Focal Points Blog

Former Algerian Defense Minister’s Indictment for War Crimes in Switzerland (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Lampadusa had it right — things had to seem to change so that things could remain the same. There’d be elections; there’d be new faces and new promises, but all that would happen would be that different trotters would go into the trough, and new accounts would be opened in those discreet private banks … in Switzerland.
— Donna Leon, Death and Judgment

Two cheers for the Swiss!

Khaled Nezzar, Algeria’s former defense minister and regime strongman during much of that country’s civil war that raged throughout the 1990s, expressed ‘surprise’ as a Swiss court, the Swiss Federal Crime Court, refused to throw out a civil suit filed against him for alleged war crimes committed by the Algerian government against its citizens during that period. The case was brought by the Trial Watch Project at the behest of two Algerians residing in Switzerland.

Swiss refusal to dismiss the case has thrown the Algerian government into something approaching a panic. Algiers is scurrying to contain the damage, which, if made public would cast a dark shadow not only over Nezzar and the other Algerian junta that was in power at the time. It would also reflect poorly on the current leadership, inheritors of the junta’s ‘legacy’, one that makes Pinochet’s bloody rule in Chile look like something akin to child’s play.

Algiers is threatening to cut off economic relations with Switzerland and appealing to France, whose hands are far from clean in the affair, to pile on the pressure as well. Although official silence has been the rule, the government is now beginning to mount a ‘solidarity campaign’ for Nezzar through the media. The issue is suddenly being widely reported in the Algerian press, portraying General Nezzar, now retired, as the victim. This is, admittedly, a very hard sell.

The attempts to pressure Switzerland to drop the case might work. It is a small country with big powerful neighbors, but then again, a stubborn one that does take well to bullying by its larger and more politically influential neighbors. Nor does it appear that Algiers, whose influence in Paris is undeniable, enjoy similar access to those in power in Berne.

Nezzar could not have been completely surprised with the indictment. As Algeria’s 1990s Civil War unfolded, reports of excesses on all sides found their way into the media in Europe and beyond. The case against him has a long history in European courts. Eleven years prior to the Swiss indictment, Nezzar had filed a libel suit in a French court against the publication of Habib Souaïdia’s La Sale Guerre, a book (discussed below) with a damning indictment of the military junta that ruled Algeria during the civil war (and still does) and of Nezzar personally.

At the time, Nezzar’s complaint was rejected, his suit thrown out, a great embarrassment to the former defensive minister, suggesting that the allegations had, at least, legal credibility. Worse, the transcript of the trial – that included no small amount of damning testimony from expert witnesses – was published as a book by Habib Souaïdia, La Procès de la Sale Guerre by La Découverte in 2002, only discrediting the former Algerian junta leader that much more.

Of course, at that time, 2002, with the war fresh in the minds of many, it was admittedly hard to fathom the notion that the main source of terrorism in Algeria was important elements of the government itself. If, during the war years, Algeria’s Islamic rebels were targeting innocent civilians – wiping out whole villages in some instances – rumors and then reports of military sponsored massacres surfaced as well, as did a mounting number of victims of ‘collateral damage’ – government attacks on rebels, extensive reports of arbitrary arrest, torture and the disappearance of thousands of innocent people.

As if that wasn’t damaging enough, allegations of government collusion with Islamic terrorists, actual manipulation of their activities by the government security forces emerged. The military junta shook them off as cheap conspiracy theories, fabrications of the Islamic fundamentalists not to be taken seriously, claims a little too quickly accepted in Washington and Paris political circles, where ‘the war on terrorism’ had already become a standard pretext for military intervention.

But the allegations persisted and were taken seriously by human rights groups in Europe and North America, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The junta-shaped narrative, that the government was in a war against radical Islamic fundamentalism, began to lose its potency. Questions began to emerge, the main ones being “What’s the deal? What is the Algerian civil war about? Why is the French government essentially supporting the generals?”

Although virtually nothing had been resolved, the actual fighting and killing died down in the late 1990s, leaving the country exhausted, depressed and spiritually rudderless, the military junta still in power. At the turn of the millennium, Algeria’s economic and political model remained unchanged, with the same forces within the security apparatus and military still in power and controlling the country’s oil profits as before.

A country in tatters…

By 2000 the country was in tatters, its oil wealth hoarded and squandered, its ‘example’ as a ‘left model of Third World development’ forever discredited, the romanticism of its revolution morphed into an unending nightmare.

The rough summary of “the bloody decade” is chilling: 200,000 dead, 12,000 ‘disappeared’ (and presumed dead), dozens of government “torture centers” organized on something approaching an industrial scale, 13,000 imprisoned, 400,000 people forced into exile another million displaced from their homes within the country.

The war exacerbated what was an already serious economic crisis. When the fighting ended, a clear majority of the population had been thrown into utter poverty; the unemployment rate stood at 30% of the active population; according to United Nations NGO figures, 15 million Algerians were living below the poverty level (out of a population of 31 million at the time). Diseases, earlier eradicated, such as typhoid, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, re-emerged.1

Cynicism prevailed; faith in the state as a positive mechanism for economic progress and democracy was at an all-time low, all but shattered, as was any popular support for Islamic fundamentalism. So it remains a decade later. The root causes of Algeria’s crisis had been side-tracked. Too much bloodshed on all sides had been spilt.

