Record number of states vote for UN resolution on death penalty moratorium

December 19th, 2014

18/12/14; Natasja Sheriff

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday calling for an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution passed with a record 117 votes in favor, with the United States, along with 37 other nations, opposing the move. 117 states voted for international freeze on executions, leaving the US increasingly isolated with ‘no’ vote
Support for the resolution, which is nonbinding, has increased steadily since it was first adopted in 2007, when 104 states lodged a “yes” vote; this is the fifth time the General Assembly has voted on the issue. Last time the resolution went before the General Assembly, in 2012, it received support from 111 countries. The final tally today also shows an uptick even from Nov. 21, when the draft resolution received 114 votes in favor in the U.N.’s social, humanitarian and cultural committee.
“The numbers don’t look huge, two or three states every year,” said Chiara Sangiorgio, death penalty expert at Amnesty International, “but in time it is significant that support [for the resolution] is definitely increasing.”
This year, Eritrea, Fiji, Niger and Suriname moved from an abstention to a “yes” vote; Equatorial Guinea, Kiribati and Sao Tome-Principe also added their support. Bahrain, Myanmar, Tonga and Uganda moved from a ‘no’ vote to an abstention.
One key addition to the 2014 resolution focuses on the rights of foreign nationals who are detained or arrested abroad. The new clause calls on member states to respect their obligations under article 36 of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The convention requires that states notify a detained foreign national of their right to inform their consulate or embassy of their detention.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the U.S. violated the 1963 Convention by not informing 51 Mexican nationals, held by the U.S., of their rights to notify the Mexican consulate of their detention. Edgar Tamayo and Ramiro Hernandez, two of the Mexican nationals the ruling referred to, were nonetheless executed in Texas earlier this year.
But, said Sangiorgio, the plight of foreign nationals on death row goes well beyond the United States.
“We see that it is often drug mules that are getting the death penalty, for instance in Southeast Asia, and we’ve seen the plight of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries, where they are exposed to a judicial process that often is carried out in a language that they do not understand,” said Sangiorgio.
Consular assistance can provide critical legal representation to a foreign national detained overseas, particularly if they face the death penalty.
Thursday’s resolution also urged states not to impose the death penalty on people with mental or intellectual disabilities. Previous resolution included restrictions on the use of the capital punishment for children under 18 years old and pregnant women.

Global, Death Penalties

Migration: Global development’s biggest good news story … almost (2)

December 19th, 2014

18/12/14; Richard Mallett & Jessica Hagen-Zanker

Analysis: Strict laws enforced by wealthy nations not only prevent migration, but also sustain poverty around the world
Migration is big news — it makes headlines when UK Prime Minister David Cameron proposes to limit immigrants’ access to tax credits, and it leads the bulletins when boats loaded with migrants and refugees drown in the Mediterranean.
But there is something missing from the public discourse: the lives of migrants themselves. We’re pretty good at talking about what we as a country get out of immigration: depending on your position, migrants are either viewed as engines of entrepreneurship, growth and diversity or the source of economic decline and cultural decay.
On International Migrants Day (Dec. 18), it’s worth pointing out that we are far less good at putting a face to the numbers. Each movement across an international border is underwritten by a human story, whether it’s the family fleeing the horror of a civil war or the young worker bitterly frustrated by the lack of opportunities at home.
The fact that this perspective is usually absent from the debate in turn obscures a simple yet powerful idea: that international migration is one of the most effective ways of reducing global poverty. To put it into perspective, more than $400 billion of remittances were sent back by international migrants in 2012; compare this to the $135 billion spent by OECD donors on foreign aid in 2013.
Researchers have examined the size of economic losses caused by current restrictions on international migration, and the findings are frankly remarkable. As development economist and world-leading migration expert, Michael Clemens, puts it, “The few estimates we have should make economists’ jaws hit their desks.”
In his review of the available evidence, Clemens reports that an expansion of international migration, realized through the removal of some (read: not all) restrictions on people’s movement, could generate economic gains equivalent to 20 percent of global GDP. And that’s a conservative estimate – some studies place the figure closer to 60 percent. In short, migration works for poverty reduction — to an extraordinary degree.
Wasted potential

Harsh regulations on migration and work visas damage the global economy. Despite the fact that migration is capable of producing these huge positive effects, there are systemic features undermining its potential.
Part of this is about the kinds of restrictive border controls imposed by wealthy nations. It’s also about the vulnerabilities faced by migrants on a day-to-day basis, which undermine economic gains and place huge stresses on the individual.
International migration is a risky business. For one thing, it’s expensive.
Research done by the UK-based Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium in Nepal estimates that the average cost of a loan required to finance migration to the Gulf States is the equivalent of an entire year’s household expenditure. But it also exposes migrants to different forms of physical violence, exploitation and mental suffering on a huge scale.
And contrary to popular belief, these risks are not confined to transit or the foreign workplace. As the research from Nepal shows, they start at home. The stories reported on the challenges facing migrants are a reminder that international migration is a huge gamble for the individual. And the stakes could not be higher. Every day around the world, migrants risk life and limb, incarceration and extortion.
It is these enormous financial cost and personal risks — themselves manifestations of the way the system works — that are undermining what could be the most impressive tool for poverty reduction there is available.
Migration is about people wanting to make a better life for themselves and their families. Containing mobility, and thereby limiting people’s ability to seek out new opportunities, is a waste of endless possibility. This chronic failure to recognize and protect the welfare, safety and dignity of migrants is a shameful indictment of twenty-first century nation-state politics and neoliberal economics.
What’s the way forward?
– So what can be done about this?
Restrictive border controls, which essentially serve to cordon off the world’s spaces of wealth and opportunity from billions of people, are part of the problem. But it’s unlikely that we will see a drastic relaxation of these any time soon.
While the domestic political climate in many Western states means we are unlikely to see a drastic relaxation of these any time soon, there is a powerful case to be made that more humane border regimes are exactly what is need to improve this situation. And only because it is a difficult argument to make, doesn’t mean it’s not worth making.
Less radical options also exist.
David McKenzie and Dean Yang, two US-based development economists, recently examined the effectiveness of a mix of policies designed to enhance the benefits of migration and mitigate the costs. Unfortunately, the evidence we have on this is pretty weak, but they do find a couple of areas where potential for real improvement exists. One of these is pre-departure policies: holding orientation sessions before migrants get on the plane can help tackle the kinds of information asymmetries that make migrants so exploitable in the first place in places such as Nepal.
Likewise, research suggests that the ‘migration middle-men’ — agents who line migrants up with documents, flights and jobs, often for an inflated cost — need to be much better regulated. In many places, there are already laws claiming to offer this regulation, but that’s not to say they are being implemented.
There is also evidence to suggest that much more could be done to improve the development impacts of remittances. Research earlier this year by the Overseas Development Institute found that excessive bank fees placed on remittance transfers is costing sub-Saharan Africa nearly $2 billion a year — money which then cannot be used by migrants to send their kids to school or keep their family healthy.
The evidence reviewed by McKenzie and Yang shows that reducing the cost of sending remittances boosts migrants’ saving and spending levels. This could be achieved through a number of means, but increasing competition within the money transfer market is a sensible option.
In fact, there is a whole lot that could be done — not least in relation to respecting the basic human rights of migrant workers. But apathy and inaction on a huge scale is sustaining a global system of exploitation. Until governments start taking this issue more seriously, migration will remain development’s biggest good news story that never quite was. This is the last of a four-part series by journalists and researchers looking at the human story behind migration. The pieces were brought together by the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium, a global program focusing livelihoods and service delivery in conflict-affected situations.

December 19th, 2014

Tony Abbott is no common sense speaking politician — just look at his comments on ISIL
17/12/14; Douglas Murray

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott gives a statement to the media about the hostage situation which took place in Martin Place yesterday, at Parliament House on December 16, 2014 in Canberra, Australia.
Wow. Anyone who still harboured the idea that Australia was led by no-nonsense, common sense speaking politicians should look away now.
Here is Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, talking about the motivations of the man who held a shop full of people hostage earlier this week and then murdered two of them:
‘The point I keep making is that the ISIL death cult has nothing to do with any religion, any real religion. It has nothing to do with any particular community. It is something to which sick individuals succumb.’
That is right, ladies and gentlemen. If you or I suffer from a seasonal cold this winter we must be careful it does not develop into full-blown ISIL. Otherwise before we know it we will find ourselves holding innocent people hostage and gunning them down in chocolate shops.
This theme emerged from Australia’s PM after his country went through the latest ‘fear of backlash’ diversion. This is the now traditional means by which public attention is not only shifted away from an actual attack but, coincidentally, away from the community which in Tony Abbott’s term ‘spawned’ the perpetrator. And so instead of knuckling down to stop any further such extremism from its midsts the Muslim communities and their leadership can paint themselves as the victims. And all non-Muslim Australians as knuckle-dragging savages limbering up for a pogrom.
Anyhow, Mr Abbott continued: ‘The idea that, you know, ISIL is somehow spawned by any particular religion, frankly, it’s probably even less true than saying that Catholicism spawned the IRA.’
Not just ‘nothing to do with Islam’ remember. Less to do with Islam than anything else. Now who else has rung that dud bell recently?
Later on Mr Abbott said of ISIL: ‘They claim to be acting in the name of God… But there is no serious religious leader who is defending this.’
The Prime Minister of Australia — consider this pass — goes on to discuss which Sunni and other religious leaders he believes to have come out against ISIL. Shame he hasn’t spent any time considering the really quite serious theological death cults which not only dominate but actually run Iran, Gaza and Saudi Arabia – to name just three – and which have major terrorist representation in every other country in the Middle East and beyond. Sure they differ in attitudes towards ISIL. But is Mr Abbott sure they’re on his side?
As I said, it would have been better to have looked away now. Were circumstances different I — along with many others worldwide — would be roaring with laughter at Mr Abbott. But his country is in mourning and decent people everywhere know how to behave, even if Mr Abbott does not.

