17 August 2012

Ecuadorian asylum for Wikileaks Julian Assange

Ecuador on 16 August 2012 granted diplomatic asylum to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, currently an advisory board member. An Australian citizen who has never been in Ecuador, he sought refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on 19 June. That followed British court decisions approving his extradition to Sweden on charges of rape and sexual assault against two women.

British government does not recognize the validity of diplomatic asylum, and will not in any circumstances permit safe passage of Assange to Ecuador or anywhere else for that matter. For the time being talks continue with the Ecuadorian government, but there has been mention that domestic law* permits the suspension of diplomatic immunity of an embassy in a specific situation of national interest. Should that occur police would forcibly enter the building and arrest the individual to be deported.

 Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act (1987)

Of course,  the international repercussions of such an unusual action would be hard to anticipate.

In the background is the possibility that the United States might request Assange's extradition from Sweden to face charges relating to the publication by Wikileaks in 2010 of a vast number of classified U.S. diplomatic cables and military documents relating to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts. Judged authentic, some were subsequently published in the New York Times and The Guardian.

In the United States Pfc. Bradley Manning, U.S. Army, intelligence analyst who passed on documents to Wikileaks, was arrested in May 2011 on 22 charges, including aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defence information, and theft of public property or records. He has been imprisoned at Fort Meade, MD and Fort Leavenworth, KS, at times under harsh conditions, and is not facing court martial until February 2013.

Aghanistan: green-on-blue shootings

Infiltration or bad blood? 

Reasons for Afghan forces' attacks on allies offer little comfort

17 AUGUST 2012 5:02 PM
[Montreal Gazette]

KABUL - The U.S. military trainers handed the new recruit, Mohammad Ismail, his AK-47 to defend his remote Afghan village. He turned around and immediately used it, spraying the Americans with bullets and killing two — the latest of nine U.S. service personnel gunned down in two weeks by their supposed Afghan allies.

The shooting in western Farah province was not the only such attack Friday. Hours later a few provinces away in Kandahar, an Afghan soldier wounded two more coalition troopers.

One turncoat attack per month raised eyebrows last year. One per week caused concern earlier this year. But when Afghan forces turn their guns on international trainers twice in a day — as they now have two weeks in a row — it's hard to argue there's not something going on. The question is, what is it?

The U.S.-led alliance says it's too soon to tell what's behind the rash of insider attacks. The most likely explanations: Either the Taliban are increasingly infiltrating the Afghan police and army, or relations between Afghan and American forces are turning toxic — or both.

"There's no positive spin on this," said Andrew Exum, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security who has advised the top U.S. generals in Kabul. He said the number of Afghan insider attacks has risen beyond what can be explained as isolated incidents.

That's bad news for the U.S. exit strategy for Afghanistan, which has seen Washington spend more than $20 billion on training and equipping a nearly 340,000-member Afghan security force on the assumption that it would eventually be strong enough to fight the Taliban on its own.

The coalition has downplayed the insider attacks as anomalies and mostly a result of personal grievances, even as their numbers soared from 11 last year to 29 so far in 2012. The alliance says only about 10 per cent of the attacks were related to infiltration by the Taliban insurgency. But that analysis was done before the latest furious spate of seven attacks in 11 days, a frequency that suggests some type of co-ordination.

"Whether or not these specific events turn out to be insurgent-initiated ... we're just going to have to do the investigations and figure that out," said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.

Some historians are hard-pressed to find precedent for this in previous wars.

"I have never heard of anything in Vietnam comparable to what we have recently experienced in Afghanistan," said James McAllister, a political science professor at Williams College in Massachusetts who has written extensively about the Vietnam War. A British military expert on colonial wars, Martin Windrow, said the level of these types of attacks were "almost unheard of" in any conflict he'd studied.

Exum said the insider attacks have "tremendous strategic impact" because they damage morale among international troops and further weaken support for the war in the U.S. and other NATO nations training Afghan soldiers and police to take over security nationwide by 2014.

What's unclear, he added, is how much influence the Taliban actually have in organizing the increasing numbers of attacks.

The insurgents have been happy to take credit. The Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, boasted Thursday that the insurgents "have cleverly infiltrated into the ranks of the enemy" and were killing a rising number of U.S.-led coalition forces.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told The Associated Press in an interview this week that the attacks may reflect the Taliban's use of unconventional tactics against a coalition force it cannot defeat on the battlefield. He added that U.S. military commanders say such attacks still remain "sporadic" and not a long-term trend.

