Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 16, 2011

Alan J. Kuperman: useful idiot

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 4:58 pm

Alan J. Kupferman

An op-ed that appeared in the Boston Globe on Thursday has been making the rounds on the anti-anti-Qaddafi blogosphere. Written by Alan J. Kuperman (a professor in the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Affairs at U. of Texas in Austin,  former legislative director for Senator Charles Schumer and a fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development), it seeks to undercut the “genocide” narrative that has been put forward by imperialist ideologues. Anybody who is familiar with the background of Samantha Power, a state department official who has a long record of defending “humanitarian interventions”, knows that it is essential to recast every foreign policy crisis as a repeat of WWII in order to get the green light for cruise missile attacks and all the rest. While Kuperman makes some good points, the article is not without some flaws. I doubt that Kuperman would go along with the anti-anti-Qaddafi crowd (especially with his Schumer and USAID connections) but unfortunately they can exploit his article despite his best intentions. It must be said at the outset that there is an element of realpolitik involved in Kuperman’s thinking—no surprise given his post in a department named in honor of one of the past half-century’s biggest mass murderers. In a 3/22/2011 op-ed piece that appeared in US Today, Kuperman wrote:

Gadhafi once was a sponsor of terrorism. After 2003, however, he converted to a U.S. ally— surrendering weapons of mass destruction, paying compensation for past attacks and providing intelligence against radical Islamists. If the U.S. now demands wholesale regime change, it not only could trigger a humanitarian disaster, it also would signal that Washington is an untrustworthy ally. And it could create a failed or hostile state that poses a greater threat.

Yes, who would want to give the impression that Washington is an “untrustworthy ally”? That would be most unfortunate and might even lead to a deepening of the Vietnam syndrome or worse maladies. It is also odd that MRZine would want to give Kuperman any credibility. By crossposting his Boston Globe article warning against intervening in Libya, one would get the impression that he is a guide to principled behavior by powerful states like the USA or Britain. But if you paid a visit to his website, you would find a link to an article titled “There’s Only One Way to stop Iran” that appeared as an op-ed in the 12/23/2009 NY Times. You can guess what his goals are from the title of the article. Here is a quote from it that we would not expect to see on MRZine any time soon:

As for knocking out its nuclear plants, admittedly, aerial bombing might not work. Some Iranian facilities are buried too deeply to destroy from the air. There may also be sites that American intelligence is unaware of. And military action could backfire in various ways, including by undermining Iran’s political opposition, accelerating the bomb program or provoking retaliation against American forces and allies in the region.

But history suggests that military strikes could work. Israel’s 1981 attack on the nearly finished Osirak reactor prevented Iraq’s rapid acquisition of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon and compelled it to pursue a more gradual, uranium-based bomb program. A decade later, the Persian Gulf war uncovered and enabled the destruction of that uranium initiative, which finally deterred Saddam Hussein from further pursuit of nuclear weapons (a fact that eluded American intelligence until after the 2003 invasion). Analogously, Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

As for the risk of military strikes undermining Iran’s opposition, history suggests that the effect would be temporary. For example, NATO’s 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia briefly bolstered support for President Slobodan Milosevic, but a democratic opposition ousted him the next year.

Yes, indeed. Military strikes could work… A “democratic opposition” ousted Milosevic after NATO’s air campaign kicked in… Politics does make strange bedfellows methinks. I can picture Alan J. Kuperman, Yoshie Furuhashi and John Mage in their pajamas now. Turning now to Kuperman’s Boston Globe op-ed, it appears to have left egg on its authors face right off the bat. He writes the Libyan military is “not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.” That would not square with a report that appeared in the NY Times the very next day. According to the Times, the distinction between “deliberately massacring civilians” and “targeting the armed rebels” might be lost on the people of Misurata who have been introduced to Qaddafi’s cluster bombs:

Military forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi have been firing into residential neighborhoods in this embattled city with heavy weapons, including cluster bombs that have been banned by much of the world and ground-to-ground rockets, according to witnesses and survivors, as well as physical evidence.

Both of these so-called indiscriminate weapons, which strike large areas with a dense succession of high-explosive munitions, by their nature cannot be fired precisely. When fired into populated areas, they place civilians at grave risk.

The dangers were evident beside one of the impact craters on Friday, where eight people had been killed while standing in a bread line. Where a crowd had assembled for food, bits of human flesh had been blasted against a cinder-block wall.

Ironically, both Fidel Castro and Edward S. Herman have warned against the use of cluster bombs in Libya but assumed that the source would be NATO. Herman wrote on MRZine: “Weapons evolution with drones and cluster bombs has tended to enlarge civilian casualties.” One supposes that they may be excused in this instance since they were being used against a “color revolution”. After all, if those bits of human flesh that had been blasted against a cinder-block wall had belonged to someone who was a regular reader of Christopher Hitchens, they deserve everything they get. Professor Kuperman also has a rather weird sense of what it means to avoid civilian casualties. He writes:

Misurata’s population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people — including combatants — have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 — less than 3 percent — are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.

