Archive | October 2011

NATO mission in Libya ending, despite ongoing attacks on civilians

Anti-Gaddafi rebels rejecting foreign intervention in the early days of the civil war

The hypocrisy of the seven-month U.S./NATO mission in Libya is being laid bare by the announcement to end the mission in spite of ongoing attacks against civilians — in this case civilians who are considered loyal to the Gaddafi regime.

As Human Rights Watch reported on Sunday,

Militias from the city of Misrata are terrorizing the displaced residents of the nearby town of Tawergha, accusing them of having committed atrocities with Gaddafi forces in Misrata, Human Rights Watch said today. The entire town of 30,000 people is abandoned – some of it ransacked and burned – and Misrata brigade commanders say the residents of Tawergha should never return.

Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of Tawerghans across the country, including 26 people in detention in and around Misrata and 35 displaced people staying in Tripoli, Heisha, and Hun. They gave credible accounts of some Misrata militias shooting unarmed Tawerghans, and of arbitrary arrests and beatings of Tawerghan detainees, in a few cases leading to death.

Despite these abuses against civilians, NATO’s mission ends tonight at one minute to midnight local time, following a unanimous vote in the UN Security Council on Thursday to lift the no-fly zone and terminate the mandate for NATO’s mission in the North African country.

Voice of America, the official external broadcast of the U.S. government, reported last week that the mandate was expiring amid sharp Security Council divisions “over NATO intervention in a civil war that went on much longer than Western nations had expected.”

The Security Council had authorized NATO seven months ago “to enforce a no-fly zone and take ‘all necessary measures’ to protect Libyan civilians from government forces as then-leader Moammar Gadhafi moved to crush a growing uprising against his rule,” VoA reported.

This, however, is not entirely true.

The Security Council resolution purportedly authorizing NATO’s intervention did not, as Voice of America claims, specify anywhere that it was intended to “protect Libyan civilians from government forces.” The language instead authorized Member States,

to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory, and requests the Member States concerned to inform the Secretary-General immediately of the measures they take pursuant to the authorization conferred by this paragraph which shall be immediately reported to the Security Council; …

Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in order to help protect civilians;

Despite the call “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack,” now that civilians are coming under attack by the forces that NATO has supported for the past seven months, the civilians are apparently on their own.

This behavior follows a pattern in which the U.S. and NATO allies from the onset of the Libyan civil war construed their authority to intervene in Libya as synonymous with authority to overthrow Gaddafi.

In a joint op-ed, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister David Cameron wrote,

[S]o long as Qaddafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. In order for that transition to succeed, Qaddafi must go and go for good.

Further, although they were mandated to “protect civilians” from the earliest days of the conflict, they dismissed any reports of civilian casualties on the part of NATO bombing as simply propaganda from the pro-Gaddafi side, and unilaterally declared that Gaddafi must be overthrown in order to “protect civilians.”

Now that it is becoming increasingly clear that the side that NATO has been supporting in this civil war is perhaps just as guilty of carrying out atrocities against civilians, there is relative silence from the Western powers.

The latest reports from Human Rights Watch come just a week after the human rights group found 53 decomposing bodies outside of a hotel in Sirte, the last Gaddafi stronghold to fall to the rebel forces. The victims, all apparent Gaddafi supporters, had been bound and summarily executed the previous week.

The State Department urged an investigation, but the point appeared to be lost that these sorts of human rights violations may be the direct result of an intervention launched arguably in violation of the resolution that purportedly authorized it.

The Arab League, which had tentatively lent support to Resolution 1973, promptly objected to the bombing campaign, the day after it began. “What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on March 20.

In abstaining from the Security Council resolution authorizing the “no-fly zone” back in March, the Brazilian ambassador explained her government’s rationale: “We are not convinced that the use of force as provided for in operative paragraph 4 of the present resolution will lead to the realization of our common objective — the immediate end of violence and the protection of civilians,” said Maria Luiza Riberio Viotti.

The ambassador added that Brazil was also concerned that the measures approved might have the unintended effect of exacerbating the current tensions on the ground and “causing more harm than good to the very same civilians we are committed to protecting.”

Perhaps next time the U.S. is clamoring for intervention in a foreign land, these voices of reason will be listened to rather than ignored.

Oakland and New York police violate international norms in unprovoked violence against Occupiers

Scott Olsen being taken to safety after being attacked by Oakland police

An Iraq War veteran is in critical condition with a fractured skull after being attacked by police during an Occupy Oakland demonstration late Tuesday night.

