Saturday, May 08, 2004
TIBETAN STORIES: BANNED IN CHINA
The Tibet Information Network has an update on the banned book "Notes on Tibet" by the Tibetan author Oser. Earlier thought to have been banned by the authorities only within the Tibetan Autonomous Region, TIN says that it appears the ban is in effect throughout China, although it is occasionally available on the Internet.
This TIN Special Report includes translated excerpts from Oser's book, and promises further selections in future as an occasional series. The author is described as belonging to "a new generation of well-educated Tibetans who were educated solely in Chinese institutions," which gives them an ability to understand, and work around, the taboos and sensitivities of the PRC.
Rather than making statements or claims, 'Notes on Tibet' follows a practice which in recent years has become popular among Chinese writers: The book exploits the freedom of expression that is anchored in the PRC's constitution and provides a blunt insight into the ambiguities, discrepancies and absurd situations of a society in transition, by depicting the tensions, worries and longings of average people. In doing so in a Tibetan context, Oser unavoidably evokes moments of tension between Tibetans and non-Tibetans, as well as the strong feelings of the people towards the Dalai Lama.For example, she writes about a visitor to the Jokhang Temple - the symbol of Lhasa and holy place of pilgrimage - and the words of a monk guide explaining the significance of the temple to this visitor:
"And when he talked about the protector deity Avalokiteshvara, he said humorously, ''We must spread and uphold the spirit of compassion and kindness of Avalokiteshvara...'' [Note: Here the author alludes to a standard formula employed by Communist Party officials in speeches and slogans: For example, "We must spread and uphold the spirit of the three represents..."]. Gradually, I understood his love towards the temple, the Dharma and the Buddha."[Note:note: Chenresig is another name for Avalokiteshvara, which TIN didn't exactly make clear. -agam]
[Note: The Dalai Lama is considered by Tibetans to be the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara. Pictures of the Chenresig today often replace pictures of the Dalai Lama, the display of which is strongly discouraged and forbidden in public places.]
THE HUNGER STRIKE: THE UN RESPONSE
The International Campaign for Tibet has put up on its website, the letter from the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, which was received by the strikers in the second week of their fast. The High Commission has an "acting" chief because, as Bertrand Ramcharan notes in the letter, several of the issues highlighted by the strikers had been raised by the late High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello - who as we remember was killed by terrorist car bomb in Baghdad. I'm not sure I have complete confidence that Mr. Ramcharan is quite on top of his game though. He writes that "I also wish to assure you that the case of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche and Lobsang Dhondup is being addressed by the special rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights." He mentions Lobsang Dhondup several other times in the text, with no hint of knowledge that Mr. Dhondup was executed by China 16 months ago, immediately after his appeal hearing. On the same day, the Rinpoche's death sentence was postponed for 2 years, which expires this December.
CHINA IMPROVES ONLINE SPYING
The ICT website also carries recent information on the latest moves by the communist government to institute a new Internet surveillance system in Tibet, which requires online activities to be tied to a numbered individual registration card and password, which is linked to their citizen identification. This means that every online session can be tied directly to a person, and the viewing of forbidden sites can have serious consequences. Xinhua, the PRC state news agency reported last month on the purchase of software "to carry out comprehensive long-term monitoring" and repress illegal activities in Internet cafes. One Tibetan told ICT that the object is mainly to restrict exchange of information between Tibetans inside the country and those outside. This person had received an email containing "sensitive" words in the sender's address, and was apprehended for questioning.
After being questioned for nearly six hours at the main Lhasa police station on Lingkor Lam, the individual was taken to the Office of Internet Welfare and Protection and intensively interrogated for three more hours.Tourists visiting Lhasa will not need to use the cards, as the cyber cafe workers can bypass the system as needed. So at least this indicates that the system is not ironclad - they wouldn't want to lose out on the lucrative gweilo backpacker bucks after all - and if an internet cafe worker has the control over each session, then the possibilities still exist for small gaps in China's internet armour.
