Of weddings: royal, bombed & droned

rahnuma ahmed

I

Millions watched the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and former American actress Meghan Markle on television the world over. While many heralded it for demonstrating ‘how Britain has become more egalitarian and racially mixed‘ and lauded the ”Meghan effect‘ on black Britons,’ others rejoiced at the wedding ceremony for having been ‘a rousing celebration of blackness,’ and still others hoped that the ‘spirit of Harry and Meghan… [would] revitalise our divided nation,’ that prince Harry’s choice of spouse would ‘[initiate] real change in UK race relations.’

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip with newly-wed grandson Prince Harry and grand daughter-in-law Meghan Markle, and other family members including Ms. Markle’s mother Doria Ragland, and bridal party. ©AFP

Meghan Markle – now Duchess of Sussex, with her own Royal Coat of Arms – is the daughter of a white American father and an African-American mother, her parents divorced when Meghan was 6, and she was raised singly by her mother.
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The spirit of a ghostly fabric

Rare depiction of terracotta weaver. Terracotta art was at its peak from 4th - 8th century. Courtesy of Ruby Ghuznavi, Dhaka. Bangladesh. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World
Rare depiction of terracotta weaver. Terracotta art was at its peak from 4th – 8th century. Courtesy of Ruby Ghuznavi, Dhaka. Bangladesh. Photo: Shahidul Alam/Drik/Majority World

Having heard Saif speak of muslin over the last three years, I had gained some knowledge, albeit second hand. Going out filming with him to museums, arboretums and libraries, I had met some of the world’s leading experts. Lived part of the history. A surprise awaited me. It is not a book written by an expert, but a labour of love, written by a hungry enthusiast, not yet jaded by the weight of authority. It has all the facts. The rigour of research. The scholarly precision. The concern for one’s fellow human. Continue reading “The spirit of a ghostly fabric”

5-year-old Palestinian schools Israeli soldiers on War Crimes

1-minute video: 5-year-old Palestinian schools Israeli soldiers on War Crimes

5-year-old Janna Ayyad shames Israeli soldiers with Sami Yusuf?s poetry:

All your armies, all your fighters,
All your tanks, and all your soldiers,
Against a boy holding a stone.
Standing there all alone,
In his eyes I see the sun.
In his smile I see the moon.
And I wonder, I only wonder.
Who is weak, and who is strong?
Who is right, and who is wrong?
And I wish, I only wish,
That the truth has a tongue!

The Ruin of Indonesian Society

Indonesia: 50 Years After the Coup and the CIA Sponsored Terrorist Massacre. The Ruin of Indonesian Society

indonesia

Last year, I stopped travelling to Indonesia. I simply did… I just could not bear being there, anymore. It was making me unwell. I felt psychologically and physically sick.

Indonesia has matured into perhaps the most corrupt country on Earth, and possibly into the most indoctrinated and compassionless place anywhere under the sun. Here, even the victims were not aware of their own conditions anymore. The victims felt shame, while the mass murderers were proudly bragging about all those horrendous killings and rapes they had committed. Genocidal cadres are all over the government.

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STRANGER THAN FICTION: America?s ramped up nuclear capability: Prelude to another Cold War?

by TAJ HASHMI*

While people across the world for the last three years have been watching the unbelievable resurgence in state- and non-state-actor-sponsored violence and terror across the Arab World – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Gaza, and of late, Iraq – the Obama Administration’s recent decision to ramp up its nuclear capability has almost remained unnoticed to most analysts, let alone the common people. Even if, very similar to what happened during the Cold War, America’s ramped up nuclear capability does not lead to a nuclear conflagration, this is going to signal further nuclear proliferation, arms race and a new cold war. Some American analysts find it unbelievable, that “a president who campaigned for ‘a nuclear-free-world’ and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy”, has thumbed up a massive revitalization for new generation of nuclear warheads and weapon carriers. The price tag is estimated to be a trillion dollars over the next 30 years. The justifications for the “modernization of nuclear capabilities” – apparently not synonymous with increasing nuclear warheads – are baffling.

While Russia is alleged to be on the march; China is assumed to be pressing further its territorial claims to the detriment of its neighbors; and Pakistan is “expanding” its arsenal. Gary Samore, Obama’s nuclear adviser in his first term, has singled out Putin’s “invasion of Ukraine” as “the most fundamental game changer” in regard to America’s ramping up its nuclear capability. One assumes, thanks to the growing influence of the hawks in Washington, soon Iran’s purported nuclear capability will further rationalize America’s nuclear modernization program.

As a New York Times editorial (Sept 24, 2018) has pointed out, during the past six years Obama promised to make the world eventually nuclear arms free. And that his promises have substantially de-escalated  the arms race: 13 countries so far have completely eliminated their nuclear materials, and 15 have destroyed portions of their stockpiles. Nevertheless, there are about 2,000 nuclear weapons located in 14 countries, and 25 countries have the materials and technology to build their own bombs.

What is apparently baffling is Obama’s raising the nuclear modernization budget from $70 to $84 billion a year. Interestingly, having no qualms with spending a trillion dollars to build a dozen nuclear submarines, 100 new bombers and 400 land-based missiles, and spending billions on weapon upgrades, the Congress hardly debated the issue.

As we know, in accordance with the “Weinberger Doctrine” (Weinberger was Reagan’s Defense Secretary), America does not want to commit the Vietnam mistakes. Now, it favors using overwhelming force for a swift and decisive victory, as it achieved in Iraq in 1991 and 2003. In 2011, America spent $739.3 billion on defense, equivalent to more than 45% of what the rest of the world spent on defense that year. Obama’s latest volte-face indicates two things: a) either he has started believing in American hawks who love to see their country as an empire, which should be on the path to “permanent war”; or b) he is too vulnerable to the overpowering influence of the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC) on the Congress.

We have reasons not to blame Obama for his “ambivalence” towards arms race and nuclear escalation. The Nobel Laureate in Peace is anything but the “most powerful man in the world”. He cannot overpower the hawks and the MIC, who, as one analyst believes, want at least one major war every ten years in some distant part of the world. The hawks are good at generating fear among the bulk of Americans about the unknown or least known enemies, such as the ISIS and the Khorasan Group in Iraq and Syria.

In view of Obama’s latest “backsliding on nuclear promises”, one may argue as to why his administration and the beneficiaries of the “permanent war” should spend another trillion dollars in the next three decades on nuclear modernization while America has slowly and steadily entered into the arena of another long war in the Middle East against the ISIS, who seems to have appeared from nowhere, and despite its meager resources and manpower, captured substantial territories in Syria and Iraq. As America’s latest war is being planned – albeit with tepid support from five Arab autocracies, one of them (Saudi Arabia) also regularly behead people in the name of Islam and Shariah like the ISIS extremists – should make the hawks and MIC  happy. So, why should the Obama Administration go for the nuclear modernization?

We believe the nuclear option is not for containing Russia, China or Iran. It is all about the “profits of war”. Another cold war or “cold peace” may lead to further arms race, even nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, America and its Western allies would remain dominant militarily in the foreseeable future. It seems, America’s latest military adventure in the Arab World gives credence to what General Wesley Clark said about the Pentagon’s long-term plan to invade several countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria and Iran, without any specific reasons but – as one would guess – for the benefit of the MIC alone.

Similarly, one may argue that investing a trillion dollar on nuclear modernization would further benefit those who benefit from conventional wars as well. Conversely, one is not sure if the nuclear modernization in the long run might be more profitable (for the MIC) than waging unpopular wars against Syria and Iran! However, America’s ramping up the nuclear capability is likely to end the so-called unipolarity; and might usher in another cold war and “cold peace” hurting food supply, human rights, democracy and development across the world, especially in the Third World. Last but not least, nuclear modernization would eventually lead to nuclear proliferation. And there is no guarantee that terrorists and terrorist-states would not have access to nuclear technology.

ENDS

Related link: The Overblown ISIS Threat: Prelude To Another Long War?