Australia, Prime Minister


Israeli court bans Gazans from attending hearings
This year’s Israeli onslaught on Gaza caused an unprecedented amount civilian death and damage to civilian property. The Israeli Supreme Court yesterday rejected a petition by human rights organisations against the Israeli policy which bans Gaza’s residents who filed complaints against the Israeli army or their witnesses from entering Israel to attend hearings, local Palestinian news agency Sama reported.
Several human rights centres, including Adalah, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights have filed complaints on behalf of four people from Gaza harmed by Israeli forces during the recent war on the enclave.
The Israeli Supreme Court denied the plaintiffs’ entry to Israel on several occasions. Judge Elyakim Rubinstein said Israel is wearing two hats at the same time: “The country is responsible for security and it is the culprit at the same time.”
In wake of the lawsuits, the Israeli Public Prosecution suggested the Supreme Court check the entrance permits for Palestinians from Gaza for the purpose of following up judicial proceedings.
The court did not mention in its ruling the violation of the constitutional rights given for the complainants and their rights to obtain compensation for the harm the Israeli army caused them during the war.
Rubinstein explained this issue must be seen “not from an absolute constitutional view”, but from a “security view”.
Adalah said that this decision prevents Gaza’s residents from reaching Israeli courts and it approves “illegal” systems which harm the complainants’ constitutional rights.
This decision, Adalah continued, also prevents lawyers from meeting their Gaza-based clients.

Israel, Palestine

Call to end ‘toxic’ refugee debate (1)
#155, 12/14

A report produced by a high-level roundtable of policy makers and experts has called for a new approach in the “toxic” debate regarding asylum seekers and an increase in Australia’s intake of refugees.
The report, Beyond the Boats — building an asylum and refugee policy for the long term, makes nine recommendations, including the end of mandatory detention apart from initial screening, improving treatment of asylum seekers in Australia, ending the demonisation of asylum seekers, processing asylum seekers in their home countries before they flee and raising Australia’s humanitarian intake of refugees to at least 25,000 (now 13,750, dropped from the 20,000 set by the Gillard government).
The roundtable was co-hosted by the Centre for Policy Development, think-tank Australia2l, and the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of NSW.
It brought together a diverse group of 35 experts, including parliamentarians from the ALP, the Liberal Party and the Greens; a former Indonesian ambassador to Australia; a strategist from Malaysia; UNHCR’s former assistant high commissioner for protection; former senior immigration and defence officials, including former Fraser government Aboriginal affairs minister and 2014 Senior Australian of the Year, Fred Chaney; academics; and representatives from the churches and civil society, including refugee advocate Paris Aristotle.
Now that the acute phase of boat arrivals appears to be over, Beyond the Boats urges all parties to use this opportunity to construct an overarching national asylum and refugee policy for the long term and move on from a debate that had boiled down to “stopping the boats”.
To make an immediate and appreciable difference, the report recommends expanding pathways for humanitarian settlement, such as through orderly departure arrangements, swift determination of claims and improved conditions, including work rights. A regional dialogue on forced migration is also proposed to help officials to look beyond electoral cycles.
The recommendations recognise that existing refugee policy has cross-party support, but seeks to build on this to provide a more constructive and humane way forward that is consistent with Australian values.
The report states that the major political parties in Australia have treated the challenge of forced migration primarily as a matter of domestic politics, rather than regional policy.
“Debate on asylum policy has become toxic. ‘Successful’ policy has been defined as that which can ‘stop the boats’,” the report states.
‘On that measure policies initiated by the previous Labor government, and strengthened by the Coalition government under the banner Operation Sovereign Borders, have been successful in significantly reducing the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.
“However, this approach does not deal with the complex nature of forced migration, its causes and human consequences, nor Australia’s responsibility within the international community to help to manage these and related issues. This approach does not resemble a long-term asylum and refugee policy for Australia.
“To establish one, we must redefine our conception of the ‘problem’, reset our goals, review our strategy and recalibrate our conception of `success’.”
Launching the report in November, Fred Chaney said it was realistic to imagine there could be a “new and better deal for refugees” in Australia. “We’re going to be able to deal with this in a much more constructive way once it ceases being the hot political issue, which I don’t think it any longer is,” Mr Chaney said.
“The fact is the boats have stopped and the Government can claim the credit for that. The Opposition will tend to claim the credit for that too, given the decisions they made late in the last government.
“You can’t keep recycling that.
– If the boats stop coming, will the problem go away?
No, it won’t because our neighbours are going to have continuing problems, we’re going to have continuing problems as a country dealing with what is an international issue.”
Writing in the report, Mr Chaney said asylum seeker policy is a highly politicised issue and that change has to come from the community.
“You have to look for serious, well-regarded community voices to explain that it is in our self-interest to manage our refugee policy in a quite different way,” he wrote.
“The issue capable of amelioration in the short term is the treatment of the 34,500 asylum seekers currently in Australia, PNG and Nauru. The principles set out in the [report I are appropriate for dealing with this aspect and could command wide support in the Australian community. “Offshore, it is essential to have transparency around what is happening as the only guarantee against oppressive and brutal behaviour. Avoiding cruelty (in a process meant as a cruel deterrent) should be a guiding, principle.
“The larger issues relating to the worldwide refugee crisis also require acceptance in the Australian community which leads to acceptance in the political community, that we need to work internationally and regionally to achieve effective approaches.
Round-table participant and former Indonesian ambassador to Australia, Wiryono Sastrohandoyo,- told the ABC that Australia’s “pushback” policy was “not helpful”.
“The Australian Government is approaching it, not in a humanitarian way, but more in a military way. That is my impression,” Mr Sastrohandovo said.
“If you see it is a military problem, then the policy is simply to push back and that means throwing the problem to Indonesia.
“We are call only a transit country. The refugees do not come from Indonesia. They come through Indonesia. And we have been cooperating but now you simply push them back.”
Mr Sastronandoyo said full cooperation was needed between the countries of origin, transit countries like Indonesia and destination countries like Australia.
Refugee advocate Paris Aristotle pushed for a new dialogue that allows officials to talk off the record in a personal capacity about longer-term police options.
“What I would like to see happen is for the entrenched positions that people have held for so long to be broken down and for people to come into a dialogue process that allows us to discuss all of the issues and provide credible, viable and long-lasting strategies for managing this issue better,” Mr Aristotle said. Writing in The Canberra Times after the round-table in July, the chairs of the panel said there was no solution to the issue, “unless it be peace and tolerance in all the countries from which people are fleeing”.
“Rather, it is a question of finding a way of managing the issue in our region that treats asylum seekers in a fair and dignified manner, while recognising that we can only protect a tiny proportion of the millions displaced across the world.
“The ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps need to be prepared to listen to each other’s concerns, and appropriate concessions need to be made on both sides. We need to see refugees and asylum seekers as people, not as abstractions.”
What They Said

Julian Burnside, barrister and human rights advocate:
“Australian politicians have created or exploited the suggestion that ‘boat people are dangerous criminals from • whom we need to be protected. It is false, and politicians should be exposed for creating or exploiting that falsehood. It is not consistent with respectful engagement if one side of the argument continues to call boat people `illegal’ when they are not; continues to jail them when they haven’t committed any offence; continues to treat them as though they are dangerous criminals, when they are not; and continues to say that we need to be protected from them.”
Paris Aristotle, CEO Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture:
“Regardless of the rationale or objectives for implementing policies to manage asylum seekers, they should never be designed with the intention of preventing people from seeking protection. Purely punitive, deterrence-based models are inevitably harmful to the mental health and wellbeing of asylum seekers and unavoidably breach our international human rights obligations.”
Russell Broadbent, Liberal MP:
“This report is a new opportunity for a bipartisan approach to asylum policy.”
Adam Bandt, Greens MP:
“It’s clear that we have the ideas to make Australian immigration policy something that we can be proud of. Now it’s time for all political leaders to have the courage to implement fair policies that treat asylum seekers and refugees with the respect and compassion that they deserve.”
Sam Dastyari, Labor Senator:
“The roundtable was a bold and innovative effort to re-start a mature discussion on asylum seekers; a discussion that must respect the broad views of Australians and the deeply divisive nature of the debate in order to progress.”

To see the full report, visit: boats¬-loRes.pdf
Justice Trends; No.165, December 2014; Catholic Social Justice Council, PO Box 7246, Alexandria, NSW 2015; Phone 02 8306 3499

Migrants & Refugees

Renewed US-Cuba relations biggest success in Vatican diplomacy in decades

December 19th, 2014

7/12/14; December John Hooper
The re-opening of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba is the biggest success for the Vatican’s ultra-discreet diplomacy for at least 30 years.
As the leaders of both countries acknowledged in their statements, Pope Francis and his envoys had played key roles in healing the breach.
The only comparable success for papal mediation was in 1984 when Vatican diplomats helped to end a potentially explosive border dispute between Chile and Argentina over the possession of three strategically located islands in the Beagle channel at the southern tip of South America.
Whether by coincidence or design, news of the historic reconciliation emerged on the day Francis celebrated his 78th birthday.
All sides agreed that the contact between the two sides gained vital extra momentum from letters the pope sent to Presidents Obama and Castro last summer. The Vatican said the letters called on the two countries “to resolve humanitarian questions of common interest, including the situation of certain prisoners, in order to initiate a new phase in relations”.
The Vatican also hosted delegations from the two countries at what were said to have been the talks at which the breakthrough was made. Kenneth Hackett, the US ambassador to the Holy See, said a senior Vatican official had “played an important part in this historic moment by meeting with US and Cuban delegations in October to help bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion”.
The re-establishment of normal relations between the two countries has been a cause dear to the hearts of successive popes, but the issue took on greater importance after the election last year of the first Latin American leader of the Catholic church.
President Obama discussed Cuba with the pope during his visit to the Vatican in March and continued to work with the Holy See thereafter.
Sources in Rome and Washington said that the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, had played a key role in brokering a deal. He too was in Rome in October and held a meeting with the pope on October 3. But it was not clear whether he was the official referred to by Hackett.
John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, met with his Vatican counterpart on Monday. But the official version of the talks, issued by the Vatican, said they had concentrated on efforts to close the US detention camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
Diplomats in Rome were told that the issue of bilateral relations between Cuba had arisen, but that it was a minor part of Kerry’s discussions with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state. Kerry came to Rome on a European tour that was mainly about reviving peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian authority.
The pope is said by sources close to the Vatican to hold Ortega in high regard. Francis has had two meetings this year with the Cuban cardinal, the first being on 5 April.
But most intriguing is a special appointment he conferred on the archbishop last summer. According to both Obama and Castro, Canada hosted talks between envoys of their two countries which led up to Wednesday’s announcement. On 12 July, Ortega was named as the pope’s special envoy to the celebrations of the 350th anniversary of the foundation of the first Roman Catholic parish in the Americas north of Mexico – that of Notre-Dame de Québec.
The news of his mission was slipped out by the Vatican’s press office on a Saturday – the last in a list of appointments, below that of a new officer for the court of first instance for cases of matrimonial nullity in the Italian region of Lazio. The cardinal-archbishop thus had a perfect excuse for travelling to and from Canada during a crucial phase in the negotiations.
Ortega in any case has a special link to Canada – he studied in Quebec City with the Quebec Foreign Missionary Society. He celebrated a special, pontifical high mass at Notre Dame on 14 September and addressed the Canadian bishops’ annual conference two days later.

