George W. Bush’s Criminal Legacy – Part II

GeorgeWBushHIjoIn my last blog [George W. Bush’s Criminal Legacy – Part I] I laid out the case charging that the invasion of Iraq under former President George W. Bush was illegal under both domestic and international law, and that Bush along with his top advisors were liable to charges of war crimes.

I listed actions taken in other nations that give substance to these charges: In September 2005 a German court declared that the Iraq war violated international law. In March 2007 a Spanish judge called for the architects of the Iraq invasion to be tried for war crimes.

In October 2011 when Bush attended an economic summit in British Columbia, Amnesty International submitted a detailed legal brief to Canada’s Attorney General arguing that

Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture.

Bush cancelled an earlier visit to Switzerland in February 2011, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

These actions all took place outside the United States and are generally regarded as unenforceable within American borders.

However, I noted at the end of that blog that in August 2013 a class action civil suit was filed against George W. Bush and five officials of his administration within the United States – in the U. S. District Court of the Northern District of California, which is currently slowly proceeding to trial. That suit is the focus of the present blog.

gavelThe lawsuit being discussed was filed by Inder Comar of Comar Law based in San Francisco on behalf of the lead plaintiff in the case, Sundus Shaker Saleh an Iraqi mother of three who is now a refugee in Jordan, “and those similarly situated.”

The defendants named in the case are former President George W. Bush, former Vice-President Richard Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Citing the precedent laid down at the post-World War II Nuremburg trials, the suit specifically charges that the

Defendants violated the rule of Nuremberg by attacking another country without legal justification, and specifically, by committing the crime of aggression against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Defendants violated the rule of Nuremberg by using fraudulent and untrue statements in an attempt to convince diplomats, world leaders and the American public that Iraq posed a threat to the United States and/or that Iraq was in league with al-Qaeda, when neither of these things was true.

Furthermore, the suit charges that the

Defendants violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty signed in 1928, to which the United States is still a signatory. The Kellogg-Briand Pact requires signatory nations such as the United States to “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” The Kellogg-Briand Pact requires signatory nations such as the United States to resolve all disputes or conflicts through “pacific means.” As a Treaty of the United States, the United States Constitution incorporates this principle into its law under Article VI, clause 2, which declares “treaties made . . . to be the supreme law of the land.”

And that the

Blue_UN_logoDefendants violated the United Nations Charter by planning to commit the crime of aggression. Article II, Section 4 of the United Nations Charter requires countries to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nation.” As a Treaty of the United States, the United States Constitution incorporates this principle into its law under Article VI, clause 2, which declares “treaties made . . . to be the supreme law of the land.”

It is quite possible that the case will not succeed in the courts. The defendants may argue that they were acting properly under their “scope of employment” with the United States government.

Paul Stephan, who teaches law at the University of West Virginia and has served as a consultant to the Department of State on international law, states that

The Westfall Act of 1988 permits the United States as an entity to substitute itself in for individuals who were acting in their “scope of employment


it’s difficult to sue a U.S. employee acting under the “scope of employment.”

Even if no culpability is declared, the charges that are documented in the lawsuit are chilling. You can read the entire 27 page legal complaint here. It portrays a deliberate strategy to intentionally deceive the American public and to operate outside the scope of American and international law in launching an invasion against a foreign nation.

Details of the Lawsuit

New American CdnturySpecifically, the suit charges that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were all members of “The Project for the New American Century” [or PNAC] formed in 1997, which over the next three years produced a number of documents advocating the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [5; footnotes are as they appear in the lawsuit; the reader is encouraged to check the information sources detailed in the links] Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz actively promoted this objective in Congress. [6, 7]

President Bush received a briefing from the CIA on August 6, 2001 warning of Bin Laden’s determination to mount a major strike against the U.S. [13] However, Richard A. Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, later reported that the Bush administration was so focused on Iraq at that time that it failed to heed these warnings about an imminent attack from al-Qaeda.

The day after the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld “openly pushed for war against Iraq – despite the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian and had been based out of Afghanistan.”

alqaeda-iraqlinkClarke reports an astonishing conversation that took place at the White House that day. President Bush approached him saying, “See if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way.” When Clark replied, “But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this,” Bush responded, “I know, I know, but – see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred-” Clarke replied, “But you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of Al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen.” “Look into Iraq, Saddam,” Bush repeated. [10]

Clarke concludes that Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Bush all sought to use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq. [9]

In July 2002 the British government learned that the Bush administration was planning to attack Iraq and was “fixing” its intelligence around that policy. [14]

The suit charges that

In August 2002, the White House established a group called the White House Iraq Group (“WHIG”), the purpose of which was to convince the American public into supporting a war against Iraq. Defendant RICE was a member of WHIG, along with Karl Rove, I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, and other high-ranking Bush Administration officials.

boomAs reported by the New York Times, the centerpiece of their strategy was to use Mr. Bush’s upcoming speech on September 11 “to help move Americans towards support of action against Iraq, which could come early next year.” [16] Leading up to this event, on September 8, 2002 National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asserted on CNN’s Late Edition that Saddam Hussein was “actively pursuing a nuclear weapon,” and warned that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Former press secretary Scott McClellan would later state that Bush’s staff actively engaged in a “political propaganda campaign” aimed at “manipulating sources of public opinion.” [18]

On October 7, 2002 President Bush told the American people that

Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq …who have been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We’ve learned that Iraq has trained as Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. [19]

In the same speech Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had a group of “nuclear mujahaideen – his nuclear holy warriors.” A week later Bush repeated his charge that Saddam Hussein “has had connections with al Qaeda,” adding that, “This is a man who, in my judgment, would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army.” [20]

Bush made these statements despite the fact that “ten days after the 9/11 attacks, he was told in his daily brief (“PDB”) from the CIA that there was no evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 and scant evidence that Iraq had any collaborative ties with al Qaeda.” [21] In addition, “A Defense Intelligence Agency document from February 2002 confirmed that the source of the intelligence linking Iraq to al Qaeda was a likely fabricator and “intentionally misleading” his interrogators.” [22] [This has been reported on elsewhere in detail]

iraq-powellIn February 2003, Colin Powell gave a speech to the United Nations Security Council that was considered to be crucial for winning approval for military action against Iraq. In his speech, Powell alleged that Iraq “harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associated collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants,” that Saddam Hussein was “more willing to assist al-Qaida after the 1998 bombings of [US] embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,” and that, “From the late 1990s until 2001, the Iraqi Embassy in Pakistan played the role of liaison to the Al Qaeda organization.” [26] All of this was untrue. Powell later admitted, “I have never seen a connection [between Iraq and al-Qaeda. … I’d never seen evidence to suggest there was one.”

