No. 251, Nov. 6-12, 2003



To read an article, click on the headline.

General rebukes Sharon,
exposes rift between military
and government

Philippines gets praise from
Bush, criticism from UN

Global businesses profit
from Congo War

Uribe’s ‘Democratic Security’
on shaky footing

Botswana: Tensions heightened
over fate of Basarwa

Appeal for draft board volunteers
revives memories of Vietnam era

Judge is shot dead as Iraqis’
hatred of occupiers grows

General rebukes Sharon, exposes rift between military and government

By Chris McGreal

Jerusalem, Oct. 31— Israel’s army chief has exposed deep divisions between the military and Ariel Sharon by branding the government’s hardline treatment of Palestinian civilians counter-productive and saying that the policy intensifies hatred and strengthens the “terror organizations.”

Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya’alon also told Israeli journalists in an off-the-record briefing that the army was opposed to the route of the “security fence” through the West Bank. The government also contributed to the fall of the former Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, by offering only “stingy” support for his attempts to end the conflict, he said.

Gen. Ya’alon had apparently hoped his anonymous criticisms would strengthen the army’s voice, which has been subordinated to the views of the intelligence services in shaping policy.

But the comments were so devastating that he was swiftly revealed as the source.

The statements — which a close associate characterized to the Israeli press as warning that the country was “on the verge of a catastrophe” — will also reinforce a growing perception among the public that Sharon is unable to deliver the peace with security he promised when he came to office nearly three years ago.

The criticism is made all the more searing because Gen. Ya’alon is not known for being soft on the Palestinians. As deputy chief of staff, he called the latest conflict the second stage of Israel’s independence war.

The general warned that the continued curfews, reoccupation of towns and severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, combined with the economic crisis they have caused, were increasing the threat to Israel’s security.

“In our tactical decisions, we are operating contrary to our strategic interest,” Gen. Ya’alon said. “It increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organizations.”

Earlier this week, army commanders in the West Bank told the military administration in the occupied territories that Palestinians had reached new depths of despair, which was fuelling a hatred for Israelis that had little to do with the propaganda so often blamed by the government.

“There is no hope, no expectations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, nor in Bethlehem and Jericho,” said Gen. Ya’alon.

The commanders warned that the situation was strengthening Hamas, a view the Israeli intelligence services agreed with. But while the army sees the solution as easing most oppressive elements of occupation, the Shin Bet argues that rising support for Islamist groups is a reason to keep the clampdown in place. This is the preferred option of the defense minister and Gen. Ya’alon’s predecessor as army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz.

Sharon and Mofaz were reportedly furious at the general’s statements and initially demanded that he retract them or resign. But the political establishment apparently decided it would be better to deride Gen. Ya’alon.

Anonymous sources in the prime minister’s office were quoted in the Israeli press complaining that the army chief was trying to blame the politicians for the military’s failures.

But army radio reported yesterday that the foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, agreed that there needs to be a substantial easing of restrictions on the Palestinian population. The deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was also reported to have backed the general’s view.

Gen. Ya’alon also waded into one of the most contentious issues of the day by saying the army had recommended a less controversial route for the steel and concrete “security fence” through the West Bank.

He said the military had warned that the fence, which digs deep into Palestinian territory, caging some towns and villages and cutting farmers off from their land, will make the lives of some Palestinians “unbearable” and require too many soldiers to guard it.

Further questions were raised yesterday after the chairman of parliament’s defense budget committee revealed that the cost of the fence could triple to £1.3bn - or 3% of the national budget — if Sharon fulfils his plan for the fence to run around Jewish settlements and the length of the Jordan valley so that it encircles the bulk of the Palestinian population.

In response to questions about Gen. Ya’alon’s comments, the army’s chief spokeswoman, Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, said they reflected a debate within the military.

“No uniformed officer has expressed criticism of the government. The articles reflect fundamental deliberations within the army, in light of a complex reality,” she said.

