.

20 November 2005

Breaches of Trust

Common Sense
John Maxwell

As I understand them, the rules are pretty simple. Freedom of the press is the public's right to truthful information so that people can make up their own minds on matters which may concern their survival, their happiness and their ordinary existence.

Corporations cannot have human rights because they are not human beings. Freedom of expression, of which freedom of the press is just one part, is the essential baseline of democratic organisation. If people do not know the truth, if it is distorted, skewed or hidden from them, they are likely to endanger themselves and others because they do not have the information on which they may act rationally.

It is now clear from the opinion polls that in the matter of the Iraq war, most Americans are now aware that they have been misled, lied to and deceived by their leaders as well as by the press whose duty it is to keep politicians honest and the stream of public information pure and unsullied.

The press, which is one expression of this freedom of expression, has the duty and responsibility to tell the truth as completely and as accurately as it can. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is a rubric not just for the courthouse but for any purveyor of public information.

The people have the right to know where their news originates, just as they have the right to know where their drinking water originates. In both cases, the people have the right to know that what they are consuming has not been tampered with or adulterated in any way.

So I have been bemused first by the case of Judith Miller and now by the case of Bob Woodward. Both claim to be journalists, and until now, both seemed to be. But now both have been exposed as stooges of power, accomplices of people who distort the truth and feed lies to the public to satisfy their own lusts and ambitions.

The recent disclosure by Bob Woodward that he has been, for two years, helping to defend an official programme of lying and disinformation has destroyed for me, whatever credibility Woodward may have had as a chronicler of important events. He is an accomplice in the falsification of history.

Some commentators in the US appear to believe that Woodward's announcement means an 'ease-up' for Mr Scooter Libby, because Woodward has said that Libby was not the first official to leak the name of Valerie Plame to a journalist.

But that is not what Mr Libby is charged with. He is under indictment for lying to a grand jury and to an FBI investigation and for obstruction of justice. Nothing that Mr Woodward has said or can say will change that. In fact, Mr Woodward's testimony may make life more stressful for Mr Libby, since it is probably now possible to reconstruct the lines of an official conspiracy to mislead the American public and the world.

Two questions occur to me in this regard. First is to whom could Mr Woodward have been talking who could have referred, almost as gossip, about Mrs Wilson? The second is why would Mrs Wilson's name have come up in this conversation, apparently, out of the blue?

Mr Woodward has bought himself a lot more time infront of the grand jury and may end up being indicted himself.

Reasonable Doubt

In July 2003, shortly after Ambassador Wilson's op-ed piece in the New York Times exposed the Niger uranium hoax, the Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba told Corriere della Sera that she gave documents on Iraq seeking uranium from Niger to the US embassy in Rome last year to try to find out if the information was credible.

"The story seemed fake to me," she said, and she published nothing on it. "I realised that this could be a worldwide scoop, but . . . if it turned out to be a hoax and I published it I would have ended my career."

Miss Burba had gone to the trouble of going to Niger herself to check the story before turning the papers over to the US embassy in Rome. Presumably she told the embassy what she had done. She heard nothing from the embassy.

One would have imagined that the Embassy would have made its own inquiries before sending suspect documents up the line. It would have been as easy or easier for the Embassy to send a fact checker to Niger as it had been for Miss Burba.to go For some reason, however, they appeared to have simply transmitted the documents to Washington.

Miss Burba says that if the documents were true she would have had a world scoop but that if they were not and she published them it would have meant the end of her career.

If an Italian journalist could have had such reservations, would we not expect that seasoned diplomats and intelligence professionals would have had their own doubts and would have tried to resolve them. They could simply have phoned the French Embassy in Rome or the IAEA in Geneva. They did not apparently do any of these things. The hoax had wheels and was moving fast.

In July 2003 when the hoax fell apart, the Sunday Telegraph phoned the french Ambassador to Niger and the Independent phoned the Niger minister of mines who both dismissed the story out of hand. France controls the mining of uranium in Niger and the International Atomic Energy Agency controls the disposition of uranium. Didn't the US embassy know that?

