Monday, June 30, 2008

China moves in Dalai Lama's direction

It certainly looks like Chinese leaders are bowing to international pressure and will meet Tuesday in Beijing with envoys from the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, in a resumption of autonomy negotiations started in March. In what could be a breakthrough in China's relationship with Tibet and with the rest of the world, the Chinese have agreed to two days of talks, the Reuters international news service reported Monday. The meeting will be the second since rioting broke out in Tibet in March and focused international attention on China's record on Tibet, which it took over in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled Tibet and went into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. "The Dalai Lama has instructed the envoys to make every effort to bring about tangible progress to alleviate the difficult situation for Tibetans in their homeland," the government-in-exile, based in India, said a statement, Reuters said. The meeting had been planned earlier but was delayed after the earthquake in Sichuan province that killed 70,000 people. The quake resulted in worldwide sympathy for China and enabled the Dalai Lama to make goodwill gestures, including praising Beijing's humanitarian response and offering to attend the Olympic Games in August if negotiations made progress. But China might not have changed its position at all and is merely trying to mollify international concerns over its recent suppression of protests in Tibet prior to the start of the Olympics.

New lawsuits allege torture in Iraq

Why is it not surprising to hear that four Iraqis have accused U.S. military contractors of detaining and torturing them in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Lawsuits filed in federal courts in Washington, Ohio, Maryland and Michigan contend the contractors, acting on behalf of the U.S. military, subjected them to beatings, electric shocks and mock executions while they were in detention. They all were released without trial. The lawsuits name ACI International Inc, CACI Premier Technology, L-3 Services Inc. and three individuals, based in the states where the suits were filed, according to the Reuters international news service. CACI provided interrogators at Abu Ghraib and L-3 provided translators at the prison. "This litigation will contribute to the true history of Abu Ghraib," said Susan L. Burke, an attorney for the detaineess, according to Reuters. "These innocent men were senselessly tortured by U.S. companies that profited from their misery." CACI called the allegations "unfounded and unsubstantial." Of course, we all hope the stories are not true. But the United States was the subject of global condemnation in 2004 after reports first surfaced of detainee abuse by soldiers at Abu Ghraib.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Paying the price for non-peace

Why Israel's cabinet agreed today to swap convicted murderers for the bodies of two soldiers captured by the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah is difficult to understand. True, Israel's shaky coalition government has been moving on several diplomatic fronts to achieve some sort of progress in the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict, and has been assailed by relatives of the missing soldiers for some closure. And, true, the Olmert government probably wants to achieve some distance from the inconclusive monthlong war it launched against Hezbollah following the kidnapping. But the release of five Lebanese gunmen now, including notorious killer Samir Qantar, and many more in the coming weeks seems a very high price to pay. Qantar was convicted of killing an unarmed Israeli man and bashing in the skull of his 4-year-old daughter during a raid on the Israeli town of Nahariya in 1979. Qantar's family says the two were killing by gunfire during the raid. But this is precisely the point. Hezbollah thinks the civilian deaths were mere collateral damage during a perfectly justifiable military operation. What this illustrates is that Israel can expect nothing but continuing emnity from the Hezbollah guerrillas to the north, despite the agreement. The deal had to be negotiated through a German mediator because Hezbollah and Israel refuse to talk to each other. Israel may very well have a lot to answer for in its arrests and treatment of tens of thousands of Palestinians over the years. We could expect to get those answers if the parties to this conflict moved beyond the constant state of war. But Hezbollah even refused to disclose any information about the health of the kidnapped soldiers. If the two sides were interested in actually talking peace, they would have communicated directly.

What else is the Bush administration doing?

