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22 February 2001 Edition

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Dr. Dubya (Or how America learned to stop thinking and love the bomb)


It's been 22 years now since America installed a new leader in Iraq to contain the threat of fundamentalist Islam from neighbouring Iran. President Saddam Hussein attempted to invade Iran the following year, armed by America. In the ten-year war that followed, 1 million people died, and little was made of Iraqi atrocities such as the use of nerve gas. But when Saddam turned his attentions to Kuwait - oil rich and friendly to America - the US spearheaded an international force to drive him out. Ever since, no mention has been made of tAmerica's original backing for Hussein, often at the expense of the Shi'ite Muslims and Kurds, who America is now seen to be protecting. Since the Gulf War it has been official US policy to get rid of Saddam.

Saddam Hussein has become the face of evil for most Americans. He is nationally reviled, his autocracy standing in stark contrast to America's rich democracy. By way of this continuing demonisation, the American government has been assured of the support of its citizens in any actions taken against Iraq. All of this is a dangerous situation to hand to George `Dubya' Bush, who claimed during his election campaign that the cold war is still being fought, has pledged to increase military spending, and is committed to implementing the `son of star wars' missile defence system, even without international support.

The latest episode in the ``containment'' of Iraq was a bombing raid on the suburbs of Baghdad by US and British planes last week. According to Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the US army director of operations, the reason for the attack was that ``Iraqi air defences represented an increased threat to our aircrafts and our crews''.

It's worth noting that US and British planes regularly fly bombing missions over the ``no-fly'' zones. The reason for the publicity surrounding this strike is the domestic situation in the US. Bush is attempting to unite the nation behind his new cabinet after a contentious election, and bombing the bogeyman is the tried and tested way to do this. Much like Clinton in fact. Faced with the Lewinsky scandal, he ordered the bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan. When impeachment loomed, he ordered Operation Desert Fox - a concerted bombing campaign on Iraq - in December 1998.

There is a more profound reason why America has, and will always need, international enemies. Some 40 million of its citizens live below the poverty line, only the middle and upper classes can afford decent healthcare, and there are more black males on Death Row than in college.Uniting against a common enemy draws attention away from injustice at home.

American needs enemies; it needs its movie-like heros (Bush, Clinton) and anti-heros (Hussein, Ghadaffi). It needs to keep drawing lines between `good' and `evil'; it needs a constant supply of hate figures to parade in the media. And every now and then, it needs to bomb the bejesus out of some far-away nation.

This latest attack may rebound badly on the US and Britain, who have won no international friends from it. The question of how the US can be policed must be asked, and answers need to be forthcoming.

Fleeing Kurds dumped on Riviera

It happened of all places on the glittering coast of the French Riviera, where the well off go to spend their summers. Before dawn on Saturday, 17 February, a decrepit ship was deliberately run aground on the coast. Its cargo comprised 908 Kurdish asylum seekers - including some 300 children and three babies born on the journey - unfed and unwashed after seven days at sea, abandoned by smugglers in the most dramatic of fashions. Once emptied, vessel sank as it was being towed to the nearby naval base of Toulon.

Kurdish people are forced to flee by the oppressive policies imposed by the governments of Iraq and Turkey on ethnic minorities. In this case, the Kurdish asylum seekers come from that part of Kurdistan under Iraqi control.

The Kurds endured a horrifying journey from northern Iraq through Turkey to the manicured shores of the French Mediterranean. They told how they were packed for a week in the darkened hold of a foundering freighter with barely room to lie down. They were given biscuits and water for nourishment and plastic bags for toilets and were kicked around by a crew wearing hooded masks.

Gangs specialising in people smuggling recruited the Kurds from their homes in northern Iraq. Those willing to pay between $200 and $300 were brought to the Turkish border. A Turkish smuggling ring then loaded the refugees onto the aging Cambodian-registered freighter for the week-long voyage by sea. The refugees were charged an additional $2,000 each for the trip. They had no idea where they were going.

France has already warned that the Kurdish refugees should not expect special treatment, though their plight has touched hearts across the country. Politicians said they did not want to set any precedents by taking in the Kurds unconditionally and called on immigration officials to follow asylum procedures rigorously. Government ministers said that the Kurds had the right to demand political asylum but stressed that regulations would be rigidly imposed. There is a very strong anti-migrant sentiment in France, promoted by the extreme right and sponsored by the French Socialist government policies towards migration and asylum.