On March 18, 2003, acting on the orders of President Bush, the United States invaded Iraq. The lawsuit against George W. Bush and his co-defendants notes that the

Iraq warDefendants failed to secure United Nations authorization for the war. Article 39 of the United Nations Charter requires the United Nations Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42 to maintain or restore international peace and security.”


On September 14, 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” [28]

Based on the evidence contained in the suit, the plaintiff calls

1. For an order finding that Defendants planned and committed the crime of aggression.

2. For an award of compensatory damages against Defendants in an amount sufficient to compensate Plaintiff and all members of the Iraq Civilian Victims’ Class for damages they sustained as a result of Defendants’ illegal actions in planning and mounting a war of aggression against Iraq.

Should the defendants’ assets not be sufficient to cover these damages, the suit asks that the defendants

set up, manage and obtain other funding at their expense a restitution fund to provide for proper compensation to any and all Iraqi civilians who were damaged because of Defendants’ commission of the crime of aggression against Iraq.

It should be interesting to follow this case as it proceeds through the courts to see what the final determination will be.






[10] clarke.html?pagewanted=all

[9] This information is lifted from press articles and Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies – Inside America’s War On Terror (Free Press 2004).

[14] Doc14.pdf

[16] aides-set-strategy-to-sell-policy-on-iraq.html

[18] dyn/content/article/2008/05/27/AR2008052703679.html

[19] 8.html

[20] 3.html

[21] kept-from-hill-panel-20051122

[22] &_r=0



Photo credit:  Mario Tama, AFP/Getty Images

George W. Bush’s Criminal Legacy – Part I

US flag-TortureOn December 9th the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the torture of detainees by the CIA during the Bush administration. Reaction to the report has been swift and harsh. CIA officials and some Bush era appointees have tried to discredit the report, while others have demanded that those responsible for these crimes be brought to justice.

As disturbing as the findings in the Senate report are, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch notes that the scope of the report is actually quite limited. It only

deals with one aspect of one part of the detainee mistreatment in the war on terror [namely,] CIA prisoners held in black sites. … [I]t doesn’t talk about what the Pentagon was doing. It doesn’t talk about the programs approved by Donald Rumsfeld. And … it tends to kind of let off the hook all those people above who authorized these programs.

In my last post [Taking Action Against Torture] I laid out the grounds for pursuing criminal charges not only against George Tenet, the CIA Director during the Bush administration (who oversaw these torture practices) as well as those agents under his command, but also former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (who approved these illegal interrogation methods), former Vice-President Dick Cheney (who was the driving force behind these illegal detention policies), and President George W. Bush (who authorize the CIA secret detention program and had ultimate authority over its operations). [See link]

But even this does not address the full scope of the illegal and criminal actions carried out on the international stage during the Bush administration.

The Case for War Crimes

Iraq warIn March 2003 the United States launched its invasion of Iraq to overthrow the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush explained at the time that this was necessary since Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and was known to be in league with al-Qaida.

His statements, and those of other top White House officials who orchestrated the invasion of Iraq, were later revealed to be false. President Bush lied to the American people. More importantly, it has been argued that his actions not only violated the U.N. Charter that forbids wars of aggression, but violated U. S. law as well.

As former federal prosecutor Elizabeth De La Vega wrote in a cover story for the Nation magazine in October 2005 detailing this deception:

The evidence shows, then, that from early 2002 to at least March 2003, the President and his aides conspired to defraud the United States by intentionally misrepresenting intelligence about Iraq to persuade Congress to authorize force, thereby interfering with Congress’s lawful functions of overseeing foreign affairs and making appropriations, all of which violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Appeals were made for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the administration’s involvement in this deception much like the investigation into president Nixon’s cover-up of the Watergate break-in. But no action was taken. Some called for President Bush to be impeached, but nothing came of this during Bush’s remaining time in office.

international-flag1Actions were taken on the international stage, however. In September 2005 a German court declared that the Iraq war violated international law. In March 2007 a Spanish judge called for the architects of the Iraq invasion to be tried for war crimes.

In October 2011 when then ex-President Bush attended an economic summit in British Columbia, Amnesty International submitted an extensive legal brief to Canada’s Attorney General arguing that

Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture.

Although the Canadian government declined to take such action, the National Post (Canada’s national conservative newspaper) reported that

Bush cancelled a visit to Switzerland in February, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

amnesty_logoLest anyone take Amnesty International’s charges lightly, it should be noted that its charges are well documented.

Amnesty’s case, outlined in its 1,000-page memorandum, relies on the public record, U.S. documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush’s own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the U.S.’s war on terror policies.

We should also note that

In Kuala Lumpur, after two years of investigation by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC), a tribunal (the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, or KLWCT), consisting of five judges with judicial and academic backgrounds, reached a unanimous verdict [in November 2011] that found George W. Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.

And finally,

In January 2014 a devastating 250-page dossier, detailing allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault, was presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC) … . This formal complaint to the ICC is the culmination of several years’ work by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). It calls for an investigation into the alleged war crimes, under Article 15 of the Rome Statute.

All of the actions reported above have taken place outside the United States and, many would argue, are unenforceable within American borders.

However, in August 2013 a domestic class action civil suit was filed against George W. Bush and five officials of his administration that is proceeding to trial. I will provide a detailed examination of that case of my next blog.

Photo credit: RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images

8 Problems with Obama’s Plan to Fight ISIS

Many are worried that the United States is about to embark on yet another war in the Middle East with no long-term strategy ISIS massacreand no exit plan. They have every right to be concerned.

ISIS [the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] has successfully goaded the U.S. into engaging them on their own territory through its brutal actions against the local population and two provocative videos showing American journalists being decapitated.

But the U.S. will face enormous difficulties in defeating ISIS. Here are 5 basic problems with President Obama’s recently announced decision to engage ISIS.

1) U.S. military leaders are agreed that this war cannot be won from the air alone; it will have to rely on ground troops. After 13 years of was in Iraq with many thousands of American casualties, the U.S. is extremely hesitant to put American troops back on the ground there. President Obama has flatly stated that he “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

So the fighting will have to be done by local factions that the U.S. equips and trains. That will not be an easy task.

A recent article in the Washington Post summarized the challenge as follows:

In Iraq, dissolved elements of the army will have to regroup and fight with convic­tion. Political leaders will have to reach compromises on the allocation of power and money in ways that have eluded them for years. Disenfranchised Sunni tribesmen will have to muster the will to join the government’s battle. European and Arab allies will have to hang together, Washington will have to tolerate the resurgence of Iranian-backed Shiite militias it once fought, and U.S. commanders will have to orchestrate an air war without ground-level guidance from American combat forces.