Source: Guardian (UK)

Philippines gets praise from Bush, criticism from UN

By Gustavo Capdevila

Geneva, Switzerland, Oct. 31 (IPS)— The Philippines, a country aligned with US President George W. Bush’s war on terrorism, is the scenario for executions of human rights defenders, journalists, native leaders and even children, according to United Nations (UN) experts.

The report on the situation in the Philippines to be issued next week by the UN Human Rights Committee will include a request that Manila implement laws and other measures to prevent these crimes, said a source close to the evaluations.

The human rights record of the Philippines government, which Bush praised earlier this month during a visit to the country, has come under scrutiny of the Committee during its current period of sessions, which end here Nov. 7.

Abdelfattah Amor, Human Rights Committee chairman, warned the Filipino delegation that the legislative bill on terrorism being debated by the country’s parliament is a threat to respect for human rights.

In contrast, Bush expressed gratitude in Manila for the anti-terrorism initiative of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo government, as well as its support this year for the US-led invasion of Iraq. “In the war on terror, the US-Philippines military alliance is a rock of stability in the Pacific,” Bush said.

The promotion and protection of human rights are a priority for the Filipino government and can only be strengthened in a climate of democracy and economic prosperity, said undersecretary of justice, Merceditas N. Gutiérrez, in her presentation to the UN committee of human rights experts.

A report from the Federation of American Scientists outlines the support of the Philippines for Washington’s anti-terrorism fight through the offer to use its military bases and air space, as well as beefing up legislation against terrorist activities.

The Bush government has repaid Manila with military equipment worth more than $92 million, including a C-130 transport aircraft, eight UH-1H helicopters, a patrol boat, 30,000 M-16 rifles and corresponding ammunition, as well as advisers for supporting combat against insurgents in the Philippines.

The Human Rights Committee, entrusted with monitoring compliance with the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights by the 150 member states, takes into account national security demands related to efforts against terrorism, said a UN source speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, the 18 independent experts who make up the Committee expressed concern about the excessive scope of the anti-terrorism bill being debated by the national Congress and the potential consequences for human rights protections if it is passed, said the source.

Rights activists from the Philippines said the bill is “unconstitutional and vague.”

The bill violates the right to due process and fails to tackle terrorism, says Aurora A. Parong, director of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, an organization founded by Roman Catholic clergy.

The protests of the Filipino human rights groups are aimed at all abuses, but at the continued practice of torture in particular.

Since January 2001, when Arroyo became president, and up to June of this year, 88 cases of torture have been reported, although many more have never been made public, says Paul Harrison, of the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).

The perpetrators of these abuses have for the most part been members of the armed forces, and the persecutions and threats have been targeted at human rights defenders and journalists, activists said during the committee sessions.

Since 1986, 43 journalists have been murdered and none of those cases have been cleared up, said Marlea Munez, activist with the Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organization.

Women and children have also been the preferred victims of ”state-sponsored violence” in the Philippines said Irish priest Shay Cullen, head of People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA), based in the northern city of Olongapo.

Numerous street children, even eight-year-olds, have been arrested without valid charges against them and held in cells without beds or sanitary facilities, and have been subjected to torture and other abuses, said Cullen.

Of the 86 executions perpetrated by death squads in the southern city of Davao since May 2001, 16 percent were minors, ages 13 to 17, activists said in reports to the UN committee.

“The absence of birth certificates at the time of the indictment resulted in children being put on death row for crimes they committed. But following the introduction of evidence on their dates of birth, some of them were transferred from death row to high security prisons,” said Filipino justice official Gutiérrez.

The measures taken involving street children are aimed to comply with anti-vagrancy statutes, she said. The government has expanded shelters to accommodate children apprehended in such situations, and the revised criminal code punishes security agents who abuse minors during their anti-vagrancy.

Some 25,000 to 35,000 Filipina women have been victims of human trafficking, and in many cases have been forced to move to Western countries or to other areas in Southeast Asia and to engage in prostitution, according to rights activists.

