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Monday, March 14, 2005

U.S. Says It Has Withdrawn From World Judicial Body

Prompted by an international tribunal's decision last year ordering new hearings for 51 Mexicans on death rows in the United States, the State Department said yesterday that the United States had withdrawn from the protocol that gave the tribunal jurisdiction to hear such disputes.

The withdrawal followed a Feb. 28 memorandum from President Bush to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales directing state courts to abide by the decision of the tribunal, the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The decision required American courts to grant "review and reconsideration" to claims that the inmates' cases had been hurt by the failure of local authorities to allow them to contact consular officials.

The memorandum, issued in connection with a case the United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear this month, puzzled state prosecutors, who said it seemed inconsistent with the administration's general hostility to international institutions and its support for the death penalty.

The withdrawal announced yesterday helps explains the administration's position.

Darla Jordan, a State Department spokeswoman, said the administration was troubled by foreign interference in the domestic capital justice system but intended to fulfill its obligations under international law.

But Ms. Jordan said, "We are protecting against future International Court of Justice judgments that might similarly interfere in ways we did not anticipate when we joined the optional protocol."

Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at the University of Georgia, said the withdrawal was unbecoming.

"It's a sore-loser kind of move," Professor Spiro said. "If we can't win, we're not going to play."

Ms. Jordan emphasized that the United States was not withdrawing from the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations itself, which gives people arrested abroad the right to contact their home countries' consulates. But the United States is withdrawing, she said, from an optional protocol that gives the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, jurisdiction to hear disputes under the convention.

"While roughly 160 countries belong to the consular convention," she said, "less than 30 percent of those countries belong to the optional protocol. By withdrawing from the protocol, the United States has joined the 70 percent of the countries that do not belong. For example, Brazil, Canada, Jordan, Russia and Spain do not belong."

Among the countries that have signed the protocol are Australia, Britain, Germany and Japan.

Ms. Jordan said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice informed Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, of the move on Monday.

Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School and a former State Department official in the Clinton administration, said the Bush administration's strategy was counterproductive.

"International adjudication is an important tool in a post-cold-war, post-9/11 world," Dean Koh said.

For 40 years, from 1946 to 1986, the United States accepted the general jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in all kinds of cases against other nations that had also agreed to the court's jurisdiction. After an unfavorable ruling from the court in 1986 over the mining of Nicaragua's harbors, the United States withdrew from the court's general jurisdiction.

But it continued to accept its jurisdiction under about 70 specific treaties, including the protocol withdrawn from on Monday, said Lori F. Damrosch, a law professor at Columbia. The other treaties cover subjects like navigation, terrorism, narcotics and copyrights, and they are unaffected.

The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case of José Ernesto Medellín, a Mexican on death row in Texas, on March 28. Mr. Medellín asks the court to enforce last year's judgment of the international tribunal. Texas opposes the request.

When the federal government filed its supporting brief for Texas in the case at the end of last month, it appended the memorandum from the president to the attorney general.

Before the administration's strategy came into focus, international law professors greeted the memorandum with amazement.

"This is a president who has been openly hostile to international law and international institutions knuckling under, and knuckling under where there are significant federalism concerns," Professor Spiro said.

As it turned out, Dean Koh said, the government had "an integrated strategy."

"Element 1," he continued, "was to take the bat out of the Supreme Court's hand."

Lawyers for Mr. Medellín reacted cautiously. In a motion filed in the Supreme Court yesterday, Donald F. Donovan, a lawyer with the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, asked the court to put off hearing argument until Texas state courts could consider Mr. Medellín's claim.

For their part, Texas prosecutors have not conceded that the president has the power to force courts there to reopen the Medellín case.

In a statement, Jerry Strickland, a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Abbott of Texas, questioned the president's authority.

"The State of Texas believes no international court supersedes the laws of Texas or the laws of the United States," Mr. Strickland said. "We respectfully believe the executive determination exceeds the constitutional bounds for federal authority."

Sandra Babcock, a Minnesota lawyer who represents the government of Mexico, said she had no doubt that the president was authorized to instruct state courts to reopen Mr. Medellín's case and 50 others.

"The law is on our side," Ms. Babcock said. "The president is on our side. I keep having to slap myself."