Militia group2) There are hundreds of different factions in this region, each with different ideologies and goals. The fighting forces in this area are a morass of tribal groups and splinter movements with rapidly shifting alliances. Some have ties with extremist groups. All are prone to brutal actions in combat. The U.S. must somehow differentiate between, selectively enlist, then train and equip local “moderate” militias, turning them into an effective ground force against ISIS. That is going to be immensely difficult.

Northern Iraq contains four major groups all in open conflict with each other: the Shi’a-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, various Sunni militias comprising elements of the former Baathist army of Saddam Husain, the radical Sunni ISIS group which some of the former Iraqi generals have joined, and Kurdish militias who are fighting against all the others as they seek political autonomy.

In neighboring Syria, the situation is even more complex with various Sunni groups fighting to overthrow a Sunni government. As was recently reported in the New York Times,

After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias fighting President Bashar al-Assad — and one another. Among them, even the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

2) It is not necessarily true that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Many of those who would eagerly take up arms against ISIS are not supportive of American interests. Some local militias in Iraq, for example, once armed by the Americans would, after dealing with ISIS, quickly turn their attention to fighting the U.S.-backed government in Iraq. Others have connections to al-Qaeda-related groups. (Remember, ISIS split off from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda now views ISIS as being too extremist to support.) Potential allies fighting against ISIS may themselves use extremist tactics in pursuing their goals.

Syria-Iraq map3) One must also consider the interests and influence of the two main rival powers in the region: Saudi Arabia and Iran. For decades the U.S. has consistently backed the Sunni-based Saudi kingdom against the expansionist interests of the Shi’a government in Iran. Yet al-Qaeda has consistently received support from conservative elements within the Saudi state (Osama bin Laden and most of the terrorists in the 9/11 attacks on America were Saudis) creating problems for both the U.S. and the Saudis. Meanwhile, the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria is strongly backed by Iran (and Russia) and the Iraq government under al-Maliki is also strongly pro-Iranian.

5) Weakening ISIS could actually strengthen America’s enemies in the region. ISIS poses the greatest military threat to al-Assad’s rule in Syria. How does the U.S. move to defeat ISIS there without indirectly strengthening the hand of the Syrian government? And how does it arm the Sunni and Kurdish forces in Iraq to fight ISIS without endangering the Shi’a government there? In addition, how does the U.S. guarantee that the heavy arms and equipment it gives to these forces do not fall into the hands of ISIS, as has already happened in Iraq? It boils down to this: Can the U.S. support a lengthy campaign to defeat ISIS without strengthening the hand of Iran and its allies?

6) The U.S. is pinning its hopes on tactics that have so far proven largely ineffective. President Obama is backing a two-pronged approach of combining limited air strikes with locally backed ground forces. He stated in his address on Sept. 10 that,

This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.

Yet, as Hayes Brown notes in Think Progress,

[T]his is probably among the least encouraging thing that Obama could possibly say. … After nearly 13 years of using the authority granted to President George W. Bush to destroy al Qaeda in 2001, the United States is still trying to prevent the spread of terror in those countries, making the odds that the fight against ISIS will be a short one extremely low.

A recent article in the New York Times adds that,

The approach — training and arming local fighters — has also not been effective in other arenas, whether Iraq, where the military melted away when ISIS attacked, or in Mali, where forces trained in counterterrorism switched sides to join Islamist fighters.

iraq_isis_bombed_460[7) An air campaign against ISIS will produce only limited results.

Bombing missions against ISIS cannot be used in the cities they occupy without yielding massive civilian casualties. Juan Cole notes that in the Syrian town of Raqqah, which ISIS uses as its headquarters,

Some 80% of Raqqah’s 240,000 inhabitants, i.e. about 190,000 people, are said to have remained after ISIL took over the city, despite its harsh and arbitrary rule. It is inevitable that US and allied bombing on important Raqqah military targets will kill a certain number of civilians.

But ISIL are guerrillas, and they will just fade away into Raqqah’s back alleys … where you can’t bomb them without killing a lot of civilians (and they will video the victims for you).

8) Will the U.S. itself become liable for war crimes?

This final point brings up the sensitive issue of the need to insure immunity from later allegations of war crimes. As Byron York reminds us,

President Obama has always explained that the U.S. left Iraq entirely, instead of leaving a residual force of somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 troops, because the Iraqis would not go along with a status-of-forces agreement defining the terms of the American presence in Iraq, including immunity for American troops and contractors. … So what happens when the bombs fall, the rockets are fired, and people, including, inevitably, some innocents, are killed?

Quoting Peter Feaver, a national Security Council official in the Bush administration, York states,

“We appear to be ramping up without a status-of-forces agreement, without the immunity protections the administration said was necessary. What’s the scenario if there is a horrible collateral damage problem that triggers the immunity problem? Things like that happen in war. And one of the reasons the administration didn’t stay behind is that they didn’t think the immunity provisions were strong enough.”

Summing up:

All in all, I have a very bad feeling about the escalating U.S. involvement in this conflict. It will not end quickly or easily. And once ISIS is defeated the militias that that the U.S. has trained and equipped may very well turn to new conflicts that will further destabilize the situation in the Middle East.

As has been observed by many who are critical of the Bush-Cheney interventionist legacy, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invaded that country. Now al-Qaeda and its militant offshoots have spread throughout the Middle East and anti-U.S. sentiment has increased a thousand fold. The U.S. did not win in Iraq. It instead destabilized the entire region. It is time to consider seriously what we have done before rushing in to do further damage with more naively conceived plans.

Photo credit: EFP Photo/HO

Can There Be Peace in the Middle East?

Gaza destructionMore than 1,000 people – most of them Arab civilians – have now been killed in the ongoing military conflict in Gaza. What lies behind this conflict? And is there any hope for peace in this region?

Many people attribute this conflict to a deep-seated religious rivalry between Jews and Muslims – the continuation of a centuries-old hatred of Jews by Muslims. This view is pervasive in many circles. It is also completely false.

The fact is – and I am speaking here as one who teaches religious history to both university and seminary students – Jewish religion and culture thrived for centuries under Muslim rule in Spain, North Africa and the Middle East. This was the case from the early Middle Ages up through the modern era. While Jews were being systematically persecuted throughout Christian Europe, Muslim rulers actually preserved Jewish religion and culture within their territories.

That historical alliance has now changed. It broke down with the politically imposed creation of the modern state of Israel midway through the 20th century. So let us be clear – the present conflict is not over religion; it is over the basic political issues of land, security, and political autonomy.

To properly understand the roots of the present conflict it is necessary to understand the historical events that gave rise to the current situation. Here is the historical background to that conflict as I explain it in my university classes.

