The radicalization of Dr. Al-Balawi

Juan Cole of Informed Consent wrote this brief history of Dr. Al-Balawi, the suicide bomber who took out several CIA agents in Afganistan, and how he came to be. He was in Afganistan allegedly helping the CIA track down primary Al Qaeda suspects. After the incident, it was reported that Dr. Al-Balawi was a double-agent, even though it is unclear just who he was supposed to be working for. Juan Cole cleared that up. It was himself, a Palestinian doctor radicalized by American led and funded atrocities in the Middle East.

<Al-Balawi's sad biography in fact ties together the whole history of Western, including Israeli, attacks on the Middle East. Al-Balawi's family is Palestinians displaced from Beersheba by Zionist immigrants into British Mandate Palestine, who in 1948 ethnically cleansed about 700,000 Palestinians from what became Israel. Most Palestinians in Jordan are bitter about the loss of their homes, for which they never received compensation, and some still live in refugee camps. The British Empire and the United States supported this displacement of the Palestinians and to this day the US government often attempts to criminalize even charitable aid to the suffering Palestinian people.

AP has a video interview with al-Balawi's Turkish wife, in which she traces his radicalization to the brutal US occupation of neighboring Iraq, including reports of the rape of Iraqi women by US troops at Abu Ghraib (where much of the torture had sexual overtones) and the US destruction of the city of Fallujah in November-December 2004.

The Arabic press is confirming that al-Balawi was further enraged by the Israeli war on poor little Gaza last winter. A physician, he volunteered to be part of a group that intended to go to Gaza to do relief work for the victims of Israel's brutal targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. (The Israelis were trying to destroy the fundamentalist Hamas party, which rules Gaza, and gave as their pretext the occasional rockets Hamas fired into Israel, though in fact there had been a truce for much of 2008, a truce of which the Israelis coldly took advantage to plan their war.)

The Jordanian secret police arrested al-Balawi to prevent him from going to Gaza. It may be that he had to agree to work for it as a quid pro quo to regain his freedom.

After the vicious war on Gaza was over, and the schools and hospitals lay in ruin, Israel ratcheted up a siege of the small territory of 1.6 million persons, half of them children, denying them enough services, fuel and even food for a decent life. In some parts of Gaza, 10 percent of the children are stunted because of malnutrition. Israel destroyed Gaza's airport and harbor and strictly controls what goes into the territory. Israel never says what its end game is here, and how long exactly they are going to keep the children of Gaza in what one Vatican official has called a 'concentration camp.'

In the past couple of weeks (though you would not know it from American television), two separate civilian Western aid convoys were mounted to relieve the Gazans via Gaza's small southwestern border with Egypt (the Israelis would never have allowed them to do this, and the Egyptian state wasn't happy either). One was supported with a hunger strike by an elderly Holocaust survivor. Some of those in the second were assaulted by the Egyptian police. British MP George Galloway was deported and forbidden to return to Egypt. Egypt is dragooned into supporting the illegal blockade of Gaza by the US on behalf of Israel, and is also afraid of the fundamentalist Hamas, which has resorted to terrorism.

Collective punishment of a whole population, especially one still technically occupied, is illegal in international law.

What is fascinating is the way al-Balawi's grievances tie together the Iraq War, the ongoing Gaza atrocity, and the Western military presence in the Pushtun regions-- the geography of the Bush 'war on terror' was inscribed on his tortured mind.

Morally speaking, al-Qaeda is twisted and evil, and has committed mass murder. Neither the US nor Israel is morally responsible for violent crackpots being violent crackpots. Al-Qaeda or a Taliban affiliate turned al-Balawi to the dark side. Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught us the proper response to social injustice (and it should not be forgotten that Gandhi had a significant following among the Pashtuns). But from a social science, explanatory point of view, what we have to remember is that there can be a handful of al-Balawis, or there can be thousands or hundreds of thousands. It depends on how many Abu Ghraibs, Fallujahs, Lebanons and Gazas the United States initiates or supports to the hilt. Unjust wars and occupations radicalize people. The American Right wing secretly knows this, but likes the vicious circle it produces. Wars make profits for the military-industrial complex, and the resulting terrorism terrifies the clueless US public and helps hawks win elections, allowing them to pursue further wars. And so it goes, until the Republic is bankrupted and in ruins and its unemployed have to live in tent cities.

