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Chomsky: Britain has failed US detainees – Home News, UK – The Independent

Chomsky: Britain has failed US detainees

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Saturday, 30 August 2008

Britain has failed in its duty to stop the US from committing “shameful acts” in the treatment of suspects detained during the war on terror, one of America’s most respected intellectuals warns today.

In an interview with The Independent, Professor Noam Chomsky calls on the Government to use its special relationship with Washington America to secure the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

Claiming that he has heard only “twitters of protest” in the UK , the emeritus professor of linguistics also asks British “thinkers” to be more conspicuous in their opposition to the erosion of civil rights since the 9.11 attacks on the US.

In the wake of the invasion of Iraq, Prof Chomsky, a leading opponent of the Vietnam conflict, has been the most prominent among US intellectuals critical of the war with the Iraq and the treatment of terror suspects sent to Guantanamo Bay and other prison camps around the world.

Professor Chomsky’s comments now call into question Britain’s political and intellectual will to stand up for the rule of law in the face of actions that have been repeatedly condemned by courts on both sides of the Atlantic.

While a small number of British writers, artists and philosophers continue to voice their concerns about UK involvement in America’s rendition programme and its refusal to close Guantanamo Bay, a concerted opposition among the so called liberal intelligentsia has failed to materialise.

“A country,” says Prof Chomsky, “with any shred of self-respect will be vigilant to ensure that it does not take part in this criminal savagery. Because of the “special relationship,” Britain has a particularly strong responsibility to bar these shameful crimes in any way it can. [And] In whatever respect the relationship is “special”, the UK can use it to bar these shameful crimes.”

Asked whether Britain should be doing more to seek the closure of the Guantanamo Bay, Professor Chomsky answered: “Definitely. I’ve seen only twitters of protest.”

Noam Chomsky has been a fearless critic of US foreign policy since the 1960s when he became one of the leading opponents of the Vietnam War with the publication of his essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” in 1967. And his reputation as an outspoken American dissident has made him many enemies in his own country where he requires police protection.

Professor Chomsky believes that the case against Guantanamo needs to be made more forcefully.

“We hardly needed evidence (although there is more than enough) that Gitmo was going to be a torture chamber,” says Prof Chomsky. “Otherwise, why not place “enemy combatants” in a prison in New York? The security argument is not serious. Taking a step back, does the US have the right to hold these prisoners at all? Hardly obvious. In brief, there are plenty of grounds for protest (and action), at varying levels of depth.”

His comments have met with broad support from those who have been campaigning for the British government to take a more critical position in its relationship with the Bush administration.

Clive Stafford Smith, the lawyer representing British Guantanamo detainee, Binyam Mohamed, said: “Professor Chomsky is right. To borrow from President Clinton, the world is much more impressed by the power of America’s example than the example of American power. Likewise, the world is more impressed by British principle than the pretense of Britain’s special relationship. A true friend to American would not stand by while President Bush squanders America’s birthright.”

Andrew Tyrie MP, chairman of the all party parliamentary group on rendition, said: “The UK Government’s reaction to the US programme of rendition: a policy of kidnapping people and taking them to places where they may be tortured, has been inadequate, to say the least. It is scarcely credible that now, despite all we know about rendition and the UK’s involvement in it, the British Government still refuses to condemn this illegal, immoral, and counterproductive policy.”

He adds: “As an Atlanticist, I believe that a strong transatlantic alliance is an essential part of combating dangerous extremism. But this does not mean turning a blind eye or, as the High Court recently found in the case of Binyam Mohamed, facilitating America’s deeply damaging rendition programme. We cannot afford to undermine the values we are seeking to export. The UK must use its influence to convince the United States that rendition does precisely this.”

But Peter Hitchens, political commentator and author, argues that many of the so called liberal intelligentsia, who might have been expected to oppose the Iraqi war and other US policies, have placed too much faith in a Labour government: “I think perhaps Chomsky has been looking in the wrong place. The Mail on Sunday and I have certainly been trenchant in our criticism of some this – the war in Iraq and Guantanamo. For example, we were one of the first to run pictures of the orange jumpsuits alongside stories about Guantanamo.”

