Focal Points Blog

Bin Laden: If Ever We Wanted to Bring ‘Em Back Alive

At Wired’s Danger Room, David Axe and Noah Shactman wrote of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Special Operations: “Depending on which version is true, Pakistan either had a direct role in the risky, bloody raid … or no role at all.” More to the point:

The crash occurred near the Pakistani Military Academy in Abbottabad, according to the report, highlighting Bin Laden’s long-term proximity to Pakistan government forces — and thus the great extent of his local protection.

In other words, the size of the compound alone meant its inhabitants must have been known to the Pakistani authorities, yet they weren’t the source of the information leading to the attack on the compound.

Meanwhile MSNBC reports: “The U.S. was conducting DNA testing and used facial recognition techniques to help formally identify him, Reuters reported. Results of the DNA tests were expected to be available in the next few days.” From another report: “ABC News just reported that the government used a DNA sample from the brain of a deceased bin Laden sister held by a Boston hospital to match the DNA from bin Laden’s body.”

Which presumably is why the rumor arose that he was killed earlier in the week and the news withheld until the body was identified. Whatever the case, burying bin Laden’s body at sea limits the number of people who saw the dead body. It fuels those who stand ready to make the case he wasn’t really killed perhaps because they think he was/is a CIA asset. Nor did Al-Arabiya TV help when it ran a Photoshopped image superimposing mortal injuries on a photo of bin Laden taken when he was alive.

Meanwhile, for those who fear a bout of blowback, it might be time to duck and cover, if you believe disclosures in the latest WikiLeaks dump. From the International Business Times

Shortly after 9/11, Al Qaeda had warned to set off a “nuclear hellstorm” if Osama bin Laden is ever captured or killed, according to U.S. government documents that were leaked just last month by Wikileaks.

Wikileaks’ files show that al Qaeda’s senior leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was detained and interrogated, had spilled the beans that the terrorist group had, indeed, hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe and that it would be detonated if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed.

While this is, no doubt, bravado, it does highlight an opportunity missed. If we were able to bring bin Laden back alive, we might have extracted information from him about his attempts to secure nuclear-weapons — the know-how, the technology, and the fuel. No, of course not through torture — conceivably it might have been something he’d have wanted to brag about.

Sure, coaxing bin Laden out of his compound might have been unrealistic because it would have required rustling up all his wives, children, and grandchildren that could be found, lining them up outside his compound, and threatening to kill them. Naturally, we wouldn’t, but it would have been up to him to call our bluff. From the viewpoint of those concerned with nuclear terrorism, something along those lines might have been worth trying.

Nuclear Energy Needs Handouts, Can’t Cut It in Free Market

Americans who favor it claim that nuclear energy makes us less dependent on Middle-Eastern oil with its attendant price spikes (those that aren’t a product of speculation, that is). But nuclear-energy plants don’t do much to ease the national debt. As Jeff Goodell reports in his Rolling Stone piece America’s Nuclear Nightmare (emphasis added)

Since the Manhattan Project was created to develop the atomic bomb back in the 1940s, the dream of a nuclear future has been fueled almost entirely by Big Government. America’s current fleet of reactors exists only because Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act in 1957, limiting the liability of nuclear plant operators in case of disaster. And even with taxpayers assuming most of the risk, Wall Street still won’t finance nuclear reactors without direct federal assistance, in part because construction costs are so high (up to $20 billion per plant) and in part because nukes are the only energy investment that can be rendered worthless in a matter of hours. “In a free market, where real risks and costs are accounted for, nuclear power doesn’t exist,” says Amory Lovins, a leading energy expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Nuclear plants “are a creation of government policy and intervention.”

Goodell also points out that without such taxpayer supports as the $54 billion President Obama included in his 2012 budget “in federal loan guarantees for [them] no new reactors would ever be built.”

In other words, nuclear energy is just another industry that wouldn’t exist were it not for the kindness of the government. In fact, it’s not that different from a New Deal WPA project. Of course, once they’re up and running, writes Goodell, nuclear-power plants are “cheap to operate, meaning the longer they run, the more profitable they become.” In other words, the public helps build nuclear power plants and assumes the risk while the industry reaps the profits. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, banks.

WikiLeaks: Juveniles at Gitmo Didn’t Come From “a Little-League Team”

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the fiftieth (50!) in the series.

When reports began surfacing in 2003 that Guantanamo Bay was housing children detained as enemy combatants, then-Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers dismissed these concerns by noting that

despite their age, these are very, very dangerous people. They are people that have been vetted mainly in Afghanistan and gone through a thorough process to determine what their involvement was. Some have killed. Some have stated they’re going to kill again. So they may be juveniles, but they’re not on a little-league team anywhere, they’re on a major league team, and it’s a terrorist team. And they’re in Guantanamo for a very good reason—for our safety, for your safety.

According to documents released this week, Myers’ claim hardly reflected reality as the assessment of fifteen year-old Naquib Ullah makes upsettingly clear.

Ullah, who was suffering from tuberculosis when he was nabbed by American forces in 2003, had already experienced unspeakable brutality before being shipped off to Cuba. According to his own account, Ullah

was kidnapped while doing an errand for his father by eleven men who belonged to a group called “Samoud’s people” from the village of Khan, Afghanistan. Detainne stated the eleven men that abducted him forcibly raped him at gunpoint and he was taken back to their village encampment as a prisoner and forced to manual work.

Just days later, word arrived to the camp that American forces were closing in, and that a raid would be imminent. The men “ordered the detainee and some others to stay behind and fight the Americans. The detainee was captured in possession of a weapon but it had not been fired.”

Why the child was brought to Guantanamo is not fully justified in the assessment. The report’s author, Major General Geoffrey Miller, seems at a loss to understand how the boy ended up in his charge. His observation lead to the unavoidable conclusion that Richard Myers was either completely out of touch with the war in Afghanistan that he was ostensibly overseeing, or just a craven liar, when he assured reporters that all Gitmo detainees were subjected to a “thorough process” of vetting. Miller unambiguously notes that Ullah

was a kidnap victim and a forced conscript of a local warring tribe, affiliated with the Taliban. Though the detainee may still have some remaining intelligence, I’s been assessed that that information does not outweigh the necessity to remove this juvenile from his current environment and afford him an opportunity to “grow out” of the radical extremism he has been subject to.

