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NYT says Charles Taylor Conviction is ‘a watershed case for modern human rights law’

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Charles Taylor in court at his war crimes trial in The Hague. Photograph: Reuters

On the front page of today’s New York Times is a story about how former Liberian President Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years of prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity which he committed in the Sierra Leone civil war that lasted from 1991-2002, and which resulted in the deaths of around 50,000 people.

The article, “Ex-Liberian Leader Gets 50 Years for War Crimes,” written by Marlise Simons and J. David Goodman, says the conviction was “a watershed case for modern human rights law,” and that “Mr. Taylor was the first former head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials in Germany after World War II.”

The article even quotes a Sierra Leone politician, Ibrahim Sorie, who was present at the sentencing, as saying, “It restores our faith in the rule of law, and we see that impunity is ending for top people.”

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to not have “faith in the rule of law,” or to believe “that impunity is ending for top people.” Because all you have to do is look and see if criminal leaders from other sides of the Sierra Leone conflict are being held accountable. Sort of, but not really. Those who the West backed, like the government forces, were never indicted or tried, even though they too committed serious crimes.

Furthermore, the trial revealed that, starting in the 1980s, Charles Taylor worked for the CIA. This gets confirmed by the U.S. when, in the trials proceedings, Taylor tells his life story. He talked about how he fled to the U.S. in the mid-1980s, and how the CIA helped him break out of jail, where he then went back to Liberia to start a war. Simons’ and Goodman’s article make no mention of this fact—even though Simons reported on this in 2009. So while Taylor was busy starting a much deadlier war in Liberia, which killed around 200,000 people, those crimes were never prosecuted.

This is much like Saddam Hussein. A former ally of the United States, he is supported through the worst of his crimes. When he attacked Iran in 1980, the U.S. provided military and political support. But when his usefulness was worn out, he quickly became the epitome of evil and had to be brought to justice. And much like Taylor, Saddam’s trial was carefully crafted to avoid embarrassments. A memo to former Iraqi Prime Minister al-Jafari which was published in Foreign Policy magazine in July of 2005 states, “The special tribunal is full of legal holes and is tainted by American influence,” and that,

Erase the American Footprint: There is no denying that the IST is an American creation. The now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority established the tribunal in consultation with the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. Its statute allows the appointment of foreign judges to the tribunal and mandates the presence of international observers. No foreign judges have yet been appointed, but the possibility is being seriously considered. The possibility itself is an insult to Iraqis. Even in Europe, which is increasingly bound together legally and culturally, it would be unacceptable to have, for example, a French judge on the bench for a German criminal trial.

The tribunals statute was drafted in English and modeled on the American adversarial legal system. The U.S. government provided $75 million and dispatched teams of prosecutors and investigators to help the tribunal prepare for the trials of senior regime officials. These American officials are dedicated, but they know little about Iraqs legal traditions. The tribunals provenance and the presence of American personnel have fostered the view that it serves U.S. rather than Iraqi interests.

And even if you go back to Times articles about the Liberian civil war at the time you see a differential treatment towards Taylor. When he was still a CIA asset.

In the article “Strategic Interests Tie U.S. to Liberia,” which was published on June 13, 1990, the NYT notes that, “even as American officials privately voice criticism of the nation’s embattled President [Doe],” Washington was finding it difficult to cut ties because “strategic interests tie Washington to the Liberian crisis” in the form of “landing and refueling rights for military aircraft and ships on 24-hour notice, the only nation in sub-Saharan Africa that accords Washington such rights,” as well as “a navigational station that emits low-frequency signals that guide ships and aircraft in the Atlantic.”

On one hand the U.S. is backing both sides of the conflict. President Doe was provided “$500 million worth of military and economic aid between 1980 and 1985,” but the relationship was becoming strained. So as rebel forces led by Taylor make ground we begin to see attitudes quickly change at the “paper of record.”

In “Rebel Forces in Liberia Surround the Capital and Begin an Attack,” which was published on July 3, 1990, it is reported that, “Mr. Taylor, who has accused General Doe’s Government of brutality and large-scale corruption, has promised a thorough political house-cleaning but has equivocated about his intention to hold national elections.”

For Washington insiders this is music to their ears. Again, a CIA asset is deriding the government of “brutality and large-scale corruption” while promising “to hold national elections” if only he can get in power.

Then on August 21 of the same year the Times publishes the article “Some Liberians Accuse the U.S. of Betrayal,” which notes that the Bush administration “has made clear it will not intervene militarily to end the civil war” even while “daily fighting between the factions led by Mr. Taylor and by Prince Johnson and the forces loyal to President Doe has resulted in massacres of thousands of civilians.”

