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Archive for March, 2010

Rima Maktabi

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

This daughter of a Phalanges leader who died in the war has been hired by CNN. This means that with the decline of viewers of CNN, she will have less viewers than if she was on radio.

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Categories: Arab Blogs Tags: cnn, daughter, decline, Phalanges, radio

tribute to Zayid

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

L’Orient-Le Jour defends Karakalla’s lousy tribute to Shaykh Zayid: “”Zayed, lui, ne s’est pas seulement contenté de rêver. Zayed a agi. Son « dream » ne s’est pas évanoui et comme le « dream » qu’a fait jadis Martin Luther King, il s’est effectivement réalisé, car issu d’une gloire enracinée qui n’a de cesse de ranimer ceux qui lui sont fidèles. Zayed ne rêve pas de liberté, déjà acquise, puisque l’esclavage est de toujours rejeter dans sa doctrine ; c’est une union éternelle entre les frères de la même nation et une prospérité que son rêve vise. Et cela s’est fait ; et voilà que toutes les nations qu’accueillit sa métropole viennent le vénérer. “” (thanks “Ibn Rushd”)

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The adventures and tall tales of Iyad `Allawi

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

Now I am sick and tired of the tall tales that Iyad `Allawi (the former puppet prime minister/car bomber/Saddam henchman/embezzler-in-Yemen/ally of Shi`ite sectarian forces in Lebanon/candidate of Syria/Saudi Arabia/Turkey in the last puppet election) tells regarding an assassination attempt on him in Lebanon. He seems to be the only witness to the story, and the story gets bigger with very recounting. And notice that `Allawi gives different dates to his break with Saddam: he somestimes dares to give the date as 1970, when people who know tell me that he was a chief henchman in Europe on behalf of Saddam’s intelligence service into the mid-1970s AT LEAST. Look at him here: “Mr. Allawi said he kicked out at the man there just as he swung an ax, nearly severing Mr. Allawi’s leg. A bloody struggle ensued, his wife jumping on one of the men’s backs, Mr. Allawi wresting one of the axes away and attacking back, until the second attacker chopped at his head”. I pick up the story here: and then the lion jumped through the window, and Allawi killed the lion with his stapler. And then two missiles hit `Allawi in the leg, and he pulled them out promptly before they exploded. And then, a snake was thrown at him and he managed to kill it under his feet.

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Light Posting Until Evening

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

We’re on the final glidepath with the spring issue of MEJ, so posting will be light today, probably not much until evening unless something major breaks.


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Twitter irrelevant as Vanilla is put on ice

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

Dubai Le Meridien Mina Seyahi denies Twitter campaign had anything to do with scrapping Vanilla Ice concert.
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Mumbai terror attacks verdict due on May 3

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

WRAP 2: Trial of Pakistani gunman in deadly 26/11 attacks closes after year of dramatic courtroom testimony.
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Obama to Seek Further Iran Sanctions; Amiri Defected to US, seems to deny active nuclear weapons program

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

President Obama is pressing for new United Nations Security Council sanctions within weeks. Although Russia and China oppose ‘crippling’ sanctions such as cutting off Iran’s access to imported gasoline, they may agree to the watered-down US plan of imposing restrictions on companies owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (a major economic force in Iran). China is said by Reuters to be weakening in its opposition to new Iran sanctions, but perhaps this is only because it would not be affected by Western measures narrowly targeting the Revolutionary Guards.

On the other hand, the Reuters piece, which appears to be based on interviews with US officials, may be overly optimistic. Russian President Medvedev said just a few days ago that increased sanctions on Iran are “not optimal.” I.e. he does not rule them out but they aren’t his first choice. And China is even more opposed than Russia. Obama still has a hard path ahead.

Iran sanctions are in any case merely symbolic. The regime cannot be forced to change course in this way. Indeed, this regime likes being isolated.

