A Big Stick and a Small Carrot: A Few Bad Apples

Garry the CuriousHamster takes the Pentagon to task over the massacre at Haditha. A succint post with something for everyone:

In truth, the real difference between US democracy … and dictatorship in these cases is that democratic governments can on occasion be forced, kicking and screaming all the while, to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by their representatives when confronted with damning evidence collated by the free press.

The idea that the US government can be trusted to effectively investigate abuses by their own military personal voluntarily is, it should be clear by now if it wasn’t already, utterly fallacious.

and

How many bad apples do there need to be before for it to becomes clear that the managers of the orchard are the root of problem?

(The extra ‘root’ at the end there made me smile).

CuriousHamster is spot on. Legitimate opposition to the Iraq war stemmed from an opposition to the hypocrisy of the people waging it. This massacre makes a mockery of the sacrifice made by American and British troops, especially that of Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas, whose death apparently sparked the violence. President George Bush is apparently “troubled” by the reports. He should be absolutely livid.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan at Time’s Daily dish is slowly cataloguing the Bush Administration’s retreat from basic freedoms, arguing that it is profoundly unconservative.

Was Iraq better under Saddam? Of course not. But at least back then, we didn’t have the so-called Leader of the Free World erasing the lines between right and wrong.

The Road To Guantanamo

Last night’s The Road To Guantanamo was interesting viewing.

The cinematography made me uncomfortable. In places, scenes were shot in TV format, distinguishing them from the more filmic reconstructions. However, the BBC style commentary, and the angles chosen for some of the action, did not ring quite true. I could not put my finger on what was incorrect, but it was clear by end that the most of the supposed archive footage also a staged reconstruction.

Werner Herzog once said he no qualms about re-staging certain documentary scenes for his audiences. But in Herzog’s films, we accept this dishonesty, beacuse the entire presentation is a sort of hyper-reality. This is not so with The Road to Guantanamo. In choosing to present some scenes in news-reel format, and others as drama, director Michael Winterbottom is making a clear distinction between fact and interpretation. In doing so, he forfeits his artistic licence to meddle with the former. When he does so, he blurs the distinction he himself has highlighted. Furthermore, the audience are hardly invited to share in the conceit. The conclusion is that the film-makers are trying to fudge the issue, and mislead the audience. The result is a loss of trust.

This is a real shame, as the impact of the film depends entirely upon the viewer believing the story of the three ex-detainees, Asif Iqbal, Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul. Watching the way the characters, stranded in Afghanistan, stumble upon a Northern Alliance roadblock and herded at gun-point towards the the US forces is plausible. Being mistaken for Al-Q’aeda is also understandable: As Brits in the wrong place at the wrong time, they drew attention from all quarters. What is difficult to reconcile is how on earth they came to be in Afghanistan in the first place. If people of Pakistani heritage do just go on jolly road-trips into a simmering war-zone, those decisions should be explained in much more detail. Life-changing whims must be accounted for.

But one senses Winterbottom and his team are in a hurry to move on, and moralise at the monstrosity of Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay. Here, the detainees are the underdogs, and you cannot help but root for them as they struggle to maintain some dignity in the face of overwhelming power. Here the film has sting, and asks genuine questions of the US methods. In one memorable scene, Rasul, played by Rizwan Ahmed, is accused of attending an Al Q’aeda rally with Osama Bin Laden in 2000. The truth could not be more banal: “That’s bullshit,” says Rasul. “In 2000, I was working in Currys.”

The film is a warning against an extra-judicial, unaccountable system of detention. This message was reinforced recently by a bizarre twist of events. Actor Rizwan Ahmed was returning from a promotional trip to Berlin, when he was detained arbitrarily by customs officials. He was not told his rights, and was illegally searched. Just like the film in which he stars, Ahmed’s story reminds us that the rule of law must prevail, if we are to maintain our civility in these difficult times.

Undermining the UN

A little while ago I wrote that a great deal of political discourse is nothing more that a shouting match, as people on both sides of a debate merely present arguments that reinforce their own argument, oblivious to the fact that someone of the opposing view is likely to give the benefit of the doubt to those they arlready support. The best arguments and evidence are those that are so compelling they ring true even with people who are naturally pre-disposed to think the opposite.