Mr Hitchens says Prof Chomsky is right in the sense that many of the writers on left have either supported the war or made no protest.

“In some respects there has been a failure of the modern left, where traditional leftwing writers have been supporting the ‘war on terror’ as some sort of liberal crusade. That is partly because of the Labour government which made the left believe they have had friends in office. Chomsky needs to look in other places if he wants to find voices of criticism.”

Professor Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technolog, says that the US must now hand Guantanamo Bay back to Cuba.

“The region was taken by a ‘treaty’ that Cuba was forced to sign under military occupation. The US has been violating the terms of this outrageous treaty for decades – e.g., using it for holding Haitians who were illegally captured when they were feeling terror in Haiti (for which the US bore ample responsibility). Current use also radically violates the terms of the outrageous treaty. ”

Rise of a libertarian socialist

Noam Chomsky, 79, rose to prominence in the field of linguistics during the 1950s by positing new theories on the structures of language. His naturalistic approach to the study of linguistics deeply influenced thinking in both psychology and philosophy. But it was his strident opposition to the Vietnam War which brought him to the attention of a wider American public.

Through his adherence to libertarian socialism he became a cheerleader for the dissident left in opposition to many aspects of US foreign policy. Later he described his belief as “the proper and natural extension of classical liberalism into the era of advanced industrial society”.

Professor Chomsky, who lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq and the “war on terror”. In 2005 he was voted the leading living public intellectual in the Global Intellectuals Poll run by the magazine Prospect. His characteristic reaction to the news of his achievement was: “I don’t pay a lot of attention to polls.”

Johann Hari: The parasite that reveals good news from Africa – Johann Hari, Commentators – The Independent

The Parasite That Reveals Good News From Africa

by Johann Hari

And now for the great news – from Africa. Yes, I know that seems like a perverse opener, with Robert Mugabe perpetuating his oozing Alzheimocracy, a looming famine in Ethiopia, and international peacekeepers failing to prevent genocidal massacres in Darfur. The cynics who jeer that Africa is a black hole for help feel they have the wind of no change at their back. But some time next year – or soon after – a beautiful moment in the history of humanity will come to pass on the Western shores of Africa. An excruciatingly painful disease that has stalked humans for millennia will end – forever.

The story of how this came to pass begins just 20 years ago, in a tiny village in Ghana. The former US President Jimmy Carter stumbled across a crying woman who appeared to be cradling a baby to her right breast. He stepped forward to talk to her – but he reeled back when he realised a 3ft-long worm was inching its way out of her nipple, at the centre of an engorged, purpling breast. It was one of 11 guinea worms taking a month or more to crawl out of the young woman’s body that summer. One was burrowing out from her vagina. The woman couldn’t speak; she could only howl.

She was living through a guinea worm infestation. One survivor, Hyacinth Igelle, says: “The pain is like if you stab somebody. It is like fire. You feel it even in your heart.” After seeing some victims, the journalist Nicholas Kristof called it “torture by worms”. The worm’s head causes a blister that often develops deadly tetanus; if the victims survive, they can starve because they have not been able to farm their fields for months. Many scholars now believe that when the Old Testament Israelites were afflicted by “fiery serpents” in their flesh, they were meeting this worm for the first time.

When Jimmy Carter first encountered the disease, some 3.5 million people were riddled with guinea worm. Tens of millions of people had endured it from Europe to Asia; it was regarded as an intractable, eternal problem. The idea of eradicating it was mocked as “utopian”. But today, the number has been slashed by more than 99 per cent. Fewer than 10,000 people, in a few remaining pockets of Ghana and Sudan, still suffer – and soon, there will be no one at all.

This achievement is all the more startling when you realise there is no vaccination or cure for the disease. Guinea worm eggs are carried on the backs of a tiny water-flea, and glugged down by humans with their drinking water. The eggs hatch in your abdomen, growing over a year to 3ft long – and then they begin to dig their way out. They can choose any point of your body to emerge from: your eyeball, your penis, your feet, destroying as they go. As they do, they spew millions more eggs into any water they come into contact with. Once the worm is within you, the only help doctors can offer is to wait until it bursts out and wrap the worm’s head round a stick to try to very gently tug it out a little faster.

