Phnom Penh, Cambodia - Nearly three years ago, a few hundred small-scale cassava farmers migrated from a district on Cambodia's eastern border to Kratie, a neighbouring province, where they heard there was farmland available in a village called Broma.
The move was not unusual in this predominantly rural country, where land tenure is shaky and poor farmers often uproot themselves for a chance at acquiring land.
"Villagers went there expecting to make their living from farming. They just wanted to survive," explained Bun Sothea, 22, one of the migrants.
But what supposedly happened next was extraordinary. According to the Cambodian government, the villagers allegedly banded together into a separatist movement and decided to "secede" from the Southeast Asian nation.
This so-called secession culminated in a violent battle between villagers and security forces, in which soldiers shot and killed a 14-year-old girl who had been hiding underneath her house.
After the Khmer Rouge abolished private property and instituted forced communal farming, the country - which never had a strong tradition of land ownership in the first place - was left in economic shambles.
Six months later, a total of 14 people have now been prosecuted and convicted for spearheading the so-called Broma separatist movement, including Mam Sonando, an elderly French-Cambodian who owns one of the few independent radio stations here. He was sentenced earlier this month to 20 years in prison.
But rights groups, internationals observers, and the villagers themselves say that the "secessionist plot" is a convenient fiction manufactured by the Cambodian government to justify the death of the girl, Heng Chantha, during a forced eviction.
The farmland where the villagers had settled was on the edge of a 15,000-hectare plantation that the government had granted to an agroindustrial firm.
The company allegedly attempted to evict them starting in late 2011 so that it could plant rubber saplings. When villagers resisted, hundreds of police and soldiers sealed off the village and called in a helicopter for backup before storming in-and shooting Chantha in the process.
Both rights workers and villagers insist that arrested radio presenter Sonando did not even have a connection to the events in Broma, other than broadcasting stories about them on his radio station.
"This entire court case was just for hiding the death of the girl during the combat against villagers," says Am Sam Ath, the technical supervisor for Licadho, a human rights group that campaigns against land grabs and forced evictions. "There is no actual evidence proving that there was an insurrection."
Sam Ath, who was blocked from approaching the village on the day of the battle but was able to observe from a distance, said that 1,000 soldiers, police and military police officers had surrounded Broma in all directions. "They tied red cloths to their heads like they were about to go to war."
Although most outsiders still associate this Southeast Asian country with land mines, civil war, and the depredations of the Khmer Rouge regime, the biggest issue facing many Cambodians is one that gets little traction in the international media: land tenure.
After the Khmer Rouge abolished private property and instituted forced communal farming, the country - which never had a strong tradition of land ownership in the first place - was left in an economic shambles.
Although the ultra-Maoist regime was ousted in 1979, an additional decade of Vietnamese-backed Communist rule meant that private property rights were not re-established until the early 1990s.
Since then, despite a few high-profile land titling drives and the creation of the Land Law in 2001, many Cambodians still do not have titles to their homes or farmland, even if they have lived there for decades. More
|Ruins of Palestinian Nakba village Qula, 2010 (photo: Deborah Bright / Zochrot.org)|
The horrifying interrogation methods that belie our proud boast that we fought a clean war
The German SS officer was fighting to save himself from the gallows for a terrible war crime and might say anything to escape the noose. But Fritz Knöchlein was not lying in 1946 when he claimed that, in captivity in London, he had been tortured by British soldiers to force a confession out of him.
Tortured by British soldiers? In captivity? In London? The idea seems incredible.
Britain has a reputation as a nation that prides itself on its love of fair play and respect for the rule of law. We claim the moral high ground when it comes to human rights. We were among the first to sign the 1929 Geneva Convention on the humane treatment of prisoners of war.
Surely, you would think, the British avoid torture? But you would be wrong, as my research into what has gone on behind closed doors for decades shows.
It was in 2005 during my work as an investigative reporter that I came across a veiled mention of a World War II detention centre known as the London Cage. It took a number of Freedom Of Information requests to the Foreign Office before government files were reluctantly handed over.
From these, a sinister world unfolded — of a torture centre that the British military operated throughout the Forties, in complete secrecy, in the heart of one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the capital.
Thousands of Germans passed through the unit that became known as the London Cage, where they were beaten, deprived of sleep and forced to assume stress positions for days at a time.
Some were told they were to be murdered and their bodies quietly buried. Others were threatened with unnecessary surgery carried out by people with no medical qualifications. Guards boasted that they were ‘the English Gestapo’.