"Tibetan police officers asked me if I had checked my email the day before at the same Internet cafe' and was I looking at Dharamsala websites," the young Tibetan told ICT. "The police told me, 'You know www.tibet.com don't you?'" referring to the Tibetan government-in-exile's website.
"They asked if I printed out messages [or] if I print illegal things and read them and distribute them," the Tibetan continued.
"I do not know of anyone who has been caught for checking illegal websites or printing off things from www.tibet.com so I don't know what the repercussions would be exactly but they are definitely trying to catch people doing it. This is the whole reason for the Internet identification cards."
RUMMY AND GENERALS TESTIFY ON PRISONER ABUSE
Just a few observations on last night's public hearings of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, since I already had a lot to say about the abuse scandal a few days ago. I say "last night's" because BBC World was kind enough to broadcast it for me uninterrupted, so I stayed up til quarter to two in the morning watching it. Some pretty riveting stuff, and I hear this morning that all the American commercial networks carried it live as well, and didn't just leave that to the cable networks like CNN and C-SPAN as usually the case.
First off, it's just so inspiring for all idealistic, forward thinking, progressive people who believe in humanitarian principles and the advance of humankind toward a brighter evolutionary future free of militaristic evil dogs of war and fascist imperialism, who embrace liberation of all humanity from the shackles of capitalism and corporate war-mongers, who keep the faith in a revolutionary, anarcho-syndicalist utopia which is mankind's indisputable birthright, to note the brave and fearless presence of a small but committed flock of dedicated moonbats right there in the very bowels of the heart of darkness. The opulent and dark-panelled oppression of the Senate chamber rang out with the valiant cries and calls of the little flock, engaging in the colourful expression of their species' particular ritualistic behaviour. [a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, surely moonbats must have a special name for their flocks too?] How incredibly fearless these delicate creatures were on that historic day, placing themselves in full view of the holders of such massive and oppressive military firepower, exposing their breasts to the laser targeting systems of the most powerful fascist imperialist force the world has ever seen. Wallenburg, Mandela, Gandhi, that little guy facing down tanks on Tienanmen - these all have nothing to compare with the principled bravery shown by a handful of moonbats doing their dance and singing their song. One problem I noticed with the coordination of the group - perhaps due to the flock being, admirably, an amalgam of several sub-species - was that each one had a unique call, resulting in a cacophony in which the individual songs could not be distinguished at all. Beautiful plumage of course, as most moonbat species exhibit, but again reminding moonbat watchers that their anarcho-character does not lend itself to singing in unison. Only after the oppressive and vicious uniforms had ushered most of the flock out the door, could the last specimen's call at last be heard clearly: "FIRE RUMSFELD!" Ah, at last the message is fearlessly delivered, speaking truth to power, planting seeds of resistance in every human heart.
Heh, heh, ok - no more sarcasm from me today. There were some important revelations yesterday, a lot of impassioned statements from Senators of both persuasions, and quite a bit of clarification and focus put on the table I thought. I don't think that Rumsy looks weakened by this, his opening statement and replies to questions - those from Kennedy, Byrd and one or two others were pretty aggressive - were solid. He did answer quite candidly to the proposition of one Senator that, even if he had done nothing wrong, even if the Defence Dept. had responded quickly and firmly to find and punish the guilty months ago, that his resignation might be what is required to send a strong enough message to the Arab world. He said something like "That's very possible."
Rumsfeld broke the news that there may be a lot more, and worse, to come. There are computer disks with many more pictures, and video, which have not been publicised by the media yet. There was a lot of attention focussed on the timeline of events, which gives lie to the popular perception that CBS news broke the actual story (rather than just the titillating photos). Again, it was military people who blew the whistle back on January 13 by reporting it to the proper channels, and investigation was launched on January 14, and CENTCOM told the world about it on January 16. That means, told the world, the world's media, in public, CNN asked questions about it, and so on. The investigations proceeded (and just like in real life, blabbing about the specifics of an ongoing legal case can jeopardise the rights of accused and a successful prosecution), and on March 20 CENTCOM again announced loudly and publicly that people had been removed from duty, charges had been laid, investigations were continuing and further legal actions were likely. That was a month and a half ago. Does anyone remember a media frenzy over the story? Of course not, because they had only the boring story of a system following correct procedure to discover, halt and punish wrongdoing within its ranks. They didn't have the perverted photos yet.
