The End of Gaddafi, the Beginning of Unknown

Journal of Foreign Relations column – 

After sustained NATO bombing of Libya for five months, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule is over. The fall of Gaddafi will be a welcome event to many, but Libya is no Tunisia or Egypt. Unlike Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, the collapse of Gaddafi’s dictatorship is a result of massive military intervention. Two points should be made at the outset. Libya is the second oil-rich state after Iraq to be a target of U.S.-led intervention since 2003. A small country of just over six million people, Libya is also endowed with vast high-quality oil reserves. Assuming authorization to “protect civilians” under a United Nations Security Council resolution in March, NATO flew nearly 20,000 missions over Libya, including 7,500 bombing missions. NATO air power imposed a no-fly zone, and destroyed much of Gaddafi’s air force, tanks, armored vehicles and heavy artillery in the initial phase of its operations.

British, French and Italian special forces were deployed as “advisers” in Libya, although foreign forces were forbidden under the Security Council resolution. NATO played a big role in helping the rebels storm Tripoli. Then, British and French took on the job of guiding anti-Gaddafi fighters toward Sirte, his birthplace and last major stronghold. To insist, as NATO did, that regime change was not its objective is far from the truth. The international community, within the United Nations and without, did not have the appetite to send a peacekeeping force while the no-fly zone was enforced.

According to the most trustworthy data available, nearly 13,000 military personnel across 18 countries were involved in the operation, including 8,000 Americans. The weight of the conflict also fell upon Britain, France, Italy and Canada, leading Western allies in America’s militaristic foreign policy project, as well as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. British Prime Minister David Cameron was a leading advocate of intervention in Libya. He, with President Sarkozy and President Obama, will have to carry the responsibility for what happens in that country. Already, there are powerful critics of the path Cameron has chosen, not unlike that of his recent predecessor, Tony Blair, with George W. Bush.

As the Transitional National Council representing anti-Gaddafi forces issued statements about new Libya’s constitutional shape, acts of looting were taking place in Tripoli, including Gaddafi’s compound. Men were helping themselves with guns and reports of insecurity were emerging. Channel 4 News correspondent Alex Thomson’s account from Tripoli’s main hospital and mortuary gave a taste of things. Reports of revenge killings, acts of kidnapping and intimidation of foreigners abound.

In a country known for some of the best medical treatment facilities, hospitals were full of wounded people. Shortages of food, water, fuel and medicines were acute and there were electricity blackouts. It all reminded of Baghdad in 2003. The risk of the Libyan armed forces disintegrating must be high. The military and security services personnel, who fought on Gaddafi’s side to the bitter end, and did not defect, owed everything to him. For them, defection to the anti-Gaddafi camp is not a safe option.

At this point, it is important to note that many in the Transitional National Council are Gaddafi’s ex-apparatchiks, including its leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil, who was his justice minister until a few months ago. Another prominent figure, Mahmoud Jibril, a U.S.-trained political scientist, was head of the National Economic Development Board in the Gaddafi regime before his defection. Western allies of the new power elite in Libya face an acute dilemma. To what extent will the culture of Gaddafi’s successors be different? Will they be able to control the instinct for revenge and appreciate the difference between justice and vengeance? Will they be effective in restoring order in a country in which people are now extremely heavily armed? Will they unite Libyans?

Despite the TNC’s claims of unity, Libya is a very diverse, and now deeply split, country – a sparsely populated vast desert land. It has tribes; ethnic Arabs, Berbers and smaller African minorities, Tuareg and Tebu nomads; and opposing ideologies: Islamism, nationalism and Gaddafi’s own brand of Arab socialism, though its time must surely be at an end. The celebratory mood in western capitals must not be allowed to overshadow a sense of foreboding and a desperate desire for a return to some sort of order. A failure of the Libya project is unlikely to absolve Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama of their responsibility by claiming that there were no foreign troops on the ground in that country.