One may ask if Miller was referring to the extremism of Gitmo, not radical Islam, because two sentences later the Major General points out that the boy

Has not expressed thoughts of violence or made threats toward the US or its allies during interrogations or in the course of his detention. He is considered a low risk to the US, its interests and its allies.

Miller’s assessment is a far cry from what then-Vice President led the public to believe when he argued that the only the most dangerous threats to American security were being transported to Guantanamo Bay for indefinite detention. “They are very dangerous,” Cheney warned. “They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.” My guess is that Naquib Ullah might beg to differ, or at least would have at the time. He was returned to Afghanistan in 2004.

Peru’s Fujimoris: Like Father Like Daughter?

FujimorisTwo polls released this week show Ollanta Humala with a small lead over Keiko Fujimori as the campaign heats up for the second round of voting in Peru’s presidential elections. With more than a month to go before the June 5 vote, it is far too soon to predict the electoral outcome. But one thing is clear: The rest of the campaign will get ugly, as right-wing sectors are very nervous about the impact of a potential Humala victory on their bank accounts. Most of the mainstream media – with the notable exceptions of the Lima daily, La República, and the weekly magazine, Caretas – is throwing its weight, and electoral coverage, behind Fujimori. Already, several prominent journalists have been fired out of concern that they would not be sufficiently sympathetic to Fujimori and the outspoken Jaime Bayly is going back on the air on Channel 4, presumably as an attack dog targeting Humala. As one Peruvian journalist told us, “we’re going to witness a lot of hysterical accusations in the next few weeks.”

What that press will not likely be covering is the tremendous damage Alberto Fujimori’s presidency wreaked on Peruvian democracy and the widespread human rights violations and massive corruption that prevailed under his rule. Since making it to the second round, Keiko Fujimori has sought to distance herself from the “excesses” that took place during her father’s regime, vowing to respect human rights and democratic practices. Though she started her campaign with a one-point platform – to pardon her father – she now claims that if elected she won’t release him from jail. But she has repeatedly stated that her father was one of the best presidents that Peru ever had; indeed, as the first round of voting approached her campaign ads featured more and more pictures of her with her father.

Having surrounded herself with those that helped him rule during the 1990s (including Vice Presidential candidate and member of Opus Dei, Rafael Rey, as well as Fujimori’s former prime minister, Jaime Yoshiyama), it is ingenuous to think that another Fujimori government would not go down a similar path.

Keiko Fujimori now claims that her father may have had some authoritarian tendencies, but was not responsible for human rights violations. Her memory must be short-lived, as it was only two years ago that the Peruvian Supreme Court found Alberto Fujimori guilty of creating and operating a secret death squad, the Colina Group, that kidnapped and murdered Peruvians during the country’s internal armed conflict. In other words, Fujimori was convicted for having created and maintained the military and political structure that fostered human rights violations in the name of combating terrorism and that sentence was upheld on appeal by a second tribunal of Supreme Court justices. (See our article on the Fujimori verdict at Foreign Policy in Focus.) Moreover, he denied that such violations ever took place and protected those involved through a series of amnesty laws. In short, Keiko Fujimori claims that her father saved Peru from terrorism, but was not responsible for the human rights atrocities that were a fundamental tactic in the counter-terrorism strategy.

In a trial that was widely praised as impartial and respected fully due process guarantees, Alberto Fujimori was convicted and given a 25-year prison sentence for the 1991 Barrios Altos massacre in which 15 people were killed and four gravely wounded; the disappearance and later killing of nine students and a professor from the Cantuta University in 1992; and the kidnappings of journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer following the April 1992 autogolpe, or self-coup. The first two cases were carried out by the Colina Group, which operated out of the Army Intelligence Service and whose purpose was to eliminate suspected guerrilla sympathizers. But these were not the only atrocities committed by the clandestine death squad. It also carried out a series of assassinations and disappearances that are far too numerous to list here.

The human rights violations carried out under the Fujimori regime went far beyond those committed by the Colina Group. Forced disappearances were disturbingly common. Extrajudicial executions were carried out in peasant communities such as Chumbivilcas, Santa Bárbara and others. And thousands of innocent Peruvians were arbitrarily detained and imprisoned under draconian anti-terrorist legislation. The torture of anyone accused of terrorism was the norm. Fujimori himself was forced to form an ad hoc commission to review cases of los inocentes, the innocent ones, which ultimately led to the release of more than 500 people (and thousands more during the transitional government after Fujimori fled the country).

What allowed the Fujimori regime to get away with such atrocities for so long was that it also undermined the most basic elements of democratic governance, usurping the powers of other branches of government, demolishing the judiciary, rewriting the constitution to its liking, buying off or bribing major media outlets and constantly changing the rules of the game when necessary to consolidate control or perpetuate itself in office. It was only after public outrage reached a boiling point following Fujimori’s ascension to a clearly illegitimate third term in office and the release of videos showing his right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing opposition members of congress to switch party affiliation that the carefully crafted authoritarian regime came crashing down.

Before the regime’s demise, however, government officials, including Fujimori and Montesinos, bilked the country for billions of dollars. Fujimori has also been convicted for illicit appropriation of state funds and pled guilty to various counts of corruption. In 2004, Transparency International put Fujimori seventh in a list of the most corrupt former leaders in the world (following Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier) for allegedly have stolen US$600 million. Over 200 individuals associated with his government have been convicted for corruption – and these do not include any cases where an appeal is still pending. In his book, Corrupt Circles: A History of Unbound Graft in Peru, Alfonso W. Quiroz estimates that the average annual cost of corruption during the Fujimori regime ranged from an astounding US$1.4 to 2 billion, at times reaching 50 percent of government expenditures.

As we have reported before, there are well-founded reasons to be concerned about a potential Ollanta Humala presidency. Sound allegations have surfaced of responsibility for human rights violations when he was a military commander in a jungle region during Peru’s brutal civil conflict. Some of his close advisers come from a military background – in a country where the military has not been known for its democratic credentials. And in the past, he has echoed some of Hugo Chavez’s anti-democratic rhetoric, though he has clearly distanced himself from such talk during this campaign. Yet as many people in Peru are now saying, “with Humala there may be uncertainties, but with Fujimori, there is proof.”

Coletta A. Youngers is the Latin America Regional Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.