This Reuters article also misinterprets the stance of the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, which continues to certify that none of Iran’s nuclear material, being enriched for civilian purposes, has been diverted to military uses. The IAEA has all along said it cannot give 100% assurance that Iran has no weapons program, because it is not being given complete access. But nagging doubt is not the same as an affirmation. We should learn a lesson from the Iraq debacle.

Meanwhile, ABC News’s Brian Ross got the scoop on the defection to the US of Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri. US intelligence continues to maintain that Iran has not committed to having a nuclear weapons program. Presumably this information came from Amiri and is fresh and solid, since he is a consummate insider.

Yet you get headlines like, “Iran moves closer to nukes.”

Somehow American hawks can’t seem to get their minds around the obvious conclusion from the CIA diction, which is that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program at the moment. It can’t move closer to nukes if it doesn’t have a weapons program! Moreover, that it does not have such a program is no longer a considered opinion or educated guess, but is based on the best kind of intelligence. It is the conclusion that the 16 US intelligence agencies came to in 2007, and there is apparently still no evidence that Iran has changed its mind about the undesirability and even evil of nuclear warheads (though there are no doubt hard liners who disagree with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s fatwas against nukes as un-Islamic.)

As long as the US does not object to the actual nuclear weapons of Israel, India and Pakistan (none of which signed the NPT), its obsession with Iran’s civilian energy program will strike people in the region as unfair.

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Singer: The pro-Israel lobby’s curious defense of an alleged Somali war criminal.

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

Sam Singer writes in a guest editorial for Informed Comment entitled: ‘A strange alliance at the Supreme Court: The pro-Israel lobby’s curious defense of an alleged Somali war criminal: A Shared Interest in Sovereign Immunity’ :

Mohammed Ali Samantar is the only living vestige of the Barre regime, the last government in two decades to exercise central control over Somalia and, not coincidentally, the last that was impudent enough to try. When Siad Barre was finally overthrown in 1991, Samantar, who had served as defense minister and prime minister, fled, in a storm of bullets, to Italy. He eventually made his way to Fairfax, Virginia, where he lived in suburban obscurity until a group of Somali nationals discovered him, hired a lawyer, and sued for damages. According to his accusers, the Barre regime committed unforgivable acts of violence against them and their families, offenses spanning a range of brutality from arbitrary detention, to torture, rape and extrajudicial killing. Samantar was allegedly aware of the crimes being perpetrated against civilians and yet failed to stop them. The suit was dismissed by a federal district court and then reinstated by the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. It is now pending before the Supreme Court, where a peculiar coalition of defenders is urging reversal. Among them, to the confusion of some observers, are five prominent pro-Israel organizations, each with a professed interest in keeping Samantar out of court. In joint amicus briefs, the groups insist that as a former government official, Samantar should be immune from suit. To hold otherwise, they warn, would violate international law and set an inviting precedent for Israel’s enemies and their supporters in the human rights community.

The arrival of the Israel lobby adds geopolitical intrigue to a case that already read like a Ludlum thriller. And because it speaks to real and immediate consequences, it lends concreteness to a discussion that would have otherwise carried on in the abstract. It is one thing for a lawyer to appeal to legal authority for the proposition that the courts of one nation ought not sit in judgment of the acts of another; it is quite another for five groups purporting to represent the interests of the Israeli government to advise that doing so in this case would be to declare open season on Israeli officials in US courts.

It is not without some irony that organizations claiming to represent Israel, a state conceived in the wake of unprecedented state-sponsored violence, find their wagon hitched to the cause of an alleged war criminal. Nor does the position square, at least not at first glance, with less expansive interpretations of sovereign immunity advanced by the lobby’s constituents in the past. Just this year, Israeli victims of rocket fire on the Lebanese border sued the Iranian government, by way of its central banks, on the theory that it provided material support to Hezbollah, the source of the rockets. Last December, a pro-Israel group in Europe sued leaders of Hamas in a Belgium court, invoking what it described as the court’s “universal” jurisdiction over cases arising from war crimes. In both cases, sovereign immunity was an obstacle standing between Israeli interests and a favorable judgment; here, in Samantar’s case, supporters of Israel invoke it as a shield.