Some voices in France, like former conservative Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, have claimed that the Kurds are economic refugees, but repression in Kurdistan, on both sides of the Turkish/Iraqi border, explain why Kurdish people are fleeing their territories. In Turkey, after two years of ceasefire, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has now urged Turkey's Kurds to launch a massive campaign of civil disobedience beginning from 12 February 2001 in a bid to force Ankara to grant them greater cultural rights. ``The state has not taken any steps towards the recognition of basic rights for our people, like broadcasting and education in their mother tongue,'' said the PKK statement, carried by the Internet edition of the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Politika newspapers on 5 February.

The PKK's declaration comes at a time of increasing repression of Kurdish and Turkish human right workers.

Two months ago, in December 2000, at least 29 prisoners were killed as Turkish troops brutally broke up a hunger strike inside the prisons. On 9 January 2001, 28 children aged from 9 to 18 were arrested and accused of chanting slogans for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PPK). They suffered ill treatment while detained in cruel and degrading conditions. Six of them, aged between 14 to 16, were detained for up to two weeks in an adult prison.

Prison chaos in Brazil

The biggest prison uprising in Brazil's history ended on Monday 19 February, a day after inmates seized control of Latin America's largest jail, took guards hostage and held nearly 8,000 visitors inside prison walls.

The rebellion at Carandiru prison in Sau Paulo touched off similar revolts in 28 other prisons and jails across the region. At least 12 inmates were killed in the unrest. Authorities claimed the upheaval was sparked by the transfer of ten prisoners believed to be members of a Rio de Janeiro-based arms and drug trafficking ring, but the protest has brought international attention to the inhuman conditions of Brazilian jails.

The riot started Sunday during late morning visiting hours. Some 72 prison guards and more than 7,900 visitors - including 1,700 children - were inside when the rebellion started, said police Capt. Monica Bondezan. It wasn't clear how many prisoners were rioting at the jail.

Four prisoners were killed and six were wounded at Carandiru, at least five were killed at the Franco da Rocha prison and one at another jail.

The wife of one inmate left Carandiru early Monday 19 February and said all the hostages and guards had been well treated, but accused police of shooting three prisoners. ``None of us considers ourselves hostages; we could have left whenever we wanted, but we preferred to stay inside for fear there could be a repeat of the massacre of 1992,'' she said. The woman was referring to a notorious riot in Carandiru, when a bloody operation to quell an uprising left at least 111 inmates dead.

Basque activists freed


On Thursday 8 February, a Spanish court quashed prosecutions brought by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón against five people he had accused of membership of the ``international relations apparatus of ETA''. The court found that there was no evidence to sustain such an accusation. This is the latest chapter of a series of repressive actions that have seen dozens of Basque activists jailed on the flimsiest of pretences.

From the beginning of the year, the Spanish government has adopted a stronger policy of repression against the Basque popular movement, including increased censorship and decisions to grant immunity or those members of the security forces known for human rights violations.

On 6 January, the Spanish government announced an amnesty for 14 police officers who had been sentenced to jail charged with torturing prisoners. Ten days later, the president of the regional administration of Madrid and member of the executive of the Popular Party, Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, forced the resignation of the director of the region's public television channel after the broadcast of a documentary titled ``The Paths in Euskadi''. The director had committed the crime of allowing representatives from all social and political forces in the Basque Country to be heard. He allowed the spokesperson for the pro-independence coalition Euskal Herritarrok, Arnaldo Otegi, and prisoners' support group spokesperson Julen Zelarain, to also have their say. The surprisingly frank reason given to justify the forced resignation was that the report was ``neutral and not belligerent''.

On 19 January, Judge Garzón ordered the arrest and imprisonment of the journalist and editor of magazine Ardi Beltza, Pepe Rei. Garzón claimed that the work carried out by the journalist constituted a crime of collaboration with ETA. The same day, the Spanish government decorated Meliton Manzanas, a civil guard who was a well-known torturer and Gestapo collaborator. Under Franco's dictatorship, he persecuted those who had fled the Nazi regime and sought exile in the Spanish State.

On 23 January, the Spanish police, instructed by Garzón, raided the offices of Zabaltzen, a Basque language books and records distribution company. It seems that Garzón is trying to criminalise them as he has done with many others in the last few months. Garzón is trying to involve them in the so-called ``Macro case 18/98'', which also concerns the closure of the pro-independence Egin newspaper and radio station. Through this indictment a wide range of Basque language activists, members of the International Department of the pro-independence party Herri Batasuna, and people promoting civil disobedience have been charged with membership or collaboration with ETA by Judge Garzón. In total more than 80 people have been tied to this ``Macro case'', which has been criticised for its lack of judicial consistency by most Basque political parties and social groups.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1