The Internet: Tool of Revolution — or Repression?

Cross-posted from the Dissent Magazine blog Arguing the World.

We often hear about the revolutionary power of the Internet to take down authoritarian regimes. Less often do we consider how online technologies can provide dastardly means for repressive governments to locate, monitor, and persecute dissidents.

The geniuses over at the RSA Animate have recently posted an annotated talk by Evgeny Morozov. If you’re not familiar with RSA Animate, its method is to create videos in which a cartoonist illustrates a brief lecture by a writer or academic. The resulting animations are clever and engaging, adding an extra layer of clarity and humor to whatever topic the speaker is discussing. Some of their past hits include presentations by David Harvey and Barbara Ehrenreich.

With this one, Morozov—currently a visiting scholar at Stanford and author of a new book, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom—criticizes the assumption that the Internet is necessarily helping to promote democracy.

Morozov has emerged in recent years as a leading critic of “techno-utopian” perspectives on the Internet and social networking. The talk that RSA has animated is actually one from 2009, but Morozov’s points are very pertinent to discussions of current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

One argument he consistently makes is that while tech enthusiasts regularly highlight the benefits of new Internet innovations for activists, rarely do they consider the other side of the equation: how technology can also aid enemies of democracy and free expression. He suggests that dictators are not nearly so afraid of the Internet as we might imagine, and that in many cases they have effectively co-opted bloggers and mined social networks to promote their repressive ends. “States used to torture to get this kind of information,” he says. “Now all they have to do is go onto Facebook.”

I’ve waded into debates on the Internet as a tool for organizing on a few previous occasions. In general, I’m inclined to agree with the commonsense view that an increased flow of information hurts dictatorships, making it more difficult for them to control public opinion. So I don’t wholly buy Morozov’s contrarianism. But I am more skeptical than many of the claims of Facebook and Twitter revolutions, and I appreciate Morozov’s critical perspective. I especially enjoy seeing him picking fights, at his Foreign Policy blog, with the likes of Clay Shirky and Thomas Friedman.

For those who prefer to read Morozov’s writing instead of watching the video, he lays out his views about the role of the Internet in the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt at the Guardian:

Tweets were sent. Dictators were toppled. Internet = democracy. QED.

Sadly, this is the level of nuance in most popular accounts of the internet’s contribution to the recent unrest in the Middle East….

[T]oday, the role of the telegraph in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution—just like the role of the tape-recorder in the 1979 Iranian revolution and of the fax machine in the 1989 revolutions—is of interest to a handful of academics and virtually no one else. The fetishism of technology is at its strongest immediately after a revolution but tends to subside shortly afterward.

In his 1993 bestseller The Magic Lantern, Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most acute observers of the 1989 revolutions, proclaimed that ‘in Europe at the end of the 20th century, all revolutions are telerevolutions’—but in retrospect, the role of television in those events seems like a very minor point.

Will history consign Twitter and Facebook to much the same fate 20 years down the road? In all likelihood, yes.

At New Scientist, Morozov considers how “The Internet is a Tyrant’s Friend“:

Thanks to radical improvements in technologies such as face recognition, it may become even easier for the secret police to track their opponents. Here, too, there is a cut-throat competition among western firms, who rightly smell lucrative commercial opportunities—wouldn’t it be wonderful if all those online photos of your friends could be tagged automatically? And yet you can almost guarantee that such technologies would be abused by authoritarian states.

Lastly, for the Fall 2009 issue of Dissent, Morozov wrote on the Green Revolution in Iran and the “Downside to the ‘Twitter Revolution’“:

[T]his new media eco-system is very much like the old game of ‘Telephone,’ in which errors steadily accumulate in the transmission process, and the final message has nothing in common with the original. Judging by the flawed media coverage of the events in Tehran, the game never sounded more Iranian. Thus, to blame Andrew Sullivan for first dreaming up the ‘Twitter Revolution,’ we have to blame a bevy of English-speaking Iranian bloggers who had shaped his opinion (many of them from the Iranian diaspora, with strong pro-Western feelings—why else blog in English?), as well as Farsi-speaking bloggers in Tehran who had shaped the opinion of the English-speaking Iranians, and so forth. Factor in various political biases, and it becomes clear that what Andrew Sullivan is ‘seeing’ might be radically different from what is actually happening.

Morozov has his more balanced moments and inserts the necessary concessions that, yes, the Internet is a powerful tool that can be fruitfully employed by pro-democracy forces. But in a debate filled with techno-utopian assumptions, it is his penchant to debunk that rightly catches our attention.

Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising.

WikiLeaks: Double Agent Bin Hamlili Double-Crossed the Taliban and the West

We’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the forty-ninth in the series.

Of all the Gitmo detainee assessments published thus far by WikiLeaks, none comes more ready-made for the big screen than that of Adil Hadi al-Jaza’ire Bin Hamlili. The Algerian terrorist’s story is the stuff of pulpy spy thrillers, replete with sociopathic violence, double-dealings and a mystery ending that will leave readers squirming in their seats.

Bin Hamlili’s personal narrative is a breathtaking account of a young man’s rearing on the battlefields of Afghanistan during the period of Russian occupation. It began with an epic, roundabout journey across North Africa, through the Middle East, and ultimately to Central Asia. Around 1986,

At approximately eleven years of age, detainee left Algeria and headed to Afghanistan with his father, his brother, detainee’s second cousin…and another associate names Abu Bakr Muhammad Boulghiti…Detainee’s father was committed to dawa (missionary work) and decided to go to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union…

They travelled for three months across the desert through Burkina Faso to Mali where they stayed at a mosque for almost nine months. Their vehicle and all their goods were stolen by thieves and they were forced to obtain new passports and health cards from the United Nations (UN). His father told the UN representatives that they were Moroccans in order to obtain new identity cards. With their paperwork in order they continued on their way to Afghanistan via Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Eventually, they were taken to a guesthouse of Osama bin Laden. Bin Hamlili was pressed into service immediately. “Detainee attended training at the nearby Sada, PK camp several times between 1986 and 1991…Detainee fought against the Soviets and the Soviet-backed Afghan regime beginning in 1986, at the age of eleven.” From there, bin Hamlili fought with a number of jihadi groups, ultimately leading the “Khalifa Group in Peshawar, a Takfir group established to engage militant combat in Algeria.”

