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Monthly Archives: April 2008

From the UN’s Durban II pow-wow in Geneva, and affiliated parts of the UN universe, the horrors just keep coming. Because you aren’t seeing anything about this on TV or in your morning newspaper (unless you subscribe to The New York Sun) I’m listing some more excellent sources of coverage on this Iran-entwined, Libya-chaired, U.S.-bashing, Israel-trashing, anti-democratic UN jamboree-in-the-making.

From Geneva-based UN Watch comes news today that the venue for the “Durban Review” conference itself may not be South Africa, but will likely be in Europe, possibly in Vienna, or Paris, or Geneva… plus updates on the elusive multi-million dollar budgetary plans for this shindig. It’s worth browsing through the UN Watch entries, not only on Durban II, but on the entire travesty that is the UN “Human Rights” Council.

And the Heritage Foundation has recently come out with more excellent background and analysis from Brett Schaefer on why the U.S. should explicitly boycott Durban II – or whatever this conference might best be renamed for a European host city, whether “Vile in Vienna,” “Poisonous in Paris,” or “Ghastly in Geneva.” Don’t miss the related video clip of Heritage’s Nile Gardiner explaining “Why We Should Be Suspicious of the UN,” and the paper by Steven Groves on the dangers of UN treaties that pretend to do things like fight racism, while doing nothing of the kind; instead serving as a vehicle to — you guessed it — attack America.

Following up on Monday’s post (just below) about the UN’s unseemly preparations in Geneva for next year’s Durban II conference — from the two-week planning meeting now underway in Geneva comes a video-clip that says it all. With Libya’s ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji presiding, the planners are in theory hearing from NGOs. But at the UN, some NGO voices are more equal than others, and when Anne Bayefsky of the U.S.-based watchdog NGO www.eyeontheun.org tries to use her time to talk about genuine issues of anti-Semitism, Libya’s Al-Hajjaji — who has listened patiently to the likes of delegates from the regimes of Iran, China and Sudan — repeatedly interrupts, trying to shut her down.

It’s a four-minute video clip, in which the basic picture comes across pretty fast. To watch, scroll down to the section on “The Institue (sic) of Human Rights and the Holocaust” after clicking on this link.

At the same link, you can also scroll down to the video clips of statements — to which the Libyan Chair has no objections — from a delegate of Sudan (world genocide central) or China (where the government in the latest chapter of its long murderous rule has been killing protesters in Tibet). And if you scroll down in this link of Monday’s Durban II preparation session video clips, you will find the ambassador of Iran — who sits on the 20-member executive board now planning Durban II — bloviating on under the approving gaze of Libya, Pakistan (which has been speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference), and the rest of this gang now planning Durban II, which the UN has decided to fund in substantial part on the U.S. taxpayer dime (or more like a stack of almost 15 million dimes, since to bankroll Durban II, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appears ready to hand over without protest at least $6.8 million from the UN core budget, which he is responsible for administering; and 22% of that budget is funded by the U.S.).

Why of course! At the United Nations, they’ve all been picked to lead the preparations for the UN’s “Durban Review” mega-conference against “racism,” scheduled for sometime in 2009. They all have seats on the 20-member preparatory committee which has just begun a two-week meeting in Geneva to plan for this Durban II pow-wow –which now looms as a reprise of the anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, anti-American 2001 conference that was Durban I. This round, Libya is chairing the preparations. Cuba gets to send not one, but two officials to the planning party; one to plan and the other to act as rapporteur.

From a number of democracies, including Canada, the U.S. and Israel, there has been enough protest over this farce so that even UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour has interrupted her grieving over the 2007 execution of Saddam Hussein to note that there are concerns surrounding Durban II “which if not squarely confronted and resolved, may ultimately jeopardize a successful outcome of the process.”

Give us a break, Louise. The “process” here has patently nothing – zip, zero, nada — to do with fighting racism. It has everything to do with assorted thug states draping themselves in the mantle of the UN and abusing the vocabulary of genuine human rights, the better to attack democratic societies — starting with Israel and proceeding to the rest of the hit list maintained by the thugocracies of Libya, Iran, Cuba & Co. Thanks to UN sponsorship, their perverted “process” is thriving. Durban II is a gross insult to anyone genuinely fighting racism. In the propaganda wars of the UN, this conference is a coup for the club of thugs.