Persecution in Christian Europe

For nearly 2,000 years the Jews have seen themselves as a people living in exile – most of them living out their lives far away from their traditional homeland of Judea from which they were expelled by the Romans long ago. During the Middle Ages, many Jews migrated from Spain and other Muslim lands to settle in France, the German territories, and England.

Jewish_Dispersion(lg) copyThere they established themselves in small close-knit communities in which they hoped to preserve their traditional beliefs and pattern of life. Because they largely kept to themselves and carried out their religious ceremonies in virtual seclusion, they were frequently regarded with suspicion by their Christian neighbors.

Unsubstantiated rumors circulated about what Jews did in secret. In many places they were charged with outlandish crimes and conspiracies – everything from poisoning the wells of the Christians and ritually killing Christian infants to being responsible for the plague and the Black Death.

Pope_Innocent_III-2 copyIn 1215 C.E. Pope Innocent III, the most powerful pope in the entire history of the Christian Church, enforced a strict segregation of all Jews living in the Italian states. He required them to wear identifying yellow badges and hats (a practice later revived in Nazi Germany). To be caught without this identifying mark was punishable by death. In 1290 the Jews were forcibly expelled from England, and after repeated episodes of persecution Jews were excluded from France in 1394.

Ferdinand&Isabella copyThe monarchy in Spain mobilized in the 15th century to expel the Moors and establish Christian rule throughout the country. In this harshly intolerant environment, many Jews in Spain were forced to convert to Christianity under threat of death. Finally, in 1492, all as yet unconverted Jews were driven out of Spain.

Those Jews who remained in areas of Italy, Austria, and Germany that had not totally excluded them, were forced to live in segregated areas of the cities called “ghettos” which were usually located in the worst part of town. Many occupations were closed to them by law, and other restrictions were placed upon their individual rights. In many cities high walls were built around the ghettos, and the Jewish residents were locked in a night. To be found outside the ghetto after dark was at best punishable by a fine, and at worst punishable by death

In parts of Poland and Russia during the 17th century, the Cossacks launched a series of violent “pogroms” (organized massacres) against the Jews. In all, over 500,000 Russian and Polish Jews were killed in this wave of state-sponsored anti-Semitic oppression.

New Opportunities and Old Problems

The situation dramatically improved for European Jews by the late 18th century as a new sense of public values arising out of the Enlightenment tradition began to take hold – values like “democracy”, “religious toleration”, and “freedom of conscience.” We may take these values for granted today, but they were radically new and experimental at that time. This liberalization of attitudes created a more tolerant climate in which it was hoped that the persecution and repressive measures taken against the Jews might come to an end.

Decl_of_Independence copyIn 1776 the American Colonies declared their independence from England and established a nation with a complete separation of church and state. In doing so, it became the first modern nation to grant Jews full civil rights equal to those of every other citizen. Thirteen years later the French revolution took place, establishing a secular government under the banner of liberty, fraternity, equality and enacting legislation (the “Declaration of Rights of Man”) making all citizens –including Jews –equal before the law.

Soon these progressive ideas spread to other lands, as Jews in Holland, Italy, and other countries were emancipated under law. A generation later, in the opening decades of the 19th century, Napoleon consolidated many of these gains. Wherever his armies marched, they tore down the ghetto walls, abolished the ghettos themselves, and made it possible for Jews to participate in society at large.

At last Jews were being allowed to take their place in modern society. Yet despite these new measures, an undercurrent of anti-Semitism continued to persist. It often surfaced in social attitudes and even official governmental policies. Anti-Jewish pogroms continued to take place in Russia and Poland through the 19th century. Many European Jews felt disillusioned and betrayed by these developments; their hopes for full emancipation and acceptance in European society came crashing down. Many began to realize, as discrimination and persecution continued to surface in country after country, that their only security lay in having a nation of their own that would protect them by law and guard their interests.

The Zionist Movement

It was out of this situation that the Zionist movement came into being at the end of the 19th century. Although the term “Zionist” is often used in a derogatory sense by many today, historically the term does not have that connotation.

For Europe’s scattered and marginalized Jews the dream of some day returning to their traditional homeland – of setting foot on Mount Zion (the site of Solomon’s temple) – kept their faith alive. It created hope. It defined a future for the Jewish people. It bound them to a common destiny.Herzl copy

The Zionists transformed the religious hope for a national Jewish homeland into a political campaign. The leader of this campaign was Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), a successful lawyer and journalist from Vienna, who became alarmed by rising anti-Semitism at the end of the 19th century.

Herzl covered the infamous Dreyfus Trial as a journalist in 1894 in which Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French Army Captain was falsely convicted of treason in a blatantly anti-Semitic military trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. Herzl became deeply concerned at the still precarious position of Jews in modern European society.

In 1896 he published a highly influential book entitled The Jewish State. The following year in Basel, Switzerland, he organized the first World Zionist Congress and was elected as its first president. Theodor Herzl spent the remainder of his life unsuccessfully lobbying the British and various European governments for help in creating a region in Palestine where Jews could govern themselves and be free from persecution. He died in 1904 without seeing his dream realized.

Soon after Hertzl’s death, Chaim Weizmann became a recognized leader among British Zionists. Through his political contacts he was more successful than Hertzl in lobbying government officials for a national homeland.

Palestine lay within the territory of the Ottoman Empire whose seat of government was in what is today known as Turkey. Turkey sided with Germany and the other Axis powers in the First World War, and when Germany lost the war, its allies also suffered. Turkey lost control of its extra-territorial states. France added most of North Africa to its list of colonial possessions, and Palestine was placed under British rule.

Jewish_Immigrants copyWith Palestine now governed by Great Britain, Chaim Weizmann found the British government receptive to his plea for Jews to return to their traditional homeland. In 1917, under the Balfour Declaration, the British government began arranging for limited Jewish settlement in Palestine. The Arab population of Palestine (who would have to give up their land to these Jewish settlers) was strongly opposed to this, and so, in an effort to maintain good relations with the Arab countries in the Middle East, Britain strictly limited Jewish immigration to the region. Nevertheless, thousands of Jews migrated to Palestine over the next two decades.

Under increasing pressure from the Arab states, Britain abandoned its policy of Jewish immigration to Palestine in 1939. New legislation made it illegal for more than a small quota of Jews to immigrate to Palestine each year. Many defied this law, however, and continued to resettle in Palestine entering the country covertly by slipping past the British naval blockade established to keep them out. These determined pioneers laid the foundations for the future state of Israel.

We should note that these pioneering settlers were not for the most part religious Jews. They were primarily secular Jews motivated by a political vision rather than religious aspirations. The influx of observant Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews would come much later.

