Colombia’s “False Positives” Scandal, Declassified

There has been a few news articles in the MSM discussing the growing “False Positives” Scandal in Columbia, which concerns instances where the Colombian armed forces killed innocent civilians that then claimed were FARC rebels in order to collect rewards.  This story has been gaining momentum since last summer, but it seems that now that it might jeopardize US funds, aka Plan Columbia, the press has caught on.

Global Post has a story today (here), which talks about the number of cases where 11 young people from the town of Soacha – a suburb of Bogata – went missing only to be found soon after assassinated by the Colombian military.  For a more complete break down of the story, I recommend reading Michael Evan’s piece from January (here) entitled “Body Count Mentalities.

It seems that the cycle of violence is still far from ending in Columbia, regardless of how successful Uribe claims that his tactics have been in bring peace back to much of the country.


A U.S. Hog Giant Transforms Eastern Europe

Today’s NY Times (here) has a revealing article about how the US and the European Union continue to subsidize and to corporatize their respective farming industries to the detriment of small farmers at home and in the developing world.  In many ways, the story should be read along side another NY Times article from a little over a year ago (here) “Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland.”  Both paint a bleak picture for the small farmers across Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).

In many ways, the farming culture of the Czech Republic and other CEE countries was effectively destroyed by the Soviet Union’s drive to collectivize small farmers in the 1950s and 1960s.  Much like the Soviet system as a whole it was epically inefficient, corrupt and designed to suppress individuality, but what it did do well was keep a small number of basic foodstuff affordable for the masses, even if there wasn’t always enough to go around.  Much of this has not changed in CEE since the Soviet system collapsed between 1989 and 1991, but over the last 20 years neoliberal capitalism and EU bureaucracy have made it even harder for small farmers to stay viable.

Today’s Times article points out the mentality that has driven Smithfield Food’s to industrialize its farming methods and expand so aggressively is based on the fact that “in the United States…pork prices dropped by about one-fifth between 1970 and 2004 [which has  resulted in an] annual savings of about $29 per consumer.”  So an entire live style has been eradicated for a saving of less than $30 a year.  I know that pork is popular in Central and Eastern Europe, but I highly doubt that this would be enough to justify the rest of the figures mentioned in the article –

In Romania, the number of hog farmers has declined 90 percent — to 52,100 in 2007 from 477,030 in 2003… [and]in Poland, there were 1.1 million hog farmers in 1996 [but that] number fell 56 percent by 2008.  So a loss of almost 1 million pig farmers in 5 years is worth a savings of $30 dollars a year.  Really?

Where today’s article and the older one from 2008 get even more insane in my opinion are the ways in which the European Union are subsidizing this process by paying companies like Smithfield Foods millions of Euros for doing so.  I can understand that bureaucrats want to be able to make sure that things are sanitary and regulated, but when such steps are putting small farmers out of business and/or in a bind.  They can either move towards growing single monoculture crops, like wheat, rape seed (the main ingredient for canola oil – the name wouldn’t sell nearly as well without the rebranding as canola), and various grains largely meant for animal feed; sell their property to land developers; or watch their margins shrink to the point where it is almost certain that none of their children will follow in their footsteps.

Hopefully, the EU and the US will realize before its too late that small farmers are one of the solutions to the environmental crises looming on the horizon and that losing them will weaken their societies as a whole.  Not to mention the diseases, like the current swine flu or MRSA (see article here), that are directly linked to such practices.

Smoke and Mirrors regarding Haiti

Mary Anastasia O’Grady has a new editorial in the Wall St. Journal (here) that continues to try and discredit Jean Bertrand Aristide, even after the recent sham of an election in Haiti in late April.  The article comes from a shamelessly biased opinion, even if her intentions might be good in that almost everyone can agree that Haiti has suffered more than any country should and it deserves a clean start.  However, pinning Haiti’s current state on the shoulders of Artiste is absurd.

Stephen Lendman has a much better handle on the current state of affairs in Haiti in his recent article in the Foreign Policy Journal from April 19th (here) just before the recent Haitian Senate Elections took place.  Here is the situation that he sees –

“few people anywhere have suffered more for so long, yet endure and keep struggling for change. For brief periods under Jean-Bertrand Aristide, they got it until a US-led February 29, 2004 coup d’etat forced him into exile where he remains Haiti’s symbolic leader – for his supporters, still head of the Fanmi Lavalas (FL) party he founded in 1996 to reestablish links between local Lavalas branches and its parliamentary representatives.