Okay, my math is a bit rusty but let me have a stab at this. My hometown New York City has a population of just over 8 million. That is 20 times the size of Misurata. So an equivalent casualty rate for NYC over a two-month period would be about 5000, right? And over a 12 month period would be 30,000? Now of course this would not be ”genocide” but it would be a massacre of immense proportions. Consider that Gaza has a population of 1.6 million, just 4 times the size of Misurata. When Israel left 1500 Palestinians dead after its December 2008 invasion, the world cried out against such a bloody attack even to the point that a life-long Zionist by the name of Richard Goldstone felt enough pressure to head a commission that found Israel guilty of war crimes. But when the equivalent death toll in Misurata is nearly as high, our anti-anti-Qaddafi friends see this as a mere bagatelle. The fact that he has now decided that Israel was in the right is understandable in light of the fact that his tribe essentially excommunicated him. But at least one world leader besides Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu saw Israel as having no other choice:

In characteristic fashion Gaddafi sprinkled odd comparisons in his responses. He likened the clampdown on dissidents to what he called Israel’s crackdown of al Qaeda terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

“Even the Israelis in Gaza, when they moved into the Gaza strip, they moved in with tanks to fight such extremists. It’s the same thing here! We have small armed groups who are fighting us. We did not use force from the outset… Armed units of the Libyan army have had to fight small armed al Qaeda bands. That is what’s happened.”

April 15, 2011

Bringing a cancer under control

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

The human trafficking industry, one of the most evil, inhumane businesses on the planet, grew into a billion dollar a year industry in Benghazi. A large, viscous [sic] underworld mafia set down deep roots in Benghazi, employing thousands in various capacities and corrupting Libyan police and government officials. It has only been in the past year or so that the Libyan government, with help from Italy, has finally brought this cancer under control.

* * * *

The desert front – EU refugee camps in North Africa?
by Helmut Dietrich

This article first appeared in the German journal Konkret (issue 12/2004) and traces the implementation of the creation of migrant and refugee prisons, so called off-shore centres, in northern Africa, as part of the EU’s globalisation of migration control. With the example of recent developments in EU and particularly German and Italian relations with Libya, the author highlights the relationship between military, economic and migration control agreements between the EU and third countries and documents the devastating effect these have for migrants and refugees caught up in the militarisation of the EU’s external borders.

“How can you forget the concentration camps built by Italian colonists in Libya into which they deported your great family – the Obeidats? Why don’t you have the self-confidence, why don’t you refuse?” the Libyan intellectual Abi Elkafi recently asked the Libyan ambassador in Rome, who had initiated the country’s orientation towards the West. “The reason I write to you are the atrocious new concentration camps set up on Libya’s soil on behalf of the Berlusconi government,” Elkafi wrote in an open letter.

In June 1930, Marshal Petro Badoglio, the Italian governor of Libya, ordered the internment of large parts of the then 700,000 inhabitants of Libya. Within two years, more than 100,000 people had died of hunger and disease in the desert concentration camps. Around the same time, Badoglio had fortified the 300 kilometre long Libyan/Egyptian border line with barbed wire fence. This is how the Italian colonists destroyed the Libyan resistance. For years, they had not succeeded – neither by bombing villages and oases, nor by using poison gas. The current Italian government laughs at any demand for compensation, Abi Elkafi writes.

Military camps for refugees – the reality of off-shore centres

Four years ago, the western press received first reliable reports on internment camps in Libya. In September and October 2000, pogroms against migrant workers took place in Libya and 130 to 500 sub-Saharan Africans were killed in the capitol Tripoli and the Tripoli area. To escape the persecution, thousands of builders and service sector employees from Niger, Mali, Nigeria, and Ghana fled south. Many of them were stopped at road blocks in the Sahara and taken to Libyan military camps. Le Monde Diplomatique reported on several camps in where migrants and refugees have been held since 1996 – about 6,000 Ghanaians and 8,000 people from Niger are supposed to be held in one of them alone. The Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings visited the camp to bring back some hundred compatriots. The Somali Consultative Council appealed to Gaddafi on 22 February 2004 “to unconditionally release the Somali refugees who are imprisoned in your country and who have started a hunger strike immediately and not send them back to the civil war in Somalia.” In the beginning of October 2004, the Italian state TV channel RAI showed pictures from a Libyan refugee camp. Hundreds of people were depicted in a court yard, heavily guarded; the barracks apparently do not have sleeping facilities. Reports of some of the Somalis who have recently been deported to Libya confirm the existence of these camps.

Did the Libyan government originally build these camps in order to provide a labour force for major building projects in the south of the country (“greening the desert”)? Or are they an attempt to fight refugees in transit? In any case, the Libyan government already announced some time ago that undocumented immigrants would be imprisoned in southern Libya and deported. In December 2004, the Libyan interior minister Mabruk announced without further explanation that Tripoli had deported 40,000 migrants in the last weeks alone.

These imprisonments and deportations have now become antecedents of the so-called off-shore centres of the European Union, propagated particularly by Germany’s interior minister Otto Schily. Libya is the first non-European country which allows for its camps to be integrated into the EU’s deportation policies. Together with the new airlifts to Tripoli, by which African refugees are being deported collectively from Italy since 2 October 2004, first facts of this regime have been created. At the beginning of October 2004, the designated and later suspended EU commissioner Buttiglione announced during his hearing before the European Parliament in Strasbourg that the EU did not want to create “concentration camps” in north Africa, but wanted to use the already existing camps “in which refugees are living under the most difficult circumstances.” At their informal meeting in Scheveningen on 30 September to 1 October 2004, the EU’s justice and interior ministers agreed in principle that the EU is striving for the creation of “reception camps for asylum seekers” in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritius and Libya, not under supervision of the EU but of the respective countries.

