Monday, January 26, 2009

"UN Security Council Meeting on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, and Call For a '"Truth Commission'"....

January 26, 2009 -- "UN Security Council Meeting on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, and Call For a '"Truth Commission'"....

United Nations :

Presidential Statement S/PRST/2009/1 remarked: "The Security Council is committed to addressing the impact of armed conflict on civilians. The council expresses its deepest concern that civilians continue to account for the majority of victims of acts of violence committed by parties to armed conflicts, including as a result of deliberate targeting, indiscriminate and excessive use of force, use of civilians as human shields, and of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as all other acts that violate applicable international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law, committed against civilians in situations of armed conflict. The Council demands that all relevant parties immediately put an end to such practices."

The Libyan Ambassador stated that "he had prepared to read a statement on the protection of civilians, but he found it extremely difficult and was embarrassed to speak about that issue, after it had become clear to everyone that there was a great disconnect between the Security Council's words and its actions to implement them on the ground...The tragedy of Gaza had raised serious doubt about the Council's willingness and ability to protect civilians...Israel had attacked and was starving, depriving and weakening the civilian population in Gaza with a war machine that had indiscriminately bombed places of worship, schools, United Nations facilities, aid workers and others. Everyone was hearing that the number of dead and wounded was increasing by the minute...Still, the Council had been unwilling and unable to do anything. Resolution 1860, adopted after much delay, still had not accomplished anything."

Indeed, Hamas had ignored Resolution 1860, saying it had not been consulted, and was therefore not obligated to adhere to a resolution to which it is not a party. (The Palestinian authority is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.) Israel simply ignored the resolution altogether.

The Russian Ambassador reminded the Security Council of the virtually global extent to which civilians are victims in armed conflict. He stated: "Despite a whole arsenal of international legal instruments, entire civilian populations suffered under conflicts. To address that situation, selective approaches must be abandoned and there must be strict compliance with human rights standards. Through Russia's intervention in August last year, ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia had been prevented. Innocent civilians had been subjected by Georgian armed forces to bombardments and rockets. There had been direct targeting of homes, schools, hospitals and ambulances. Over the last month, those facts had been convincingly corroborated. However, certain influential members of the international community did not seem to be eager to consider those facts. Still urgent was the question of the prosecution of those responsible for those crimes.....He strongly condemned the deliberate attack on civilians, as well as the disproportionate use of force, and expressed concern at the escalation of the crisis in Gaza as a result of Israel's military operation. The situation in Gaza is on the very brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.....Civilian populations continue to suffer in Iraq and Afghanistan. That matter should receive greater attention from the Security Council and other United Nations bodies. There is no justification for armed groups that attack innocent civilians, commit terrorist acts or seize hostages. Unfortunately, civilians continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan with tragic regularity, and not just as a result of their actions. Once again, just a few days ago, 17 Afghan civilians, including women and children, were killed during a coalition operation in eastern Afghanistan. We underscore the responsibility of all parties, including the multinational forces, to ensure the security of civilians and comply strictly with the norms of international humanitarian law. We support a careful investigation into such incidents, including punishment for the guilty. That also applies to the activities of private security companies. The holding of hundreds of children in military jails in those countries on the basis of arbitrary accusations and without access to civilian justice is unacceptable."

The United States Ambassador stated: "The Security Council must not forget that the hostilities in Gaza had been started by Hamas, a terrorist organization that had called for the destruction of Israel and launched countless rockets and mortars into Israeli territory"...At the same time, she urged Israel to make all efforts to minimize impact on innocent civilians, and to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access to needy populations.

On January 15, 2007, the last days of the Administration of George W. Bush in the United States, at the Tenth Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Deputy Secretary-General stated: "The crisis in Gaza has entered its twentieth day....The Hamas rockets must stop. Israel's offensive must end....Over a thousand Palestinians are now reported dead, a large number of them women and children, with more than 4,700 injured. Three Israeli civilians have died and dozens been injured...Over-night and today the violence has intensified. Families trying to flee the fighting had nowhere to go. Over 40,000 people are now taking refuge in UNRWA shelters and people seeking sanctuary are being turned away. Hospitals have been hit. This is unacceptable and must stop. There is no question that the civilian population of Gaza faces an acute and deepening humanitarian crisis. Entire families have perished in the violence, including women and children, UN staff and medical workers...Today a United Nations compound in Gaza was shelled again. Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon has conveyed his strong protest and outrage to Israel's Prime Minister, Defense Minister and Foreign Minister, and he has demanded a full explanation of the attack....We must return to the road to peace, to end the occupation that began in 1967, attain the establishment of a Palestinian state which coexists alongside Israel in peace and security, and to achieve the goal of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, based on Security Council resolutions."