Then in short order, two carefully written, well documented books appeared which put a considerable amount of meat on the bony contention of high level military and/or security apparatus complicity with the Islamic militant opposition. Together they were nothing short of a powerful intellectual one-two punch at the military junta’s mid-section.

Both were published by well-respected French publishing houses (Editions la Découvertes and Folio-Actuel – which is owned by Gallimard; Les Editions DeNoel), both written by former members of Algeria’s counter-intelligence unit. Habib Souaïdia’s La Sale Guerre (The Dirty War) first appeared in 2001 and was reprinted the next year. Mohammed Samraoui’s equally devastating Chronique des Années de Sang (Chronicle of the Years of Bloodshed) followed in 2003.

Habib Souaïdia

Habib Souaïdia

Originally from Tebessa in Eastern Algeria, some 40 miles from the Tunisian border, Habib Souaïdia is a former officer in the Algerian Army Special Forces unit who received his military training at Algeria’s exclusive Cherchell Military Academy, some 55 miles west of Algiers, the capitol. There he was trained to be a tank commander. Graduated as a second lieutenant, in 1992 he was recruited into the army’s anti-subversion unit. It was his participation in that unit that he came to have grave doubts about the army’s role.

As described in La Sale Guerre, soon after having joined the special forces anti-terrorism unit, Souaïdia concluded that the terrorist groups were thoroughly infiltrated and manipulated by the Algerian secret service itself – referred to as the DRS (Départment de Renseignement et de la Securité – The Inforamtion and Security Department). The special forces / secret services / anti-subversion unit, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, had, along with military intelligence, exclusive responsibility for anti-terrorist operations.

Souaïdia alleges that many of the crimes blamed on Islamic terrorists were in fact the work of the armed forces. Specifically he accused the military of having committed two massacres, at Bentalha and Rais, and trying to place the blame on Islamic militants. Refusing to take part in what he believed to be war crimes, Souaïdia fast became a threat to the powers that be; he was arrested on charges of having stolen car parts from a military warehouse and served four years in prison (1995-1999). He barely was able to escape alive to Europe shortly thereafter.

The 2001 publication of Souaïdia’s book was nothing short of a political bombshell exploding in the lap of Algeria’s ruling High Council of State. The portrait painted of Khaled Nezzar’s role was especially damning. But that was just the first blow. Strengthening the case, Souaidia’s hypothesis was defended by Ferdinando Imposinato, at the time the honorary vice president of Italy’s High Court of Appeal, in the introduction to the book.

In a Time Magazine interview the year that La Sale Guerre was published, Souaïdia summed up his case: “The generals were up to their necks in killing and their motive is to holding on to power, oil revenues and the business commissions that go with it…the real problem in Algeria is not Islamic fundamentalism, it’s injustice.”

If Souaïdia’s expose of security forces-Islamic fundamentalist cooperation is true, it raises a question. What was the goal of the dirty war? What is it that the junta hoped to accomplish through its actions? The answer to this is not difficult to discern. The Algerian elite would do anything necessary to hold onto political power and the economic benefits that accrue from it. Destroy the possible coalition of forces that could come together to overthrow the state before it coalesces into a political force.

One way to accomplish this a la Algerienne is to encourage or facilitate a civil war in which regime’s main opponents destroy or exhaust each other in conflict leaving the military-security elite as ‘the only ones left standing’ in the room so to speak. In the Algerian case, on the one hand there was the growing Islamist element, bitter about being shoved aside and marginalized after independence; on the other the more or less secular left.

Given the long-standing antagonism and distrust between the two streams of Algerian society, turning the one against the other was accomplished without much difficulty. What better way to maintain power than to have the two sides destroy each other in a civil war in which the anti-subversion unites of the security apparatus manipulate the players on both sides? Both Souaïdia and Samroui make clear this is precisely what the Algerian military junta did during the dirty war; they go even further, suggesting it was not the Islamic opposition that unleashed the violence that provoked the civil war, but the state, through its counter insurgency units.

During the Algerian Civil war, the secular opposition was wiped out in large measure by the Islamic radicals; the names of many of the victims were, according to Souaïdia and Samraoui, often supplied to the killers by the security forces! The Islamic radicals, in turn, were then largely crushed by the military. When it is over and all the dust has settled and the country exhausted by the orgy of violence unleashed, who is left standing with their hands still on the levers of economic and political power: the military-security cabal that was in power before the conflict began.

Mohammed Samraoui

The prologue of Mohammed Samraoui’s Chronicle of the Years of Bloodshed begins in a Bonn, Germany hotel room with Algerian General Smaïl Lamari, second in command of the Algerian Secret Service, the Sécurité militaire (SM) asking Samraoui to arrange the assassination of two Algerian Islamicists, political refugees in Germany, Rabah Kébir and Abdelkader Sahraoui. Samraoui describes the two as “well known public figures, certainly regime opponents, but nothing close to being dangerous terrorists.” His refusal to commit to the operation marks Samraoui’s departure from the Algeria’s counter-terrorism effort.