The question is, did this egregious mistreatment happen due to flaws in the system, or due to flaws in the character of some individuals? - who I'm still not clear whether they were enlisted military people, reservists of some kind, or private contractors. One of the officials beside Rumsfeld said there had been 37 "civilians" working at Abu Ghraib. There are military police, regular military, defence intelligence and probably other branches involved, and all this has to be clearly sorted out as to who had responsibility for what.
Much was made by one stubborn Senator, who insisted that Gen. Myers had tried to "suppress" the news media. The department had known that pictures existed, and that CBS 60 Minutes intended to broadcast them. At the time, Ba'athists and foreign fighters acting as "resistance" in Iraq were busy kidnapping civilians - Canadians, Americans, Japanese, Koreans and others - and putting them on tv with knives at their throats, the child mullah al Sadr was inflaming Shia passions for jihad with his Mahdi Army, and the whole country seemed to hinge on what happened in Fallujah and Najaf. It was clear that having these pictures, at this time, endlessly hammered at us around the world, and especially the Arab world with the pictures in the hands of al Jazeerah, would actually cost more lives. Gen. Myers called Dan Rather (the two apparently know each other well for years) and asked CBS to delay the publicity of the photos. Myers said yesterday that (paraphrase) "We knew these would be released at some point, we just wanted them to delay it at a delicate and risky period because we knew release at this time would certainly cost some lives." I can't fault him for that, and it's not as if stopping the abuse required immediate release of the photos. The release would accomplish precisely nothing in that area. It won't speed up the ongoing legal actions by one minute, nor speed up the reform of the incarceration and interogation system, responsibility or chain of command which was also under way before 60 Minutes aired. The only thing accomplished by CBS insistence to release the pictures immediately, is to increase the chance of total failure to achieve stability and democracy in Iraq, to set a match to the fuel labelled "Hatred of the Great Satan" in the Arab world, and to get lots of publicity as the fearless purveyor of the truth who bravely defies "suppression" of said truth by four star generals.
At the end of January, a military man named Taguba (General, I don't know) was commissioned to investigate the whole sorry mess. Rumsfeld pointed to the resulting report sitting on the floor - the thing is like 2 feet thick. It's this report, or parts of it, that were leaked to CBS. Nobody has claimed it was being swept under the rug or not acted upon. At least six courts martial are under way. Nobody has yet claimed that the establishment has neglected to do something it should have done, or that it was sluggish or half-hearted in responding. It seems like the closest expression in that regard goes something along the lines of, Rumsfeld, Myers et al had seen the ugly pictures, and had failed to bring them down to congress, issue copies to all members, and personally ensure that they were broadcast in endless loops on every tv network on planet earth.
I liked what Lieberman said in his few minutes (each one only had about 5), he was quite emotional too. McCain was good, a bit rough on Rummy but not out of line. He said the danger is that "people will turn away" from the whole effort, as they did with Vietnam, unless disclosure is full and rapid, consequences are harsh, and whatever is broken gets fixed. Sen. Sessions said something interesting, that "terrorists" have placed a $15 million bounty on the heads of Rumsfeld, Kimmitz (sp?) and Sanchez. He also reminded that in the past, Gen. Myers had been criticised by many of the same congressional personalities for being "too tough" on his soldiers, for having insisted on severe punishment in the past against one who had fired his gun to scare a prisoner during interogation. He noted the apparent hypocrisy of those who will defend such scare tactics to elicit information that could save innocent lives on one day - and berate the General for punishing it - but on another day these same publicity hounds (my characterisation, not his) become all sanctimonious about the ethical treatment of detainees. Gen. Myers simply replied, "The standards are the standards, Senator. We won't tolerate less than that."