In the Philippines, women who are arrested on prostitution charges on Fridays are kept behind bars for the rest of the weekend. In that period, they are often abused and even raped in the prison cells, they said.

The world’s largest labor organization, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), told the committee it is concerned about the exploitation of women who work in the 89 tax-free zones of the Philippines.

The women workers are forced to work long overtime hours, often without being compensated for the extra time. Rules protecting maternity are frequently violated, wages are a pittance and sexual harassment is common, says the ICFTU.

A factory that produces clothing for babies, under the trademarks of Jansport, Eddie Bauer and Outdoors, sold in the United States and South Korea, distributes amphetamines to workers on the night shift in order to keep them awake, states a document that ICFTU secretary-general Guy Ryder sent to the Human Rights Committee.

The independent experts on the committee will include the activists’ concerns about human rights abuses in the report on the Philippines to be presented Nov. 7, said sources close to the discussions.

A special paragraph will reprimand the Arroyo government for sentencing people under 18 to death and will stress that there are currently seven such minors awaiting execution, they said.

Global businesses profit from Congo War

By Jim Lobe

Washington, DC, Oct. 28 (IPS)— A dozen major international human rights and development groups are calling on the UN Security Council to press the United States and other western governments to launch immediate investigations into the involvement of multinational corporations based in their countries in profiteering from the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The appeal—by such groups as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Friends of the Earth (FoE), Oxfam, and the International Human Rights Law Group—charges that multinational corporations (MNCs) have developed “elite networks” of key political, military, and business elites to plunder the Congo’s natural resources during a five-year conflict that has caused the deaths of more than three million people—the highest civilian death toll of any war since World War II.

Given the key role played by MNCs in fueling and perpetuating the many-sided conflict—by purchasing the natural resources from the warring parties or their middlemen, according to the groups—the companies’ activities should be thoroughly investigated and, where appropriate, sanctioned, the groups argue.

“The Security Council can no longer ignore clear evidence linking the exploitation of resources to the war in the Congo,” they said in a joint statement.

“It must insist that member states hold the companies and individuals involved to account, including companies based in Western countries. Business must demonstrate its commitment to change the way it operates in conflict situations,” the groups said.

The groups’ appeal comes on the eve of the final report of a Panel of Experts that was established by the UN in 2000 to study the illegal exploitation of the DRC’s abundant natural resources.

The Panel has so far published three reports, the last one in October, 2002. In that report, it found that 85 companies had violated international norms, including the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises promulgated by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in connection with their purchase of key natural resources from parties engaged in fighting in the DRC.

In particular, the Panel called on governments to place financial restrictions on 29 of the companies and impose travel restrictions and other sanctions against more than 50 specific individuals.

The OECD, to which all western industrialized countries belong, has specific procedures for processing complaints against western-based companies that violate its various codes of conduct by referring such cases to National Contact Points (NCPs) for investigation and possible sanctions. In the United States, the NCP is Wesley Scholz, based at the Office of Investment Affairs in the State Department.

In January, 2003 the Security Council approved a resolution strongly condemning the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC and demanding that all governments act immediately to end those abuses.

The war, which has featured the intervention of the militaries of half a dozen neighboring countries, as well as a multiplicity of internal factions, has wound down over the past year, thanks mainly to UN- and South Africa-led negotiations resulting in the withdrawal of most foreign forces. Some internal parties, backed by foreign sponsors, have continued to battle for control of several mineral-rich parts of the country.

Of the 85 companies named in the October 2002 report, eight, including Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, Trinitech International, Kemet Electronics Corporation, OM Group (OMG); and Vishay Sprague, are US-owned.

When the report was issued, the US representative, Richard Williamson, pledged that his government “will look into the allegations against these companies and take appropriate measures [and] not torn a blind eye to these activities.”