Miss Burba, according to the Associated press, told Corriere della Sera that the documents appeared to show that Iraq wanted to buy uranium from Niger. She became suspicious because the documents talked about huge amounts of uranium yet were short on details. She then went to Niger.

On her return, she told her editor "the story seemed fake to me". After further discussions, Burba brought the documents to the US embassy. "I went by myself and gave them the dossier. No one said anything more to me," Burba was quoted as saying.

An extract from the top secret National Intelligence Estimate which was used in composing Mr Bush's speech was released by the White House in July 2003. According to that extract, the State department told the CIA that "The claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's [the department's in-house intelligence arm] assessment, highly dubious," the State Department wrote in a 90-page report prepared by the CIA in October.

The State Department's said Saddam Hussein "continues to want nuclear weapons" and is making "at least a limited effort to maintain and acquire nuclear weapon-related capabilities". Those activities "do not, however, add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing an . . . integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons".

One imagines that such a report must have been prepared for the White house, for the National Security Adviser certainly. Condoleezza Rice, who then occupied that position. According to her, when the yellow cake hit the fan, nobody in her neck of the woods was conscious of any doubt about the claim.

However bizarre that explanation sounds, it does make one wonder why then did Mr Bush transfer his source attribution to the British, when his own intelligence agencies had told him four months before, in October, to remove the reference to uranium from a speech he was due to make.

According to a letter written to the chairman of the Permanent Joint House Committee on Intelligence (then congressman, now FBI chief) Porter Goss, Congressman Henry Waxman said that the White house needed to explain the many discrepancies in how the uranium claim came to be used in the president's State of the Union speech.

This was particularly because Mr tenet had fought hard for the removal of a similar reference in the Cincinnati speech and was now being blamed for its inclusion four months later in the State of the Union speech.

Mr Waxman also wanted to understand Ms Rice's claim on "Face the Nation in July 2003, that "Had there been even a peep that the agency did not want that sentence in or that George tenet did not want that sentence in, that the Director of Central Intelligence did not want it in, it would have gone."

Can anyone believe that Ms Rice, her deputy, Stephen Hadley and whoever was the speechwriter, were not aware of the brouhaha about the Cincinnatti speech? That they did not know of the State department's reservations?

It is clear to me either that the conspiracy is much bigger than anyone seems to think or that the entire Bush White house spends lots of time asleep at the wheel.Whichever is true, it seems to me that there should be some extremely important changes coming soon in the makeup of the Bush Administration.

As Mr Waxman put it two years ago, the credibility of the United States is at stake. It has since been shredded by all the disclosure about torture, outsourcing torture, secret prisons, terror weapons and other flagrant breaches of the human rights of Americans, Iraquis, Muslims in general and all sorts of other people, not to mention the Haitian people moldering away in their island concentration camp.

There was always the lingering belief that when all else failed, the American press would rise up and do its duty. Bob Woodward has for 30 years been a worldwide icon for the integrity and doggedness of the press in the pursuit of the truth. Today, the reputation of the administration is in tatters and the probity of the press is seen to be a comforting myth.

There are just two developments to be optimistic about. The Congress and the American public both appear to be awakening after a long slumber, induced by the opiate of the Big Lie. It is not only Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and their people who feel menaced by a superpower apparently out of control.

The rest of the world is just as uncomfortable. But even if balance, peace and rationality are restored, most of us outside the United States will not be comforted by the knowledge that it is so easy for a small group of dedicated and unscrupulous men to capture the wheelhouse of the world's only remaining superpower and steer it to destabilise, fragment and eventually obliterate any chance of a peaceful world order, wondering if they will wake up to smoking guns in the form of mushroom clouds.

Almost exactly four years ago, in November 2001, then Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaimed, "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is that your tactics aid terrorists".
He was not talking about the government of the USA but about the Taliban.

