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Monthly Archives: February 2011

You remember Saif Qaddafi, the “reformer” son of Moammar Qaddafi, and heir-apparent of the Qaddafi regime? Saif Qaddafi the erstwhile lover of democracy; he of the Qaddafi Foundation for International Charities and Development; Saif with his chats at Davos, his studies at the London School of Economics, the Qaddafi scion about whom Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch enthused last May that “the real impetus” for reform in Libya rested less with information of the modern world seeping in by phone and internet than with the works of Saif?

That would be the same Saif who, despite his distinctly threatening TV speech to rebellious Libyans last Sunday, appeared this Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week,” telling Christiane Amanpour that “we” — the Qaddafi regime — “didn’t use force” and issued the challenge, “Show me a single attack. Show me a single bomb. Show.”

Well, for footage of the attacks, just punch up news of Libya — by now there are photos and videos of Qaddafi’s victims all over the internet. But here’s something to add to the picture. Courtesy of Mohamed Eljahmi, the naturalized American brother of Libya’s late leading democratic dissident, Fathi Eljahmi — who died in 2009 after years of imprisonment, isolation and abuse by Qaddafi’s regime — I received what looks like a recent video clip of Saif Qaddafi, brandishing his assault rifle. Around him, a crowd of Qaddafi loyalists shout slogans which Mohamed Eljahmi translates from the Arabic as “The people only want Moammar the Colonel!” and “We want no one but Moammar!” It’s a shaky clip, and if anyone can spot details that show it is not Saif, please write in. But it sure looks like Saif.

He doesn’t actually fire his gun — nonetheless, if this is Saif, as it appears to be, then, as Libyans continue dying in their attempts to rid their country of 42 years of Qaddafi tyranny, it’s an interesting window on this fellow who usually shows up sitting calmly in a chair, talking away in his business suit. A weapons expert of my acquaintance, by the way, took a close look at the gun being waved around here. Again, it’s a grainy video, but this looks like a Heckler & Koch G36E assault rifle; pricey, favored by the German army. Quite a boy’s toy for the “reformer” in the family.

When President Obama made Susan Rice his ambassador to the United Nations, in 2009, he thought the job was so vital that he gave her cabinet rank. Now, here we are, with the Arab world in tumult, two dictators gone in the past two months, and the UN aflutter over scenes of Libyans dying this past week by the hundreds, or thousands, in outright rebellion against a raving Moammar Gaddafi — who has been vowing to “fight to the last drop of blood.” Gaddafi’s atrocities are so visibly horrific that the UN Security Council has been meeting on Libya in emergency session. In Geneva, the Human Rights Council interrupted its usual anti-Israel programming to hold its own emergency session on Friday, and engage in the novel activity of demanding the suspension of Libya from its ranks and a probe into Gaddafi’s abuses in Libya. Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon cut short a UN public relations recruiting trip to Hollywood early this week, in order to phone Gaddafi and dash back to New York.

Where’s Susan Rice, the cabinet rank ambassador of the free world’s superpower? On the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down as dictator of Egypt, Feb. 11, she was visiting Oregon to give a talk on “Why America Needs the United Nations.” This week, as Libyans escalated their uprising against more than 41 years of Gaddafi’s totalitarian, terror-based reign, Rice sent her deputy to an emergency Security Council meeting on Libya on Tuesday, and took off for a two-day meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

What was so urgent about this this meeting in Cape Town? Did it have anything to do with the droves of Libyan diplomats, from New York to Geneva to Cairo, now renouncing the Gaddafi regime? Did it have anything to do with the warning of Libya’s deputy ambassador to the UN that Gaddafi, with his threats of house-to-house assaults, was launching a genocide against Libyans who defied him? Did it have anything to do with mass rebellion roiling North Africa and the Middle East, and sending tremors as far as China and North Korea?

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Note: The important link in this article is to this “Urgent Appeal to World Leaders to Prevent Atrocities in Libya.

As uprisings sweep the Middle East and North Africa, the bloodiest crackdown is happening, right now, in Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi has ruled for more than 41 years. There are reports of hundreds killed, of massacres in Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi, of snipers shooting peaceful protesters, of tanks crushing bystanders, of regime gunmen firing on mourners in funeral processions for protesters previously murdered, of rocket-propelled grenades and helicopter gunships used against crowds of demonstrators.

