Tuesday night massacre: Trump’s Watergate moment

By Ameen Izzadeen
The moment of truth has come for the United States. But in politics, truth is rarely told — and if told, it is told for a self-centred motive. Therefore it is naïve to assume that the embattled White House will tell the truth and nothing but the truth with regard to the allegation that Donald Trump had collaborated with Russia to get elected at the November 2016 election.
In Trump’s victory at the 2016 election, there is always more than meets the eye. So is it in Tuesday night’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly on the grounds that he was not handling the Hillary Clinton email probe well. Trump said he fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a good job.”
But Comey was also conducting investigations into allegations that Russia had a role in the Hillary Clinton email leaks and that the Trump team collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election. It was only days before he was fired that Comey sought more funds for the Russia probe. Sacking the FBI director is nothing unusual. Bill Clinton did it in 1993. But people smell a rat when it’s done in the midst of a crucial investigation.
The allegations are serious. So is the sacking of Comey. The media could not resist the temptation of drawing parallels between the Comey crisis and the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Yes, it is now becoming more than clear that Trump’s Watergate moment has come. Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating allegations that the White House had a role in the break-in at the Democratic Party office situated at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC.
Analysts said that Cox was close to prove that Nixon was part of the scandal. He asked the White House to release the tapes of conversations the President had secretly recorded. Nixon refused to oblige. Despite a public outcry for the President to comply with the request, a defiant Nixon first issued an order instructing Cox that he should seek no further material from the White House, and then sacked him in what came to be known as ‘the Saturday Night Massacre’. Alas! It only expedited Nixon’s fall from whatever grace he had been left with by then. With the Democrats dominating Congress, Nixon faced the prospect of being impeached. Unable to face the ignominy, he resigned.
Now, history appears to be repeating itself.
Most opposition Democratic Party politicians believe that Comey was fired because, like Cox, he was closing in on the truth.
What could this truth be? Given the controversies that scuttled Clinton’s chances at the election and Trump’s admiration for Russia, it appears that the allegations regarding Trump’s Russian connections are not totally without any basis.
Days before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, a dossier prepared by a former British spy working for private clients claimed that the Russians were in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect.
If these claims were true, then hats off to Putin for his ingenuity. Perhaps, for the first time, a state, other than Israel, has demonstrated its ability to influence the outcome of the US presidential election.
The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity arising from Washington’s disdain for Russia’s security concerns, especially with regard to Ukraine. A US-engineered coup in Ukraine in 2014 overthrew the pro-Russian government there, prompting Russia to annex Crimea.
The ex-British spy identified as Christopher Steele, by July last year, had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but he doubted FBI chief Comey’s impartiality. This was because, days before the elections, Comey scuttled Clinton’s chances of victory by announcing he was launching a fresh probe into Clinton emails – a move that, in the voters’ mind, raised questions about Clinton’s ability to hold the post of commander in chief.
The Bureau indeed opened an investigation into Trump and his team’s dealings with Russia, though it did not make an announcement, fearing that it might be interpreted as interfering with the vote. But following a meeting Republican Senator John McCain had with Comey after the election, US intelligence chiefs – including Comey — met the President-elect. They had showed him Steele’s dossier and a memo based on it. No sooner this meeting took place than CNN and Buzzfeed carried the dossier’s contents, prompting Trump to rubbish them as fake news and accuse the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media.
One of the shocking claims the dossier made was: Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas.
The dossier claimed that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. The dossier also claimed that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.
Strangely enough, nothing brings out the Trump administration’s Russian connection like its decision last month to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East. It was an attack aimed not so much at destroying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air power. It was rather a well calculated measure aimed at misleading the gullible American people into believing that Trump had no special love for Russia.
On Wednesday, visiting the White House for a meeting with President Trump to further strengthen the ties were Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the diplomat in the centre of many a controversy linked to the Trump administration. Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned in February following disclosures that he had discussed with Kislyak policy issues – including the possibility of lifting economic sanctions on Russia. Apart from Flynn, several top Trump officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have come under scrutiny for their Russian links.