The experience impacted bin Hamlili profoundly, leading him to ultimately embrace a fundamentalist ideology excessive by even extremist standards.

Detainee has admitted to killing another al-Qaida operative to enforce an extremist interpretation of Sharia law…Detainee murdered al-Qaida member Asadullah al-Sindhi and al-Sindhi’s wife in 1997. Al-Sindhi was [bin Laden’s] commercial representative to Pakistan and the brother of Abdallah al-Sindhi. Detainee’s Takfiri beliefs were his primary justification for this assassination. Detainee killed al-Sindhi because he married a woman within one month of her divorce, instead of waiting four months as required by Sharia, or Islamic law.

Far from suffering punishment at the hands of al Qaeda for the murder of bin Laden’s man in Pakistan, bin Hamlili rapidly rose to prominence in the organization, taking on increased responsibilities and building an impressive resume of murder and intrigue. He served as bin Laden’s courier to al Qaeda operatives, “arranging money transfers, procuring visas and identity cards, and performing other duties” for agents conducting terrorist operations. He reportedly became a close associate of Midhat al-Sayyid Umar, a “poison and explosives expert who helped train the perpetrators of the 2000 terrorist attack against the USS Cole in Yemen.” He is also believed by some to be “Abu Adil, the leader of a militant cell that was responsible for attacks on multiple civilian targets in Pakistan in 2002.” The list of alleged associations, acts of terror and other disturbing dealings goes on and on, becoming nearly monotonous until we learn that bin Hamlili was involved in an attempt

to transfer stolen nuclear material to al-Qaida, the Khalifa Group and the governments of Iraq and Sudan. In 1995, Muhammad Shah, a close associate of detainee (with whom detainee was captured), attempted to sell uranium and red mercury to detainee, al-Qaida senior military commander Abu Hafs al-Masri…the Iraqi government, and the Khalifa Group. The Khalifa Group also subsequently offered the red mercury to the Sudanese government.

No dummy, bin Hamlili “did not accept the offer and was not sure if the material was genuine.” As the report itself notes, “red mercury is a fictitious material advertised as a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, high explosives, and missile guidance systems. It has been associated with hoax attempts to sell the material.”

In any event, the most intriguing details offered by the report surround bin Hamlili’s role as a spy. The assessment reveals that bin Hamlili served the Taliban as an intelligence officer. Trouble is, the Taliban wasn’t the only government employing the Algerian in this capacity. The report notes that bin Hamlili was in fact a triple-agent, working simultaneously for the Canadian and British intel services as well, noting that “in December 2000 detainee was recruited as HUNINT source for the CSIS [Canadian intelligence] and the BSIS [British intelligence] because of his connections to members of various al-Qaida linked terrorist groups that operated in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Detainee was a HUMINT source until his capture by Pakistani authorities in June 2003.” Not only that, but the Americans came to believe that bin Hamlili was double-crossing both agencies: “the CIA, after numerous custodial interviews with detainee, found detainee to have withheld important information from the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service (CSIS) and British Secret Intelligence Service (BSIS) (for whom he served as a HUMINT source).”

Stop right there. If the report is correct to suggest that bin Hamlili was on the books of both CSIS and BSIS between 2000 and 2003, then serious questions need to be asked concerning the degree to which the British and Canadian governments were bankrolling the very crimes with which American authorities were charging bin Hamlili and detaining him at Guantanamo Bay. These questions, of course, were not asked by the report’s author. Instead, the report closes by reiterating the judgment that bin Hamlili posed a high risk to American security, and therefore needed to be detained indefinitely.

Except he wasn’t. Despite the fact that bin Hamlili “has made statements to [Gitmo] personnel indicating his intent to kill US citizens upon his eventual release,” he was returned to Algeria in 2010 in perhaps the creepiest twist to bin Hamlili’s tale. Where bin Hamlili is today is anyone’s guess. According to the Miami Herald, bin Hamlili was sent home with another Gitmo detainee, though the government’s announcement of the transfer “did not make clear whether the men went home as free men or were to be held by Algerian authorities for further trial or investigation.” The former scenario, given bin Hamlili’s history, is frightening enough.

But the latter possibility is equally disturbing. “Two other Algerians previously held at Guantanamo were granted asylum in France after their attornies argued successfully that the men feared a return to their homeland, which has struggled with militant Muslim extremist movements.” Given bin Hamlili’s membership and critical participation in precisely these movements, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he is currently being held in detention no more forgiving than that on offer at Guantanamo Bay, and no less reprehensible.

WikiLeaks: Zubaydah Not Certified al Qaeda, Just Plain “Certifiable”

GuantanamoWe’re honored to have Michael Busch dissecting the latest WikiLeaks document dump for Focal Points. This is the forty-eighth in the series.

What to make of the Gitmo assessment of Abu Zubaydah, the Saudi-born Palestinian man once described by George W. Bush administration as the “number three” guy in al Qaeda? The fourteen-page document, released as part of WikiLeaks’ “Gitmo Files” trove, is at once a collection of rumors, contradictory data and bizarre analysis that at the same time, serves as an uncompromising verdict of Abu Zubaydah’s guilt in crimes against the United States.

The memo begins with the bold claim that Zubaydah

Is a senior member of al-Qaida with direct ties to multiple high-ranking terrorists such as Usama Bin Laden (UBL). Detainess has a vast amount of information regarding al-Qaida personnel and operations and is an admitted operational planner, financier and facilitator of international terrorsist and their activities. Detainee participated in hostilities against US and Coalition forces and was involved in several plans to commit terrorist acts against the US, its interests and allies.

Quite a valuable prisoner, by the looks of it, then. How did the commanding officer, Rear Admiral D. M. Thomas, come to learn all of this information? Not through direct talks with Zubaydah, as the report makes clear at its close: “Due to detainees’ HVD status, detainee has yet to be interviewed.” Instead, Thomas seems to have relied upon claims made by dozens of other detainees—whether at Guantanamo or other sites of extraordinary rendition—while denying Zubaydah’s own claims as patently false.

And as it turns out, it’s Zubayadah’s story that proves most interesting, and at the end of the day, seems the likeliest to be true, even as it too suffers from problems of consistency. The report offers the “Detainee’s Account of Events,” though where this account was delivered is never explicitly made clear. According to Zubaydah’s own testimony, he very much wanted to become an al Qaida operative, but the terrorist outfit wouldn’t let him.

