Archive for July, 2010

Wikileaks: don´t believe all the hype

July 27, 2010

The publication by Wikileaks of 91.000 ducuments on the Afghanwar has attracted a large amount of attention. Of course, the US national security establishment did’nt like the leaking and publishing of intelligence reports. On the other hand, some people consider the publication as verrrry, verrry important in exposing the horrors of this war that is endlessly and destructively dragging on. The first reaction can be understood, from their enemy perspective. The second reaction is a bit strange.

First, the official reaction. “The US government criticized the publication of the material and said it could threaten national security.” Well, of course! Governments do not like the publishing of their cherished state secrets. They prefer to plan and execute their criminal wars in secret. Otherwise, people might start asking questions and raising objections. The government’s fear is our hope: long live the leaking of state secrets!

And what about national security? The more secure ther national state, the less secure the people living under the mighty arms of that state, whether they be Afghan people or American people or anyone else. If state security is harmed by the leaking of documents, I am all in favor of that. The fact that military or intelligence personnel may be at risk by publication of intelligence reports is, well, bad luck. It is part of the professional risk of complicity in criminal wars. If Obama is truly concerned with the safety of these people, he should withdraw US military and intelligence forces from Afghanistan and stop the US war there.

But what of the docuements itself? From what I see in reports – a useful summary of which can be found in The Guardian – it basically says what anybody following this war already kne, only a bit more so. The war is not being won by the West, the Taliban gets stronger, Western forces killing civilians  and covering up the killing only adds to popular resentment and to Taliban support, Pakistan intelligence helps the Taliban,  unmanned drones kill people by the score. Things like that are hardly news. The Wikileak reports show that all this has been going on, somewhat more so than we already knew. Any qualitative news here? Not really. Chris Floyd makes that point in his usual excellent way on his blog Empire Burlesque, and I agree.

Floyd makes another point: some of the content of the leaked reports can be quite useful for the US military and national security establishent. That is especially true for reports blaming Iran for supporting the Taliban. The whole thing is, als Floyd sarcastically explains, not very logical. The Shia regime in Iran is not exactly good friends with the Sunni Taliban, whicht makes the idea of close cooperation somewhat weird. Then again, Taliban and Iran have an opponent in common: the US empire waging war in Afghanistan and pushiong for war against Iran. Some tactical cooperation betweet Taliban or related factions in Afghanistan and forces within the Iran regime cannnot be entirely excluded.

But there is another problem here that Floyd also points to. Journalists and others tend to treat the Wikileak reports as hard, factual evidence of what is happening there. It is not. Soldiers or intelligence officers reporting to superiors of colleagues, how reliable is that? Sometimes, such people will tell what they have seen. Sometimes they will tell what they think superiors want to hear. How can we know which is the case in this report, or that? Even less convincing are reports on conferences between functionaries. They may show what these functionaries think is going on, and what they would like to be done and so on. But there is, for the readers, no clear way of telling what is truth, what is deception, what is self-deception, and what is sheer illusion. We know how ‘intelligence’ reporting worked in the running-up to the Iraq war. Floyd’s suggestion that the leaks may have something to do with preparing a similar war of aggression against Iran should be taken seriously.

What of the Pakistan connection to the Taliban? That has not been exactly the biggest secret in recent months and years. But here, also, caution is in order. Juan Cole gives space on his weblog to Brian Cloughly, who thinks substantial Pakistani support to the Taliban unlikely. His reasoning goes like this: if the US supports Pakistan, which supports Taliban fighters killing US and Pakistan soldiers, this would amount to treason. Than t cannot be, so Pakistan does not support the Taliban in a substantioal way. This reasoning is not very convincing: sometimes these kind of ‘treasonous’ things do sometimes happen, however distasteful it may be in Cloughley’s eyes.

Be that as it may, the highlighting of the Pakistan-Taliban-link can also be useful for parts of the national security elite, the  war planners in Washington. Just as with the Iran link, it strenghens the idea that resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan is not homegrown, but mostly a product of outside agitators, foreignd meddling – against the biggest foreign meddler of all, the US itself. If only the outside interference would stop, the US could manage its Afghan troubles without too much trouble.

This is an illusion: resistance in Afghanistan has local roots and reasons. It is not, in essence, a product of Pakistan and Iran. It is most of all a reaction to what the US itself is doing there: occupying a country and oppressing its inhabitants. But it is a useful illusion for the powers-that-be desperately seeking a way to, wel not to winning the war, but at least not openly losing it. Arm-twisting Pakistan and intimidating, possibly attacking, Iran, just might do – so some folks in high places perobably hope – what 150.000 Western soldiers in Afghanistan are manifestly failing to do: crushing an Afghan insurgency growing stronger and stronger.

The Wikileaks documents may show something of the horrors of this endless war. But parts of its contents can also contribute in the preparation of even bigger wars. We should applaud the fact of the leaking: there can never be enough openness, there is no such thing as a legitimate state secret. But we should not take a single word in it at face value. There are lies, there are big lies – and then there is intelligence reporting.