UN envoy calls for removal of obstacles blocking Gaza reconstruction (3)

December 19th, 2014


The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry expressed deep concern about the difficult situation in the Gaza Strip in light of the continued closure of the crossings and the inhospitable environment for reconstruction.
In a written statement about his visit yesterday, Serry revealed that he plans to brief the UN Security Council next week on the need for all parties and the international community to fulfil the promises they made during the Cairo Conference for Gaza Reconstruction to give the enclave more than just hope, and provide material to enable its people to rebuild their lives and create a suitable environment that leads to ending the siege.
He said: “It’s time to make progress on all levels in order to avoid a renewal of conflict. By the end of this month more than 20,000 homeowners are expected to be able to procure construction material for urgent repairs of their dwellings.” However, he stressed that this is just the beginning of an effective reconstruction process in Gaza and that there is much more to be done.
Serry pointed out that, during talks with the Palestinian unity government ministers in Gaza and members of the private sector, he stressed the importance of direct engagement to address the large-scale reconstruction challenges and to give priority to projects that serve this purpose through the temporary mechanism, noting that the implementation of the first projects to revive the private sector may begin as early as next week.
His work mechanism, he explains, aim s to open Gaza for reconstruction as agreed at the Cairo Conference, calling on the need for a permanent ceasefire and for the national unity government – led by President Mahmoud Abbas – to able to bear its legal responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, including taking control of the crossings. “The ceasefire is still fragile, unofficial and hasn’t been so far reinforced. The unity government is still unable to have full control of the Gaza Strip crossing points,” Serry said.
Serry said he remained “gravely concerned about the dire situation” and planned to urge all stakeholders and the international community to “make good” on their calls to help Gaza when he visits the UN Security Council next week. “This includes progress on all fronts, progress which must be made now lest we see Gaza fall back into yet another conflict,” he concluded.

Kerry: US will veto Palestinian bid for statehood (2)

December 19th, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to have informed the Palestinian delegation headed by Saeb Erekat that Washington will use its veto power at the UN Security Council against the Arab draft resolution which calls for an end to the Israeli occupation of the Palestine territories occupied in 1967; AFP quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying.
Kerry had earlier said that Washington has not decided on the Security Council draft resolution saying: “The time is not right for speculation about a UN draft resolution that has not been submitted yet.”
He told reporters before his meeting with Erekat that it was imperative to help lower tensions. “Many of us share a deep sense of urgency about this. But we’re also very mindful that we have to carefully calibrate any steps that are taken for this difficult moment in the region,” he said.
Al-Jazeera’s Bureau Chief in Ramallah Walid Al-Omari said the Palestinian leadership delayed a meeting scheduled yesterday and will wait for the outcome of a meeting between the Palestinian delegation and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers, headed by Nabil Elaraby, with the US secretary of state and European foreign ministers.
On Monday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Kerry in Rome. Israel’s Channel 10 said that Netanyahu attempted to push the US to use its veto against the Palestinian draft resolution.

EU parliament backs Palestinian state ‘in principle (1)

December 19th, 2014

17/12/14; The Guardian, Peter Beaumont
Israel has been hammered by a series of diplomatic rebuffs across Europe after the European parliament voted overwhelmingly for qualified recognition of the Palestinian state.
The vote on Wednesday came on the same day as a meeting of signatories to the Geneva conventions warned that Israel must respect international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories. The rare international meeting in Switzerland of the high contracting parties to the Geneva conventions was boycotted by Israel, the US, Canada and Australia.
In a further upset for Israel, the EU’s second-highest court ordered the removal of Hamas from a terrorist blacklist, citing legal problems with the listing, though it added that the Islamist group’s assets would remain frozen for three months pending an almost certain appeal. Later European officials and states – including the UK – scrambled to explain that despite the court’s ruling they still regard Hamas as a terror group and planned “remedial action”.
The day of swirling diplomacy and politics in Europe preceded the expected tabling of a resolution at the UN security council that seeks to push forward the case of Palestinian statehood and call for an end to Israeli occupation. The Guardian understands the text to be a compromise between Jordanian and French resolutions.
Israel’s prime minister said the moves in Europe were an example of “staggering hypocrisy”. Speaking before a meeting with the US senator, Joni Ernst, Binyamin Netanyahu invoked the Holocaust: “In Geneva they call for the investigation of Israel for war crimes, while in Luxembourg the EU court removed Hamas from the terror list … It seems that too many in Europe, on whose soil 6 million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing.”
The vote in the European parliament, on a watered-down motion that was passed by an overwhelming majority of MEPs, follows symbolic votes in recent months by several national parliaments – including the UK, Sweden, Ireland and France – to recognise a Palestinian state. Luxembourg joined that group on Wednesday, passing two motions to parliament.
After a deal among the main parties in the parliament, the motion, carried by 498 votes to 88, stated: “The European parliament supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced.” Leftwing MEPs had originally wanted to urge the EU’s 28 member states to recognise Palestine without conditions.
The latest moves have emerged out of a growing sense of frustration in Europe over continued settlement building by Israel and a lack of progress in the peace process.
France, in particular, has put itself forward in efforts to internationalise the moribund peace process, suggesting an international conference and taking the lead in drafting a resolution at the UN. “For 25 years, the peace process has been a failure due to the internal constraints of the two parties [the Israelis and Palestinians]. We must find a new approach,” a French diplomatic source said.
For its part, the Geneva conference – requested by the Palestinians and attended by 126 states – focused largely on the prohibition on colonising occupied land, issuing a 10-point declaration calling on Israel to “fully and effectively” respect the fourth Geneva convention to protect civilians during times of war, including in East Jerusalem and other occupied territories. The declaration is legally binding.
Most damagingly, Israel failed in its attempts to persuade major European countries to boycott the conference, claiming that the talks “politicised” human rights law.
In Israel, however, most attention was focused on the coincidence of the European parliament vote and the ruling by the general court of the EU – the political bloc’s second highest court – that the listing of Hamas as a terrorist group was legally flawed as it was based on procedural and evidentiary shortcomings. The court’s decision followed an appeal filed by Hamas against its inclusion on the EU’s blacklist. Several European states were reportedly hurrying to provide evidence to demonstrate that Hamas should remain listed as a terrorist organisation.
The recent flurry of moves on the European stage follows warnings by US and European diplomats that Israel risks international isolation over its policies, with the issue of settlement building of particular concern.
News of the moves came as the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, confirmed that an Arab-backed draft on ending Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967 would be submitted on Wednesday to the security council.
However, Malki said the vote on the resolution could be put off, suggesting a compromise was being considered to avoid a clash in the council. The Jordanian-backed draft, which the US is almost certain to veto, sets a November 2016 deadline for an Israeli withdrawal. Malki told the Voice of Palestine radio station there would be further negotiations on the wording.

Israel, Palestine

Australia a ‘nation of victims’, deadly Sydney siege unlikely in Texas, says pro-gun senator Leyonhjelm

December 19th, 2014

18/12/14; James Glenday

Australia is a “nation of victims” with citizens unable to properly protect themselves with weapons, pro-gun crossbench senator David Leyonhjelm has said. The Liberal Democrat said he wanted a calm, measured discussion about the right to “practical self-defence” in the wake of the deadly Sydney siege. “What happened in that cafe would have been most unlikely to have occurred in Florida, Texas, or Vermont, or Alaska in America, or perhaps even Switzerland as well,” Senator Leyonhjelm told the ABC’s AM program.
“Statistically speaking” in those jurisdictions, “one or two of the victims” would have had a concealed gun, he said. “That nutcase who held them all hostage wouldn’t have known they were armed and bad guys don’t like to be shot back at,” Senator Leyonhjelm said.
He said the Lindt cafe hostages were helpless because they were not allowed to carry a lethal or non-lethal weapon. “It would have been illegal for them to have had a knife, a stick, a pepper spray, a personal taser, mace, anything like that for self-defence,” he said.
“I regard that [as] an absolute travesty. To turn an entire population into a nation of victims is just unforgiveable in my estimation.” Senator Leyonhjelm has long argued Australians should be allowed greater access to weapons.
He left the Liberal Party because of John Howard’s crackdown on guns following the Port Arthur massacre and said the public could not be confident police or tougher laws will stop violent crime or acts of terrorism. “We’ve got tougher laws, they were introduced by the Government just in the last few months, they did nothing to prevent this bloke from committing evil acts in the name of Islamism”, Senator Leyonhjelm said. “They didn’t prevent him from getting a gun. It’s just not acceptable that we are all disarmed victims.”
Sydney siege is Tony Abbott’s Port Arthur moment, Greens say
On the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Greens have labelled the horrific hostage situation Tony Abbott’s Port Arthur moment. “In the wake of the Port Arthur massacre John Howard did the right thing,” Greens acting leader Adam Bandt said. “He said, ‘this is a tragedy and shows what happens when someone who is unstable gets access to a gun’. “Tony Abbott needs to take a leaf out of John Howard’s book.”
The Greens want the joint NSW and federal inquiry into the siege to focus largely on the question of how Man Haron Monis was able to obtain a weapon. “How did someone who had mental health issues, who is charged with being accessory to murder, get a gun?” Mr Bandt said.
“If the inquiry focuses on that it has the potential to make this country safer and we might see some positive reform arise out of this tragedy. “The idea that we will make Australia safer by becoming more like the United States… and giving more people access to guns just beggars belief.”
Mr Abbott was initially told by security officials that Monis had a gun licence, but police said they have no record of it. A spokesman for Gun Control Australia, Roland Browne, told RN Breakfast that for someone to get a licence, they have to demonstrate that they are a fit and proper person with a need for a firearm, but he said there were ways to get around the laws.
“People can lie when they apply for gun licences and they can make themselves out to be, for example, a hunter, which is an inaccurate expression and allows people to slip under what would otherwise be an effective restriction,” he said.
Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer backed tough gun control laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. He said it was “seductive nonsense” to suggest American-style firearm policies would be appropriate in Australia. “Debate will always go on in a good democracy but where it is built on a pack of lies from the NRA (National Rifle Association) it should be dealt with swiftly,” he said. “It is seductive nonsense to say concealed gun laws would somehow work here in Australia.”
US president Barack Obama reiterated that Washington stood ready to provide assistance following the siege.
In a phone conversation with Mr Abbott, Mr Obama expressed condolences to the families who lost loved ones. Mr Obama also praised Australia’s rejection of any violence taken in the name of religion.