Would it be too much to ask that as plans roll ahead for the “Durban Review Conference” — as it is called –the U.S. State Department land a counter-punch on the side of truth, human dignity and genuine human rights? How about America introducing a resolution at the UN to give this conference and its preparatory committee an honest name — say, “Thugs R Us” –?

No doubt the UN would vote that down. But even that might just bring some much-needed clarity to this latest UN “process.”

Someday, North Korea’s government is going to go, and when that country busts open the headlines and TV news will be filled with questions about why the world did not do more to help people trying to escape from under the boot of Kim Jong Il. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have risked their lives — and many have died –trying to flee. Few help these refugees, few countries welcome them — fearing that to make it easy for them to flee might lead to an exodus of millions. The United Nations runs no sanctuaries for them. Perforce, the escape route for most North Koreans runs through China, but they find no safety there. The Chinese government refuses to grant them even safe passage to a third country. If they are caught, the policy is to send them back to North Korea. There, for the “crime” of trying to escape North Korea, some end up in labor camps where prisoners are starved and worked to death. Some are executed outright, in some cases as a public display meant to discourage others. North Korean refugees are the most disenfranchised people on earth.

Small numbers of these refugees do manage the dangerous journey through China, and almost all of them go on to South Korea — which as the chief haven has by its own official count received a pitiful total of just over 12,000 over the past half century. Today, in theory, they can also come to America. In 2004, President Bush signed an act mandating U.S. help for refugees from North Korea. This is not only a matter of compassion. It is also the best hope for a peaceful way of undermining the long, murderous, missile-peddling, bomb-building tyranny of the Kim dynasty — by reaching past the regime to offer the captive population a way out, and giving these refugees at least a chance to form a dissident diaspora that can speak up about the horrors of Kim’s government (something that has been discouraged for years by craven politicians in South Korea).

But passage to the U.S. remains elusive. Over the past four years, only a few dozen North Korean refugees have made it over the hurdles — geographic, life-threatening, and bureaucratic — to arrive in the U.S.

Which brings me to a small group of North Korean refugees right now being held in Thailand, waiting to leave for America. They are being held in a detention center for illegal immigrants from a number of countries, a place which according to sources I have spoken with usually has anywhere from 100-300 people crammed into one big room. In the heat of Bangkok, there is no air conditioning. They are required to pay a fine for having entered Thailand illegally — never mind what they are running from. Three of these refugees were allowed recently to go on to the U.S. for medical reasons. But the rest have all been in this detention center for more than a year, in some cases for more than two years — bound for the U.S., but waiting for the Thai and American authorities to grind through the process of letting them come to America.

They are by now desperate enough so that last week they began a hunger strike. They have also written a letter. Originally in Korean, it was translated into English and passed to me yesterday: “A letter of request to the United States of America!”

They ask, “Why have we become prisoners here in a detention center where the United Nations is present?” They write: “The Thai government puts the responsibility of the processing on the United States. The U.S. Embassy avoids any responsibility or fault by saying they have not received an approval from Thailand.”

They ask President Bush, who was moved to tears by the story of a North Korean defector, “When will we go to America?”

They say: “It is hard to understand why here in Thailand where it’s not North Korea nor China and where many Americans frequent, we still are watching our lives pass by, suffering in this refugee detention center.”

Yes, it is hard to understand. Whatever America’s national debates over immigration policy, what does it take for the White House — and the State Department — to understand? In dealing North Korea, both wise strategy and human decency would entail treating Kim Jong Il as the outcast, and helping the refugees from his regime. Instead, we seem to have arrived — and not for the first time — at the very opposite.

From Tehran we now have Mahmoud “U-235″ Ahmadinejad, suggesting — again — that the Sept. 11 attacks were really some sort of “suspicious” American plot, cooked up and used by the U.S. as a pretext to attack the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq.