The most troubling thing about The New Yorker magazine revelation that the Bush administration secretly got Congress to approve $400 million to increase covert operations against Iran's government is not that it was done in secret. A lot of things, particularly involving espionage, get done in secret. No, the worst thing is that this is an escalation of efforts that have already been going on for months without the public's knowledge, and probably indicates that more untoward things are going on as well. The Reuters international news service reported today that, according to the magazine's Web site, operations conducted in the past year by U.S. Special Forces have included kidnapping members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and taking them to Iraq for interrogation (at Abu Ghraib?), and killing or capturing other suspects in the war on terror. The article, "Preparing the Battlefield -- The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran" by Seymour Hersh, is published in the magazine's July 7 and July 14 issue. The U.S. government is leading a worldwide effort to pressure Iran to give up its effort to enrich uranium, which Iran claims it needs to generate electricity but which Israel and other western nations believe is intended for nuclear weapons development. But a clandestine effort to undermine Iran's government? No wonder Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, always seems so pissed at us.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Constitutional law for government officials

Maybe everybody who works for the U.S. government should be required to take a refresher course on the Bill of Rights, from the president on down. They've all probably heard of it -- free speech, freedom of the press, freedom from unreasonable searches, innocent until proven guilty and considerably more -- but they've apparently never really thought about what it all means. That's probably why the president, vice president and members of Congress have been so quick to deny individual liberties to so many individuals since Sept. 11, 2001. This issue returned to the news Friday when the Justice Department agreed to pay millions of dollars to a former Army scientist accused of responsibility for the anthrax mailings that killed five people after the attacks on New York and Washington. The scientist, Dr. Stephen Hatfill, a bioterrorism expert, was called a "person of interest" in the mailings by federal officials, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, in 2002, according to the Reuters international news service. After an extensive investigation, which included 24-hour surveillance, Hatfield was never arrested or charged. He sued the government for violating his privacy and ruining his reputation in 2003. The judge presiding over the lawsuit, which stretched on for years, said there is "not a scintilla of evidence" that linked Hatfield to the anthrax mailings. No one has ever been charged in the case. Curiously, the phrase "presumption of innocence" for people accused of crimes actually does not appear in the U.S. Constitution but comes from a seminal 1895 Supreme Court decision, Coffin v. United States.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Gaza truce seemed too good to be true

News that Palestinian militants have violated the five-day-old Gaza ceasefire should come as no surprise to anyone. Missiles fired from Gaza struck the Israeli border city of Sderot, injuring two Israelis. The missiles apparently were retaliation for the killing Tuesday of an Islamic Jihad member by Israeli troops in the West Bank, which is not part of the ceasefire. Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, urged restraint on behalf of the half-dozen or so groups involved in the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict. Hamas took over the Gaza territory in a 2006 war with the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank. Hopefully, the isolated missile firings will not scuttle efforts to resolve the short-term crisis in Gaza and get more relief to beleaguered residents. Keeping Arab and Israeli groups sworn to kill each other from actually killing each other is a huge undertaking, probably beyond the abilities of those involved. But resolving the long-term situation, which seems to get more complex every year, will be even more complex.

Monday, June 23, 2008

U.N. Security Council backs Zimbabwe opposition

Hours after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sought refuge from pre-election violence in a foreign embassy in Harare, the U.N. Security Council voted Monday to declare that a fair presidential runoff election in Zimbabwe was "impossible." In its first formal action in months of violence that followed voting in January, the council said Tsvangirai, the first-round leader, should take over Zimbabwe's presidency if a fair runoff cannot be held. Unfortunately, the council removed language from its statement blaming the government of longtime Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe of responsibility for the violence, which appears obvious, but still said conditions in Zimbabwe made a fair election "impossible," according to the Reuters international news service. Tsvangirai fled to the Netherlands' embassy on Monday, shortly before police raided the offices of his Movement for Democratic Change and arrested dozens of supporters. Many of the people in the offices had taken refuge there from apparently government-backed violence in their own communities.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Better news from Gaza

Word from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip is that the truce is holding and Israel is allowing the delivery of more basic goods to residents suffering under economic sanctions, according to the Associated Press. Dozens of trucks delivered food, diapers and clothes on Sunday as the truce entered its fourth day, with the prospect of more relief if the Egyptian-negotiated peace agreement continues. The six-month deal is to end attacks on Gaza by Israel and on southern Israel by Hamas-linked militants. Palestinian security officials said goods shipped Sunday included milk, fruit, vegetables, toilet paper and shoes, the AP said. Fuel supplies that were sharply curtailed by Israel will increase in the future under the terms of the agreement, an Israeli government spokesman said. The deal between Israel and Hamas, which captured the Gaza territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2006, was mediated by Egypt because Israel and Hamas do not talk to each other.