Mostly unnoticed by the public, the EU states that form the EU’s external borders are creating the preconditions for a new deportation regime. Whereas until recently, refugees and migrants who were stopped by border police were taken into the EU country, there are now enormous reception capacities on the Canary Islands and on the southern Italian and eastern Greek islands. This “initial reception” is no more intended to lead into European cities and the already meagre EU legal protection. The camps at Europe’s peripheries are typically located near airports on former military compounds, guarded by paramilitary troops and hardly accessible even for the UNHCR. Contact to the outside world is made extremely difficult if not impossible. The facilities are secured with modern prison equipment. The Canary islands currently hold camps with altogether 1,950 places.

These camps in the Canaries, southern Italy and eastern Greece, also mark the introduction of a social change initiated by EU states: in the 1990’s the boat people were welcomed by the Mediterranean population. Although the state declared a state of emergency when large refugee boats arrived and put them into stadiums, it remained a public event which attracted many inhabitants who drove to the stadium with clothes, blankets and food. With the new prison camps, the administration now systematically separates boat people from the society they arrive in and thereby creates the organisational preconditions for mass deportations to places outside the EU, far from any legal or societal control. Extraterritorial, law-free zones are being created at the fringes of Europe.

Since the beginnings of the 1990’s, Western European migration and refugee strategy papers point to the EU intending to export the asylum procedures to places outside Europe. They outline a global migration control approach that ensures that refugees and unwanted migrants from Africa, Asia and South America do not reach Europe anymore. Central to this concept are camps encircling Europe.

Up to now these plans could not be implemented. German authorities unsuccessfully attempted to enforce this practise in the early 1990’s after the war against Iraq, when the no-fly zone was created over Iraqi Kurdistan: they wanted to declare the area a “safe haven” for Iraqi refugees, to which they could be deported en masse. This did not succeed until the NATO war in Kosovo. Within a few weeks, the war zone was surrounded by refugee camps, thus stopping hundreds of thousands on their flight to the EU.

In the beginning of the current Iraq war, Tony Blair suggested the creation of refugee camps under the supervision of the EU but outside its territory. His “new vision for refugees”, published in March 2003, foresaw returning those who would apply for asylum in the EU to outside the EU’s borders. His vision was one of a ‘camp universe’, set up by EU officers and made up of Transit Processing Centres (TPC) in front of the gates of the EU, together with the UNHCR and the notorious International Organisation for Migration (IOM). From there they would be able to bring the refugees back to “safe” zones near their regions of origin and select a few for entry into the EU. When that plan became known to the public, it went down in a storm of protest.

Despite the public criticism, Otto Schily and Giuseppe Pisanu, the German and Italian interior ministers, developed the idea further in the summer of 2004. The European Commission together with the Strategic Committee for Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum (SCIFA) were to test preliminary measures of “a European asylum office with interception functions” in northern Africa (Schily in FAZ, 23.7.2004). In practise, this proposal implies that boat people coming through the Mediterranean were to be returned to camps located in Arab states – in collective procedures and without an individual check on their nationality, their flight route or reasons for flight. This practise is called refoulement and is explicitly prohibited in the Geneva Refugee Convention. EU Member States’ constitutions as well as the European Convention on Human Rights prohibit refoulement as well. However, this practise not only concerns the violation of rights of asylum seekers. In internment camps or when deported to desert areas without support, migrants, no matter if they flee from poverty and hunger or for other “economic” reasons, suffer the same fate they were trying to flee. They are threatened with imprisonment, abuse and death.

Testing and developing military technology in the fight against migration

Recent international events have changed the political, military and economic situation to such an extent that desert camps have now come within Schily’s and Pisanu’s reach. The first barrier for unwanted refugees and migrants is Europe’s external border policy. But since EU enlargement and the global “fight against terror”, these policies are being formulated under different conditions. In 2001, the German and Italian interior ministries laid down their dream of an EU border police in EU documents. The plan was intended to bring the unsafe borders of certain members under centralised control. At first, the focus was on the eastern border of accession states, but the accession states were not exactly enthusiastic about the idea that especially German, together with other EU police officers, were to secure their eastern borders. They fear that a total closure of borders will create tensions with their eastern neighbours. Further, the German border guards have reaped antipathy in the local accession population in the Oder and Neiße region with their policing practises and the NS massacres committed by German troops in the Bug river region have by no means vanished from people’s memories.

Politicians of the South European front states – as they are called in official EU documents – have less scruples. The anti-terrorist measures against the Arab-Muslim population has enforced a development of strong external borders. The operative core of a future EU border protection is based on the greater Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean Sea is a new challenge for the control fanatics. The goal is the ‘virtual’ extension of European borders to the North African coasts. Even the docking of the wooden boats is to be prevented. Furthermore, the border police long to control the Sahara-Sahel-zone, together with the military and European and American secret services, thus setting up a second ‘rejection’ ring around Europe. Besides stopping refugees, the oil and gas production in the desert has to be secured. Thus, the border surveillance agreement between Italy and Libya provides for an internationalised control of the 2,000 kilometres long coast line and also the 4,000 kilometres long desert border of Libya.

This can hardly be achieved by boat and jeep patrols. Control technologies tried and tested in the most recent wars will therefore also be deployed. Detection of refugees by air with optronic and radar technology is currently being tested all over the Mediterranean.

The Spanish Guardia Civil has rediscovered the surveillance tower. From above, the visual and electromagnetic identification technique can continuously and automatically scan the Straits of Gibraltar and the Moroccan coast. Other parts of the coast, due to the earth curvature, cannot be controlled by means of towers only. Nevertheless, the Canary Islands and the Spanish South Coast are equipped with the tower technology. Tests are made to link all accessible data in real time in order to identify and follow all ships in the controlled area. This technology, known as SIVE (Sistema Integrado de Vigilancia Exterior), is now exported to the Greek islands.