It is not until Charles Taylor gets on the wrong side of conflicts that he becomes a criminal who must be brought to justice. When Taylor’s forces go to Sierra Leone and fight against the Western-backed government it is much like Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A line was crossed. Now that Taylor is our enemy Simons and Goodman inform us about “a secret bonding ritual in Liberia during which [an aide who testified to the court that] he and others joined Mr. Taylor in eating a human heart.”

The differential treatment also shows in the trial of Taylor, who got a fifty-year sentence. While Simons and Goodman report that “the tribunal is to be shut down,” it’s worth noting that not one government official was indicted or tried, despite the fact that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created before the the Special Court for Sierra Leone was set up, and in their findings they note that, “All factions specifically targeted civilians.” It wasn’t just those who weren’t on the West’s side, like Charles Taylor. Even the Western-backed government forces were found to be “responsible for systematically plundering and looting” and “for either authorising or instigating human rights violations against civilians.”

This is the “watershed case for modern human rights law” which is supposed to have restored “our faith in the rule of law,” and where “we see that impunity is ending for top people”: only those not allied with the West are tried. This is not an exception. This is the norm. To date, not one ally of the U.S. has been indicted at the ICC. Not one. And certainly not leaders from the U.S. itself.

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The NYT Makes Excuses for Rwanda’s Genocide in Congo

Companies who “do business” in Democratic Republic of Congo

On page eight of the New York Times May 29, 2012 edition is a story about a leaked United Nations report which shows Rwandans were recruited by the Rwandan government to go fight in Democratic Republic of Congo, or the D.R.C.

Josh Kron’s article “U.N. Report Says Rwandans Recruited to Fight in Congo” reports that “rebel soldiers who have defected told United Nations officials that they were Rwandans who had been sent across the border to fight in a mutiny in eastern Congo that has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.”

Kron also reports that “Rwandan authorities have been seemingly complicit in recruiting soldiers for the new Congolese rebel leader, Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

It is rare to read this level of criticism of the Rwandan government in the New York Times. Rwanda is an important U.S. ally in Africa, and the “paper of record” often complements U.S. interests by providing differential treatment towards allies and foes.

So it comes as no surprise to see Kron makes excuse for Rwanda’s genocidal involvement in D.R.C.—a resource-rich African country which has suffered considerably and continuously since the late 1800s ever since colonial powers discovered the country’s wealth—and get a number of other issues wrong in the process.

For Kron, the reason Rwanda is even in D.R.C. is for self defense.

Tensions [between Rwanda and D.R.C.] began soon after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were killed by Hutus. Many organizers of the genocide fled across the border and later established a Hutu rebel group in eastern Congo bent on overturning the Rwandan government. Various militias supported by neighboring countries have been organized in Congo over the years. Rwanda in particular was accused of supporting Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese rebel who is also an ethnic Tutsi, and his movement, known as the National Congress for the People’s Defense, or the C.N.D.P., which in 2008 threatened to overturn the Congolese government.

There are quite a few things wrong with this statement. For starters, “800,000 ethnic Tutsis” is 200,000 more Tutsis than there were in the 1991 census. And with a reported 300,000 survivors that leaves the figure half-a-million high. Of the roughly one million killed in the Rwandan genocide, the majority were Hutu’s. The significance of this exposes a gaping hole in the official version of the Rwandan genocide: If the majority of the killed were Hutu, then who killed them and why?

Rwanda’s dominant politicay party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (R.P.F.), which is headed by the country’s President Paul Kagame, has its roots in Uganda. The R.P.F. was an official arm of the Ugandan military, and consisted largely of Rwandan exiles that were a part of the U.S.-backed National Resistance Army, which was led by now Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni. Paul Kagame was the head of military intelligence for the N.R.A., which was an armed militia whose goal was to seize power in Uganda. After they successfully did so in the mid-1980s, the R.P.F. was created to carry out a similar plan in Rwanda. And on October 1, 1990 the R.P.F. invaded Rwanda from Uganda. And for nearly four years the R.P.F. conducted a plan to destabilize and overthrow the government, which came to a crescendo on April 6, 1994 when the R.P.F. assassinated President Habyarimana, and carried out a massive military offensive.