Fortunately, for Trump, the Democratic Party is in minority in both the Houses of Congress. Also, quite a number of Republican lawmakers are firmly behind him and are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, in their support, the President will have some respite. But the question is: For how long? This is because the US system— though it is scoffed at by Trump supporters as an instrument of the Deep State – is not known to have allowed those who wield power to abuse or misuse it. The US constitution, regarded as the best man-made document on the face of the earth, gives those who abuse political power enough ropes to hang themselves.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Just as apartheid ended in South Africa, so will it in Palestine

By Ameen Izzadeen
Since the creation of Israel in 1948, almost all United States’ Presidents have been either ignorant of the true story behind the Palestinians’ suffering or advocates of injustice, however much the victimised Palestinians shout ‘Nakba, Nakba.’
Perhaps, the only exception was President Jimmy Carter. He understood what Nakba meant to the Palestinians. The Arabic word an-Nakba, meaning catastrophe, refers to the forceful expulsion or ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages when Israel was created in 1948. In May every year, millions of Palestinian refugees mark this catastrophic event by defiantly holding high the corroded keys of their houses – a resolute portrayal of their desire to return to their original homes one day. Nakba protests are held in Palestine and worldwide in the hope that such protests would make the world leaders to shed their indifference to the Palestinians’ plight.
Despite pressure from the Zionist lobby, Carter in 1978 succeeded in making peace between Egypt and Israel after strenuous negotiations at the presidential holiday resort at Camp David. However, his attempts to solve the Palestinian crisis failed largely because Israel’s intransigence. Decades after he left office, he poured out his grievances in his book ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’, blaming Israel for not fulfilling its part of the deal in terms of the Camp David agreement and thereby killing a possible a solution to the Palestinian crisis.
Donald Trump, the present incumbent of the White House, is certainly not a Jimmy Carter. Given Trump’s pro-Israeli bias, many Palestinians believe their dream of statehood may turn into a nightmare. Trump has renounced support for the Palestinian statehood and vowed to move the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a Palestinian city under occupation since 1967. Yet for the Palestinians, a modicum of hope emerges in the form of Trump’s unorthodox style of policymaking.
Such a hope thinly pervaded Wednesday’s talks between Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.
“We will get it done,” Trump told Abbas, claiming that the US was committed to helping Israel and the Palestinians reach peace. “I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let’s see if we can prove them wrong,” Trump said.
In February, the US President met Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Trump then told a White House news conference that Washington would no longer insist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state…. I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said nonchalantly. He, however, urged Netanyahu to temporarily halt Israel’s settlement building activities in the occupied — or robbed — Palestinian land.
A just solution has eluded the Palestinian crisis for the past seven decades, largely because of the blind support the US presidents and most politicians extend to Israel. They have no compunction in covering up Israel’s atrocities. For them, the security of Israel, a nuclear power and the world’s eighth powerful nation in terms of military strength, is more important than the Palestinians’ aspiration for peace and justice.
Yet the Palestinians keep hope in the US – the dishonest peace broker, which, by using filibustering tactics, allows Israel to annex the remaining parts of Palestine in keeping with the Zionists’ secret project that seeks to establish Eretz Israel or Greater (historic or mythical) Israel extending from the Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates in Iraq. In 1947, under an outrageously unfair United Nations resolution, the then British-controlled Palestine was partitioned, giving 45 percent of land to the territory’s 70 percent Palestinians and 55 percent to the Jews who were 30 percent of the population, with most of them being immigrants from Europe.
Several wars between fainthearted Arab nations and Israel since 1948 have only aggravated the Palestinians’ plight, while the guerrilla war launched by various Palestinian groups saw the terrorist label being slapped on Palestinian freedom fighters, much to the delight of Israel. With every war which ended in the defeat of the Arab side, Israel annexed more and more territory.
At present the Palestinians hold a mere 17 percent of the 45 percent territory the UN partition plan offered them in 1947. Besides, Israel has grabbed much of the water resources and fertile land, on which the Palestinians once grew the world famous Jaffa oranges and top quality olives, among other crops.
The 1993 Oslo accord appeared as a solution, but Israel dishonoured the deal and blamed the Palestinians for its collapse.
Encouraged by the pro-Israeli bias of the Trump administration, the Zionist nation has passed a series of new laws that legalise land grab and impose a travel ban on activists advocating the BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – campaign against Israel.
The Trump administration has made no criticism of these unjust Israeli laws. Yet the Palestinians hope that Trump would be the President for peace in Palestine. Even Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal this week called on Trump to break with past approaches to Middle East peace. In a surprise move, Hamas this week recognised the 1967 borders as the borders of the future Palestinian state, thus, for the first time, indirectly recognising Israel’s right to exist on the other side of the 1967 borders. Hamas had earlier campaigned for the setting up of the Palestinian state within the 1947 borders prior to the partition.
