Africa's innocent victims of global mob rule

Publié le par hort

Innocent victims of the African Guantanamo
By Christopher Thompson
In an echo of Guantanamo, the US is using secret east african prisons to render terror suspects captured in the Horn of Africa. Zanzibar-born translator Kamilya Tuwein, who lives in he UAE, told The First Post in an exclusive interview how she was captured in northern Kenya on suspicion of being a member of al-Qaeda. "I was in Kenya in a hotel on January 10 when police broke into the room with guns and arrested me. They took us to Mombasa, then Nairobi. When I arrived they said 'Welcome al-Qaeda'." According to Kamilya she was then flown at night to the Somali capital Mogadishu where she was kept in an internment camp for ten days at a time when Ethiopian forces were invading the country.

Since December 2006 the US has opened up an African front in its war on terror - centred around Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia - and caught many innocents in the crossfire. Central to the new strategy is the use of Ethiopian jails in the rendering and interrogation of terror suspects. Hundreds of these have been held incommunicado by the Ethiopian and Kenyan authorities on suspicion of terrorism, according to US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). They accuse the US of complicity in the maltreatment of these detainees in what the UK legal rights charity Reprieve has denounced as 'Africa's Guantanamo', using Ethiopia as an erstwhile ally in its invasion of neighbouring Somalia late last year.

US special forces, along with Kenyan and Ethiopian authorities, have also been arresting suspects along the Kenyan/Somali border since December 2006. An unknown number have been sent to Ethiopia. In March Ethiopia's Foreign Affairs Ministry acknowledged that 41 people were held "after being captured by the joint forces of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and Ethiopia". It added that 29 were slated for release, including four Britons, and that there were no 'secret' prisons.

But flight manifests held by HRW show at least 85 people were deported from Kenya to Somalia on three planes chartered by two airlines, African Express Airways and Sudan's Bluebird Aviation, on January 20 and 27, and February 10. Meanwhile, according to former prisoners like Kamilya, Western intelligence agencies are taking advantage of the situation to conduct clandestine interrogations. "I was in Addis Ababa for six weeks. A US man interrogated me. When I asked him who he was, he didn't want to tell," said Kamilya.

Earlier this year the US Government denied the detentions were part of a covert rendition programme but conceded that interviews with detainees have produced "valuable information". The new approach to Africa reflects a heightened concern among US policy-makers about the possibility of militant Islamist groups penetrating Africa, which is already home to large, albeit traditionally moderate, Muslim communities. "The terrorist challenge has increased in Africa in the past year," said Professor Peter Pham, a US advisor on Africa to the Pentagon. "It's gotten a new lease of life."

This concern is reflected in the Pentagon's construction of a new unified military command for Africa, dubbed Africom, due to be up and running before September this year, according to Pham.  For those such as Kamilya, caught up as a new front in the 'war on terror' opens, there is little hope of explanation or compensation for their ordeals.

Reconsidering the war on terror
By George Soros (for Safe Democracy)
George Soros challenges the concept of war on terror and says that it has been a tragic misconception: it has not prevented terrorist attacks around the world yet it has diverted the American attention from other vital tasks. He adds that it has damaged the American dominant position in the world and endangered its open society. Soros thinks that only by forging a new consensus on fighting the terrorists can the US correct these mistakes and regain the pre-eminent position in the world. In order to convince people that the war on terror is the wrong framework, we must formulate a better one..
I should like to challenge the very concept of the “war on terror”. It is a metaphor that needs to be challenged because it has been accepted uncritically and applied literally. If anybody dares to say that there is something wrong with framing the struggle against terrorism as “the war on terror,” it is immediately assumed that there is something wrong with him. So nobody dares to say it yet it needs to be said because the war on terror as we have waged it since 9/11 has done more harm than good. It has not prevented terrorist attacks around the world yet it has diverted our attention from other vital tasks, damaged our dominant position in the world and endangered our open society. We must find a better way, a new consensus on fighting terrorism.