Opposition candidate withdraws from Zimbabwe election

What has happened in Zimbabwe to force opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to pull out of the presidential runoff with just five days left until the election? Tsvangirai, who has endured exile, repeated arrests and police intimidation yet continued to campaign, must have been threatened with something even more serious to get him to withdraw. Tsvangirai announced Sunday that he would halt his campaign in an effort to stop violence against his supporters. "We can't ask the people to cast their vote on June 27 when that vote will cost their lives, Tsvangirai said at a news conference in Harare, the capital, according to the Reuters international news service. "We will no longer participate in this violent sham of an election," he said. Tsvangirai made the announcement at a news conference called after militants loyal to longtime president Robert Mugabe blocked a major campaign rally, Reuters said. Tsvangirai called on the United Nations, the European Union and the Southern African regional bloc to intervene. Mugabe, who was a hero in the country's drive for independence from Britain in the 1970s, has been condemned worldwide as a despot who has destroyed the country's once-thriving economy. Mugabe has said recently that he would not give up his office to Tsvangirai, even if the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change won the runoff election.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Thai prime minister vows to stay on

Thailand's prime minister will not resign, a spokesman said Saturday, despite escalating street protests that threaten his coalition's hold on power in the southeast Asian country. Samak Sundaravej appears under attack because of his link to his populist predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from power by the military two years ago. Thailand's middle class, upset by what they perceive as Samak's populist rhetoric, have been demonstrating in Bangkok since May. "It's impossible that Prime Minister Samak will resign," said Kuthep Saikrajang, a spokesman for the People Power Party, leader of a six-party coalition that was elected in December, according to the Reuters international news service. "The government will not resign and there will be no house dissolution," Kuthep said, responding to a newspaper report that the country's army chief had urged Samak to dissolve parliament to end the protests. But protesters, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy party, pledged to continue the demonstrations. "I don't know what will happen in the next one or two days, but our mission is still the same," said retired general Chamlong Srimuang, a PAD leader who helped lead the 2006 protests that led to Thaksin's ouster, according to Reuters. "We came here to tell them to get out."

Friday, June 20, 2008

Congress' capitulation continues

Friday's House vote to approve a wiretapping bill that includes immunity for telephone companies that obeyed government requests to listen in on conversations without court orders is yet another example of the collapse of the constitutional balance of powers doctrine. Congress and the courts appear determined to plunge the United States into a constitutional crisis of historic proportions by repeatedly refusing to halt the Bush administration's unprecedented assumption of power. This week's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the habeas corpus rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees was a notable exception, however. But Congress has consistently refused to stop the executive power grab when it gets chances to, even though voters threw out the Republican Party majority that controlled the legislature when the Iraq war began. The bill passed Friday includes the hotly debated retroactive immunity the White House is seeking for telecommunications companies that cooperated with the obviously unconstitutional wiretapping program that began after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The court system is well-equipped to sort out liability issues raised by the program, which has spawned hundreds of lawsuits. But we are being led by the Bush administration into destroying our basic laws out of fear. If we are successful in destroying the constitution while we battle the threat and reality of terrorism, what will we have won?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Military justice in Iraq

Word comes today that military prosecutors will appeal the dismissal of charges against the top-ranking U.S. Marine accused in the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians at Haditha in 2005. According to the Reuters international news service, the Marines will seek the reinstatement of dereliction of duty and violating an order charges against Col. Jeffrey Chessani of Colorado. Chessani and seven other soldiers were charged in the slayings, after witnesses said the Marines shot innocent civilians in their homes after a fellow Marine was killed in a roadside bombing. The killings caused an international furor, but charges against five of the eight have been dismissed and one has been acquitted. The Marines said the deaths were the result of a firefight between the Marines and Iraqi insurgents in Haditha, then a Sunni stronghold. Obviously, both versions of the tragic events at Haditha cannot be right. While it speaks well for the military command that it is continuing to pursue the case, it does raise another question, which has so far not been adequately answered: Will the military honestly investigate what transpired, even at this late date, and honestly reveal its findings?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hamas and Israel reach accord