A couple of American analysts, Christian Davenport and Alan Stam, who studied the conflict closely noted in their article “What Really Happened in Rwanda?” that,

Perhaps the most shocking result of our combination of information on troop locations involved the invasion itself: The killings in the zone controlled by the FAR seemed to escalate as the RPF moved into the country and acquired more territory. When the RPF advanced, large-scale killings escalated. When the RPF stopped, large-scale killings largely decreased. The data revealed in our maps was consistent with FAR claims that it would have stopped much of the killing if the RPF had simply called a halt to its invasion. This conclusion runs counter to the Kagame administration’s claims that the RPF continued its invasion to bring a halt to the killings.

It was the R.P.F. who was the main antagonist in the conflict, and who largely outgunned the Rwandan military—which explains how they were able to overthrow an entire government in less than 100 days, and send their military forces fleeing to neighboring countries.

And this pattern, which occurred in Uganda, and repeated in Rwanda, was again carried out in Democratic Republic of Congo when Uganda and Rwanda invaded, overthrew the government of President Mobutu, and began butchering people. This was facilitated through men like General Ntaganda, who Kron describes as once having “military ties to [Paul Kagame’s] government.”

Kron goes on to write that, “Although [Ntaganda] was accused of orchestrating a massacre in eastern Congo as a rebel in 2008, General Ntaganda became a senior officer in the Congolese Army, working alongside the United Nations as well as Rwanda to subdue the Hutu rebels.”

This is very misleading, especially the word “although.” It is inaccurate to give the impression that Ntaganda’s record as a war criminal is an aberration in regards to his relationship with Kagame’s Rwanda. The leaked report and a previous U.N. report show that the Rwandan government is deeply involved in human rights abuses in the neighboring country. According to the U.N. Mapping report, which describes “The systematic attacks, in particular killings and massacres perpetrated against members of the Hutu ethnic group”:

These attacks resulted in a very large number of victims, probably tens of thousands of members of the Hutu ethnic group, all nationalities combined. In the vast majority of cases reported, it was not a question of people killed unintentionally in the course of combat, but people targeted primarily by AFDL/APR/FAB forces and executed in their hundreds, often with edged weapons. The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who posed no threat to the attacking forces. Numerous serious attacks on the physical or pyschological integrity of members of the group were also committed, with a very high number of Hutus shot, raped, burnt or beaten. Very large numbers of victims were forced to flee and travel long distances to escape their pursuers, who were trying to kill them. The hunt lasted for months, resulting in the deaths of an unknown number of people subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading living conditions, without access to food or medication. On several occasions, the humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked …

And unlike Kron’s article, the mapping report also deals considerably with mineral exploitation. Democratic Republic of Congo is a very wealthy country, and the report states that, “A growing number of foreign actors became directly involved in exploiting the D.R.C.’s natural resources.” The report then names Rwanda and Uganda as doing so “either through the intermediary of their Congolese partners [writers note: e.g. Ntaganda] or connections or by directly occupying a part of the country.” In sum, the report stresses that, “Given the weakness and corruption of the central government, the D.R.C.’s wealth was within the grasp of any group violent and determined enough to impose its control by force.”

Another misleading aspect of Kron’s excuse for Rwanda’s involvement is the comment about “organizers of the [Rwandan] genocide fled across the border” to D.R.C. It is worth pointing out here that there are no “organizers,” at least as long as we keep to the official version which claims a Hutu conspiracy. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (I.C.T.R.) has not convicted one person for the conspiracy or planning of genocide. The largest trial to date, that of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora and a few other former high-ranking Rwandan military officials, ended with an acquittal on charges of planning a genocide. The inability to uncover a plot to commit genocide, however, is largely due to the court’s unwillingness to consider or prosecute an R.P.F. conspiracy—where evidence is abound.

Furthermore, Rwanda was targeting a lot more than so-called “organizers of the genocide” in their effort “to subdue the Hutu rebels.” Australian soldiers doing United Nations peacekeeping work bore witness to the carnage of Rwandan forces against unarmed civilians. As reported in Australia’s Herald Sun:

By early 1995, the displaced persons’ camp at Kibeho was the biggest in Rwanda, sprawling for 9sq km and containing 80,000 to 100,000 people.

The 32 Australian soldiers and medical officers arrived there as part of the UN peacekeeping force on April 18, 1995.

There were daily random killings by the Rwandan soldiers, but the slaughter exploded out of control soon after 10am on April 22. The Australians had a grandstand view of the nightmare from the Zambian compound.

The RPA soldiers murdered women and children right up to the UN wire. Bodies were everywhere. For the Diggers behind the wire, the next few hours were agonising.

For the refugees, there was nowhere to run.

