Saturday, December 31, 2011

Egyptian Dissident Freed!
Alaa Abdel Fattah released from jail

Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah was released from prison on Christmas day. Fattah had been charged by the Egyptian military with inciting clashes between the Coptic Christians and the military at a demonstration outside Egypt’s State TV. Observers from human rights groups believe that the charges against Alaa were brought to hide the Egyptian military’s responsibility for the confrontation and to silence a vocal critic of Egypt’s military.

During Alaa’s 2 months imprisonment, his son was born. On December 28, Alaa described his detention and the state of the Egyptian revolution on Democracy Now. Alaa described being initially imprisoned for 5 days in a cell that was unsanitary and only being allowed 10 minutes a day to use the bathroom. He said that others who had been imprisoned in relation to the same incident had been tortured.

Alaa’s release follows several important developments in Egypt.

In November, the protests in Tahrir grew considerably. The activists demanded that the military immediately hand over power to a civilian government. A rival pro-military group of Egyptians organized to oppose the Tahrir activists. Chris Hays discussed these developments with an Egyptian journalist.

Mona Elthaway, an Egyptian-born American journalist, covered the November protests and was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted and detained by the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior and Military Intelligence. In an appearance on The Dylan Ratigan Show, Elthaway called for the end of US military aid to Egypt and for US companies to stop selling the Egyptian military weapons and teargas.  


All the while, Egypt has been voting for its parliament. The election takes place in a three part process that began November 28 and will extend into next year. Initial results show that the Islamists parties are winning by a dramatic margin with the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties winning close to 70 percent of the vote. Both groups have said that they will respect Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

In mid-December, Jihan Hafiz filed a report for The Real News showing plain clothed Egyptian soldiers thronging rocks at protestors. The report also stated, “The army, the police, and plain clothed thugs rushed into tahrir square, beating and arresting everyone in sight, destroying tents and make-shift clinics, and attacking both doctors and journalists.”

On December 29, the Egyptian military raided the offices of several human rights groups in Cairo including organizations funded by the US government; this lead to a critical response from the State Department.

Even though Alaa Abdul Fattah is now free, the Egyptian military continues its repression of Egyptian rights.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bradley Manning Finally Gets His Day in Court:
Developments in the story of Manning and Wikileaks

Much has occurred in the story of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks since I wrote my first post on the topic. I have also learned about things that had occurred as a result of Wikileaks before I wrote my first post. For those of you who haven’t yet read my first post on Bradley Manning, I would recommend reading it first.  

A Wikileaks cable which discussed corruption and nepotism within Tunisia played a minor supporting role in inspiring protestors to call for the resignation of Tunisian dictator Bin Ali. After Bin Ali was forced to flee his country, democratic uprisings spread throughout the Middle East.

A student confronted US State Department representative PJ Crowley about Bradley Manning’s mistreatment at Quantico during an MIT seminar last March. Crowley responded by saying, “What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defense." Shortly afterward PJ Crowley was forced to resign his post in the Obama administration.

PJ Crowley defended his remarks in an editorial in The Guardian. However, this does not mean that he is a fan of Bradley Manning. In the same editorial Crowley stated his view that, “Private Manning is rightly facing prosecution and, if convicted, should spend a long, long time in prison.”

In April it was apparent that the government wasn’t going to allow Bradley Manning to receive official unmonitored visits from Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Amnesty International, or the UN Special Rappatour on Torture.

On two separate occasions, Wikileaks has published the names of US informants in Iraq and Afghanistan and put their lives at risk. Thankfully there have been no reports of deaths occurring as a result, but that does not excuse this unforgivable recklessness on the part of Wikileaks. The details of these incidents are complex, detailed, and in dispute. It should suffice to say that no legitimate news organization would have allowed this to happen once, let alone twice. Manning had no way of knowing that the information he leaked would be handled so irresponsibly, so it would be unfair to blame him for these disclosures. Manning would have been better served to have leaked his documents to Al Jazeera, The Guardian, or other alternative news source. They would have redacted the names of the informants. 

On November 21, the government finally announced when Manning would get his day in court. On December 16, Private Manning’s Article 32 pre-trial hearing began. It was also his 24th birthday. After 19 months in detention by the US military, Manning finally got to begin his trial.

Bradley Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, requested that Hillary Clinton testify at the pre-trial hearing on the effect the Wikileaks disclosures have had on national security. Coombs also requested that President Obama testify about his statement that “He [Manning] broke the law,” before Manning had been convicted or even seen a courtroom. Overall the prosecution opposed having 38 of the defense’s requested 48 witnesses to testify at the pre-trial hearing. The other 10 were already on the prosecution’s request list. Ultimately, two of the witnesses that the defense requested and the prosecution opposed, testified at the hearing, the other 36 did not. The prosecution ended up calling 21 witnesses.

 David Coombs also requested that the presiding judge, Paul Almanza, recuse himself from hearing the case because of his former work for the U.S. Justice Department which is preparing a possible case against Wikileaks. Colonel Almanza declined by saying that he worked in the part of the Justice Department that dealt with child exploitation and obscenity rather than National Security.

