Saturday, October 21, 2006

World against torture

Nearly a third of people worldwide support the use of torture against terror suspects in some circumstances, a BBC survey suggests.

Over 27,000 people in 25 countries, including Israel , were asked if torture was acceptable if it could provide information to save innocent lives. Fifty-nine percent were opposed to torture, 29 percent replied it an acceptable means to combat terrorism.

Respondents were asked which position was closer to their own views:

a) Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights standards against torture.

b) Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives.

A majority of Jewish respondents in Israel, 53 percent, agreed that the governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture to obtain information from terror suspects, while 39 percent were completely opposed and wanted clear rules against it. However the Muslim population in Israel polled overwhelmingly against any use of torture.

And what do countries who have suffered terror attacks think? In the United States 58 percent oppose torture, 36 percent are in favor and 6 percent haven't made up their minds yet.

In Britain, where a large scale terror plot was recently thwarted, 72 percent are against retrieving information from terror suspects through torture while 24 percent are in favor. Similar figures were apparent in Spain, where 65 percent oppose terror and only 16 percent condone it.

The poll was also conducted in Muslim countries. In Iraq, which suffers daily terror attacks, 42 percent are in favor of torturing terror suspects, 55 percent are against it. In Egypt the figure drops to 25 percent in favor and 62 percent against. The rest are undecided.

And what do countries who have suffered terror attacks think? In the United States 58 percent oppose torture, 36 percent are in favor and 6 percent haven't made up their minds yet.

In Britain, where a large scale terror plot was recently thwarted, 72 percent are against retrieving information from terror suspects through torture while 24 percent are in favor. Similar figures were apparent in Spain, where 65 percent oppose terror and only 16 percent condone it.

The poll was also conducted in Muslim countries. In Iraq, which suffers daily terror attacks, 42 percent are in favor of torturing terror suspects, 55 percent are against it. In Egypt the figure drops to 25 percent in favor and 62 percent against. The rest are undecided.

In three other countries, besides Israel, less than half the population polled against torturing terror suspects. In China – 49 percent were against and 37 percent were in favor.

In Russia, 43 percent polled against and 37 percent were in favor. In India, which has also suffered from terror attacks the data is intriguing – 23 percent are against torture and 23 percent are in favor of the tactic. The remaining 45 percent have yet to make up their minds.


November Surprise?

The US-backed special tribunal in Baghdad signalled Monday that it will likely delay a verdict in the first trial of Saddam Hussein to November 5. Why hasn't the mainstream media connected the dots between the Saddam's judgment day and the midterm elections?

Here's how the story was reported pretty much everywhere: "An Iraqi court trying Saddam Hussein for the killing of Shi'ite villagers in the 1980s could deliver a verdict on November 5, officials said, a ruling which could send the ousted leader to the gallows…"

A possible death-sentence for Saddam and his top lieutenants on November 5? Now, shouldn't that raise a few eyebrows somewhere? If you happen to have a calendar close at hand, pull it over and take a quick look. That verdict would then come, curiously enough, just two days before the midterm elections.

Continue reading Here

Study of Iraqi Dead Shocking, But Sound Science

The Statistical Assessment Service a non-profit, non-partisan media research organization affiliated with George Mason University and committed to correcting scientific misinformation in the media - finds the study estimating 650,000 excess Iraqi casualties since American forces entered the country to be methodologically sound.

In an analyis released today, STATS Director of Research Dr. Rebecca Goldin defended the research technique of cluster sampling behind the study, writing that "the methods used by this study are the only scientific methods we have for discovering death rates in war torn countries without the infrastructure to report all deaths through central means. Instead of dismissing over half a million dead people as a political ploy ... we ought to embrace science as opening our eyes to a tragedy whose death scale has been vastly underestimated until now."

She goes into great detail about both the strengths of the research, as well as the arguments against it.

- Prior Support from the Scientific Community:

While the Lancet numbers are shocking, the study's methodology is not. The scientific community is in agreement over the statistical methods used to collect the data and the validity of the conclusions drawn by the researchers conducting the study. When the prequel to this study appeared two years ago by the same authors (at that time, 100,000 excess deaths were reported), the Chronicle of Higher Education published a long article explaining the support within the scientific community for the methods used.

- The Methodology of "Cluster Sampling":

Cluster sampling is a well-established in statistics, and is routinely used to estimate casualties in natural disasters or war zones. For the Iraq study the researchers randomly chose people to interview about deaths in their families, interviewed a cluster of households around them, and then extrapolated the results to the whole population. There is nothing controversial in the method itself, though people can certainly question whether the sampling was done correctly.