Detainee stated he was originally a “bad Muslim” who arrived in Afghanistan in 1990-1991. He was determined to attend militant training because he was inspired by the Palestinian cause….Detainee stated that in 1993, following the first Afghan jihad against the Russians, he decided to dedicate his life to jihad. Detainee noticed that of all the other groups in theater, only al-Qaida remained to continue the jihad struggle. Detainee submitted the requisite paperwork to join al-Qaida and pledge bayat (an oath of allegiance to UBL. Detainee’s application to al-Qaida was rejected.

But in the very next paragraph, Zubaydah offers a slightly different account of his troubles with al Qaeda that merits no mention from the report’s author.

In approximately 1991 or 1992, detainee sustained a head wouldn from shrapnel while on the front lines. Detainee stated he had to relearn fundamentals such as walking, talking, and writing; as such, he was therefore considered worthless to al-Qaida. Detainee asked Abu Burhan al-Suri for permission to repeat the Khaldan Camp training. Detainee did not pledge bayat to UBL and did not become a full al-Qaida member. Detainee refused to make the pledge unless al-Qada agreed to stage an attack inside Israel or mount an operation to help free Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman aka (the Blind Sheik) [sic].

So which is it? Did al Qaeda reject Zubaydah, or did Zubaydah reject al Qaeda? This question is never addressed, much less resolved. Instead, the report details two more meetings between Zubaydah and bin Laden that demonstrate little other than the latter’s distaste for the former.

The question of Zubaydah’s testimony and its provenance is of chief significance. The report notes that shortly after Zubaydah’s last contact with bin Laden—where the al Qaeda chief appears to have shut down the Palestinian’s plan for an attack in Israel—he was picked up by Pakistani security forces “in Faisalabad on 28 March 2002.” In the process, Zubaydah was “shot three time while attempting to escape. Detainee was transferred to US authorities immediately after his arrest and once his condition stabilized, he was transported out of Pakistan.” A few lines later, the memo notes that Zuybaydah was transferred to Gitmo in September 2006, over four and a half years later. So what happened to him in the intervening period?

Quite a lot, as it happens. Unremarked upon in the report is the now established evidence that Zubaydah was flown to the Cuban detention facility in 2002, where he remained for nine months before being shipped off to another CIA interrogation facility in Thailand. There, according to Andy Worthington,

the FBI began interrogating him using old-school, torture-free methods, which had a proven track record. Within a matter of weeks, however, the FBI agents were shamefully discarded by the administration’s most senior officials, who believed that another major attack was imminent, and that only the use of torture would persuade a significant captured terrorist — as Zubaydah was presumed to be — to talk. The job of interrogating Zubaydah was handed over to the CIA, whose new repertoire of techniques consisted primarily of torture, including waterboarding (a form of controlled drowning), confinement in tiny, coffin-like boxes, extreme violence, prolonged isolation, and the use of sustained nudity and loud music and noise.

Zubaydah was returned to Guantanamo in 2006. Shortly thereafter, Zubaydah became a central figure in the ICRC reports documenting American torture practices in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and was the centerpiece of one of the so-called “torture memos” released by the Barack Obama administrations just two years ago this month.

The shocking incidence of mental health disorders suffered by detainees at Guantanamo has been particularly striking in the Gitmo files released thus far by WikiLeaks, and it’s clear from Zubaydah well-documented history that he should be tallied with those prisoners suffering psychological distress. In Barton Gellman’s review of Ron Suskind’s One Percent Doctrine, it’s noted that

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries “in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3″ — a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail “what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said.”

This might explain the slightly varied accounts Zubaydah reportedly gave American intelligence officers of his difficult history with al Qaeda. In any event it’s hard to escape the conclusion, based on the mountain of evidence that has surfaced thus far about Zubaydah’s condition, arrived at by Dan Coleman, the FBI’s chief al Qaeda expert: “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.”

He’s also still Guantanamo Bay. Despite the government’s own admission that Zubaydah was not, contrary to its earlier bombast, “a ‘member’ of al-Qaida in the sense of having sworn bavat (allegiance) or having otherwise satisfied any formal criteria that either [Zubaydah] or al-Qaida may have considered necessary for inclusion in al-Qaeda,” it continues to hold him in detention “based on conduct and actions that establish Petitioner was ‘part of’ hostile forces and ‘substantially supported’ those forces.” All totaled, Zubaydah has been in American custody going on nine years, and there’s no sense that resolution of his case will occur at any point in the foreseeable future.

Europe’s Crisis and the Pain in Spain

Europe austerity protest(Pictured: Anti-austerity protest in Belgium.)

When the current economic crisis hit Europe in 2008, small countries on the periphery were its first victims: Iceland, Ireland, and Latvia. Within a year it had spread to Greece and Portugal, though the GDP of both nations—respectively 11th and 12th in the European Union (EU)—are hardly central to the continent’s economic engine.

But now the contagion threatens to strike at the center of Europe. Spain, the fifth largest economy in the EU and 13th largest in the world, is staggering under a combination of debt and growth-killing austerity, and the balance books in Italy, the Union’s fourth largest economy, don’t look much better. Indeed, Italy’s national debt is higher than that of Greece, Ireland or Portugal, three countries that have been forced to apply for bailouts.

Spain is a victim of the same real estate bubble that tanked the Irish economy. In fact, house prices in both countries rose at almost exactly the same rate: 500 percent over the decade. A feeding frenzy of speculation, fueled by generous banks and accommodating governments, saw tens of thousands of housing units built that were never inhabited. There are currently 50,000 unsold units in Madrid alone and, according to the web site Pisosembargados, Spanish banks are on track to eventually repossess upwards of 300,000 units.

Bailing out Ireland, Portugal and Greece has strained the financial resources of the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but rescuing Spain would be considerably more expensive. If Italy goes—with an economy a third larger than Spain’s and more than twice as big as that of the EU’s three current basket cases—it is not clear the Union or its currency, the Euro, could survive.

Given the current tack being taken by EU and the IMF, that might not be the worst outcome for the distressed countries involved. The current formula for “saving” economies in Ireland and Greece consists of severely depressing economic activity that is likely to lock those countries into a downward spiral of poverty and unemployment that will last at least a decade.