Well, how long can this possibly last? The group that took control of the Gaza Strip last year only to be isolated politically and economically by Israel and the United States said Tuesday that it had reached a cease-fire with Jerusalem. The accord, expected to take effect Thurdsay, commits Israel to stop military incursions into Gaza and Hamas to halt rocket fire against southern Israeli cities. Israel and Hamas do not recognize each other and have been negotiating through intermediaries from Egypt. If the cease-fire holds, Israel is committed to gradually relaxing its economic blockade of Gaza, which has caused deprivation in the territory. But the failure of Israel and Hamas to talk to each other reflects deeply held animosity, which does not bode well for building trust. And, just before the truce was scheduled to take effect Thursday, Israel destroyed three targets in Gaza and Gaza militants fired four shells at Israel. There were no injuries reported, according to the Reuters international news agency.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Little trust for leaders worldwide

At least the people of the United States are not alone. A new survey by, a research program of the University of Maryland, found that no world leaders are trusted outside their own countries and most are not trusted in their countries, either. "While the worldwide mistrust of George Bush has created a global leadership vacuum, no alternative leader has stepped into the breach," said Steven Kull, director of, according to the Reuters international news service. "Hu Jintao and Vladimir Putin are popular among some nations, but more mistrust them than trust them." Bush, in his final year as U.S. president, ranked just slightly ahead of Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in terms of trust. Outside the United States, only 23 percent of people surveyed "a lot or some" confidence in Bush, compared to 22 percent for Ahmedinejad and 18 percent for Musharraf. The survey questioned people in 20 countries around the world. Leaders receiving the most confidence included U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (35 percent), Russian President Vladimir Putin (32 percent) and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (30 percent). The survey questioned 19,751 people in 20 nations representing 60 percent of the world's population.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Karzai the Magnificent

Is it the goal of President Hamid Karzai of Aghanistan to undermine the stability of his part of the world? That's what it seemed like Sunday when Karzai threatened to send troops across the border into Pakistan to pursue Taliban militants who attack his country. Karzai's forces cannot even control his own country, even with thousands of U.S.-backed coalition forces behind him. Why would he now threaten war with Pakistan, a U.S. ally in the war on terror? Karzai's statement came after Taliban leaders in exile in Pakistan vowed to send fighters across the border into Afghanistan. "This means that Afghanistan has the right of self defense," Karzai said, according to the Reuters international news service. "When they cross the territory from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to go back and do the same." Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said his country has made it clear that coalition forces and Afghan forces could take whatever action they wanted against militants in Afghanistan but not cross the Pakistani side of the border. Pakistan and Afghanistan share a disputed 1,600-mile border.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Israel plays it coy on Gaza talks

An agreement on a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and an easing of the blockade of the Gaza Strip could be imminent. An Israeli official refused to be specific on Saturday but did say the results of indirect negotiations would be known "in the near term," a suggestion that indirect talks involving Egypt could be making progress. Egypt has been brokering talks for months between Israel and Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority more than a year ago. Israel and Hamas do not recognize each other and refuse to hold direct talks. Israel and the West consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. Israeli Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad represented Israel in discussions with Egypt over the Hamas mediation, according to the Reuters international news service. "We are holding discussions with the Egyptians and we have the reaction, which I will not detail," Gilad said. "We will know the results in the near term." Egypt and Israel have agreed to separate the ceasefire issue from the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants two years ago, according to the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, which would make a near-term agreement possible.