Torture program linked to discredited, illegal CIA techniques (4)

December 19th, 2014

14/12/14 Jeffrey Kaye @jeff_kaye

Suspects held by the US or by other countries working with the US were subjected to brutal torture based on discredited interrogation programs of the past, according to the SSCI report.
Torture methods employed by the CIA under the guise of its “enhanced interrogation techniques” program can be traced back — through personnel and decades of research — to human experiments designed to induce the subjugation of prisoners through use of isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, psychoactive drugs and other means, according to details contained in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, a summary of which was released last week.
While many have focused on the brutal physical distress inflicted on detainees — beatings, extreme cold and heat, painful rectal force-feedings, waterboarding, and more — a close reading of the 500-page summary also suggests other disturbing aspects of the CIA’s means of breaking down prisoners.
The CIA chief of interrogations under the Bush administration, whose name was redacted in the Senate report, previously used a discredited training manual, Human Resource Exploitation (HRE), which was identified as using torture on political opponents of 1980s Latin America regimes — he was even admonished by the agency over the matter. That handbook, according to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, drew “significant portions” from an even earlier 1960s CIA interrogation handbook that advocated rapport-style interrogations and, when CIA found it was needed, the torture of suspects. Both manuals were heavily influenced by the work of the CIA’s MKULTRA program.
And MKULTRA is the stuff of nightmares — a multimillion-dollar program that endorsed the use of LSD, hypnotism, sensory deprivation, and sleep deprivation, among other physiological, psychological and behavioral techniques. The goal was to gain total psychological control over people and, in particular, prisoners held by the CIA or military intelligence agencies in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Any suggestion of the drugging of prisoners in the post-9/11 era could be explosive. The application of “mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality” is a serious violation of federal law, with convictions bringing sentences up to 20 years in prison. Still, details and language in the SSIC report could be seen to be pointing in that direction.
Allegations of the use of pharmacological agents against detainees exist in the summary. Authors of the SSCI report cite repeated statements by “high-value” prisoner Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri that his CIA captors drugged him. The report does not comment further on this issue, though at least one other prisoner is described as being “sedated” at one point.
The interrogators tasked with working al-Nashiri over would have been operating under instructions given to them in “approximately 65 hours” of training in a course called “High Value Target Interrogation and Exploitation,” according to the SSCI report.
The course taught a program that CIA psychologists had developed through the adoption of techniques from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) handbook, meant to help U.S. servicemen withstand torture if captured by a government that did not abide by the rules of the Geneva Convention.
The chief architects of these enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) were James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen — two former Air Force psychologists who left SERE to work for the CIA.
Their roles have been well documented. But until the release of the Senate’s report, there had been no indication that the CIA already employed Mitchell at the time he was hired to work on “war on terror” interrogations.
According to new information in the summary, when Mitchell joined up with CIA black site interrogators in Thailand in April 2002, he had already been working as a contractor for a division within the agency that has a long and storied — some would say, infamous — history, the Office of Technical Services (OTS).
The role of the OTS in the origin of the current torture scandal has not been highlighted until now. But it is not the first time the office and its predecessors have been involved with torture.
The OTS has gone by other names in its history, including Technical Services Staff (TSS), and Technical Services Division (TSD). Its purpose was to create the technologies used by the covert operations wing of the CIA, including spy satellites, secret writing ink, audio and optical surveillance, concealment devices, and novel methods of assassination.
According to one declassified CIA document, OTS receives its orders “through higher echelons (Office of the Director or Deputy Director for Operations).”
And it was through OTS’s predecessors — both TSS and TSD — that MKULTRA operated.
With well over 100 subprograms, MKULTRA cost millions of dollars in its over two decades of operation, ending in the early 1970s. It researched the possible use of many different kinds of drugs, including hallucinogens like LSD.
Its controversial techniques were the subject of more than one Congressional investigation (see this example [PDF] of one such investigation).
The lessons from the MKULTRA program were incorporated into a manual in the early 1960s. The handbook, known by its CIA acronym KUBARK, includes descriptions of drugging of prisoners — a process it called “narcosis.” A number of the KUBARK techniques migrated to the later, 1980s HRE manual.
Links to earlier torture
The link from MKULTRA to KUBARK to HRE to the post-9/11 EIT torture program was not just ideational, but organizational, even involving personnel from earlier torture programs.
According to the Senate report, the person chosen in late 2002 to be the “CIA’s chief of interrogations in the CIA’s Renditions Group, the officer in charge of CIA interrogations” had been elevated to the post despite having earlier been accused of “inappropriate use” of HRE techniques.
Mitchell and Jessen — who are widely acknowledged to be the men referred to in the SSCI report as SWIGERT and DUNBAR, psychologists whose contracting company was paid $81 million by the government — were “commissioned” by OTS in late December 2001 or early January 2002 to write a study of Al Qaeda techniques for resistance to interrogation.
By April 1, 2002, according to the Senate report, OTS cabled a new “proposed interrogation strategy” to the CIA interrogation group at the black site holding Zubaydah in Thailand. The new strategy was “coordinated” with Mitchell, and included manipulation of the environment “intended to cause psychological disorientation” for the prisoner.
According to the OTS cable, the plan was meant to instill in a prisoner “the deliberate establishment of psychological dependence upon the interrogator,” and “an increased sense of learned helplessness.” The emphasis on “psychological dependence” mirrors the language of the KUBARK manual, and the theories behind control of human behavior that were explored in the MKULTRA program.
Human experimentation
Later questions about assessing the “effectiveness” of the new “enhanced interrogation techniques” introduced by Mitchell and OTS raised fears within CIA’s Office of Medical Services that studying the EITs would violate federal policy on human experimentation.
Addressing such concerns, the CIA’s Inspector General said a review of the EIT program would not need “additional, guinea pig research on human beings” — “additional” implying that such experimentation may have already taken place.
But he added that there were “subtleties to this matter,” noting the need to study variables in how the techniques were affecting prisoners, including individual differences, and how prisoners reacted over different time periods, intensities of administration, and to different combinations of techniques.
By this time, OTS and its Operational Assessment Division had vetted the supposed safety of the program and reported to Justice Department attorneys, who were themselves trying hard to find a reason to allow the torture.
The Senate report also cited conflicts of interest where both Mitchell and Jessen administered the brutal interrogations, evaluated their supposed effectiveness, and also determined whether a detainee was resilient or healthy enough to continue applying the EIT.
The new evidence about the role of the OTS in the implementation of the CIA torture program demonstrates the conflict of interest was not limited to Mitchell and Jessen, but included other CIA personnel and divisions. It also suggests that the EIT was not a sole aberration by two psychologists looking to make money off the “war on terror,” but that the torture program they established was rooted in the CIA’s institutional history.
It also suggests that the full extent of the CIA’s program is still not yet known, but may lie in the approximately 6,000 pages of the report that have not yet been declassified by the Senate committee.

US sees a torturer in the mirror (3)

December 19th, 2014

Dec 17, ’14 By Ramzy Baroud

The logic that torture is a “stain” on US history is the heart of the problem, since it blocks an honest reading of whatever “values” Washington actually stands for.
“This is not who we are. This is not how we operate,” were the words of President Barack Obama commenting on the grisly findings of a long-awaited congressional report on the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). But what if this is exactly who we are?
The report is difficult to read, not just because it is long – hundreds of pages of a summary of a nearly 6,000-page investigation, including 38,000 citations based on the review of 6 million pages – but because it was most disturbing. Parts of it resemble the horror of an extremely dark Hollywood movie. But it was all real: from rectal feeding (as in putting hummus in detainees’ rectums), to rape, to torturing prisoners to death, to blinding prisoners, to forcing them to stand on broken feet for days. It is beyond ghastly.
Also, it was all useless. Worse, it strongly believed that the torture dungeons, many of which were outsourced to other countries, including 25 in Europe, including the democracy and human rights-touting Britain, have achieved little but fabricated information. What else can an innocent man say when he has nothing to say; but lie, hoping that maybe such lies would save his life?
Of course, aging accused war criminals like former vice president Dick Cheney were quick to dismiss the report and its detailed brutal interrogation tactics as “full of crap”.
Without a shred of remorse, he told Fox News Channel on December 10, a day after the report was released: “What happened here was that we asked the agency to go take steps and put in place programs that were designed to catch the bastards who killed 3,000 of us on 9/11 and make sure it never happened again, and that’s exactly what they did.” It matters little that these “steps” killed innocent people, violated US and international law, and, equally important, lead to nothing but confessions under the duress of torture.
Cheney’s complete disregard for human rights and international law is not the exception, but very much defines US attitude towards seemingly unimportant matters as law and due process in its most destructive so-called war on terror. His attitude was echoed repeatedly by many others, who insist on the US’s moral superiority, yet without providing a shred of evidence to validate such an assertion.
Although one is relieved that the truth was, at least partly, laid bare, thanks to the persistent efforts of members in the Senate Intelligence Committee, the resulting discourse is still disturbing. Aside from the fact that top officials insist that there will be no prosecution for the war criminals, the language of President Obama and others promise little soul searching ahead. “This is not who we are,” said Obama.
Yet, John Brennan, the director of the CIA still defended the agency’s use of the brutal tactics in America’s gulags, “sidestepping questions about whether agency operatives tortured anyone”, according to the New York Times. “The ‘lunch tray’ for one detainee, which contained hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, ‘was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused,” the report said.
“This is not how we operate,” Obama said. But how do “we” exactly operate when the report was the outcome of 6 million documents? That is 6,000,000. There can no longer be a “few bad apples” argument made here, as the horrors of Abu Ghraib were once justified.
These practices were carried out for years. It involved numerous personnel. Numerous prisons. Many countries, including almost all of Europe, and some of the biggest human rights violators on earth, including Middle Eastern and African countries. It was financed by a mammoth budget, and continues to be defended, brazenly by those who ordered them, who are unlikely to see their day in court.
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, was adamant in her rejection of CIA torture. The program was “morally, legally and administratively misguided (and) far more brutal than people were led to believe”, she told the Senate. Fair enough. But then this, the torture program is “a stain on our values and on our history”.
There is this stubborn insistence on highlighting the same kind of moral superiority, contrary to all evidence. But isn’t the whole so-called war on terror, and the continued American military involvement in the Middle East, the lethal unmanned drone program, which has killed thousands, the unconditional support for Israel and all sorts of oppressive regimes, and much more, all “morally, legally and administratively misguided”?
Between Cheney’s bullying attitude and Obama’s, which claims that the massive, outsourced program is merely a “stain” on otherwise perfect American values, the report is unlikely to change much. Justice is unlikely to be served.
There can be no serious rethink and moral awakening without talking full responsibility, not just of vile torture tactics, but the entirety of the US’s misguided foreign policy which is predicated on violence, and lots of it. “I will leave to others how they might want to label these activities,” Brennan said.
The report indicated that detainees were tortured before they were even asked to cooperate.
– How does one label that Brennan?
Even by the logic of those who torture, such tactics are senseless. Should some insist on the old, tired “few bad apples” argument, the report indicated that in “Detention Site Green” CIA interrogators objected to the continued use of torture, before they were told to carry on by their seniors. No few bad apples. The whole barrel is rotten.
There can be no justification to what the US has done, not just against suspects in its global wars, but against entire nations, who were completely innocent of any involvement in any terror attacks on 11 September, prior or after that date.
But CIA torture being a “stain” on an otherwise flawless record doesn’t suffice either. In fact, in some way, this logic is the heart of the problem, since it blocks any attempt at honest reading of whatever “values” Washington stands for, and tries to achieve, using “soft diplomacy” of “rectal feeding”.
What is equally worrying to what the report has contained is the existing mindset in the US, among the ruling class and the media.
This reality can be best summarized in the words of a Fox News show co-host, Andrea Tantaros: “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she exclaimed. “The reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.”
With such overriding thoughtless mindset, there is little evidence to show that such “awesomeness” will cease anytime soon, even if at the expense of many innocent people.;;;