I tend to be naturally pro-UN, mainly because we need such an organisation and its the only one we have. I have always thought that the disregard for the UN by the United States does as much to undermine the organisation, as any inaction on the part of the United Nations itself. However, the report of doctored UN reports seems to me a classic piece of almost opinion-changing evidence. It has transpired that, in a report into the death of former Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri, someone in the UN deliberately removed allegations that brother of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was involved in the assasination.

The UN must derive its strength from being obviously impartial. This does not simply mean that it remains impervious to pressure from the USA, but also that it does not aid and abet wrong-doing of the apparent ‘other side’, the Arabic and/or Islamic states in the Middle-East. If we and the UN wish to condemn US unilateralism, we also have to condemn such acts by other states as well. Nothing could be more unilateral than the upper echelons of the Syrian regime committing political assasinations. Never mind the fact that the assasination back-fired, and resulted in a diminished Syrian power-base in Beirut; the UN has sunk into the trough of the moral-low ground, and seriously undermined itself by these actions.

On a side note, I find it fascinating that such a large, global organisation has been undone by the ‘track changes’ tool in what I can only assume is the Microsoft Word programme (although I suppose it could have been the open source alternative, OpenOffice.org). Hasn’t anyone in the UN heard of a PDF? Obviously not. It is another delightful example of technology and the internet exposing the duplicity of the organisations that seek to control the information we receive.

Crazy Congress

Competing with the news of high-jinx at the UK Labour party conference is the story that Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) has been indicted on charges of electoral corruption. He allegedly channelled illegal corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas legislature. The plot thickens when we discover that his accuser, attorney Ronnie Earle, is a Deomocrat.

Is there a case to answer, or are these political manoeverings? Both men seemed pretty earnest and pretty dour on the news bulletins, so I don’t know who to believe. This seems another classic case where the benefit of the doubt will be given to those who’s political opinions match your own. I confidently predict Clive’s excellent blog will come down in favour of Rep. DeLay – at least for now.

I would of course feel the schadenfreude if the accusations to be true, as it would reinforce my long held suspicions of US Republicans, and would undoubtedly harm the party’s chances in forthcoming elections. However, there is a chance that the allegations will not hold up to scrutiny, which would be a terrible thing for the Democratic cause. Good will only be done if justice prevails, of course.

Oxymoron

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was… Terror. Our war began on or around 14th September 2001, when George W Bush asked for a ‘unity’ against terror that quickly became a ‘war’. Heads of States flocked to their press conference microphones to join the war, and soon an airborne armada was bombing Afghanistan.

What a shame, then, that our enemy doesn’t exist.

The word ‘terror’ means to be really, really scared of something. Common things to be scared of in this county range from being stung by a wasp, to being blown up in an aeroplane, and everything in between. But whatever, you are scared of, your ‘terror’ is an emotion, something within you. The only way we can eradicate terror is to annihilate our species… something we seem to be on course for at the moment.

When Dubya made his speech to the nation on that grief stricken Friday, he misused the word ‘terror,’ and in doing so dammed a generation to meaningless conflict. The word has now become a catchall phrase to describe any attack, for an reason, on Westerners. Almost three years later, the same man describes ‘terrorism’ as the new Nazisim. He talks about the ‘terrorist movement’ as if it were a political party, and vows to defeat it. What he fails to realise, and what will ultimately cause hundreds more deaths before the end of his presidency, is that terrorism is not an ideology, or a group, but a weapon. For all his bravado on the anniversary of D-Day, the President is fighting a battle he cannot win. It is as if he said he was going to declare war on guns. Or tanks, or stones. Though it pains me to ally myself with Dubya’s buddies at the NRA, terrorism doesn’t kill people; People kill people.

To eradicate terrorism, you need to stop people hating you, and if you want to do that, the last thing you need is a war. Instead, George W Bush sends in his troops equipped with rifles and ray-bans, and every shot they fire creates another American-hater who will pick-up terrorism, the only weapon they have, in order to fight back. The ideology that is ‘anti-Americanism’ now sees its ranks swelling to numbers that the Nazis could only dream of.

A terrifying thought.