But, in a memo released Monday, FoE charged that the Bush administration has failed to take any meaningful steps toward investigating, let alone sanctioning, any of the companies.

On the contrary, both the United States and other OECD members have successfully pressured the Panel to remove from its final report the names of the companies registered in their jurisdictions or to declare that such cases have been resolved, according to the groups.

In the US, Scholz has argued that the OECD Guidelines do not apply to the US corporations named in the October report because they were not directly involved in the DRC, but only purchased resources through their parties. But the groups insist this is far too narrow an interpretation of the OECD’s code, which notes that parent companies or retailers have an obligation to ensure that the principles contained in the Guidelines are observed by their suppliers and sub-contractors.

While the Panel’s final report does not provide specifics, according to FoE, Cabot, Kemet, and Vishay Sprague all appeared to have had “supply chain” relationships with parties in the DRC to obtain coltan (columbo tantalite), which is used in the production of sophisticated electronic equipment, particularly cellphones.

Cabot, whose CEO and chairman from 1992 until 2001 was the current deputy director of the Commerce Department, Samuel Bodman, is the world’s largest refiner of coltan, according to FoE. It noted that Cabot, which sells processed tantalum to both Kernet and Vishay, said in response to the Panel’s October 2002 report that it had taken measures to ensure that it is not obtaining coltan from the DRC.

The Panel also found last October that Eagle Wings had received privileged access to coltan sites and captive labor through its contacts with the Rwandan military, which controlled coltan mining areas in eastern DRC during much of the war. It specifically recommended placing a travel ban and financial restrictions on three of the company’s managers. The company is a joint venture of Trinitech International Inc. and the Dutch-owned Chemie Pharmacie Holland.

The OM Group was named by the Panel as having reaped considerable profit from its joint venture, in which it holds percent stake, with a Belgian national, George Forrest and the DRC’s state mining company, Gecamines, by ignoring agreements that required it to build two refineries and a converter to process germanium in the DRC. Instead, it shipped semi-processed ore from its “Big Hill Project,” one of the most profitable mining operations in the DRC, to a processing plant in Finland. OMG has insisted that it has not violated any OECD guidelines.

“It is not just the Security Council but also the governments of member states that must live up to their responsibilities,” the NGOs’ statement said. “They must conduct open and transparent investigations using the OECD process or other judicial procedures to clarify the role that companies have played in the conflict in Congo.”

Other groups that signed the appeal include Britain’s Christian Aid, Fatal Transactions, Global Witness, the International Human Rights Law Group, the International Peace Information Service, the International Rescue Committee, OECD Watch; Pax Christi Netherlands; Save the Children UK; and a number of Congolese human rights groups.

Uribe’s ‘Democratic Security’ on shaky footing

Yadira Ferrer

Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 27 (IPS)— The opposition in Colombia hopes that the setback suffered by right-wing President Alvaro Uribe in the weekend’s referendum and local elections will tone down his strong-arm policy towards the country’s civil war.

Much of the political and social opposition called on Colombians to abstain from voting in Saturday’s referendum. Of the nearly 25 million citizens registered to vote, just over six million came out for the referendum.

Minister of Interior and Justice Fernando Londoño acknowledged that he shared responsibility if the referendum—the final results of which will not be in for at least a week—fails, and said Uribe was very disappointed with the preliminary results.

Based on the incomplete tally, authorities reported that none of the 15 questions listed on the referendum, with which Uribe aimed to push through a series of fiscal and political reforms, won the necessary support to be considered valid: 25 percent of registered voters, or just under 6.27 million.

But in order to be approved, each proposal would have had to receive a “yes” vote from at least 50 percent of voters.

And on Sunday, leftist candidates won the mayor’s seat in the four largest cities—Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla—in local elections for governors, mayors, town councilors, and provincial lawmakers.

The referendum was promoted as “a plebiscite on the president and his policies,” to the point that in the final stage of the campaign, failure to turn out was stigmatized, “and there were few guarantees for the trade unions and social groups that urged people not to vote,” Professor Marco Romero at the National University told IPS.