Meanwhile, Italy is practising the use of drones, which are planned to being used in Libya’s desert borders. In October 2004, the Italian air force general Leonardo Tricarico announced that Italy had purchased five predator drones for 48 million dollars from the Californian arms company General Atomic Aeronautical Systems in San Diego. The US is using predators to chase al-Qaeda; the unknown flight object can also launch rockets. Tricarico explained that the Italian air force was planning to use the drones against terrorism as well as against irregular migration. By the end of October 2004, the Italian air force were trying to detect refugee boats from the air.

Testing of the new technologies at the South European ‘front’ is co-ordinated by the so-called ad hoc centres of the EU preceding the future EU border agencies. Two sea surveillance centres are based in Spain and Greece, one air surveillance centre in Italy. Another one is responsible for ‘risk analysis’. Taking the insurance business as an example and with the assistance of Europol, it is calculated where the greatest damage by irregular migration is imminent. There, surveillance is strengthened.

The ad hoc centres are combined in Schengen Committees, which by now should have long been subsumed within EU institutions regulated under the Amsterdam Treaty. These circles have launched new power centres to create an EU border protection within five years. Thus, SCIFA+ unifying the Schengen round with all EU border police forces was founded in 2002, and in 2003 the PCU was created – the coordinating unit of the practitioners. The latter sees itself as a crisis centre using focal points at the external borders to push through the centralised command structures, regarding the development of preventive measures and stringent controls of national border guard units as its duty.

It is hard to say whether these EU coordinated methods have failed so far, or whether they already have fatal outcomes. On the one hand, it is reported that a planned EU manoeuvre of various national naval units in the Straits of Gibraltar and around the Canary Islands was halted due to language difficulties. On the other hand, ‘high tech’ is regarded as a magic potion that motivates border police and marines who believe their work thereby becomes more valuable. The intensified search with technical equipment in the Straits has already forced boat people to use more dangerous waters to come to Europe. It can also be assumed that EU agencies declared the arrival of boat people on the Italian island of Lampedusa ‘a state of emergency’ in order to justify the need to implement extraordinary measures.

It is important to remember that according to official estimates, 400,000 to 500,000 people secretly cross the southern EU border every year. Whoever can afford it, arrives by plane with a false passport. Whoever has relatives and friends might go on one of the ferries engaged in the massive holiday traffic. Only the poor come on wooden boats. According to reliable calculations, more than 10,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea since 1992, that is since visas became obligatory for the EU’s southern neighbours. The European governments, however, do not declare a state of emergency because of the huge death tolls, but because of the arrival of around 30,000 boat people per year. In late summer 2004, around 1,800 people reached the island of Lampedusa. Obviously a high figure for a small island but small compared to the Mediterranean figure as a whole. The Italian state and the EU use them as a warning to others. Deterrence is the goal.

Oil interests and migration control – the economic agenda

The second aspect which brought the Libyan desert camps within reach of Pisanu and Schily is of economic nature. Since the mid-1990’s, Gaddafi has slowly opened up Libya’s economy and thus the oil and gas industry to foreign investors. Besides Russia, Libya is the most important non-European oil supplier for Germany, whereas Germany is the most important goods supplier to Libya after Italy. In 2002, the German minister for trade and commerce announced an ‘export offensive’ in the Middle East and North Africa – implying increasing investments in the oil and gas industry in these regions. The potential gains to be made from Libya have first priority here. In the 1970’s, before economic cooperation decreased, most of the German investments in North Africa and the Middle East were made in Libya. Now, the German Association of Chambers of Commerce and Industry does not only predict investment opportunities in the Libyan energy sector but also in infrastructure, telecommunication and health. Another big market is the food supply for the population, most of which has to be imported.

24 March 2004: The British prime minister Tony Blair visits Gaddafi. The Dutch-British oil company Shell receives a 165 million Euro contract to produce oil and gas in Libya, forming the basis of a “long-term strategic partnership”. There is talk of a “oil against weapons” deal, because around the same time, the arms company BAE initiates talks on major business with Libya. Libyan’s armed forces want new equipment. The wish list includes night vision gear and air radars.

In July 2004, Libya clears the way for the participation of foreign investors in state companies. The government decides on the privatisation of 160 state companies, 54 of which cannot only sell shares to foreign investors but can be taken over by foreign capital by allowing for majority shareholding. The plan is to privatise 360 firms until 2008. At the end of July, the WTO lobbies for the accession of Libya. In August 2004, the German government re-introduces the so-called Hermes-Bürgschaften for Libya, which allows exporting companies to insure themselves against economic and political risk scenarios (many exporting firms can only export to certain countries with this guarantee).

On 5 September 2004, the Libyan state invites numerous interested firms from all over the world for a presentation on new oil and gas fields. The neo-liberal Libyan prime minister Shukri Ghanim announces that production licences will be put up for bidding in the coming months. According to recent estimates, Libya has the eighth biggest oil reserves world wide. The country currently produces 1,6 million barrels of crude oil per day. The goal is to increase production up to 2 million until 2010, with the help of numerous new foreign investments – in 1970, 3,5 million was produced per day. The low production costs and high quality of Libyan oil is attractive to foreign investors.