Anthony Martinez on Anna Hazare Ends Hunger Strike

Anthony Martinez on has a roundup after Anna Hazare ended his hunger strike. Transcript of his video report: 

Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has agreed to end his 12-day hunger strike. This, after the Indian parliament resolved to endorse some of his demands for a new anti-corruption bill. Here’s France 24 with the details.

“That bill would create an anti-corruption agency to deal with citizens’ grievances and protect whistle blowers. The legislation has been on the table for nearly four decades, but now with massive popular support behind Hazare, parliament is scrambling to pass it. MP’s have already agreed in principle to Hazare’s demands to strengthen the bill, including extending the law to cover all civil servants.”

And now, thousands of Hazare’s supporters are celebrating the endorsement, though the activist himself says the victory is only half-won. As one writer for First Post says…

“…Anna Hazare’s fast didn’t achieve all its goals. … He didn’t even get a resolution passed in favour of his three sticking points. Parliament asserted itself, bent a little to his will, and finally did its own thing.”

Interestingly, Times of India notes– Hazare’s efforts were already close to an end even before the parliament passed its resolution.

“…little did the government know that Team Anna was precariously poised on the edge of defeat. Hazare’s sliding health and the threat of the burgeoning crowd going out of control would have led Team Anna to throw in the towel if the government had hung in for another day.”

So what’s next for Hazare and the Indian Parliament? One India News explains there’s some room for last minute opinion against the resolution…

“Last night we were assured that Parliament would pass a resolution to include Anna’s demands… which would be voted upon… Now we are being told there won’t be a resolution. There will only be a discussion and some sense of the House will be conveyed to us. This won’t be helpful or meaningful at all.” 


When State Power Faces People Power …

Journal of Foreign Relations column –

While Britain reeled from the recent violence and looting, extraordinary events were taking place in India last week. On August 16, plainclothes police turned up at a suburban apartment in the capital, New Delhi, and took a septuagenarian activist, Anna Hazare, into custody. He was just about to begin a hunger strike as part of an anti-corruption movement. The decision to arrest Hazare and take him to the Tihar jail, a notorious high-security prison with inmates locked up for corruption and other serous crimes, triggered a public backlash not witnessed in India for decades. Demonstrations broke out across the country and were spreading rapidly. Within hours, the Indian government was beginning to back down. The official campaign to demonize and dismiss Hazare was crumbling.

What followed was a spectacular assertion of people power against a government described by India’s leading newspaper, The Hindu, as corrupt, repressive and stupid. The events in India reflect the same public sentiment of anger and frustration against the authoritarianism of the ruling elites elsewhere. But the manifestation in India, at least for now, shows that a different outcome is possible, provided there is leadership. Such leadership is lacking in many other places in these critical times.

A Gandhian, Hazare has received some of India’s highest honors and commands respect for transforming communities in his home state, Maharashtra. More recently, he has harnessed the widespread public discontent against official corruption and has become a thorn in the government’s side. In essence, Anna Hazare’s objective is to prevent an anti-corruption bill that the Congress-dominated coalition government plans to introduce in Parliament, under pressure of the gathering protest movement. Why? Because the government-sponsored bill would exclude the prime minister and other senior officials, in effect giving them immunity from investigation and prosecution under the proposed law.

The government, and some others in India’s parliamentary opposition, assert that only Parliament has the right to make law. Hazare and his supporters accept this. But they want the civil society to have a say. Their version of the bill would provide for a public ombudsman with powers to investigate all politicians and bureaucrats without the government’s prior permission. First introduced nearly forty years ago, the bill has consistently failed to secure the passage through Parliament. In the meantime, official corruption has become rampant on all levels of Indian society.