Like Souaïdia, Mohammed Samraoui appeared headed for an illustrious career in Algeria’s security apparatus when he quit and defected to Germany. Samraoui was a senior officer in the Algerian army who was committed, until he knew better, to helping rid the country of its Islamic terrorists. By 1996, when he defected, he had risen up the ranks, having achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Joining the military in 1974, early on, Samraoui received a degree in engineering and biochemistry. He taught at the Institute for Military Security at Béni-Messous, and then occupied a number of positions within the Sécurité militaire throughout the country. From the outset he was involved in Islamic anti-terrorism effort but by 1992, that is to say relatively early in the civil war, critical of the way that the war on terrorism was being fought, he asked to be relieved of his duties.

As he tells it, in order to silence him, he was offered the post with the Algerian embassy to Germany, which he accepted that year. As the civil war wore on, Samraoui became increasingly convinced that this was not a civil war between the state and Islamic radicalism, but instead a war conducted by the Algerian government against its own people.

In 1996 he returned to Algeria, where once again he was offered a promotion and a position on the senior staff of Mohamed Médiène, head of the SM. As he notes, “I understood what that meant. I would have been put in the position of having to order Algerians to kill one another.” Rather than do that, he defected, asked for political asylum in Germany. It was accepted and he’s lived there since.

Samraoui’s book lends legitimacy to and reinforces Souaïdia’s claims. Early on in the text the former comments2:

As an insider close to the pulse of events, and able to observe the plans and actions of both the Sécurité militaire in which he participated as well as those of its twin organization, the Départment du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS) – the secret police run out of the Ministry of Interior, Samraoui was able to piece together ‘the system’ as it functioned in the war against terrorism. He details the organizational structure of the anti-terrorism effort in considerable detail.

There have been no serious challenges to the facts and hypotheses Samraoui presents. As John Adams put it long ago – in a quote also later ironically attributed to Stalin: “Facts are stubborn things.” For Khaled Nezzar, it appears, he’s caught…Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Part three on the collusion between French and Algerian intelligence will appear soon.

1Mohammed Samraoui. Chronique des Années de Sang. DeNoel Impacts. Paris: 2003. p. 19-20

2Ibid. p. 19

West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 5)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.)

We All Just Want to Be Safe
Ultimately, national security is as foremost in the minds of those who believe that disarmament leadership acts as an incentive to keep non-NWS from proliferating as it is in those who think it’s immaterial. The latter are apprehensive about a national-security gap opening when non-NWS ignore NWS disarmament measures and proceed to proliferate. Disarmament advocates are at least as concerned with the existing national-security gap created by nuclear risk. They believe that the deterrence crowd underestimates the chance of nuclear war breaking out as a result of an accident, miscommunication, or that relic of the Cold War — the launch-on-warning setting to which many nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are still dialed.

Due to the staggering number of variables that come into play, comparing the threat of steeply reducing the number of nuclear weapons with that posed by their very existence would likely be an exercise in futility. There’s no guarantee that a steep rollback in the number of nuclear weapons won’t result in the opening of a national-security gap. Whether one does or not, it can’t be denied that negotiating the span to a nuclear-weapons-free future requires a leap of faith. But launching ourselves into an era of disarmament, however frightening, certainly beats waiting for nuclear weapons — our own or another’s — to launch.

West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 4)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Parts 1, 2, and 3.)

We decided to ask authorities on arms control and/or disarmament this two-part question implied by Ford’s summary of the credibility thesis:

One, do you agree that nuclear-weapons states, especially the United States, have yet to show non-nuclear-weapons enough in the way of disarmament to convince them that the nonproliferation waters are safe? Two, do you think that, were the disarmament measures of NWS sufficient, some non-NWS would still seek nuclear weapons? If so, what then is the best route to nonproliferation?

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center and regular contributor to the respected blog Arms Control Wonk rejects the premise of the first question. “The United States and Russia,” he replies, “have reduced their nuclear stockpiles by 70%. Is this not ‘substantive disarmament’?”

Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the founder of Arms Control Wonk also does not “agree that the United States has done too little to convince NPT signatories that the nonproliferation waters are safe.” In fact, he thinks that the “frame that you’ve chosen is a straw-person that right-wing opponents impute to those of us who would seek a world where the growing obsolescence of nuclear weapons is reinforced by the legally-binding agreements.”

Besides, he reminds us, the NPT is not “a bargain between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ — it is a commitment by the ‘have nots’ to one another to remain that way. Who do North Korea’s nuclear weapons threaten most? The United States? Or non-nuclear Japan and South Korea? … the agreement among the non-nuclear weapons states to remain that way — is either forgotten or obscured in many of these debates.”

However, Lewis does believe “that the United States can, and should, do more to demonstrate its commitment to Article 6. In particular, the United States should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.”

Greg Theilmann is a senior fellow of the Arms Control Association. First, he states that my characterization of the New START treaty as “‘little more than verification and confidence building” does not do it justice. Then, he writes: “Although I would have preferred deeper cuts, restoring and improving on a verification regime for the two parties’ strategic forces was a critical prerequisite for any subsequent steps.” He also relates a little-known story about New START that casts the president in a more resolute light.