The Zionist movement generated considerable controversy within the broader Jewish community – especially among religious Jews. In its early stages it was both strongly supported and strongly criticized by various Jewish groups. Some Orthodox Jews welcomed a political cause that would give substance to their religious hopes of returning to their ancestral homeland. Other Orthodox Jews denounced the movement, saying that only the Messiah would bring about the restoration of Israel. Any attempt to fulfill the Messiah’s work by other means was contrary to God’s law.

Some religious Jews defended the Zionist cause, seeing it as an opportunity to co-operate with God in bringing God’s plan to fulfillment. Many had hopes that this righteous act might even hasten the arrival of the Messiah by preparing the way for the Messiah’s coming.

Still others (particularly from the Reformed Jewish camp) saw the exercise as anachronistic. It was inappropriate, they argued, to attempt to re-establish an ancient theocracy in a modern world that had long ago abandoned such ideas. Judaism, they said, should focus on the spiritual and ethical dimensions of its religion, and discard any “nationalist” ideas remaining from its past.

Nazis copySuch debate within the Jewish community at large would soon became eclipsed, however, by other pressing concerns.

In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and began his expansionist campaign to rule all of Europe. His master plan included the extermination of all of Europe’s Jews. By the time of Germany’s surrender, six million of Europe’s Jews had been slaughtered – one third of the entire world’s Jewish population. Over one million of these were children – an entire generation lost in this holocaust.

The Modern Jewish-Arab Conflict

In the wake of the Holocaust, it became obvious to Jews around the world that if they were to survive as a people they would have to have a national base to operate from – a place where they would form the majority and would be able to ensure that the rights and liberties of their fellow Jews were protected by law. It would be a place where they would be able to provide sanctuary to other Jews fleeing oppression, and where they would be able to effectively defend themselves by military force if necessary.

The earlier opposition to the Zionist movement within Judaism quickly melted away. The Zionist cause intensified, and Jews of every religious persuasion banded together to support the move to create a national homeland for the world’s Jews

By the end of the Second World War illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine had reached a veritable flood tide. Clearly, something had to be done about the situation. In 1947 the recently created United Nations proposed as one of its first acts that Palestine be partitioned into two areas – one to be governed by the Jews, and the other by the Arabs – with Jerusalem (which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims) to the governed by an international agency.

It should be noted that neither England (which oversaw Palestinian affairs) nor the Arab Palestinians agreed to this plan. In fact, the Arabs refused to co-operate with the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. Nevertheless, this plan to divine Palestine into two separate territories was formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly later that year.

Preparations were made, a government for the new state of Israel was elected, and public officials were put in place to oversee the operations of the state. Even a standing army was created to replace the British troops who would soon be leaving.

Jerusalem(1948) copyOn May 14, 1948, the British handed over control of this territory, and the modern state of Israel was born. Israel’s first President was Chaim Weizmann, the former head of the world Zionist Congress. The first Prime Minister of Israel was David Ben-Gurion, another long-time Zionist leader. For the next four decades all of Israel’s top leaders would be prominent members of the Zionist movement who had pioneered the formation of the modern state of Israel.

The same day that the creation of the state of Israel was officially proclaimed the surrounding Arab states attacked it. The Israelis successfully defended their new homeland, and in January 1949, a U.N. sponsored armistice agreement brought the fighting to a halt.

partition-armistice copyDuring the conflict, Israel gained control of some additional territory, and when the armistice ended the fighting Israel retained this new territory. Thus, the political map of the state of Israel that most people are familiar is quite different that that originally drawn up in the United Nations agreement.

In 1967 Israel placed additional territory under its control – most notably East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. The Gaza strip and the West Bank are not officially part of the state of Israel, but are administered by Israel. They are frequently referred to by the Arab population as “occupied territories.”

golani_karte copyAlthough the 1949 armistice ended the fighting, technically the Arab states remained in a state of war with Israel. Thousands of Palestinian refugees were displaced during the fighting, and either fled to neighboring Arab states or were placed in Palestinian refugee camps where they have remained now for over 60 years. Three and even four generations of Palestinians have grown up knowing these ‘temporary’ camps as their only home.

Some of these Palestinian refugees organized themselves into armed resistance movements dedicated to winning back their own homeland from the Israelis. The best known of these is the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the PLO] whose political arm speaks for many of these displaced native Palestinians. More recently Hamas (backed by Iran) has emerged as a powerful rival group to the PLO. Strong tensions reflecting internal religious and political divisions divide these two movements.

Palestinian opposition to the state of Israel and discriminatory Israeli policies toward the Palestinians continue to pose difficult challenges for both Arabs and Jews living in the Middle East. Since 1948, war has broken out between Israel and the neighboring Arab states another three times [in 1956, 1967, and 1973].

In 1978 Israel signed an historic peace accord with Egypt, formally ending hostilities between those two nations. But most of the other Arab nations have signed no such agreements. The Intefada uprising that began in 1988 continues to pose additional problems for the state of Israel. Recent events, including suicide bombings by Palestinians, sporadic rocket attacks by Hamas, and the growth of new militant political factions, make the prospect of a lasting solution to the Middle East “problem” seem more remote than ever.

Looking for a Solution

In light of this history, it is clear to see that the core issues for the Jewish population of Israel are land and national security. They feel surrounded by hostile neighbors, many of whom do not acknowledge their basic right to existence as a nation. The core issues for the Palestinians are land and political autonomy. They have been displaced from their traditional lands which are now under Israeli administration, and have been denied political self-determination.

The conflict will continue until these basis needs are addressed and durable solutions are found. Unless Israeli and Arab leaders find ways of coming to the table and offering concrete proposals to resolve these issues, peace in our time may never be a reality.

To move forward, one must come to terms with the past. And that means looking back to the original United Nations agreement that divided the territory of Palestine, as it existed at that time, into two separate and independent states.

The “two state” solution is not a new proposal. Nor is it a radical one. It is the original plan under which the modern state of Israel was created. But only one half of that plan has been completed. The other half must follow.

The expansion of Israeli settlements in the “occupied territories” makes negotiations on this issue extremely difficult. The Arab population is strongly opposed to ceding this additional territory to Israel. Yet a quick glance at the original boundaries established for these two states under the 1947 UN plan shows that those boundaries were arbitrary, convoluted, and artificial as well as militarily indefensible.

Land will inevitably have to be traded for peace. It is a necessary condition for both peace and security in the region. There is no way of avoiding this reality. Palestinians must also be given the same legal and political rights in their territory that Israelis enjoy in theirs. But there has been little history of democratic self-rule in a region that is still largely governed either by royal monarchs or military dictators. Somehow a stable modern nation state will have to be created in the Palestinian territory – and that will not be an easy matter.