Emboldened by the exhibition of state power in other parts of the world, the Indian authorities decided to act against Anna Hazare. Vigorous attempts were made to prevent his hunger strike at a public park in the capital. Suggestions were made that he should stage his protest in his village in western India. His hunger strike was intended to be indefinite, but the authorities insisted that it ended on the third day. No more than five thousand people must gather and cars at the site must be limited. Hazare and his associates, who include many prominent activists, social workers, lawyers and a senior ex-police officer, refused to comply with these conditions. The issue became one of Indian citizens’ constitutional right to protest. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, described by critics as the most corrupt since India became independent in 1947, wanted to stop the agitation gathering momentum. The object of Hazare’s movement was to mobilize mass support in the wake of high-profile corruption scandals.

Hazare represents a phenomenon different from violent expressions of public rage and the authorities’ thirst for retribution in Britain and other countries. Prior to his arrest, Hazare urged people not to resort to violence, not to damage property, and not to give up the struggle. He called upon his supporters to fill India’s jails and workers to go on mass leave for a day. News of Hazare’s arrest spread rapidly and demonstrations broke out in cities and towns throughout the country. However, as the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar remarked, not a single stone was hurled, not one glass pane broken. The movement had demonstrated the power of non-violence.

It took three days of political theater to settle the details of Hazare’s protest. Sensing the nation’s mood, the authorities first announced that he was a free man, only for Hazare to refuse to leave the prison. After frantic negotiations, the government conceded that the fast would take place in a public park in the capital and would be “indefinite,” although reports suggested it would last up to fifteen days, or until his doctors said his health allowed him to continue.

So Hazare’s hunger strike goes on in the full glare of publicity. His movement is attracting large numbers of Indians while the governing coalition is on the defensive. Questions about the future of the contested bill remain. For it is not only the government that is mired in scandals, but opposition parties, too. At the moment, the Congress-dominated government is under the spotlight. The opposition rightwing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, is ready to jump on the bandwagon. And the question is whether any political party would be willing to bring a law that might come to haunt it one day. But the people of India have made a clear statement. Any official attempt to infringe the right of peaceful protest is a step too far.



When War Came Home …

Journal of Foreign Relations column –

War came to Britain’s streets this past week in London, LiverpoolBirmingham, Bristol and other urban centers. The country had seen protests against the Iraq war, cuts in pensions for local government employees and teachers, and against dramatic increases in student tuition fees. The events of recent days, however, signify the worst social unrest in a generation. It is a reminder of the 1980s, when urban riots shook British society to its core.

Thirty years ago, racism in the inner cities was rampant. The Labour government had fallen and the political left was utterly demoralized. Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, champion of ultra-rightwing economic theories and political soulmate of Ronald Reagan, had assumed office, determined to confront the unions she saw as the main cause of social evils. Thatcher, with her Chancellor of the Exchequer Geoffrey Howe and Industry Secretary Keith Joseph, was administering shock therapy to the country.

Thatcher’s shock doctrine was applied in the form of drastic cuts in benefits for the unemployed, the sick, the elderly. Public services were slashed, privatization of many services followed, as did high interest rates in the fight against inflation. Many in the workforce were losing hope. Economic and social turmoil ensued. There were street riots in deprived inner-city areas suffering the brunt of Thatcherite policies.

Three decades hence, there are those who say that Prime Minister David Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne have stolen Margaret Thatcher’s manual. That manual exaggerates problems even more than their severity. It asserts that there is no solution other than cutting workers’ pay, privatization and outsourcing, slashing benefits and raising taxes for ordinary people. But higher taxes for the rich are a bad thing. It uses these measures to reconstruct society.

The experiment has failed repeatedly. It has generated deeper poverty and inequalities. It has led to high unemployment, low wages, even lower benefits to force citizens to work. It is called competition and it is trumpeted because, in truth, it is good for company profits. The old mantra that corporate profits filter down to the lower rungs of society and benefit the poor remains as dubious as it was thirty years ago.