Rightwing commentator William Safire said in that same week: "The sudden seizure of power by the executive branch, bypassing all constitutional checks and balances, is beginning to be recognized by cooler heads in the White House, Defense Department and C.I.A. as more than a bit excessive" and Safire believed that the American constitution, the American legal system, American journalism and other democratic institutions would, with spirit of the American people, soon put things to rights.

He was wrong.

13 November 2005

Let Them Eat Merde

Common Sense
John Maxwell

"Man is born free and everywhere is in chains" was said by a Frenchman, Jean Jacques Rousseau. Two centuries after Rousseau, another Frenchman, one Nicholas Sarkozy describes millions of his fellow citizens as "scum", among several other pungent epithets directed at them because they happen not to belong to what Sarkozy clearly conceives of as the master race.

Fortunately for France, its president, himself no paragon of egalitarian virtue, is at least more intelligent and civilised than Sarkozy. Speaking at a news conference with the visiting Spanish prime minister, President Chirac said: "Once order is restored, France will have to draw the consequences of this crisis, and do so with a lot of courage and lucidity.

"There is a need to respond strongly and rapidly to the undeniable problems faced by many residents of underprivileged neighbourhoods around our cities."

A French firefighter tries to extinguish a car set alight by rioters in Venissieux, a district of Les Minguettes, near the central French city of Lyon, Thursday, 10 Nov. 2005 (Photo: AP)

It seems that the statesmen of the world are divided, like the general populations, into the realists and the fantasists. Sarkozy wants Chirac's job and he is appealing to the crasser sentiments of his fellow citizens, a sizeable portion of whom voted for Chirac's racist opponent last time the president was elected. He calculates that with the hardcore of the Gaullist movement allied to the far right fascism of the ultra-nationalists, his bid for the presidency is all but assured.

It may well be, but a Sarkozy government of France may very well provoke the defining convulsion of the 21st century civil commotion which will not be confined to France or to Europe but spread to the whole world. As Mr Blair has been told by a panel of advisers, reacting violently to terrorism is more likely to spread the disorder than contain it. His parliament was wiser than Blair; they defeated his propoal for a 90-day police detention without trial.

American observers of the nearly two weeks of rioting in France have consoled themselves with the thought that the underclass exposed by Katrina was as nothing compared to the French landscape of burning cars and looted shops. They forget that while the American race problem is five hundred years old.

The problem inside France is less than 50. And despite the mess they made of Haiti, the French did have the nerve, and the humanity, immediately after the Second World War, to try, however timidly, to integrate their colonies into their nation.

They can also point to such as Gaston Monnerville, a black man born in French Guiana (Cayenne) President of the French Assembly and of the French Senate, French delegate to the inauguiral meeting of the UN in 1945. They can also point to Alexandre Dumas and even to Napoleon's Empress Josephine. The United States has no comparable examples.

If, however Sarkozy goes where only Petain has gone before, it seems pretty clear that he will bring down on France and probably Europe and possibly much of the world, the conflict which the fundamentalist Christians have been waiting for, the clash between civilisations, the war between Islam and Christianity Armageddon. (Incidentally, this week, the remains of a Christian church were found at Armageddon now the site of a prison.)

Naima Bouteldja on Z-Net, quotes Laurent Levy, a founding member of the Movement of the Indigenous of the Republic, a network which campaigns against the "oppression and discrimination produced by the post-colonial [French] Republic".

Levy says, "the explosion is long overdue. When large sections of the population are denied any kind of respect, the right to work, the right to decent accommodation, and often the right to even access clubs and cafés, then what is surprising is not that the cars are burning but that there are so few uprisings of this nature."

There is a structural peculiarity in the French North African ghettos: because they were purposely built to accommodate the immigrants, there is very little communal mixing. Structurally, discrimination is therefore much easier; as in the Jamaican slums, your postal address condemns you. In the French ghettos, one in two inhabitants is under 20, and nearly one in two is unemployed.