The difficulties are vast, but the problems are not insurmountable. The near-term objective is to create the conditions under which both sides will be willing to come to the bargaining table. Only then can the hard negotiations begin.

In the present situation these conditions do not exist. First the military offensives by Israel and the reprisals by militant Palestinians must end. There must be a halt to hostilities on both sides. Then grievances must be addressed. There is no way of getting around this. Unless there is a genuine political will to address these grievances, it will be impossible to build trust or to pursue any common interests.

It will no doubt be a slow and painful process. It will be a fragile process as well – one that could be derailed at any time by new outbreaks of violence or fresh disruptions from militant parties on either side who wish to see the reconciliation process fail.

It is a difficult task, but not an impossible one. It will depend on courageous leaders who will foster the conditions necessary for taking these first steps. It will take a willingness to consider the legitimate needs of the other side and work for common solutions. And in the end it will take a combination of forgiveness, genuine trust and faith to leave behind the past and build a new future.

Forgiveness, trust and faith are religious principles. Although the source of the present conflict lies in fundamental political issues rather than religious ones, the solution will need to embrace these core religious principles.

Religion did not start this conflict. But in the end it may provide the way out of it.

Photo credit: Reuters

The BBC, Climate Change, and Responsible Journalism

Confused about climate change? Tired of seeing reputable scientists constantly having to defend their claims against self-appointed deniers? The BBC has just done something about that.

BBC-NewsThe British Broadcasting Corporation is respected around the world for its high standards of fair and balanced journalism. It is a voice that people have learned to trust. But in striving to be impartial in its news coverage, the BBC’s governing body, the BBC Trust, discovered a problem – a “false balance” that comes from giving equal time to two sides of an argument when one side lacks basic support.

This false balance typically occurs, for example, when one person who is well-versed on climate science is paired with another who denies climate science, and the two debate the issue. Rather than presenting a balanced view of both sides of the issue, what actually happens is that the minority position is made to seem equally viable even if its claims are widely discredited within the scientific community.

The scientific understanding of the various factors contributing to climate change has become incredibly refined in recent decades. As a result of exhaustive research into this phenomenon, today

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.

Providing the dissenting 3 percent with equal time to promote their own views thus creates a false balance in scientific reporting.

The BBC’s governing body recognized this problem and has taken measures to correct it. As a result of the BBC Trust’s recently released Executive Report on Scientific Impartiality,

Reporters for BBC News are being directed to significantly curb the amount of air time they give to people with anti-science viewpoints — including people who deny climate change exists — in order to improve the accuracy and fairness of the network’s news coverage

However, the BBC would not completely exclude such minority views from its reporting. The Report clearly states,

This does not mean that critical opinion should be excluded. Nor does it mean that scientific research shouldn’t be properly scrutinized.

The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices.”

Although the BBC has taken measures to curtail this false balance in reporting on scientific issues, the American media has so far not done the same. Last October Media Matters for America released a detailed report that shows how skewed the coverage of climate change is in the American media.

One of its findings was the fact that in August and September 2013 “Half Of Print Outlets Used False Balance On Existence Of Manmade Warming.” While only 3 percent of scientists reject human activity as a major factor in global warming,

doubters comprised over 18 percent of those quoted by Bloomberg News, Los Angeles TimesThe Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post – giving this minority view over five times the amount of representation it has in the scientific community. Half of those quoted in The Wall Street Journal were doubters, about 29 percent in Los Angeles Times, about 17 percent in The Washington Post and about 12 percent in Bloomberg News.

Furthermore, “Doubters Dominated On Fox News, The Majority Of Whom Were Unqualified.”

Fox News tipped the balance toward those on the opposite side of the facts, as 69 percent of guests and 75 percent of mentions cast doubt on climate science. Seventy-three percent of doubters hosted by Fox News had no background in climate science.


Media Matters chart1

In addition, “Doubters Were More Likely To Lack Scientific Credentials.”

Of those quoted who denied that humans are the dominant driver of global warming, about 81 percent did not have a background in climate science. Instead, some media opted for bloggers, political figures, and media pundits to disparage the scientific consensus on climate change.

Media Matters chart2

The consensus on climate change among scientists continues to grow. For example, the geochemist James Lawrence Powell recently conducted an exhaustive search of peer-reviewed scientific literature on global warming.

Powell went through every scientific study published in a peer-review journal during the calendar year 2013, finding 10,885 in total. Of those, a mere two rejected anthropogenic global warming [that is, global warming produced through human activity].



The evidence of climate change and global warming is overwhelming. [Watch this video] The research scientists have convincingly documented their findings.

It’s time to end this false balance in the media’s reporting.

Reaping the Whirlwind in Iraq

IRAQ-UNREST-KIRKUKThe crisis in Iraq continues to deepen. This week an organized militant group calling itself ISIS (short for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) overran Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The group controls most of the surrounding province and ISIS forces have advanced toward Baghdad where they have been responsible for a series of deadly explosions.

ISIS is a radical Sunni organization that split earlier this year from al-Qaida and is seen as even more brutal and militant than its parent group. On Wednesday ISIS took control of Iraq’s largest oil refinery, and on Friday we learned that it was occupying the site of a former chemical weapons facility 46 miles northeast of Baghdad that contains a large supply of lethal chemicals.

Historical Context

Mideast map 2To understand the present political situation in Iraq it is necessary to know some of its history.

Iraq lies between Syria and Iran at the head of the Persian Gulf. The national boundaries carved out by the victorious European powers in 1920 shortly after the end of the First World War artificially divided this territory without regard to traditional tribal and religious loyalties. Land disputes and religious rivalries have been problems in this region ever since.

In 1979 the secular government of Iran was overthrown in a populist revolutionary movement that put control of the country in the hands of conservative Shi’ite religious leaders. The Shi’a are a minority within the Muslim world (forming about 10-15% of the total Muslim population), but they are the dominant group in Iran.

In neighboring Iraq the Shi’a also form the majority (over 60%), with the Sunnis, who form 85-90% of the Muslim population worldwide, being the minority (only 20%). In 1968 the revolutionary Sunni-based Ba’ath Party took control of Iraq in a coup and began filling government positions with Sunni appointees. Throughout the years of Ba’ath rule, both the majority Shi’a and the minority Kurdish population of northern Iraq were harshly suppressed.

Saddam HusainSaddam Husain took power as head of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq in 1979. The following year he invaded Iran – partially out of fear that the Iranian Revolution might inspire a similar revolt among Iraq’s suppressed Shi’a majority, and partially out of a desire to replace Iran as the dominant power in the Persian Gulf.

Iran fougnt back and regained most of its lost territory by 1982. After that Iraq was put on the defensive. In 1983 the Kurds of northern Iraq rebelled against the Husain government and attempted to form their own autonomous country.