Toronto, G20, Black Bloc & summit protests

July 3, 2010

Last weekend saw scenes that have become familiar: a summit of world leaders gathers. A big ‘security operation’, with special police powers, is put into operation. Crowds of protesters gather, for different but related causes, be it labour rights or the environment, in opposition to a set of prioriteis that puts the profits of corporations above the needs and demands of ordinary people and the world we inhabit. The protests, rowdy but mostly though not exclusively peaceful, are confronted by riot cops. Soon afterwards, we get the stories of arrests, police violence and abuse.

THis timem, the scene was Toronto, Canada, a gathering of representative leaders of the G20 countries. This G20 can be seen as a broadening of the earlier, still existing, G8 of most powerful states. The G20 has become more prominent as a combination that influential governments use to coordinate a kind of an answer to the financial and economic crisis that is raging since 2007.

On the summit itself I can be brief. There has been quarrel. On the one hand European states that want austerity and budget cuts, more austeruiity and more budget cuts. On the other hand Obama’s US, that is wary of too mich austerity± all these cuts, bu hurtingh demand foor goods, can hurt exports and production as well. This risks destroying the economic revival and might the much-feared double dip-recession closerr.

As usual in the last ten years, there were protests. As usual, authorities use the cngances of violence from a minority of protestersd as a pretext for police-state measures. canada was no exception. It spent a billion on security. It created a security zone around the conference headquarters, guarded by a fence. The government pushed through a measure that gave police authority to aks people what they were doing there as soon as they were within five meters of the fence, and ask for identification as well. Also, testimony the police gave were, in this security operation, to beconsidered as conclusive evidence. Any semblance of fair trial and rule of law  was hereby discarded. This measure was decided upoon by the government itself, without even consulting parliament. Any semblance of even limited, parliamentary democracy was hereby put aside. The measure wass temporary. But it creates a dangerous authoritarian precedent.

The protests around the summit were of the usual kind. Large crowds  – 10.000, according to an estimate from the authorities’ side, which means the real size was probably bigger – demonstrated. Smaller groups destroyed some police cars, papparently left unguarded as if to provoke demonstrators to do exactly this, as Al Giordiani – of whom more later – writes. There was more street action. Police attacked a peaceful demonstration . Journalist Steve Paikin telss the story: “As I was escorted away from the demonstyration, I saw two officers hold a jopurnaliost. The journalist identified himself  as working for ‘the Guardian’.  He talked too much and pissed the police off. Two iofficers held him and a third punched him in the stomach.” Paikin also said: “Police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave only one way. Then police on the other side said leave the other way. There was no way out.” And, making matters even clearer: “So the police just started arresting people. I stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse cload. No anarchists.” By the way, you see, anarchists are, ovviously, not peaceful people, according to this very meainstream journalist, hereby reflecting his prejudices. But that makes his testimony no less useful. Anyway, Paiker continues: “Literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. Rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fo ired. Rubber bullets fired.”

There were more horror stories. “A newspaper photographer was shot with a plastic bullet in the backside, while another had an officer pointing a gun in his face despite identifying himself as a member of the media.” Clearly, the police wanted not just to use repression against the crowds as they saw fit, to intimidate the protesters; they wanted to intimidate people who witnessed what was happening as well. An attack on both the right to demonstrate and the right to freely gather and spread information, buth fundamental democratic liberties.

150 people were arrested . Soon, there were stories of what detained people had to endure. Here is what Amy Miller, working for the Alternative Media Center, told.  She was arrested and thrown in a cage where she was held for 13 hours. “I was  told I was going to be raped, I was told I was going to be gang-banged. I was told that  I was never going to want to act as a journalist again by making sure that I would be repeatedly raped while I was in jail.” She had been violently arrested while she was “trying to record a confrontation between police and protesters”, according to a report in Raw Story. You want more stories about the ferocious repression that the riot police enfiorced in Toronto? You can find more in, for instance, “The mass repression at the G20 summit in Toronto”, on the World Socialist Website (wsws) on 30 June.

There has been a number of interesting comments on left wing websites on the events. Unfortunately, they focus mostly on the violent tactics of some of the demonstrators. For instance, Louis Proyect’s blog “Unrepentent Marxist” has a guest column by a certain Ritch: “An analysis of the G20 protests and the Black Bloc”. It mentions the gross violations of democratic rights, thepolice violence. But is basically blames activists using the Black Bloc tactic of confronting both police and destroyingh capitalist objects – business buildings, for instance – while mingling with the rest of the crowds, for provoking the police.

Some of the criticism is valid. I did not like it very much when I was in Genoa 2001, protesting aginst the G8 summit, when something was thrown from behind, over the head of a militant but non-violent gropuop of people to which I belonged, basically using us as a shelter. When the police attacked, we were the ones being beten and kicked; the one throwing something had amle opportunity to get away. The report describes instances like that, and worse, in Toronto, and such things should be criticized.