In their last campaign speeches, the president and other officials implied that coming out for the referendum was equivalent to being on the side of democracy, while abstaining amounted to complicity with terrorism, added Romero, a member of the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a local rights group.

The Uribe administration has not only stigmatized the human rights and peace movement, but also the opposition, said Romero.

“If the referendum had produced a strong result in favor (of the president’s proposals), he would have radicalized his agenda, and we would have immediately seen a flood of counter-reforms of the 1991 constitution, with respect to the justice system as well as democracy,” said the analyst.

Colombia’s two traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, both campaigned in favor of Uribe’s proposals.

The questions on sanctions for corrupt officials and the elimination of alternates in Congress came closest to passage, according to the preliminary results.

The points that received the smallest number of votes referred to freezing public spending for two years, including the salaries and pensions of public employees, and eliminating local and regional fiscal oversight bodies.

In the economic arena, a favorable vote would have prompted Uribe “to advance more quickly with his neoliberal agenda,” said Romero.

But with these results, “the president will have to engage in deeper reflection about the fact that in this country there are other political forces and that they think differently than he does.”

In Romero’s opinion, Uribe is obligated now to take a more democratic stance, one that is more open to dialogue and more tolerant in general.

One of the messages that the ballot boxes have for the government, according to an editorial in El Tiempo newspaper, is that positive ratings for the president (70 percent, according to polls) and his “democratic security” policy ”do not represent a blank check, nor do they exempt him from listening to dissident voices.”

Uribe received “a very strong lesson in humility, both in the referendum vote and Sunday’s elections,” said Senator Carlos Gaviria, of the leftist Independent Democratic Pole, which encouraged voters to abstain from the referendum.

It is a good thing that the citizens did not turn out “to vote on a referendum that was perverse, because with the pretext of fighting against corruption it called on the people to approve economic measures that would have had negative consequences for the population, but the population itself would have been blamed for those consequences,” said Gaviria.

Furthermore, the victory of Gaviria’s party colleague and former labor leader Luis Garzón, who won the mayor’s race in Bogotá, “is a landmark in the sense that this ‘spell’ that Uribe has been casting over national public opinion has begun to dissipate,” said the senator.

In Medellín, Colombia’s second biggest city, mathematician Sergio Fajardo was elected mayor, while in Cali, Apolinar Salcedo, “the candidate of the poor”, won the city’s top seat, while victory in Barranquilla went to Guillermo Hoeninsberg.

The tragic side of the weekend vote is that the campaign was marked by the assassinations of 25 candidates for governor, mayor or city councilor. The blame is being pinned on the leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries that are at the core of the decades-old civil war.

Botswana: Tensions heightened over fate of Basarwa

Gaborone, Oct. 31— Tensions between the Botswana government and lobby group Survival International (SI) have heightened over the alleged forced removal of the Basarwa, or San people, from Botswana’s Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), which they consider their ancestral home. The government has called SI’s campaign against the removal of the Basarwa as a “cheap, calculated and malicious” use of the Basarwa, and defended its decision not to sign an International Labor Organisation Convention on the rights of indigenous people, arguing that every Motswana, not just the Basarwa, is indigenous to Botswana.

“Inasmuch as Basarwa have to preserve their culture, they must also be granted that opportunity to prepare for their own sustenance in the 21st Century and beyond,” Clifford Maribe, assistant director of the research and information division in the Foreign Affairs Ministry told IRIN. The government said that of Botswana’s 60,000 Basarwa, most of whom live in small, remote communities scattered throughout the country, about 3,000 lived in the CKGR when it was gazetted as a game reserve. The reserve, located in the eastern part of the southern Ghanzi district, was established in February 1961 to protect wildlife resources and provide sufficient land for use by the hunter-gatherer communities there.

