Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Press Will Never Be Free, the Danger of Christmas

Maureen Dowd
Dana Milbank
Gordon Brown

"Is there one Arab dissident group that is not accused now of links with Al-Qa`idah? And while you are at it, answer this: during the Cold War, has there been an Arab dissident group that was not accused of links to communism?" - The Angry Arab

Onr of the big headlines is that Guantanamo prison won't be ready to close until 2011, citing the fact that the Illinois prison that is being bought to house the remaining prisoners won't be ready until then. In the meantime, political prisoners are being sent to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and to secret "black" sites in friendly countries. One such country, Lithuania, says that its security service agreed with the CIA to set up two detention centers in its country without informing its civilian government: "...  the country was the site of two small secret prisons, though it did not indicate how they were used.

The report was based on testimony from politicians and national security officials. It was initiated after ABC News described Lithuania’s role in hosting so-called black sites, and other questions were raised about its activities in the fight against terrorism. Arvydas Anusauskas, chairman of the national security committee, said state security officials “received requests from the C.I.A. to establish detention facilities.”
He said it was not clear who was housed in the facilities because five planes that apparently transported people to Lithuania were never inspected by civilian officials."

ABC News had embarrassed the country when it made accusations on it harboring the secret prisons, and the government denied any such claims. Then, it launched an investigation and found out the awful truth. To their credit, instead of trying to hide it, the Prime Minister had the intelligence chief resign and he issued the investigative report. In a statement, the Prime Minister said: “Lithuania is a strategic United States ally, and cooperation in many fields, including secret operations and counterterrorism, is very important.” But he said it was “deeply worrying” that security officials established the prisons without oversight from senior civilian officials.

The value of the press at ferreting out secrets, backdoor agreements, and telling the world what is going on is an important task, but it can also land you in jail or cost you your life. Most dangerous when you are a critic of a strongman or repressive regime. Journalists were arrested in Iran and put on mock trial and sentenced to prison for doing their jobs. A critic of Russia's Prime Minister Vladimer Putin was poisoned with a radioactive substance, causing a painful, horrible death.

Another President, in Kyrgyzstan is being accused of ordering the death of a critical journalist: "The journalist, Gennadi Pavlyuk, was on a business trip in Almaty, the commercial capital of neighboring Kazakhstan, when he was attacked on Dec. 16, the authorities said. He was in a coma before dying of severe trauma on Tuesday. His colleagues said he was 40 years old, with a wife and son.

Opposition politicians in Kyrgyzstan blamed the Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, for the killing, saying that he was escalating his efforts to eliminate dissent in the country."

Seems that the killing of journalists is pretty common, and the preferred method is to wait until they are out of the country and then kill them: “This is not the first time that this has happened abroad to a member of the opposition. We believe that this was a political killing directed at intimidating the news media. It is an attempt at frightening society.”

For his part, the Kyrgyz President poo-poohs any malicious rumors: "In an interview in July at the presidential residence, Mr. Bakiyev suggested that journalists who had been attacked might have been involved in shady dealings or were perhaps just unlucky.

“Sometimes, things happen by chance,” Mr. Bakiyev said. “For it to have been purposeful from a political point of view, that sort of politics doesn’t exist here.”

Not every journalist can be saved by having Bill Clinton come and get them. Sometimes they can escape from places like being held by the Taliban, but more often they have to be patient and maybe they will be set free, like the lone journalist that was held at Guantanamo: "The journalist, Sami al-Hajj, was working for Al Jazeera as a cameraman when he was stopped by Pakistani forces on the border with Afghanistan in late 2001. The United States military accused Mr. Hajj of, among other things, falsifying documents and delivering money to Chechen rebels, although he was never charged with a crime during his years in custody.

Now, more than a year after his release, Mr. Hajj, a 40-year-old native of Sudan, is back at work at the Arabic satellite news network, leading a new desk devoted to human rights and public liberties. The captive has become the correspondent"

Like most of the prisoners at Guantanamo, and all of the ones currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, he was never charged with any crime: “First, he was alleged to have filmed an interview of Osama bin Laden. It was another cameraman. So, that allegation disappeared. Then the U.S. said Sami ran a jihadist Web site. Turns out, there was no such site. So that allegation disappeared. Then, the U.S. said Sami was in Afghanistan to arrange missile sales to Chechen rebels. There was no evidence to back that up at all. So that allegation disappeared.”

Still suffering from a beating he received, he was released on a stretcher and flown back to his native Sudan. He is now working for al Jazeera, which is turning out to be fairly credible news source for the region. All of our major politicians and military generals have given interviews with al Jazeera over the years, and I use it when I want to find an alternative point of view or some local quotes on events in the Middle East: "He said that, despite his upbringing in a violent and often repressive country and his experience in detention, he maintained a sustaining belief in democracy and the rule of law.

Terry Anderson, an Associated Press correspondent who was detained in Lebanon from 1985 to 1991 by Islamic fundamentalists, said he could understand Mr. Hajj’s chosen assignment.

“In prison, what do you do? You think about your life. You think about what you were doing, and how it led you here,” Mr. Anderson said.

merry christmas, if you dare...
Here in the Us the biggest debate we have at Christmastime is if it's more politically correct to wish someone Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas when you send them a card. Or if a public tree should have angels and stars as ornaments or something else more non-denominational. But these arguments pale in comparison to the dilemma facing Christians in Iraq this year: celebrating Christmas could mean their death: "At churches in Baghdad this week, Christians are being asked for identification to determine if they have names that security force members recognize as Christian. Some churches around the northern city of Mosul are digging in, surrounding their buildings with giant earthen berms to prevent car bombers from getting too close.

For Christians in Iraq, this will be a year of canceled holiday celebrations and of Christmas Masses spent under the protective watch of police officers and soldiers because of a spate of threats by extremist groups to bomb churches on Christmas Day.

“I’m very sad that we are not able to have our rituals for Christmas this year and not have a sermon, but we do not want any Christians to be harmed,”

The Christian community in Iraq was small before the US invasion, and since then many have been subjected to beatings and kidnappings. The US military chose not to protect them, along with many other smaller religious sects whom are equally in danger from threats this year from extremists. I think I will give thanks to my health this year and the safety of my family, and pray for those in harm's way. I really, really don't want to read about bombings and killings over the next few days...

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