Mojo - September 2006

Palestinian Refugees Targeted by Shia Militia

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:45 PM EDT

A reminder that the world is complicated and contradictory, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East: Palestinian refugees in Iraq face particularly grave security threats, including targeted killings by mostly Shia militant groups and harassment by the Iraqi government. So says a new Human Rights Watch report.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have increasingly become targets of violence and persecution," said SarahLeah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Shia militant groups have murdered dozens of Palestinian refugees, and the Iraqi government has made it difficult for these refugees to stay legally in Iraq by imposing onerous registration requirements."

There are about 34,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, and they've been targeted largely because of the benefits they received from Saddam's government and their support (real and perceived) for the Sunni insurgency. Since 2003 successive Iraqi governments have either failed to protect them or shown outright hostility. The report calls for Syria and Jordan to open their borders to the refugees, who otherwise have nowhere else to go. (Earlier this year David Enders wrote for MJ.com about the plight of the Palestinian refugees, one of whom told him, "We all just want to leave.")


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Amnesty: Hizbollah Guilty of War Crimes

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:30 PM EDT

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A new Amnesty International report finds that "Hizbullah's rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks, both war crimes under international law. Its attacks also violated other rules of international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on reprisal attacks on the civilian population." Hizbullah fired several thousand rockets into northern Israel, killing 43 civilians, including children.

Read the full report here. And click on the image to see a video that accompanies it.

Camel Jockeys in Dubai's Sinister Paradise

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

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From the BBC: A class-action lawsuit filed in the US accuses the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (and his brother and 500 other defendants), of enslaving thousands of young children from Bangladesh, Sudan and southern Asia and putting them to work as camel jockeys.

Mike Davis had a great piece a while ago on the "sinister paradise" that is Dubai. The Persian Gulf city state boasts a jelly-fish shaped underwater hotel, the world's largest mall, a 24-square-mile archipelago of coral-colored islands in the shape of an almost finished puzzle of the world, high-rise resorts, thousands of mansions, a dinosaur theme park--you get the idea.

As Davis noted, under the "enlightened despotism" of its Sheikh, Dubai also boasts, if that's the right word, labor laws skewed very much to the advantage of Capital.

South Asian contract laborers, legally bound to a single employer and subject to totalitarian social controls, make up the great mass of the population. Dubai lifestyles are attended by vast numbers of Filipina, Sri Lankan, and Indian maids, while the building boom is carried on the shoulders of an army of poorly paid Pakistanis and Indians working twelve-hour shifts, six and half days a week, in the blast-furnace desert heat.

Dubai, like its neighbors, flouts ILO labor regulations and refuses to adopt the international Migrant Workers Convention. Human Rights Watch in 2003 accused the Emirates of building prosperity on "forced labor."

House Intel Report on Iran: "Erroneous, Misleading and Unsubstantiated"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:49 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports on complaints to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House intelligence committee, about a recent HIC report on Iran's capabilities, "calling parts of the document 'outrageous and dishonest' and offering evidence to refute its central claims." Those obfuscating, deceiving, complaining Iranians! Except that the complaints, which cite "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements," are coming from U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program.

For example:

Among the committee's assertions is that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the town of Natanz. The IAEA called that "incorrect," noting that weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent under IAEA monitoring.

A technical quibble, you might say; but wars have been launched on the strength of finer distinctions. (And anyway, privately, several US intelligence officials said the report included "at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate.")

As said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector said, "This is like prewar Iraq all over again. You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."

Another reason--as if one more were needed--to pray the House switches in November.

U.S. Can't Stay in Iraq and Can't Leave

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

Kofi Annan, no doubt trying to be helpful, neatly captures the impossibility of the American posture in Iraq.

"The U.S. has found itself in the position where it cannot stay and it cannot leave. I believe that if it has to leave, the timing has to be optimum, and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region."

I think "optimum" went out the window a while back.

Voting Glitches on Primary Day

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:22 PM EDT

As Sasha Abramsky amply details in his recent Mother Jones article, voting can be a dicey business these days, in spite of--and in many cases because of "improvements" introduced by the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Tuesday's primaries brought fresh evidence that the machinery of American democracy doesn't run smoothly everywhere. In Ohio, Texas, Florida, California, and Chicago, (poorly trained) poll workers had difficulty operating new voting machines, or didn't show up; and in one place, suburban Washington D.C., essential voting equipment was missing.