Moreover, what I find especially impressive about Obama’s determination was his rejection of his political advisors’ advice in late November 2010 (according to Rahm Emanuel) that he postpone New START ratification in the lame duck session because it was too difficult and jeopardized other political objectives. Had he done so, I believe the treaty would never have been ratified.

Whether non-NWS would be as quick to credit the president is another matter. Continuing with question one, Thielmann states that the Obama Administration has “demonstrated its NPT Article VI bona fides during the last three years.” Its “positions and efforts on shrinking the role of nuclear weapons, on endorsing CTBT ratification, and on leading an international campaign to achieve nuclear security improvements put it at the forefront of the nuclear weapons states on disarmament.”

Thielmann concedes that non-NWS “want to see more done to reduce nuclear arsenals by the U.S., Russia, China, the UK, and France — as do I.” He’s also willing to answer the question of whether some non-NWS would still seek nuclear weapons even if they deemed NWS disarmament measures sufficient. While, he writes, the disarmament “thus far is significant … in and of itself, [it] will not be sufficient to satisfy those states, which see their own nuclear weapons development as necessary for security or desirable to enhance influence.”

Taking up where Thielmann left off, Ward Wilson, who directs the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons project at the James Martin Center, notes that “nuclear weapons have become a currency of power in international relations. Irrespective of their actual utility, they are perceived as the key to great power status. Before proliferation can be definitively halted, not only do nuclear-armed states have to do better at disarming, but the belief that nuclear weapons are the sine qua non of international status has to be broken.”

Wilson concludes:

Disarmament progress was nil during the first twenty years of the NPT but since then there has been real, if painfully slow, progress. Even if disarmament progress were faster, however, some states would still want to proliferate. Disarmament by nuclear-armed states is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to halt proliferation.

West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 3)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Parts 1 and 2.)

Disarmament and Nonproliferation: No Longer Two Sides of the Same Coin
According to conservatives and many realists, it’s not the enduring nature of our nuclear-weapons infrastructure that’s lost on non-NWS. It’s those disarmament measures themselves, which by their reckoning, are much more substantial than they appear to non-NWS. They believe that disarmament “leadership” by NWS does little to discourage non-NWS from proliferating. If anything, disarmament creates a national-security vacuum into which non-NWS can’t wait to insert themselves.

In a briefing for the Hudson Institute, where he’s a senior fellow, Christopher Ford, who served as U.S. Special Representative for Nuclear Nonproliferation for the George W. Bush administration, describes the argument that NWS have failed to demonstrate the requisite disarmament leadership to non-NWS.

First, it explicitly assumes that the commitment of the NWS [nuclear weapons states] to the ideal of disarmament lacks credibility, and implicitly assumes that the United States is both the most important locus of the problem and the key to its resolution.

This point of view was illustrated by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini in a 2011 speech during which he said: “the greatest violators of the NPT are the powers that have reneged on their obligation to dispose of nuclear weapons mentioned in Article 6 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.” Credibility may also be undermined by NWS toleration for Israel’s nuclear-weapons “ambiguity.” Another likely sticking point for non-NWS is the 123 Agreement that the United States signed with India, which, like Israel, is not party to the NPT. Notable for its lack of a call for disarmament on India’s part, it provided for full cooperation on nuclear energy between India and the United States.

Second, Ford writes, the thesis “assumes that if this disarmament ‘credibility gap’ is closed, it will be possible to meet today’s proliferation threats much more effectively and with a much wider base of diplomatic support.” But, he maintains, “few people seriously argue that countries such as Iran and North Korea seek nuclear weapons simply because the United States or other NWS possess such devices themselves, and that proliferators’ interest in such devices would accordingly diminish if only the United States reduced its arsenal further.”

West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 2)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Part 1.)

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Imperfect Arbiter

The drafters of the NPT, as with any treaty, sought to balance the needs of different parties. In this case it was between NWS — states with nuclear weapons — and non-NWS — those without. Signatories (or the treaty’s signers) among the latter forfeited their rights to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. The former, meanwhile, promised to roll back the numbers of their weapons with an eye toward total disarmament. In addition, they would assist non-NWS to establish their nuclear-energy programs and use their own possession of nuclear weapons to extend an umbrella of deterrence to certain non-NWS.

Ideally, the NPT bestows equal benefits on all parties. But, like many treaties, it’s riddled with loopholes and gray areas. For example, Article VI — debated nigh unto death — is chock full of them. It reads:

Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

Where there should be key words are noncommittal terms. For example, preceding “to pursue” with “undertakes” adds a preliminary step that almost seems designed to allow parties with nuclear weapons to stall. “Good faith” may be inherent to contracts, but in the context of a nuclear treaty it sounds Polyanna-ish. “Effective measures” and “early date” are much too open to interpretation.

With regards to disarmament, a recent report that the Obama administration may be considering reducing the total numbers of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to as low as 300 generated a flurry of excitement — and a blizzard of overwrought reactions from conservatives. Whether or not the leaked news was just red meat for conservatives, no weapon reductions will be enacted until after the election.