- Attacks on Study are Ideological, not Scientific:

There has been a wealth of material on the web attacking the Lancet study. Most of it is devoid of science, and ranges from outrage at the numbers (it's impossible to believe it could be so high), to accusations of bias based on the authors' views of U.S. foreign policy. Interested parties such as the Iraqi government responded quickly by calling the numbers "inflated" and "far from the truth", rather than putting forward any real reasons why these numbers are unlikely to have occurred. President Bush, for one, says he does "not consider it a credible report."

You can read Dr. Goldin's analysis in its entirety Here


US adopts tough new space policy

The US has adopted a tough new policy aimed at protecting its interests in space and denying "adversaries" access there for hostile purposes. The document - signed by President Bush - also says "freedom of action in space is as important to the United States as air power and sea power".

The document rejects any proposals to ban space weapons. But the White House has said the policy does not call for the development or deployment of weapons in space. However, some military experts warn that by refusing to enter into negotiations on space weaponry, the US is likely to fuel international suspicions that it will develop such weapons.

The 10-page strategic document states that the US national security "is critically dependent upon space capabilities, and this dependence will grow".

"The United States will preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space... and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to US national interests," it says.


Full Document

Some light humour

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The worst in Iraq is still to come

By Simon Tisdall

In its external aspects, Iraq remains a live, occasionally explosive issue in the US and Britain, as last week's row over General Sir Richard Dannatt's thoughts on a British withdrawal showed. But the deepening chaos inside the country attracts less and less attention. Like sailors long missing at sea, the fate of ordinary Iraqis three years after the country was driven on to the rocks grows increasingly remote from those who precipitated the disaster.

In the US, Iraq is now primarily an electoral rather than a nation-building, humanitarian or counter-terrorism issue. With the Republicans fighting to retain control of Congress in next month's midterm polls, George Bush's Middle East freedom mission has become a hard-nosed numbers game.

The Lancet's politically damaging report that more than 650,000 Iraqis have died since 2003 was swiftly dismissed by the White House. But the fact that October is proving the cruellest month for American soldiers, with an average 3.5 deaths a day so far, is deadlier domestic ammunition for the Democrats.

On related fronts, both American conservatives and Arab reformers worry that, burned by its Iraq experience, the Bush administration is reverting to old thinking - containment, deterrence, and maintenance of the Middle East status quo. And in Britain as in the US, Iraq is now a handy tool in the nuclear proliferation debate. Tony Blair is derided for seeing weapons in Baghdad when, actually, they were in North Korea all along. So who, his opponents ask, can trust him on Iran?

Such political and strategic games reflect a changed state of mind. Although the troops are still there, much of European and US opinion now seems to feel it has entered the "post-Iraq" period. The world has moved on to other issues, it is argued. Relatively soon, both Mr Bush and Mr Blair will be gone. And media interest has diminished, partly because of the evident dangers to reporters but also because the "story" has grown repetitive.

But inside Iraq, the picture appears very different to those who still care to look. As daily sectarian bloodshed, militia anarchy and political incompetence reach unprecedented levels, it seems likely that the worst is yet to come.

One sign came last week when the Shia parliamentary majority rejected Sunni opposition and passed a law allowing partition into autonomous federal regions. It is but a small step from there to national disintegration.

Another grim omen was the indefinite postponement at the weekend of a long-awaited "national reconciliation conference", an initiative central to the prime minister Nuri al-Maliki's efforts for a new start. Almost simultaneously, Sunni insurgents, including al-Qaida, announced the formation of an Iraqi Islamic state.

Policymakers agree the US approach has to change. The argument is about how, and to what end. The focus of the former secretary of state James Baker's Iraq Study Group, currently examining the issue at Mr Bush's behest, is not how to make Iraq a glowing success but how to prevent it becoming a permanent failure endangering US interests. Options under discussion include asking Iran and Syria for help and containment via a phased withdrawal to friendly neighbouring countries.

"The starting point is to recognise that Iraq is not going to be a democratic, unified country that serves as a model for the region," Dennis Ross, the Clinton administration's Middle East negotiator, told the Washington Post. Whatever happened, the US should set a withdrawal timetable, he said. That sounds very much like Gen Dannatt's "lowered ambitions".

In a report for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Anthony Cordesman takes a more holistic approach reflecting Washington's responsibilities as well as its self-interest. He discusses a wide range of measures, including international military and economic incentives to facilitate Iraqi reconciliation. And he warns that new remedies are urgently required.

"Iraq is already in a state of serious civil war and current efforts at political compromise and improving security at best are buying time," he says. "There is a critical risk that Iraq will drift into a major civil conflict over the coming months ... The US cannot simply 'stay the course' and rely on existing actions and strategy. It needs new options."