There is a chorus of condemnation of perpetrators of this violence. We are offered a simple choice between good and evil, and told that this evil must be defeated. Any effort to look at these events in context is anathema, particularly in the eyes of government ministers. Before he became prime minister, David Cameron used to describe Britain as a “broken society.”

Today, he prefers to call parts of that society “sick.”

Of course, rioting and looting involve criminal acts and must be condemned. But that is not the whole story. While straightforward acts of arson and looting were taking place in Tottenham and neighboring areas of London, the violence in Birmingham had taken on racial overtones. Text messages that gangs of one ethnic origin or other were coming “to get you” were circulating. Worse, in an act of deliberate killing, a car hit and killed three British Muslims guarding their properties.

A headline in the Independent newspaper spoke of race relations being on the knife’s edge. Social disturbances always have deeper roots. Their context is as important as the event that triggers them. It is convenient for politicians, habitual these days of using the language of violence themselves, to blame “criminals.” It releases them from the responsibility of their own actions that have created the current distressing context.

The London riots broke out on the night of August 6. Two days before, police had shot and killed a black man, Mark Duggan, a local resident who was going in a taxi. For several days, the officially-inspired version in the press depicted Duggan as a “gangster.” It implied that a shot was fired from the taxi at a policeman, and that the bullet was lodged in the officer’s radio. Police fired back and Duggan died. However, it later transpired that the bullet lodged in the officer’s radio might, in fact, have been fired by another police officer.

crowd waited for several hours outside a police station for answers, but the mood turned furious when nobody came out to answer questions. A witness described a separate incident in which a 16-year-old girl was severely beaten when she approached policemen to remonstrate. Within hours, London was burning and the rioting was spreading to other cities in England, the mother country of the United Kingdom.

Scotland and Wales, with their own elected regional governments, were thankfully peaceful. They were to send police reinforcements to the affected areas of England.

Western societies have suffered a major socio-economic and moral collapse. The recent street violence in England’s cities is the latest, most disturbing expression of the individual selfishness and anger causing the rot. For years, people have been taught the Thatcherite maxim that “there is no such thing as society, collective conscience or collective kindness.”

That dictum tells that individuals live for themselves; morality is personal and so, too, is the individual’s freedom to amass wealth.

This way of life has created something akin to Hobbesian socio-economic conditions in Britain today. On one hand is the vast majority struggling to make ends meet. On the other is, the scandal of members of parliament making fraudulent, or questionable, claims for expenses to supplement their incomes and police revealed as taking bribes from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. For a long time, there appears to have been one law for the rich and powerful, and a different law for the rest. The recent riots began in Tottenham, in the London Borough of Haringey, which has some of the most deprived inner-city areas. In the nearby Borough of Hackney, youth clubs are closing.

Where will the youth go?

Still, government cuts continue to bite and seem relentless. Among the more than fifteen hundred arrested in recent days and facing time in prison are people of all ages and backgrounds: minors and adults, men and women, university graduates, a ballerina, a charity worker, a schoolteacher, a law student, a mother with a six-month-old baby – and a millionaire’s daughter.

I know London well, having worked in the capital city for most of my life. To see adults breaking into large stores and walking away with expensive gadgets is shocking enough. Even more shocking is to see a ten-year-old boy, who has picked up just a few items of food, going home on his bike.

Simply thugs and criminals? Or does it require thinking on a higher level?


Credibility Gap

Journal of Foreign Relations column –

Egypt’s deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, lying on a stretcher in a cage, at the start of his trial has provided some of the most vivid images in recent days. A ruthless and proud man, who could do no wrong during his thirty-year rule, pleaded “not guilty” to all charges of corruption and violence against peaceful demonstrators, whose uprising eventually swept him from power. As Mubarak and his co-defendants appeared in court, thousands in Cairo streets greeted the event with jubilation and disbelief and millions watched on television.