* The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University at Clarksville, Tennessee. Sage has recently published his Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not Just Another Brick In The Geopolitical Wall

By leveraging its ties with non-western powers, BRICS can check US hegemony

A different worldview?BRICS leaders profess a shared vision of inclusive global growth and the rapid socio-economic transformation of their own nations. Photo: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR

Building blocks The BRICS bank will give priority to loans for developing countries to finance infrastructure projects and environmentally sustainable development. Photo: Media Club South Africa

Leaders of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) held their sixth annual meeting on 15-16 July in Fortaleza, Brazil. The major deliverable from the summit was economic in form and content, but its significance is primarily geopolitical. From a turn of phrase by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs in 2001, a grouping was born in 2009. It is not the product of diplomatic negotiations based on shared political values or common economic interests. They make up 40 percent of world population, 20 percent of world GDP, 15 percent of world trade and account for two-thirds of world growth. They enjoy the competitive edge in different areas from abundant natural resources to strengths in manufacturing, it and biotechnology.

By 2025, the G-8 — the world’s eight biggest economies — is likely to be, in order, the US, China, India, Japan, Germany, UK, France and Russia. BRICS serves as the key tag of the major emerging markets whose economic growth will outstrip and anchor the rest of the world. But it has been viewed with scepticism because of the diversity and spread of continents, political systems, values and economic models.

The natives are getting restless
Last October, President Dilma Rousseff was to be the first Brazilian leader in two decades to attend a White House dinner. Instead, angered by revelations that her personal phone calls and emails had been intercepted by the US National Security Agency (NSA), she became the first leader to cancel a State dinner hosted by a US president, lambasting American surveillance as a violation of international law and a “totally unacceptable” infringement of Brazil’s sovereignty. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is routinely demonised these days by American political leaders and media commentators as the second coming of Hitler (the downed Malaysia Airlines plane won’t help). Narendra Modi was on the US visa denial list for nine years (2005-14). It takes a particular skill to position oneself offside with leaders of three of the most important emerging powers.

Russia is being subjected to sanctions for its annexation of Crimea — which was Russian for several centuries and was voluntarily “gifted” to the Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev — despite the very concrete threats to its Russian-speaking population and to Russia’s core vital national security interests, a referendum whose margins of results may be questioned but not the overall outcome, and not one fatality.

The countries censuring Russia and imposing sanctions on it were responsible for the 2003 Iraq War whose legal and security justification was far more tenuous, the theatre was geographically distant not contiguous, and whose humanitarian and geopolitical consequences were far more horrific and destabilising.

Last December, a junior Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested and strip-searched over labour laws and wage disputes in a deliberate subordination of international conventions to domestic US law, when American diplomats posted abroad have been muscularly shielded from domestic laws even when they have killed host nationals. Chinese officials have been charged with cyber-espionage after the public revelations of the industrial-scale mass surveillance activities of the NSA. Beijing is told to solve its maritime disputes in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas — to which Washington is not party.

The hubris and arrogance of the US-led West is so breathtaking as to be scarcely believable, as though they are blind or indifferent to how others see them.

BRICS-5 as a counterpoint to G-7
That same contempt for others’ voices, values and interests lies behind the creation, consolidation and evolution of the BRICS and their key decisions at the Fortaleza summit. The term was coined as a shorthand proxy to describe the shift in market power and geopolitical clout from the developed economies of the G-7 towards the large and populous emerging market economies. As last year’s Human Development Report put it, “The rise of the South is unprecedented in its speed and scale.” Moreover: “For the first time in 150 years, the combined output of the developing world’s three leading economies — Brazil, China and India — is about equal to the combined gdp of the long-standing industrial powers of the North — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and United States.”

BRICS is among the confetti of ‘G’ groups that dot the contemporary international political, security and economic landscape. In the constellation of G groups, the G-7 is the body that brings together the big rich economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US); BRICS brings together the big emerging powers; the G-77 is the international trade union equivalent of the poor developing countries; and the G-20 tries to ensure that the big countries from the global North and South work collaboratively rather than confrontationally to address common global challenges. In its logic, although not in practice, the G-20 is meant to be the forum of the countries of the world with global clout: all countries that have global clout and only those countries with clout.

The BRICS comprise those emerging powers whose rapidly growing economies, substantial populations, military capabilities and expanding diplomatic reach translate into rising power profiles. They pose a challenge to the US-dominated global architecture comprising the United Nations, World Bank and IMF trinity. On the eve of the first summit in Russia in 2009, Brazil’s then president, Lula da Silva, wrote of “broken paradigms and failing multilateral institutions”. The deficiencies have eroded the legitimacy and credibility of the international institutions and fostered mistrust between the global North and South. However, can the BRICS morph from a countervailing economic grouping to a powerful political alternative? Or is BRICS a construct of the social media-driven marketplace of ideas — an attention-grabbing glib phrase in which speed is a substitute for and trumps quality and depth of analysis?

Lack of unity, coherence and focus
Similar stances on a few contentious international issues are not enough to offset the crisis of identity caused by differing and sometimes clashing national priorities. The BRICS-5 are far from homogeneous in interests, values and policy preferences that leaves them open to the dismissive comment that the BRICS lack the necessary cement to bind them together. On some issues they have common interests with one another, while on others they compete against one another and collaborate with selected western powers. For example, India might join the US in a hedging strategy against China’s rapidly growing military footprint and assertive behaviour across Asia-Pacific, but team up with China against Europe and the US on greenhouse gas emission targets. The G-7 spread of per capita incomes (purchasing power parity dollars for 2013, using World Bank data) ranges from a low of $34,303 for Italy to $53,143 for the US. By contrast, for the BRICS, the per capita annual income goes from a low of $5,410 for India to a high of $24,120 for Russia, with China, South Africa and Brazil in the $12,000-15,000 range.

The BRICS-5 are totally different countries with separate histories, contexts, political and economic systems, needs, opportunities and development trajectories. In all, domestic priorities and problems trump club solidarity. They are riven with rivalries over borders, resources and status. India and Russia have border problems with China. The anxiety of India and China about rising energy prices must be set against Russia being a beneficiary, while Brazil is both a cause and beneficiary of rising food prices. China’s highly competitive exports inflict material harm on Brazil. Two are authoritarian States. The three democracies have their own subset called IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa), although they too have a tradition of reticence in global democracy-promotion efforts. Most are stuttering economically. All retain deep and specific ties with the pivotal northern countries and for all, bilateral relations with the US are more critical than with one another.

The most potent source of BRICS cohesion is geopolitical: the common interest in checking US/western power and imperialist impulses by leveraging collaboration with the other nonwestern powers. All have a strong vested interest in protecting strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the US in global affairs. But they are divided on reform of the UN Security Council, with China’s interest lying more in a bipolar than a genuinely multipolar global order, and on the global economic effects of China’s currency value. While strong enough to veto western action, they lack the political clout and economic muscle to remake the status quo. Nor do they always act as a concerted bloc within other institutional settings. Even after the 2012 summit, a European and an American were chosen as IMF and World Bank chiefs.

Unrepresentative, yet representatives of global South
On those issues where there is a shared view among them, the BRICS can exert more significant leverage in combination than separately. Their natural constituency is the global South. Many developing countries remain worried that the forces of globalisation impinge adversely on their economic sovereignty, cultural integrity and social stability. “Interdependence” among unequals can mean the dependence of some on international markets that function under the dominance of others in setting norms and enforcing rules. The BRICS are anything but representative of the typical developing country in terms of size, area, power, economic weight, interest, capacity and resources. Only India is typical of the levels of poverty, illiteracy, low life expectancy and health indicators, etc. But what the BRICS can do and have done is to reflect and represent the interests and priorities of most developing countries, and leverage their atypical attributes of market power and geopolitical clout to negotiate with the developed countries, on many global challenges. Few other developing countries can match the BRICS in their market size and power, or legal, scientific, research and technology base. In other words, it is precisely the attributes making them atypical — size of population, GDP, military power, diplomatic reach, intellectual infrastructure — that gives the BRICS the capacity to represent the views, interests and concerns of the typical developing countries in international forums and negotiations.