Oakland police shot Scott Olsen, 24, in the head with a projectile during a protest following a violent police assault on the Occupy Oakland encampment. The demonstrators had been making an attempt to re-establish a presence in the area when they were confronted in the streets by hundreds of cops in riot gear.

Video taken of the incident shows that when fellow demonstrators went to the aid of Olsen, a cop threw a flash grenade into the crowd, further endangering the injured protester and those who were trying to help him.

In response to the incident, Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York held a march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland on Wednesday night. The NYPD responded by ruthlessly attacking the marchers. Dramatic video on YouTube shows police using excessive force, including punching and kicking protesters who were being held to the ground.

The aggressive police tactics signal an escalation on the part of the authorities in dealing with the Occupy protests that have proliferated across the United States. Even with 79% of Americans agreeing with the protesters’ grievances and the Occupy movement garnering more support than that of elected representatives in Congress, it is becoming increasingly clear that instead of addressing the protesters’ grievances, the authorities are choosing to repress them with brute force.

In addition to violating these Americans’ constitutional rights, particularly the First Amendment which enshrines “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” these draconian police tactics also violate basic principles of international law – the same principles the U.S. government often cites in criticizing countries like Syria and Iran.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the U.S. has subscribed, plainly states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a legally binding treaty signed and ratified by the United States in 1992, unambiguously states, “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized.”

Interestingly, among the U.S. reservations to the ICCPR was that it did not go far enough in ensuring the rights of people to free association and assembly. The United States expressed reservations in particular that none of the articles should restrict the right of free speech and association, in addition to reservations regarding the U.S. use of the death penalty and that the U.S. government may treat juveniles as adults in the judicial system.

Of course, U.S. leaders often highlight the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in criticizing undemocratic regimes in other countries.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently stated in regards to Syria’s crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that “we will do our part to support their aspirations for a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive. And we will stand up for their universal rights and dignity by pressuring the regime and Asad personally to get out of the way of this transition.”

In contrast to those strong words, the Obama administration has been virtually silent on the violent crackdown by police on Occupy demonstrators. When asked about the Oakland violence on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney laid the blame on the protesters, despite the fact that YouTube videos clearly demonstrate that the police were the instigators.

“As to the violence,” he said, “we obviously believe and insist that everyone behave in a lawful manner, even as they’re expressing, justifiably, their frustrations.”

Apparently referring to the demonstrators rather than the police, he added, “it’s also important that laws are upheld and obeyed.”

Libyan human rights violations a predictable result of U.S./NATO intervention

With the bodies of dozens of Muammar Gaddafi loyalists found at a hotel in the Libyan city of Sirte after apparently being executed en masse, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) to launch an investigation into the apparent mass execution in order to bring those responsible to justice.

“We found 53 decomposing bodies, apparently Gaddafi supporters, at an abandoned hotel in Sirte, and some had their hands bound behind their backs when they were shot,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, who investigated the killings. “This requires the immediate attention of the Libyan authorities to investigate what happened and hold accountable those responsible.”

HRW said the victims died about a week ago. The atrocity, however, has been overshadowed by the killing of Muammar Gaddafi himself, in what looks increasingly like a blatant extrajudicial execution.

HRW has also called for an investigation into the death of Gaddafi, saying that the NTC “should promptly open an independent and impartial investigation with international participation into the deaths of the former leader Muammar Gaddafi and his son Muatassim Gaddafi.”

“There is ample evidence to open a credible investigation into the deaths of Gaddafi and his son Muatassim,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Finding out how they died matters. It will set the tone for whether the new Libya will be ruled by law or by summary violence.”

It is apparent though that despite the pleas of the human rights community, there is little sympathy in the West — and the U.S. in particular — for any sort of inquiry into the violations of international law that may have occurred in the process of overthrowing the Gaddafi regime. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was even captured on video laughing about the execution of Gaddafi, saying, “we came, we saw, he died.”

The U.S. attitude expressed by its highest diplomat is emblematic of the attitude expressed from the beginning of this intervention, which was initially justified by a UN Security Council Resolution that authorized NATO to implement a no-fly zone to protect civilians. This authorization was then construed by Western leaders to justify a policy of regime change, even though this was decidedly not authorized by the UN Security Council.

In a  joint op-ed published on April 15, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy wrote:

So long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

Two weeks after this op-ed was published, on April 30, NATO attempted to take out Gaddafi with a missile attack on a residence in Tripoli, which killed his youngest son Saif al-Arab and three of his grandchildren. Gaddafi and his wife were apparently in the home, but survived the attack. Saif al-Arab was reported to be a 29 year-old student and a civilian.