But you can stop people contracting the parasite in the first place – and Carter has, on a massive scale. The practices are startlingly simple: the distribution of egg-catching water filters that cost around 60 pence each, and mass education about why they matter. But it took a vast effort to get them in place, including brokering a “guinea worm ceasefire” to the Sudanese civil war that allowed aid workers free access. So Carter raised $225m (£123m) from governments and private donors, and used it to drive the worms off the earth, one village at a time. At 84, he is determined to outlive the last of these little parasites.

This Carter-led programme is sending guinea worm to the mourner-free graveyard of eradicated diseases, along with smallpox and (soon) polio. But it doesn’t end there. In a cynicism-drugged age, it is a reminder of what we can do, if we have the determination.

Our governments are very good at building weapons of mass destruction – but for a fraction of the cash they could unleash weapons of mass salvation, eradicating disease after disease. This programme should flush away the glib cynicism about aid to Africa along with the worm-eggs. It proves money from outside, if used intelligently, can massively improve the lives of ordinary Africans. Indeed, it can achieve goals that seemed at the start like utopian fantasies; it can reverse the curses of millennia.

One day soon, the last guinea worm will burrow out of its last victim. I want to take all those shallow, callow contrarians who say aid to Africa is worthless to witness that moment – and see if they still shrug quite so casually.

–Johann Hari

Global Poverty Figures Revised Upward | CommonDreams.org

Global Poverty Figures Revised Upward

by Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK – A new study released by the World Bank this week has raised concerns among humanitarian workers worldwide as more people are now believed to be living in impoverished conditions than previously thought.

[Anna, a five-year old Zambian girl, works at the family stone-smashing business on the outskirts of Lusaka. A "toxic combination" of poverty and social injustice is killing people on a grand scale, a World Health Organisation report has warned, urging states to fund healthcare to cut inequalities. (AFP/File/Alexander Joe)]Anna, a five-year old Zambian girl, works at the family stone-smashing business on the outskirts of Lusaka. A “toxic combination” of poverty and social injustice is killing people on a grand scale, a World Health Organisation report has warned, urging states to fund healthcare to cut inequalities. (AFP/File/Alexander Joe)

Despite significant levels of economic achievements made in the past 25 years, well over 1 billion people in the developing world remain as poor as ever, according to the study entitled: “The developing world is poorer than we thought but no less successful in the fight against poverty.”Revisions of estimates of poverty since 1981 revealed that 1.4 billion people (one in four) in the developing world were living on less than $1.25 a day in 2005, down from 1.9 billion (one in two) in 1981, said the study’s authors Martin Ravallion and Shaohua Chen.

Until now, poverty estimates were based on the (then) best available cost of living data from 1993. The old data indicated that about 985 million people were living below the former international $1-a-day poverty line in 2004, and about 1.5 billion had been living below that line in 1981.

The new estimates continue to assess world poverty by the standards of the poorest countries. The new line of $1.25 for 2005, according to Ravallion and Chen, is the average national poverty line for the poorest 10-20 countries.

“The new estimates are a major advance in poverty measurement because they are based on far better price data for assuring that the poverty lines are comparable across countries,” said Ravallion, director of development research at the Bank.

The study’s release led to a flurry of calls for increased global actions to fight poverty from some of the world’s leading international aid organization and anti-poverty groups.

“This is a pretty grim analysis coming from the World Bank,” said Elizabeth Stuart, senior policy advisor at Oxfam International. “Although the overall number of people living under the poverty line has come down, you still have a quarter of the developing world living on less than $2 a day.”

Stuart also voiced concern about the negative impact of the recent increase in food prices on worldwide efforts to fight poverty, which, she thinks, will leave half a billion more people living in miserable conditions.

“The urgency to act has never been greater; the clock is ticking,” she said, “especially in sub-Saharan Africa where half the population of the continent lives in extreme poverty, a figure that hasn’t changed for over 25 years.”