Adam Liptak
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Far From Democracy In The Gulf

Bahrain: The Royals Rule

President George Bush has hailed Bahrain’s progress towards democracy. Yet Bahrain’s emir proclaimed himself king three years ago, promulgated a constitution giving him full powers and has attacked the few remaining civil liberties. Arbitrary imprisonment is commonplace and one of the main human rights organisations has been closed.

THE police officer who took Abd al-Hadi al-Khawaja, vice-president and executive director of the Bahraini Centre for Human Rights (BHRC), into custody in the middle of the night, cautioned him with these words: “You have accused the prime minister of corruption. You are charged with fomenting hate of the regime and broadcasting misleading news. You are under arrest.” There was every likelihood he would spend several years behind bars.

The Bahraini police arrested Khawaja on 24 September 2004. Two days earlier, speaking at a symposium on poverty and economic rights, he had linked Bahrain’s bankrupt economy, increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, government corruption and the predicament of 80,000 people struggling to survive below the poverty line.

Five years ago things seemed quite promising. On 15 February 2001 the new emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, organised a referendum to approve a National Action Charter, which affirmed the political system’s democratic basis, the separation of powers and the supremacy of popular sovereignty. It seemed to mark the end of 25 years of oppression (1) in Bahrain, reputedly one of the Gulf’s worst dictatorships. Security forces had tortured adults and children with impunity, and had fired on unarmed demonstrators with live rounds.

Hundreds of intellectuals and executives had to go into exile. About 1% of the population was in prison; constitutional rights had been suspended since the dissolution of the first elected parliament in 1975.

In an apparent change of course, the new ruler discussed the spirit and terms of the charter with opposition parties. They accepted the monarchy and the hereditary dynasty in power, as well as its far-reaching executive powers. In exchange they obtained guarantees that genuine legislative democracy would be restored. The referendum proved an unexpected success, with 98.4% of the 198,000 voters endorsing the charter.

The purpose of this political opening was to start a virtuous circle in society and government, boosting confidence and foreign investment, give a new impulse to a stagnant service economy and reduce lower-and-middle-class unemployment (15% of the workforce). Restoring constitutional rights had two key aims: to restrict the concentration of wealth, in particular property, in the hands of the ruling caste; and to halt widespread corruption.

More than 200 years after invasion and conquest by the Khalifa family in 1783, many Bahrainis - 65%-70% of whom are Shia Muslims - still feel their country is occupied.

The excitement following the referendum coincided with the release of political prisoners, triumphant return of exiles, proclamation of an end to torture and repeal of the State Security Act (3). Then the government and opposition set about deciding how political parties would work within the limited framework of the 1973 constitution accepted by both sides.

Opposition movements were preparing to celebrate the first anniversary of the adoption of the charter when, on 14 February 2002, the emir proclaimed himself king. The next day, on opening their newspapers, they discovered he had promulgated a new constitution, which had been decided without prior consultation and came into force immediately.

There was no longer any social contract between the monarch and his sovereign people. The constitution set up a parliament, divided into an upper and lower chamber. The 40 members of the Council of Deputies (lower chamber) would be directly elected.

But the king would appoint the 40 members of the Shura Council (upper chamber), an advisory body originally set up in 1992. He would also name the prime minister and cabinet, members of the constitutional court and all judges.

If the two chambers disagreed, the Council of Deputies would not take precedence. In theory the king might require a two-thirds majority in parliament for a law to be passed, thwarting any attempt to introduce new legislation. Lest there be any doubt as to the seat of real power, the king can amend the constitution at will and pass laws by decree.

In the months after the constitutional coup, a series of royal decrees established the rules for future democratic process. They ranged from measures setting electoral boundaries to a ban on any examination by MPs of decisions by the previous government. One decree directly contradicted the UN convention against torture, ratified by Bahrain. It granted immunity from prosecution to police officers and members of the internal security forces who operated torture chambers from 1975 to 1999, and protected them from any applications for compensation by victims or their families (4).

The opposition denounced the award of Bahraini nationality and voting rights to an increasing number of foreigners, especially Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian and Pakistani judges, police officers and civil servants, and people from countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (5). It claimed that issuing tens of thousands of passports to grateful Sunnis might upset Bahrain’s sociological and demographic balance (6).