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London

U.S. torture report puts Romania’s role under scrutiny (2)

December 19th, 2014


An undated handout photo provided by GeoEye shows a satellite aerial view of The National Registry Office for Classified Information, also known as ORNISS, in a busy residential neighborhood minutes from the center of Romaniaâs capital city of Bucharest.
Between 2003 and 2006, the CIA operated a secret prison from the building’s basement, bringing in high-value terror suspects for interrogation and detention. A joint AP-ARD Panorama investigation revealed the exact location of the prison.
(Reuters) – The lawyer for a man tortured by the CIA said Romania’s authorities should acknowledge the role they played after a U.S. Senate report pointed to Romania as the site of the secret CIA jail where the man was interrogated.
The report did not name countries that hosted CIA jails, but it gave details of prisoners being transferred to and from “detention center BLACK” which matched air traffic records of CIA-chartered planes passing through Romanian airports between 2003 and 2005. Some of these records were independently reviewed by Reuters while others were cited in court documents.
According to the Senate report, the CIA gave the government that hosted the secret jail at least $1 million to thank it for supporting the agency’s detention program. The report cited the un-named CIA officer in charge of the jail telling his superiors that, despite harsh interrogation techniques, the intelligence produced was often useless.
Ioan Talpes, who was national security adviser for Romania’s president from 2000 to 2004, told Reuters Romania had allowed U.S. intelligence to operate a facility in Romania, but Romanian officials were unaware people were detained there and did not receive money in exchange for hosting any jail.
Of the facility used by the CIA, he said “it was clearly established by the Romanian side that Romanians do not participate in this, and so it was agreed with the Americans. We even did not know what would be there. In such situations it is better not to interfere.. We facilitated, we put at their disposal materials they had been asking for, but not with Romanian participation.”
The office of Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta sent questions from Reuters about the report to the foreign ministry. In a statement, the ministry said the Senate report released to the public contained no references to Romania and Romanian authorities had no evidence showing there were CIA detention centers in Romania. Nevertheless, the ministry said authorities were cooperating with a judicial investigation inside Romania into allegations about a CIA jail in the country.
“The competent authorities are taking all necessary steps to solve this case, with full respect of the principles of the rule of law and human rights,” the statement said.
President Traian Basescu did not respond to written questions. The Romanian foreign intelligence service said it had no information to show CIA detention centers existed on Romanian territory. Ion Iliescu, who was president from 2000 to 2004, told Reuters, when asked about a CIA facility: “I did not know many things. And I don’t know anything about this matter.”
The CIA declined comment.
Amrit Singh, a lawyer for Saudi national Adb al-Rahim al-Nashiri said the Senate report confirmed her client’s allegations that he was tortured in a CIA jail in Romania and that Romanian authorities failed to protect his rights. The Senate report contains details of al-Nashiri’s treatment that come direct from the CIA’s own files, information not previously available. The report says he was tortured by the CIA, without saying where.
Now in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, he has applied to the European Court of Human Rights for a judgment against Romania, arguing it allowed his secret detention and torture, and later failed to investigate properly. The court has agreed to hear the case but has not delivered a judgment. A spokeswoman for the court declined to comment on questions relating to the Senate report.
“It is incumbent on the Romanian authorities to acknowledge the truth,” said Singh, who works for the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative. “The truth is that there was a secret CIA prison on their territory.”
She said Romania had a legal obligation to prevent secret detention or torture, and there were enough reports of CIA abuses in the international media at the time to give Romania grounds to believe this might happen.
The European Convention on Human Rights, to which Romania is a signatory, says states have an obligation to ensure those in their jurisdiction are protected from torture or extra-judicial detention. The Senate report has shone an uncomfortable light on some European Union states which hosted the jails. Poland and Lithuania also hosted CIA detention sites, according to former Polish officials and Lithuanian lawmakers.
In Romania’s case, the report says detainees first arrived in autumn 2003. That coincides with a Sept. 22, 2003 flight to Romania which, according to the al-Nashiri application to the European court of Human Rights, was chartered by the CIA to bring detainees to the Romanian detention site. The Senate report also says the site was wound down in autumn 2005. That coincides with extracts from air traffic control flight data, reviewed by Reuters, for flights into and out of Romania.
Aircraft making those flights can be traced back, via invoices, flight plans and court documents also reviewed by Reuters, to companies contracted by the CIA to transport detainees between foreign detention sites. Many of those documents were first uncovered by Reprieve, a campaign group whose research on CIA flights has been cited by the European parliament.
In 2002, the CIA was looking for new places to interrogate suspects. It told its local station chief to draft a “wishlist” of assistance it could give the government in the country where it was planning to locate “detention site BLACK” to express its appreciation, the report said.
“CIA Headquarters provided the Station with $[]million more than was requested for the purposes of the subsidy,” the report said, blacking out the amount of money and the name of the country. It went on: “CIA detainees were transferred to DETENTION SITE BLACK in Country [] in the fall of 2003.”
Talpes, the former national security adviser, said Romania might have received money from U.S. intelligence for providing specific help, but that it was “nonsense” they could have been paid to allow a CIA jail of which they were ignorant.
By the time many of the detainees reached the site, they had been in detention for years, been interrogated hundreds of times and had no more information to give up, the report said.
It said many of the detainees the CIA designated as “high-value” were held at the site, among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He is at Guantanamo Bay awaiting trial on charges of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. cities.
The CIA officer in charge of the site complained to headquarters that he was being sent interrogators who were ill-trained. A few of them were incompetent, the report quoted the officer in charge as saying.
“The result, quite naturally, is the production of mediocre or, I dare say, useless intelligence,” the report cited the officer, who was not identified by name, as saying in an April 15, 2005 email.
On Nov. 2 the same year, the Washington Post newspaper published an article saying the CIA was running jails in eastern Europe, without naming the countries.
“After publication of the Washington Post article, Country [] demanded the closure of DETENTION SITE BLACK within hours,” the report said, with the name of the country blacked out. “The CIA transferred the remaining CIA detainees out of the facility shortly thereafter.” Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Bucharest and Mark Hosenball in Washington; editing by Janet McBride

US fights to keep abuse photos secret (1)

December 19th, 2014

17/11/14; Raf Sanchez

Judge rejects Government’s claim that revealing pictures of troops’ actions would threaten national security.
The United States Government is fighting to keep secret thousands of photographs showing American troops abusing and sexually humiliating prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan and mocking dead bodies. The pictures include an image of a female soldier allegedly pretending to sodomise a naked prisoner with a broom and photos of troops pointing guns at detainees as they lie with hands tied and hoods on their heads.
A week after a Senate report laid bare the scale of the CIA’s covert torture programme, the White House is nearing a critical stage in its battle to prevent release of the photographs.
The Bush and Obama Administrations have said releasing the pictures, taken between 2001 and 2009, would incite violence against US troops and civilians in the Middle East. But a federal judge has not been persuaded by that argument and has given government lawyers until Saturday to prove that the 2000 pictures could be a threat to national security.
If the Government is unable to provide sufficient evidence it will be ordered to release the pictures, although the faces of individual soldiers will be obscured. If the judge rules against the White House, its lawyers could decide to appeal, setting the stage for a protracted legal battle.
The pictures were largely taken by US troops themselves, and were gathered during 203 military investigations in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Barack Obama initially agreed to release additional pictures after taking office in 2009 but reversed course after the Iraqi Government warned that it could lead to widespread violence.
His Secretaries of Defence signed orders in 2009 and 2012 blocking their release but a judge ruled in August that the orders were no longer sufficient, as the US had largely withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. “Three years is a long time in war, the news cycle and the international debate over how to respond to terrorism,” Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote.
The American Civil Liberties Union first filed a lawsuit in 2004 seeking information about abuse of detainees.
Poll shows half support CIA methods
About half of Americans believe the CIA was justified in its harsh interrogation methods of “war on terror” detainees. The results are contained in a poll by the Pew Research Centre and come just days after a damning United States Senate report revealed harrowing details of torture.
The report said the CIA’s interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects, including beatings, rectal rehydration and sleep deprivation, was far more brutal than acknowledged and did not produce useful intelligence. But 51 per cent of people in the US believe the CIA’s methods were justified (29 per cent said not) and 56 per cent said the intelligence gathered from those methods prevented terrorist attacks. – AFP; – Daily Telegraph UK