According to ActionAid, an independent group fighting against poverty worldwide, much of the sub-Saharan region is now “reaching a tipping point” with increasing numbers of people unable to cope as food prices rise. Its analysts say Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Djibouti remain extremely affected by poverty.

“If nothing is done, the situation could easily become catastrophic,” the group warned in a statement. In Ethiopia, the government estimates that 4.6 million people need emergency food aid. Less documented is the disastrous food crisis in Kenya, with 1.2 million people already affected and numbers rising daily.

In their reflections on the study’s results, the World Bank officials and researchers seemed optimistic about the possibility of bringing down the numbers of people living in extreme poverty by the year 2015.

“The new data confirm that the world will likely reach the first Millennium Development Goal of halving the 1990 level of poverty by 2015 and that poverty has fallen by about one percentage point a year since 1981,” said Justin Lin, chief economist at the Bank.

“However,” he added in a statement, “the sobering news that poverty is more pervasive than we thought means we must redouble our efforts, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The new data show that marked regional differences in progress against poverty persist. Poverty in East Asia has fallen from nearly 80 percent of the population living below $1.25 a day in 1981 to just 18 percent in 2005.

However, the study also shows that the poverty rate in Sub-Saharan Africa remains at 50 percent in 2005 — no lower than in 1981, although with more encouraging recent signs of progress.

Driven by concerns over the persistent extent of poverty worldwide, groups like Oxfam and ActionAid are trying to turn up the heat on the international community to take immediate and urgent steps to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

“All eyes will now turn to the special UN event looking at the global poverty goals in New York next month,” said Oxfam’s Stuart. “Heads of state, business leaders, and others will need to do more than to deliver fine speeches and re-commit to act on tackling poverty.

“A clear plan of action is needed on how we will lift hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty,” she added in a statement.

Ads pushing Iran strike show Denver under missile attack from Boulder

Published: Friday August 29, 2008

A nonprofit lobbying organization aimed at strengthening Israel’s image in the media quietly ran ads during the Democratic National Convention in which Boulder, Colorado launches missile attacks on Denver, in an attempt to bolster support for Israeli action against Iran.

Today, The Israel Project released a survey showing that 63 percent of Americans support an Israeli “surgical” strike on Iran’s purported nuclear facilities, with 55 percent supporting America’s participation in such a strike. The poll, however, did not note the organization’s effort to lobby those being polled.

The Boulder attack ad shows a map of Denver being hit by flaming missiles, then an image of Israel being hit by the same weapons. It then displays an image of Iran, followed by ominous missile launches, a photograph of a man with a black hood over his face, Iran’s president, and a silhouetted traveler with a suitcase.

“The Time for World Leaders to Act Is Now,” it concludes.

The group is also running ads during the Republican National Convention tying US support for Israel to lessening America’s reliance on “Mid-East oil.”

Video of an Israeli man getting into a car runs next to an American boarding a similar vehicle. The frames follow with the line, “Developing Solar, Wind & Electric Car Technology.”

Both ads appear below. They are slated to run on cable news networks 1,300 times during the two conventions.

Israel remains the top recipient of US foreign aid. In February, President Bush requested Congress approve an aid budget of $20 billion, a 12 percent increase over 2007. Egypt is the second largest recipient, at about $1.5 billion. Israel has plowed US money into developing technology companies and buying US weapons, and has emerged as one of the fastest-growing players in the security and defense technology industry.

According to their website, “The Israel Project (TIP) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. that works to strengthen Israel’s image in the media. TIP is currently working in the United States, Europe and Israel.”

The poll cites “a growing concern in the US of the possibility that Iran would be able to possess actual nuclear capabilities: About 87% of those polled said a nuclear Iran will pose a threat to the US and 96% believe it would be of imminent threat to Israel,” YNet News writes.

90 percent of those surveyed by the project’s poll said Iran would sell its nuclear weapons if it obtained them.

62 percent, however, “said they believed the world can still find a “diplomatic solution which would make Iran halt its nuclear endeavors.”