In response, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich said that “NATO’s leaders have blood on their hands.”

NATO’s airstrike seems to have been intended to carry out an illegal policy of assassination. This is a deep stain which can never fully wash. This grave matter cannot be addressed with empty words. Words will not bring back dead children. Actions must be taken to stop more innocents from getting slaughtered.

Today’s attack underscores that the Obama Doctrine of so-called humanitarian intervention appears to be a cover for regime change through assassination and murder.

After months of bombing and fighting, NATO and the anti-Gaddafi armed rebels finally took control of Tripoli in late August, but it soon became clear that Gaddafi loyalists still had a holdout in the country, in Sirte, Gaddafi’s birthplace.

As ex-British Ambassador Craig Murray noted at the time, NATO further twisted the United Nations’ mandate “to protect civilians” in Libya into an excuse to not only remove Gaddafi from power but also kill his supporters, both military and civilian. Murray wrote at Consortiumnews that this Orwellian logic was then used for crushing of the town of Sirte, the last Gaddafi stronghold:

There is no cause to doubt that, for whatever reason, the support of the people of Sirte for Gaddafi is genuine. That this means they deserve to be pounded into submission is less obvious to me.

The disconnect between the UN mandate “to protect civilians” while facilitating negotiation, and NATO’s actual actions as the anti-Gaddafi forces’ air force and special forces, is startling. …

It is worth reminding everyone something never mentioned, that UNSCR 1973 which established the no-fly zone and mandate to protect civilians had “the aim of facilitating dialogue to lead to the political reforms necessary to find a peaceful and sustainable solution.”

That is in Operative Para 2 of the Resolution.

Plainly the people of Sirte hold a different view than the “rebels” as to who should run the country. NATO has in effect declared being in Gaddafi’s political camp a capital offence.

There is no way the massive assault on Sirte is “facilitating dialogue.”  It is rather killing those who do not hold the NATO approved opinion. That is the actual truth. It is extremely plain.

In August, the United Nations began speaking against the NATO assault, especially following the bombing of a television station.

UN official strongly condemned a NATO airstrike targeting the headquarters of Libyan State TV, in a bombing that Libyan officials say resulted in the deaths of journalists and civilians.

“I deplore the NATO strike on Al-Jamahiriya and its installations,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said following the attack.

“Media outlets should not be targeted in military actions,” she said. “U.N. Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns acts of violence against journalists and media personnel in conflict situations.”

Bokova said the NATO bombings were “contrary to the principles of the Geneva Conventions,” which she said have established the civilian status of journalists in times of war, even if they engage in propaganda. She noted that the NATO strikes killed three journalists and wounded 21 others.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon weighed in on Aug. 11, offering some of his strongest remarks on the NATO operation in Libya, saying through a spokesperson that he was “deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptably large number of civilian casualties.”

“The Secretary General calls on all parties to exercise extreme caution in their actions, in order to minimize any further loss of civilian life,” the statement said.

On August 23, following the rebels’ takeover of Tripoli, Fred Abrahams, a special adviser at Human Rights Watch coordinating the organization’s coverage of the Libya crisis, wrote:

Daunting tasks face the transitional leadership, the National Transitional Council, in the days and weeks ahead, particularly in the area of human rights. How they tackle those challenges will set the tone in Libya for years to come.

First is the responsibility to avoid revenge. Fighters with the council should treat all of their detainees humanely, from members of the Gadhafi family to captured fighters on the streets. They should turn the page on the old regime’s standard use of torture and abuse. …

It is clear today that many in the “newly liberated” Libya are now fearful of their new leaders, and unhappy with the way they disposed of Gaddafi without even a trial:

While human rights groups may now express surprise, shock and disappointment that the U.S./NATO-led intervention in Libya is leading to unintended consequences, and may even represent a step back for human rights in the beleaguered North African nation, none of it should come as a surprise.

As this blog noted last April, just a couple of weeks after the U.S. and NATO intervened in the Libyan civil war, “when an intervention is launched in violation of international law, human rights violations tend to proliferate.”

Click here for more of the Compliance Campaign’s Libya coverage.

I am not moving

Amnesty: USA has failed to meet its international obligations, so Canada must prosecute Bush for torture

Amnesty International has just made public a memorandum it submitted last month to Canada’s attorney general calling on Ottawa authorities to arrest and prosecute George W. Bush, who is expected to attend an economic summit in the Canadian province of British Columbia on October 20.