7 October 2004: Italian president Silvio Berlusconi visits Libya for the fourth time that year. This time to open the pipeline ‘Greenstream’ of the ‘West Libyan Gas Project’, built and operated by the Italian ‘energy giant’ ENI, the number one of the foreign companies active in Libya. 6.6 billion dollars were invested into the 520 kilometres long pipeline, now supplying gas from the Libyan Mellitah to Sicily. Until now, it is the biggest Mediterranean project of its kind and makes a second pipeline for Algerian gas obsolete. The day for the opening was chosen to coincide with the “day of revenge” in Libya, which celebrates the victory over colonialism since the 1970’s. In consideration of Belusconi, Gaddafi renames it the “day of friendship” and declares the once despised enemy to be welcome guests.

11 October 2004: The EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxemburg resolve the political barriers to economic cooperation with Libya. The council of ministers revokes the relevant UN sanctions from 1992 and 1993. The arms embargo is also revoked by the general EU framework for arms exports to third countries. The precondition for these changes was the Libyan agreement to pay compensations for the victims of a bomb attack on a Berlin discotheque in 1986, similar to Libya taking responsibility for the attack on the Pan-Am machine which crashed over Lockerbie. Furthermore, Libya is introducing a neo-liberal market economy, as is laid down in the Euromed partnership agreements between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbouring states.

14/15 October 2004: Chancellor Schröder, accompanied by German industrialists, visits Gaddafi. Schröder signs a bilateral investment agreement and is present when oil and gas concessions are granted to the German Wintershall, a subsidiary of the BASF group, represented in the country since 1958 and one of the leading foreign producers with an investment of 1.2 billion dollars. During the chancellor’s visit, the German RWE group also started business in the oil and gas production, and the German Siemens group received contracts worth 180 million. Furthermore, the German government is interested in orders for “technical material like night vision gear or thermal cameras for border protection”. Germany’s economic goal is to dominate the Libyan foreign investment market. When Gaddafi mentions to the chancellor that Rommel’s landmines are still causing accidents and that it was high times to clear them, the German side ignores the issue without comment.

The military and migration control – the foreign policy agenda

The third reason for Schily and Pisanu to be interested in the desert is of military nature and is closely connected with border fortification, camp policy and oil and gas production: the German economy openly links economic aims in North Africa and the Middle East with its military planning, because the markets in question are said to “have specific security risks”. This is why on 11 February 2005, the Federal Association for German Industry and the Federal Association of German Banks directly linked its ‘Conference on Financing in the Region North Africa Middle East’ to the ‘Munich Security Conference’, which takes place annually to enable Western states to coordinate their military policies and war tactics. In February 2005, EU foreign policy therefore joined EU strategies regarding refugees, the military and the economy in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Like Pakistan and Turkey, Libya could soon be a privileged partner of the West as a stronghold against Islamism and Africa’s failing states. Because of his leading role in Africa’s integration and the African Union (which replaced the OAU in 2001), Gaddafi has a special influence in a lot of dependent states. This became clear during his role in freeing the hostages from Switzerland, Germany and Austria who were held in the Sahara. Negotiators and money from Libya also played a central role in the negotiations around some Western tourists, amongst them Germans, who were held by extremists on the Philippines in the summer of 2000. Now British officers will operate as consultants to the Libyan army. A military co-operation with Greece is agreed upon.

Resulting from a deal with Italy in 2003, Libya is currently purchasing boats, jeeps, radar equipment, and helicopters for border surveillance. Italian trainers and consultants are already in the country. According to press reports, Rome supplied tents and other material for three camps in Libya in the first days of August. “The camps are being set up”, said Pisanu in an interview with the newspaper La Republica, “they were never under discussion”. Meanwhile, the Italian navy is guarding large areas of the Libyan coast. Under pressure from Rome, Egypt is controlling the Red Sea for refugee ships. Funded with money from Italy, Tunisia is operating 13 deportation prisons of which 11 are kept secret, safe from public scrutiny. It is said that many of those refugees and migrants deported from Italy are being transported to the Tunisian-Algerian desert and abandoned there.

The German government is also responsible for arming the North African coast. According to the German defence ministry, Tunisia will receive six Albatross speed boats from the German navy. Already two years ago, it was agreed to deliver five speed boats to Egypt. In 2002, Algeria received surveillance systems at a value of 10,5 million EUR, Tunisia received communications and radar equipment for around 1 million EUR, Morocco received military trucks worth 4.5 million euro.

The Western industrial countries have described the assumed danger in and from the Mediterranean region in two scenarios: One focuses on Islamic fundamentalism, the other on uncontrolled migration. It is surprising how these two completely different social phenomena are conflated in this vision of threat. Agreements of the EU countries state that al-Qaeda and the boat people use the same North African networks. In the meantime, search units are being formed whose remits are to fight both enemies together.

Rancid reporting from Counterpunch

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 3:39 pm

Running neck-and-neck with MRZine for printing pro-Qaddafi propaganda, Counterpunch published an article by someone named Thomas C. Mountain on March 23, 2011. After making the usual case about how prosperous people were under Qaddafi (most families owned their own houses and cars, etc.), he asks why Benghazi revolted. His answer:

The human trafficking industry, one of the most evil, inhumane businesses on the planet, grew into a billion dollar a year industry in Benghazi. A large, viscous underworld mafia set down deep roots in Benghazi, employing thousands in various capacities and corrupting Libyan police and government officials. It has only been in the past year or so that the Libyan government, with help from Italy, has finally brought this cancer under control. With their livelihood destroyed and many of their leaders in prison, the human trafficking mafia have been at the forefront in funding and supporting the Libyan rebellion. Many of the human trafficking gangs and other lumpen elements in Benghazi are known for racist pogroms against African guest workers where over the past decade they regularly robbed and murdered Africans in Benghazi and its surrounding neighborhoods. Since the rebellion in Benghazi broke out several hundred Sudanese, Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean guest workers have been robbed and murdered by racist rebel militias, a fact well hidden by the international media.