Where the article goes wrong is in using these things to dismiss all that goes under the Black Bloc-rubric. Not all forceful confrontations on demonstrations, not even offensive ones, should be discarded. I have seen groups of Black-Bloc-like activists on the streets in Straatsburg, last year, around the NATO summit there, slowly fighting their – and our! -way across a bridge towards the place where the big demonstration was supposed to start.

Sometimes Black-Bloc-tactics hurt the rest of the actions; at other times, they help the whole action along. As with any other tactical concept, the Black Bllock thing should bne used with a wisdom and  a carefulnes that is quite often lacking. There is debate within anarchist/ Black Block circles about these kind of things. All these nuances are lacking in the dismissive piece on Louis Proyect’s blog.

Even worse was a piece by Al Giordiani, an otherwise often impressive journalist connected to The Narco News, a source of ghood information on struggles, especially in Latin America. He basically says the Black Bloc, whether police provocateurs or genuine activists, basically helps the police in giving pretexts for repression, and hurts the action by the disrespectful way they operate towards other activit sts. He blames groups organising big summit protests for not rejecting any space for Black Bloc-type activism, but tolerating their actions. Again, not all specific complains about specific actions are wrong; unfortunately not. Bust the whole dismissibe attitude towards this form of activism – an activims that at its best is much more than just uncontrolled rage by middel class spoiled kids, as is how Proyect and Giordiani apparently see it – is wrongheaded.

Just as wrongheaded is another conclusion Giordiani has drawn: summit protests are, according to him, an irrelevance, and his journalistic project will no longer pay attention to them. He goes through the developent of ‘summit-hopping’: a relatively succesfull mass protest in Seattel 1999 against the WTO, followed by less and less succesfol protest the years after that – protest disfigured by this Black Bloc-thing, protests that dont build serious opposition as well’, protests of which it is less and less clear what the protest is actually about. Community organising! That is the thing! No more of this fruitless summit hopping!

Now, yes, there is a problem with the summit protests. The surprise effect is basically gone. The one-sided-stress on it, at the expense of a other forms of activism, can and sometimes hurt local resistance which ternds to get neglected while actrivists are frantically building the next international demonstration. But that does not mean these kinds of protest have become irrelevant. Even after more than ten years after Seattle, protest like in Toronto, or the climate summit in Copenhagen last year, attract attention, not just to police repression and violent tactics, but to the issues that motivate people to protest as well. The whole world may not be watching, but a significant part of it is.

And it is still the case that many of the protesters themselves return to become or remain active in the place where they come d from after they took party in the summit protest. Community organising and ‘summit hopping’ are not mutually exclusive forms of activism. And the feeling of being together with thousands on the streets against the big and powerful who have to shelter behind thousands of police to preceed with their conference is in itself empowering.

The overview of theseries of summit protests that Giordiani offers is, by the way, faulty. He talks about “hundreds of thousands” of protesters in Seattle. This gives him space to be dismissive of later protests, which gathered ‘only’ tens of thousands of demonstrators. But Seattle, while massive in its effects, was not that big. Most estimates talk about tens of thousands, maybe 60.000 to 80.000 people on the streets.

Later summit actions werer sometimes smaller, but sometimes bigger, much bigger. I was in Evian, in 2003, in one of the less significant mobilisations, against a G8 summit there: 100.000 people on a demonstration. No mention in Giordiani’s piece. And then there was Genoa, the G8 summit in 2001. Eeighty thousand people on a demonstration before the summit started; tens of thousands  the day after that blockading the security zone, sometimes attacking the fence around it; 300.000 demonstrators on the final day; violent police attacks on demonstrators, killing one of them, attacking buildings whre demonstrators gathered and slept, provoking new protests the weeks after that. Most of the demonstrators, by the way, came from Italy itself. The whole Genoa series of events is not even mentioned in Giordiani’s article.

Another example: the G8 in 2008, in the German town of Heiligendamm, near Rostock. For more than a day, thousands of demonstrators blockaded the entrance to the summit, and made the riot police look very foolish because they could not stop them. The police blocked the roads against activists, so demonstrators crossed the cornfielfds and meadows in kilometers long walks. For some time, the G8 had to have its catering brought in by boat. What a humiliation for the authorities! Now, I would call this a rather effective, if mainly symbolic, victory for this form of activism. Again, no mention by Giordiani.

Yes, I think the glory days of the big summit protests are behind us. Yes, I think it is right to build locally, put our priority in community and labour action in the places where we live, to work towards revolution based on the struggles around us. But going now and there to big, international actions aroudn summits has not lost all usefullness. And using the presence and activity of the Black Bloc, and tolerance towards theu ir activities from the side of organisators of protests, as an excuse not to pay attention to summit protests anymore seems to me? I think it is counterproductuve sillyness. Of course, if Narco News and Giordiani refuse to cover these protests from now on, that is their right. But I do not tremble with fear of these protests being neglected by critical journalists. Others will cover what Giordiano refuses to cover. A large part of the  world will still be watching – and part of that part will be participating as well.