No one was surprised when the two main opposition movements - the National Accord Association (Shia) and the National Democratic Action Society (secular) - and two smaller groups - the Nationalist Democratic Rally and the Islamic Action Association - announced they would not field candidates for the general election in October 2002. They hoped to highlight the constitutional crisis and limit turnout at the election (7).

When two pension funds under government management went bankrupt in April 2003, an official inquiry was set up. The committee issued a report of its findings, recommending that parliament hear evidence from the three ministers directly concerned. To counter any risk of the personal implication of Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa (the king’s uncle, and prime minister since independence in 1971), the government donated $45m and several plots of land in the capital to the two funds. But not before the speaker of the Council of Deputies and prime ministerial protege, Khalifa al-Dharani, had asked fellow MPs not to rock the boat.

This was a barely veiled reference to the dissolution of the first national parliament after its refusal to pass the State Security Act (8). Nor did the authorities relax their control of political life, maintaining severe restrictions on press freedom and the right of assembly.

Under the circumstances the four main opposition movements had little choice but to react. Encouraged by assurances from sources close to the king, they organised a conference, on the symbolic date of 14 February 2004, to present the work of Arab and European constitutional experts contradicting the official line. The aim of the conference was to attract international attention and frame proposals for restoring dialogue with the regime, in the hope of finding a way out of the constitutional crisis.

But events took a different turn. Only a few hours before the conference was due to start, the authorities announced it had been banned. Members of the dreaded National Security Agency met foreign guests - European lawyers and academics, MPs and representatives of NGOs - at Manama airport and sent them straight home.

With the conference centre no longer available, the 300 Bahraini participants fell back on the Oruba Club, a favourite venue for civic and cultural events over the past 60 years. After two days of discussion they published a declaration that criticised the political deadlock that had gripped Bahrain for two years.

Since the arrest of Khawaja, disbanding of the BHRC, temporary closure of the Oruba, and resumption of arrests during protest demonstrations, the pace of political life in Bahrain has changed. On 21 November a court sentenced Khawaja, considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, to a year in prison. But he was released the same day, thanks to a royal pardon.

The GCC summit in Bahrain in December was a flop, shunned by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah. He was furious about a free-trade agreement with the US (9) and in no mood to receive a lesson from the Khalifa family on how to stay on good terms with Washington. In January the king confirmed the appointment of 10 members of the Khalifa family as ministers (including the prime minister) of the 21 member cabinet.

Then the court opposed the opposition’s traditional right of petition to the sovereign. Its refusal was understandable. The opposition had united and collected 70,000 signatures - a third of all registered voters - to demand that the constitutional law comply with the principles established in 1973.

Building on the success of this operation, the opposition organised a second constitutional conference, and announced it would boycott the next general election unless changes were made to the constitution and electoral boundaries. The government-sponsored press countered with accusations of systematic opposition and anarchy.

Under these conditions the only hope of restoring dialogue between the regime and the opposition is a new law on democratic rights, covering the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of association and the formation of political parties. Though political organisations are currently tolerated, they are denied the status of political parties.

Civil society hopes that the new law will strengthen individual and collective rights, but some people fear that the regime’s old guard will seize the opportunity to make a mockery of King Hamad’s democratic pretensions. No one really knows whether it is the king or his uncle, the prime minister, who has the final word.

With the end of the second Gulf war in 2003 and the worsening crisis in Iraq, the Bush administration proclaimed the strategic necessity of promoting democracy in the Arab world. This initiative, floated by the neo-conservatives, would pave the way for a peaceful Middle East on good terms with the US and Israel. The Arab principalities, sultanates and kingdoms of the Gulf had to stop allowing nepotism, tribalism and sectarian values to govern the allocation of property, investment and jobs in the public or private sector.

Bahrain, the neo-cons argued, would be an ideal test for democratic transformation, its elected bodies exerting almost no real power. Here was a chance for Washington to show what could be achieved.

However, there was no question of upsetting the traditional balance of power, which would risk opening the door to nationalists, communists or Islamic fundamentalists. Nor was there any question of embarrassing the royal family, which had obligingly turned Bahrain into a base for the US navy (10), air force and special forces. The US Army Central Command, now responsible for “shaping the Central Region for the 21st century” (11), is also based in Bahrain.