Maribe said, over time, many residents of the CKGR had abandoned their traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of permanent or semi-permanent settlement around or near water sources provided by government to mitigate the effects of recurring droughts.

A government study conducted in 1985 found that locations in the CKGR were evolving into permanent, settled agricultural communities, not consistent with the land-use patterns envisaged when the CKGR was established. The Basarwa were abandoning their traditional means of hunting on foot with bow and arrows, in favor of guns, horses, and even four-wheel drive vehicles. Residents were also grazing increasing numbers of livestock inside the reserve, it said. According to SI, “forcible relocations” of the Basarwa from the CKGR took place in 1997 and 1998. “Many Bushman families then tried to return, but faced difficulties in doing so. After the relocations stopped, the government continued to pressure and intimidate people into relocating. In early 2002, pressure intensified, and almost all those left in the reserve were driven from their homes.”

SI allege that the government’s interest in the CKGR land, which they once considered barren, was because it houses one of the world’s richest diamond fields. Under Botswana law, all proceeds from mining activities are not subject to claims of ownership of mineral rights from communities resident in the areas of exploration and mining development. There is also concern over the exclusion of the Basarwa from the country’s House of Chiefs, the non-recognition of their tribal status, and of their form of land use as legitimate. Test drilling has already taken place at Gope, and mining company BHP Biliton has allegedly invested very heavily in the Kalahari and Khutse areas through a subsidiary company, Kalahari Diamonds (which in turn has set up another subsidiary called Godi) with the support of the International Finance Corporation, a branch of the World Bank. Only one Motswana citizen sits on the Godi board - Archibald Mogwe, a senior political advisor to former Botswana president Sir Ketumile Masire, and formerly the minister of mineral resources.

SI said that diamond company De Beers had also spent a large amount of money studying the Gope site and had commissioned anthropologist James Suzman to study Bushman land rights in the CKGR.

Early in 2002, De Beers reportedly said it had no plans to mine “for the foreseeable future”. Towards the end of 2002, a De Beers spokesperson was quoted by SI as saying: “We cannot say we will never mine it”.

According to Maribe, the “government has made no secret that there is general exploration for minerals throughout the country, including the CKGR. However, at this point in time, nothing other than the Gope deposit has been found in the CKGR.”

He conceded: “If a commercially viable deposit is discovered in the CKGR, the merits and demerits of mining the deposit will be assessed, as government has never said, nor is it saying, that mining is banned in the CKGR.” The Botswana human rights group Ditshwanelo, which is part of an NGO negotiating team that has engaged the government in discussion over the fate of the CKGR Bushmen, has criticized SI’s stance. “Survival International has continued its campaign against the Government of Botswana through focus on Botswana diamonds and De Beers. Survival International believes that diamonds are the reason for the resettlement of the Basarwa to two settlements, New Xade and Kaudwane, which are outside the CKGR. Ditshwanelo is not convinced that diamonds are the reason for the relocation of the Basarwa,” Ditshwanelo said in a statement in November last year. In a speech in June this year, President Festus Mogae explained that a drive to modernity lay behind the relocations. “Over the years people have been encouraged to move out of our game parks and reserves for two fundamental reasons. The first is that their modern economic activities, be it hunting, arable and/or pastoral agriculture or some other commercial activity are inconsistent with the primary purpose of the parks and the reserves ... The second reason that people move out from game parks is to give themselves and their children the benefit of development.” To address the interests of the relocated Basarwa, the government has engaged a local NGO, Permaculture Trust Botswana, to assist in identifying income-generating projects like backyard gardens, raising poultry, and brick-making for the construction of houses in the new settlements of Kaudwane and K’Goesakene in New Xade.

Reverend Moiserele Dibeela, principal of Kgolagano College of Theological Education, said: “This is the main problem with government - in the way it has handled the relocation of Basarwa from the CKGR, is that they may mean well, but they appear very condescending and patronizing. “There would have been no issue if they had followed the consultative process from day one. But when we thought the consultative process was going on, they cut water, blocked access to the reserve as well as incentives to stay on the reserve, and came up with a grand scheme for their [the Basarwa’s] social upliftment.”