First, it is important to understand that the so-called “bailouts” of Greece and Ireland, and the one proposed for Portugal, will not “save” those countries’ economies. As Simon Tilford, chief economist for Center for European Reform, points out, the money is being borrowed—at a high interest rate—to bail out speculators in Germany, France and Britain. It is German, French, British, and Dutch banks that will profit from these “packages,” not the citizens of Ireland, Greece, or Portugal.

Indeed, Portugal was forced to ask for a bailout, not because its economy is in particularly bad shape, but because speculators in other EU countries drove up borrowing rates to a level that the government could no longer afford. Rather than intervening to nip off the speculators, the European Central Bank sat on its hands until the damage was done, the government fell, and Portugal was essentially forced to sue for peace. The price for that will be steep: severe austerity, brutal cutbacks, rising unemployment, and a stagnant economy.

Spain and Italy are vulnerable to the same forces that forced Portugal to its knees, only they are far bigger countries whose economic distress will have global effects.

The current blueprint for reducing debt is to cut spending and privatize. But in a recession, cutbacks increase unemployment, which reduces tax revenues. That requires governments to borrow money, which increases debt and leads to yet more cutbacks. Once an economy is caught in this “debt trap,” it is very difficult to break out. And when economies do improve, cutbacks to education, health care, housing and transportation put those countries at a competitive disadvantage.

For instance, Spain has drastically cut its education budget, resulting in a wave of “early leaving” students—at a rate that is double that of the EU as a whole—and a drop in reading, math and science skills. Those figures hardly bode well for an economy in the information age.

The “cuts to solve debt” theory is being played out in real time these days.

When the Conservative-Liberal alliance took over in Britain, it cut spending $128 billion over five years, on the theory that attacking the deficit would secure the “trust” of the financial community, thus lowering interest rates to fuel economic growth. But retail sales fell 3.5 percent in March, household income is predicted to fall 2 percent, and projections for growth have been downgraded from 2.4 percent to 1.7 percent. In terms of British people’s incomes, this is the worst performance since the Great Depression of the 1930s. “In my view, we are in serious danger of a double-dip recession,” says London Business School economist Richard Portes.

As bad as things are in Britain, they are considerably worse in those countries that bought into the “bailout.” Ireland’s growth rate has been downgraded from an anemic 2.3 to a virtual flat line 1 percent, personal income has declined 20 percent, and unemployment is at 14 percent. Greece is, if anything, worse, with a 30 percent jobless rate among the young, an economy that is projected to fall 4 percent this year, and between 2 and 3 percent the next.

If Portugal—with an unemployment rate of 14 percent—takes the $116 billion bailout, it will torpedo what is left of that nation’s economy.

Even the managing director of the IMF seems to be taking a second look at this approach. Dominique Strauss-Kahn recently quoted John Maynard Keyes about the need for full employment and a more equal distribution of wealth and income. He also warned that bailing out the financial sector and focusing just on debt at the expense of the economy is a dead end strategy: “…the lesson is clear: the biggest threat to fiscal sustainability is low growth.”

Is this a serious change of heart by the organization, or does one needs to take the IMF director’s recent comments with a grain of salt? He is rumored to be resigning this summer to run for president of France as a Socialist. Hard-nosed market fundamentalism is not exactly the path toward heading up that particular ticket. And while Strauss-Kahn says one thing, the IMF’s board of directors—largely dominated by the U.S. Treasury Department—has yet to signal a change in course.

However, the director’s comments may reflect a growing recognition that “bailouts” that protect banks and their investors, while locking countries into a decade of falling growth and rising poverty, are not only politically unsustainable, they makes little economic sense.

The next step is debt restructuring, which means investors will have to take some losses—a “haircut,” interest rates will be lowered, and payments stretched out over a longer period of time. So far, Greece and Portugal are refusing to consider restructuring because it will affect their credit status, but in the end they may have no choice in the matter.

“The basic reality is that we cannot service our debt,” Greek economist Theodore Pelagid told the New York Times. “We don’t need another bailout, we need creditors to take a hit.”

Of course, there is always the Argentine approach: default. Faced with an astronomical debt burden, a stalled economy, and growing poverty, Buenos Aires tossed in the towel and walked away from the debt in 2001. “The economy shrank for just one quarter,” writes Mark Weisbrot of the Guardian (UK), “and then grew 63 percent over the next six years, recovering its pre-crisis level of GDP in just three years.”

So far there is no talk of defaulting by the financially stressed European countries, but the subject is sure to come up, particularly given the growing anger of the populace at the current austerity programs. Hundreds of thousands of people have poured into the streets of Athens, Lisbon and London to challenge the austerity-debt mantra, demonstrations that are likely to grow in the coming months as the full impact of the cutbacks hit home.

Iceland recently voted to reject a 30-year plan to pay British and Dutch banks $5.8 billion to cover their depositors who speculated on Iceland’s high interests rates. Britain and the Netherlands are threatening to block Iceland’s EU membership bid if it doesn’t pay up, but these days, threats like that might be treated more with relief than chagrin in Reykjavik.

The bailouts have had a devastating impact on European politics. Governments have fallen in Ireland and Portugal, and the Greek government is deeply unpopular. In essence, the demands of banks and bondholders are unbalancing democratic institutions across the continent.

Spain’s unemployment rate is 20 percent, the highest in Europe. If the EU and the IMF sells it a “bailout” similar to the ones Ireland, Greece and Portugal accepted, Spain’s “pain” will be long lasting and brutal.

And Italy—with its decade-long 1 percent growth rate—waits in the wings.

If Italy goes, the EU will be split between northern haves and southern have-nots. Can a house so divided long endure?

More of Conn Hallinan’s work can be found at Dispatches From the Edge.

Time to Sever the Saudi Ties That Bind

Abdullah Obama(Pictured: Saudia Arabia’s King Abdullah with President Obama.)

Apparently, King Abdullah of the House of Saud (the man with the unseemly title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques”) got his feelings hurt that America objected when the totalitarian theocracy whose despot he is sent troops into a neighboring country to massacre peacefully protesting civilians. That the United States did indeed object to the deployment is news to those of us who had read the New York Times’ report that “the United States did not object to the deployment.”