That’s Gaddafi. Since Gaddafi came to power in a 1969 coup, he has ruled by  terror, crushing dissent with jailings, torture and murder. His career of sowing terror abroad — of  the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing, the UTA flight, the Berlin disco; of aiding Palestinian, Irish, Spanish and Italian terrorists — was an extension of his terror-based rule at home. Libyans know Gaddafi’s bloody ways better than anyone, having suffered under his tyranny for more than four decades. During that time, Gaddafi has plundered the national oil wealth to fund his brutal secret police, his “revolutionary committees” and the rest of his despotic state apparatus, and as blood money to help buy his way out from under U.S. and UN sanctions. He has also been readying the way for inheritance of his grotesque state machinery by one of his sons. For Libyans to rise up against Gaddafi takes staggering courage and determination. This, Libyans are now doing, and for this they are right now being massacred.

Gaddafi does not allow the kind of international media presence that recently flooded Egypt. Libyans are smuggling out reports by phone and internet — as they can, at great risk, when the lines aren’t being cut, as some have been. From the U.S., a leading human rights activist, Mohamed Eljahmi, has been sending out bulletins and appealing for support for the people of Libya. Eljahmi knows what he’s talking about. His late brother, once Libya’s leading democratic dissident, Fathi Eljahmi, died in 2009 in the custody of Gaddafi’s secret police, after years of imprisonment, isolation, medical neglect and Soviet-style application of abusive “psychiatry.”

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When In Doubt, Slam Israel

February 17th, 2011 - 1:19 am

For the Islamic despotisms of the Middle East, it’s an old rule of thumb. When things get tough, or confusing, or frustrating, or when you simply want to deflect anger in the direction of a communal scapegoat, go on the offensive and blame the Jews.

In the United Nations Assembly, where the 56 states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference pay a pittance of the dues but hog a plethora of the policy, it’s standard practice. Gang up on Israel. At the UN Human Rights Council, it appears to be mandatory for the majority of members. Bypass such gross violators of human rights as Cuba and Zimbabwe, gloss over the provocations of such terrorist outfits as Hamas and Hezbollah, and, as UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer testified recently to Congress,  devote 70% of the resolutions to condemning Israel.

Now we come to a moment in which the Middle East is in turmoil. Protests began in Tunisia, ousted the aging dictator, spread to Egypt and ousted another aging dictator. In Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Iran and Libya, across a spectrum of polities that range from autocracy to some of the world’s most brutal despotisms, people are rising up. What better time for the despots of the Middle East to push to the fore a Palestinian campaign for the UN Security Council to — you guessed it — slam Israel.

What’s different is that this time, the U.S. administration, perhaps suffering its own doubts and frustrations over what to do in the Middle East, is reportedly about to join the lynching party. The Palestinians, while refusing to engage in good faith in negotiations with Israel, have been pushing for a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal. This has been brewing for a while, but the Security Council member-state of Lebanon (where Iranian-backed Hezbollah has been consolidating control) now deems it urgent business — so urgent that a vote might come in the next day or two. (The Security Council is chaired this month by Brazil; you remember Brazil — the country whose president turned up in Tehran last May, hand-in-hand with the prime minister of Turkey and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, exulting over a sham deal for an Iranian nuclear climbdown).

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In Libya, Gaddafi Sounds Scared

February 13th, 2011 - 10:51 pm

“We need to create a problem for the world,” Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi declared on Libyan state TV Sunday, in what Reuters describes as his first major speech since a popular uprising toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak last Friday. The problem Gaddafi would like to create, as he explicitly urged in his speech, is a siege of Israel. Saying “this is a time of popular revolutions,” Gaddafi called for Palestinians to mass along Israel’s borders, by land and sea.

These are the words of a dictator who has a big problem of his own. Gaddafi’s real problem has nothing to do with Israel, or with the Palestinians. Gaddafi’s problem is Libya, where Libyans have even more reasons to hate him than the Egyptians had to hate Hosni Mubarak. Since Gaddafi came to power in a coup in 1969, he has ruled for more than 41 years — that’s 12 years longer than Mubarak ruled Egypt. Like Mubarak, Gaddafi has been arranging to turn his dictatorial rule into a dynasty, with one of his sons, Saif al-Islam, being the heir apparent. For decades Gaddafi has lived large, funneling his country’s oil wealth into schemes to maintain his own power, while crushing his countrymen. Whatever terrorism he might have abjured abroad in order to get out from under international sanctions, he still rules on the basis of terror at home. His regime — with its ruthless secret police, ghastly prisons, and jailing or outright murder of those who dissent from his crackpot controls over virtually every aspect of life — is exactly the kind of rotting relic that an angry, captive populace might wish to sweep aside.

Now come the popular revolts and the ouster of ossified dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. In Libya, opponents of the regime have called for a Day of Rage this Thursday, Feb, 17th. That day is the fifth anniversary of protests that began as a staged demonstration in 2006 against the Danish Mohamed cartoons — and then spun out of control. Libyan security forces fired on the crowd, killing at least 10. Over the next three days, as American-Libyan human rights activist Mohamed Eljahmi reported shortly afterward, protesters expressed their fury with the regime by burning government buildings, police cars, and branches of Gaddafi’s revolutionary committees. The Libyan government had to bring in special forces to regain control.