Friday's deadly shooting in Farah, at least by the accounts of local Afghan officials, seemed unlikely to be a personal dispute. Mohammad Ismail, a man in his 30s, had joined the Afghan Local Police just five days earlier. He opened fire during an inauguration ceremony attended by American and Afghan forces in Kinisk village, Farah provincial police chief Agha Noor Kemtoz said.

"As soon as they gave the weapon to Ismail to begin training, he took the gun and opened fire toward the U.S. soldiers," Kemtoz said. The police chief added that he had warned U.S. forces organizing and training the community not to move too fast to recruit in the village, which he said is heavily influenced by the Taliban.

Afghan military analyst Amrullah Amman has no doubt that Taliban infiltration of Afghan security forces is rising. He said that despite new methods of screening, it's simple to forge documents and invent references in Afghanistan.

"The gate is wide open. The enemy is infiltrating because they see it's very easy," Amman said.

But the turncoat attacks may also reflect growing mistrust and resentment among Afghans working with international forces.

Afghan soldiers interviewed by the AP earlier this year offered their own explanations: The Afghans feel disrespected, the soldiers said. They complained of getting inferior equipment and condescending treatment by Americans.

In May 2011, a U.S. Army team led by a behavioural scientist compiled a survey that indicated many Afghan security personnel found U.S. troops "extremely arrogant, bullying and unwilling to listen to their advice."

"I think infiltration is easier to address, actually," Exum said. "I think the worse thing is, if your entire strategy going forward from the next three or four years depends on partnering with Afghan forces, then if relations have already devolved to this degree, you're really worried."


Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul and Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

Similar incidents have occurred with British and other NATO forces training Afghan police and military personnel.

[New York Times, 21 August 2012]:
KABUL — General Martin Dempsey, chairman of [U.S.] Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Afghanistan on Monday [21 August 2012] for discussions on the progress of the war, including an intensified wave of insider attacks by Afghan forces on NATO service members, even as New Zealand became the latest coalition partner to announce an accelerated troop withdrawal.

Pussy Riot

On 21 February 2012 three members of the punk band and radical feminist collective Pussy Riot pulled a flash stunt in the sanctuary of Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour singing a song entitled "Holy Shit" and chanting "Virgin Mary, Mother of God, send Putin packing". Consequently the incident was posted by the group on YouTube.

Kyrill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, had impicitly been supporting the candidacy of Vladimir Putin for the presidency, and many priests had been doing so openly. Putin was elected President of the Russian Federation three days after the incident.

The three women were arrested on 3 March charged with hooliganism and held in custody at times under harsh conditions. They are: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30. Two are mothers of young children. Mme Tolokonnikova holds a valid Canadian residency card; her husband is a dual Russian-Canadian citizen, educated in Canada.

On 17 August 2012 Judge Marina Syrova in Khamovnichesky District Court of Central Moscow found them guilty of the charge, aggravated by blasphemy offensive to the Orthodox Church. Prosecution had called for a sentence of three years. The judge sentenced them to two years of labour camp less time served.

Statement of Nadezhda Tolokonnikova [New York Times, 17 August 2012]:
To my deepest regret, this mock trial is close to the standards of the Stalinist troikas. Who is to blame for the performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and for our being put on trial after the concert? The authoritarian political system is to blame. What Pussy Riot does is oppositional art or politics. In any event, it is a form of civil action in circumstances where basic human rights, civil and political freedoms are suppressed.

Troikas were commissions of three NKVD (secret police) officers who summarily tried millions of political prisoners in the USSR.

The sentence was appealed on 28 August 2012. Defence counsel was not optimistic. The appeal will be heard 10 October 2010.

International reaction of many governments and press has been highly critical of a trial worthy of the Inquisition, most calling the sentence disproportional. Le Monde [18 August 2012] notes the difficulty of the defence to get access to all the elements of the trial, and the fact that blasphemy is not a crime mentioned in the criminal code:  
Avec ce verdict, le troisième mandat de Vladimir Poutine bascule dans le ridicule. Plus que jamais, l'appareil judiciaire russe vient de se déconsidérer, bafouant les droits de la défense – les avocats n'ont pas vraiment eu accès au dossier d'accusation –  ainsi que le code pénal – le blasphème n'y figure pas. Sans parler de la Constitution, qui fait de la Fédération russe, multiethnique et multiconfessionnelle, un Etat laïc.