Why is it so harmful to frame the struggle against terrorists as the “war on terror”? Because this metaphor leads us to rely too much on military force and not enough on other means of countering the terrorist. The use of military force is a necessary element in the struggle. The invasion of Afghanistan was justified. That is where Bin Laden lived and Al Qaeda has its training camps. But the invasion of Iraq, as we now all know, can not be similarly justified.
When we use military force we risk playing into the hands of terrorists. Terrorism is abhorrent because it kills innocent civilians for political goals. War, by its nature, claims innocent victims. By using military force, we run the risk of doing the same thing as the terrorists. In this respect, the war on terror is even worse than an ordinary war because terrorists try to remain invisible so the chances of hitting innocent victims are even greater. Innocent victims generate sympathy and outrage. We are outraged by 9/11; by retaliating in a way that creates innocent victims we are outraging others. That is the response the terrorists wanted to provoke. The “war on terror” as we are now pursuing it with an over reliance on military force serves their purposes better than ours.

Using the “war” metaphor creates other problems. First, a state of war undermines the normal functioning of the critical process that is the foundation of our democracy. For 18 months after 9/11, any criticism of the President’s policies was considered unpatriotic. It was this suspension of the critical process that allowed President Bush to commit what is perhaps the greatest blunder in American history – the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Second, the sense of emergency associated with war has been used to extend executive powers, infringe civil liberties, run up a budget deficit and neglect other burning issues like global warming.
Third, the way the “war on terror” was conducted --Baghram airbase, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the extraordinary rendition of prisoners to countries like Uzbekistan-- violated the principles that had guided America in the past and lost us the moral high ground. Fourth, we ended up with unsavory allies like President Karimov of Uzbekistan who boiled political prisoners alive and massacred unarmed demonstrators in Andijon. Finally, the “war on terror” drove a wedge between America and the rest of the world. President Bush’s assertion that we must fight terrorism abroad so that we do not have to fight it at home may have appealed to the public at home but it had the opposite affect abroad. Attitudes toward the US have never been so negative.

For all these reasons “the war on terror” has proven to be counterproductive in every respect except in enhancing the powers and popularity of the President. Terrorism is a greater threat today than it was when President Bush declared war. The invasion of Iraq has spawned more insurgents and suicide bombers than there were before. Our power and influence in the world has declined more than in any comparable stretch of time in our history. Before invading Iraq we could project overwhelming power in any part of the world; we cannot do so any more because we are bogged down in Iraq. And we are failing to provide the leadership that the world badly needs on many burning issues.

Yet, the “war on terror” remains the generally accepted frame for thinking about terrorism. Most people have come to realize that the invasion of Iraq was a blunder, but they still accept the “war on terror” as the obvious response to 9/11. I believe we shall not be able to repair the terrific damage we have suffered in the four years since 9/11 without abandoning the “war on terror” as a catchphrase that justifies misguided policies. In order to convince people that the “war on terror” is the wrong frame, we must formulate a better one. That is where this conference could make a valuable contribution. I attended a similar conference in Madrid to commemorate the first anniversary of the terrorists attack on that city. The conference was organized by the Club of Madrid, FRIDE and the Safe Democracy Foundation, and it reached a consensus that can be summed up in three points.

First, terrorism is a many-faceted phenomenon and it is difficult to generalize about it except for the one thing that all terrorists have in common: they kill innocent people for political goals. That is a crime against humanity and it cannot be condoned or tolerated, whatever the grievance that is used as its justification. Second, in dealing with terrorism, we must take great care not to do the same thing as the terrorists and create innocent victims. We must stay within the constraints of the law, even if the laws may have to be modified to deal with terrorists. If we create innocent victims we are liable to reinforce the terrorist threat. Third, we must foster democratic development in order to provide legitimate avenues for dealing with grievances that otherwise might be exploited by terrorist movements.

I believe these are sound principles, much sounder than the “the war on terror”. They could serve as the basis for a new consensus on fighting terrorism. On the first point, that terrorism must not be tolerated, there can be no disagreement. The third point, fostering democratic development, has been wholeheartedly embraced by President Bush. It is on the second point, staying within the constraints of the law and not creating innocent victims, that our policies need to be changed. The “war on terror” creates innocent victims and that helps the terrorists. It sets in motion a vicious circle from which there is not escape without modifying our attitudes.
We are the most powerful nation on earth. No external enemy can defeat us. We can lose our preeminent position only by our own mistakes and misconceptions. The “war on terror” has been a tragic misconception. Only by forging a new consensus on fighting the terrorists can we correct our mistakes and regain our preeminent position in the world.
George Soros is an investor, philanthropist, liberal political activist, and philosopher. Currently, he is the chairman of the Soros Fund Management and the Open Society Institute. He is also a former member of the Board of Directors of the US Council on Foreign Relations

Publié dans world

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