A final thought: as bad as this is from any which way you look at it, the skillful player has to make the best of the worst of throws. If the Americans are smart, and I see every indication that this is how they'll play it, it will become a "teaching moment". Arabs in general, and Iraqis in particular, are more than accustomed to the concept of impunity by those with power. Accountability, oversight, apologies, what the hell are those? Raise a question about what happened to cousin Usman, and you will join him in his fate. The leader of a country or any of his officials saying "We did wrong, we take responsibility, we are sorry and ashamed, we apologise to you, we promise it will never happen again."??? Don't make me laugh, kuf'r - it never happens!! And certainly never from the Great Satan, the big oppressive power on earth. They can do whatever they want and nobody can force them to do or say anything. EXACTLY. That's why what happens next - and what is seen to happen next, is so crucial. A time of remorse and shame, open disclosure and honesty, humility and compassion, and a teaching (as well as, obviously, a learning) moment. Show them what's different about open societies, show them democracy's true colours. There's a lot riding on it now.
Oh, I almost forgot. The senior Senator from Massatooshits can piss right off with his clever observation that the symbol of America today is no longer the Statue of Liberty but "the black caped and hooded figure with wires attached to his bodies," (yes plural, don't ask me why). God these publicity whores are annoying, and Biden is another one.
THE OIL-FOR-EVERYTHING-BUT-FOOD PROGRAM
If you only read one thing about the burgeoning UN kickback scandal, this ought to be it. Claudia Rosett provides a well written summary of the whole complicated mess - what she calls a "kaleidoscope of corruption" - and manages to keep the main issues in her focus.
The program spanned 3 UN Secretary-Generals, but really kicked up a notch in 1998, under the supervision of longtime UN official Benon Sevan (who departed on an extended vacation when the details of the scandal started to emerge, and which he will apparently continue with indefinitely until his retirement).
Also in 1998, at Sevan's urging, the UN expanded Oil-for-Food to allow Saddam to import not just food and medicine but oil-industry equipment, and at Annan's urging more than doubled the amount of oil Iraq was allowed to sell, raising the cap from roughly $4 billion to more than $10 billion per year. That same year, after much hindering and dickering, Saddam threw out the UN weapons inspectors--forbidding their return until the U.S. and Britain finally forced the issue four years later.During this heyday of the "humanitarian" program, while many sick and hungry Iraqis were doing without medicine and food (in order for Saddam to blame something on the West while enriching himself and international cronies), the UN Secretariat fielded a massive staff in this project, including 3,600 Iraqis and 893 international staff in Iraq, all working for nine UN agencies coordinated under the "Oil-for-Food" office, as well as another 100 back in New York. According to Rosett, the Secretariat was the keeper of the books, the controller of accounts, the supervisor of the audits, the principle connection with Saddam himself, and the issuer of lengthy public reports in which " most of the critical details of the transactions were not included."
This brings us to 1999-2000, when, following Sevan's urging, the program expanded yet further; with more funds devoted to the oil sector, and with the weapons inspectors gone, the UN now removed the limits on sales. In 2000, Saddam enjoyed a blockbuster year. By this time he was not only selling vastly more oil but had institutionalized a system for pocketing cash on the side.
It worked like this. Saddam would sell at below-market prices to his hand-picked customers--the Russians and the French were special favorites--and they could then sell the oil to third parties at a fat profit. Part of this profit they would keep, part they would kick back to Saddam as a "surcharge," paid into bank accounts outside the UN program, in violation of UN sanctions.