But the BRICS do have the ability and will to represent the interests of developing countries on those issues where the global North-South division is salient. They can help to shape a new, post-2015 global development agenda of poverty alleviation, sustainable development and inclusive growth. They can share and learn from one another’s more relevant development experience, from China’s successes in reducing poverty and developing infrastructure to Brazil’s in clean fuel generation. And they can act as a counterweight to the West’s excesses in the UN, WTO, World Bank and the IMF. They reject militarisation of disputes and conflicts, promote political resolutions through diplomatic talks, work to soften the West’s interventionist impulse in the internal affairs of States, and are strongly opposed to infringements of territorial integrity and sovereignty. They share concerns about the financial and geopolitical dominance of the US-led West and support a rebalancing of the current global trade and financial system to reflect developing-country concerns and interests. They can give voice to developing country concerns on new rules for healthcare, pharmaceuticals, intellectual property rights, etc. Most developing countries view environmental, labour and human rights standards as disguised non-tariff barriers to protect uncompetitive western agricultural and manufacturing sectors. On intellectual property, whether it be with respect to generic lifesaving drugs and seeds for agriculture or traditional medicine, they can team up to take on the lobbying power of Big Pharma (e.g. Pfizer) and global agribusiness (Monsanto) to robustly protect the rights of poor people to affordable medicines, of poor farmers to affordable seeds, and of indigenous peoples to retain ownership of their traditional knowledge.

Global economic governance
The BRICS are at the forefront of demanding changes to both the institutions and the rules regulating the global economic order, including greater voice and vote in writing the rules and designing and controlling the institutions. They profess a shared vision of inclusive global growth and the rapid socio-economic transformation of their own nations in which no village is left behind. They come to the global governance table with a mutually reinforcing sense of historical grievances and claims to represent the interests of all developing countries. They share a commitment to State sovereignty and non-intervention. They proclaim the need for a rules-based, stable and predictable world order that respects the diversity of political systems and stages of development.

The biggest common interest of the BRICS is in global economic governance. There is an unsustainable disconnect between the highly indebted but politically dominant industrialised economies and, following that, between the distribution of decision-making authority in the existing international financial institutions and the realignment of economic power equations in the real world. Or, to put it another way, in the emerging new global balance of power, the old global political imbalances need to be readjusted to the new global economic imbalances.

The BRICS called for more responsive, flexible and rapid financing to low-income countries to help them ward off the contagion effects of the global financial crisis and shore up their national developmental objectives. They also called for reforming the international monetary system, to consider diversifying beyond the dollar as the de facto global currency, to take gradual steps in expanding the role of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights as a supplemental global reserve asset option, and to give increased voice and vote on issues of global finance to developing countries. The G-20 had tried to redress the IMF’s democratic deficit by agreeing in 2009 to a 5 percent quota shift from developed to developing countries, which would have raised the latter’s share to 48 percent. The proposal has languished in the US Congress for five years and counting, effectively also sabotaging the planned further review and revisions of quotas that was to have begun in January 2013.

The New Development Bank
The system that privileges western powers and their biases is trapped in the old paradigm and out of sync with the new realities. Developing countries have noted how Europe was treated much differently during the Eurozone crisis from the harsh medicine meted out to Asia and Latin America in earlier crises. At the summit in New Delhi in 2012, BRICS advanced from being simply an expression of frustrated entitlement to sketching the outlines of an alternative configuration of global governance. The criticisms of the voting formula, funding priorities and executive directorship of the IMF and World Bank reflect both frustrations at how they are run, and growing self-confidence in their own roles as responsible stakeholder-managers of the system of global economic governance. They underlined the urgency of enhancing “the voice and representation of emerging market and developing countries” in the Bretton Woods institutions in order to “better reflect economic weights”. One critical test of whether BRICS can make the transition from a critic of the West-led system of global economic governance to a leader-cum-manager of an alternative system of, by and for developing countries, would be whether the idea of a BRICS bank floated for study in New Delhi bore fruit.

The BRICS move to set up their own development bank was a reaction to the West’s doublespeak. In 2012, Lula da Silva bluntly said the global financial crisis “was created by white men with blue eyes”. At the 2013 Durban summit, South Africa’s then finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, remarked that the “roots of the World Bank and the IMF still lie” in the post-1945 equations. The five could not agree on the amount of seed money to start the bank nor on its location. South Africa put in a strong bid based on physical and financial infrastructure strengths, including corporate governance, auditing and accounting.

At Fortaleza, the five leaders reached consensus on the objectives, functions, capital subscription size, distribution among the member countries, governance structure and operational mechanisms. Four issues were up for discussion about the proposed bank: name, location, presidency and shareholding. It will be called the New Development Bank. It will be headquartered in Shanghai (with an African Regional Centre to be based in Johannesburg). The inaugural president will come from India, which claims credit for having first floated the idea. And the five countries agreed to equal shareholding. The bank is to be capitalised initially at $50 billion (and subsequently at double that amount), with each country contributing $10 billion over the next 7-8 years. It will give priority to loans for developing countries to finance infrastructure projects, industrialisation and productive, inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

In addition, there will be an emergency reserve pool, called the Contingency Reserve Arrangement, with a $100 billion capital, of which $41 billion will come from China, $18 billion each from Brazil, India and Russia, and $5 billion from South Africa. Its purpose will be to help developing countries avoid short-term liquidity pressure, strengthen the global financial safety net, complement existing international arrangements, and foster more cooperation among the BRICS. Developing countries will be able to draw on the reserve if they face balance of payments crises or if their currency is under pressure. Russia and Brazil get the chairmanships of the two supervising boards.

The New Development Bank is bound to create competition for the World Bank and similar regional funds like the Asian Development Bank. The World Bank’s numerous critics are quick to charge that the institution has failed to lift any country out of poverty and instead has generally deepened poverty and created dependency. Only foreign creditors have done well from its projects. The original core missions of the IMF and World Bank targeted financial stability, employment and development. As the Washington Consensus of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation held sway after the 1980s, the conditionality attached to the “assistance” provided by the two Bretton Woods institutions inflicted significant economic cost and often grave political damage on many developing countries in trouble. Their operations and governance structures came to be seen as rigged against the voice, vote and interests of developing countries and skewed towards the industrialised bloc.

Jim O’Neill rightly commented that the establishment of the BRICS New Development Bank highlights the problems with the current system of global assistance and governance. Global governance just got a lot more interesting.

letters@tehelka.com

(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 11 Issue 31, Dated 2 August 2014)

Where will India's poor go?

Arundhati Roy
Arundhati Roy
IN Pakistan, apprehensions are rife about Narendra Modi’s flamboyant success. But fervent Modi supporters in the Indian middle classes prefer to place him in the economic governance arena. Dawn recently talked to renowned Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, in Delhi to explore what Modi’s rise means for India.
“The massive, steeply climbing GDP of India dropped rather suddenly and millions of middle-class people sitting in the aircraft, waiting for it to take off, suddenly found it freezing in mid-air,” says Ms Roy. “Their exhilaration turned to panic and then into anger. Modi and his party have mopped up this anger.”

India was known for its quasi-socialist economy before it unfettered its private sector in 1991. India soon became global capital’s favourite hangout, sending its economy on a high. The neo-liberal roller coaster ride, however, hit snags. The Indian economy, after touching a peak of over 10pc growth in 2010, tapered down to below 5pc in the last three years. The Indian corporate class blames this lapse solely on the ruling Congress party’s ‘policy paralysis’. Its ‘meek’ prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was now identified as a hurdle. The aggressive Modi thus provided the ultimate contrast.