With Syria and North Korea dominating the international agenda, the Palestinian issue remains virtually unaddressed. Even the ongoing hunger strike by more than 1,800 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails has not attracted enough world attention to resurrect the peace process. Countries which once championed the Palestinian freedom struggle are now cozying up to Israel in an apparent bid to be on the good books of Trump. Sri Lanka, for instance, this week abstained from voting in favour of a pro-Palestinian resolution at UNESCO — the second time the so-called good governance Government exposed its moral bankruptcy in foreign policy in as many years. What’s worse, some Arab nations in their animosity towards Shiite Iran are seen to be in collusion with Israel.
But the Palestinians should not lose hope. Concerted international activism ended apartheid in South Africa in 1991. In 1977, Commonwealth leaders signed the Gleneagles agreement to discourage sporting contact with South Africa. Similar activism – let’s begin the sports boycott — can one day free the Palestinians from the yoke of Israeli colonialism.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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North Korean crisis: Avoid war and save Mother Earth

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Earth continues to rotate on its axis and moves along its orbit around the Sun, suffering in silence and not knowing what poisonous attack it will suffer next. Most of the Earth’s inhabitants go about with their daily chores, without pausing for a moment to take a look at the danger lurking in the shadows. They apparently know not that, tomorrow will be unlike today, if war erupts in the Korean peninsula.
Driven by excessive greed, man has made the Earth, which we fondly referred to as Mother Earth, increasingly, an unlivable place. The world’s temperature is rising, glaciers are melting and the sea water level is rising, as we produce more and more greenhouse gases that damage the protective ozone layer. On top of this environmental damage, wars aggravate the woes of the Earth.
Two weeks ago, the United States’ President, Donald Trump, who believes that climate change is a hoax, dropped a vicious bomb, ostensibly, on a terrorist target in Afghanistan. But hardly did any major news outlet raise the environmental impact of the 9,800 kg bomb dropped on a village of some 150,000 people. The media merely parroted the Generals’ count: One horrible, two horrible, three horrible Afghans, and the count went up to 92. It was history in the making. For the media, the dropping of GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), dubbed the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ — the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb — was, news-wise, more important than any adverse impact the bomb would have on the unfortunate people. When the villagers heard the blast from the bomb, which is said to be as powerful as a tactical nuclear weapon or an earthquake measuring 6.0, they thought the sky had fallen. For obvious reasons, the Nangarhar Province bomb site was declared a No-Go zone by the US troops.
How many children would have suffered internal injuries such as eardrum ruptures because of the sheer sound of the blast, when the Mother of All Bombs detonated?
Mother epitomizes compassion, love and care. Using the word “Mother”, to describe a destructive weapon that kills mothers and children or, make them suffer from its effects for years, only portrays the appalling degeneration of civility.
No wonder, most world leaders today fail to see that war is an environmental and health issue that affects us all. No sane person will deny that wars and explosives pollute the environment. Although the United Nations General Assembly, in 2011, declared November 6 of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, and the world has witnessed the horrors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, very little attention is paid to the environmental and health cost of wars by the nations engaged in wars.
During the Gulf War and the US invasion of Iraq, the black smoke from burning oil wells, turned the day into night. The air of Iraq and Afghanistan, being two of the most bombed countries, is saturated with toxins produced by millions of tons of explosives. It is said that quite a number of US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from various pulmonary disorders.
Every war will make the condition of our ailing common ‘Mother’ worse, the air we breathe more polluted and the people more unhealthy.
But the Earth is not threatened by conventional wars alone. The danger of a nuclear war is more than a possibility now, with the rhetoric of the United States and North Korea pointing to a do-or-die showdown, well explained in terms of the Game of Chicken. This dangerous game is played by two speeding drivers on a collision course. One must swerve or, both will die in the crash. The one who swerves is called a “chicken,” meaning, a coward.