In fact, even though President Obama assumed office with an apparent personal investment in disarmament, his administration seems to have suffered few qualms about letting it, if not exactly die, wither on the vine. When push came to shove over the New START treaty, it bet the farm to secure Republican ratification of a treaty that guaranteed little more than verification and confidence building. The administration proposed to increase funding for nuclear-weapon modernization to $88 billion during the next decade — 20 percent more than the Bush administration sought. Even the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee balked at such exorbitance in the current economic climate and allocated $500 million less than the administration’s $7.6 billion request for fiscal year 2013.

As Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, recently wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine: “Obama has let the bureaucracy suffocate his plan to move step by step toward, as he said in Prague, ‘the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.’” He explained that “there are far more entrenched officials and contractors that benefit from the sprawling nuclear complex than officials who believe in the president’s stated vision.”

The apparent intention on the part of the United States to fund, at however fluctuating levels, its own program into perpetuity likely isn’t lost on non-NWS. This realization has finally begun to rear its head in established media such as the London Review of Books. In the February issue, national-security specialists Campbell Craig and Jan Ruzicka write of the vast sums that the Obama administration committed to nuclear-weapon modernization.

What clearer demonstration could there be that the US government is not serious about reducing its stockpiles? Central to the idea of nonproliferation is the presumption that if smaller states are to be discouraged from acquiring a bomb, nuclear states will need to take real steps towards disarmament. Otherwise, non-nuclear states will regard their demands as self-serving and hypocritical — reason enough to think about creating an arsenal of their own.

Extending this line of thinking one step further, New START may not only seem perfunctory to non-NWS, but a smokescreen for continued nuclear-weapons funding.

West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 1)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

When dueling narratives clash and the subject is nuclear weapons, the sparks that fly could make flashing sabers seem dim in comparison. According to conventional thinking in the West, Iran is not abiding by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restraining itself from all nuclear weapons activities. Thus it should be denied its right to enrich uranium. But, in the view of much of the rest of the world, the West is making little more than cosmetic efforts to roll back its nuclear arsenals. Therefore, it has no business denying Iran nuclear energy — not to mention nuclear weapons (but that’s another story).

In other words, the side that committed to disarming thinks that the side that promised not to proliferate is. And the side that promised not to proliferate thinks that the side that committed to disarming is not.

In truth, abundant evidence exists that any nuclear-weapons work Iran has done since 2003 is conceptual, if that, which is not expressly forbidden by the NPT. The uranium it enriches to the higher levels that worry the West seems to be for medical isotopes, which are used for radiation therapy, as well as diagnosis. Combined with enrichment at lower levels for nuclear energy, it serves as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

Leave It to Bibi

Much attention has been generated in Israel and the United States by Richard Silverstein with his post at Tikkun Olam titled Bibi’s Secret War Plan. He writes:

This is Bibi’s sales pitch for war. Its purpose is to be used in meetings with members of the Shminiya , the eight-member security cabinet which currently finds a 4-3 majority opposed to an Iran strike. Bibi uses this sales pitch to persuade the recalcitrant ministers of the cool, clean, refreshing taste of war. My source informs me that it has also been shared in confidence with selected journalists who are in the trusted inner media circle (who, oh who, might they be?). … I don’t believe the IDF wrote it. It feels more likely it came from the shop of national security advisor Yaakov Amidror, a former general, settler true-believer and Bibi confidant. It could also have been produced by Defense Minister Barak.”

The briefing reads, in part:

The Israeli attack will open with a coordinated strike, including an unprecedented cyber-attack which will totally paralyze the Iranian regime and its ability to know what is happening within its borders. … The electrical grid throughout Iran will be paralyzed and transformer stations will absorb severe damage from carbon fiber munitions. … A barrage of tens of ballistic missiles would be launched from Israel toward Iran. 300km ballistic missiles would be launched from Israeli submarines in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. The missiles would not be armed with unconventional warheads [WMD], but rather with high-explosive ordnance equipped with reinforced tips designed specially to penetrate hardened targets.

The missiles will strike their targets—some exploding above ground like those striking the nuclear reactor at Arak. … Others would explode under-ground, as at the Fordo facility.

We’re looking at this all wrong. Sure, Bibi looks through an attack through rose-colored glasses. But, sticking with the color metaphors, a silver-lining exists: at least he has no plans to use “unconventional warheads” — nuclear weapons.

Besides, Israel’s outgoing civil defense minister assures us at Reuters:

“There is no room for hysteria. Israel’s home front is prepared as never before,” Matan Vilnai, a former general who is about to leave his cabinet post to become ambassador to China, told the Maariv daily.

He believes the war would likely last a month and “Echoing an assessment already voiced by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Vilnai was quoted as saying hundreds of missiles could hit Israeli cities daily and kill some 500 people in a war with Iran, which has promised strong retaliation if attacked.”

To Israelis wondering if they or their loved ones will be among The 500, he basically said, man up: it goes with the territory.

“Just as the citizens of Japan have to understand they are likely to be hit by an earthquake, Israelis must realise that anyone who lives here has to be prepared for missiles striking the home front.”