In September a report by the Defence Science Board (12) questioned this approach and said: “Today we reflexively compare Muslim ‘masses’ to those oppressed under Soviet rule. This is a strategic mistake . . . Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’ but rather, they hate our policies.”

The board argued that the challenge facing the US was not to put across the right message, but “a fundamental problem of credibility” in the eyes of Muslims. Every day in the media they could see that “American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering”.

It will be difficult to convince public opinion in the Middle East of the sincerity - and the realism - of the Bush administration’s plans to promote democracy, until it is seen to ask as much of its allies, particularly in the Gulf and Egypt, as it demands of Iraq or the Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps that is why the state department explained that talks between the former secretary of state Colin Powell and King Hamad on 29 November 2004 had stressed the importance of progressing with reforms and protecting individual freedom. If such were the case, it would mean the end of the road for Bahrain’s political old guard, worn out and discredited after three decades of oppression and failure.

Marc Pellas
Le Monde Diplomatique

33 Things You Should Know About the Middle East and America

Some Thoughts on the Middle East and America: 33 Things You Should Think About

What right has President Bush or Conde Rice to dictate to the Lebanese Government?

Why is it that the “demonstrators” in Beirut, Lebanon, had all their signs in English?

Have you considered that they were playing to the American TV audience? In fact, the “big crowds” the American media spoke about were less than 3000 people, but the cameras shot the crowed for maximum effect.

Did you realize that according to the VA, 1 in 6 troops coming back from Iraq need mental help from what they’ve seen and felt in Iraq?

Did these few thousand Falangists speak for all of Lebanon, or are they “for hire” street people mixed with some students who made up the “demonstrations?”

Who forced Karami to resign as PM? How much influence did America have in this situation and what business was it of Bush’s?

Did you realize the Falangists took their name from Franco’s Falangist/Fascists? The Gemeyal family, head of the falangists, had close ties to the dictator, Franco.

Did you realize that the suicide rate among our American troops in Iraq is now up 29% in the last two months? Health professionals in the continental US are alarmed, but the Pentagon refuses to take responsibility for these deaths.

Why is America so anxious to get Syria out of Lebanon? Is it so that both Lebanon and Syria will be vulnerable to one front attacks by Israel?

Have any of you considered that the oil pipeline the Israelis want opened between Baghdad and Israel runs through Syria and Lebanon? It does.

Why is America constantly doing the bidding of Israel—are we Israel? Why did America not stop aid to Israel when they found out that Israel was selling high tech American secrets to China? Why has America not stopped this by now? What has Israel done for America lately, other than selling its military secrets to the highest non-American bidder?

Are you aware that more of our military in Iraq have come home with stress disorders than any time in American history—even outdistancing the Viet Nam war? This according to therapists at Camp Pendleton.

Have any of you considered that Israel wants the oil, but also wants the water, electricity and hashish that is grown in the southern part of Lebanon?

Suppose Syria told us to get our troops out of Iraq, their neighbor—would we listen?

Who gave America permission to invade Iraq? Certainly not the UN, though Bush keeps claiming the UN gave him authority. If this continues, then we will have a dog eat dog world, with the UN losing all authority and only the strong will survive—and that means that in the near future China will overrun America or its power in the world or both.

Why should more Americans and Iraqis get killed, or get traumatized for life by Bush’s illegal and immoral war in Iraq?

Why is it that Bush, an AWOL chicken-hawk can sends so many of our troops to their death in Iraq, with no progress in sight. Even General Abizaid admitted last night, on the Newshour on PBS that the resistance in Iraq will go on for years, with no predictable end in sight? Would you like to go serve in Iraq? Would you like one of your loved ones to go serve in Iraq or Afghanistan?

Has Bush or the American troops brought more peace or more suffering to Iraq?

Is America bringing more stability to Lebanon, or is he, in league with the Falangists making more civil unrest, and possibly civil war, in Lebanon? You can see it coming, can’t you—just admit it. Most likely, if this continues, it will lead to civil war because the Muslims in Lebanon will not tolerate the Falangists taking over the government by “demonstrations.”

Why doesn’t Bush send his daughters as volunteers to Iraq, Rumsfeld his kids, Cheney his children, Wolfowitz his, and let’s see how long this “democratizing “ of Iraq will continue.