In the game being played in the Korean peninsula, the two players drive vehicles loaded with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. One false move will start a war that will see tens of thousands of deaths in the first hour alone. Yet, President Trump and his military advisors feel the time has come to disarm North Korea. They believe that if Pyongyang is not stopped now, it will soon develop weapons deadlier than what it has now to attack not only US allies in the region, but also the US mainland itself. True, the US is also vulnerable to attacks from other nuclear powered nations such as Russia and China. But the peace of the graveyard is assured by the fact that these countries are headed by supposedly rational leaders who understand that nuclear wars only lead to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
North Korea, however, is different. Even China, North Korea’s only ally, is apprehensive about its next move. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not the person to swerve and be called “chicken”. He may misread even a routine US move such as the current military exercise between the US and South Korea – and launch a preemptive nuclear strike. When supposedly rational British and Indian leaders have no qualms about declaring they will not hesitate to launch a nuclear first strike, it is naïve to assume that maverick Kim Jung-un will act any differently.
Given the military imbalance between North Korea and the United States, Kim Jong-un is more prone than the US to launch a preemptive strike. On the other hand, military wisdom may prompt the US to launch the first strike, with the aim of severely weakening North Korea’s ability to retaliate. Trump could fire Tomahawks or drop the so called Mother of All Bombs on North Korean nuclear weapon dumps or even fire a nuclear missile. Whatever the weapon is, the consequence will be unprecedented devastation, whichever party makes the first strike.
Remember, North Korea also has deadly chemical and biological weapons. In February, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother and critic Kim Jong-nam died at Kuala Lumpur airport, minutes after two women, allegedly working for North Korea, flashed a few drops of nerve agent VX on his face.
Trump will be completing his first 100 days in office tomorrow. To make his record card look good, he has, apparently, resorted to militarism, firing Tomahawk missiles at Syria and dropping the Big Bomb on Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Trump invited all 100 Senators to the White House, to explain his North Korea response. The policy is: The United States will seek stability and peaceful de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
We welcome this stance, if it is not a strategic retreat aimed at a surprise attack on North Korea later. The North Korean issue requires delicate handling. The best option would be to engage North Korea and resume the dialogue that collapsed in 2009. The US and China should try to bring North Korea out of its self-imposed isolation, and make it a partner in their search for peace in the Korean peninsula.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror,Sri Lanka)

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Iraq: Cradle of civilization is still a living hell

By Ameen Izzadeen
Fourteen Aprils ago, the world witnessed a giant statue of Iraq’s ousted dictator Saddam Hussein being toppled by a group of people at Baghdad’s Firdos Square. The crowd was surprisingly small. To support them in the task were the invading American soldiers and, of course, the presstitutes — the embedded media personnel who were apparently prostituting journalism and producing bastardized news.
The scene was fake news in the making, as the present United States President Donald Trump would say. It was perhaps the only dramatic event that the then imperial US administration had in its possession to show the war’s opponents back home that the Iraqi people were supportive of the invasion.
Reporting about the controversial event, the Associated Press said: “Joyful Iraqis helped by an American tank retriever pulled down their longtime dictator, cast as 16 feet of bronze. The scene broadcast live worldwide became an icon of the war, a symbol of final victory over Saddam Hussein.”
But reports filed from Baghdad did not say that the the April 9, 2003 event was organised by a US Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians. A year later, the Los Angeles Times reported: “It was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.”
Despite this underreported correction, the toppling of the statue is cited by war advocates as symbolic of Iraqi people’s support for the invasion codenamed “Operation Iraq Freedom”. The operation was initially named “Operation Iraq Liberation” but the name was changed because its acronym – OIL – seemed to expose the secret objective of the war.
The Firdos Square fake news was rather emblematic of the massive lie with which war-loving US President George W. Bush misled the American people into believing that he was launching a just war.
The war was launched on the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which were a threat to America’s security and world peace. To add flesh to their bony lie, the war party created more lies. These lies included claims that Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger and that Iraq possessed the capability to assemble its long range missiles and attack London within 45 minutes. The US even presented satellite images claiming that they showed mobile WMD laboratories.
Award-winning war reporter John Pilger asked Charles Lewis, the distinguished American investigative journalist: “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?”
Lewis replied that if the journalists had done their job “there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
There is blood on the hands of the so-called free media of the west. The very media institutions which swallowed Bush’s lies wholesale — probably due to the media outlets’ blind patriotism, racism or support for the neocon policy to dominate the world through intimidation – are now questioning every statement President Trump makes.
Firdos in Arabic means Paradise. But the Iraq war based on lies after lies opened the gates of hell.