In fact, Israel is far more likely to find itself on the receiving end of a human rights suit. According to one report, nearly 1,000 suits have been filed globally against Israeli officials and military personnel alleging war crimes and other abuses. The defense ministry expects some 1,500 more will follow, many stemming from military operations in the coastal territories, but also some taking aim at the less violent aspects of Israeli anti-terror strategy, including one suit describing the security fence as a “crime against humanity.” An Israeli newspaper published a “wanted” list of current and former officials who are among the common named defendants. The list, which was republished in briefs to the Court, reads like a who’s who in Israeli political and military history. The forums for these suits vary, but they commonly feature developed Western countries that have lowered the drawbridge for human rights litigants. Steering many of the cases are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), some based in the Middle East with ties to the Palestinian government, others based in the West and backed by the likes of the Center for Constitutional Rights and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

In these suits supporters of Israel see pretext. They describe a more sinister objective, a coordinated effort to bring Israeli officials into federal courtrooms. The idea is to delegitimize Israel, but not before dragging officials through an invasive and costly discovery process. Do it enough and Israeli officials will start thinking twice before traveling to the United States, or, worse yet, before assuming roles that could expose them to suit. Defense experts believe the strategy fits the definition of “lawfare,” think-tank speak for the use of legal methods to achieve military goals.

In the immediate term, the briefs warn, relations between the US and Israel will suffer. Like any partnership, the US/Israeli alliance benefits from a rich and ongoing exchange of people and ideas. For the exchange to thrive, current and former Israeli officials must be able to travel to and within the United States without fear of being served with a lawsuit. By way of illustration, the American Jewish Congress recounts the story of Moshe Ya’alon, a retired Israeli general who was recently summoned to court upon arriving in Washington, D.C. for a think tank forum. The complaint, which sought damages for civilian deaths resulting from a battle on the Lebanese border between Israel and Hezbollah, was perfunctory. With respect to Ya’alon, it alleged only that he served in the army chain-of-command during the relevant period. The district court dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds and the D.C. Circuit affirmed, concluding that the immunity of a foreign state extends to its former officials. Ya’alon never had to step foot in a courtroom. Now suppose that instead of Washington, he had been served with the suit 15 minutes away, in Arlington, Virginia. In that event the dismissal of his suit would have been appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which, as we learned in Samantar’s case, does not share the D.C. Circuit’s view on official immunity. In other words, had Ya’alon booked a hotel across the river, he might well still be there today.

A Statutory Nightmare

Naturally, US-Israeli relations didn’t figure into the Supreme Court’s questioning at oral arguments. The justices had assembled to resolve a disagreement among the federal circuit courts over whether sovereign immunity extends to officials. Accordingly, they trained their focus on Samantar and his theory of the case, which rests on the off-stated maxim that one equal has no dominion over another equal. That this saying, which encapsulates the principle of sovereign immunity, is most commonly recited in Latin suggests something about its vintage. It is as close to a truism as a proposition can come in a foggy discipline like international law, and it is an animating principle of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA). That law changed the way US courts process suits against foreign governments. Before 1976, a court needed the go-ahead from the State Department before docketing such cases. When this approach proved unwieldy, Congress vested gate-keeping authority in the federal courts and then cabined it by stripping them of jurisdiction over suits against foreign states that don’t fit within a narrow set of exceptions.

Until recently it was generally accepted that these same protections applied to foreign officials. After all, a suit against a foreign official acting on behalf of a state is effectively a suit against the state. True, the caption may list the Minister of Defense rather than the Ministry of Defense, and the plaintiff may have his sights set on a personal bank account rather than the national treasury, but in either case the court is sitting in judgment of the state’s actions. It has intuitive appeal, this idea. It also has the support of the majority of the federal circuits.