I'm really disappointed in Kofi Annan for having allowed this mess to get so bad for so long, and to have enriched so many hypocritically sanctimonious international actors. I'm still prepared to not totally give up on his integrity, but that will eventually be determined by how he takes these matters in hand. The Volcker inquiry panel needs full cooperation, wrongdoing needs to be prosecuted, and massive paybacks to the Iraqi people need to be made. There's no other way to restore the UN's credibility - if that's even possible at this point. Had the corruption benefits been going to Enron and Haliburton instead of Russia, France, China and the rest of Saddam's faithful defenders, we'd be hearing it blasted at us every 15 minutes on CNN, BBC and the rest. But just like Saddam's (or Egypt's or Syria's, or Saudi's, or...) maltreatment of prisoners will never hold a fraction of the media interest that a handful of aberrant American prison guards will afford, the underlying media message continues to be a clear (if unspoken) one. America is every bit as bad as Bush's accused "evildoers" (if not worse), and wrongdoing by those who oppose America ought to be glossed over as much as possible - the unspoken undercurrent being that every such opposition is basically a heroic act of resistance to US hegemony. In other words, your basic Al Franken school of political theory.
Keep up with day to day shocking developments in the Blood-for-Oil humanitarian program, at the Friends of Saddam weblog. And... drat it all anyway - last week I missed a glorious chance to give the Friends proper credit for a short quote I lifted from their page, out of a linked Telegraph story. "The very fact that Saddam Hussein, the UN and certain members of the Security Council could conceal such a scam from the world should send shivers down every spine in this room today," should have been followed immediately by the words "HAT TIP TO FRIENDS OF SADDAM"..... heh, heh.
STOP ABETTING DICTATORSHIP
A fine article in the International Herald Tribune this week brings our attention back again to human rights in China, and it gives credit to the Bush administration for setting an example.
In a speech to Britain's Parliament last autumn, President George W. Bush said that the days of Western governments coddling authoritarian rulers for the sake of narrow strategic or economic interests were over: "No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient."
In the months since, the administration has taken that message to many places, probably the most important of which is China. The United States sponsored a resolution to condemn China's human rights record at the UN Human Rights Commission in April - a resolution defeated by Beijing and 27 of its dictator friends - while Vice President Dick Cheney told students in Shanghai the same month that civic and political freedoms were the true sign of a great nation...
China's 1.3 billion people, 4.5 times the population of the entire Middle East, represent 60 percent of the global population that lacks basic freedoms, according to the nonprofit organisation Freedom House. Moreover, authoritarian rule in Beijing directly sustains a dangerous nuclear tyranny in North Korea and indirectly sustains unreformed authoritarian regimes in Vietnam, Burma and Laos.
Bruce Gilley offers concrete steps that the international community could be doing today to address what he calls our moral failure in China. Some of these simple measures get minor lip-service in some countries, are totally ignored in most others, and are taken up with dedication and consistency by only a few. A concerted movement of international actors out of the first two categories and into the third, would have tremendous benefit for billions of people.
SPEAKING OF BURMA...
A report by Radio Free Asia this week has a report that Burma's exile government says it now has new evidence about the numbers of National League for Democracy supporters who were slain nearly a year ago by organised gangs on behalf of the ruling State Peace and Development Council - which I like to refer to as SPADCO (because it's more pronounceable than SPDC, and sounds more like a logical progression from their old accronym, the darkly ominous-sounding SLORC). According to the NCGUB (National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma), their figures come from detailed logs kept by the junta brutes themselves, and shows a death toll in the May 30, 2003 incident standing at 282. During the brief time of media attention following the ambush of Aung San Suu Kyi's convoy on that night outside Depayin township, unconfirmed reports hinted that casualties might reach 100. To this the military council scoffed at what it called the media propaganda of anti-Burma forces, and took Ms. Suu Kyi into "protective custody" while assuring the world that only 4 people had died in the fracas - which was blamed on deep anti-NLD sentiment among the local population.
The exile government has so far published its report only in Burmese, which was picked up by RFA's Burmese language service. The report also carries names of many who participated in the attacks, including members of the (junta-sponsored) United Solidarity Development Association (a group I've always thought resembled the party-sponsored United Front in China) as well as police and army personnel. The report states that in some USDA meetings, the junta's top leader Gen. Than Shwe boasted and claimed credit for organising the massacre. Officials involved were reportedly rewarded. Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD officials remain in secret detention or house arrest, and for Burma's ASEAN partners it appears to be back to business as usual.