By Mahmoud’s logic, his audience ought to be wondering if he himself might just be another of these omnipotent American plots. Talk about “suspicious.” With the Taliban toppled, and Saddam dead, dead, dead … what could America be plotting now? Why, there he is, Mr. “Death to America! Death to Israel!,” perched atop the whirling centrifuges of Iran’s nuclear program, personification of the terrorist-loving Iranian regime that has been behind the murder of hundreds of Americans, from Beirut to Baghdad.

What a pretext!!!

In which case, one can only hope that, a la Taliban and Saddam, Iran’s mullocracy will be the next target of those conspiracy-crazy Americans. You know, there just might be a future in all that plotting…

From Cyprus, Benon Sevan Weighs In

April 13th, 2008 - 2:37 pm

Yes, you read that right. None other than former UN Oil-for-Food chief Benon Sevan is at least virtually back in action, piping up online even though he’s still living as a fugitive from U.S. law, on Cyprus. Writing in the Yerevan-based Armenian AZG Daily, Sevan (an Armenian Cypriot) has tossed his hat back into the public ring — scolding UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon for ending the tenure on Cyprus of UN Special Representative Michael Moller. Here’s a link to Sevan’s article, and just in case that vanishes from the web, here’s a saved copy.

You remember Benon Sevan. A longtime UN staffer, he was hand-picked by Kofi Annan in 1997 to head the UN Oil-for-Food program, which he did until it ended in 2003. Before the conclusion of the ensuing UN investigation, while Annan’s office was assuring the press that Sevan was cooperating, he quietly slipped out of New York and returned to his native Cyprus, beyond reach of U.S. extradition. In January, 2007, Sevan was indicted in the Southern District of New York on charges of bribery and conspiracy to defraud the UN Oil-for-Food program, with U.S. federal prosecutors alleging Sevan had received about $160,000 in illicit commissions on UN-overseen Iraqi oil deals channeled via a Panamanian company of an alleged co-conspirator based in Switzerland (who happened to be an in-law of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali). From Cyprus, Sevan has denied any wrong-doing. I last saw him when I paid a surprise call on him in Nicosia, Cyprus, in 2006 — which I wrote up for the Wall Street Journal. Sevan insisted, “I am not running away.” But he doesn’t seem to have done much traveling off Cyprus either.

Why would Sevan now choose to weigh in on the departure from Cyprus of Kofi Annan-appointee and UN special rep, Michael Moller? Maybe, as Sevan insisted when I spoke with him two years ago on Cyprus, he just has the best interests of the UN at heart. But there has been a certain amount of scuttlebut over the past few years from sources afraid to be named — but enough separate sources by now so that I credit this as broadly accurate — that Moller and Sevan, old buddies from Sevan’s UN days, have spent a certain amount of time together — dining out at the Nicosia Hilton, and generally keeping in touch. Is it possible there’s been a certain amount of UN hand-holding that Sevan might now miss?

For now, I’ll leave it with a few more questions: Does Ban Ki-Moon think it’s a good idea for UN staff to go on rubbing elbows with Benon Sevan on Cyprus? If Benon Sevan is so eager to be heard, why not come back to New York, and face the charges? And why have both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon appeared so profoundly indifferent to whether he does or not?

P.S. – While we’re on the subject, when might the UN deign to tell us whether Sevan’s costs of moving back to Cyprus in 2005 — airfare and household freight — were paid, during the UN investigations, out of the UN budget?

Following up on my Thursday blogpost, “Will the 9/11 Lawsuits Unlock Secrets of Osama Bin Laden’s Trust Fund?” — well, let’s not write off that we might yet learn more. But the main thing I can report on Friday’s court hearing is that we must now wait outside closed doors to see what, if anything, might emerge.

I went to the hearing Friday morning; U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas presiding. It was held in one of the smaller courtrooms of the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan — furnished with three rows of standard-issue wooden benches for spectators, blurry gold renditions of Justice Department logos on the blue wall-to-wall carpeting, and gauzy curtains over windows looking out from the 20th floor on the landscape that 6-1/2 years ago was covered in the debris of the World Trade Center. There were more people on the legal teams assembled before the judge than there were in the spectator seats — and most of the spectators turned out to be connected with the legal teams in any event.