Months before the Iraq war began, the then Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa warned Washington that the war against Iraq would “open the gates of hell” in a region already “angry and frustrated” at Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.
As a result of trigger-happy Bush’s mad war, the Iraqi people paid a huge price and they are still not out of the hell they have been pushed into. Saddam Hussein was a monster, but the horror they have been going through since the US launched its Iraq colonisation project has made the Iraqi people to see the former dictator as a benevolent statesman. During Saddam’s time, the people had little or no religious and political freedom, but they had security, water, electricity and peace. There was no sectarianism in secular Iraq. The Sunnis and the Shiites were not only neighbours but they also intermarried. There was no al-Qaeda or ISIS.
Since the US invasion, more than one million Iraqis have died in war and sectarian violence. Also nearly a million Iraqis, half of whom were children, died due to the US-led economic sanctions which preceded the war. When asked, the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it was a price worth paying. Such was the racism-driven indifference that the leaders of the so-called civilised world had for Iraqi lives.
Iraqis die by the thousands even today, as their government together with the US forces prosecutes a major operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, from the clutches of ISIS. Urban wars are fought and won by destroying buildings with scant regard for the trapped civilians. Thousands of Mosul’s civilians have died, especially in air strikes. On Wednesday, Iraqi troops removed 300 bodies from the site of an apparent Coalition air strike carried out on March 17.
Although some 350,000 civilians have fled Mosul to camps where basic facilities are a luxury, still some 400,000 people are trapped in the city. They are being used by the ISIS as human shields. If they try to flee, they are shot dead; if they manage to escape and reach the Iraqi troops, they are grilled, even subjected to torture or killed because of their suspected ties to the terrorists.
The world is today certainly not a better place than what it was prior to the US invasion designed and promoted by neoconservative architects of the Project for New American Century – a think tank which advocated a policy of total global military domination to control the world’s strategic resources.
To the living hell that is Iraq, where suicide blasts have become a daily occurrence, came a visitor on Tuesday – Jared Kushner, son-in-law and special advisor of US President Trump. If a matter so serious like Iraq is to be left in the hands of less experienced people like Kushner, it could mean that the Iraqis will have to wait longer to see peace at least on the distant horizon.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump claimed he was opposed to the Iraq invasion. He said America was not going to be the world’s policeman. But since taking office, he was displaying both hawkishness and indifference to the wars in Iraq and Syria.
In what he claimed as a bold new strategy to “defeat ISIS,” he has intensified US military involvement in Iraq and Syria.
But the Iraqi conundrum is much more complicated than the ISIS issue. It involves the Kurdish problem, the power games that regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Israel play, the superpower interests in the region and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
The Iraqis have been going through hell long enough. Since 1979, they have been living with devastating wars – first the nine-year Iraq-Iran war, then the Kuwait war, then the US invasion and now the ISIS. Iraq, the cradle of civilisation, needs a comprehensive peace package. But where are the peacemakers?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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What a world! We want the right to destroy our planet

By Ameen Izzadeen
On Monday, the big powers spurned yet another move to rid the world of nuclear weapons. They apparently prefer to be called the destroyers of our planet.
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” J. Robert Oppenheimer said quoting from the Bhagawad Gita. He was one of the fathers of the first atomic bomb – the illegitimate child conceived and delivered by the top secret Manhattan Project.
The first atomic bomb was detonated by the Manhattan Project’s nuclear physicists on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. On August 6 and 9 the same year, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world’s first atomic bomb attacks killed more than 200,000 people in the two cities instantly. Tens of thousands of people exposed to high radiation died in the months and years to follow. The ill-effects are still being felt.
Oppenheimer, despite his liberal and socialist worldview, supported the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. But he later became an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and opponent of the global nuclear arms race.
However noble the nuclear non-proliferation initiative is, it smacks of hypocrisy and allows a few nuclear-armed nations to become global bullies and intimidate the rest of the world. Given the destructive power of modern-day nuclear weapons which are a thousand times more lethal than ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nothing short of total nuclear disarmament will ensure the safety of our planet, which we call our home. Every nuclear test is a stab on the back of Mother Earth. Every nuclear accident is a blow on her head. A nuclear war will be the ultimate death blow. If we love this planet and the humanity, we must not rest until the last of the world’s nuclear weapons is dismantled. But the humans are the Earth’s only species hell-bent on the destruction of the planet. According to 2016 estimates, the nine nuclear-armed nations – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — possess some 15,000-23,000 nuclear warheads which could destroy this world more than 100 times over.