Begging works -- Saudi Arabia could boost oil production

Falling demand could be behind rumors Saturday that Saudi Arabia plans to increase oil production by 500,000 barrels next month. According to the New York Times, Saudi officials have advised some industry analysts and traders that it planned to increase production to help stabilize the global economy. The White House responded positively to the news, with spokesman Tony Fratto saying it was "welcome." President Bush tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Saudis to increase production twice this year. "We would welcome any and all increases in oil production, including from Saudi Arabia," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, according to the newspaper. The increase could be announced publicly as early as next week, the Reuters international news service said. Reuters quoted an adviser from the Saudi Petroleum Ministry as saying Saudi Arabia was uncomfortable with soaring crude prices. "Our goal is to bring back stability to the oil market," the adviser said. Oil prices have risen 40 percent this year to nearly $140 a barrel. Some analysts forecast $200 a barrel prices this year.

Friday, June 13, 2008

TV journalist Russert applauded, mourned

NBC-TV newsman Tim Russert received accolades from industry colleagues and the politicians he covered Friday after his unexpected death at the age of 58. Russert, who took over the network's "Meet the Press" show in 1991 and raised it to new heights of importance and popularity, died of an apparent heart attack at NBC's offices in Washington, D.C. He was considered one of the bright lights of television news with his command of issues and welcoming style. He was lauded as an extremely friendly person but a journalist who was not afraid to ask tough questions. President Bush and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama offered words of praise and condolence to his family. Russert achieved unwelcome notoriety last year when he testified at the trial of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby was convicted of leaking the name of a CIA operative whose husband had publicly criticized the Bush administration. Libby had testified that he learned of the CIA agent's identity from Russert, but Russert testified that he did not speak with Libby about it. The trial put Russert in the untenable position of being part of a major story, a position most journalists studiously seek to avoid.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Political peace holds in Kenya

Kenya's two main political parties managed to avoid new conflict Thursday when they resolved five outstanding seats in the country's delicately balanced parliament. President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity got three seats and Prime Minister Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement won two and avoided the violence and mistrust that characterized national elections in December. Ethnic unrest following the December vote nearly forced the division of Kenya, but the two leaders agreed on a compromise that has settled the dispute, at least for the present. Kibaki was re-elected in the disputed polling and Odinga was given the post of prime minister in the coalition government. More than 1,000 people were killed in tribal violence that swept the country after the December election and imperiled the Kenyan economy, which had been one of Africa's largest and most successful. The by-elections filled two seats left open in the chaos that followed December's voting and two seats held by ODM legislators who were killed. The fifth seat belonged to the speaker of the parliament, who left for another government position.

Esso tiger finally retires from retail business

News that Exxon Mobil Corp. is abandoning the retail gasoline business in the United States should come as no surprise to anyone paying the ludicrously high prices to drive in this country and elsewhere. The world's largest publicly held oil company said Thursday that it would sell its remaining 2,200 gas stations in the U.S. but continue to sell gas under the Exxon and Mobil names, apparently because it can make a lot more money concentrating on its drilling and refining businesses. The company will maintain the Exxon and Mobil brands, Exxon spokeswoman Prem Nair said, even though it will not own the stations that sell the fuel. "We are in a very, very challenging market. Margins are reduced," Nair said. "We feel the best way for us to grow and compete is through our distributor network." Exxon Mobil earned $40 billion last year, according to the Reuters international news service. Retail sales only generated 10-15 percent profits while oil production earns 30-45 percent profits, Reuters said.

Constitution back in force

Today's Supreme Court ruling that inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison have the right to challenge their detentions in federal court is a welcome return to common sense. In a 5-4 ruling, the high court said a 2006 law eliminating the right of terrorism suspects to appeal their detentions in U.S. court was unconstitutional. The Reuters international news service called the ruling "a stinging setback" for the policies of President Bush. "We'll abide by the court's decision. That doesn't mean I have to agree with it," Bush said Thursday at a news conference in Rome, where he was during a visit to Europe. "We'll study this opinion and we'll do so ... to determine whether or not additional legislation might be appropriate." The ruling was the Supreme Court's fourth striking down major parts of the Bush administration's War on Terror legislative agenda following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. "The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court. "Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law." Kennedy said the 2006 law, which allowed inmates to appeal their status as "enemy combatants" to a special court in Washington, was inadequate, as demonstrated by the fact that many have already been held for as long as six years without resolution of their claims. He said suspects do not lose their constitutional rights because they have been designated enemy combatants or because they are held in another country. Chief Justice John Roberts and associate justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented from the ruling.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Saying "no" to autocracy in Zimbabwe