Even a protestation so paltry that it escaped the Times’ notice was enough to get Abdullah’s knickers in a twist, and so it was that Defense Secretary Robert Gates made the trip all the way to Riyadh to grovel and make propitiations. It seems the Gates-Abdullah tête-à-tête sufficed where our recent $60 billion arms sale to the Saudis did not, Sec. Gates assessing that US-Saudi relations are now “in a good place.”

Perhaps, thanks to Gates’s efforts, Michelle Obama needn’t fear the withholding of gifts from Abdullah, who once lavished her with a ruby-and-diamond set valued at $132,000, or what the Saudi royals call “chump change.” Forbes on Abdullah:

“Ascended to the throne August 2005; soon after, construction began on a $26 billion city named in his honor, which the government hopes will become the new economic epicenter of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is now earning approximately $1 billion a day from oil exports, helping boost the royal family’s fortune. The king is an avid horseman and breeds Arabian horses; he founded the Equestrian Club in Riyadh.”

I propose that Gates’s approach is exactly wrong, and the time is now right to abandon the Saudis. The reasons are several.

Human Rights

Women who allow themselves to be seen in society without proper hijab violate God’s law, which is the law that governs Saudi Arabia. The only way for the offending parties to make amends is by surrendering their lives, often to hurled stones. However, if a woman is a virgin, stoning her to death itself violates God’s law, which consideration necessitates raping her first, in order to please God and the Saudi judges who interpret and affirm his proclamations, peace be upon them. Of course, rape of a woman by a man other than her designated guardian – that is, her husband or father – constitutes adultery, which alone is a crime demanding execution (of the woman, not the rapist).

I need hardly detail more thoroughly the perils of living in a theocracy, whose laws are derived not from a secular constitution that includes affirmative rights for citizens but rather from a medieval collection of desert superstition and mythology. Suffice it to say Saudi Arabia’s punishments for hudud crimes are harsh enough most closely to resemble the worst abuses of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Homosexuality warrants death, apostasy warrants death, etc.

This is of course in addition to what it does via its proxy state, Bahrain, which

The Independent recently revealed has been rounding up and disappearing doctors who have attended to pro-democracy protestors there who have been injured by Bahraini and Saudi authoritarian violence.

The United States is fond of claiming for itself that, as a matter of policy, it stands with the democratic aspirations of all oppressed peoples and in opposition to tyranny and repression. Lest it seem a naive contention, I submit that it is in principle worth America’s approximating that policy with its behavior in the world. Whatever the potential benefits and drawbacks of refusing friendship to murderous, ideological autocrats, it is a good thing to do. And it is a contemptible foreign policy, indeed, that is not concerned with doing good things.

I am well aware, though, that the people who congratulate themselves with the description “foreign policy realists” are un-persuaded by such arguments, so I’d like to address my remaining contentions in their language.

Terrorism

Many is the foreign policy realist who will espouse a position that goes something like this: “On the balance, it would be preferable for the United States to support only democracies, but the threats of terror facing America are so great that she is justified in bolstering the position of dictatorships that will ally with her in the Global War on Terror.”

This is based on a flawed calculus that too heavily favors regime stability. Even if 2011 hadn’t shown dictatorship to be the least stable form of government, it is not at all clear that it is instability that is responsible for the creation of terrorists. After all, readers may recall that the majority of the men who reduced that World Trade Center to detritus were Saudi, having grown up under the self-same stable regime that rules their country today. Rather, the primary circumstances to which the spread of a violent religious ideology is attributable are mistrust in the institutions of government, the infantilization of a population placed under compulsory guardianship, an evisceration of vital civic institutions (universities, advocacy groups, internationally cooperative organizations) and, of course, the espousal of violent religious orthodoxy.

That Saudi Arabia has hosted American troops since the first Gulf War makes it both an ideal base of US military operations on the peninsula and a major target of Al Qaeda hostility. All the same, though, its activities encourage just the type of jihadism advanced by Osama bin Laden and his fellow Qtubists. Indeed, not only is Saudi Arabia the world’s chief state perpetuator of Wahabbist and Salafist ideologies; it is guilty of financing the Yemeni madrassas where Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula officials Naser al-Wahishi and Qasim al-Raymi got their initial training before going to Afghanistan to fight. This was part of the same coordinated US/Saudi/Israeli/Pakistani effort to strangle the life out of socialist pan-Arabism (Southern Yemeni socialists demanded the closure of those madrassas during the 1994 war) that brought about the regrettable emergence of the Taliban, not to mention Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran’s other proxy parties.

Ironic, that, insofar as King Abdullah is one of the world’s leading cheerleaders for violent regime change in Iran, cables released by WikiLeaks revealing that he advised the US to “cut off the head of the snake” with regard to his neighbor across the gulf. Of course, that position allies him to American neo-conservatives but is motivated not by anti-totalitarianism or by a regard for international comity as much as by racism.

According to the cable, the king told the Americans what he had just told the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki. “You as Persians have no business meddling in Arab matters,” the Saudi monarch was quoted as telling Mottaki. “Iran’s goal is to cause problems,” he told Brennan. “There is no doubt something unstable about them.”

Adbullah is too shrewd and concerned with self-preservation, though, to discharge this sort of bigotry publicly. Instead, he puts on a much kinder face in his official capacity, ending, for example, a letter to President Bush (PDF) on the occasion of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks thus:

I would like to say to you, my dear friend, that God Almighty, in His wisdom, tests the faithful by allowing such calamities to happen. But He, in His mercy, also provides us with the will and determination, generated by faith, to enable us to transform such tragedies into great achievements, and crises that seem debilitating are transformed into opportunities for the advancement of humanity. I only hope that, with your cooperation and leadership, a new world will emerge out of the rubble of the World Trade Center: a world that is blessed by the virtues of freedom, peace, prosperity and harmony.”

One wants to ask the signatories of the “Saudi Women Revolution Statement” how lavishly Abdullah’s commitment to “freedom, peace, prosperity and harmony” has benefited them.

Diplomatic capital

It is customary for the Saudis’ media output to be as reassuring as that, including on their decision to grant asylum to deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that it would not allow deposed Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to engage in any political activity from the Kingdom. “This act (of sheltering) should not lead to any kind of activity in Tunisia from the Kingdom … There are conditions, and no act in this regard will be allowed,” Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said in an interview with Saudi Television.