Welcome to Manus, the island that has been changed forever by Australian asylum-seeker policy

December 17th, 2014

16/12/14; Jo Chandler
The people of this Papua New Guinean outpost had no say in the decision to build a detention centre here. But, as this exclusive investigation reveals, the arrival of refugees from around the world – and the industry that feeds off them – has brought both economic boom and devastating consequences
The 60,000 people of Manus province, a remote island outpost of Papua New Guinea, had no say in the decision by Australian and local leaders to detain, process and at least temporarily resettle foreign asylum seekers on their shores.
“We heard about it on the radio,” says Nahau Rooney, a pioneering political leader, former PNG justice minister and Manus’ most famous daughter.
In the 14 months since Australia’s “PNG solution” was brokered, sending asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat to Manus for processing and eventual resettlement in PNG, the operation has also sent a tsunami of change crashing through every dimension of island life.
It has delivered a booming economy, jobs and desperately needed services. It has also brought social and environmental damage, deaths, dislocation, disputes and deep anxiety about what will come next. What is certain is that life in Manus will never be the same.
Any day now the first 10 recognised refugees are expected to move out of detention and into the $137m village Australia has built for them in Lorengau, the provincial capital. More refugees are expected to follow each week. Here they will live freely, but many are deeply anxious about how they will be received and fear for their lives.
Manusians are famously welcoming, but some are resentful about the uninvited arrival of these new neighbours; some are nervous and have little information to quell their concerns; and many worry about the strain they will place on the island’s limited jobs and services.
This exclusive investigation for Guardian Australia explores from the ground the consequences, good and ill, of Australia’s asylum seeker policy on the land, sea and people of Manus.
Touchdown at Momote airport
Two years ago there were only a couple of flights a week to faraway Manus province. Today aircraft sweep in every day over the Bismarck Sea, crossing 370km of open water from the Papua New Guinea mainland to bump down on a strip carved into the jungle by Japanese soldiers 72 years ago.
It’s here, since November 2012, that more than 1,650 asylum seekers who once tried to sail to a new life in Australia have instead found themselves unloaded on to PNG soil.
Most of the first wave, about 300, did fly back to Australia for processing when the regional resettlement arrangement with PNG was signed in August 2013. But under its terms all who have arrived since have been assured that even if they are ultimately recognised as refugees, they will never live in Australia. PNG will be their home.
None of these asylum seekers have yet been released, though this is said to be close. Two have died. More than 240 have flown away again, “voluntary returns” to their homelands. At last count 1,056 remain in detention, 20 minutes from where they landed.
They are held in a compound at a place called Lombrum. Though it long predates them, the name in local language refers to the bottom of a canoe where captives are kept.
Momote airport has also seen the coming and going of the legions of guards, tradespeople, medics, interpreters and officials required to wrangle, secure, house, assess and care for the asylum seekers.
Today a cargo plane touches down, engines never stopping as great crates are hauled out of its belly, fodder for the still-growing, voracious beast that is Australia’s Manus Island regional processing centre.
In the stifling departure shack an assortment of fly-in-fly-outs wait for the overdue morning Air Niugini flight. They grip their boarding passes – their tickets out of the noise and the heat. For their discomfort they will be well remunerated. Skilled trades can earn $200,000 in PNG. Some specialists at the centre are on $1,200 a day.
The Fokker 100 arrives. The latest arrivals might be consultants, construction workers or entrepreneurs cashing in on the bonanza the detention enterprise has ignited.
Many will never set foot inside the wire pens that are the business end of the detention centre, images of which now define Manus to the world. It’s hard to reconcile it with the cultural wonderland made famous by the fieldwork of the American anthropologist Margaret Mead.
Some days the passengers transiting at Momote will include a young man, frail-looking, perhaps nursing wounds, escorted by guards. An asylum seeker returning from medical treatment in Port Moresby or Australia. There have been at least 48 medical evacuations, according to leaked records. He will be herded into a separate wire pen.
It’s all about him, this turnstile of people and cargo. Yet here he’s a bit player.
History lessons
Manus and neighbouring Los Negros Island haven’t seen this much action since 1944, when their deep, sheltered anchorages became home to a million US troops.
There’s a fractured concrete memorial in the jungle just beyond the tarmac where General Douglas MacArthur came ashore on 29 February, claiming “the base from which he would launch his great amphibious operation for the liberation of the Philippines”. Nearby is another memorial for the defeated Japanese. Occasionally descendants still find their way here.
War left behind piles of rusting debris and broken wharves. It also changed life in Manus entirely, reverberating through culture, imagination, infrastructure and economy.
It sparked so-called cargo cults and a powerful grassroots cultural revolution that endures today, underwriting the aspirations and education of the ranks of Manusians who are political, corporate and bureaucratic leaders in Port Moresby and beyond.
The tiny province has long punched above its weight in influence, its human resource becoming its most sustaining export in the half century since the market for copra – dried coconut flesh – collapsed, though there are signs the latest generation of students, distracted and in broken-down schools, are losing ground.
Now another surprise foreign incursion, Australia’s, is transforming Manus reality.
It has brought the asylum seekers, until now locked up tight in Lombrum, but soon the first refugees will be living and mingling freely with the population in Lorengau, according to the overdue timetable.
Manus Island regional processing centre is described as a ‘Pacific gulug’ by one Manusian
Diaspora from the world’s most damaged communities will be living in one of the world’s most disadvantaged countries. How long they will stay in Manus no one, it seems, can say, a source of tension for refugees and Manusians alike.
It has brought a thousand local jobs and crews of expat and national contractors delivering millions of dollars worth of desperately needed infrastructure, including in health and education.
It has brought squads of PNG’s notorious mobile squad police to guard the enterprise. Their actions have buried two local sons, one a schoolboy. They’ve menaced villagers objecting to aspects of the detention centre activities.
It has brought waves of Australian diplomats and functionaries implementing strategies to douse local disgruntlement at the profound social, cultural, environmental and economic impacts their operation has brought.
Right now many Manus people are preoccupied with wringing the most they can from this rare moment. Others try to contain the worst of the mess.
Many are angry they were not consulted when their land was co-opted as a “Pacific gulag”, in the words of Powes Parkop, a Manus son, human rights lawyer and governor of Port Moresby and the National Capital District. It offends both PNG law and local culture, he says.
Many welcome the flow of investment and jobs but are distressed at the dislocation caused by rapid change. Their voices are muted. “They can’t speak their mind, these people,” Parkop says. “If they talk, they will be sacked. This is not a peaceful regime.”
Some hope that ultimately the benefits will outweigh the costs. Manus has no gold, oil or gas to lure investors. What other endeavor might deliver critical health and education improvements in Manus, asks Alexander Rheeney, another high-stepping local who edits the national Post Courier newspaper.
But there is universal cynicism about whether either Australian or PNG leaders will do what is required to realise that hope.
One woman recalls a cautionary story passed down by her grandfather, from nearby Baluan Island, about the perils of misplaced faith in such an unforgiving landscape.
It was soon after the war, when islanders were preoccupied with how they might acquire the kind of wealth and health enjoyed by the US soldiers. A man on Baluan declared himself a prophet and urged his fellow villagers to cut off his head, destroy their crops and canoes, wait three days and he would rise and deliver them all into a paradise of plenty.
They duly obliged but after three days “he just began to rot and smell” and most of the village had to begin again. Her grandfather, she says, was wise enough to have hidden his canoe.
A Sunday walk
The cook at my guesthouse has invited me to mass at St Michael’s. Susan Kalai is a soft-spoken but fervent crusader for the Legion of Mary. More than half the province’s population are Catholic, the remainder Seventh-Day Adventists and assorted evangelicals.
Two degrees south of the equator, the heat is merciless even at 8am. We share the thin shade of an umbrella for the hike into Lorengau along the main road, following the sweep of Seeadler Bay. It’s a postcard anchorage that’s seen plenty of uninvited action: christened by Germans, occupied by Japanese, liberated by Americans, administered by Australians.
The trek into town is quiet. On the Sabbath the fleet of earthmovers that ordinarily grind the route to Lombrum – ferrying gravel to the detention centre building site where a crew of 300 labor to finish new staff accommodation – are resting in their compound.
Indeed the most dangerous thing about walking the sociable streets of Manus is the mayhem of too-fast, too-heavy vehicles, most on some mission emanating from the detention enterprise. They have worn craters and deep ruts the length of the road. Pedestrians – the vast majority of the traffic – take their chances.
It was on this road on 19 June this year that Kisawen Pokas, 17, a bright student and the son of two village teachers, was walking home from school when he was struck by a PNG police mobile squad Land Cruiser that swerved on to the wrong side of the road. He was killed instantly.
Not long before the accident, witness said, the driver had been riding around with local women and another taskforce officer, drinking and “not fully clothed”, as Guardian Australia reported on Monday.
Rotations of the notorious police mobile squad come to Manus from the mainland – on the orders of the PNG government but bankrolled by Australia – to help secure the Australian government’s operations. The Australian Senate investigation into February’s fatal unrest at the detention centre blamed the squad’s heavy-booted intervention for inflaming the violence that killed an Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati.
Schoolboy Kisawen is not the squad’s only local casualty. Susan and I pass the Lorengau market where, in June 2013, Raymond Sipaun, 21, was savagely beaten by the mobile squad police in public view. Witnesses said he had been drunk and had mouthed off at the police. His father later found him unconscious in a police cell. He could not be revived.
We come to a building site. A sign with the mothballed emblem of “Australian Aid” proudly declares support of the new market complex. It is almost finished, boasting lighting, running water, toilets, seating – unprecedented luxuries for stallholders.
There’s no day of rest for the contractors working flat out to have the market trading. As one of the most potent signs of the benefits to Manus of hosting Australia’s unwanted arrivals, it’s an Australian priority – and keenly anticipated by locals.
Nearby, up a steep hill, is the clapped-out Lorengau hospital, fairly typical of PNG’s sadly resourced, overburdened health system. Thanks to an injection of Australian money it has a laboratory fitted with new equipment. Blood tests can be analysed in minutes rather than days, immeasurably improving patients’ prospects, explains its chief executive, Dr Otto Numan.
Australia is also financing new staff housing and plans for a whole new hospital, which Numan is hopeful it will pay for.
There are commitments to a range of projects, including schoolroom kits at 20 sites across the far-flung province, a new police station and the reconstruction of the Lombrum-Lorengau road. Australia is providing aid to Manus province valued at $37m.