So, yes, this al-Balawi person was going to help Jordan and the US find al-Qaeda leaders Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Sure he was. Walmart does better background checks on its store clerks than the CIA and Jordanian intelligence did on this guy.>

With permission.


Public Opinion Monthly

Looking Back on the Past Year
Reflecting on the Last Decade
Outlook on the Next Year
Expectations for the Coming Decade►

This month's Public Opinion Monthly examines people's feelings on the past and the future as we enter not only a new year, but a new decade.  The last ten years have been full of change, uncertainty and often struggle, yet people hold on to hope and show great resilience in their optimism as they look ahead to what the next ten years may hold.

The Past Year

Mixed emotions on 2009:  According to a new AP GfK Roper survey, nearly three in four (73%) believe that 2009 was a bad year for the country.  A plurality (42%) expressed that 2009 was a very bad year, and 31% assert that 2009 was a somewhat bad year for the country overall.  For individuals and their families, a majority (61%) expressed that 2009 was actually a good year and 38% reported that it was a bad year.  Only a small minority (15%) felt that 2009 was a very bad year for them individually.

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Linking Up with the World

Here is the Monday, January 4th, 2010 edition of what's making news and interesting reads from around the world.

Japanese PM Hatoyama Wants a More Equal Relationship with the US
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of Japan said Monday he wants to press for more equal ties with the United States. In a televised speech on New Year's Day, PM Hatoyama said it is important “for both sides to be able to firmly say what needs to be said, and increase the relationship of trust.” Hatoyama also reiterated his determination to find a mutually acceptable solution to a row with the United States over the relocation of a U.S. Marine base on the southern island of Okinawa within the space of several months. Not only are Okinawans opposed to a plan to move the Futenma base to a different part of the island, but the tiny pacifist Social Democratic Party has threatened to leave Hatoyama's ruling coalition if the plan goes ahead unchanged. More from Agence France Presse.

Abbas Visits Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh
The President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas will meet with Egyptian Hosni Murbarak on Monday in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the tip of the Sinai peninsula. It is expected that President Mubarak will encourage the Palestinian leader to restart peace talks with Israel. On Sunday, the Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera reported that Obama's administration supported Egypt's vision for a Middle East peace plan that would include a complete halt of construction in West Bank settlements as well as the release of senior Palestinian officials from Israeli prisons. More on this part of story from Haaretz.

The other relevant development is that Egypt and Saudi Arabia have quietly working behind the scenes to effect a reconciliation between the Hamas and Fatah. Hamas and Fatah have been feuding since March 2007 when Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip. More on the joint Egyptian-Saudi diplomatic effort from Al Jazeera.

Singaporean Economy Hits a Snag
Singapore reported a greater than expected decline in its 4Q09 GDP after posting three successive quarters of growth. Singapore's economy has shrunk a bigger-than-expected 6.8 per cent in the fourth quarter, led by a 38 per cent plunge in manufacturing. The SE Asian city-state's economy, which relies on trade, finance and tourism, had bounced back from a 12-month recession by surging the last two quarters: growing 22 percent in the second quarter and a revised 14.9 percent in the third. The performance of the Singaporean economy is often seen as a barometer of global trade. More from Business Week.

US Lifts HIV Travel Ban
The US has lifted a 22-year immigration ban which has stopped anyone with HIV/Aids from entering the country. President Obama had said when he announced the lifting of the ban that such a restriction was not compatible with US plans to be a leader in the fight against the disease. The new rules come into force on Monday and the US plans to host a bi-annual global HIV/Aids summit for the first time in 2012. More from the BBC.