Man can be good and evil. Leaders can be brutish and if driven by their animalistic id, they could become destroyers. With the United States and North Korea – both nuclear armed – being run by maverick leaders, the world’s first nuclear war is no longer just a subject for dystopian novelists to describe the aftermath in vivid detail. The dangerous reality or MAD (mutually assured destruction) is close and staring at us. The US has warned North Korea that its policy of strategic patience has ended, while reports say Pyongyang is preparing not only for yet another nuclear test but also for a nuclear war with the US.
Months before Donald Trump became the US President, Nato and Russia had deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, stoking fears of a nuclear war. The tense situation has somewhat eased now because of Trump’s special relationship with Russia. In the volatile Middle East, Israel has some 300 nuclear warheads and Iran is accused of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions.
In South Asia, too, a nuclear war cannot be ruled out, given the hostility between India and Pakistan.
Evil triumphed on Monday when a golden opportunity to bring about a nuclear-weapons-free world was squandered. The United States, Russia, China, Britain and France together with 36 other nations staged a walkout when the United Nations General Assembly began discussions on a global ban on nuclear weapons. Monday’s session came in sequel to a General Assembly resolution adopted in December to convene a conference “to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressing the UN conference said, “Let us all work harder and more creatively, so that we can achieve our common goal of a world, safer and more secure, without nuclear weapons, and better for all.”
He said the possession of nuclear weapons was fundamentally incompatible with humanity’s common aspirations for peace and security.
Pope Francis sent a message of support to the conference. “I wish to encourage you to work with determination in order to create the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. The Pope said international peace and stability “cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.”
While the widely respected pontiff called for concerted efforts to save our planet, President Trump, in a reckless act that underscored his contempt for warnings about climate change, revoked environment laws his predecessor, Barack Obama, had introduced, and his UN envoy Nikki Haley scuttled UN efforts aimed at total nuclear disarmament.
Addressing journalists at UN headquarters in New York, ambassador Haley, South Carolina’s former rightwing governor, defended her country’s need to possess nuclear weapons, saying, “in this day and time, we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them and those of us that are good trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.” She was referring to the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” she asked.
Haley only confirms our worst fears that a nuclear war between the US and North Korea could be a reality. Imagine how many innocent people will die in both these countries. Some studies claim that North Korean missiles can wipe out 80 percent of the US population, while US strikes can reduce North Korea to mere nuclear ash.
Who wants to give up nuclear weapons, the very possession of which will deter even a thought of an attack in the mind of the enemy? Nuclear weapons mean power and they are here to stay until there emerges a weapon system that can deactivate nuclear weapons of an enemy state through hacking. Reports say the US, Russia and China are moving in that direction. But before such cyber weapons become a reality, a nuclear war could break out.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Palestinians need a hero, not a gutless Guterres

By Ameen Izzadeen
The stench that wafted across world politics last Friday was unbearable. It originated from a place where there was once an old slaughterhouse. The place now houses the 39-storey United Nations building, one of the most photographed world monuments. The building overlooking the East River has an architectural aura, but, by no means, is its glassy exterior symbolic of the sordid state of affairs inside, with matters peace and justice often undermined by powerful nations.
Last Friday was one such day. Underscoring the impotency of the United Nations, its new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, shattered the hope for peace in West Asia when he ordered the removal of a report critical of Israel from a UN website, just two days after the document was released. By timidly displaying his inability to stand up for justice and stand by Rima Khalef, who, as the head of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), commissioned the report, Guterres seems to have compromised his socialism with which he wooed the people of Portugal to become prime minister in 1995. While Khalef resigned in disgust, the wounded Palestinians, the victims of Israel’s apartheid system, cried: ‘Et tu Guterres’.
The secretary general’s surrender is so disheartening that it pushes peace activists to long for the old abattoir at Turtle Bay, for the blood of the slaughtered cattle would have smelt like jasmine, in comparison with the smell of the putrid power politics of the UN system. It is now becoming clear that the new UN Secretary General succumbed to pressure from the United States and withdrew the report, although the report’s authors, Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, widely respected for their global justice activism, insisted that this was only a research paper that did not reflect the views of ESCWA or the UN.