The stimulus for the recent riots was the electrocution of two youths coming from a football match, who hid in an electricity substation simply to avoid the identity checks and police harassment which are a daily torment.

A euphemism for slavery

The pundits of the western world are sure that all France needs to overcome these problems is to embrace globalisation and to tear down its welfare state. The problem, as millions in France and in this hemisphere see it, is that globalisation is another word for imperialist exploitation and competitiveness is a euphemism for slavery.

When Chirac says, "Whatever our origins, we are all the children of the Republic and we can all expect the same rights", he is in direct opposition to the rightwing globaliser, Sarkozy, who dismisses Chirac's "children of the Republic" as "yobs", "fundamentalists", "riff-raff" and "vermin" and speaks of the need for the suburban ghettos to "to be cleaned out with Karsher", an industrial cleanser Sarkozy's problem, and George Bush's, is that 50 years on there are millions of Rosa Parkses around the world who are refusing to be moved to the back of the bus.

Last week in Mar del Plata, tens of thousand showed up to explain their feelings to Mr Bush, only to be dismissed by the US press as just another bunch of unruly noisemakers.

The US press general tried to downplay the size of the demonstration and to connect the peaceful demonstration addressed by Hugo Chavez and Cindy Sheehan, among others, to the nihilistic troublemakers who torched banks and multinational brand named shops hours later, and miles away.

It was strange that 40 years after the US managed to throw Cuba out of the Organisation of American States, another US president was trying to neutralise another Latin spokesman and hero. Forty years ago it was Che Guevara, leading the Cuban delegation as Minister of Economics, who told the Americans that their mini-globalisation project, then called Alianza para Progreso, Alliance for progress, would not work.

Last week Hugo Chavez was saying the same thing about the Free Trade Area of the Americas. This time the anti-hero, Chavez, had with him not only the crowd, as Guevara had, but the presidents of Latin America's most important nations.

Forty years ago these countries were ruled by American approved caudillos. This week, Fujimori is in jail in Chile and Evo Morales, an indigenous American, is favoured to become the next president of Bolivia. Morales also spoke at the demonstratiion in Mar del Plata with Chavez, making it clear that as far as his Movement Toward Socialism was concerned, national resources were national property to be used in the national interest.

Across the Atlantic, in Nigeria, the Ogoni people were this week in the 10th year of their mourning for their hero, Ken Saro Wiwa, who they say was executed by the government of their country, by the military dictator Sani Abacha, a man who got along well with the transnational corporations. The Ogoni people say Saro-Wiwa was framed by the military.

In a memoir published this week his son wrote: "His death on 10 November 1995 shook the world. John Major [then British PM] described the trial that sent him to the gallows as a 'fraudulent trial, a bad verdict, an unjust sentence'.

Nelson Mandela thundered that 'this heinous act by the Nigerian authorities flies in the face of appeals by the world community for a stay of execution'. Bill Clinton and the Queen added their voices to the worldwide condemnation, Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth, countries recalled their diplomats and there were calls for economic sanctions and a boycott of Shell oil."

Ten years later, Shell still devastates the Ogoni homeland with oil spills and other environmental abuse and waste. More than 900 million barrels of Nigerian sweet crude (the easiest to refine and most profitable) have been pumped out of the Ogoni homeland since 1958.

"All told, there were once over a 100 oil wells, a petrochemical complex, two oil refineries and a fertiliser plant in the region.

"An area which, as my father once wrote, should have been as rich as a small Gulf state, stood as an example of how Africa's rich natural resources have impoverished its people and the land they live off.

"Associated natural gas has been flared into the atmosphere for over 40 years in Nigeria - pumping noxious fumes into the atmosphere. Nigeria alone accounts for 28 per cent of total gas flared in the world and the flared gas volume in Nigeria translates into the crude oil equivalent of 259,000 barrels per day."

Western governments now get more from gasoline taxes than the oil producing states get for selling the raw material to the oil companies. The US and Canadian government get slightly less than the equivalent of the FOB price, which itself is more than the oil producers get.