A government spokesman ridiculed public hysteria surrounding the case, saying that the law functioned impartially without interference. It was reported that authorities were meanwhile looking to identify two other participants of Pussy Riot who took part on 21 February.
[El País, 20 August 2012]  The two, however, were reported to have probably fled the country. About a dozen other members of the collective remain active in Russia.
 [reports 26 August 2012.]

For three hours on Tuesday, 21 August 2012, hackers apparently of Anonymous collective got into the web site of the Moscow district court where Pussy Riot were tried. One of  PR songs was embedded along with one by a Bulgarian supporter. A headline read: Putin's thieving gang is robbing our country! Wake up, comrades! 
[NYT, 21 August 2012]

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova replied in writing from prison via her lawyer to numerous questions from Der Spiegel about the meaning of the protest. See issue 36 (3 September 2012). The movement is described as anti-authoritarian, feminist, and anti-capitalist, artists with a political and social agenda of whom there have been many in Russian history.

Pussy Riot were awarded a LennonOno grant for peace in New York, and there was a fund raising event there this week. [21 September 2012]

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedyev was quoted to believe the two-year sentence was excessive, while in no way condoning the offensive actions of the group.
Medvedev also said that he believes a suspended sentence, including the six-plus months the women have already served, would have been enough. "Prolonging their time in prison in connection to this case seems unproductive," he said. Still, Medvedev said he was "sickened" by the group's acts and the "hysteria" they caused. [Rolling Stone, 12 September 2012]

With Pussy Riot now one of the best-known symbols of the Russian political opposition, any development in their case attracts enormous attention and mobilization efforts. Security was tightened around the courthouse [for first appeal session on 1 October 2012]  as defenders of the Russian Orthodox Church chanted hymns and engaged in public prayer. Meanwhile, supporters of Pussy Riot brought an inflatable doll to the courthouse wearing a balaclava. Several people were arrested, including members of a Ukrainian male dance group called Kazaky [Cossacks], who appeared in support of Pussy Riot[NYT, 1 October 2012]

04 August 2012

Anticipated election in Quebec

At the moment Quebec is the most indebted Canadian province, with the highest unemployment rate, and most unpopular government in the country. Premier Charest has called an early election, uncharacteristically in the summer, perhaps to throw opponents somewhat off guard, and to tap into a silent majority upset by the recklessness and occasional street violence of students and Black Bloc opportunists.

In an earlier blog I noted:
A provincial election has been called in Quebec for 4 September 2012. “In the last few months we’ve heard a lot from a number of student leaders," said Premier Jean Charest. "We’ve heard from people in the street. We’ve heard from those who have been hitting away at pots and pans. Now is the time for the silent majority.”
 [in Quebec City, 1 August 2012, after the electoral writ was signed by the Lieutenant-Governor]

Parti Québécois immediately announced, if elected, it would cancel increases in student tuition and scrap the exceptional law of 18 May 2012. Léo Bureau-Blouin is running as candidate in Laval des Rapides; he is past president of Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ). They would like students to stay off the streets for now and concentrate on gathering votes for their party. But Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, still spokesman for CLASSE, the largest student group, made clear that public militancy was going to continue.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois suddenly resigned his function with CLASSE, and is not planning any political activity. There have been many comments about his charisma and intelligence. Could he be returning to studies? [8 August 2012]

He actually quietly began to work as a researcher for large trade union Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) which strongly supported the student action. [17 September 2012]

le beau Gabriel

I have searched but cannot find the text of the decree dissolving the National Assembly and ordering the general election in Quebec, only the following announcement from the Director General of Elections:  
En vertu d'un décret du gouvernement du Québec, le directeur général des élections, doit tenir des élections générales au Québec, le 4 septembre prochain.

[at web site of the provincial legislature:]
Le 1er août 2012, le lieutenant-gouverneur a proclamé la dissolution de l’Assemblée nationale. Par conséquent, les élections générales auront lieu le mardi 4 septembre 2012.  La dissolution de l’Assemblée a mis fin à la 39législature.
Au moment de la dissolution, la composition de l'Assemblée était la suivante :
  • Parti libéral du Québec (chef : Jean Charest) : 64 députés
  • Parti québécois (chef : Pauline Marois) : 47 députés
  • Députés indépendants :
    • Coalition avenir Québec : 9 députés
    • Option nationale : 1 député
    • Québec solidaire : 1 député
    • Autres : 2 députés
  • Circonscription vacante : 1 (Bourassa-Sauvé)

Pauline Marois (PQ) is strangely sounding off about the Queen and the monarchy! Is this in any way relevant to the provincial election? Too bad we can't hit her for treason and lèse majésté.