Palestine’s UN envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters on Wednesday that “bullying tactics and intimidation” led to the UN’s withdrawal of the report that accused Israel of practising apartheid.
A UN spokesman, however, said the organisation did not have a problem with the content of the report but rather with Khalef’s failure to follow procedure prior to publication.
“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under secretary-general or any other senior UN official that reports to him would authorise the publication under the UN name, under the UN logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” he said.
Whatever the explanation for the removal of the report, Guterres appears as gutless as his predecessor. The present controversy reminds us of the Richard Goldstein report on Israel’s 2008 Gaza war. It was commissioned by the then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The report accused both Israel and the Palestinian resistance group Hamas of war crimes. In indiscriminate Israeli attacks, some 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, perished — half of the victims being children.
Later Goldstein withdrew his report solely on the basis of Israel’s claim that it had no policy of targeting civilians. Independent analysts ascribe the death of the report to US and Israeli pressure on Goldstein.
In another UN retreat under pressure, Ban last year withdrew Saudi Arabia from a list of nations that had committed war crimes against children, after the oil-rich kingdom warned it would stop its funds for UN programmes.
Such pressure and bullying tactics were also evident in recent US statements defending Israel.
America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley dismissed the ESCWA report as “anti-Israel propaganda” and said, “The United States stands with our ally Israel and will continue to oppose biased and anti-Israel actions across the UN system and around the world.”
On Monday, a week after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that the US might withdraw from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, Haley slammed the council for its “anti-Israel agenda”. She told the Council: “The so-called ‘Agenda Item 7’ discredits the standing of the only UN body specifically designed to address the state of global human rights by allowing nations to distract from their own abuses back home by churning out anti-Israel propaganda. As a result, the United States will not participate in discussions under Agenda Item 7 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, other than to vote against the outrageous, one-sided, anti-Israel resolutions that so diminish what the Human Rights Council should be, and we encourage other Council members who purport to be defenders of human rights to do the same.”
If Haley, in her zealous frenzy, is determined to protect and reward Israel’s atrocities and cannot accept the ESCWA report, then she should at least read Jimmy Carter’s 2006 best seller ‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid’. Carter, like all US presidents since 1948, was no enemy of Israel. Defending his book, Carter said Israel’s policy in the West Bank represented instances of apartheid worse than South Africa’s.
“When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa,” Carter said.
Falk and Tilley in their ESCWA report describes more than what Carter saw. They recommended the international community to intensify the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel until it abandons its apartheid policy that dehumanises the Palestinians.
It is to the UN system that the Palestinian people turn to realise their dream of freedom. But the world body has been, in effect, an accomplice in the crime against the Palestinians. It started with Resolution 181 which partitioned Palestine in 1947 in what was seen as a travesty of justice, giving the 30 percent Jewish population, comprising mostly European immigrants, 55 percent of the land and the Palestinians who formed the 70 percent of the population 45 percent. Since then, the UN has been virtually offering its facilities for the United States and Israel to continue their might-is-right policies.
The existence of agencies such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) to help the displaced Palestinians will not absolve the UN of its complicity. Guterres should have resisted the US pressure, for it is better to serve the world body as a true soldier of peace for one term rather than serving two terms as an agent of injustice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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US threatens to withdraw from UNHRC

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Donald Trump administration has read the Riot Act to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It has threatened to withdraw from the UNHRC, unless the council agrees to toe Washington’s line.
The warning came through a letter Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent to a group of nine non-profit organisations this week, according to an exclusive report posted on the prestigious Foreign Policy website.
The letter said, “While it may be the only such organisation devoted to human rights, the Human Rights Council requires considerable reform in order for us to continue to participate.”
A senior Tillerson aid said, “If they don’t make these reforms, we’re going to question the value of our membership…. We’re not taking withdrawal off the table.”
Certainly, the reforms the Trump administration is calling for are not aimed at making the UNHRC stronger. Washington apparently wants to make the council a rubber stamp, just as it has made the UN. Or, possibly the Trump administration is planning something more horrendous, with a US$ 54 billion surge in military expenditure.
Successive US governments have been critical of the UNHRC. They have described it as an Israeli-bashing organisation. But at the same time, Washington has made use of the mechanism to put pressure on hostile nations.