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has rejected calls for a national unity government in Zimbabwe and vowed to continue his presidential campaign until a June 27 runoff election. Tsvangirai, who already has been arrested twice this month for trying to put on campaign rallies, told a news conference in Harare that his party would win despite government-backed violence against his supporters. The Reuters international news service said Tsvangirai told the media that Zimbabwe has suffered a de facto coup and was being run by the military. More than 60 backers of his Movement for Democratic Change have been killed since the first round of voting in March, Tsvangirai said. The news conference was called after former finance minister Simba Makoni, a former backer of President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, said the runoff balloting should be called off because it was impossible to hold a free and fair vote. But Tsvangirai said the runoff election process could not be changed once it was underway. "As far as I am concerned I can stay home from now on until the election, Mugabe will lose," Tsvangirai said. "It's just a formality to go and campaign -- the people have already decided." The United States, which along with the European Union has called for international monitoring of the runoff, said it was consulting its allies for ways to ensure the election was fair. U.S.-based Human Rights Watch also said intimidation and murder by Mugabe's supporters had made normal campaigning impossible.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Western nations get serious about Zimbabwe

Finally, the United States and European Union will recommend U.N. monitoring of this month's presidential campaign and runoff election in Zimbabwe. The Western powers plan to issue a communique tomorrow from a summit in Slovenia in an effort to stop violence directed at opponents of longtime president Robert Mugabe, according to the Reuters international news service. "We call on the government of Zimbabwe immediately to cease the state-sponsored violence and intimidation against its people that has occurred since the March 29 presidential and parliamentary election," says the text of the communique, which was obtained by Reuters. "We urge the United Nations Secretary General to send a team immediately to monitor human rights and to deter further abuses." Challenger Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change has been arrested twice since he returned to Zimbabwe to begin the campaign and his supporters have been subject to violent attacks. Tsvangirai officially received more votes than Mugabe in the March election but did not get the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff. The call for U.N. monitors comes the same day that the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch group said 36 people had been murdered and 2,000 assaulted or abducted by supporters of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. The group also urged the African Union and the Southern African Development Community to put pressure on Mugabe and send poll observers.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Time to worry? Venezuela's Chavez starts making sense

What in the world motivated Venezuela's rabidly anti-U.S. president, Hugo Chavez, to urge leftist rebels in neighboring Colombia to lay down their arms and free all hostages after years of war? Chavez, the socialist South American leader who called President Bush "the devil" at the United Nations, urged the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) to end the conflict on his weekly television and radio program. "The guerrilla war is history," Chavez said. "At this moment in Latin America, an armed guerrilla movement is out of place." Perhaps his motivation actually was what he said it was, an effort to diminish the authority of the United States, which he calls "the empire." Chavez said that as long as the rebels are fighting Colombia's government, the United States would have reason to exert influence in Latin America. "You in the FARC should know something," Chavez said. "You have become an excuse for the empire to threaten all of us. The day that peace arrives in Colombia, the empire will have no excuses." The Venezuelan leader's comments also could help improve relations with its neighbor, which have been strained over to Colombia's allegations that Chavez is aiding FARC, according to the Associated Press.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Nuclear watchdog scratches wrong behind