Are you aware most Lebanese hate the Falangists because they allied themselves with Israel, and gave intelligence to Israel, in its 1980s invasion of Lebanon, wherein most of Beirut was destroyed, thousands killed and the country made into a basket case. The Falangists also are the ones who committed the atrocities at the Sabra and Shatilla Refugee Camps wherein women, children and old men were slaughtered as the Israeli army stood guard to stop anyone from interfering with the massacres. Check it out in your history books if you don’t believe it, or check UN records—it’s all there.

Do you realize that for the OPEC nations that denominate their oil sales and receipts in dollars, that what was a $32.00 dollar barrel of oil before the dollar slid so much in the past 2 years is now equivalent to the $48-50 barrel of oil today. That is, to get the same $32 in value, OPEC nations must charge $48-50 dollars per barrel. That may help you understand why oil has gone up so high. Those that pay in Euros are laughing all the way to the bank and we are going broke, and shall go further into debt as more of the oil pipelines are blown up because of our Middle Eastern wars and interference in their domestic matters.

Did you realize there are very few functioning hospitals, electric stations, water purification plants functioning in Iraq at this time than there were in 1917? Is this “progress”?

What kind of “aid” is America giving to Iraq when they have destroyed 90% of Iraq’s infrastructure and not rebuilt it? Where is that $9 billion dollars that disappeared under Paul Bremer? Shouldn’t we hold him financially accountable or imprison him for graft and fraud?

Did you realize the American government and the right wing neo-cons have shipped millions of dollars into Iraq to buy influence so that their favorite dictator, Allawi, has a chance to become Prime Minister? If he becomes PM, then he’ll ask America to stay on, will honor the illegal contracts signed by Paul Bremer to give all of Iraq’s resources to American companies and basically lengthen the civil strife and resistance to America in Iraq.

Why is Conde Rice out dictating to the Palestinians to get their “terrorists” under control, when Israel has killed more than 160 Palestinians, wounded hundreds more, and destroyed countless houses and business buildings since the “truce” of November 2004?
By the way, Palestinian suicide people have killed less than 1 dozen Israelis during that time until last week’s attack.

Have you ever looked at the official UN records that show Israel has killed and attacked Palestinians, their homes, their infrastructure at a rate of 75 to 1?

Where are these billions of dollars, nay, trillions, coming from to fight these “foreign wars” that Bush loves so much? We are paying the bills through our increasing taxes.
Incidentally, the “defense contractors” like Halliburton, Brown & Root, are getting rich off our backs. Do you love it?

Have you seen that Sharon, while allegedly “pulling of Gaza and the West Bank,” has approved over 6000 new Israeli homes in the West Bank and the Palestinian area of Jerusalem? Check it out in Reuters, BBC, China News, India Daily—you won’t find it on any American media sites or in the rags they call “newspapers” in our country.

Did you know the IMF has put America on a “financial watch list” because of the weakness of the dollar? That means our economy is almost bankrupt—really.

Do you realize that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that Israel has over 250 atomic and hydrogen bombs in its arsenal, plus all the latest American stealth and military technology? Why is it then that America is so keen on attacking Iran and Syria to protect “tiny little” Israel?

What would you do if you had a city in America called “the city of churches” and it was bombed by Iraqis and most of them destroyed? That’s what our troops did in Fallujah, destroyed most of the mosques in the “city of mosques.” Do you think the Muslim Iraqis will love us for this?

How can America ask for a “nuclear free Middle East” and still allow Israel to keep its atomic and hydrogen bombs? Does this make sense to you? Are we so dumb?

Have you noticed that all the “news” from Iraq is from our military, from media embedded with our troops, or from Allawi and his gang or the Kurds, but never from the Shi’a, leading Sunnis or the anti-American civilians? Don’t you think this is a bit slanted. As a former professor of mass media, I know it is slanted. Thus, we are being fed only propaganda by our media, ala George Orwell’s , 1984, no real, honest “news,’ just propaganda.

These are just a few things you should consider when hearing about our “democratizing the Middle East”

Dr. Hamod was the founding editor of 3rd World News in Wash, DC; Advisor to the State Department; Director of The Islamic Center of Wash, DC; professor at several major universities; edits, www.todaysalternativenews.com and appears on many websites, newspapers and ezines. Sam Hamod, shamod@cox.net