“What he [Modi] will be called upon to do is not to attack Muslims, it will be to sort out what is going on in the forests, to sweep out the resistance and hand over land to the mining and infrastructure corporations,” explains Ms Roy. “The contracts are all signed and the companies have been waiting for years. He has been chosen as the man who does not blink in the face of bloodshed, not just Muslim bloodshed but any bloodshed.” India’s largest mining and energy projects are in areas that are inhabited by its poorest tribal population who are resisting the forcible takeover of their livelihood resources. Maoist militants champion the cause of these adivasis and have established virtual rule in many pockets.

“Bloodshed is inherent to this model of development. There are already thousands of people in jails,” she says. “But that is not enough any longer. The resistance has to be crushed and eradicated. Big money now needs the man who can walk the last mile. That is why big industry poured millions into Modi’s election campaign.”

Ms Roy believes that India’s chosen development model has a genocidal core to it. “How have the other ‘developed’ countries progressed? Through wars and by colonising and usurping the resources of other countries and societies,” she says. “India has no option but to colonise itself.”

India’s demographic dynamics are such that even mundane projects, such as constructing a road, displace thousands of people, never mind large dams and massive mining projects. The country has a thriving civil society, labour unions and polity that channel this resistance. The resistance frustrates corporate ambitions. “They now want to militarise it and quell it through military means,” she says. Ms Roy thinks that the quelling “does not necessarily mean one has to massacre people, it can also be achieved by putting them under siege, starving them out, killing and putting those who are seen to be ‘leaders’ or’ ‘instigators’ into prison.” Also, the hyper Hindu-nationalist discourse which has been given popular affirmation will allow those resisting ‘development’ to be called anti-nationals. She narrates the example of destitute small farmers who had to abandon their old ways of subsistence and plug in to the market economy.

In 2012 alone, around 14,000 hapless farmers committed suicide in India. “These villages are completely resourceless, barren and dry as dust. The people are mostly Dalits. There is no politics there. They are pushed into the polling booths by power brokers who have promised their overlords some votes,” she adds, citing her recent visit to villages in Maharashtra that has the highest rate of farmer suicides in India.

So is there no democracy in India then? “It would be too sweeping to say that,” she retorts. “There is some amount of democracy. But you also can’t deny that India has the largest population of the poor in the world. Then, there hasn’t been a single day since independence when the state has not deployed the armed forces to quash insurgencies within its boundaries. The number of people who had been killed and tortured is incredible. It is a state that is continuously at war with its people. If you look at what is happening in places like Chhattisgarh or Odisha, it will be an insult to call it a democracy.”

Ms Roy believes that elections have become a massive corporate project and the media is owned and operated by the same corporations too. She opines that “some amount of democracy” in India is reserved for its middle classes alone and through that they are co-opted by the state and become loyal consumers of the state narrative of people’s resistances.

“The 2014 elections have thrown up some strange conundrums,” she muses. “For eg, the BSP, Mayawati’s party, which got the third largest vote share in the country, has won no seats. The mathematics of elections are such that even if every Dalit in India voted for her, she could have still not won a single seat.”

“Now, we have a democratically elected totalitarian government,” she continues. “Technically and legally, there is no party with enough seats to constitute an opposition. But many of us have maintained for several years that there never was a real opposition. The two main parties agreed on most policies, and each had the skeleton of a mass pogrom against a minority community in its cupboard. So now, it’s all out in the open. The system lies exposed.”

India’s voters have given their verdict. But the blunt question that Ms Roy raises remains unanswered: where will India’s poor go?

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2014

Hollywood Without the Happy Ending

How the CIA Bungled the War on Terror?
By Pratap Chatterjee

Call it the Jason Bourne strategy.

Think of it as the CIA’s plunge into Hollywood — or into the absurd.  As recent revelations have made clear, that Agency’s moves couldn’t be have been more far-fetched or more real.  In its post-9/11 global shadow war, it has employed both private contractors and some of the world’s most notorious prisoners in ways that leave the latest episode of the Bourne films in the dust: hired gunmen trained to kill as well as former inmates who cashed in on the notoriety of having worn an orange jumpsuit in the world’s most infamous jail.

The first group of undercover agents were recruited by private companies from the Army Special Forces and the Navy SEALs and then repurposed to the CIA at handsome salaries averaging around $140,000 a year; the second crew was recruited from the prison cells at Guantanamo Bay and paid out of a secret multimillion dollar slush fund called “the Pledge.”

Last month, the Associated Press revealed that the CIA had selected a few dozen men from among the hundreds of terror suspects being held at Guantanamo and trained them to be double agents at a cluster of eight cottages in a program dubbed “Penny Lane.” (Yes, indeed, the name was taken from the Beatles song, as was “Strawberry Fields,” a Guantanamo program that involved torturing “high-value” detainees.) These men were then returned to what the Bush administration liked to call the “global battlefield,” where their mission was to befriend members of al-Qaeda and supply targeting information for the Agency’s drone assassination program.

Such a secret double-agent program, while colorful and remarkably unsuccessful, should have surprised no one.  After all, plea bargaining or persuading criminals to snitch on their associates — a tactic frowned upon by international legal experts — is widely used in the U.S. police and legal system.  Over the last year or so, however, a trickle of information about the other secret program has come to light and it opens an astonishing new window into the privatization of U.S. intelligence.

Hollywood in Langley

In July 2010, at his confirmation hearings for the post of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper explained the use of private contractors in the intelligence community: “In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War… we were under a congressional mandate to reduce the community by on the order of 20%… Then 9/11 occurred… With the gusher… of funding that has accrued particularly from supplemental or overseas contingency operations funding, which, of course, is one year at a time, it is very difficult to hire government employees one year at a time. So the obvious outlet for that has been the growth of contractors.”

Thousands of “Green Badges” were hired via companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and Qinetiq to work at CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) offices around the world, among the regular staff who wore blue badges. Many of them — like Edward Snowden — performed specialist tasks in information technology meant to augment the effectiveness of government employees.

Then the CIA decided that there was no aspect of secret war which couldn’t be corporatized.  So they set up a unit of private contractors as covert agents, green-lighting them to carry guns and be sent into U.S. war zones at a moment’s notice. This elite James Bond-like unit of armed bodyguards and super-fixers was given the anodyne name Global Response Staff (GRS).

Among the 125 employees of this unit, from the Army Special Forces via private contractors came Raymond Davis and Dane Paresi; from the Navy SEALs Glen Doherty, Jeremy Wise, and Tyrone Woods. All five would soon be in the anything-but-covert headlines of newspapers across the world.  These men — no women have yet been named — were deployed on three- to four-month missions accompanying CIA analysts into the field.

Davis was assigned to Lahore, Pakistan; Doherty and Woods to Benghazi, Libya; Paresi and Wise to Khost, Afghanistan. As GRS expanded, other contractors went to Djibouti, Lebanon, and Yemen, among other countries, according to a Washington Post profile of the unit.

From early on, its work wasn’t exactly a paragon of secrecy. By 2005, for instance, former Special Forces personnel had already begun openly discussing jobs in the unit at online forums. Their descriptions sounded like something directly out of a Hollywood thriller. The Post portrayed the focus of GRS personnel more mundanely as “designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.”

“They don’t learn languages, they’re not meeting foreign nationals, and they’re not writing up intelligence reports,” a former U.S. intelligence official told that paper. “Their main tasks are to map escape routes from meeting places, pat down informants, and provide an ‘envelope’ of security… if push comes to shove, you’re going to have to shoot.”

In the ensuing years, GRS embedded itself in the Agency, becoming essential to its work.  Today, new CIA agents and analysts going into danger zones are trained to work with such bodyguards. In addition, GRS teams are now loaned out to other outfits like the NSA for tasks like installing spy equipment in war zones.

The CIA’s Private Contractors (Don’t) Save the Day

Recently these men, the spearhead of the CIA’s post-9/11 contractor war, have been making it into the news with startling regularity.  Unlike their Hollywood cousins, however, the news they have made has all been bad. Those weapons they’re packing and the derring-do that is supposed to go with them have repeatedly led not to breathtaking getaways and shootouts, but to disaster.  Jason Bourne, of course, wins the day; they don’t.