But as the Fourth Circuit pointed out below, the argument is without support in the one place it needs it most–the text of the FSIA. FSIA extends sovereign immunity to “foreign states” as well as their “agencies and instrumentalities”, but it remains conspicuously silent on the matter of foreign officials. For supporters of broad immunity, this omission is proof that the identity of interests between a foreign sovereign and its officials is self-evident. Congress, they argue, had no reason to split hairs, to try to distinguish the indistinguishable. Opponents, who harbor a less attenuated view, insist that if Congress wanted to extend immunity to foreign officials, it would have said so.

The theory that foreign officials are immune from suit encounters an more mystifying problem in the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA), a federal law that permits victims of state-sponsored torture to bring suit in the United States against culpable foreign officials. The TVPA is one of the statutes supplying the cause of action in the suit against Samantar, but that’s not why it’s important. Rather, as Justice Kennedy pointed out during oral arguments, the text of the TVPA appears to make a mockery of the proposition that foreign officials are never amenable to suit in U.S courts. To read the law any other way would be to watch it evaporate, an entire congressional enactment rendered useless, leaving torture victims a right without a remedy. The Court, Justice Kennedy reminds, is not in the business of reading entire statutes out of existence.

Supporters of immunity for foreign officials counter that allowing the case to proceed against Samantar would be just as devastating for FSIA. As a preoccupation of Justice Breyer’s, this argument soaked up a fair amount of the Court’s time. The consensus is that opening officials to suit would allow litigants to undermine the intent of the FSIA without actually violating it. In Ya’alon’s case, instead of suing the Ministry of Defense, a lawyer with his wits about him would simply name Ya’alon, the former head of army intelligence, and the suit would survive. “What you are saying,” Breyer concluded, “is that FSIA is only good against a bad lawyer.”

Hedging, counsel for the plaintiffs reminded the Court that jurisdiction is not the only hurdle between a foreign official and liability. Once a plaintiff establishes jurisdiction, there are other age-old immunity doctrines that shield foreign officials from suit. There is the head of state doctrine, for instance, which protects current and former leaders from prosecution and civil liability, or the doctrine of diplomatic immunity, a similar, if more controversial, safeguard for diplomats and their staff. But there is no small difference between immunity from suit and immunity from liability. To have the former without the latter is to have comfort without convenience; it is, so to speak, the difference between putting up and showing up.

The Supreme Court is thus left to choose between two seemingly impossible outcomes. Extend sovereign immunity to foreign officials and the Torture Victim Protection Act is gutted, along with U.S. credibility in the human rights community. Expose them to suit and make hash of one of the core objectives of the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act—saving key allies the expense and embarrassment of defending national security decisions in US courts. To the extent possible, courts generally try to read conflicting statutes in a way that gives effect to both. But even with so much hanging in the balance, coexistence between the TVPA and the FSIA appears impossible. Unimpressed and evidently undecided, the justices took the case under advisement.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sam Singer is a 2009 graduate of Emory Law School and a Staff Law Clerk for the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. His commentaries on law and politics have appeared in various publications, including The Beachwood Reporter and Culturekiosque.com. He has also reported and written articles for The Chicago Tribune and Market News International.

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U.S. seeks 4-month Jerusalem building freeze: report (Reuters)

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in the east Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has infuriated Washington by expanding settlements in east Jerusalem, has blamed the Palestinians for blocking US peace efforts.(AFP/Gali Tibbon)Reuters – U.S. President Barack Obama wants Israel to freeze construction in East Jerusalem for four months in exchange for an attempt to renew stalled Israeli peace talks with Palestinians, an Israeli newspaper said on Wednesday.

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Burkha-clad Saudi housewife poised to win Middle East 'Pop Idol'

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

A burkha clad Saudi housewife has strong chances of winning reality show 'Million's Poet', which is equivalent to 'Pop Idol'in Middle East.
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