Monday, October 16, 2006

Poll: 16% believe Bush Administration told truth about 9/11

A poll conducted last week by the New York Times and CBS news found that just 16% of Americans believe the Bush Administration is telling the truth about what they knew prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Poll participants were asked, "do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying?"

53% of respondents indicated they believe the Bush Administration was hiding something, and another 28% reported that they think the administration is mostly lying "when it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States."


British hostages demand inquiry into Kuwait spying claims

British "human shields" taken hostage by Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war demanded a public inquiry today into allegations that the government put their lives at risk to allow a secret operation to go ahead.

They were among 367 passengers and crew seized by Iraqi troops when British Airways flight 149 landed in Kuwait hours after the invasion of the country on August 2 1990.

Their demand for an inquiry was sparked by new claims published by author Stephen Davis that the flight was being used to transport undercover agents into Kuwait.

At a press conference in the House of Commons today, crew and passengers described how around nine men joined the flight unannounced as it was delayed on the tarmac at Heathrow, then disappeared immediately after its arrival in Kuwait City.

John Major, the Conservative chancellor at the time, has previously denied rumours that the mysterious men may have been special-forces troops, insisting that no military personnel were on board.

But Mr Davis now says that he has obtained documentary evidence, along with interviews with up to six sources - including one of the men on board the plane and one of the operation's organisers - indicating that they were on a secret mission to gain intelligence on the movement of Saddam's troops.

He said that BA was wary of allowing the flight, bound for the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to stop off in Kuwait for refuelling while Iraqi troops were massing on the border, but the airline was assured by a British embassy official that it would be safe to land.

Mr Davis alleged that this official was in fact the station chief for MI6, which was in charge of organising the operation.

Continue reading Here

Canada blocks bid by Arab countries for vote Israel's nuclear capabilities

More than a dozen Arab countries were blocked by a Canadian motion in their bid to have a vote on a resolution labelling Israel's nuclear capabilities a threat on the final day of the International Atomic Energy Agency's annual meeting.

The draft resolution, which also called upon Israel to join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, was blocked from going to a vote Friday by the Canadian delegate.

The final session of the UN nuclear watchdog agency's weeklong meeting did adopt a separate, non-binding resolution calling on all Middle Eastern countries to accept IAEA safeguards and take steps toward the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone. Israel and the United States were the only two countries that voted against it. Three countries abstained.

The measure calling Israel's program a threat, which was co-sponsored by Iran, was kept from going to a vote after 45 countries backed a no-action motion by the Canadian delegate, effectively adjourning the debate Friday evening.

Among those supporting the effort to block the vote were the United States, Israel, France, Germany and Britain. Those abstaining included China, Russia and Nigeria, among others.

The 15 Arab countries behind the resolution, which would also have been non-binding, had hoped to send a signal to Israel following its monthlong war with Hezbollah, which killed hundreds of people - most of them civilians - in Lebanon.

"Peace and nuclear weapons are two enemies - there is no cohabitation," said Ramzy Ramzy, head of the Egyptian delegation to the meeting and his country's ambassador to Austria.

In co-sponsoring the resolution, Iran was also seeking to counter criticism of its own nuclear program, which the United States and others insist is aimed at the production of atomic weapons. Iran insists it only wants to generate power.

"Iran...has always called for establishing a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction...It is of profound regret that this issue is trapped in a vicious cycle," said Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA.

Arab countries at the annual conference have regularly threatened to submit such a resolution but in past years have opted instead to voice their concerns about Israel's nuclear program through a statement from the conference president, which carries less weight than a resolution.

The last time such a resolution was submitted at the annual IAEA conference was in 1991. It passed.

Israel neither confirms nor denies its nuclear status but is considered to be the only country in the region with nuclear weapons. Israel does not accept IAEA controls on its nuclear activities.

Israel's ambassador to the IAEA said efforts to bring security to the Middle East should be focused on peace efforts, not necessarily arms control.

"The fundamental goal in the Middle East, as in other regions, is obtaining regional peace, security and stability, not arms control per se," Israel Michaeli said.

The draft resolution was submitted earlier this week by 15 countries: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.


Australia : Mea culpa mate

FORMER Defence chief General Peter Cosgrove has apologised to Federal Police boss Mick Keelty and now admits that the Iraq war has boosted global terrorism.

Just days before the launch of his autobiography My Story, General Cosgrove told The Sunday Telegraph that his comments criticising Mr Keelty's view that the Iraq war had inspired terrorist attacks in Spain, were made just days after the event.

"At that time I just felt that call could not be made," he said.

"Things have moved on. I have got no reason to argue the weighty assessments that I am seeing.

"If people say that there has been an energising of the jihadist movement through the protracted war in Iraq - well that's pretty obvious."