“As the U.S. authorities have, so far, failed to bring former president Bush to justice, the international community must step in,” said Amnesty’s Susan Lee in a statement. “A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention Against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights.”

As a party to the Convention Against Torture, Canada has international obligations requiring it to arrest and prosecute the former U.S. president “for crimes under international law including torture,” Lee said.

In its memorandum, Amnesty International says that “there is enough material in the public domain – even if one were to rely only upon information released by United States authorities, and by former US President George W. Bush himself – to give rise to an obligation for Canada, should former President Bush proceed with his visit to Canada on or around 20 October 2011, to investigate his alleged involvement in and responsibility for crimes under international law, including torture.”

In its 19-page memorandum, Amnesty highlights nine key points that warrant legal action by the Canadian authorities against the former U.S. president:

1. Acts of torture (and, it may be noted, other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and enforced disappearance) were committed against detainees held in a secret detention and interrogation program operated by the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2002 and 2009.

2. The CIA established this secret program under the authorization of then-President George W. Bush.

3. Since leaving office, former President George W. Bush has said that he authorized the use of a number of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in the secret CIA program. The former President specifically admitted to authorizing the “water-boarding” of identified individuals, whose subjection to this torture technique has been confirmed.

4. Additionally, torture and other ill-treatment, and secret detention, by US forces occurred outside the confines of the CIA-run secret detention program, including against detainees held in military custody at the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, and in the context of armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

5. George W. Bush was Commander in Chief of all US armed forces at the relevant times.

6. The Administration of George W. Bush acted on the basis that he was essentially unrestrained by international or US law in determining the USA’s response to the attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001. Among other things, President Bush  decided that the protections of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including their common  article 3, would not be applied to Taleban or al-Qa’ida detainees.

7. George W. Bush, as Commander in Chief at the relevant times, if he did not directly order or authorize such crimes, at least knew, or had reason to know, that US forces were about to commit or were committing such crimes and did not take all necessary and reasonable measures in his power as Commander in Chief and President to prevent their commission or, if the crimes had already been committed, ensure that  all those who were alleged to be responsible for these crimes were brought to justice.

8. The USA has failed to conduct investigations capable of reaching former President George W. Bush, and all indications are that it will not do so, at least in the near future.

9. The facts summarized above, which are matters of public record, are sufficient to give rise to mandatory obligations for Canada under international law (including but not limited to the UN Convention against Torture), should former US President George W. Bush enter Canadian territory, to:

• launch a criminal investigation;

• arrest former President Bush or otherwise secure his presence during that investigation; and

• submit the case to competent authorities in Canada for the purposes of prosecution if it does not extradite him to another state able and willing to do so

This bold move by Amnesty International to seek prosecution in Canadian courts is not only a direct challenge to the Canadian government to live up to its international commitments, but also a not-so-subtle rebuke of the Obama administration for failing to live up to its obligations.

Both the U.S. Constitution and international law require that the current administration hold members of the previous administration accountable. They authorized policies amounting to torture.

Although it has been widely known for years that Bush and other high-ranking U.S. officials authorized torture, with even the United States Senate determining that the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody were violations of international law, thus far there has been not a single prosecution by the Obama Justice Department.

Just over a month after Barack Obama’s election, on December 11, 2008, the Senate issued a bipartisan report which found:

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

The report concludes:

The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo]. Secretary of Defense Donald

Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

Although the top question on Obama’s transition team’s website, Change.gov, was whether the Obama Justice Department would prosecute “the greatest crimes” of the Bush administration, including torture, Obama wavered, saying, “obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

“My orientation is going to be moving forward,” the president said.

The Canadian government, an unwavering U.S. ally, is responding predictably.

Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said it will be up to Canadian border officials to decide independently whether to allow Bush into the country.

Kenney blasted Amnesty for “cherry picking cases to publicize, based on ideology.”

Amnesty International is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the world, mounting campaigns against violators of human rights wherever they may be without fear or favor. Whether or not the action by Amnesty leads to a prosecution of the former U.S. president, it is a strong message that those responsible for torture and other war crimes cannot expect to live without fear of punishment.

With Iran allegations, U.S. demonstrates schizophrenia on assassinations and international law

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday accused the Iranian government of being involved in an alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, saying that “the conspiracy was conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.” He added that the alleged assassination plot “constitutes a flagrant violation of U.S. and international law, including a convention that explicitly protects diplomats from being harmed.”

Holder was apparently referring to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which the U.S. itself has recently come under criticism for flouting, namely by running a clandestine intelligence-gathering operation targeting UN officials.