One of the defense’s primary arguments is that the military acted inappropriately by failing to provide Manning with much needed psychological help. Bradley Manning was suffering from having to conceal the fact that he was gay in a military that still enforced Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Manning also wrote a letter to Sergeant Atkins, the highest ranking military officer in Manning’s unit, that he was suffering from Gender Identity Disorder and that it caused him serious problems in his daily life. This serious mental distress lead him to occasional violent outbursts.

The defense’s other primary argument is that Private Manning is a whistleblower. The defense stated that, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That view was once held by a man who also said, “Government whistleblowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.” That man was Barack Obama. Manning’s case is only one of five cases where the Obama administration has prosecuted whistleblowers.  

The prosecution argues that Manning broke several military rules when he downloaded classified information and passed it on to those not authorized to see it. But the prosecution’s argument is much deeper than that. The prosecution argued that Manning had knowledge when he gave the classified information to Wikileaks that it would end up in the hands of Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and other enemies of the United States.

Kevin Gosztola, who covered Manning’s trial, summed up the consequences of this argument quite nicely on Democracy Now, “That is essentially criminalizing National Security Journalism.” He elaborated by saying, “If you do a report on a drone strike, if you do a report on anything related to military operations and Al Qaeda reads it then you could be accused of aiding the enemy.”

When the truth is a propaganda victory for your enemy, you have a problem on your hands. To be clear, I do not think the US is anywhere close to being as bad as Al Qaeda. But when governments prosecute whistleblowers because the misdeeds they uncover are useful to enemies of the government, the public looses the right to know what its government is doing and its ability to change it.  

Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing ended on December 22. The judge has not yet made his ruling, but will likely decide that the prosecution has enough evidence to proceed to trial.

Post Script: Al Jazeera’s Listening Post examined how the US media has covered Manning’s pre-trial hearing. The program also discussed how Manning’s exposure of misconduct on the part of the US Military in Iraq may have helped contribute to Iraq’s reluctance to grant legal immunity to US troops who would have stayed in Iraq passed the end of 2011. As a result, talks about an extension of the US presence in Iraq broke down and our soldiers finally got to come home for Christmas.

The Alyona Show on Russia Today featured extensive coverage on Manning’s pre-trial hearing. That coverage included this discussion on the hearing between Alyona, Daniel Ellsberg, and Kevin Gosztola.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Not-So-Conservative Republican Presidential Field

The Republican presidential candidates adopted positions in the past that are quite liberal by today’s standards. They have been doing all they can to distance themselves from these positions as each tries to assert that they are the most conservative candidate. Thus, the following SNL-style skit features the leading Republican presidential candidates discussing their previous political positions that they have either changed or tried to downplay. In order to make the skit work, it must be set both in the Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. I know it’s an absurd premise, but go with it. We join the younger versions of the Republican presidential candidates on a train traveling between Washington D. C.  and Boston.  

Romney: Wow, I never thought I would have the pleasure to meet the great Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republican resurgence. Hi, I’m Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts.

Gingrich: Pleasure to meet you Mitt, how are things going for you in Massachusetts?

Romney: Great, actually. I just passed Health Care Reform that includes subsidies to help the poor afford insurance, regulations on insurance companies, and an individual mandate to buy health insurance.

Gingrich: Ahh, the Heritage Foundation plan. I just introduced a national version of the same plan in the House.

Romney: It’s projected to work wonders in Massachusetts, around 98 percent of our population will be insured.

(surprised) Congressman Paul, I didn’t see you there. My, it’s like we have the entire Republican Party on this train.

Paul: Nice to meet you Mitt, but I’m not a Republican. I quit the party in the 80s after Reagan spent too much, taxed too much, and borrowed too much.

Romney: Yeah, I’m not much of a Reaganite myself. I support gay rights, a woman’s right to choose, and gun control.

Bachmann: (college age, enters train car) Reelect Jimmy Carter! Reelect Jimmy Carter! Anyone want a flier?

Perry: No thank you, I’m an Al Gore man myself.

Gingrich: (talking to Perry) You know, we really do need to do something about Global Warming.

Huntsman: It really is a travesty that we have people in this country who refuse to admit that humans are responsible for Global Warming.

Cain: I just can’t believe that President Clinton put Hillary through having to deal with his affair and then lied repeatedly and emphatically about it to the American people.

Gingrich: I know; that’s why I lead the charge to impeach him in the House. That kind of misconduct and dishonesty should really disqualify someone from being President.

Voice over the intercom: We have now arrived at Boston.

Romney: This is my stop. Well Gingrich, let’s always remember to put principal before political expediency. The public appreciates candidates who have core convictions, even when they disagree with your positions. The Republican Party must always remain one that embraces reasonable solutions to the problems we face, even when they are unpopular. With your consistent leadership in the House and pragmatic governors in the states, the future for our Republican Party looks bright.

Gingrich: I couldn’t agree more, Mitt.