Does anyone find it reassuring that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is warning countries not to bomb suspected nuclear facilities in other places? Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will issue the warning on Monday in Der Spiegel magazine, the Associated Press reported Saturday. The remarks are clearly aimed at the United States and Israel, which have been warning Iran to open its facilities to international inspection or face attack. Israel bombed a suspected nuclear facility in Syria last year and destroyed a nuclear power plant under construction in Iraq in 1981. "Unilateral military action undermines the international treaty framework. We're standing at an historic turning point," ElBaradei tells the magazine in Monday's article. ElBaradei says the willingness of some countries to attack others suspected of developing nuclear capability is a threat to peace, as is nuclear proliferation. Well, thank you, professor. Maybe you have the luxury of putting destroying nuclear weapons technology on a par with building them, but countries threatened by rogue states trying to develop the weaponry cannot rely on your words to protect themselves. No statements, regardless of their eloquence or volume, are going to stop a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile. Iran says it is not developing nuclear weapons but only wants nuclear power. But why has Tehran continued to threaten Israel and refused to provide much of the information requested by ElBaradei's organization?

This way out in Pakistan

Pakistan's political situation remained in flux Saturday when President Pervez Musharraf, the U.S.-backed leader who has lost popular support, tried to put an end to speculation today that he was planning to resign. Musharraf, the army general who took power in a 1999 coup but lost considerable power in February when his party was trounced in parliamentary elections, said he would not resign or go into exile as opposition leaders have urged. Opposition leaders who took control of Pakistan's parliament, including the former prime minister deposed in Musharraf's coup, have threatened to impeach Musharraf or to constitutionally restrict the power of the presidency. "I am not tendering resignation now," Musharraf told journalists at a briefing aired on all Pakistani news challenge, according to the Reuters international news service. "I will keep watching; I can't become a useless vegetable." journalists in a briefing later broadcast by all Pakistani news channels. The widower of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister assassinated when she returned from exile last year, who now leads the majority party in the ruling coalition, calls Musharraf a "relic of the past." His party, the Pakistan People's Party, has proposed a plan to restrict Musharraf's power. Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who was deposed by Musharraf and exiled to India, is pushing a plan to impeach Musharraf or try him for treason.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Zimbabwe halts opponent's campaign

Maybe it's time for the nations of Africa to put an end to the rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Supporters of Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980, have continued their campaign of interference against Movement for Democratic Change standardbearer Morgan Tsvangirai, who is running against Mugabe in the presidential runoff scheduled for June 27. According to the Associated Press, Tsvangirai was detained for the second time this week and police officials said political rallies had been banned. Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of voting in March but did not officially get 50 percent of the vote, prompting the runoff. The vote count was not announced for five weeks, causing the opposition and international observers to suspect fraud. Mugabe was formerly heralded as a hero of Zimbabwe's independence, but the latter years of his presidency have been marked by fraud, violence and incompetence. There are African organizations that could bring enormous pressure on Mugabe to leave office, including the Organization of African Unity and the Southern African Development Community. It's about time we heard from them.

Myanmar stays on the defensive

The military junta that rules Burma, now also called Myanmar, kept up its hard-to-understand resistance to outside help Friday when it blamed its own people as well as foreign media for damaging the image of the country during the cyclone recovery crisis. Myanmar's leadership said Friday that claims by the United Nations that more than 1 million people are still without assistance were false. The country's Irrawaddy Delta region in the south was devastated by the Cyclone Nargis on May 2 and 3, and as many as 100,000 people were killed. Many countries and international aid groups have tried to help, but the junta has refused most offers of aid. The U.S. Navy recently turned around ships loaded with relief supplies that had been waiting for permission to dock in Myanmar, but the government has allowed the Marines to deliver aid to Yangon, the country's largest city. Shipments from Yangon to the delta area have been problematic. however. "Of the 1 million or 1.5 million people in need of relief support, we think that between 450,000 to 750,000 are in emergency need," said Lt. Gen. John Goodman, commander of Marine Forces Pacific and head of the U.S. relief operation for Myanmar, according to the Associated Press. Myanmar's reclusive leadership are reported angry over years of U.S. criticism of their human rights record and for refusing to surrender power to a civilian government elected by a landslide in 1990.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Tempting fate at Guantanamo