Mountain says that this is a “well hidden” fact. For someone so concerned about facts, there is not a single word in this paragraph that is based on his own investigations on the spot or any other human being’s as far as I can tell. A search in Lexis-Nexis for “Benghazi”, “smugglers”, “mafia”, etc. reveals nothing of the sort. In fact, Mountain might have written that guest workers were being boiled alive in cauldrons and then eaten at royalist banquets and it would have eluded Counterpunch’s fact-checkers if they existed.

Go ahead and google “Benghazi” and “human trafficking” yourself. The only items that turn up are from Mountain’s article. I would say that this is embarrassing but Alexander Cockburn revealed long ago through his articles on climate change that he is rather shameless.

April 14, 2011


Filed under: music,Roma — louisproyect @ 7:21 pm

An Island of Pro-Empire Intrigue?

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 6:24 pm

Al-Jazeera: An Island of Pro-Empire Intrigue
by Sukant Chandan

The Empire admits: without Al-Jazeera, they could not have bombed Libya.

How did Al-Jazeera, once dubbed the ‘terror network’ by some and whose staff were martyred by US bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, end up becoming the media war propagandist for yet another Western war against a small state of the Global South, Libya?  We will not know the full details for some time; perhaps some wikileaks will help us understand later.  But this much is already certain: the station is betraying gross political bias against its pan-Arab and pan-Islamic anti-imperialist constituency, reflected by its discriminatory reporting on the region based on Qatar’s interests and its relations and service to the West.


* * * *

BBC Summary of World Broadcasts
January 7, 2004, Wednesday

Kuwaiti paper details Libyan-Israeli contacts aimed at establishing normal ties

SOURCE: Al-Siyasah web site, Kuwait, in Arabic 6 Jan 04


The European diplomatic sources have said that Al-Qadhafi’s son Sayf al-Islam and Libyan Intelligence Director Musa Kusa “met Israeli political and security officials several times in August and November in London and Geneva with Qatari  assistance. These meetings may have paved the way for the crucial meeting in Vienna last week and the resulting agreement on a visit to Tripoli by an Israeli delegation”. A British official in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government denied yesterday that his government was aware that the head of Israel’s Mosad had made a secret visit to Libya in December of last year. Several German intelligence reports had confirmed such a visit two weeks ago. However, the same British official declined to comment on the Vienna meeting between Israelis and Libyans in the presence of Americans. He only said that his country “hopes that relations between Tripoli and Tel Aviv will improve as soon as possible”.

In a telephone contact with Al-Siyasah, the European diplomatic sources revealed that from the beginning, Washington, London and Tripoli consulted Egypt on President as published Al-Qadhafi’s intentions. They added that Egypt blessed these Libyan steps and encouraged Tripoli to proceed with it to the end and normalize relations with Israel. Egypt was thus capitalizing on Al-Qadhafi’s numerous positive signals towards Tel Aviv and the Jews over the past two years. The European diplomatic sources added that Egypt “exerted serious efforts to convince Al-Qadhafi’s son Sayf al-Islam, who has tremendous influence on his father, to sign a peace treaty with Israel”. The same European diplomatic sources cited US diplomats in Vienna as confirming that the issue of normalization of Libyan-Israeli relations “was one of the most important articles in the deal that was concluded with Al-Qadhafi. The other two less important articles in the deal pertained to the removal of weapons of mass destruction and the opening of Libyan soil to an American-British military presence and an economic presence of American and British oil companies”.

April 13, 2011

Cornel West versus Al Sharpton on Obama

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 7:19 pm

Edward Herman’s slipshod writing on Libya

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 4:28 pm

Edward Herman

As someone who made a fairly substantial investment in countering the demonization campaign against Slobodan Milosevic during the war in Kosovo, I found myself on the same side of some people who I now feel little in common with. Perhaps the main reason for this is that many adopted what amounted to a formula and applied it to every single foreign policy crisis that ensued. While my main interest was in fighting demonization, looking back in retrospect I am afraid that others had a different agenda. As Trotsky once wrote, they sought to put a plus where the ruling class puts a minus. In this formulaic approach, we find apologetics for Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Qaddafi, various post-Stalinist leaders of Eastern Europe, and anybody else that got on the wrong side of Human Rights Watch.

When writing about Yugoslavia, I found it absolutely necessary to read the press very carefully. The most important instance, of course, was the casus belli for the war in Kosovo, namely the alleged massacre in Račak. People like Edward Herman, for example, worked hard to scrutinize the charges against the Serbs in accordance with the higher standards of investigative reporting that are so crucial when American imperialism is on the warpath.

That is why it is so disconcerting to see such a precipitous decline in his recent reply to Gilbert Achcar over NATO intervention in Libya.  While Achcar is obviously wrong in supporting intervention, our case is not helped by sloppy and lazy if not propagandistic writing by Herman. I refer specifically to this:

Achcar describes the rebel forces fighting Gadaffi as representing a “popular movement” and “mass insurrection.” This is dubious—as Stratfor points out, the base of the insurrection has “consisted of a cluster of tribes and personalities,” the heart of which was in the East,, and whose members and leaders “do not all advocate Western-style democracy. Rather, they saw an opportunity to take greater power, and they tried to seize it.”[5] Achcar fails to mention that this eastern Libya base area was a principal recruiting ground for Al Qaeda, and that the killings of civilians and prisoners by these rebels has reportedly been large.[6]  He does not suggest the possibility of a bloodbath if they were to take over Tripoli and western Libya.