As the Guardian reported last year based on secret U.S. embassy cables made public by WikiLeaks,

Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.

A classified directive which appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton’s name in July 2009, demanding forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.

It called for detailed biometric information “on key UN officials, to include undersecretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers, top SYG [secretary general] aides, heads of peace operations and political field missions, including force commanders” …

The operation targeted at the UN appears to have involved all of Washington’s main intelligence agencies.

The Guardian pointed out that the U.S. spying campaign is likely a violation of the same Vienna Convention that Eric Holder is now citing, which provides that “the official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable” and “the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable.”

Although she was directly implicated in this earlier breach of international norms, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on the alleged Iranian plot today, calling it “a flagrant violation of international and U.S. law and a dangerous escalation of the Iranian government’s longstanding use of political violence and sponsorship of terrorism.”

Vice President Joe Biden said on NBC, “Every nation in the world, when they learn the facts of this, will be outraged that (Iran) would violate such an international norm, in addition to obviously being a crime to assassinate anybody, and in the process probably have killed scores of Americans.”

Biden’s assertion that it is “a crime to assassinate anybody” comes two weeks after the U.S. government’s extrajudicial assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and just a week after Reuters revealed a secret U.S. government “kill list” that designates perceived threats – including American citizens – as legitimate targets for assassination.

As Reuters reported on Oct. 5,

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

The panel was behind the decision to add Awlaki, a U.S.-born militant preacher with alleged al Qaeda connections, to the target list. He was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen late last month.

The White House would not comment specifically on the Reuters story, but National Security Staff spokesman Tommy Vietor issued the following statement to ABC News:

I cannot provide details about our cooperation with the Yemeni government on counterterrorism operations. As a general matter, however, it would be entirely lawful for the United States to target the high-level leaders of enemy forces who are plotting to kill Americans both under the authority provided by Congress for the use of military force in the armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces as well as under established international law that recognizes our right of self-defense.

The legal analysis would be slightly different with respect to U.S. citizens, as we would have to take into account any constitutional protections that might apply to a U.S. citizen who is leading enemy forces in their efforts to kill innocent Americans. Any time we use force, I want to assure you that we do so with extraordinary care and in full accordance with U.S. law and the international law of armed conflict.

So, when the U.S. carries out assassinations in its “war on terror,” it is “in full accordance with U.S. law and the international law of armed conflict,” but when it is Iran alleged to be involved in an assassination plot, the U.S. vice president unequivocally asserts that it is “obviously a crime to assassinate anybody.”

Iran itself has been the target of an ongoing assassination campaign of its nuclear scientists. On July 23, Darioush Rezaei became the latest victim in a series of attacks over the past two years in which the Islamic republic’s elite physicists have been picked off one by one. The U.S. and Israel are widely suspected to be responsible for the assassinations.

For its part, Iran categorically denies any role in the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the plot “an amateurish scenario,” pointing out that there have been similar allegations over the past few decades.

“The Islamic Republic never seeks to get involved in this kind of behavior and, despite 32 years of pressure brought to bear on Iran, the country has always acted and reacted ethically,” he said.

Independent observers have also raised doubts about the veracity of the U.S. claims. Middle East specialist Prof. Juan Cole, a vocal critic of the Iranian regime, wrote today on his blog Informed Comment,

As many observers have pointed out, the story given us by Attorney General Eric Holder about the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., makes no sense. Veteran CIA operative Bob Baer, now retired, notes that Iranian intelligence is highly professional and works independently or through trusted proxies, and this sloppy operation simply is not their modus operandi.

The US is alleging that Gholam Shakuri, a known member of the Quds Brigade, the special operations force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was involved and that he was running an Iranian-American agent, Manssor Arbabsiar, a used car dealer with a conviction on check fraud. Arbabsiar wired $100,000 to a bank account he thought belonged to a member of the Zeta Mexican drug cartel, as a down payment on the $1.5 million demanded by the cartel member for carrying out the assassination.

As Cole points out, if Arbabsiar really had been an Iranian intelligence asset, he would have known that the U.S. closely monitors money transfers of more than $10,000. “The only safe way to undertake this transaction would have been cash, and no one in the Quds Brigade is so stupid as not to know this simple reality,” writes Cole.

Also, why would the Iranians use a Mexican drug cartel to carry out an assassination, if – as we have been told for years – the Iranian regime controls unknown numbers of Hezbollah sleeper cells within the United States? In June 2008, U.S. intelligence officials warned that Hezbollah sleeper cells were being activated in North, Central and South America, but now they claim that the Iranian regime is contracting a Mexican drug cartel to do its dirty work. The story simply makes no sense.