From then to now, nothing has been the same. U.N. paramilitaries occupy the country. Washington effectively controls it. President Rene Preval got a choice – go along or pay the price. He submitted knowing what awaits him if he resists. Nonetheless, he’s disappointed bitterly.

Haitians suffered dearly as a result, deeply impoverished, at times starving, denied the most basic essentials, plagued by violence, a brutal occupier, police repression, an odious and onerous debt, and exploitative sweatshop conditions for those lucky enough to have a job in a country plagued by unemployment and deprivation.”

Now compare this with O’Grady’s commentary today, in which she boils all of this down to that fact that things “didn’t have to get this bad. They did because when Haitians had a shot at democracy in 1990, they instead got a despot named Jean Bertrand Aristide. During the time he ran the country as a strongman, Haiti had a contract with a U.S. telecom company called Fusion. Its board included Joseph P. Kennedy II, who was a friend of Aristide and invited the Haitian to his second wedding.”

So centuries of suffering comes down to Aristide allegedly giving a US company preferential treatment – even though far more deplorable companies were involved in the funding and arming of Guy Phillipe’s paramilitary forces that ousted Aristide in 2004.  The backdrop to all of this is that O’Grady seems to sincerely believe that Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis is the person who will be able to rid Haiti of this stigmata, which I find hard to believe.

My issue is more that O’Grady’s analysis seems to be the latest in a long line that basically refused to see the support of Aristide and Lavalas as a legitimate expression of popular will.  Michele Pierre Louis has nowhere near the popular support that Aristide would have, if he were allowed to return.  And was only chosen for Prime Minister after two earlier candidates put forward by Preval were rejected by the Haitian Senate.

“Now as PM she emphasizes public security, which has improved since Aristide left; kidnappings dropped sharply last December. She proudly recounted to me her decision to remove a wealthy developer from the prime government land he had invaded to build slums. This makes her different. Enforcing the rule of law is not the usual practice of anyone in Haiti who wants to have a political career.

Another unpopular goal on the PM’s agenda is confronting drug-trade corruption in the judiciary and politics.  Citing Haiti’s recent seizure of $1 million in cash, she says, “Imagine what you can do with that much money in Haiti.”  The drug problem, she notes, undermines equality before the law, and Haiti needs U.S. help in fighting back.

Ms. Pierre-Louis may need help too. She doesn’t have a political base, Bill Clinton is showing renewed interest in Haiti (not good), and powerful local interests want her out. She might survive if those who truly care about Haiti realize that her defeat would be a grave loss for her country. Hopefully this includes the U.S., which has enormous influence in Haiti and also should want to see the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country get off its knees.”

All of this seems to justify US involvement in running Haitian affairs and uses anecdotal evidence at best to present an extremely narrow point of view.  The US has been one of the main reasons for Haiti’s endemic poverty for the last 200 years and this description seems to be an attempt to sanitize the US’s actions under Bush, as a means for influencing the Obama administration.  Hopefully, this latest effort to keep the people of Haiti under the influence of the US will fall far short.

Sri Lankan Humanitarian Crisis Deserves Attention

The most recent issue of the Progressive (here) and today’s Guardian UK (here) have compelling articles about the growing cause for alarm in Sri Lanka.  The MSM has widely reported about the number of civilians trapped in the shrinking area held by the remainder of the LTTE, but has done little to explain the complex nature of the conflict.

As Amitabh Pal quoted in his article “Today, most reasonable people in Sri Lanka would agree that the Tigers and the war with them arose as a consequence of a long-unresolved ethnic conflict,” writes activist and intellectual Jehan Perera (original article here).  “As such, the Tigers are clearly but a symptom of a deeper problem. … Eliminating the Tigers will not terminate the ethnic conflict.”

Perhaps this is one of the saddest aspects of the recent spike in media coverage, that it has tended to oversimplify the current state of affairs on the island by constantly reiterating that the civil war is on the verge of ending through a decisive military victory.  Much like other long standing ethnic or racial conflicts, events in Sir Lanka are bound to linger and will most likely prove to be impossible to solve through the use of force alone.  An analysis about this can be found in an article that compares the Sinhalese/Tamil conflict to the Arab/Isreali conflict in Palestine at Global Post (here).