Though it’s a windfall for the neglected province, it’s only a modest slice of the payoff to PNG for processing and resettling asylum seekers, a source of grievance in Manus. Australia has committed $420m in additional aid to PNG, most to be spent on projects elsewhere in the country, including $207m on the Lae Angau hospital, the nation’s second biggest and in disrepair for decades.
Finally arriving at St Michael’s, we join the crowd filing into the cavernous church. At least 500 people are in the pews and dozens more outside, peering through the open louvres.
Father Justin Aminio, dean of Manus province, delivers a marathon Tok Pisin pulpit-thumping performance. He eventually dismisses his flock with a caution: lock up your daughters. “Protect your girls,” he says.
He’s seeing them on the streets, riding in trucks with police and others. As always when lucrative projects spawn populations of mobile men with money, prostitution rises.
“Those people who don’t have any chances of getting a job [at the detention centre] or even selling something, they sell themselves,” Father Justin says after mass. “A lot of girls who are still in school, that is how they get their money.”
A changing culture
Australia’s detention centre has generated 1,000 jobs for Manusians, a 70% rise in the number previously in formal employment, according to an independent evaluation for the Australian government of the impact of the detention centre on the Manus economy.
The spoils churn through an island economy that was almost inert two years ago, save for the hefty remittances sent home by the island’s famously high-achieving diaspora.

The detention centre has brought people from all over the province into Lorengau, seeking employment
Now money generated by the detention centre pours down main street into guesthouses, hotels, hardware stores, car rental companies and grocery stores.
With so much at stake, local politics becomes rough, raw and dirty. Sometimes the loudest voices against aspects of the detention centre will be, on closer inspection, individuals upset that they have missed out on a contract.
Meanwhile, ordinary folk from all over the province – from far-flung sinking atolls to the mountain interior – flood into Lorengau, squeezing in with relatives and swelling the settlements, hoping for crumbs from the table. Old people in two coastal villages I visit say they are happy their young people have left and found jobs in town, but worry that they are abandoning longer-term educational ambitions. What if it doesn’t last?
His Sunday rites over, Father Justin sits down to reflect on the impacts of the detention centre on the community he has served for 14 years.
He worries about the toll on communities. For those people who have scored employment for the first time the centre delivers a windfall, but also a rude shock to the cultural system.
In Melanesian tradition, labor is determined by need, season and ritual rather than rostered shifts. Today some villages near the detention centre are almost deserted when the contractor Transfield’s staff shuttle buses pull out.
“The kids are not being fed, because there’s no one to cook,” says Father Justin. Many marriages are fracturing under the stresses and jealousies of seismic change. “The respect that the family had in the village system, it is becoming loose, it is no longer strong.”
He holds forth on these problems for a half-hour then, just as I’m folding up my notebook, he declares that despite it all, the detention centre “is a blessing for Manus”. At least could be.
“The Australian government has given the opportunities … in health, schools, building roads.” Now it is up to “our leaders, mandated by the people to act for them” to manage the social fallout and to sustain the wealth when the centre closes.
“We are one tiny island surrounded by a huge sea. The resources are there but they are in the sea, not on the land. Our timber is slowly going. Our agriculture is nothing.
“And if it comes to a sudden stop? People will want to kill themselves, they will be confused. They haven’t seen money before … Now they’ve seen it.”
Lombrum and Los Negros Island
The Manus Island regional processing centre is not actually on Manus Island but across a bridge and a narrow channel on Los Negros.
The area where the asylum seekers are held hugs a 600 metre-wide strip along the north coast, bounded on the south by a road and bushland. Some of the “client accommodation” sits right on the road behind tall mesh, asylum seekers sitting in the shade of open awnings.
To the east along the road is Australia’s new staff precinct, a steel village sprawled across a freshly denuded landscape, with all the charm of a military or mining site. Gravel avenues are lined with ubiquitous dongas, some piled one on the other. They’re dug in deep. This is not a temporary construction.
The detention centre sits within another, looser compound that is the PNG Lombrum naval base. It was an Australian base – HMAS Tarangau – until independence in 1975. There is rumbling discontent that so much of the base is again, to all appearances, Australian territory.
Michael Kuweh lives on the base with his family. A former PNG major who trained at the Australian army’s officer cadet school in Portsea, Kuweh understands secrecy. “I’m a patriot,” he says. “I’m coming from a military-minded, security-minded position.”
– “[But] why is this under a veil of secrecy?
– Like guarding the holy grail?” he asks of the operation on his doorstep.
– Would an Australian military site would be similarly surrendered?
Personnel at the base are “refugees on their own land”, he says.
The detention centre “did not start like any other project”, says Kuweh. Ordinarily in PNG “you have to come, consult, appraise, do the nitty-gritty to allow the project to come. Allow timelines. So people are fully aware of the consequences.”
Anxieties about the detention centre are fuelled by wider concerns, he says. With 80% of Manus people living on the coast, the eroding shoreline and climate change are big issues. “Food security, health security, environmental security … nobody has any data in place to tell us where we are heading,” says Kuweh.
If the detention centre had been a mining project – the only other kind of venture likely to deliver equivalent people, investment, infrastructure and dislocation into remote PNG – the project developer would be required under law to conduct social mapping to determine which customary owners should be consulted and who should have a say and a stake in the distribution of royalties and benefits.
Such a process is critical in PNG, the most ethnically diverse country in the world, with some 800 cultures. It provides a mechanism to learn about communities, their character, rivalries; it can plot potential landmines. Manus province alone has 29 languages.
When Wilson Security took over security at the detention centre from G4S in the wake of the February riots, it commissioned social mapping from the PNG remote project specialist Firewall Logistics. The report, dated 14 April, was compiled by the veteran PNG cultural expert Philip Fitzpatrick and widely distributed on Los Negros. It noted the atmosphere was “politically charged and dynamic”.
“Manusians come from a traditional society that was highly structured, ordered and moral, many elements of which persist to this day. As such they find the concept of a regional processing centre somewhat confronting,” the Firewall report advises.
“The people in the villages of Los Negros seem to be puzzled, confused and, in some cases, fearful of the developments at Lombrum … It is a shame that this has happened because it could easily have been avoided.”
The report blames in part the culture gap between local people and the predominantly military, police and security types working at the centre, whose behaviour was noticeably condescending and whose physical appearance villagers found intimidating.
“Unprovoked, Manus people are a friendly and gracious community,” Fitzpatrick counsels. But he echoes Michael Kuweh’s concerns about the stresses they now confront.
“They are facing an unprecedented period of pressures relating to overpopulation, diminishing natural resources, cultural decline and social fracture. The [detention centre] is an issue that they could well do without at this time. That fact should be appreciated by all concerned.”
Mokoreng village, Los Negros
Fishing sustains the people of Los Negros but overfishing, overpopulation and climate change are taking their toll on the precious resource.
George Lokowah – a chief and local councillor – points a finger across the water to two cargo ships sitting in the harbour. “When the shipments come in it disturbs the fish,” he says.
George Lokowah, a chief and local councillor at Mokoreng village, says cargo ships are disturbing the fish. There’s talk about villagers blockading the ships with their outriggers. “You want to turn back the Australian boats?” The irony is lost, but – yes.
Until two weeks ago the Bibby Progress, a floating hotel housing hundreds of detention centre staff at phenomenal cost to Australian taxpayers, sat near here for 13 months. Because villagers had worked to develop marine plans to preserve their fishing, they were “well aware of the adverse effects of stationary installations like the Bibby,” the Firewall report notes.
In November last year, having failed to get a response to their concerns from the detention centre managers, they tried to cast off the Bibby Progress’s mooring lines, provoking a security alert, a heavy-handed response by PNG police, arrests, injuries and a legacy of simmering tensions. “Unfortunately the incident was not handled very well,” Firewall noted.
Lokowah is also concerned about damage to local roads and the social changes in the village, with so many people working shifts at the centre. People are neglecting their family duties, he says.
Three times a day Transfield shuttles come in and out of Mokoreng, moving shifts of guards, cleaners and caterers. Young guards tell me they are happy to have the work. They mix closely with the asylum seekers. They feel sorry for them.
They are paid four kina an hour ($1.84), they say, though figures in the economic analysis put the hourly average at about seven kina. Local pay rates are “commensurate with other locally available jobs”, according to the Australian government’s literature on “the economic and development benefits to PNG of the regional resettlement arrangement”.
It’s cash they’ve never known the likes of. But the disparity between their wages and conditions and those of the expat guards working alongside them is causing deep resentment. Several guards say they have gone on strike or formally complained, only to be left off the roster as punishment.
Michael Kuweh is concerned about their conditions of employment and about how long the work will last. “These are menial jobs. When this project leaves, tomorrow, there is no job.”
The Australian government says PNG staff are being assisted to build capacity for future employment. That’s not nearly enough, according to Nahau Rooney and Powes Parkop, two of Manus’ most politically world-wise exports. They share deep misgivings about the prospects of Manus benefiting in the long run from Australia’s incursion.
If the cultural and collateral damage is to be mitigated, they say, there must be close local engagement and a vision beyond the detention centre: a maritime college, or a tourism industry, or a road around the island, or a ground-up rebuilding of the education system which for so long sustained Manus and so powerfully contributed to PNG.
For those Manusians who had long dreamed of capitalising on their military, environmental and cultural treasures to build a tourism market, their island’s portrayal in the Australian deterrence campaign as a “hellhole” has been galling.*
It has embarrassed and distressed Papua New Guineans more widely. A “comment in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph that ‘PNG is a shithole … and now it’s our shithole’… had our readers’ keyboards melting in indignation”, observed the popular PNG/Australian blogsite PNG Attitude.
“It is to the advantage of the Australian government to portray that message – that negative image of Manus and the people of Manus,” Parkop says. “It’s going to take a lot of effort to turn that around.”
If tourism is beyond salvation, there’s a substantial war relic hidden in the bush at Mokoreng which Parkop suggests might be dusted off to provide a future for Manus. It’s another second world war airfield, bigger than Momote, blasted and built by the Americans to receive and launch their bombers in the Admiralty Islands campaign.
The new $137m demountable acropolis built by the Australian government to house refugees when they are freed It could soon be restored, Parkop says. PNG is still a strategically critical player in evolving geopolitics in the Pacific. If neither the Australians or Americans want it, he wonders – provocatively – if the Chinese might be interested.
Refugee camp, Lorengau
Well back from the road at the eastern fringe of Lorengau, behind a ramshackle primary school and below dense forest, is the shiny new $137m demountable acropolis built by the Australian government to house refugees when they are finally freed.
They will live temporarily at this open facility while they are taught Tok Pisin and other cultural and practical skills to settle into a new life in PNG.
The first 10 occupants will be from Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and Burma, among them an accountant, an engineer, a watchmaker. They will be joined by others flowing through at a rate of about 40 a month, according to statements by the Australian immigration minister, Scott Morrison, and his PNG counterpart a month ago. By last week, none had yet arrived.
According to local talk, this may be because of unrest about whether locals will get the security contracts. Or because of the murmurings of some with traditional links to the site that they weren’t properly compensated when the land went to the state 20 years ago. Or because of the anxieties of the refugees about their safety.
Manusians are highly literate by PNG standards, hospitable, laidback, curious. It is ingrained in the culture to share everything with kin. But in a land where resources are scarce, outsiders are competition.
Inside a shack in the West Papuan refugee camp, built in 1969 to house an earlier wave of asylum seekers delivered to Manus on the instructions of Australian authorities
Many say they are sympathetic to the refugees and will welcome them, but others are more reticent – they know nothing of their cultural, religious and political backgrounds. There’s little understanding and some trepidation about the arrival of Muslims. Their concerns about asylum seekers echo the more moderate voices on Australian talkback.
Just across the road from the new facility, down by the shore, is a cluster of broken-down timber shacks built in 1969 to house an earlier wave of asylum seekers delivered to Manus on the instructions of Australian authorities.
The camp was for refugees who had fled into Australian New Guinea from West Irian (today West Papua), some 400 of them arriving on Manus by May that year. Their children and grandchildren still live in these shacks, held together with salvaged tin and timber.
Manfred Meho, born here in 1970, says his parents and the other refugees were forgotten by Australia and ignored by PNG. They relied on the generosity of Manusians and, eventually, intermarriage to get access to gardens and fisheries to sustain themselves and their families.
There are more than 9,000 West Papuan refugees living in PNG, unable to get citizenship or work legally, many in remote camps where thousands have little or no access to basic services. Many born in Meho’s circumstances are stateless.
PNG is finally promising action for West Papuans, but the notion that under Australia’s deal a new intake of foreigners will get better treatment than their long-suffering Melanesian brothers and sisters offends many Papua New Guineans.
The Lorengau man who shows me the old camp does so to make a point. Either the new refugees get access to housing, services and assistance beyond the reach of local people. Or they are left to fend for themselves, as the West Papuans were. The first scenario will fuel jealousy, the second resentment.
This goes to the heart of why the PNG prime minister, Peter O’Neill, surprised his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, in October with advice that the existing resettlement agreement would have to be revised because PNG had to “work through the issues” owing to lack of public support.
Carol Umbo, a journalist with the PNG National Broadcasting Corporation’s Manus service, says the feeling among the population is clear. Hosting the processing centre is one matter, accommodating a refugee community is another. They don’t have capacity, she says. “It is not that the people of Manus are unkind.”
“It was a surprise for us, when Australia put them here,” says Nahau Rooney. “All of a sudden everything is dropped on the island. Some things are good, some bad, but we still have no say. That is the saddest thing about it. Our leaders and our citizens opinions are not even taken into account.”
Rooney is one of only seven women elected to the national parliament and was justice minister in the first government elected post-independence. These days she continues in various leadership roles and runs a Lorengau guesthouse just a few minutes’ walk from where the refugees will soon live.
Rooney grew up in a village reshaped by the cultural fallout of war, the last great wave of change to sweep the island. “For many of us who have gone through the process of development to get to where we are today – it has been a long journey.
“Development is a process, a process that can only be effectively guided by the community and the leaders who want to see development,” she says. “But in these circumstances the development taking place in Manus is an imposition.”
Rooney adds: “Let me make it clear that Manus has been very significant. We have contributed immensely to issues not only effecting Manus and PNG, but internationally. Yet our airport is still as it was during the war. They built all the wharves around here, but they are gone. My challenge to them is – don’t they feel guilty to bring this other thing to us?
“These asylum seekers … it’s another issue, it is just like a war they are bringing back to Manus.” .Reporting on this story was made possible with an independently awarded grant from GetUp’s Shipping News project
Australia, Migrants & Refugees, Manus Island, PNG