SI director Stephen Corry warned: “The evicted Bushmen will end up like reservation Indians in North America, or Aboriginal fringe-dwellers in Australia - wracked by alcohol and substance abuse, social disintegration, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and poverty. This is happening now in the relocation camps, where many Bushmen are desperate for their land.

“Indeed, the government has made no secret of the fact that it wants to end the Bushman way of life and assimilate them once and for all into the dominant tribes which control Botswana. It wants them to disappear.”

However, the matter may finally be settled by the courts, as 242 Basarwa are currently taking the government to court to be allowed to continue living in the reserve.

Source: IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network)

Appeal for draft board volunteers
revives memories of Vietnam era

By Suzanne Goldenberg

Washington, DC, Nov. 5— The Pentagon has begun recruiting for local draft boards, dredging up painful memories of Vietnam era conscription at a time of deepening misgiving about America’s occupation of Iraq.

In a notice posted on the Defense Department’s Defend America web site, Americans over the age of 18 and with no criminal record are invited to “serve your community and the nation” by volunteering for the boards, which decide which recruits should be sent to war.

Thirty years have passed since the draft boards last exerted their hold on America, deciding which soldiers would be sent to Vietnam. After Congress ended the draft in 1973, they have become largely dormant.

However, recruitment for the boards suggests that in some parts of the Pentagon all options are being explored in response to concerns that the US military has been stretched too thin in its occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although Pentagon officials denied any move to reinstitute the draft, the Defense Department website does not shirk at outlining the potential duties for a new crop of volunteers to the draft boards.

“If a military draft becomes necessary, approximately 2,000 local and appeal boards throughout America would decide which young men who submit a claim receive deferments, postponements or exemptions from military service, based on federal guidelines,” it said.

“This is significant,” said Ned Lebow, a presidential scholar at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and former professor of strategy at the National War College in Washington.

“What the Department of Defense is doing is creating the infrastructure to make the draft a viable option should the administration wish to go this route,” Lebow told the Toronto Star.

Pentagon officials were adamant that there were no plans to bring back the draft.

“That would require action from Congress and the president and they are not likely to do that unless there was something of the magnitude of the second world war that required it,” said Dan Amon, a spokesman for the Selective Service Department.

Bringing back conscription would be catastrophic for George Bush in an election year, and at a time when parallels are increasingly being drawn between Iraq and Vietnam.

However, officials were not immediately able to explain how the advertisement appeared on the site. Amon said the notices were a response to the natural attrition in the ranks of the draft board, where some 80% of 11,000 places are now vacant. “It is the routine cycle of things,” he said.

But it was unclear why the Pentagon decided at this time it was necessary to fill staff bodies which had played no function since the early 1980s.

The idea of a draft has never entirely disappeared, and is contemplated by Democrats and some military experts.

In the run-up to the war, the New York congressman Charles Rangel argued for a draft on the grounds that the US military was disproportionately made up of poor and black soldiers, and that it was unfair for America’s underclass to go off and die in wars.

“I don’t think a presidential candidate would seriously propose a draft,” said Charles Pena, a senior analyst with the Washington-based Cato Institute. “But an incumbent, safely in for a second term — that might be a different story.

“When you crunch the numbers, you understand why you hear talk about a draft. You only have to look at troop levels to realize we don’t have the numbers to do the job in Iraq properly,” Pena said in a Toronto Star interview.

In recent weeks, there has been growing concern within the Defense Department about relying too heavily on members of the National Guard and army reservists.

Some 60,000 of the 130,000 US soldiers in Iraq are members of the National Guard or the reserves. An opinion poll last month in the Pentagon-funded Stars and Stripes newspaper, showed 49% threatening not to re-enlist.

The families of reservists have become increasingly vocal in their complaints after the Pentagon’s decision to extend duty tours to up to 15 months.