Perhaps this is why the Iranian foreign ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to personally convey its outrage over the American charges and warn “against the repetition of such politically motivated allegations.” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi alleged that the United States is fabricating the incident to divert attention from its “economic troubles.”

The semi-official Fars news agency published an article with the headline: “U.S. Accusations Against Iran Aim to Divert World Attention from Wall Street Uprising,” a reference to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests. The article quoted a senior member of Iran’s Parliament, Alaoddin Boroujerdi, as saying he had “no doubt this is a new American-Zionist plot to divert the public opinion from the crisis Obama is grappling with.”

Foreign Minister Salehi warned against the dangers of confrontation.

“We do not seek confrontation,” he said. “If they [the U.S.] want to confront us and impose their will on us, then that would be their end. If they are capable of hitting us with their fist, we are capable of slapping them. If we slap them it would be so hard that they can no longer hold their heads up. We emphasize that we do not want confrontation, that we want interaction. If they decide to create a confrontation and impose it on the Iranian nation, the consequences for them will be dire.”

Despite these warnings from Iran, it appears that the U.S. is exploiting the case to increase the level of confrontation.

As Clinton said today, “This kind of reckless act undermines international norms and the international system. Iran must be held accountable for its actions.” She noted that the United States had already imposed targeted sanctions on “individuals within the Iranian government who are associated with this plot and Iran’s support for terrorism.”

U.S. Representative Peter King, Chairman of the House Homeland Security, called the alleged plot an “act of war” Tuesday.

“This would have been an act of war…this goes beyond anything that I’m aware of that’s happened before,” Rep. King continued, “it’s certainly raised relationship between the U.S. and Iran to a very precipitous level.”

King suggested that the U.S. take some type of military action against Iran, despite the fact that as U.S. intelligence officials concede, there is no evidence that the Iranian leadership had any knowledge of the alleged plot.

As Reuters reported today, U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was “more than likely” that Iran’s supreme leader and the head of its Quds force knew of the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, but acknowledged the claim was based on analysis rather than hard evidence.

The officials also acknowledged that the plan to hire a hit man from a Mexican drug cartel, was far “outside the pattern” of the Quds force’s past activity.

Despite these doubts, it appears that no options are being taken off the table, including a possible military response by the United States. If such an attack occurs, the U.S. would be breaching international law as a response to an alleged breach of international law by Iran.

But with the schizophrenia already on display over the alleged assassination plot and Iran’s “flagrant violations of international norms,” this would be par for the course.

For an Occupy Wall Street demand, how about ‘accountability and compliance’?

With protests against Wall Street corruption spreading across the country, a common complaint from the media is that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters lack a cohesive message or demand. Coming from a mainstream media in the United States that insists upon convenient soundbites and simplifies big, novel ideas into a pre-conceived framework of left-vs-right, this criticism perhaps should not be taken too seriously. There is something to be said for allowing the demonstrators to naturally work out their demands over time, which is an idea articulated by the the OWS slogan, “the demand is a process.”

There is also a point to be made that by articulating one overarching demand, the demonstrations will unnecessarily limit themselves to a single issue, running the risk of becoming myopic and irrelevant. If, for example, the fledgling movement demands the re-implementation of Glass-Steagall, the protesters could end up alienating potential allies who may be more concerned about getting money out of politics and ending “corporate personhood,” climate change, the prison-industrial complex, immigration reform or the U.S.’s ongoing wars.

But if there is one demand that could both focus the demonstrations and encapsulate the broadest possible scope, which would express Americans’ desires to hold Wall Street accountable for crashing the global economy, to ensure fair elections, end corporate rule, as well as broaden the scope to include ending the U.S. wars and prosecute U.S. officials responsible for authorizing torture, that demand could be “accountability and compliance,” or, alternatively, “return to the rule of law.”

As this blog has consistently pointed out, some of the biggest problems facing the nation and the world would be solved if the United States would simply adhere to the rule of law — both domestically and internationally — follow legal principles and live up to political commitments. There are consequences when the rule of law is cast aside by the United States; when it comes to issues such as waging wars of aggression and implementing torture, these consequences tend to be a general decline of human rights standards around the world, and a culture of impunity in which leaders know that there will be no repercussions for their actions.

When it comes to Wall Street greed and Washington corruption, the consequences have included the global financial crisis that began in 2008 and shows no sign of abating.