Red Hill quarry expansion will destroy ‘extremely significant’ Indigenous site

December 17th, 2014

17/12/14; Calla Wahlquist
An expansion of the Red Hill Quarry could dig up the Darling Scarp campsite where some Noongar elders believe the Indigenous resistance fighter Yagan had his last meal. An “extremely significant” site for an Indigenous group will be destroyed if a proposed quarry expansion is approved in Western Australia.
The West Australian government dubbed the $72m centrepiece of its multibillion-dollar Perth City Link project Yagan Square, in honour of the Whadjuk Noongar man Yagan, who was outlawed for killing two white settlers and then shot dead in the Swan valley in 1833.
But it looks set to approve an application to allow a quarry to dig up the Darling Scarp campsite where some Noongar elders believe the Indigenous resistance fighter Yagan had his last meal. The Weeip campsite, named after another tribal leader, is within the footprint of the proposed expansion of the Red Hill quarry.
A Noongar elder, Albert Corunna, told Guardian Australia the site was “extremely significant” to Swan river people, not least for its connection to Yagan. “It was pretty certain that Yagan was with Weeip. He probably stayed, his last peaceful night was spent up there, and the next day he was killed. The government doesn’t want to protect that, yet they are naming something after him in the city,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs said it had “no information suggesting that Yagan resided at this specific place”. He said it consulted the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, and the Swan river and Swan coastal plains groups to determine the heritage of the area.
But Corunna, whose great-grandmother was Yagan’s sister, said the link was well known among the Weeip. “They are being the dictators of culture to us.” he said.
The application does exclude the Owl Stone, a sacred site about 300 metres from the edge of the Weeip campsite. The quarry is owned by Hanson Construction Materials, an Australian subsidiary of German company Heidelberg Cement. It told local paper the Advocate in November it would comply with the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
Hanson told Guardian Australia it “consulted extensively” with members of the Aboriginal community, as well as holding a public meeting, and had all relevant environment and planning approvals. It said it had excluded the Owl Stone from the proposed expansion area and included a 250-metre buffer zone to protect the site.
The company applied to the Aboriginal cultural material committee in August for approval to develop the site. Once the committee has completed its assessment, it will make a recommendation to the state’s Aboriginal affairs minister, Peter Collier. Collier has approved all 115 applications decided on in the the past two years. The department said traditional owners made no objection to 72% of applications.
Corunna said destroying the campsite would be “a loss of identity for future generations”. He said: “What’s the good if I am telling my grandchildren or great-grandchildren about our people, and they say,
-‘Where is this place, can we go there?’”
“I’ll have to say: ‘No, they have all been ground up for road base’.”

John Kerry races to stop UN bid to force Israeli to withdraw from Palestinian land (2)

December 17th, 2014

AFP; 17/12/14

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, met chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat to persuade him not to rush ahead with a draft UN resolution seeking to set a two-year timetable for an end to the Israeli occupation — which could be submitted to the world body as early as tonight.
Mr Kerry spent two days jetting across Europe meeting counterparts and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gauge support for the Palestinian effort at the UN Security Council. Mr Netanyahu warned that European backing for the Palestinians could harm his country.
“I said that the attempts of the Palestinians and of several European countries to force conditions on Israel will only lead to a deterioration in the regional situation and will endanger Israel,” he said yesterday. “Therefore, we will strongly oppose this.”
His comments followed almost three hours of talks in Rome with Mr Kerry. They “had a long and thorough discussion about Israel’s security and developments at the UN,” a US State Department official said. Mr Kerry arrived in London yesterday, having paused en route from Rome for less than two hours in Paris to meet with European counterparts.
France is putting together a more nuanced version setting a two-year timetable for a peace treaty, without mentioning the withdrawal of Israeli forces.
Mr Kerry held late-night dinner talks with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Germany inside Orly airport in Paris seeking clarification on the French-led resolution bid.
Traditionally, the US has used its power of veto at the UN Security Council to shoot down what it sees as moves against its close regional ally, Israel. US officials said Washington had yet to decide whether to veto or back the French-led UN initiative. “There are certain things we would never support,” said a State Department official.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said they were looking for “a resolution which everyone can get behind”. He added: “Even if the Palestinians have a text in their hand, the Americans have already said that they will veto it.”
Mr Netanyahu earlier said: “We will not accept attempts to dictate to us unilateral moves on a limited timetable.” Jordan, which the Palestinians said would submit their resolution, maintained it had no immediate plans to push for an early UN vote. Jordanian ambassador to the UN Dina Kawar said: “Secretary Kerry is having meetings in Europe with a number of ministers so we are waiting to see what happens.”
Impatience is growing in ¬Europe over the failure to make progress in peace talks, amid fears the Middle East risks spiralling into even greater chaos. Several European parliaments have called on their governments to move ahead with the recognition of a Palestinian state. The US administration opposes moves to bind negotiators’ hands through a UN resolution — particularly any attempt to set a deadline for the withdrawal of ¬Israeli troops from the West Bank.
Yet a US veto risks running contrary to Washington’s avowed aim of a Palestinian state and would anger key Arab allies — many of which are much-needed partners in the US-led coalition against Islamic State militants. Mr Kerry was also expected to meet with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil al-Arabi.
Diplomatic sources say Paris is hoping to persuade the divided Palestinians to back their compromise resolution, rather than risk a US veto of the more muscular Arab version. Meanwhile, a Palestinian was killed in an Israeli military operation in the Qalandiya refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank, medical and security sources said. The 22-year-old man died when troops entered the camp to make an arrest, triggering clashes with residents, the sources said.
The Israeli army confirmed its special forces had launched a raid on the camp, saying troops responded when they came under fire.

Police round up Jewish extremist group linked to attack on school (1)

December 17th, 2014

Police round up Jewish extremist group linked to attack on school (1)