Take Dane Paresi and Jeremy Wise. In 2009, not long after Paresi left the Army Special Forces and Wise the Navy SEALs, they were hired by Xe Services (the former Blackwater) to work for GRS and assigned to Camp Chapman, a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan. On December 30, 2009, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who had been recruited by the CIA to infiltrate al-Qaeda, was invited to a meeting at the base after spending several months in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. Invited as well were several senior CIA staff members from Kabul who hoped Balawi might help them target Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al-Qaeda’s number two man.

Details of what happened are still sketchy, but the GRS men clearly failed to fulfill their security mission. Somehow Balawi, who turned out to be not a double but a triple agent, made it onto the closed base with a bomb and blew himself up, killing not just Paresi and Wise but also seven CIA staff officers, including Jennifer Matthews, the base chief.

Thirteen months later, in January 2011, another GRS contractor, Raymond Davis, decided to shoot his way out of what he considered a difficult situation in Lahore, Pakistan. The Army Special Forces veteran had also worked for Blackwater, although at the time of the shootings he was employed by Hyperion Protective Services, LLC.

Assigned to work at a CIA safe house in Lahore to support agents tracking al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Davis had apparently spent days photographing local military installations like the headquarters of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. On January 27th, his car was stopped and he claims that he was confronted by two young men, Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad. Davis proceeded to shoot both of them dead, and then take pictures of their bodies, before radioing back to the safe house for help. When a backup vehicle arrived, it compounded the disaster by driving at high speed the wrong way down a street and killing a passing motorcyclist.

Davis was later caught by two traffic wardens, taken to a police station, and jailed. A furor ensued, involving both countries and an indignant Pakistani media.  The U.S. embassy, which initially claimed he was a consular official before the Guardian broke the news that he was a CIA contractor, finally pressured the Pakistani government into releasing him, but only after agreeing to pay out $2.34 million in compensation to the families of those he killed.

A year and a half later, two more GRS contractors made front-page news under the worst of circumstances. Former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods had been assigned to a CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, where the Agency was attempting to track a developing North African al-Qaeda movement and recover heavy weapons, including Stinger missiles, that had been looted from state arsenals in the wake of an U.S.-NATO intervention which led to the fall of the autocrat Muammar Qaddafi.

On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was staying at a nearby diplomatic compound when it came under attack. Militants entered the buildings and set them on fire.  A CIA team, including Doherty, rushed to the rescue, although ultimately, unlike Hollywood’s action teams, they did not save Stevens or the day. In fact, several hours later, the militants raided the CIA base, killing both Doherty and Woods.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

The disastrous denouements to these three incidents, as well as the deaths of four GRS contractors – more than a quarter of CIA casualties since the War on Terror was launched — raise a series of questions: Is this yet another example of the way the privatization of war and intelligence doesn’t work?  And is the answer to bring such jobs back in-house? Or does the Hollywood-style skullduggery (gone repeatedly wrong) hint at a larger problem?  Is the present intelligence system, in fact, out of control and, despite a combined budget of $52.6 billion a year, simply incapable of delivering anything like the “security” promised, leaving the various spy agencies, including the CIA, increasingly desperate to prove that they can “defeat” terrorism?

Take, for example, the slew of documents Edward Snowden – another private contractor who at one point worked for the CIA — released about secret NSA programs attempting to suck up global communications at previously unimaginable rates. There have been howls of outrage across the planet, including from spied-upon heads of state.  Those denouncing such blatant invasions of privacy have regularly raised the fear that we might be witnessing the rise of a secret-police-like urge to clamp down on dissent everywhere.

But as with the CIA, there may be another explanation: desperation.  Top intelligence officials, fearing that they will be seen as having done a poor job, are possessed by an ever greater urge to prove their self-worth by driving the intelligence community to ever more (rather than less) of the same.

As Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary, told MSNBC: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack.”  It’s true that, while the various intelligence agencies and the CIA may not succeed when it comes to the needles, they have proven effective indeed when it comes to creating haystacks.

In the case of the NSA, the Obama administration’s efforts to prove that its humongous data haul had any effect on foiling terrorist plots — at one point, they claimed 54 such plots foiled — has had a quality of genuine pathos to it.  The claims have proven so thin that administration and intelligence officials have struggled to convince even those in Congress who support the programs, let alone the rest of the world, that it has done much more than gather and store staggering reams of information on almost everyone to no particular purpose whatsoever.  Similarly, the FBI has made a point of trumpeting every “terrorist” arrest it has made, most of which, on closer scrutiny, turn out to be of gullible Muslims, framed by planted evidence in plots often essentially engineered by FBI informants.

Despite stunning investments of funds and the copious hiring of private contractors, when it comes to ineptitude the CIA is giving the FBI and NSA a run for their money. In fact, both of its recently revealed high-profile programs — GRS and the Guantanamo double agents — have proven dismal failures, yielding little if anything of value.  The Associated Press account of Penny Lane, the only description of that program thus far, notes, for instance, that al-Qaeda never trusted the former Guantanamo Bay detainees released into their midst and that, after millions of dollars were fruitlessly spent, the program was canceled as a failure in 2006.

If you could find a phrase that was the polar opposite of “more bang for your buck,” all of these efforts would qualify.  In the case of the CIA, keep in mind as well that you’re talking about an agency which has for years conducted drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Hundreds of innocent men, women, and children have been killed along with numerous al-Qaeda types and “suspected militants,” and yet — many experts believe — these campaigns have functioned not as an air war on, but for, terror.  In Yemen, as an example, the tiny al-Qaeda outfit that existed when the drone campaign began in 2002 has grown exponentially.

So what about the Jason Bourne-like contractors working for GRS who turned out to be the gang that couldn’t shoot straight? How successful have they been in helping the CIA sniff out al-Qaeda globally?  It’s a good guess, based on what we already know, that their record would be no better than that of the rest of the CIA.

One hint, when it comes to GRS-assisted operations, may be found in documents revealed in 2010 by WikiLeaks about joint CIA-Special Operations hunter-killer programs in Afghanistan like Task Force 373. We don’t actually know if any GRS employees were involved with those operations, but it’s notable that one of Task Force 373′s principal bases was in Khost, where Paresi and Wise were assisting the CIA in drone-targeting operations. The evidence from the WikiLeaks documents suggests that, as with GRS missions, those hunter-killer teams regularly botched their jobs by killing civilians and stoking local unrest.

At the time, Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Operations Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, told me: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”

As details of programs like Penny Lane and GRS tumble out into the open, shedding light on how the CIA has fought its secret war, it is becoming clearer that the full story of the Agency’s failures, and the larger failures of U.S. intelligence and its paramilitarized, privatized sidekicks has yet to be told.

Pratap Chatterjee, a TomDispatch regular, is executive director of CorpWatch and a board member of Amnesty International USA. He is the author of Halliburton’s Army and Iraq, Inc.

Copyright 2013 Pratap Chatterjee

Viral Occupation

Cameras and Networked Human Rights in the West Bank

by Rebecca L. Stein | published March 20, 2013

When I film, I feel like the camera protects me. But it’s an illusion.
—Emad Burnat, West Bank Palestinian and co-director, 5 Broken Cameras

A commander or an officer sees a camera and becomes a diplomat, calculating every rubber bullet, every step. It’s intolerable; we’re left utterly exposed. The cameras are our kryptonite.
—Israeli soldier, infantry brigade

To some degree, the conflict in Judea and Samaria has become a camera war.
—West Bank settler

When Israeli security forces arrived in the middle of the night at the Tamimi house in Nabi Salih, the occupied West Bank, the family was already in bed. The raid was not unexpected, as news had traveled around the village on that day in January 2011: Soldiers were coming to houses at night, demanding that young children be roused from sleep to be photographed for military records (to assist, they said, in the identification of stone throwers). Bilal Tamimi, Nabi Salih’s most experienced videographer, had his own camcorder at the ready by his bedside table when he was awoken by the knock on the door. His sometimes shaky footage, drowsiness and concern for his children making his hand unsteady, subsequently ran on Israel’s evening news programs, the video provided by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem as part of its effort to document army abuses in the Occupied Territories. The footage told two stories, testifying to the increasing use of photography both by the army as a means of counterinsurgency and by Palestinians under occupation for evidence and self-protection. In the West Bank today, cameras are ubiquitous, as is the usage of social media as a means of online witnessing. Both are deemed nothing less than political necessities, the sine qua non of political claims in the networked court of public opinion.