Sure, it's tempting to favor the death penalty for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused Sept. 11 mastermind, particularly since he asked for it himself today. But we are too smart and too committed to the rule of law to agree to such a travesty. Mohammed, one of three Guantanamo detainees that the United States admitted using 'enhanced' interrogation techniques on, has not been convicted of anything and may never be even with his outrageous statements. If he was tortured, he probably is entitled to have all the charges against him dismissed. So why would he request the death penalty? "This is what I wish, to be martyred," he told the war crimes court at Guantanamo, according to the Associated Press. Obviously, he's still trying to make the United States look bad in the eyes of the world. No doubt he's been infuriated by the failure of most countries and people to join his crusade against the United States, which make his calling the United States "crusaders" even more ridiculous. His refusal to cooperate with U.S.-provided attorneys appears misguided, even though he has alluded to principle. Fine. Let him have the representation he wants. As long as the United Staets behaves in accordance with legal principles that evolved in the centuries before George W. Bush became president, this country has nothing more to apologize for. But Mohammed appears to have miscalculated here. Why does he think he needs to make the United States look bad to the world when Bush and his appointees do such a good job on their own?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Was arrest of Zimbabwe opposition leader a warning?

Maybe the arrest today of Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was just a warning, but it probably signals that the Mugabe government is serious that it will do anything to hold onto power. Tsvangirai, the Movement for Democratic Change party leader who is campaigning to unseat longtime president Robert Mugabe in a June 27 runoff election, was released eight hours later, apparently unharmed, according to the Reuters international news service. Tsvangirai was arrested while campaigning in Harare, the capital, in the midst of rising violence blamed on Mugabe supporters. Mugabe, who has blamed Tsvangirai supporters for the post-election violence, vowed last month that he would never allow the MDC to take power. Tsvangirai was arrested at a roadblock by police officers and members of the government's Central Intelligence Organization and was held in custody southwest of Harare. "It appears they want to disrupt our campaign program," said George Sibotshiwe, a Tsvangirai spokesman, according to Reuters. After Tsvangirai's arrest, a U.S. State Department called for his immediate release. Tsvangirai has been arrested several times in the past and was severely beaten last year after being arrested at an anti-government rally in Harare, Reuters said. Mugabe has been president of Zimbabwe since the country's independence from Great Britain in 1980 but his party, ZANU-PF, lost its majority in parliament for the first time in the March balloting.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Syria appears more inclined to cooperate

Eight months after Israel bombed a suspected nuclear reactor under construction in Syria, Damascus has agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to inspect the site as soon as next month. Apparently, the display of force has enabled the belligerant Arab country to feel more like cooperating with international efforts to control the spread of nuclear technology. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors already plan to visit Syria on June 22-24 and want to inspect the site, as well as two or three others, at that time. Syria has not specifically agreed to allow the visit to the bombing site in June, but is expected to, according to unnamed sources cited by the Associated Press. But Syria has not agreed to allow IAEA experts to visit at least two other locations suspected of containing undeclared nuclear facilities. If Syria was building a nuclear reactor for a nuclear weapons program, it also would need plutonium reprocessing capabilities at other locations. Israel bombed the suspected reactor site in September after Damascus refused to respond to queries from the IAEA about the site.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Gruesome Middle East politics

Maybe nothing better demonstrates the gruesome state of Mideast politics than today's statement from the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah that it had released body parts of Israeli soldiers captured in 2006 and expected further negotiations on prisoner releases in the future. Israel's release of a convicted spy from Lebanon has raised the prospect of progress in apparently ongoing indirect talks between the Jewish state and Hezbollah, which rules a large part of Lebanon. The Reuters international news service reported Sunday that unnamed political sources said prisoner exchange talks had made major progress. The talks are being facilitated by the German foreign ministry, because Israel and Hezbollah have no direct contacts. "We today are handing over some of the remains of a number of Israeli soldiers who were killed in the July war and who the Israeli army left in Lebanon," Hezbollah security official Wafik Safa said in an unexpected announcement, Reuters reported. A box was placed in a vehicle belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for delivery to Israel.