The London Cage was part of a network of nine ‘cages’ around Britain run by the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section (PWIS), which came under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. More
NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two topics in mind, couldn’t decide between them—actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is, what are the most important issues that we face? The second topic is, what issues are not being treated seriously—or at all—in the quadrennial frenzy now underway called an election? But I realized that there’s no problem; it’s not a hard choice: they’re the same topic. And there are reasons for it, which are very significant in themselves. I’d like to return to that in a moment. But first a few words on the background, beginning with the announced title, “Who Owns the World?”
Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago by Adam Smith, someone we’re supposed to worship but not read. He was—a little subversive when you read him sometimes. He was referring to the most powerful country in the world in his day and, of course, the country that interested him, namely, England. And he pointed out that in England the principal architects of policy are those who own the country: the merchants and manufacturers in his day. And he said they make sure to design policy so that their own interests are most peculiarly attended to. Their interests are served by policy, however grievous the impact on others, including the people of England.
But he was an old-fashioned conservative with moral principles, so he added the victims of England, the victims of the—what he called the “savage injustice of the Europeans,” particularly in India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners, so, to quote him again, “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” It was true then; it’s true now.
Britain kept its position as the dominant world power well into the 20th century despite steady decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had shifted decisively into the hands of the upstart across the sea, the United States, by far the most powerful and wealthy society in world history. Britain could only aspire to be its junior partner as the British foreign office ruefully recognized. At that point, 1945, the United States had literally half the world’s wealth, incredible security, controlled the entire Western Hemisphere, both oceans, the opposite sides of both oceans. There’s nothing—there hasn’t ever been anything like that in history.
And planners understood it. Roosevelt’s planners were meeting right through the Second World War, designing the post-war world. They were quite sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty much implemented. They wanted to make sure that the United States would control what they called a “grand area,” which would include, routinely, the entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the former British Empire, which the U.S. would be taking over, and as much of Eurasia as possible—crucially, its commercial and industrial centers in Western Europe. And within this region, they said, the United States should hold unquestioned power with military and economic supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere with these global designs.
And those were pretty realistic plans at the time, given the enormous disparity of power. The U.S. had been by far the richest country in the world even before the Second World War, although it wasn’t—was not yet the major global actor. During the Second World War, the United States gained enormously. Industrial production almost quadrupled, got us out of depression. Meanwhile, industrial rivals were devastated or seriously weakened. So that was an unbelievable system of power. More
It was something both candidates could agree on. Near the end of the last debate between President Barack Obama and his opponent Mitt Romney on Monday, moderator Bob Schieffer asked the Republican presidential candidate where he stood on the U.S.’s “use of drones.”
|Predator drone, Southern Afghanistan|
Romney voiced his support for the President’s ongoing policy of using unmanned weapons to attack terrorist targets, saying the U.S. should be ready by “any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.” In a conversation that ranged from U.S. education to trade with China, Obama and Romney saw eye to eye on a several foreign policy points, but none generated as little debate as the Obama Administration’s increased dependence on drone technology, which has proved to be such a nonissue in this presidential race that it merited only a few words from Romney, and none at all from the sitting President.
But if Schieffer were to bring up drones among politicians in Islamabad today, a few more sparks might fly. The U.S. has been using drones to target parts of the country that lie on the border with Afghanistan since 2004 in an ongoing campaign to root out militants working against U.S. troops and interests. Many in Pakistan say that its governments in the past eight years have been complicit in — if not covertly supportive of — the campaign, if simply by dint of the fact that it has not taken up what’s a clear breach of sovereignty with any international legal body. Most of the drone strikes take place in parts of Pakistan that are both physically and socially remote from the rest of the country. Few journalists have been permitted to go into these specially administered areas to see what the drones do firsthand, and while compiled reports from groups like the nonprofit Bureau of Investigative Journalism put the total number of people killed in drone strikes as high as 3,365, including 176 children, these figures have been questioned by parties both inside and outside Pakistan in the absence of official data from either government.
Pakistan’s domestic debate over drone attacks gained momentum last year, when relations between the country and the U.S. soured after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad. It has become even louder still in recent weeks, after cricketer turned politician Imran Khan staged a widely publicized demonstration against the strikes. Khan’s plan was to march all the way to Waziristan, a border area where most of the drone strikes are reportedly happening. Though the military stopped his thousands-strong rally from entering the area on security grounds, the campaign did bring the conversation back into the spotlight, and forced others in Pakistan’s political arena to take a position on a subject that many would prefer to avoid. “All over the country, resistance has been building to drone attacks,” says Javed Hashmi, the president of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. “Drones are killing children and creating suicide attackers. You can’t win a war this way. Now international resistance is growing, even in the U.S.”