The charges related to the killings of protestors in his final days in power convey no more than a fraction of the brutal repression under Mubarak’s regime. For it imprisoned, tortured and killed countless Egyptians. Its record includes collaboration in the torture of people abducted from other parts of the world in the CIA’s “war on terror” – people handed over to the Egyptian secret police after September 11, 2001.

At the same time, a far more disturbing episode was unfolding in the United Kingdom, America’s leading ally in the “war on terror.” That unquestioned support for President George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq and the broader war on terror was largely responsible for ending the political career of Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister, is a little understood fact in the corridors of power in Washington. On the day Mubarak appeared in court in the Egyptian capital, a message from the human rights charity Reprieve dropped into my email box, about a subject not far removed. But before going any further, I must declare an interest. I am a supporter of Reprieve.

The message said that, as part of ten leading human rights organizations, Reprieve had withdrawn from the inquiry, set up by the British government, into allegations that the authorities were involved in the mistreatment of detainees in the “war on terror.” These include organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Liberty. Lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay detainees and torture victims also pulled out. Reprieve’s Executive Director Clare Algar explained why every single human rights body had decided to shun the inquiry. The two most important reasons given were the lack of transparency and the non-representation of torture victims.

The inquiry is headed by Sir Peter Gibson, a former appeals court judge. However, it will be the British government that will determine what material is made public. Already, the government has excluded from disclosure evidence from foreign intelligence agencies, including the CIA. The inquiry was announced by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in July 2010, after he assumed office following the general election. Sir Peter’s appointment as its head immediately generated controversy, for he had previously served as the Intelligence Services Commissioner. There were those who said that his impartiality was “fatally compromised” because of his past relationship with the security services. Now, those pulling out have told him: “Plainly an inquiry conducted in the way that you describe and in accordance with the protocol would not comply with Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights.” So there will be a boycott.

Critics say that the exercise is going to be “secretive and toothless.” It follows the U.S. line under President Barack Obama, who, contrary to his lofty campaign promises, now says that he does not want to look back, only ahead. The road ahead is a darkened alley.

Fortunately, there have been bigger, much more credible investigations elsewhere, conducted without fear or favor. In 2007, the Council of Europe’s investigation by the Swiss Senator Dick Marty found European governments guilty of collusion in CIA torture, in running secret CIA prisons on their soil, in deceit and misinformation. Senator Marty’s report concluded that large numbers of people had been abducted, kept in detention without any “precise charge” in camps where torture was “common practice.”

In a high-profile case in Britain, a bench of top judges found that the British intelligence service MI5 was involved in the ill-treatment of British resident Binyam Mohamed, who spent years in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. In a draft judgment, Justice Lord Neuberger wrote that the security service failed to respect human rights, misled parliament and had a “culture of suppression” which undermined government assurances about its conduct. The judge’s remarks would never have come to light had it not subsequently emerged that the British government’s senior lawyer, Jonathan Sumpton Q.C., secretly pleaded that the judge soften his criticism before handing down the ruling. The judge agreed, but Sumpton’s letter was made public. That letter referred to an MI5 officer, described as Witness B, who was understood to have interrogated Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002.

That the latest inquiry has become trapped in a crisis of credibility is therefore not surprising. However, it does not stop there. The Guardian newspaper has just disclosed the existence of a top secret document showing how MI5 and MI6 officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured abroad. Further, it has emerged that the government was worried about the application of this policy becoming public. For the document warns that if it became known that information had been obtained through the mistreatment of detainees, then the British public could be at a greater risk of a terrorist attack, and the disclosure could result in damage to the reputation of the [intelligence] agencies.

Disturbing questions therefore arise even before the inquiry has begun. How can it be credible if such documents exist, but are not made public? Is there not a risk of the inquiry being seen as a whitewash? What purpose will it serve if, in the light of what is already known, questions remain afterward about British complicity and torture? It would be a supreme irony if more people ended up having faith in Egypt’s trial of Hosni Mubarak than Britain’s official inquiry into its own security services.