Footnote five cites an article by George Friedman titled “Libya, the West and the Narrative of Democracy”  that appears on the Stratfor website. If Herman would have us rely on Friedman’s expertise on Libya, one wonders if he would recommend the wisdom of these words that appear in the same article?

Each of the countries experiencing unrest was very different. For example, in Egypt, while the cameras focused on demonstrators, they spent little time filming the vast majority of the country that did not rise up. Unlike 1979 in Iran, the shopkeepers and workers did not protest en masse. Whether they supported the demonstrators in Tahrir Square is a matter of conjecture.

Well, that’s a surprise to me. I was fairly certain that Egyptian workers did protest against Mubarak.

But more to the point, can we really describe Libya’s uprising as “tribal” in nature? Friedman makes this point and Herman appears happy to accept it at face value. Our professor emeritus of finance surely can do better.

This trope, which appears widely in the bourgeois press, needs to be scrutinized a bit more carefully. One would have hoped that Herman might have sought out the opinions of Libyans themselves rather than a character like George Friedman, an American citizen who launched Stratfor in a bid to provide CIA type information to investors avoiding risk. On March 30th, Alaa al-Ameri, a British citizen originally from Libya, wrote a piece for Comments are Free on the Guardian website titled “The Myth of Tribal Libya” that included the following observations:

One must also remember who sparked this revolution – it was young people, mostly under 30 years of age, who’ve lived their entire lives in urban centres. How many Glaswegians under 30 know or care from which clan they originated? On what basis, other than cultural stereotyping, do commentators presume that the young people of Benghazi, Misrata and Tripoli are any different? Which tribal allegiance was Mohammad Nabbous – a citizen journalist who established the independent internet television station Libya Alhurra in the early days of the revolution – serving when he was shot dead by a sniper at the age of 28 while reporting on the bogus ceasefire cynically announced by the Gaddafi regime on 19 March?

I’d like to ask those who are regurgitating and magnifying the “tribal” propaganda of the Gaddafi regime through the international press – how many Libyans have you consulted about this? How many Libyans who are not members of the Gaddafi regime, not in the middle of a pro-Gaddafi rally in Green Square or some fortified suburb of Tripoli, not under the watchful eye of a pro-Gaddafi minder, have expressed the views you’re repeating in your articles and interviews? As we struggle to liberate ourselves from this horrific regime, you brand us with names hastily acquired from last-minute reading. Tripolitania and Cyrenaica – find me a Libyan who’s ever used those terms to describe their country.

By labelling us as “tribal” you effectively dismiss the notion that our uprising has anything to do with freedom, democracy or human dignity. Do you place narrow regional loyalties above these values? I’m sure you would reject any such characterisation, and naturally so. Please do us, as Libyans, the courtesy of allowing us the same human characteristics you attribute to yourselves.

Herman’s advises his readers that Eastern Libya was “a principal recruiting ground for Al Qaeda”, a charge of course made by Qaddafi early on. One supposes that we should be grateful that Herman did not repeat the charge that they were on drugs as well. His reference for this is an article titled “Al‐Qa’ida’s Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records” by Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman. I guess you can figure out by the title of the article that the authors are professors in the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy’s Department of Social Sciences, the last place you’d expect Edward Herman to be dredging material from.

The article makes clear that the Libyan fighters belonged to The Libyan Fighting Group, an Islamist group that viewed the occupation of Iraq as evil and that was ready to commit its forces to ousting the American crusaders. It strikes me as odd that men motivated to sacrifice their lives in such an endeavor are now cited as reason enough to smear millions of people opposed to Qaddafi as siding with terrorism. This kind of sloppy amalgam was used against Milosevic often enough when some Serbs used ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and should now not be used against the Serbs.

Finally, we must ask some questions about the charge that the Benghazi rebels were killing Black Africans in the manner described by Wolfgang Weber in a wsws.org article titled “Libyan rebels massacre black Africans that is based on an article by Gunnar Heinsohn but which itself is primarily based on a BBC report by a film documentary maker named Farai Sevenzo. It should be pointed out that Weber’s article was cited widely by the anti-anti-Qaddafi left early on, especially since it included this alarming finding:

“Because mercenaries from Chad and Mali are presumed to be fighting for him [Gaddafi], the lives of a million African refugees and thousands of African migrants are at risk. A Turkish construction worker told the British radio station BBC: ‘We had seventy to eighty people from Chad working for our company. They were massacred with pruning shears and axes, accused by the attackers of being Gaddafi’s troops. The Sudanese people were massacred. We saw it for ourselves.’”

Described as a “genocide expert” by wsws.org, Gunnar Heinsohn’s views demand some careful investigation. I for one would be a bit hesitant to rely on the judgment of a sociologist who defends the “youth bulge” theory of terrorism. This theory, according to the Wiki on Heinsohn, proposes that an excess in a young adult male population leads to social unrest, war and terrorism, as the “third and fourth sons” find no prestigious positions in their existing societies. He cites Palestinians as a prime example. This is someone whose analysis of social unrest in Libya I would not solicit, but what do I know?

Now, as I said, Weber’s article relies on Heinsohn’s which relies on Sevenzo’s—three degrees of separation so to speak. So let’s go to Sevenzo’s piece to evaluate his reporting.