The conflict went on for 8 long years at immense cost to all sides. It is estimated that half a million Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died in the conflict along with an equivalent number of civilians. During the war Iraqi forces used mustard gas against Iranian soldiers and sarin gas against Kurdish civilians – both chemicals are considered to be “weapons of mass destruction.” Hostilities were finally ended through a UN-brokered cease fire in 1988 that all sides accepted.

The United States played only an indirect role in the First Gulf War, mainly seeking to protect its economic interests in the region and to ensure the safety of oil shipments in the Persian Gulf. American resentment of Iran was still high following the lengthy holding of American hostages at the at the American embassy in Tehran in 1979-80, and so the United States favored Iraq during the conflict.

In 1982 the U.S. removed Iraq from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism (created in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution). This was despite its full knowledge of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in the war. It established diplomatic ties with the Husain regime, and began massive arms sales to Iraq.

Although Iran remained on the official list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, the Reagan administration surreptitiously gave military support to Iran as well. Anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry were taken from Pentagon warehouses and sold to the Khomeini regime in Iran in exchange for promises that Shi’a militiamen in Lebanon would release their American hostages. The details of the Iran-Contra affair only came to light long afterward.

Operation Desert Storm

American support of Iraq abruptly reversed course in 1990. In August of that year Saddam Husain invaded Kuwait, accusing it of exceeding its OPEC-set quotas of oil production. A few days later he declared Kuwait to be Iraq’s 19th province and installed his cousin as its military-governor. U.S. President George H. W. Bush termed the invasion a “naked act of aggression” and called for a clear and unequivocal withdrawal of Iraqi forces. The United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion, and within days had imposed sanctions on Iraq.

Saddam soon began verbally attacking the Saudis. Saudi Arabia was the largest oil producer in the Middle East and a strategic U.S. ally. President Bush announced that the U.S. would launch a “wholly defensive” mission to prevent Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia. U.N. Resolution 678 gave Iraq until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Iraq, authorizing the use of force if Iraq refused to comply. The United States began building an international coalition of 34 countries to support such actions which included many Arab states.

Operation Desert Storm began on January 17, 1991 with an aerial bombing campaign aimed at destroying Iraqi military and civilian infrastructures. On February 24 American ground forces entered Kuwait from their staging area in Saudi Arabia and began the process of liberating the country from Iraqi occupation. They were joined by Arab forces advancing from the East. On 27 February, Saddam ordered a retreat from Kuwait, and President Bush declared it liberated.

Coalition forces then entered Iraq. The Iraqi forces suffered massive casualties while coalition casualties were low. American, British and French forces moved within 150 miles of Baghdad before withdrawing. On February 28, President Bush declared a ceasefire stating that the objective of the liberation of Kuwait had been accomplished.

Some criticized the Bush administration for allowing Saddam Husain to remain in power, rather than pushing on to capture Baghdad and overthrow his government. But the American President was adamant that his military forces would not exceed the mandate of the United Nations, which merely called for the restoration of sovereignty to Kuwait.

Events Under Geroge W. Bush

A decade later, after the horrendous terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001 masterminded by al-Qaida, President George W. Bush, declared war on Iraq claiming that it was in league with al-Qaida and was equipping its members with weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Husain’s links to al-Qaida were never proven, and the claims tying him to this militant religious group were highly suspicious. Saddam was not a religious person; he knew how to cite Islamic scripture in speeches to show his loyalty to Islam, but didn’t go beyond that. His policies showed a strong secularist rather than religious orientation, and the religious extremists of al-Qaida tended to regard him as a religious heretic and infidel like so many others whom they opposed.

Nor were any weapons of mass destruction ever found in Iraq despite exhaustive searches for them. It soon became apparent that these claims of Iraqi links with al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction were simply a pretext offered by the Bush administration to rationalize the invasion of Iraq and depose Saddam. Some mused that the younger Bush had vowed to finish the job that his father had left undone, and remove Saddam Husain from power once and for all.

shockandaweIn March 2003 American forces began their massive “shock and awe” military strikes against Iraq. Once American forces had deposed Saddam Husain, they banned his ruling Ba’ath party, systematically dismantled the existing government, and disbanded the Sunni dominated military and police forces. As Fareed Zakaria notes,

[T]he administration needed to find local allies. It quickly decided to destroy Iraq’s Sunni ruling establishment and empower the hard-line Shiite religious parties that had opposed Saddam Hussein. This meant that a structure of Sunni power that had been in the area for centuries collapsed.

Historically there were tensions between these groups, but as writer and peace activist Raed Jarrar explains,

Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites managed to live in the same country for a long time without killing each other, and they lived in the same neighborhoods. They intermarried …

That was before the US intervention. The US destroyed that Iraqi national identity and replaced it with sectarian and ethnic identities after 2003. … [Y]ou can trace the beginning of this sectarian strife that is destroying the country, and it clearly began with the U.S. invasion and occupation.

Developments Under Nuri Kamal al-Maliki

Nuri al-MalikiNuri Kamal al-Maliki was a Shi’a dissident in the early days of Saddam Husain’s regime and spent 24 years in exile after receiving a death sentence. He lived first in Damascas, Syria before moving to Tehran, Iran in 1990, and continues to have close ties with Iran and Syria.

Al-Maliki returned to Iraq aftr the fall of Saddam Husain, and became the deputy leader of the commission formed to purge Ba’ath party officials from the military and the government. He was elected to the transitional National Assembly in January 2005 and was appointed Prime Minister in May 2006.

Al-Malaki has been described as a militant sectarian who after his election began a systematic campaign to consolidate Shi’a rule and marginalize Sunni opposition. Iraq destructionHe is largely held to be responsible for a brutal civil war between the Shi’a and Sunni in Iraq from 2006 and 2009 which necessitated the “surge” in American troop levels to contain massive Sunni opposition to the U.S backed Shi’a rulers.

But efforts at containment had to be directed toward the Shi’a leadership as well. As one observer close to the situation has reported,

Time and again, American commanders … stepped in front of Maliki to stop him from acting brutally and arbitrarily toward Iraq’s Sunni minority. Then the Americans left, removing the last restraints on Maliki’s sectarian and authoritarian tendencies.

In the two and a half years since the Americans’ departure from Iraq in December 2011, Maliki has centralized power within his own circle, cut the Sunnis out of political power, and unleashed a wave of arrests and repression. … With nowhere else to go, Iraq’s Sunnis are turning, once again, to the extremists to protect them.

Before George W. Bush left office, he negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Iraq which stated that

All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.