Japan, Italy, Germany, France and particularly the United kingdom, get considerably more from oil than the oil producing states or even the companies.

And when one considers that this year one oil company, Exxon-Mobil, in three months had over $100 billion in sales and more than $9 billion in profits you may appreciate the kind of money being made outside of the oil producing countries.

In the Niger delta, public dissatisfaction with the unsustainable mining of oil has taken drastic forms. There is sabotage, kidnapping and murder. There is also increasingly sophisticated siphoning of oil from pipelines, now estimated to cost Shell up to 15% of daily production ? for resale to tankers bound for the world market!! Free enterprise for you.

Delta residents, "most of whom earn less than $1 a day", accuse oil companies of colluding with Nigeria's government to foment divisions between rival community groups in a strategy to deprive them of benefits from oil.

That doesn't happen in Venezuela, where the government of Hugo Chavez has nationalised the oil industry. For decades Venezuela has been one of the world's largest oil producers (It is now number five and Nigeria is eighth) but the people of Venezuela never saw the benefits of their oil riches.

Under Chavez things have changed. Oil revenues are being poured into public works and social programmes. A nationwide chain of low price supermarkets is run by the state, thousands of schools have been built, there are thousands of medical clinics staffed by Cuban doctors and university education is free and is available to almost anyone who wants one.

Outside of Venezuela Chavez is exchanging oil for medical and other technical assistance from Cuba and is funding, in PetroCaribe, a plan to bring cheaper fuel and the chance to invest savings to Caribbean countries including Jamaica. No wonder Chavez is a superstar in Latin America. No wonder Mr Bush and his cohorts hate him.

Political influenza

Chavez is to Bush the political equivalent of avian flu: enormously dangerous and extremely contagious. No wonder that Bush intimates such as the Rev Dr Pat Robertson consider Chavez such bad news.

In October, a few months after having half apologised for advocating the murder of Chavez, Robertson said on CNN: "[The US] could face a nuclear attack from Venezuela.

The truth is, this man is setting up a Marxist-type dictatorship in Venezuela, he's trying to spread Marxism throughout South America, he's negotiating with the Iranians to get nuclear material and he also sent $1.2 million in cash to Osama bin Laden right after 9-11."

The televangelist maintained that Chavez sent a "warm congratulatory letter to Carlos the Jackal, he's a friend of Muammar Qaddafi". He said, "He's made common cause with these people that are considered terrorists."

Meanwhile, safe and sound in the US are Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, two of the last century's most dangerous terrorists, one pardoned by President Bush I, the other protected by a system which says he cannot be extradited to Venezuela because he might face torture there.

Of course, the US is very sound on the question of torture. This week the US senate voted to investigate how come it was disclosed in the Washington Post that the CIA had perhaps dozens of secret prisons cum torture facilities round the world.

They didn't vote to investigate the scandal, but to investigate those who brought it to public notice.

They forgot, however, that we've known about the secret prisons for a long time. In may last year Human Rights Watch estimated that there were 10,000 prisoners in these satanic dungeons from more than 20 countries, some of them children, some of them innocent adults just "scraped up" on suspicion.

Among these is at least one journalist, a Sudanese employee of Al Jazeera Sami Muhy al-Din al-Hajj, arrested by the US military while working for Al jazeera during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and detained in Guantanamo for four years without trial.

Aljazeera.net spoke to al-Hajj's lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith, regarding his case and the prospects for his release.
He said al-Hajj had suffered extreme physical and sexual abuse and religious persecution.

According to al Hajji, he is being tortured not for information but for something more important, to get him to accept American money to denounce his employers as an arm of Al Qaeda. When next the assorted heroes of journalism are saluted, perhaps the hero-makers might care to take a look at the case of Sami Muhy al-Din al-Hajj.

Did I hear right? "Extreme physical and sexual abuse" in the War against Terror?