The US warning comes as no surprise because, since Trump came to power, human rights have been pushed to the backburner. Perhaps he is forthright and does not want to be hypocritical like his predecessors who talked big about human rights and did the opposite. Why blame only Trump’s United States? Every big power is a human rights crook.
In international relations, human rights remain politicised. Human rights are often seen as a hindrance to a state’s national security. Violations are justified on the basis that the survival of the state is more important than a citizen’s human rights. Human rights have become state-centric, instead of people-centric.
This is why whistleblower Edward Snowden is refusing to leave Russia and surrender to US authorities. He fears that the US courts will uphold the power of the state at the expense of the citizens’ right to privacy and their freedom of expression. WikiLeaks’ chief editor Julian Assange is refusing to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London to face trial in Sweden, because he fears that Stockholm, giving more importance to its relations with Washington than to its supposed commitment to uphold the people’s right to know, would extradite him to the US.
When state-centric human rights are observed, citizens are told they should live and die for the state – a subtle form of Nazism. When the rights of the state are given precedence over a citizen’s freedom, it is also militarism, a system where rulers, democratically elected or otherwise, invoke patriotism, glorify the military and enhance its capability to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. So much so that militarism supersedes liberal values.
In the United States, both the Republicans and the Democrats subscribe to this unwritten doctrine. Militarism was evident during President Trump’s address to Congress last month. The Democrats, who by opposing Trump’s outrageous policies were posing off as champions of moral politics, shook their heads in disapproval when the billionaire-turned-President waxed eloquent on his controversial policies. But when he hailed the death of US SEAL William Owens during a raid on an al-Qaeda camp in Yemen and drew the lawmakers’ attention to his widow, members from both sides of the divide gave a record standing ovation.
That the botched raid killed civilians was not a matter for them to worry about. That the US troops killed eight year-old- Nawar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and daughter of radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the Americans extra-judicially killed in a drone attack in 2011, did not bother their conscience. That the raid was a violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation was far from their thoughts. That it did not have UN approval was the least of their concerns. So much for the US politicians’ commitment to uphold human rights and international law!
The US commitment to human rights is buried in the graveyard of political expediency, with the epitaph, among other horrors, mentioning the use of Agent Orange chemical weapon in Vietnam, depleted uranium on Iraqi civilians, the indiscriminate drone attacks on civilian targets in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, and Washington’s blind support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.
What moral right does the US State Department have to publish its annual country report assessing other countries’ human rights records? Probably, Trump understands this. That may be the reason that the State Department did not have the usual hype when it released the human rights country report on March 3. Downplaying the event, instead of Secretary Tillerson, an assistant secretary of state presided over the low-key ceremony.
It is interesting to note that, in an irony of ironies, China, which is usually named and shamed as one of the big-time human rights violators by the US State Department, has been hitting back at the US by publishing a human rights country report on the US since 1998.
The latest report was released by the Information Office of the State Council, China’s cabinet, on March 9. It scoffs at the US for once again posing as the global “judge of human rights”.
“Wielding ‘the baton of human rights,’ the US report cast blame on the human rights situation in many countries while paying no attention to its own terrible human rights problems.
“With the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics, the self-proclaimed human rights defender has exposed its human rights ‘myth’ with its own deeds,” the report says, highlighting concerns over gun violence, women’s rights and minority rights, among other issues.
All major religions, for thousands of years, have been exhorting their adherents to be just, fair and regard equality as a virtue. But it was only in the 19th century that slavery was abolished and only in the 20th century that civil rights of the Afro Americans in the United States were granted and apartheid was abolished in South Africa. Women were considered in most western countries as worthy of being given the right to vote only about some five decades ago.
However, the golden era of human rights dawned after the Cold War between the US-led Western bloc and the Soviet Union-led Eastern bloc ended in 1991. The United Nations Human Rights Commission was seen as inadequate to deal with human rights violations, and moves were initiated to form a powerful and effective mechanism under a new UN Human Rights Council. During this period, numerous were the European Human Rights Court’s decisions that gave more importance to a citizen’s rights than a member state’s action taken in the name of national security.
However, the movement towards Utopia suffered a severe blow when US President George W. Bush launched the war on terror in 2001. Torture was justified, privacy was undermined, and the Geneva Conventions on warfare and prisoners of war were dumped in the dustbin. The observation of human rights became state-centric. Last year, the Brexit vote enabled Britain to dissociate itself from the European Union standards on human rights. The rot continues.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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