Cameras have long played a central role in the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories — their importance dramatized in 5 Broken Cameras, the joint Palestinian-Israeli production nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary. Today, one finds cameras of various kinds and degrees of technological sophistication in the hands of the Israeli army, whose film unit dates to the occupation’s early years; Palestinian residents; activists and NGOs operating in the territories; Israeli human rights groups and anti-occupation activists; and organized bands of Israeli settlers (enabled by a rabbinical ruling that authorized filming on Shabbat). [1] Cameras, of course, are also embedded in the surveillance infrastructure of the military occupation itself, mounted on drones, checkpoints and the separation barrier. As the above list suggests, cameras serve many competing political agendas, employed by the military for both official security measures and personal displays of militarized bravado (as evidenced by the February viral Instagram scandal, when a soldier posted aestheticized photos of a Palestinian boy in a rifle’s crosshairs), and by Palestinians under occupation and their anti-occupation allies as a means of deterrence and protest.

As in other political theaters, most players in the Israeli-Palestinian media field shoot video, chiefly with camera phones, and disseminate the footage via social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Video is deemed not merely a political advantage within this theater but a requirement — despite the debates about video veracity that almost always ensue, often fueled by charges of technical manipulation or politically motivated editing. [2] The technological playing field is highly uneven. Israel boasts some of the world’s highest rates of Internet penetration and social media savvy, while Palestinians are constrained by the regulation of their telecommunications infrastructure, over which Israel exercises considerable control by the terms of the Oslo accords.

B’Tselem launched its camera project in 2007 in the West Bank city of Hebron, site of some of the fiercest confrontations between Palestinian residents and militant settlers. Unexpectedly, the Hebron footage went viral. Since that initial success, the organization has distributed hundreds of video cameras to Palestinians living in high-conflict areas of the Occupied Territories, enabling them to record firsthand their frequent abuse at the hands of Israeli security forces and neighboring settler populations.

Today, the proliferation of camera equipment in activist theaters across the globe usually yields a tale of “liberation technology” — a variant of the digital democracy narrative echoed so frequently in the first months of the Arab revolts, positing new media technologies as naturally suited to progressive grassroots activism. The case of Israel-Palestine, with cameras on all sides of the occupation’s political divides, tells a more complicated story, suggesting the highly variable political functions and futures that new technologies can serve.

“Document Everything”

The village of Nabi Salih in the occupied West Bank is a focal point of Palestinian protest against the Israeli separation barrier. Since 2009, the village has held a weekly non-violent demonstration that, on any given Friday, draws residents from across Palestine, as well as tens of Israeli and international solidarity activists. International journalists also number heavily at these demonstrations, their presence sometimes outmatching that of the foreign activists. Given the political import and visibility of this weekly demonstration, and the global media coverage that can result, the Israeli security forces have endeavored to stop it and violent dispersals with tear gas, pepper spray and beatings are common, as are raids on households suspected of participation. [3]

Bilal Tamimi, 46, affiliated with B’Tselem in 2010. At the time, he was the only active cameraman in Nabi Salih, as few residents had camera phones or Internet access. He began filming in clandestine fashion, perhaps shielded by a porch or awning, in an effort to avoid detection. Soon, political necessity dictated a retreat from the shadows, and Bilal began filming demonstrations and arrests from the ground, in full view of the military. Thereafter, Bilal’s camera was always at the ready, sitting next to his bed, in accordance with his personal pledge to “document everything” pertaining to the village’s struggle with the security forces.

The technological landscape has changed dramatically since 2010 — an interval which produced a marked shift in technological literacy and penetration within the village. B’Tselem now has three camera volunteers working in the village, each with his or her own camcorder, equipped with a memory stick to speed the transfer of files. Thanks to camera phones and donations from an independent NGO, nearly every Nabi Salih household now has photographic capabilities and most have their own Internet connection (many sharing routers with neighbors to lower cost), enabling social media circulation. Having taught himself to edit video, Bilal also self-publishes on a dedicated YouTube account (only one of those active in the village, where social media savvy is high), documenting several years of local demonstrations. [4] Because Bilal is one of the most experienced volunteers working in the West Bank, the formal and arguably aesthetic dimensions of his footage are something of a B’Tselem exception. For unlike his footage, most of the video shot by volunteers adheres to the now conventional norms of amateur video production amid acute political crisis, with shaking lens and subjects that move in and out of the frame — aesthetics that are the byproduct of both videographer inexperience and a context of danger and fear.

Sitting with Bilal in his shared office at the Palestinian Ministry of Education in Ramallah, where he works as a graphic designer, we screen some of his most influential videos. Footage of the weekly demonstrations predominates, including the beating of Israeli and international activists by Israeli security forces. Among the most widely viewed by the Israeli public was that of the raid described above that began at Bilal’s own home. It is a disarming portrayal of the violent intimacy that such raids occasion, in the confrontation between armed soldiers and a terrified family jolted from sleep, all within the walls of the private family home. “Here, you see my hand is shaking,” Bilal says, “because it was the first night raid on my house.” Still in his bedclothes, Bilal and his camcorder accompanied the soldiers as they continued their evening patrol, knocking on the doors of neighboring households to wake startled residents and photograph their children. The footage betrays the complexity of Bilal’s relationship to the scene; the looks exchanged between him and his neighbors suggest that his presence as videographer is both welcomed and expected, his camcorder providing a modicum of security in this highly insecure situation. It is a battle of lenses: the camera as humanitarian witness pitted against the camera as state tool of counterinsurgency. The military spokesman, called upon to respond to the footage following its airing in the Israeli media, defended the camera practices and nighttime raid as a security necessity.

B’Tselem’s Camera Project

In the summer of 2012, some 150 B’Tselem camera volunteers were operating in the occupied West Bank. It is a volunteer population organized by region and overseen by local fieldworkers, themselves Palestinian residents of the area. Cameras are deemed most necessary in sites of heightened conflict, typically, in households living on the edge of town and adjacent to aggressive Jewish settler populations. Settler attacks constitute the majority of footage filmed by volunteers, rivaled only by demonstrations. Each volunteer and/or household is provided with a digital camera (a step up from the videocassettes used in the past, which made transmission of footage cumbersome) and given rudimentary training in camera techniques: how to hold the camera, how to record and shoot, how to use the zoom. To prepare participants for the challenges of filming an episode of conflict, the day-long workshop engages them in a simulated soccer game, with volunteers asked to follow the ball and players with their lens. The game approximates the rapid, unpredictable movement characteristic of a scene of violent confrontation. Interestingly, fieldworkers report that local Palestinian suspicion of B’Tselem, on the grounds of its Israeli identity, is unusual; on the contrary, there are many more West Bank requests for cameras than the organization can accommodate. Despite the ubiquity of citizen journalism in Palestine, Palestine’s robust NGO sector lacks an equivalent initiative on this scale. And arguably, a Palestinian analogue would struggle for a hearing among the Israeli and international public that B’Tselem targets.