Below the fold, three stories on the global energy sector.

When Murder Is Legal

Horrifying news today: a judge has dismissed all charges related to 2007’s Blackwater (now Xe) murders in Baghdad. From the New York Times:

In a significant blow to the Justice Department, a federal judge on Thursday threw out the indictment of five former Blackwater security guards over a shooting in Baghdad in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead and about 20 wounded.

The judge cited misuse of statements made by the guards in his decision, which brought to a sudden halt one of the highest-profile prosecutions to arise from the Iraq war. The shooting at Nisour Square frayed relations between the Iraqi government and the Bush administration and put a spotlight on the United States’ growing reliance on private security contractors in war zones.

Investigators concluded that the guards had indiscriminately fired on unarmed civilians in an unprovoked and unjustified assault near the crowded traffic circle on Sept. 16, 2007.


I think the Times’ lede should have been “In a significant blow to justice,” not “the Justice Department.” Or perhaps “a significant blow to Iraq.” Such headlines would have been more accurate, putting the focus on the facts rather than the process.

I don’t have a whole heck of a lot to say about this, other than to make three quick observations. One, this reminds me of the Justice Department’s case against the corrupt former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) in that it shows the importance of getting an investigation right if serving justice is the goal. Two, this is the face of the United States to the rest of the world: A nation that will beat up on weaker states. A nation that can’t do its own dirty work, pretending instead that the perpetrators are rogue contractors and thus shifting the blame. A nation that refuses to hold itself accountable and puts potential legal loopholes ahead of justice. THIS is the example we set for the fledgling democracies we claim to have created? This is how we teach republican principles?

Most importantly, three, Blackwater is quite literally getting away with murder.  Or as the rest of the world will see it, especially in Baghdad, America is letting Blackwater get away with murder. And to the rest of the world, that’s you, and that’s me. I don't know who to be more ticked at - the Justice Dept. lawyers or the judge. No matter who's at fault, however, this is about the worst possible note on which to begin a new year.

Indeed, a second New York Times story documents Iraqi outrage:

Many Iraqis also viewed the prosecution of the guards as a test case of American democratic principles, which have not been wholeheartedly embraced, and in particular of the fairness of the American judicial system…

“What are we — not human?” asked Abdul Wahab Adul Khader, 34, a bank employee who was shot in the hand while driving his car through the traffic circle. “Why do they have the right to kill people? Is our blood so cheap? For America, the land of justice and law, what does it mean to let criminals go? They were chasing me and shooting at me. They were determined to kill me.”

Sami Hawas, 45, a taxi driver, was shot in the back during the episode and is paralyzed. “I can’t even think of words to say,” Mr. Hawas said after being told about the court ruling. “We have been waiting for so long. I still have bullets in my back. I cannot even sit like an ordinary human being.”
Ali Khalaf, a traffic police officer who was on duty in Nisour Square at the time and aided some of the victims, was furious. “There has been a cover-up since the very start,” he said. “What can we say? They killed people. They probably gave a bribe to get released. This is their own American court system.


Hey Iraq – happy New Year.

It Has Come to This

Thirty three Republican Senators decided just past midnight on Friday to play politics instead of voting for cloture on the annual Pentagon budget, a measure that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and provides for the welfare of men and women in uniform who are serving their country. They chose this path not because they took issue with the defense bill, though Senator McCain of Arizona complained the bill was pork-laden, but because as Senator Brownback of Kansas put it "I don't want health care." Had we pulled a stunt like that, we would this morning have been accused of the most villainous and vile treason. I won't stoop to such rhetoric but I will call them petty. It was a shameful ploy. I will note that three Republicans did vote for cloture: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine and Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Senator Robert Byrd Getting Wheeled In to Vote

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