This is illustrative, though, because Saudi Arabia is everywhere the enemy of the Middle Eastern onzards or what is conventionally called the “Arab Spring,” this to exclude the case of Iran, of course. The House of Saud justly sees its own downfall prognosticated in the writing on the walls of its regional neighbors. As corrupt, brutal regimes that enrich themselves by exploiting citizenry falter and topple all around them, the Saudi royals have no priority higher than reversing the course of 2011’s geopolitical direction.

Saudi Arabia’s client despot to the South, Yemen’s embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh, has promised to resign in a month (Jeremy Scahill: “I’ll believe Saleh is stepping down from power when he is no longer president.”), leaving the government to his deputy – some regime change. This move retains the endorsement of the Obama foreign policy team. This position, at a time when the U.S. is bombing Libya and threatening to reverse its original commitment to keep ground troops out of that country, confirms many onlookers’ suspicions of America’s motives in the region.

These suspicions were most poignantly given voice by Mohammed ElBaradei during the Egyptian uprising. “You are losing credibility by the day. On one hand you’re talking about democracy, rule of law and human rights, and on the other hand you’re lending still your support to a dictator that continues to oppress his people.”

If Obama is seen to be hypocritical in these matters, America loses gravity in the demands it makes from rogue/failed states (Iran most pressingly) who are up to no good.

I, for one, don’t find the idea of an America with enough diplomatic power to steer the course of world affairs very relaxing (not least because of its devotion to regimes like the Saudi one). On the other hand, it seems unlikely that America’s replacement in the position of “superpower” by Chinese or Russian authoritarianism would be particularly preferable, and so, for the time being, it would be nice to see America expand its goodwill cache (by conspicuously supporting democracy) in order to have greater capital from a diplomatic – as opposed to military – standpoint (and spend it conspicuously supporting democracy).

American foreign policy’s stated objectives are losing enough ground in Libya; it doesn’t need to continue hemorrhaging credibility in the land of Mecca and Medina too.

The climate

Forcing corporations to pay taxes, removing money from elections, saving public unions’ collective bargaining rights, retaining reproductive health care privacy, achieving legal equality for homosexuals, overcoming dictatorships: all of the fights the left is currently waging in the US and worldwide are meaningless if the earth is inhospitable to human life a century from now.

Remember when the President spoke about the climate crisis terms like these? “Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly, and together — we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.”

Well, by his second State of the Union address, climate change had gone from existential crisis to… what’s another word for “less important than salmon-based jokes?” The man didn’t mention the word “climate” once. Nor the phrase “global warming.” Problem solved, apparently.

Except it’s getting way worse. Not only does the industrial drive to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere show no signs of slowing, but such limited means as we have to combat it are under attack at the political level. Writes Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones: “Congressional Republicans have mounted an all-out assault on the EPA, pushing a lengthy list of measures to handcuff the agency from exercising its regulatory authority. For good measure, they are also trying to slash the agency’s budget by a third.” That would be bad enough, but factor in the weakness of the President’s counterproposal and a very clear picture begins to emerge: neither the government nor regulatory state will avert coming climate disaster.

As always, the motivating factor for deep-cutting change will have to be a crisis. The problem is that we citizens are not in the same kind of distress the climate is. As the dream of 350 parts per million begins to take on a pipe-flavor, human beings retain relative immunity from suffering the effects clearly enough to spur us to mass action. And we won’t feel them until it’s too late.

What but the ability to ignore the crisis could set conservative columnists bellowing about the job-killing effects of climate policy that prohibits the production of light-bulbs shown conclusively to be dangerous? We’ll see how much their opposition to “big government” matters when the earth cannot sustain human life. This lack of concern has allowed the congress’s thinking to retard so deeply that the House Committee on Science and Technology recently began looking into what new chairman Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) has termed “the global warming or global freezing.”

Luckily, people change not just because they perceive threats to their bodies and institutions; they also change because they perceive threats to their wallets. I submit that the only way to rescue us from the plunge whence no return is possible is to make greenhouse gas emissions as costly to us as they are to the earth.

There’s an easy way of driving up oil prices to staggering highs, engineering a state of affairs in which the market very heavily favors alternative energies in short order. All it requires is that we ally ourselves not with the dictatorship that oversees the most oil-rich country in the world, but with its women, homosexuals, democrats, secularists and youth instead.

J.A. Myerson, Executive Editor of the Busy Signal, is the Artistic Director of Full of Noises and a teaching artist with Urban Arts Partnership. He writes primarily on American Politics and Human Rights. Follow him on Twitter.

North Korea Ready to Deal, But West Wants It to Go All In

KimJongil(Pictured: North Korean military officers trying to convince Kim Jong-il to step back from the spent-fuel-rod pool.*)

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has finally been put on the table. At long last, NORK seems ready to make concessions. Yet the West remains unmoved. Writing about Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s trip to the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea, John Garnaut of the Sydney Morning Herald explains.

North Korean military officials have floated the prospect of ending the North’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for a peace treaty, to formally end the Korean War, and US forces leaving the Korean peninsula. . . . The approaches coincide with reports that North Korea is at risk of mass starvation on a scale it has not experienced in more than a decade following summer floods, an extreme winter and general economic dislocation. . . . “I think they really want to do a deal,” said a European diplomat, after what he described as candid discussion with a North Korean military officer.

But

. . . Julia Gillard, has hardened her uncompromising position on North Korea’s nuclear program. [Besides Australia] South Korea [and] the US . . . have dismissed the prospect of talks until North Korea meets tough preconditions.

In particular, Garnaut writes, “South Korea is deeply divided on what to do with its northern neighbour.”

“I think negotiations will be only possible once North Korea has displayed a clear position regarding its provocations with the Cheonan warship incident and the artillery attacks on Yeonpyeong Island,” South Korea’s Minister of Defence, Kim Kwan-jin, told the Herald .

On the other hand

Choi Jong-kun, at Yonsei University, said South Korean domestic politics should not stop Ms Gillard from engaging with the North. ”Make your own case, get involved in humanitarian aid, train them, spoil them with capitalism,” he said.

The West apparently seeks to turn North Korea’s misfortune into an opportunity to get its nonproliferation needs meets. But Pyongyang is nothing if not intractable and it may be willing to let its people eat grass before it agrees to every condition that the West sets.

*Kidding. For more such images, visit the Tumblr site Kim Jong-il Looking at Things.

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