He’s right about that. A recent Pew Global Attitudes survey found that in “17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.” And in Pakistan, many suggest that the drone campaign, while it may be fulfilling an immediate objective of picking off militants who support the fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is actually working against America’s long-term interests in the country. As reports continue to emerge of the strikes’ negative impact on civilians in the border area, people all over the country are beginning to feel fed up. “When everybody turns against [the strikes], they lose their political purpose,” says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst in Lahore. “It contributes to anti-Americanism in Pakistan.” More
A damning dossier assembled from exhaustive research into the strikes’ targets sets out in heartbreaking detail the deaths of teachers, students and Pakistani policemen. It also describes how bereaved relatives are forced to gather their loved ones’ dismembered body parts in the aftermath of strikes.
The dossier has been assembled by human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who works for Pakistan’s Foundation for Fundamental Rights and the British human rights charity Reprieve.
Filed in two separate court cases, it is set to trigger a formal murder investigation by police into the roles of two US officials said to have ordered the strikes. They are Jonathan Banks, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Islamabad station, and John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s former chief lawyer. Mr Akbar and his staff have already gathered further testimony which has yet to be filed.
How the attacks unfolded...t
‘We have statements from a further 82 victims’ families relating to more than 30 drone strikes,’ he said. ‘This is their only hope of justice.’
In the first case, which has already been heard by a court in Islamabad, judgment is expected imminently. If the judge grants Mr Akbar’s petition, an international arrest warrant will be issued via Interpol against the two Americans. More
Israeli troops board boat carrying 20 people from eight countries, carrying items like medicines, cement, basketballs and musical instruments.
October 20, 2012 -- Israeli troops on Saturday boarded a boat carrying pro-Palestinian MPs and activists seeking to run its naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, blocking the latest attempt to reach the enclave by sea, the military said.
Israeli soldiers have surrounded and boarded Estelle, a vessel operated by Sweden-based activist group Ship to Gaza, according to reports from the crew.
"I can confirm that at around 10:15 Central European Time, Estelle was attacked by five or six military vessels. Soldiers wearing masks were trying to board the boat," said Mikael Löfgren at Ship to Gaza to The Local on Saturday.
Controversial campaign funding rule changes brought in after a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 have opened the floodgates to billionaire donors with the potential to buy influence all the way to the White House.
"It's not even that a candidate is spending 30 or 40 per cent of his time raising money. It's that he's spending 30 or 40 or 50 or in some congressional contexts up to 70 per cent of their time raising money from the tiniest slice of the one per cent. Meaning they can't help but become especially sensitive to the needs or desires ... of the one per cent, and increasingly oblivious to the needs or concerns of the rest of the public."
- Professor Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University
It played unwilling host to one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war. Fallujah's homes and businesses were left shattered; hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed.
Its residents changed the name of their "City of Mosques" to "the polluted city" after the United States launched two massive military campaigns eight years ago. Now, one month before the World Health Organisation reveals its view on the legacy of the two battles for the town, a new study reports a "staggering rise" in birth defects among Iraqi children conceived in the aftermath of the war.
High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
There is "compelling evidence" to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health. Similar defects have been found among children born in Basra after British troops invaded, according to the new research.
US marines first bombarded Fallujah in April 2004 after four employees from the American security company Blackwater were killed, their bodies burned and dragged through the street, with two of the corpses left hanging from a bridge. Seven months later, the marines stormed the city for a second time, using some of the heaviest US air strikes deployed in Iraq. American forces later admitted that they had used white phosphorus shells, although they never admitted to using depleted uranium, which has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects.
The new findings, published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology bulletin, will bolster claims that US and Nato munitions used in the conflict led to a widespread health crisis in Iraq. They are the latest in a series of studies that have suggested a link between bombardment and a rise in birth defects. Their preliminary findings, in 2010, prompted a World Health Organisation inquiry into the prevalence of birth defects in the area. The WHO's report, out next month, is widely expected to show an increase in birth defects after the conflict. It has looked at nine "high-risk" areas in Iraq, including Fallujah and Basra. Where high prevalence is found, the WHO is expected to call for additional studies to pinpoint precise causes.
The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.
The new research, which looked at the health histories of 56 families in Fallujah, also examined births in Basra, in southern Iraq, attacked by British forces in 2003. Researchers found more than 20 babies out of 1,000 were born with defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital in 2003, a number that is 17 times higher than recorded a decade previously. In the past seven years, the number of malformed babies born increased by more than 60 per cent; 37 out of every 1,000 are now born with defects. More