File that one under Equivalencies, False.

Meanwhile, also drawing headlines has been a petition reported by Haaretz:

More than 400 Israelis, including Tel Aviv University law professors Menachem Mautner and Chaim Gans, have recently signed an online petition calling on Israel Defense Forces pilots to refuse to obey if ordered to bomb Iran.

The petition calls a decision to launch a strike against Iran a “highly mistaken gamble” that would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, without stopping it, and would come “at an exorbitant price.”

Israel Hayom’s Dan Margolit tries to make the case that it’s no different from right-wing resistance by the settlers. He zeroes in on former law professor Menachem Mautner.

For some time now Mautner has felt a deep sense of anxiety over the possibility of a military strike in Iran, and when he read Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz he decided to take action, which in essence is a call to thwart a legal order issued by the government. … How has he lent his hand in support of a petition that is a call for an undemocratic rebellion? Indeed, he has always been a champion of democratic virtues.

With his signature, [former law professor Menachem] Mautner gave legitimacy to the “hilltop youth” of Judea and Samaria and to those of their ilk who have authored manuscripts calling for a return to biblical law. … The professor tried explaining that right-wing insubordination is done for the purpose of creating a Halachic state (a state run according to Jewish religious law) and is inappropriate to begin with, while the Left acts to return Israel to its good old values.

Refusing to bomb Iran may be illegal on the part of pilots today. But in the future bombing Iran might be judged not only illegal a war crime.

Author’s Note: For those wondering, according to Google, the phrase “Leave It to Bibi” has not been previously used.

What Next? Will Somali Pirates Issue an IPO?

Somali piracy is down 32 percent from last year, reports Ben Berkowitz for Reuters, but it’s still highly profitable. In fact, they’ve professionalized their operations and now present their victims with a package of material outlining the ransom process — printed on letterhead. Berkowitz writes:

The cover sheet, in memo format, is addressed “To Whom It May Concern” with the subject line “Congratulations to the Company/Owner.”

“Having seen when my Pirate Action Group (P.A.G) had controlled over your valuable vessel we are saying to you Company/Owner welcome to Jamal’s Pirate Action Group (J.P.A.G) and you have to follow by our law to return back your vessel and crew safely,” the memo begins. …

“Do not imagine that we are making to you intimidation,” the memo says, before signing off with “Best regards” and the signature of Jamal Faahiye Culusow, the General Commander of the Group.

However

The tone of the memo belies the violent reality of the pirate’s actions. [They] were responsible for 35 deaths in 2011 alone.

And

Lest there be any doubt about who Jamal is or what he does, his signature is accompanied by his seal — yes, Jamal has a stamped seal — depicting a skull and crossed swords with the name of the group.

The pirates are not the only ones profiting.

A small coterie of companies … offer “kidnap and ransom” policies to shipping companies for just these kinds of situations.

Guess one hand washes the other. But insurance companies have long offered war risk insurance. In fact, writes Berkowitz:

Because the number of attacks have declined, piracy coverage prices have, too, said Amanda Holt, a vice president in the financial and professional liability unit at insurance brokerage Marsh in Norwich, England. “Often if you buy piracy cover you’ll get a discount on your war premium. It makes a lot of sense for ship owners and managers.”

Oak Ridge Activists Challenge Disarmament Advocates to Step up Their Games

The Berrigans

The Berrigans

As Focal Points readers no doubt have heard, on July 29, three peace activists, representing a modern-day version of the original Plowshares peace group founded by the Berrigan brothers, penetrated the highest-security area of the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility for uranium storage and nuclear modernization in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The New York Times reported:

Inside the complex, the three graying pacifists painted “Woe to the empire of blood” and “the fruit of justice is peace” on the exterior of Y-12’s Highly-Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility, and splashed what they said was human blood.

… But despite what appears to have been a slow crawl through the defenses (the three had bolt cutters, hammers, flashlights and cans of spray paint, and went under the fences), they did not draw a prompt response.

In fact,

… they apparently spent several hours in the Y-12 National Security Complex before they were stopped — by a lone guard, they told friends — as they used a Bible and candles in a Christian peace ritual.

Consequently, the actual anti-nuclear activism was eclipsed by the outcry about the poor plant security that the terrorists exposed, as if they were only practicing a dry run for terrorists. But that comes with the territory for those who engage in extreme acts of terrorism. Perhaps attention to Transform Now Plowshares’ mission can be refocused during the trial. Along with a misdemeanor, each of the three is charged with two felonies.

Adding insult to plant-security injury is that one of them, Megan Rice, is not only a nun, but 82 years old. At his Knoxville News Y-12 blog Atomic City Underground, Frank Munger wrote:

I communicated with Frank von Hippel, a Princeton University professor who’s been in the forefront of nuclear policy work for decades with a special focus on control and protection of special nuclear materials, about the recent break-in. … “This should indeed be an embarrassment,” von Hippel responded via email. “An 82-year-old nun with a bolt cutter is certainly within the post-9/11 design-based threat envelope.”