I know that because just as things started to get interesting, the lawyers for the defendants raised concerns about the privacy of their clients. Judge Maas asked if anyone in the courtoom was with the press, or otherwise not associated with the legal teams. From the back row bench where I had been watching the proceedings, I raised my hand, and was politely questioned by one of the lawyers, who confirmed to the judge that I was a member of the press. Judge Maas politely asked all members of the press, or others not associated with the case, to leave the room. And so, I left.

On my way back to the subway, just down the block from the federal courthouse, I passed by a scene of wreckage, yellow police tape, and milling spectators, where a car had jumped the curb, hit a vendor cart and slammed into the steps of the state Supreme Court (NY Post story with photos here). Apparently it was an accident; the driver told the cops he had suffered a seizure at the wheel. But the scene, with the car jammed into the courthouse steps, and bits of the battered vendor cart scattered across the sidewalk, did invite thoughts of the many vehicles, in places from Lebanon to Kenya to Tanzania to Iraq, that have been used with deliberate intent and horrific effect to kill Americans and our friends and allies. It brought back memories of the many times, between the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, that in my comings and going from the subway stops that used to open into the Twin Towers basement concourse, I wondered if the buildings would be hit again. I feared they would. Like many, I did not foresee that the attack would come by way of hijacked airplanes.

… Anyway, having been ejected from the 9/11 hearing, I took the subway to midtown to look in on a demonstration held by Amnesty International in front of the Libyan Mission to the UN. Lots of young people holding up signs and chanting demands that Libya’s regime free the long-detained democratic dissident, Fathi Eljahmi. On some things I disagree with Amnesty, but on this one, I am entirely with them, and have written about Fathi Eljahmi periodically over the past four years — starting during the brief interval in 2004 when he was freed from prison and spoke up for pluralism in Libya. I rang the bell of the Libyan Mission, to ask if they had any response to the hundreds of protesters shouting at them from across the street. But the Libyan Mission had locked its doors — except to a harried-looking pair, a man and a woman, presumably staff, each clutching a cup of takeout coffee, who during the protest raced up the steps, flashed their tags and zipped inside.

From there, I strolled over to Rockefeller Center, with its flowerbeds and fluttering flags and shops crammed with the luxuries of modern life. The wide sidewalks were jammed with people enjoying the spring afternoon, browsing the shop windows, posing for family photos in front of New York landmarks. On one corner, high above the crowd, was the latest report on Iran’s nuclear program — a wire story rolling by in red neon letters on a big NBC news scrollbar, detailing, as one word after another emerged into public view, that Iran claims to have installed another 500 centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment complex, and is further speeding up production that could be used for nuclear bombs. In the Manhattan throng, no one seemed to be paying much attention.

And so, on the breezy eve of a spring weekend in Manhattan, I left that lively scene, hoping fervently that a great many Americans amid the pleasures and the political sparring of the season will make time to read the superb and important book due to be published this coming Monday by Andrew McCarthy, “Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad.” (Full disclosure: Andy McCarthy is one of my colleagues at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies). Andy knows a lot about the federal courtrooms of Manhattan; in the mid-1990s he was the lead prosecutor of the Blind Sheikh and 11 other jihadists involved in the plot that included the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In his book, Andy McCarthy warns of the dangers of averting our eyes from the war of Islamist terror being waged against us, and of the folly of delegating to our courts the job of serving as the frontline of defense.

Have you ever wondered what became of Osama Bin Laden’s trust fund?

Coming up Friday in a federal courtroom in lower Manhattan is a hearing that could mark a turning point in attempts to solve the mysteries that by some accounts still shroud the fate of the multi-million dollar inheritance of Osama bin Laden. This hearing, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas, is part of the 9/11 civil suits brought by families and colleagues of some of those murdered in Al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 terrorist assaults on America (“In re: Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001″).

The immediate issue involves dreary-sounding matters of jurisdiction. But that leads on to the big question of whether more documentation out of places such as Saudi Arabia might become available — possibly providing more insight into the exact fate of Osama’s inheritance.

But wait a minute, wasn’t that all settled by the 9/11 Commission? — which reported in 2004 that Osama’s share of the Bin Laden family business was sold in 1994, and the Saudi government “subsequently froze the proceeds of the sale.”