Whatever the case, the conflict in Sri Lanka is on the verge of getting even bloodier, even if it is no closer to actually being over.

New Evidence of Torture Prison in Poland

As pressure mounts on Obama to launch an investigative commission to research who breached the Covenent Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, new details are starting to come out about other countries that will potentially be implicated as aiding and abetting the US in committing such crimes.   Der Spiegel has an article online today (here) that discusses the newly revealed evidence about the black site used in Poland by the CIA to use harsh interrogation techniques against the mastermind of 9/11 Khalid Sheikh Mohammed when he was en route to Guantanamo.

The article states that – “Journalist Mariusz Kowalewski at Rzeczpospolita and two colleagues have been searching for months now for proof of the existence of a secret CIA base in Poland. The journalists have discovered flight record books from Szymany that had been declared lost, and based on refueling receipts and currency exchange rates, they have reconstructed flights and routes, and spoken with informants. Over the past few weeks, their newspaper and the television network TVP Info have revealed new details on an almost daily basis.

Kowalewski has collected a wide range of documents on his white Apple laptop. He is convinced, though, that he only knows “a fraction of what actually happened.” He is certain that there was a CIA base in the Masuria region, where high-ranking al-Qaida prisoners were brought. All that is missing is the final piece of evidence. There are rumors circulating that one of the most important interrogators of Sheikh Mohammed, an American named Deuce Martinez — the man who didn’t torture him, but rather had the task of gently coaxing information out of him — was in Poland at the time.”

With the discovery of such evidence pieces are starting to fall into place.  Now comes the more complex legal questions about who will be held accountable.  It is clear that over time the actions of CIA officials, non-US intelligence agents, contracted groups (such as Jeppesen Dataplan or Aero Contractors), and a whole raft of others.  As Chinua Achebe said in Things Fall Apart “if oil finds one finger it soils the others,” which is a very real way to think about how many individuals and country stand to be potentially tainted by the revealing of the US’s actions during the war on terror.

If Everyone Knew, Who’s to Blame?

Mark Danner had a great piece in the Sunday Washington Post (here) that discusses one of the central paradoxes of the current furor over the torture memos – that it was first reported over 5 years ago in 2004.  So if the information was public knowledge for the entire second term of the Bush Administration, why did nothing happen?

As Danner states – “Unlike Watergate or Iran-contra, today’s scandal emerges not from a shocking revelation of wrongdoing but from a long process of disclosure during which Americans have stared at blatant lawbreaking with apparent equanimity. This means Democrats as well as Republicans, including those in Congress who were willing to approve, as late as September 2006, a law, the Military Commissions Act, that purported to shield those who had applied these “enhanced interrogation techniques” from prosecution under the War Crimes Act.”

He also discusses the calculated nature of the memos and how they were written exactly for the current moment – to make persecution nearly impossible without dragging a broad spectrum of the American government into the public spotlight in a way that few high level politicians would ever want.

It is worth reading and reminds us how difficult it is going to be for Obama to successfully navigate this issue without getting his image potentially tarnished.

Reclaiming America’s Soul

Krugman hit the nail on the head today in today’s NY Times opinion page, even if I have a natural aversion to an analysis that have as an underlying basis American exceptionalism.  Krugman’s wonderfully simple breakdown of all the reasons why Obama should establish a truth commission to investigate instances of torture and human rights abuses during the Bush administration’s war on terror.  Therefore, I have decided to reprint the overwhelming majority of it below –

“In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — that would arguably be a price we must pay: laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability?

For example, would investigating the crimes of the Bush era really divert time and energy needed elsewhere? Let’s be concrete: whose time and energy are we talking about?

Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to rescue the economy. Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to reform health care. Steven Chu, the energy secretary, wouldn’t be called away from his efforts to limit climate change. Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job — which he’s supposed to do in any case — and not get in the way of any Congressional investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I think America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.

But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama’s attempt to deal with our economic crisis and will be equally relentless in their opposition when he endeavors to deal with health care and climate change. The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.

That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who weren’t allied with the torturers but would nonetheless rather not revisit what happened in the Bush years.

Some of them probably just don’t want an ugly scene; my guess is that the president, who clearly prefers visions of uplift to confrontation, is in that group. But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn’t won’t make it go away.

Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.”