One would think, but as mentioned above, that’s not Transform Now Plowshares’ concern. Sister Rice (Sister Megan?) has been an anti-nuclear, as well as more broad-based, activist for decades and once served six months in a minimum-security prison for a 1998 protest at the one-time School of the Americas. On August 11, at the New York Times, William J. Broad reported on Sister Rice’s reaction to her incarceration.

“It was a great eye-opener,” she said. “When you’ve had a prison experience, it minimizes your needs very much.”

Of nuns’ acts of civil disobedience in general,* Broad wrote:

They also illustrate the fierce independence of Catholic nuns, who met this week in St. Louis to decide how to respond to a Vatican appraisal that cast them as rebellious dissenters.

“We’re free as larks,” Sister Rice said of herself and her older religious friends. “We have no responsibilities — no children, no grandchildren, no jobs.”

… “She’s a pretty sympathetic character,” Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said of the nun. “[A 16-year prison term] would be signing her death warrant.”

…“So the lot fell on us,” she said of fighting nuclear arms. “We can do it.”

In a sense, Sister Rice is absolving the rest of us disarmament advocates, who have families and bills to pay, of acts that require substantial sacrifices. Though she adds, “But we all do share the responsibility equally.”

We live in a time when arms control is being overtaken by creeping incrementalism. As Andrew Lichterman wrote recently for Reaching Critical Will:

US arms control and disarmament groups focus mainly on preventing the expansion of nuclear weapons capabilities and budgets, or on taking advantage of what are perceived as opportunities for incremental progress. The common denominator is that the limits to the disarmament agenda are set by what is thought to be achievable in government for a without challenging anything fundamental about the existing order of things, or the role of US military forces in sustaining it.

Activism, such as the Y-12 break-in, or when the Berrigans and the original Plowshares movement trespassed onto the General Electric Nuclear Missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in 1980, damaged nuclear warhead nose cones, and poured blood onto documents and file, doesn’t exactly endear itself to the American public. Aside from raising the prospect of a terrorist attack, it violates an ethos arguably more sacrosanct to much of the American public than averting mass destruction — respect for property.

But, along with Sister Rice, her fellow Transform Now Plowshares members Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed hold out the gauntlet to nuclear-disarmament activists (such as this author). What are we willing to sacrifice to abolish nuclear weapons?

*For some reason, in 2005, the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project, funded by the Department of Energy, felt compelled to include an interview with her. It serves as a fascinating case study in how a social-justice conscience is nurtured and becomes self-sustaining.

Former Algerian Defense Minister’s Indictment for War Crimes in Switzerland (Part 1)

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Khaled Nezzar“The generals are up to their necks in the killing, and their motive is to hang onto power and the oil revenues and business commissions that go with it…The real problem in Algeria isn’t Islamic fundamentalism, it’s injustice.”

– Habib Souaidia, author of La sale guerre, as quoted in Time, April 16, 2001

1.

His name might not ring a bell this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but there is hardly an Algerian who wouldn’t recognize the name of Khaled Nezzar. Once, one of Algeria’s most powerful men, if not the most powerful, in the country, Khaled Nezzar was Algeria’s Minister of Defense and one of five members of Algeria’s High Council of State that suspended the country’s second round of elections scheduled for 1992 and engineered what was in essence a military coup.

That act plunged the country into a horrific civil war in which Nezzar was not merely a participant, but one of the main architects. Nezzar served as Minister of Defense from 1992-1994. He resigned from the High Council of State in 1994 after he was the target of an assassination attempt.

During the war years different human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International) cited Nezzar as “one of the main architects responsible for the bloody repression of political opponents, especially Islamicists, the massive campaign of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the first years of the dirty war which eventually cost about 200,000 deaths, 20,000 disappeared and the forced displacement of more than 1.5 million people” In his 2001 expose of the activities of the Algerian counter insurgency program, Habib Souaidia, author of La sale guerre (The Dirty War) accused the Algerian military of repeatedly perpetrating massacres of civilians while disguised as rebels, killing suspects in cold blood and torturing rebels to death during the Algerian civil war, Nezzar being one of those directing such operations.

On October 20, 2011, Khaled Nezzar was stopped by Swiss police in front of a Geneva bank and arrested. He is being charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. The indictment alleges that many of the terrorists acts allegedly committed by Islamic radical guerillas during “the dirty war,” among them many of the more heinous crimes, were actually committed by the army’s internal security counter-terrorism units (and members of the Interior Ministry’s internal security counter-insurgency units) which Nezzar directed. The Algerian government’s and Nezzar’s personal lawyers claims of immunity were rejected by the court as was his claim that the court was interfering into Algeria’s internal affairs.

Less than two weeks past, on July 31, 2012, the Swiss Federal Criminal Court released what is considered by human rights groups as a ‘landmark decision.’ Arguing the alleged crimes against Nezzar were too serious to drop, the court rejected Nezzar’s appeal to throw out the case. It ruled that international law as defined by the Geneva Convention of 1949 superseded national law. A number of Algerian political personalities have come out in Nezzar’s defense, but it would be overstating the case to argue that the nation is behind him. The original complaint against Nezzar was made by an organization, the English acronym of which is TRIAL, the Swiss Association Against Impunity. (Track Impunity Always.)