Well, there are some questions still unanswered, according to a fascinating and heavily researched new book, just out, “The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steve Coll. On pages 405-408, Coll delves into the story of Osama’s inheritance, and comes up with a load of questions. Based in part of court documents that have already floated up in the 9/11 cases, Coll writes that in June, 1993, the Bin Laden family began the process of expelling Osama as a shareholder from two family companies: the Mohamed Bin Laden Company, and the Saudi Bin Laden Group. By 1994, says Coll, Osama’s shares had been sold “in a transaction designed so that Osama would not profit, yet in a way that would protect the rights of his heirs under Islamic law.” The value was set at about $9.9 million — “a strikingly modest sum,” but hard to judge “because few of the underlying assumptions used to set the price are available.” The tale proceeds: “After consultations with the Saudi government, the funds generated by the sale of Osama’s shares were placed in some kind of special trust and eventually frozen under court supervision.”

But is that all there was to it? As Coll tells it, Osama assigned his shares in 1993 to one of his brothers, Ghalib Bin Laden. Coll writes that later that same year, 1993, Ghalib Bin Laden “transferred $1 million to a new investment account at Bank Al-Taqwa, in the Bahamas, an off-shore bank founded in 1988 with backing from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.” Ghalib’s account at Al Taqwa, over which yet another Bin Laden brother, Bakr Bin Laden, had signature authority, remained active “until at least the late 1990s,” according to bank documents filed in a U.S. court, writes Coll. [Note: In November, 2001, the U.S. Treasury designated Al Taqwa as an Al Qaeda-linked financier of terror; it remains under that designation today.]

The Bin Laden clan denies any wrong-doing. Bakr Bin Laden, in an affidavit, has said that since Osama was cut off, at the latest in June, 1993, “Osama has not received a penny,” and that since that date anyone acting on behalf of the Bin Laden companies was forbidden to make any payments to Osama, or provide any support, direct or indirect.

Coll tries to fill in more details, and bumps up against assorted mysteries, writing: “A number of aspects of Osama’s shareholding divestment remains unclear, however. For example, it is uncertain whether Ghalib paid cash for Osama’s shares, and if so, where he raised the money from.”

And here come Coll’s questions:

“Is there a bank account in Saudi Arabia that has held the $9.9 million in trust ever since the sale was completed? How do Saudi courts assert control over such an account, if it exists? If the sale did not involve a cash payment, but rather a credit of some kind, how was this organized and who has kept track of the proceeds since then?” He concludes: “The Bin Laden family has provided little clarity about these details.”

Which brings us to the hearing this Friday in lower Manhattan, where families and colleagues bringing suit over the September 11 attacks will be waiting to find out whether answers to some of these questions might yet emerge. I’m curious myself, and plan to tear myself away from Steve Coll’s book long enough to drop by the courtroom to witness this next scene, live, in this long-running drama of our times.

A thank you to Power Line, which has posted highlights of General David Petraeus’s spoken testimony on Iraq, given Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Let’s home in on one exchange in this text, between Senator Joe Lieberman and Petraeus, which ought to preface any further talk about Iran:

LIEBERMAN: Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands — excuse me — hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?

PETRAEUS: It certainly is. I do believe that is correct.

For more, see Petraeus’s written testimony, referring to “the destructive role Iran has played” … “Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way, through its lethal support to the Special Groups” … “These elements are funded, trained, armed, and directed by Iran’s Qods Force, with help from Lebanese Hezollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq’s seat of government two weeks ago, causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital, and requiring Iraqi and coalition actions in response.”

Separately (or maybe not), one might add a P.S. — Despite years of U.S. sanctions, plus EU negotiations, plus three recent UN sanctions resolutions, Iran is also busy building nuclear bombs. Hello, White House? Hello?…. Hello?

Dangerous Diplomatic Fictions

April 7th, 2008 - 9:15 am

In foreign policy, a touch of imagination can be a useful thing. But the current fantasies about Iran and North Korea are downright dangerous. And when the head of the CIA says that personally he believes Iran is pursuing the nuclear bomb, but officially he stands by the estimate that maybe it isn’t — it’s time for Washington to get real. More in my column today in the Philadelphia Inquirer.