As the Australians collected the wounded from among the piles of dead, the crisis began to escalate as panic-stricken Hutus overran the Zambian compound, driven forward by machete-and rifle wielding militia.

Hundreds were killed in the crush and the Australians were forced to repel at bayonet point the terrified victims they were supposed to be protecting, pushing them back into the RPA killing zone.

The RPA went wild and cut loose with another hail of fire on the panicking crowd.

All of this, and more, goes a long way to explaining why, as Kron put it, “The relationship between Rwanda and Congo has long been considered crucial to the stability in one of Africa’s least stable regions, an area laid waste by militias over the last two decades.” This is partially accurate. The problem here is that Rwanda is not at the top of the political pyramid. While the Times will publish Kron acknowledging that Rwanda is recruiting forces for militias in D.R.C., what is inconspicuously missing from the article is that the destabilization of Congo—which has seen around ten million killed and millions more displaced since the Rwandan and Ugandan invasion in 1996—is part of a U.S. imperial project to control and exploit the wealth of the Great Lakes region.

The unwillingness to identify Rwanda as a subordinate of the United States (in fact the U.S. and U.S. businesses are completely missing in the article), or a major component of the “conflict mineral” wars, or to provide accurate information on the Rwandan genocide (which is absurdly used to explain why Rwandan forces are in D.R.C.), and such, leaves the article void of any means for readers to understand what is really going on.

The impression that is given, that Rwanda is merely involved to protect itself from “a Hutu rebel group in eastern Congo bent on overturning the Rwandan government” and thus supporting criminals like Ntaganda (who have gone astray from their noble purpose), is simply not true. Not only is the R.P.F. a considerably more powerful military force than the Hutu forces, as the events of the last 20 years show, but the narrative is a total distraction from what really happened and is happening, and why.

Pro-democratic Uprisings in the NYT Propaganda System

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) shakes hand with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in Washington on May 9, 2012.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hand with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa in Washington on May 9, 2012


Usually when it comes to matters of the American Empire the New York Times cannot help but rely on the U.S. government as a source of information. In their classic work on propaganda, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, writers Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman show that sourcing is one of the primary filters in propaganda systems—along with ownership, advertising, ideology and flak. Chomsky and Herman call this use of “official sources” a “symbiotic relationship.” There is a world of information out there, but what determines what is “all the news that’s fit to print” is that which conforms to those five filters. Having a central source works for the media outlet, since they can’t be everywhere all the time, and it works for the government too, since having outlets to spread their propaganda helps dominate the narrative and reach a broader audience.

But in Kareem Fahim’s and David Kirkpatricks latest article, “Saudi Arabia Seeks Union of Monarchies in Region,” which appears on page 5 of today’s New York Times, there is not one mention of Uncle Sam. No comment from a White House official, or lackey (though there is a comment from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which is known for its strong ties to the U.S. government).

And that’s not really surprising, considering the subject matter of the article. Beyond the Cold War that the Saudi kingdom is having with Iran, Fahim and Kirkpatrick tell readers that,

Saudi Arabia pushed ahead Monday with efforts to forge a single federation with its five Persian Gulf neighbors as the conservative monarchy seeks to build a new bulwark against the waves of change sweeping the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia isn’t wanting it to limit it to just the monarchial governments of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. According to the article:

Saudi Arabia has already made moves to try to stretch the Gulf Cooperation Council far beyond its original regional mission to try to turn it into an alliance of monarchies that might band together against the democratic trend. Its diplomats have made overtures to include the kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan.

And that gets to the heart of the problem for the Times, and why they chose to be silent on the U.S. It does the Empire no service to point out that a hand-full of U.S.-backed dictatorships are banding “together against the democratic trend,” especially since droning on and on about democracy and human rights is a central feature in the Empire’s repertoire. Just last month the U.S. government blocked Cuba fom the Summit of the America’s on the grounds of the islands democratic deficit (despite Honduras’ attendance).

One has to be careful when reading the Times. Because, even while reporting on attempts by monarchies to create an axis of tyranny, it is not so much what they do say, but what they don’t say. Once you’ve become accustomed to how propaganda works it’s astonishing to witness it.

For example, it’s not fitting to point out that the monarchies are important regional allies to the U.S. government, or to inquire as to whether the Empire backs this move. Since the “paper of record” is an important component of the Western establishment, and looking into the role of the U.S. to undermine pro-democracy movements would be uncouth, it doesn’t happen. For those familiar with the work of NYTimes eXaminer this is not new.