Source: Guardian (UK), additional info: Toronto Star


Attacks on Americans escalate

Insurgents using rocket-propelled grenades struck a US compound in the northern city of Mosul Nov. 5, a day after Baghdad’s heavily guarded central district came under fire from mortars or missiles.

Huge explosions thundered through Baghdad on Nov. 4 as the insurgents targeted the five-square-kilometer “Green Zone”, which includes coalition headquarters, the military press center and other key facilities.

A Pentagon spokesman said three people were wounded but it was unclear if they were military or civilians.

It was the second mortar attack against the Green Zone in as many days.

There has been a dramatic escalation in attacks, starting with the October 26 missile barrage against the Al-Rasheed Hotel, where many coalition and US military officials lived. One US colonel was killed and 18 people were wounded.

On Sunday, guerillas near Fallujah shot down a US Army Chinook helicopter, killing 16 soldiers.

Violence persisted on Tuesday when a roadside bomb killed a 1st Armored Division soldier and wounded two others in Baghdad.

Source: Associated Press

Judge is shot dead as Iraqis’ hatred
of occupiers grows

By Patrick Cockburn

al-Qadasiya, Iraq, Nov. 5— Gunmen shot dead a prominent judge in Mosul in northern Iraq yesterday, a day after another judge was kidnapped and killed in Najaf in the south of the country.

A car with tinted windows drew up outside the house of Ismail Yousef, a judge in Mosul’s appeal court, early in the morning. Several men got out and shot the judge in the chest and side. The reason for the killing is a mystery; he was not involved in prosecuting Baathists.

On Monday, a senior judge, Mohan Jaber al-Shoueli, was kidnapped with his deputy in the city of Najaf to the south of Baghdad. According to the deputy who was later released, the gunmen said they were obeying the orders of Saddam. Mystery surrounds the murder because Najaf is a Shia holy city and most of its population hated the deposed president.

The assassination of two judges at opposite ends of the country differs from other killings in Iraq in that the victims were prominent enough for their names to be recorded.

In the little farming village of al-Qadasiya yesterday, buried deep in the Iraqi countryside south of Balad and only accessible by dusty tracks, relatives were mourning six men who died in a pick-up truck when they were ambushed by American troops after returning from Ramadan prayers on Sunday night.

Sitting in a tent, surrounded by neighbors who had come to comfort him, Abed Obaid Yass said his 61-year-old brother, Salman, his two sons, Arkan and Daoud, and two cousins had gone to a small cement mosque for prayers. They left the mosque at 8pm thinking they were safe because “the Americans announced over a loudspeaker that curfew was lifted.” They drove home in three trucks, the last of which suddenly came under fire. Five people were hit, including the driver, but they kept going.

When they got back to the village, the driver died but two men offered to take the wounded to hospital in another pick-up. But they were attacked again, and five more people were killed. One old man who was wounded escaped into the bushes beside the road and watched an American ambush party surround the pick-up, which they presumably thought was being used by guerrillas. The villagers deny that anybody in the truck was involved in the resistance. They said there had been no attacks on American troops in the district that night.

But a few miles away lies the scene where a US bulldozer had uprooted part of a grove of orange trees and a few date palms from which American troops had been ambushed a week before. The owner, an ageing sheikh, persuaded them to stop, saying there was no way he could prevent guerrillas using the trees for cover.

The men gathered in the mourning tent were bitter about the killings but they were almost as angry that nobody in the outside world knew or cared their relatives had been killed. They had made an attempt to tell others what had happened to them since the American-led invasion. Close to the road was a banner in broken English reading: “Them removed the tree and killed the kids, women and elderlies and cracked the houses.”

The US army does not keep a count of Iraqi civilians killed in such incidents, but the hostility they create towards the occupation goes a long way to explain why guerrilla war is becoming endemic in this part of the Iraqi countryside.

Source: Independent (UK)