Nezzar was in Geneva to treat his smoking addiction at a medical clinic. After his arrest, he was kept in jail for two days, charged and then released. He was permitted to leave the country on condition that he returns to Switzerland to face charges. Although he promised to do so, it is unlikely that Nezzar will return to Switzerland to face the judicial music. Still, even in his absence, the trial will be politically charged for what it might reveal about the activities of Nezzar and the Algerian government in those dark days.

Others with whom the top Algerian leadership had close relations, such as French intelligence, can only be uncomfortable with the proceedings as well. The leadership of the High Council of State maintained close ties with its former colonial masters in French military intelligence throughout the dirty war. Any whiff of French complicity – until now suspected by unproven – could prove both embarrassing and damaging to French interests. French-Algerian relations run the gamit – including historic, economic and political ties. France is a major importer of Algerian oil and natural gas.

2.

At the time that the Algerian elections were suspended in 1991, all the indications suggested that had the election proceeded, that an Islamicist party, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique de Salut or FIS as it was commonly known), would have swept the elections and come to power, breaking the stranglehold that the Algerian military and its powerful internal security force had enjoyed since 1965 when Houari Boumedienne, a colonel in the Algerian army, came to power in a coup d’etat ‘to restore order’.

It is unclear what a 1991 FIS victory would have meant for the country; that we will never know. But there is not much to suggest that it would have resulted in the implementation of shari’a law and that much of the hysteria an FIS win provoked was simple fear mongering. Clearer though is the fate of the ruling military-security elite. Their grip on power and control of oil profits would have been broken or at the very least seriously compromised. The glory days when they could use the country’s oil and gas profits for a cash cow to buy new weapons systems and send their children on weekend trips to Paris dentists would have evaporated as well.

‘Having it all’ and seeing it all slip through their fingers, the Algerian leadership at the time essentially panicked. From the time Boumedienne had come to power, democracy in the country was little more than a facade. Algeria was a military dictatorship with democratic trappings in which the voice of the people was stifled and then silenced early on. As long as the price of oil remained high, Algeria’s military junta was able to hide the mess that had become the Algerian economy. But as oil prices collapsed in the early 1980s, the facade collapsed. Its left rhetoric and talk of socialism aside, the Algerian Revolution’s failure to deliver on either prosperity or democracy was exposed. Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, was soaring, corruption and misuse of oil profits among the elite was rampant, and repression, long a factor, had intensified. Put another way, the social chemistry that led to the explosion known as the Arab Spring in late 2010 were already percolating in Algeria nearly a quarter of a century earlier. Angry demonstrations – calls for the government to live up their promises, to end the nepotism, corruption and repression became louder.

Somewhat similar to the Polish communists who in 1988 bet that the experience of their party would be able to outflank the new dissident voices in an electoral contest, two years later, the Algerian generals gambled that they would win an electoral contest against an expanding political opposition. The government still tried to hide behind the Algerian Revolution of 1962, claiming they were the generation of the national liberation movement and had provided many of the revolution’s martyrs. In both the cases of Poland and Algeria, the powers that be discovered just how far afield they were from the pulse of the people. It was striking just how out of touch both ruling elites turned out to be with their electorate, as if the governments lived on one planet and the population of the countries inhabited another world.

The Polish Communists lost the 1988 elections by a margin, if I recall correctly, of 99–1, opening up a new dawn for Polish politics that spelled the end of communist power there. The Algerian military did not fare as poorly as the Polish Communists, but still they got trounced and the writing of history was, as the saying goes, ‘on the wall.’ The FIS (mentioned above) swept to victory with 54% of the votes cast. As with the victories of Islamicists in Palestine in 2006 and in 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt, polls showed that it wasn’t so much that the population had turned to religion as much as it was a turn away from those in power. In Algeria, a second round was scheduled for 1992. It never took place. In short, the Algerian leadership panicked. The military junta that ruled behind the curtains came out in the open and assumed the full powers that they had held behind the scenes. The president was removed; the military dictatorship came out in the open. It is essentially still in place today despite new sugar-coated democratic trappings.

Then all hell broke loose.

The election suspension triggered a civil war which lasted nearly a decade in which the number of dead might have exceeded 200,000, although we’ll never know the precise count. An armed uprising erupted, the sources of which remain murky. It lasted until 1999 – and in fact – never entirely ended. In response to the uprising, in the name of countering Islamic fundamentalism, the High Council of State unleashed a reign of terror on the country. Jihad versus anti-Jihad? That is how the media spun it, in Algeria, France and the U.S.A. This wasn’t a case of an old fashion Latin America-like military coup of an essentially greedy and pervasively corrupted leadership. No – the Algerian generals were the last line of defense against a Salafist (Islamic fundamentalist uprising) whose goal was to destroy Algerian democracy and modernism and thrust the country, Taliban-like, to some version of 7th century Islam.

Among those leading the charge against ‘the forces of evil’ – or so it was said was General Khaled Nezzar.

But it wouldn’t take long before gaping holes appeared in this version of events and even already in the 1990s, rather stinging questions as to what the Algerian leadership, its military and security force were actually up to began to emerge.

To be continued …

Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

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