There is another angle to this story that also demonstrates the propaganda value of the mass media, which is not only missing from Fahim’s and Kirkpatricks article, but from the entire New York Times establishment (and beyond). Namely, the recent revelation through FOIA requests that the White House and Democrats conspired with local and state law officials across the country to put down the Occupy protests. As far as I can tell there is not one mention of these documents in the Times, which is why the story is published at Counterpunch—an independent leftist media source.

Apparently it’s not just that the NYT is silent on the role of the U.S. in anti-democracy activities in the Middle East, but here at home too.

NYT Admits Ahmadinejad Never Threatend to Wipe Israel Off the Map but . . .

April 19, 2012 Leave a comment
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

After seven long years of warmongering fanatics in Israel and the U.S. claiming that Iran’s President Ahmadinejad threatened to exterminate Israel, the New York Times finally decided to investigate.

In Robert Mackey’s blog, “Israeli Minister Agrees Ahmadinejad Never Said Israel ‘Must Be Wiped Off the Map’,” readers are told how Israel’s minister of intelligence and atomic energy, Dan Meridor, recently sat down with Al Jazeera’s Teymoor Nabili, where the latter said,

This idea that Iran wants to wipe Israel out, now that’s a common trope that is put about by a lot of people in Israel, a lot of people in the United States, but as we know Ahmadinejad didn’t say that he plans to exterminate Israel, nor did he say that Iran’s policy is to exterminate Israel.

—to which Meridor replied, “You’re right.”

Elsewhere on the fringe of the media it was widely known that Ahmadinejad never said Iran wanted to exterminate Israel, and that a more accurate interpretation was that the current regime will not last; that history will eventually see the nightmare pass. It was more a prophetic statement about what Ahmadinejad saw as inevitable. The Zionist government in Israel, that is stealing and occupying Palestinian land, abusing non-Jews, and waging wars against its neighbors will not last forever.

And while it’s still a bomb-shell of an admission there is a “but.” Despite the fact that Mackey finally lets the cat out of the bag, Iran’s negative view of Israel is still harped on as some sign that they are the bad guy. It is never considered that the myth has been exploited for seven years by those who want war, and how such warmongering from the U.S. and Israel might be behind Iran’s negative views. You see, we can be frothing at the mouth with eagerness to attack another country—while running for President back in 2008 Hillary Clinton can say she would “totally obliterate,” and President Obama can smile while saying “all options are on the table” when referring to a military attack against Iran—but our press will ignore that and focus on those who are declared an “enemy” of the state.

For example, Mackey writes that, “Mr. Meridor also pointed out that Iran’s leaders have continued to deny Israel’s right to exist and used highly inflammatory terms to describe the state.” The blog continues with numerous examples of this, even accompanied with pictures that are supposed to show the depth of Iranian depravity.

Mackey, however, does not deal with the grim realities of Israel’s polices in the region, and towards its own non-Jewish minorities. In other words, the context of why Iran, and many others, hold such negative views of Israel is never explored. The word “Palestine” or “Palestinian” is not mentioned at all, nor are the settlements and massive wars of aggression like the attack on Gaza in 2008/2009. Decades of expanding settlements, kidnappings, Mossad terrorist attacks against Iranian scientists, Israeli invasions, torture, murder, and more are completely expunged—leaving nothing but the horrible things Iran says about Israel.

In the middle of all this talk about not recognizing Israel’s right to exist, or wiping Israel off the map, there is no talk about Israel not recognizing Palestine’s right to exist, or there very real policies of slowly wiping Palestine off the map.

Notice this map ends at 1999; a lot more land has been gobbled up over the last 13 years

It was also very disconcerting to read where Mackey wrote that Ahmadinejad has “made so little effort to explain that he was misquoted,” but he never questions why Western media made so little effort to ask him.

And that brings up another thing that I have always found revealing about the journalistic integrity of the New York Times, and other Western media sources.

In May 2003 it was revealed by investigative journalist Gareth Porter that Iran made a peace offer to the U.S. and Israel, and that President Bush punished the messenger for delivering the offer.

We also know that Iran has supported FISSBAN, an international program that would put nuclear facilities under strict control and supervision of a team of international inspectors.

This begs a few questions: Why, in the middle of the drums to war, has the NYT, and other mainstream sources of the so-called “free press,” not explicitly asked Ahmadinejad: “Mr. President, does your 2003 peace offer still stand?,” and, “Does your government still support FISSBAN?” These two questions could go a long way to easing tensions and making peace. Readers of the Times should be inquiring as to why the “paper of record” has “made so little effort” to use their prominence, and simply ask.