Following the statement by the Deputy Secretary-General, two speeches were made, by Israel and by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which seemed to be antithetical, yet their implications contain common cause. Israeli Ambassador Gabriela Shalev stated: "UN General Assembly resolution 377 states that emergency special sessions of the General Assembly are designed to act only when the Security Council ‘because of lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security,' meaning in case of veto only. Since there was no veto on this matter, and since the Security Council remains actively seized on this issue, the convening of this meeting of the General Assembly is one that defies its own rules...In its resolution on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism (A/RES/63/129) this Assembly reiterated its strong condemnation of ‘all acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.' But where was this Assembly's condemnation of the Hamas terrorist attacks, its deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals, of the eight years in which the residents of southern Israel have had to live their lives within 15 seconds reach of bunkers to protect them from terrorist rockets and missiles?........Sadly, there are countless human tragedies and immeasurable human suffering around the globe. Victims of the most severe violations of their most basic rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, North Korea, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere cry out for their plight to be heard, for their suffering to be redressed by the international community."

Soon thereafter, Ambassador Sin Son Ho of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea stated: "Even at this time the Israeli armed forces are mercilessly killing the innocent Palestinian civilians and destroying houses, public buildings and schools at random...Now the entire world is denouncing Israeli aggression, calling for an immediate end to all its military actions. However, the United States alone is taking sides with Israel, even justifying its act of obstructing peace. This proves once again that the peace breaker and the worst human rights violator in the world is none other than the United States."

Considering that the North Korean Ambassador's statement was made in the dying hours of the globe-ravaged Bush Administration, his remarks are not only not far-fetched, they are extraordinarily resonant with observations of some of the most responsible officials highly placed within the United States Department of Justice. Four days after attending the Tenth Emergency Session of the UN General Assembly, when I arrived in Washington, D.C. and attended one of the Inaugural Balls celebrating the new Presidency of Barack Obama, I met a remarkable attorney working as a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice. She told me that she considered it imperative that the public be informed of the full extent and detail of the tortures and other barbaric violations of human rights perpetrated by the Bush Administration. She stated that the authors of these heinous acts must be held accountable for war crimes and related crimes against humanity.

The Bush Administration's dismissal of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," and their restriction of the definition of torture to "organ failure," led to the most obscene degeneration of human behavior in every country US soldiers invaded, under fraudulent pretexts, from Iraq to Afghanistan.

"The Dark Side," written by Jane Mayer, (2008) documents the fact that "U.S. held prisoners, some of them completely innocent, were subjected to treatment more reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition than the twenty-first century. On July 11, 2008, The New York Times reported: "Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency's interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush Administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts since 2001...the Red Cross document ‘warned that the abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the U.S. government in jeopardy of being prosecuted." On page 148 ("The Dark Side"): "For the same reason that the White House could argue that Afghanistan was a ‘failed state,' unbound by international law, it was also an ideal spot for secret CIA prisons. Several other allied countries, including a number of former Soviet satellite states who were hoping to win US favor for their ambitions to join NATO, also agreed to host ghost prisons. Although their leaders have denied it, multiple credible reports have identified Poland and Romania in particular as host countries... ‘We told them we'd help them join NATO if they helped us torture people' a cynical former CIA officer said. There were financial rewards for the host countries, however. One year of the Afghan prison operation alone cost an estimated $100 million, which Congress hid in a classified annex of the first supplemental Afghan appropriations bill in 2002. Among the services that US taxpayers unwittingly paid for were medieval-like dungeons, including a reviled former brick factory outside of Kabul known as ‘The Salt Pit.' In 2004, a still unidentified prisoner froze to death there after a young CIA supervisor ordered guards to strip him naked and chain him overnight to the concrete floor. The CIA has never accounted for the death, nor publicly reprimanded the supervisor. Instead, the agency reportedly promoted him."

On page 153 "The Dark Side" recounts: "John Yoo (a deputy chief in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel) stated: ‘Congress doesn't have the power to tie the President's hand in regard to torture as an interrogation technique'...Yoo expanded on this theory when questioned about it by the director of Notre Dame's Center for Civil and Human Rights, law school professor Doug Cassel. If the President's right to torture was so absolute, Cassel asked, could no law stop him from ‘crushing the testicles of the person's child?' Yoo responded: ‘No treaty.' Pressed on whether a law rather than a treaty could prohibit the president from doing so, Yoo wouldn't rule out the possibility that no law could restrain the president from barbarism."

On May 20, 2005, front page, Tim Golden reported in The New York Times: "Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him. The prisoner, a slight 22 year old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2PM to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in his interrogation room an interpreter who was present said his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair, and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. ( First Platoon M.P. Specialist Corey F. Jones said: ‘It became a kind of a running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common personal strike just to hear him scream out ‘Allah.' Everyone heard him cry out and thought it was funny. It went on over a 24 hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes to his knees') Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators. Specialist Joshua B. Claus picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back, and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Diliwar's face. ‘Come on, drink' the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. At the interrogator's behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. ‘Leave him up' one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying. Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time."