Voting machine companies blame poll workers, often no doubt with good reason. "If you prick their fingers and there's blood coming out, they serve," R. Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, which represents state and local election officials, told USA Today. But of course the machines themselves have a history of screwing up, often in ways that aren't immediately obvious. (And, of course, they can be hacked.)

Some of the problems can be put down to the pace of (enforced) change--resulting in, for example, some counties receiving their touch-screen machines only two weeks before voting day. And many should be ironed out by November. (Yes?) But some election officials take a gloomy view. "I really believe that we've got a crisis of confidence in our voting systems," says one from Travis County, Texas.

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Judge to Saddam: "You Are Not A Dictator"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 2:16 PM EDT

There was I, waxing sentimental about Saddam's trial and the sight of a Kurd taunting the big guy. But now we slide from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Questioning a Kurdish witness Thursday, Saddam said, "I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?"

The judge interrupted: "You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator."

"Thank you," Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.

I'm no lawyer, but that judge strikes me as less than fully objective.

Saddam and six others have been accused of genocide and other offenses committed in the 1980s. The prosecution alleges that about 180,000 Kurds died.

Saddam also vowed to Kurdish witnesses to "crush your heads" after listening to them tell of the horrors allegedly committed by his regime.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 9:09 PM EDT

That's the title of a new documentary by director Kirby Dick, whose latest project exposes the irrational, incompetent, secretive, and downright bizarre goings-on at the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board.

Dick, who was interviewed by Terry Gross on the NPR show, Fresh Air, said that the names of the board members are kept secret, so he hired a private detective to find out who they were. Once he knew their identities, he said that some of the facts about them did not match the demographics publicized by the MPAA. He also said that none of the rating board members is given any training, and that no one on the board has any expertise in film or child development. In fact, during his tenure as president of the MPAA, Jack Valenti went out of his way to exclude such experts as child psychologists from being part of the process.

Dick studied various films that had been given restricted ratings because of sexual content, and discovered that, though two films may show exactly the same sex scenes, the ones with homosexual characters receive more restrictive ratings. Not surprisingly, there is also evidence that violent scenes are not scrutinized nearly as carefully as scenes containing sex.

In order to understand the secretive ratings system, Dick submitted his documentary for a rating, then took the rating to the secretive appeals board, whose members are all highly ranked motion picture industry executives. At the meeting, everyone wore a number or her or his lapel--including Dick--and when he tried to introduce himself, each appeals board member turned and walked away.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is being released, as you may imagine, without a rating.

P.S.: It's also reviewed in the current issue of Mother Jones.

House Republicans Aren't Giving Up On Immigration

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 6:49 PM EDT

House Republicans prove that fear of terrorism isn't the only card they have to play this fall. Back by popular demand -- and despite talk that it would reced as an issue -- it's...fear of immigrants!

House Republicans said Tuesday that they're preparing a package of tough border security initiatives that they hope will satisfy constituent demands for a crackdown on illegal immigration before they face voters in the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

The initiatives, which are expected to include more Border Patrol agents and unmanned aerial vehicles and possibly hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S-Mexico border, will be unveiled this week amid fading prospects for more comprehensive legislation embracing President Bush's call for an immigrant guest-worker program. [...]

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Tuesday reiterated the House leadership's position that Congress must first take aggressive action to "stop the bleeding" at the border before considering a guest-worker program. "We've got to get the border fixed first," he said.

Hastert presided over a roundtable conference of House committee and subcommittee chairmen who held 22 hearings in 13 states during the August recess to reinforce the House leadership's call for tough border enforcement. The hearings also were aimed at spotlighting what lawmakers saw as shortcomings in the Senate bill, which many House conservatives have denounced as "amnesty" that rewards illegal behavior.

"Stop the bleeding" at the border, eh? Nice Freudian slip.

Guantanamo a "Shocking Affront to the Principles of Democracy"

| Wed Sep. 13, 2006 6:28 PM EDT

The highest-ranking official in the British legal system says how he really feels about US detention policy:

Guantánamo Bay is a "shocking affront to the principles of democracy" and a violation of the rule of law, the lord chancellor, Lord Falconer, said today. ...

Lord Falconer said Washington was "deliberately seeking to put the Guantánamo detainees beyond the reach of law" and that "use of torture by a state is contrary to fundamental human rights law".

"Democracies can only survive where judges have the power to protect the rights of the individual," he said.

Of course, Falconer has about as much pull with the Bush administration as...hmm...Tony Blair, so don't expect this to have much effect. But it's an indication that the pressures brought to bear on administration policies--which contributed to last week's (very) qualified climbdown on secret prisons--is unlikely to let up.