As we noted yesterday, rulers in Uzbekistan and Belarus are worried that Bush is preparing a regime change offensive against them, encouraging dissidents to launch protest campaigns. Now it looks like the strategy is being applied in Cuba too. BBC reports May 20 that the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society in Cuba held a public meeting of 200 Cuban dissidents in a private orchard in Havana in defiance of a ban on political opposition. At the meeting, U.S. diplomat in Cuba James Cason played a video message from President Bush. Praising the dissidents for coming out of the "shadow of repression," Bush said: "We will not rest. We will keep the pressure on until the Cuban people enjoy the same freedom in Havana that they have in America."
The Pentagon is claiming to be very upset about the photos of a captive Saddam Hussein in his skivvies which grace the covers of today's NY Post and UK Sun, both owned by right-wing media magnate Rupert Murdoch. The tabloids claimed they had obtained the photos from "US military sources," who allegedly acted "in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq." The all-in-good-fun attitude is not shared in the Arab world. The Saudi-based Arab News wrote that the photos have "reignited the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal."
But the Pentagon, for its part, claims not to be amused either. "These photos were taken in clear violation of Department of Defense directives and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals," a military statement issued in Iraq said, promising an investigation. "The source of these photos is unknown at this time. It is believed the photos were taken a year ago." (NYT, May 20) Those in the habit of reading the Post over coffee and a donut in the morning will have reasons of their own to wish The Rupe had spared His Badness this particular indignity.
The May 19 Jerusalem Post reports that the Palestinian Authority pulled a link to the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," the notorious 19th-century anti-Semitic forgery, from one of its Web sites. The link reportedly appeared on the site of the PA's State Information Service in a list of historical sources about Zionism. The removal of the link came after protests from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to the PA. The story also noted that PA Information Minister Nabil Sha'ath said that he had ordered the suspension of Sheik Ibrahim Mdaires, a Gaza Strip imam who told his congregation last week that "Jews are a virus resembling AIDS." Mdaires, whose statements were carried live on Palestine Television, also said Jews exaggerated the number of people killed in the Holocaust.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who leads a Moscow-aligned Soviet-nostalgist authoritarian regime, has got to be concerned about the recent unrest in Uzbekistan--especially coming on the heels of regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past year-and-a-half. However oppressive the situation in post-Soviet despotisms, it is clear Washington is seeking to exploit the situation to expand U.S. influence in the post-Soviet sphere, just as in the Arab world. (Of course this, in turn, allows the despots to potray all opposition as "American agents.")
The New York Times reported yesterday that Kuwait, at long last, has granted full political rights to its women citizens. Better late than never, eh? An interesting irony that during Operation Desert Storm women had the vote (for what it was worth, which was admittedly very little) in Iraq but not Kuwait...
Luis Posada Carriles, the Cuban exile and accused terrorist who re-entered the U.S. to file an asylum claim, has been arrested by immigration authorities and is being held at a Florida facility run by the Homeland Security Department's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was arrested a private home in the Miami area hours after he held what the NY Times called a "furtive press conference" in which he denied involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner which left 73 dead. Venezuela is seeking his extradition to face charges in the 1976 case. The Times declined to attend the press conference because reporters would have to be driven to an undisclosed location by Posada's associates, and restrictions on what questions could be asked were imposed. (NYT, May 18)
Also May 17, over 1 million rallied in Havana for Posada's extradition, in what authorities billed as a "march against terrorism." Invited foreign guests also took part, including Daniel Ortega, general secretary of Nicaragua's Sandinista Liberation Front, and Giustino Di Celmo, father of Fabio Di Celmo, the Italian businessman who was murdered in 1997 when a bomb attributed to Posada's terror network exploded in a Havana hotel. (Granma, May 18)
There has been a second conviction in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal--once again of a low-ranking MP, Army Spc. Sabrina Harman. The media have made much of her conviction in a court martial at Fort Hood, TX, playing up quotes expressing her contrition and even humiliation. "As a soldier I failed in my duties and in my mission," Harman said (her voice cracking, as AP added). "Not only did I let down the people in Iraq, I let down every single soldier that serves today." (AP, May 17)
Seemingly forgotten are news accounts from a year earlier, when the scandal was just breaking, implying that Harman and her fellow MPs were following the lead of higher-ups in subjecting the prisoners at Abu Ghraib to torture and ritual humiliation. "They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time already hooded and cuffed," Harman wrote in an e-mail from Baghdad that was quoted in the Washington Post of May 8, 2004. "The job of the MP was to keep them awake, make it hell so they would talk."
The government and opposition protesters are sharply at odds in Uzbekistan days after the eastern city of Andijan exploded into violence. A May 15 AP report claimed some 500 bodies had been laid out in a school in Andijan for identification by relatives, "corroborating witness accounts of hundreds killed" when soldiers opened fire on street protests. Medical authorities also reported some 2,000 wounded in local hospitals. However, a May 18 account on Russia's MosNews.com quotes Uzbek officials denying this very death toll. “Not a single civilian was killed by government forces there," Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov said. According to him the overall death toll was 169 people, including 32 soldiers. Kadyrov claimed reports of 500 or even 700 dead are “deliberate attempts to deceive the international community." He assailed the protesters as "terrorists," "criminals" and "extremists."