It is no secret what caused this crisis. Financial and monetary experts around the world see the origins of this crisis as a regulation failure — lack of regulations and failure to enforce existing regulations. And the reason for this, too, is all too clear.

As the International Monetary Fund pointed out in a June 2011 report on the causes of the financial crisis, “regulatory failure, in which the political influence of the financial industry played a part, may have contributed to the 2007 meltdown in the U.S. mortgage market, which by fall 2008 had escalated from a localized U.S. crisis to the worst episode of global financial instability since the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

The IMF continues:

To go beyond anecdotes and systematically study how much lobbying and campaign contributions affected U.S. financial legislation in the years preceding the crisis, we developed a new data set of U.S. financial companies’ politically targeted activities during 1999–2006 (Igan and Mishra, forthcoming). We found that lobbying expenditures by the U.S. financial industry were directly associated with how legislators voted on key bills in the years before the crisis—and that bills proposing regulation that the industry considered unfavorable were far less likely to pass than bills proposing financial deregulation. We chose to focus on the United States not because lobbying doesn’t take place in other countries, but because U.S. transparency laws make it possible to gather the necessary details on political spending and lobbying for such analysis.

It is widely accepted that the current economic crisis has its roots in misguided deregulation policies in the United States, which in turn resulted from the institutionalized corruption seen in the U.S. system of corporate-financed political campaigns and the vast expenditures on lobbying on the part of the financial industry. Further, it is recognized that any sort of economic recovery must include the reinstatement of regulations that were lifted over the past several decades.

Specifically, when the 1933 U.S. Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from investment banking, was repealed in 1999, commercial banks began taking on risky activities that directly led to the current situation.

In late 1999, the bill repealing Glass-Steagall passed the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and the House by 362 to 57, but there were were those at the time who warned that ignoring the lessons of the Great Depression would lead to a repeat of history. As the New York Times reported on Nov. 5, 1999,

The decision to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 provoked dire warnings from a handful of dissenters that the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system. The original idea behind Glass-Steagall was that separation between bankers and brokers would reduce the potential conflicts of interest that were thought to have contributed to the speculative stock frenzy before the Depression.

In one particularly prescient statement, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan said in November 1999 that “we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930s is true in 2010… We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and soundness.”

Now, 12 years later, it is clear that those warnings should have been heeded. As Public Citizen recently put it in a statement expressing solidarity with Occupy Wall Street:

Millions of people are out of work because of Wall Street’s recklessness. Millions more have been thrown out of their homes for the same reason. Meanwhile, the federal government fails to take obvious steps to address these problems because of the outsized influence of the very Wall Street firms and giant corporations that caused our economic problems.

Public Citizen identifies a number of specific policy proposals that have been expressed by the OWS movement:

Put the unemployed to work retrofitting energy-inefficient buildings, teaching children and meeting other unmet needs. Invest in a green energy revolution. Impose a financial speculation tax, and increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations (and make them pay). Put in place a single-payer, Medicare-for-All health care system. Undo NAFTA-style corporate trade agreements – and don’t enter in any new ones. Force banks to renegotiate mortgage terms, and let foreclosed-upon families stay in their homes as renters. Overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission with a constitutional amendment and reestablish the principle that corporations exist to serve the people, not the other way around.

While these are all worthwhile policy prescriptions, what remains unsaid is the importance of simply holding wrongdoers accountable, punishing those who broke the law, enforcing regulations and taking measures to combat corruption as laid out in international law.

As a state party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the United States has agreed to take certain measures to prevent the kind of corruption that led directly to the economic crisis that the world is now in. These commitments provide general principles that states parties have agreed to as well as specific measures that should be taken to prevent conflicts of interest, and corruption in both the public and private sphere.

In order to prevent corruption:

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.

Each State Party shall endeavour to establish and promote effective practices aimed at the prevention of corruption.

With the flood of anonymous corporate money that has been unleashed on the American political process by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, it is difficult to see how the United States is complying with the following provision of the Convention against Corruption:

Each State Party shall also consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative measures, consistent with the objectives of this Convention and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and, where applicable, the funding of political parties.

There are also provisions against conflicts of interest which the U.S. appears to be flouting:

Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, endeavour to adopt, maintain and strengthen systems that promote transparency and prevent conflicts of interest.