May 13, 2007, Carlotta Gall and David E. Sanger wrote in The New York Times: Zerkoh, Afghanistan, May 9, 2007: "Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from heavy American and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance. Afghan, American and other foreign officials say they worry about the political toll the civilian deaths are exacting on President Hamid Karzai, who last week issued another harsh condemnation of the American and NATO tactics, and even of the entire international effort here. What angers Afghans are not just the bombings, but also the raids of homes, the shooting of civilians in the streets and at checkpoints, and the failure to address those issues over the five years of war. Afghan patience is wearing dangerously thin, officials warn...The anger is visible here in this farming village in the largely peaceful western province of Herat, where American airstrikes left 57 villagers dead, nearly half of them women and children, on April 27 and 29. ...The villagers denied that any Taliban were in the area. Instead, they said they rose up and fought the Americans themselves, after the soldiers raided several houses, arrested two men and shot dead two old men on a village road. After burying the dead, the tribe's elders met with their chief, Hajji Arbab Daulat Khan, and resolved to fight American forces if they returned. ‘If they come again, we will stand against them,' he warned. Or in the words of one foreign official in Afghanistan, ‘the Americans went after one guerrilla commander and created a hundred more.' While NATO is now in overall command of the military operations in the country, many of the most serious episodes of civilian deaths have involved United States counterterrorism and Special Operations forces that operate separately from the NATO command....A villager, Abdul Waheed said the Americans had searched his family compound and found no weapons and certainly must have seen the women and children. Two days later they bombed the compound, killing six children, he said. ‘The Americans should leave Afghanistan because this is my own home,' he said. ‘I am sitting here and they come and just order a bomb to drop.'"

Unintentionally (or otherwise), the disastrous conduct of the military ‘war on terror' has paradoxically increased the power of the Taliban and the expansion of Sharia law (with its diabolically cruel punishments, including hurling acid at the faces of Afghan girls as punishment for attending school, stoning to death a 13 year old Somali girl victim of gang rape, double amputations in Iran, etc., etc.). And it cannot be overlooked that early supporters of the rise of the Taliban were none other than Dana Rohrabacher and UNOCAL Indeed, extremist sects of Islam were encouraged and funded by Washington decades ago, in an effort to destabilize the Soviet Union.

Newsweek, May 14, 2007: By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau: "Following a US airstrike that killed nine Afghan civilians, including two women and five small children, an Afghan farmer cried out: ‘We hate the Americans so much now, we don't want to see their faces'"......"Anti-U.S. rallies in the towns of Shindand and Jalalabad each drew more than a thousand protesters last week, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai once again declared that his government can no longer tolerate the deaths of so many innocent Afghans. ‘We are very sorry when the U.S. led coalition force and NATO soldiers lose their lives or are injured,' he told a press conference. ‘It pains us. But Afghan civilians are human beings too.'"

The photographs of United States soldiers boasting and flaunting their obscene tortures of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib have destroyed the moral authority of the United States, and relegated our country to pariah status in the international community. The United States attacked Iraq without provocation and under fraudulent pretenses, and thereby we became no better than a rogue state. The Bush administration seized power in 2000 in what was a de facto coup d'état.

Last week I was privileged to meet a United States Justice Department federal prosecutor who wants to hold accountable those government officials responsible for these crimes against humanity which have so defiled our nation's place in world history. This federal prosecutor is quintessentially patriotic in her recognition that only by acknowledging these criminal actions can our country recover moral legitimacy. In Argentina, following the years of its military government's "dirty war," prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo restored the dignity of Argentina as he held accountable those military government officials responsible for the policies of kidnapping, "disappearing," torturing and assassinating political dissidents. President Ricardo Lagos helped restore dignity and honor to Chile when he published the two thousand page documentation of the crimes of the previous military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, crimes including the kidnapping, hideous torture and murder of many tens of thousands of Chileans who had sought freedom from Pinochet's dictatorship and a restoration of democracy and social and economic justice to Chile.

No one has counted the number of dead civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Bush administration launched wars on both countries during the past ignominious eight years, but for our country to justly reclaim a respected place among the international community, there must be a reckoning. The Congress, the public and the media must demand full disclosure and transparency. Our national honor demands that we take responsibility for the crimes committed in our name, and paid for with our tax dollars. If we do not take this initiative, as the brave United States federal prosecutor passionately urges, one day history may impose this reckoning upon us, for, "those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it." And we cannot learn from what we do not know.

There is no greater act of treason against the United States of America than to torture a prisoner, and there is nothing which more ultimately endangers the safety of all American citizens, than a policy which attempts to justify torture. President Obama, with admirable speed, ordered the closing of the CIA "black sites," ended the practice of "extraordinary renditions," outlawed torture and coercive interrogation, and committed our nation to observe the Geneva Conventions, revealing his revulsion toward the shameful depths to which this country sank under the Bush administration policies. According to the New York Times, January 23, 2009, "John D. Hutson, a retired admiral and law school dean stated that: ‘banning coercive interrogation is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally, but it also makes us safer'" President Obama would further repair this country's international standing by ordering a truth commission, to make transparent, and hold our nation accountable for those horrific acts which shattered our country's moral authority. This would be an act or responsibility, humility, and a tiny step toward offering an apology to the family of an innocent Afghan taxi driver, Diliwar, who was crucified by U.S. soldiers who entertained themselves by pulpifying Diliwar's legs for the perverted amusement of hearing Diliwar's agonized screams of "Allah." And how many more suffered such a death? The honor of the United States demands an answer.