Sevenzo writes:

One Turkish construction worker told the BBC: “We had 70-80 people from Chad working for our company. They were cut dead with pruning shears and axes, attackers saying: ‘You are providing troops for Gaddafi.’ The Sudanese were also massacred. We saw it for ourselves.”

This quote has been widely disseminated on the leftwing of the blogosphere, from MRZine’s favorite Sukant Chandan to The Black Agenda Report. Now that’s quite a story, 70 to 80 people—the entire African contingent for an unnamed construction company—being killed in a pogrom. But the problem is that you will find no such reference to the massacre anywhere in Lexis-Nexis, the definitive database for news articles.

In fact a search combing the terms “Chad”, “workers”, “killed’ and “Libya” reveals nothing of the sort. Perhaps the most telling coverage of the abuse of foreign workers comes from the Los Angeles Times that reported in a March 4 article titled “Libyan rebels accused of targeting blacks“:

Across eastern Libya, rebel fighters and their supporters are detaining, intimidating and frequently beating African immigrants and black Libyans, accusing them of fighting as mercenaries on behalf of Kadafi, witnesses and human rights workers say.

In a few instances, rebels have executed suspected mercenaries captured in battle, according to Human Rights Watch and local Libyans.

Now as deplorable as this is, it is a far cry from a story with an uncorroborated claim from an unnamed Turk from an unnamed construction company that 70 to 80 people from Chad were “cut dead with pruning shears and axes”. If that’s the sort of “evidence” that Edward Herman relies on nowadays, then all we can say is that is sad to see how far the near-mighty have fallen.

April 12, 2011

Lessons of Egypt for Iran

Filed under: Iran — louisproyect @ 4:55 pm

A Screaming Man

Filed under: Africa,Film — louisproyect @ 3:41 pm

About the highest tribute I can pay to Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, whose “A Screaming Man” opens tomorrow at the Film Forum in New York, is that I regard him as the finest director coming out of Africa since the death of Ousmane Sembene in 2007. Hailing from Chad, Haroun cites Yasujirō Ozu as his major influence. While the focus on a family, the pacing, and the psychological insight of his latest film is clearly Ozu-esque, “A Screaming Man” differs from the Japanese director’s work by placing the family in the crucible of civil war. While most films about civil war in Africa tend to be documentaries made by Europeans or Americans from the standpoint of shocked and outraged outsiders “bearing witness”, this fiction film is far more interested in demonstrating how the already frayed relationship between a father and a son is exacerbated by the broader conflict taking place on the battlefield.

The two main characters are Adam, a fifty-five year old pool attendant who was once an amateur swimming champion, and his son Abdel who works alongside him. There are subtle signs that globalization has overtaken Chad’s capital city N’djamena. Abdel is obsessed with his digital camera and insists on taking photos of his father on practically a daily basis. When asked by his father why he bothers, Abdel answers that he wants to record life as it passes by–one supposes like director Haroun himself. The hotel has recently been privatized and is owned by a Chinese woman who appears to have absorbed the colonialist mentality of her French predecessors (the characters all speak French). She tells Adam that he has a nice job sitting comfortably by the pool each day, implying that he is a loafer.

That is about to change. Mrs. Wang is downsizing. She fires the cook from the Congo, as well as the security guard who tends to the automobile gate at the hotel’s entrance. That job now belongs to Adam who reacts angrily. How can a former swimming champion be made into a low-level flunky? It probably never dawned on him that tending to the pool is not that much of a step up. But in poverty-stricken Chad, everything is relative.

The crushing blow, however, is that his old job will now go to his son. There is something almost Oedipal about this arrangement since Adam now feels that he has effectively host his manhood. Or looking at a more recent tragedy, he evokes Willy Loman whose self-worth is totally wrapped up in his ability to make the rounds as a salesman.

Just as Satyajit Ray’s aptly named “Distant Thunder” dramatizes the impact of WWII on the people of Bengal who would suffer famine after the British seized their grain, the distant thunder of civil war in Chad begins to impinge on Adam, Abdel and their countrymen. At first, it is only felt economically. A venal district chief spouting government propaganda pressures Adam to make “voluntary” contributions to the war effort. Things take a turn for the worse, however, after the district chief raises the subject of fresh recruits for the military. In a pact with the devil, Adam decides to turn over his own son in order to reclaim his job at the hotel, a decision that has tragic consequences.

Adam is played by Youssouf Djaoro, who conveys his various emotional states (anger, regret, compassion) through facial expressions as much as words. Abdel is played by Diouc Koma, who grew up in Paris. Haroun directed him to act as if he was a young man from Chad and succeeded.

Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is no stranger to civil war. In 1980 he was severely wounded and left Chad on a wheelbarrow to reach neighboring Cameroon. In 2006, when he was filming “Daratt”, another movie about civil war in Chad (available from Netflix), rebels invaded N’djamena, where he was shooting. The same thing happened two years later when he was making a short titled “Expectations”. All this obviously helped to shape “A Screaming Man” as the director states in the press notes:

I tried to depict this atmosphere of fear of the future in A SCREAMING MAN. When you see that the world around you is going to pieces, when you have lost all your bearings, when the political and social pressure is too strong, you end up being out of your depth. This is what happens to Adam. After committing the unforgivable sin, he immediately wants to atone for his misdeed in order to redeem himself. But he comes to the sorrowful realization that despite his cry of pain God remains silent. He realizes that there will be no redemption. That he will never find peace.

April 11, 2011

A movie about the two-party system

Filed under: Obama,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 10:23 pm
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