Typically, B’Tselem works with a single volunteer within a household — usually the male head of house (with that designation made by the family itself). Yet in practice, cameras often circulate within the broader family unit, shared by several members. Young women are often initiated into the role of filmmaker in this circuitous manner, their role dictated by necessity. When men leave the house to confront approaching settlers, as occurs in many households, women are left to pick up the camera, and often without formal training. Thus it is that many powerful and subsequently viral videos of settler attacks have been shot by women — sometimes the daughters, sometimes the wives of the designated volunteers. [5]

The footage produced by the volunteers is highly varied in content, vantage and filmic quality. Such variations correlate with the geographic location of the filmmaker or household and with the skills and personality of the cameraperson. Some volunteers are relatively experienced behind the camera (Bilal being among the most veteran). He is known to, and now often tolerated by, the security forces, enabling him to capture scenes of routine army violence without the need for covert filming tactics. More typically, when settler violence erupts suddenly, volunteers shoot from roofs and behind windows, the resultant footage marked by sudden movements and partially obscured by window grates and bars. Like Bilal, most volunteers keep their cameras charged and at the ready.

The B’Tselem project is driven by the need to produce visible evidence of human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories. But the local security rationale is equally crucial. Volunteers attest to the powerful protective function of their cameras, many describing a gradual decline in settler incursions since the cameras’ arrival and the lighter hand of Israeli security forces when cameras are raised. This development has been slow and uneven. Initially, the security forces demanded that volunteers stop filming, despite army regulations permitting cameras in the field, and attempts to confiscate cameras, videocassettes and memory cards were frequent. More recently, volunteers report greater army toleration of the lens (a shift which the army, when queried by me, has been reluctant to discuss). For their part, settlers are not deterred; rather, they have responded with their own camera initiatives. Settler attacks documented by B’Tselem volunteers show that these assailants are now armed with two kinds of weapons: clubs, rocks and/or guns — and cameras of their own. [6]

Circulation of volunteer footage within Israeli media networks is laborious and its outcome uncertain. In addition to self-publishing on the organization’s website and YouTube page, B’Tselem sends several videos per week to Israeli evening news programs — those videos deemed visually powerful and clear proof of human rights breaches. Despite the Israeli public’s growing intolerance for human rights work in the territories, several clips get a nationwide screening every month, sometimes to viral effect. Indeed, so prevalent are these amateur videos that they have achieved a kind of brand status. “When they see the West Bank and the shaking camera,” says the project’s Israeli coordinator, “they know it’s B’Tselem.” Some videos also serve a legal function, providing the evidentiary basis for complaints filed by the organization with the Israeli government.

The ease with which such clips circulate via social networking obscures the complex routes that the video material must travel before arriving at the B’Tselem central offices in West Jerusalem. Much of this material must be delivered by hand — for reasons related to the underdeveloped Palestinian telecommunications economy, itself a byproduct of the military occupation. And delivery is highly contingent. Will the fieldworker’s car break down on the West Bank’s unpaved roads? Will soldiers at the checkpoint permit the cassette transfer — or will cameras and video be confiscated, or even destroyed, to prevent incrimination? Or, in the rare case where electronic file transfer is possible, will power outages prevent the FTP server from functioning? Coupled with the intolerance for human rights claims, these physical obstacles mean that the visibility of the B’Tselem footage is never guaranteed.

Viral Violence

In the southern Hebron hills, in the West Bank, confrontations between Palestinians and militant settlers are frequent and heated. The settlers are engaged in what human rights organizations call “land grabs,” efforts to expand territorial holdings into neighboring Palestinian lands, often by violent means, and justified by biblical claims to Jewish ownership. The raids often damage Palestinian orchards and livestock, and Palestinians have often been hurt. On June 8, 2008, several Palestinian shepherds were tending their flocks in the village of Susiya when Jewish settlers arrived from a neighboring settlement and demanded the shepherds’ departure. The Palestinians refused and the settlers departed, returning minutes later in larger numbers, their faces masked, and their hands wielding clubs. A shepherd’s young wife captured the scene on film, her camera provided by the B’Tselem project.

The short video she produced, just over a minute in length, is vivid in its detail. Her camera faces the oncoming settlers as they walk, with a slow, confident gait, toward their target. Their heads are draped with colored fabric, with only their eyes visible. One is bare-chested and all carry clubs and large sticks, and as the camera shifts position to capture their approach, the neighboring settlement, with its signature red roofs, comes slowly into view at their backs. An elderly Palestinian man and woman are fleetingly seen in the foreground, dressed traditionally with arms at their sides and rocks in hands. Only partially captured by the camera’s viewfinder, the man turns suddenly from his impending attackers, standing his ground in defiance, averting his eyes. The settlers approach and meet him, and the shepherd speaks, his words drowned out by a heavy wind. Then the beating begins.

With its sudden movements, its subjects only partially captured by the viewfinder, this video partakes in a well-established B’Tselem genre — that of footage imprinted by the somatic terror of its producer, shot with a shaking hand and overlaid with quickened breath, or the audible footsteps of flight, or the startled cry of the unexpected eyewitness. Footage of this kind is often filmed in hiding, shot through windows and sometimes behind grates, all visible in the image. And as in the Susiya material, the image of heightened confrontation is often foreclosed, interrupted by a fallen camera, dropped in fright at the moment of attack. Such cuts in the video narrative, a standard feature of amateur production in conditions of abject terror, create numerous challenges when such footage is used in the legal arena. [7]

This footage went viral in Israel in the summer of 2008. It was screened repeatedly on the evening news, and became the subject of numerous media commentaries and radio call-in shows. Stills of the advancing perpetrators appeared on the front pages of Israeli newspapers. “It was the first time that Israelis saw masked Jews,” B’Tselem staff noted (since that time, settler masking has become common). These images conjured up others — first and foremost, the iconic kaffiyya-swathed Palestinian activist, a visual staple of first Palestinian uprising in 1987-1991. Indeed, in those days, masking practices often incurred live fire from Israeli soldiers. But another set of stock scenes was also conjured in the process, as noted by many staff at B’Tselem: “It was just like a scene from the Wild West,” like something pulled straight from a Hollywood script.

The Challenge of Being Seen

The Israeli political climate creates numerous difficulties for the B’Tselem camera project, particularly since Israeli the public is now the organization’s primary audience. Today, the separation barrier has rendered the military occupation, and Palestinians living under occupation, nearly invisible to most Israeli Jews. In tandem, the Palestinian aspiration to a territorially contiguous, sovereign state has been all but ignored by the Netanyahu government, as settler politics continue to encroach on the ideology of the center-left. At the same time, the very notion of human rights has been framed by the Israeli state as an existential threat to national security — a framing campaign that has been remarkably successful among many strata of Israeli society. In this political climate, the B’Tselem project confronts a nearly impossible question: What are the conditions under which Israeli human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories, and the Palestinian victims thereof, might be made visible to Israeli Jews? This is a challenge that B’Tselem confronts nearly every day, with varying degrees of success where the video project is concerned. Indeed, the organization’s occasional viral success within Israeli media networks may not reflect an Israeli appetite for eyewitness footage from the Occupied Territories. At times, the viral video in question may have a cinematic appeal (as was the case with the Susiya footage) that makes the political message more palatable, if not altogether invisible. And while social media helps with circulation, the insertion of these clips into a prolific body of global networked images can dull the human rights message. When assimilated into the YouTube platform and algorithm, B’Tselem footage can register as just another scene of amateur spectacle.

There are hundreds of videos uploaded to the B’Tselem website. But there are thousands more in the video archives in West Jerusalem, clips considered unworthy of media attention or self-publication, including footage of political demonstrations, settler incursions and abuses by security forces. The rationales for relegation to the archive are several: Perhaps the images are unclear, perhaps the assailant is beyond camera range or the offense too poorly lit. Or perhaps the depicted violence is simply deemed too mundane for an Israeli viewing public saturated with images of conflict and now weary of them. This archive, which is frequently mined by documentarians and scholars, is a rich visual compendium of daily Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank, those that were not spectacular enough for the national airwaves. Indeed, as one of the video project’s Israeli curators proposes, this portrait of the everyday occupation may be the video project’s most powerful contribution.