When President Barack Obama came to office, he realized that situation in Iraq was extremely unstable. He tried to negotiate a new agreement with al-Maliki allowing a contingent of American troops to remain on the ground to continue working with the Iraqi forces and assist the transition to peacetime rule. A necessary condition of this agreement was that U.S. troops would be granted immunity from prosecution for actions in Iraq. This clause is a standard part of Status of Forces agreements that the United States has with other countries. Al-Maliki refused to agree to this condition, and the talks collapsed. Obama was thus legally unable to extend the presence of US military forces in Iraq beyond the withdrawal deadline negotiated by President Bush.

The Current Situation

After enduring years of brutal oppression by Prime MInister al-Maliki and the Shi’ite military command, many Sunni Iraqis have become radicalized against the government. Some have come to see the ISIS militants as potential deliverers. Although most Iraqi Sunnis reject the extreme religious views of ISIS, many have nevertheless welcomed them as political liberators.

ISIS soldiersISIS is an extremely well organized and well-funded military movement. ISIS commanders set up local governments wherever they go, collect taxes, and even offer social services.

They are not a“terrorist” group in the usual sense, but rather a well financed radical political movement with an organized administrative structure and an estimated $2 billion in assets.

The appaling irony is that before the American invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, there was no discernable presence of al-Qaida in Iraq. But after years of American soldiers targeting Iraqis in trying to defeat al-Qaida insurgents who made their way into the country, and after tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians being killed by American forces, many Sunnis have turned to al-Qaida sponsored groups for support.

Al-Qaida was not a direct threat to Iraq before American forces landed. Now, with the Americans gone, they are the largest threat the Iraqis have to deal with. And they may very well end up controlling a sizeable portion of the country and threaten Mideast stability for some time to come.

Photo credits: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images; European Press Photo Agency

Nelson Mandela’s Canadian Connection

NELSON-MANDELA-1991426This week as the world remembers the legacy of Nelson Mandela, Canadians are recalling his special relationship with this nation. As Evan Solomon, host of CBC Radio’s program The House, noted on Saturday,

If Nelson Mandela belongs first to South Africa and then to the world, he also belongs uniquely to Canada, where he was made an honorary citizen. It’s a special bond forged in the midst of the international struggle against apartheid by the Prime Minister [of Canada] who, against great pressure, brought sanctions against South Africa.

Back in 1985 the call for sanctions against the apartheid government on South Africa was an extremely contentious issue. Both President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were firmly against it. But that year Canada elected a new Conservative leader named Brian Mulroney who took a different view.

Mulroney, Brian (DHC 5)As Brian Mulroney recalled on Saturday when being interviewed by Solomon,

I felt when we came in that the support that Canada had been giving to Mandela and the ANC and the fight against apartheid was both tepid and inconsistent with our values. If Canada stands for anything internationally as a modern medium-sized power, we should stand for the protection of human liberties and civil rights, and here we were with the greatest human liberties struggle on the face of the planet going on, and we were not raising the flag with the vigor that we ought to have been. So I made this a priority of the government and indicated to the Cabinet that we would fight this at the United Nations, at the G7, at the Commonwealth, and at the summit of the Francophonie [an international organization of French-speaking nations].

This policy was carried out by Canada’s foreign minister, Joe Clark, who championed Canada’s opposition to the apartheid regime on the international stage. At the time, Canada was the only G7 nation to take such a resolute stance against apartheid.

Mulroney recalls that

with the United States and the United Kingdom out, Canada was the leading industrialized Commonwealth player and G7 player who was in full support of Mandela. They needed a white industrialized country in support of the ANC’s objectives. And we were it.

From his prison cell on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela learned on a BBC broadcast that “a young Canadian Prime Minister had taken control in Canada” and had made Mandela’s cause Canada’s top international priority. Mandela intently followed developments as the movement gained ground, and was immensely grateful for Canada’s leadership in pushing to end apartheid.

Soon after the world celebrated Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in May 1990, Mulroney recalls that Mandela phoned him and said,

Because of the tremendous support that Canadians have given me and given my movement, I would like to make my first trip to a democratically elected parliament to speak before the Parliament in Ottawa.

BRIAN MULRONEY, NELSON MANDELAMandela made that trip to Ottawa in May 1990 to tumultuous acclaim, and delivered what Prime Minister Mulroney called the most memorable speech to Canada’s Parliament since that of Winston Churchill in 1939. On the floor of Parliament he thanked Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who, he said,

has continued along the path charted by Prime Minister Diefenbaker who acted against apartheid because he knew that no person of conscience could stand aside as a crime against humanity was being committed.

And addressing all Canadians, he stated,

We are deeply moved that today you honour … us, who were outcasts only yesterday, to experience if only fleeting, what it means to stand and speak at a place whose existence is based on the recognition of the right of all the people to determine their destiny, and whose purpose is to ensure that that right is guaranteed in perpetuity. We are made better human beings by the fact that you have reached out from across the seas to say that we too, the rebels, the fugitives, the prisoners deserve to be heard.

In May 1994 millions of viewers around the world watched as Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa. He served in that capacity until 1999. During that time, Mandela distinguished himself in working to heal that nation’s wounds in the wake of the oppressive apartheid policies that until then had divided South Africa’s European and indigenous populations.

Alberta’s current Premier, Allison Redford (then a young lawyer) worked closely with Mandela during those years in trying to rebuild the legal system in South Africa. In 1996 Mandela oversaw the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the many crimes committed under apartheid, and it did much to heal that nation’s wounds.

Canada’s close relationship with Nelson Mandela continued, and on November 19, 2001, he became the first living person to be made an honorary citizen of Canada.

Belatedly, Canada came to recognize that South Africa’s apartheid laws had been constructed to a large extent on Canada’s own Indian Act of 1951 (updated from an earlier act of 1876), which placed the affairs of all “status” Indians directly under government controls. Canadian aboriginals have suffered greatly under the provisions of that act. Of particular concern is the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse experienced by generations of aboriginal children who were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools.

TRUTH-AND-RECONCILIATION-COMMISSIONIn 2007 Canada established its own Truth and Reconciliation Commission built upon Mandela’s model used in South Africa to hear testimony from survivors of abuse in the residential schools, and to heal the wounds suffered by Canadian aboriginals over a 120-year period. The commission expects to complete its work by 2014.

Mandela’s relationship with Canada has now come full circle. Just as Canada provided key support in Mandela’s struggle to establish justice for the native people of South Africa, now he has provided Canadians with a model for establishing a greater measure of justice for Canada’s aboriginal population.

Nelson Mandela’s influence and legacy reaches far beyond his homeland of South Africa. It is making an important difference in Canada as well. And for this we are truly thankful.

Credits: Getty; Fred Chartrand/CP; Wm. DeKay/CP; CP