Each State Party shall endeavour, where appropriate and in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to establish measures and systems requiring public officials to make declarations to appropriate authorities regarding, inter alia, their outside activities, employment, investments, assets and substantial gifts or benefits from which a conflict of interest may result with respect to their functions as public officials. …

Preventing conflicts of interest by imposing restrictions, as appropriate and for a reasonable period of time, on the professional activities of former public officials or on the employment of public officials by the private sector after their resignation or retirement, where such activities or employment relate directly to the functions held or supervised by those public officials during their tenure

With the famous Washington-Wall Street revolving door, it is clear that the United States is doing little to nothing in order to comply with this important provision against corruption. The magazine Business Insider recently compiled a list of 29 prominent figures who have gone from careers on Wall Street to careers in Washington as regulators, and then back to Wall Street. “The Wall Street-to-Washington-and-back revolving door has been swinging at least since 1934,” Business Insider reports, “and it’s still going.”

The reality is expressed well by the following graphic from an article in New York magazine:

Obviously, this kind of institutionalized conflict of interest, in which regulators have a financial interest in ensuring that regulations are not too strict, is a recipe for disaster. It makes adhering to the Convention against Corruption unlikely, particularly the following provision:

Each State Party shall take measures, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its domestic law, to prevent corruption involving the private sector, enhance accounting and auditing standards in the private sector and, where appropriate, provide effective, proportionate and dissuasive civil, administrative or criminal penalties for failure to comply with such measures.

It is well known that one of the major causes of the 2008 financial meltdown was the fraudulent accounting methods of the mortgage lenders as well as the “independent” ratings agencies that were supposed to serve as a watchdog. Yet, to date, nobody has been prosecuted for the misdeeds that led to the economic collapse.

This is why a simple demand of “accountability and compliance” is key. While continuing to call for increased government spending on jobs and education, or for the forgiveness of mortgage debt and student loans, or for higher taxes on the rich may be in order, what is most important is that the U.S. government begins respecting the rule of law. This means that no one is above the law, that there is equal justice under the law, and that no one is “too big to jail.” The U.S. must enforce its laws and regulations and if that means imprisoning Wall Street bankers than so be it. As the saying goes, “Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

Further, the call for accountability and compliance is just as relevant in other areas that are not directly related to the current economic situation, which would both focus the Wall Street protesters’ demands as well as broaden their scope. Not only should bankers be held accountable, and not only should the U.S. begin complying with the UN Convention against Corruption, but so too should Bush administration officials who authorized torture.

While the U.S. protests have been claiming headlines in recent days, the movement is clearly growing internationally, with a call for global demonstrations on October 15:

The international protests will offer a fresh opportunity to make this case for U.S. accountability and compliance.

U.S. carries out extrajudicial assassination, quashes right to assembly

Even by U.S. standards, last week was a busy one for breaching human rights and international norms.

Following up on the execution of Troy Davis — whose case was flawed by violations of basic principles of due process — the U.S. government threw legal principles out the window with the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki.

As Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said about the targeted killing of Al-Awlaki, it was most definitely illegal, as the most cursory examination of customary international law would confirm:

The assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki by American drone attacks is the latest of many affronts to domestic and international law. The targeted assassination program that started under President Bush and expanded under the Obama Administration essentially grants the executive the power to kill any U.S. citizen deemed a threat, without any judicial oversight, or any of the rights afforded by our Constitution.   If we allow such gross overreaches of power to continue, we are setting the stage for increasing erosions of civil liberties and the rule of law.

The American Civil Liberties Union concurred, with ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer saying on Sept. 30 that the targeted killing program which killed the U.S. citizen violates both U.S. and international law:

As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts. The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat to life is concrete, specific, and imminent. It is a mistake to invest the President — any President — with the unreviewable power to kill any American whom he deems to present a threat to the country.

Not only did the killing-by-drone of Al-Awlaki violate the United States Constitution, which clearly states that “No person shall be … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” but it also violated international norms.

While international law does provide exceptions to the general ban on political assassinations, for example when two states at war with each other, even during war a “targeted killing” is legal only if it meets certain standards.

Article 23 of the Hague Convention IV of 1907 provides that “it is especially forbidden … to kill or wound treacherously, individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army.”  Treacherous assassinations, for example by unmanned aerial drones, are illegal under the law of war.

While the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department were committing murder of a U.S. citizen, the NYPD and CIA were quashing the right to demonstrate against social and economic injustice.

As the Occupy Wall Street protests enter their third week, American police state repression is kicking into full gear:

The NYPD has apparently learned nothing since last week, nor since the 2004 Republican National Convention:

United Nations Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

As stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Both of those international agreements have been whole-heartedly adopted by the United States, and most blatantly violated in recent days.

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