Author’s Note: Many thanks to my colleagues at B’Tselem for their generous collaboration with this research project. This project was made possible with the assistance of the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Editor’s Note: Hide in crowd? think again http://ow.ly/pjmQU Pic@2100MP! Fixing on drones 2! dble-clk a few times (or ‘spread’ on device) #surveillance

Endnotes

[1] Joshua Briner, “Not Just B’tselem: Settlers Will Document Clashes with Palestinians,”Walla, September 22, 2011. [Hebrew] Also see Scott Krane, “Separating the Settler Movement from the ‘Price-Taggers,’” Times of Israel, May 28, 2012.
[2] Adi Kuntsman and Rebecca L. Stein, “Digital Suspicion, Politics and the Middle East,”Critical Inquiry (2011).
[3] B’tselem, Show of Force: Israeli Military Conduct in Weekly Demonstrations(Jerusalem, 2011).
[4] The village’s most visible English-language social media presence is the blog calledNabi Saleh Solidarity, linked to a Facebook page. Bilal’s wife, Manal, tweets about the village’s political struggles at @screamingtamimi.
[5] This footage of a 2007 shooting in Ni‘lin, which went viral in Israel, was shot by the daughter of a B’tselem volunteer. So, too, the wife of a B’tselem volunteer shot this footage of a May 2012 attack on the village of ‘Asira al-Qibliyya by settlers from Yitzhar.
[6] For one example, see the B’tselem footage of the May 2012 settler attack at the 3:30 mark.
[7] See Kuntsman and Stein, op cit.

The message sent by America’s invisible victims

As two more Afghan children are liberated (from their lives) by NATO this weekend, a new film examines the effects of endless US aggression

guardian.co.uk,

Air strikes in Afghanistan killed 51 Afghan children in 2012, the UN report says

Air strikes in Afghanistan killed 51 Afghan children in 2012, the UN report says. Photograph: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

Yesterday I had the privilege to watch Dirty Wars, an upcoming film directed by Richard Rowley that chronicles the investigations of journalist Jeremy Scahill into America’s global covert war under President Obama and specifically his ever-growing kill lists. I will write comprehensively about this film closer to the date when it and the book by the same namewill be released. For now, it will suffice to say that the film is one of the most important I’ve seen in years: gripping and emotionally affecting in the extreme, with remarkable, news-breaking revelations even for those of us who have intensely followed these issues. The film won awards at Sundance and rave reviews in unlikely places such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. But for now, I want to focus on just one small aspect of what makes the film so crucial.

The most propagandistic aspect of the US War on Terror has been, and remains, that its victims are rendered invisible and voiceless. They are almost never named by newspapers. They and their surviving family members are virtually never heard from on television. The Bush and Obama DOJs have collaborated with federal judges to ensure that even those who everyone admits are completely innocent have no access to American courts and thus no means of having their stories heard or their rights vindicated. Radical secrecy theories and escalating attacks on whistleblowers push these victims further into the dark.

It is the ultimate tactic of Othering: concealing their humanity, enabling their dehumanization, by simply relegating them to nonexistence. As Ashleigh Banfield put it her 2003 speech denouncing US media coverage of the Iraq war just months before she was demoted and then fired by MSNBC: US media reports systematically exclude both the perspectives of “the other side” and the victims of American violence. Media outlets in predominantly Muslim countries certainly report on their plight, but US media outlets simply do not, which is one major reason for the disparity in worldviews between the two populations. They know what the US does in their part of the world, but Americans are kept deliberately ignorant of it.

What makes Dirty Wars so important is that it viscerally conveys the effects of US militarism on these invisible victims: by letting them speak for themselves. Scahill and his crew travel to the places most US journalists are unwilling or unable to go: to remote and dangerous provinces in AfghanistanYemen and Somalia, all to give voice to the victims of US aggression. We hear from the Afghans whose family members (including two pregnant women) were slaughtered by US Special Forces in 2010 in the Paktia Province, despite being part of the Afghan Police, only for NATO to outright lie and claim the women were already dead from “honor killings” by the time they arrived (lies uncritically repeated, of course, by leading US media outlets).

Scahill interviews the still-traumatized survivors of the US cruise missile and cluster bomb attack in Southern Yemen that killed 35 women and children just weeks after Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. We see the widespread anger in Yemen over the fact that the Yemeni journalist who first exposed US responsibility for that attack, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, was not only arrested by the US puppet regime but, as Scahill first reported, has been kept imprisoned to this very day at the direct insistence of President Obama. We hear from the grandfather of 16-year-old American teenager Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (he is also the father of US cleric Anwar al-Awlaki) – both before and after a CIA drone killed his son and then (two weeks later) his teenaged grandson who everyone acknowledges had nothing to do with terrorism. We hear boastful tales of summary executions from US-funded-and-directed Somali warlords.

There is an unmistakable and singular message sent by these disparate groups and events. It’s one particularly worth thinking about with news reports this morning that two more Afghan children have been killed by aNATO air attack.

The message is that the US is viewed as the greatest threat and that it is US aggression and violence far more than any other cause that motivates support for al-Qaida and anti-American sentiment. The son of the slain Afghan police commander (who is the husband of one of the killed pregnant woman and brother of the other) says that villagers refer to US Special Forces as the “American Taliban” and that he refrained from putting on a suicide belt and attacking US soldiers with it only because of the pleas of his grieving siblings. An influential Southern Yemeni cleric explains that he never heard of al-Qaida sympathizers in his country until that 2009 cruise missile attack and subsequent drone killings, including the one that ended the life of Abdulrahman (a claim supported by all sorts of data). The brutal Somali warlord explains that the Americans are the “masters of war” who taught him everything he knows and who fuel ongoing conflict. Anwar Awlaki’s transformation from moderate and peace-preaching American cleric to angry critic of the US is shown to have begun with the US attack on Iraq and then rapidly intensifying with Obama’s drone attacks and kill lists. Meanwhile, US military officials and officers interviewed by Scahill exhibit a sociopathic indifference to their victims, while Awlaki’s increasingly angry sermons in defense of jihad are juxtaposed with the very similar-sounding justifications of endless war from Obama.

The evidence has long been compelling that the primary fuel of what the US calls terrorism are the very policies of aggression justified in the name of stopping terrorism. The vast bulk of those who have been caught in recent years attempting attacks on the US have emphatically cited US militarism and drone killings in their part of the world as their motive. Evidence is overwhelming that what has radicalized huge numbers of previously peaceful and moderate Muslims is growing rage at seeing a continuous stream of innocent victims, including children, at the hands of the seemingly endless US commitment to violence.

The only way this clear truth is concealed is by preventing Americans from knowing about, let alone hearing from, the victims of US aggression. That concealment is what caused huge numbers of Americans to wander around in a daze after 9/11 innocently and bewilderingly wondering “why do they hate us”? – despite decades of continuous US interference, aggression, and violence-enabling in that part of the world. And it’s this concealment of these victims that causes Americans now to react to endless stories of the killing of innocent Muslims with the excuse that “we have to do something about the Terrorists” or “it’s better than a ground invasion” – without realizing that they’re affirming what Chris Hayes aptly describes as a false choice, and worse, without realizing that the very policies they’re cheering are not stopping the Terrorists at all but doing the opposite: helping the existing Terrorists and creating new ones.

To be fair, it’s not difficult to induce a population to avert its eyes from the victims of the violence they support: we all like to believe that we’re Good and peaceful people, and we particularly like to believe this about the leaders we elect, cheer and admire. Moreover, what the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole recently described as “the empathy gap” – thefailure to imagine how others will react to situations that would cause us (and have caused us) to be driven by rage and violence – means that the US government need not work all that hard to silence its victims: there is a pervasive desire to keep them out of sight.

Nonetheless, if Americans are going to support or even tolerate endless militarism, as they have been doing, then they should at least have to be confronted with their victims – if not on moral grounds then on pragmatic ones, to understand the effects of these policies. Based on the out-of-sight-out-of-mind reality, the US government and media have been incredibly successful in rendering those victims silent and invisible. Dirty Wars is a truly crucial tonic to that propaganda. At the very least, nobody who sees it and hears from the victims of US aggression will ever again wonder why there are so many people in the world who believe in the justifiability or even necessity of violence against the US.