Faced with the possibility of a replay inspired by uprisings that have actually succeeded in kicking out the despots, up pops Gaddafi, with a page right out of the aging dictator’s playbook: When you’ve got trouble at home, try to deflect it toward somebody else. Libyans who wish for freedom in their country have higher hurdles than did the Egyptians. Gaddafi rules Libya as a much more closed society; access and communication are more difficult, and it is unlikely that an endless parade of international camera crews would be able to materialize on the streets of Tripoli or Benghazi. But neither are Libyans entirely cut off from the world, or from each other. Libyans have one of the world’s worst tyrants to contend with. The risks of opposing him are enormous — for a sample of where even the most peaceful dissent can lead in Libya, recall the case of a brave outspoken dissident, Fathi Eljahmi (brother of Mohamed Eljahmi, cited above). But Libyans who wish to throw off 41 years of Gaddafi’s tyranny have two things in their favor right now. They have just seen that elsewhere in their despot-infested region, it can be done. And Gaddafi, for all his wealth and power and brutality, does not sound confident. He sounds scared.

History is being made with Egypt’s Lotus Revolution, as President Obama reminded us on Friday, intoning: “This is one of those moments. This is one of those times.” Big things are happening in the Middle East, freighted with opportunity and fraught with danger. So you might expect that Obama’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, would be working overtime, manning the ramparts of the UN’s multilateral councils, mapping out strategies and maneuvering among U.S. friends and foes to enhance the chances that Egypt’s uprising will become a portal to democracy, rather than a replay of Iran.

Guess again. While Egypt was making history this week, Rice was visiting the U.S. West Coast, on a mission to deliver a Friday evening speech to the World Affairs Council in Portland, Oregon, on “Why America Needs the United Nations.” Earlier, she stopped by Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, Ustreaming a “conversation” she kicked off by telling her audience: “A good part of my job is explaining to the American people why it is that the United Nations in the 21st century serves America’s interests.”

Funny, but I thought the entire job of America’s ambassador to the UN was — as the job title suggests– to represent America to the UN. Not to represent the UN to Americans.

If the UN is really so terribly useful and important for America, then isn’t this critical juncture in the Middle East exactly the kind of moment in which America’s envoy should be availing herself flat out of the pedals and levers and diplomatic channels the UN is supposed to provide? And if the UN really gets such great results for America, then shouldn’t those results speak for themselves?

The UN already has plenty of help advertising itself. The UN secretariat has a public information department (some might call it a public relations department) with a yearly budget of close to $100 million  – and that’s just for the secretariat. Many of the agencies have their own PR offices, PR staff and PR budgets — the biggest share of all this funded by… you guessed it… American taxpayers. Orbiting around the UN, or in some cases entwined with it, and with each other, are a whole raft of outfits devoted to further “strengthening” the image of the UN —  notably Ted Turner’s UN Foundation, and the United Nations Association of the United States of America, or UNA-USA. Why is the U.S. ambassador joining this bandwagon at all?

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UN and U.S. Double Standards: Egypt vs. Iran

February 4th, 2011 - 1:07 am

After an initial United Nations response to the mass uprising in Egypt of … well, not much… Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has jumped into the fray. On Wednesday and again on Thursday he called for a transition “now.” He wants it to be “very peaceful and orderly” but he wants it to be “done now.” CBS News reports that in his consultation with assorted political leaders, Ban appears to be “building an international alliance to assist Egypt to do so.”

Question: Where was this UN zeal for transition when the people of Iran, braving a regime far more horrific and malign than the dictatorship of Egypt, were bleeding and dying in the streets in June of 2009? When Iran erupted in revolt, Ban faded into the woodwork. As I noted in a column in late June, 2009, “Where’s the UN on Iran?”,  Ban first told reporters he was “closely following the situation.” As the carnage continued, with demonstrators denouncing the rigged presidential reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Iranian security forces beating and shooting and arresting them, Ban did not question the legitimacy of the regime. On the contrary, by implication, he supported it, saying that he had “taken note of the instruction by the religious leaders that there should be an investigation into this issue.”

The weekend that the video went viral on the web of Neda Soltan bleeding to death in the street, Ban was not huddled with international leaders discussing how to bring about immediate regime change in Iran. Ban was in Birmingham, England, accepting an award at a Rotary International Convention.

So why, in Ban Ki-Moon’s books, do mass protests in Egypt require an immediate transition of power, while the demands of mass protests in Iran are to be satisfied with promises by the regime that it will inquire into the reasons for the protests?

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