President Obama’s Afghanistan Speech Liveblog

8:58:24 PM: There is a reason Afghanistan is referred to as the graveyard of foreign armies.

9:00:48 PM: Obama gettting ready to thread the needle on Afghan policy.

9:01:19 PM: Any Afghan policy that ignores the Pak military’s incubation of Islamists is destined for failure.

9:02:25 PM: Obama takes the stage at West Point. Here we go…

9:03:37 PM: Obama: “We did not ask for this fight.”

9:04:43 PM: Obama: “Al Qaeda…distorted and destroyed Islam…one of the world’s great religions.”

9:05:20 PM: Obama: Congressional approval to act against Al Qaeda is still in force today.

9:06:08 PM: Obama: We attacked Afghanistan after Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden.

9:06:59 PM: Obama: Iraq war pulled resources away from Afghanistan. We are now bringing Iraq war to a close.

9:07:44 PM: Obama building rationale – legal and otherwise – for escalating in Afghanistan.

9:08:18 PM: Obama: “Taliban maintains ‘common cause’ with Al Qaeda”

9:08:57 PM: Big mistake to conflate Taliban with Al Qaeda. That’s a recipe for a quagmire in Afghanistan.

9:10:19 PM: Obama makes weak argument for the current Afghan government. He says election marred by fraud but government is legitimate. WEAK.

9:11:13 PM: Obama: owe troops “a mission that is clearly defined”. Easier said than done.

9:12:24 PM: No serious person would fault Obama for taking his time making his decision. No need for him to defend deliberation time here. Ignore Cheney

9:14:03 PM: Is Obama LBJ or FDR? Still up in the air.

9:15:20 PM: Obama: “I am convinced our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The most important line of the speech so far – crucial point.

9:16:49 PM: When Obama says “it is from here new attacks are being plotted”, he is referring to Afghanistan AND Pakistan. Nicely done.

9:17:49 PM: Obama: recently extremists were sent here from the “border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan” to commit new acts of terror.

9:18:44 PM: Obama speaking of “partners” in the region. He means Karzai and the Pak military. Both bad bets.

9:19:39 PM: Obama: goal is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Good goal, but perhaps, bad plan.

9:20:55 PM: Hmm: Obama says “to meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives WITHIN Afghanistan”. What happened to Pakistan?

9:22:17 PM: Obama’s plan: 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to roll back Taliban and prop up Karzai. Doomed to failure.

9:23:57 PM: Flashback to Soviet withdrawal: Afghan prime minister and defence minister shell each other over skies in Kabul. I see a repeat whn US out.

9:24:52 PM: Hard to get support from Afghan people with food while there are boots on the ground killing civilians – however inadvertantly.

9:26:06 PM: The “cancer” in Pakistan is not limited to the “border regions”. Once again, American misdiagnosis of Pakistan. Same old, same old.

9:27:07 PM: Obama needs to study up on Pakistani military doctrine. Study 1971 and use of Islamist paramilitaries by Pak army. That has not changed.

9:28:05 PM: Obama says “there are a range of concerns” about Obama’s plan.

9:28:44 PM: Obama says Afghanistan is not Vietnam. He is right, but Afghanistan IS Afghanistan – and there lies the rub.

9:29:49 PM: Obama does not want to “muddle through” with current troop levels. Again, he is right. But, that again is not, and never has been, an option

9:30:36 PM: Obama rejects open-ended commitment. That is of course a good thing. But this is also why occupations are doomed in Afghanistan.

9:32:59 PM: The speech is winding down. It has been an extremely disappointing speech. In a sense, Obama punted. Disappointing.

9:35:03 PM: This is Obama trying to dig himself out of the mess GWB left him. It is not a long term strategy for South and Central Asia. Opp missed.

9:38:56 PM: Obama’s plan in a nutshell: prop up Karzai + prop up Pak army + insert 30,000 US troops = success. Plan ignores history and reality.

9:40:02 PM: Obama’s plan ignores root causes of instability in that region. Fails to excise al Qaeda from Afghanistan and stem unchecked Islamism in Pak

9:45:41 PM: Success vs al Qaeda required separating them from Taliban and creating rift between al Qaeda and their Afghan hosts. This plan does reverse.

9:51:07 PM: Closing thought on the Obama speech: The speech demonstrates a lack of vision. Clearly a product of decision by committee.

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House Of Representatives Makes History

The House just reached 218 votes on the final passage of the Health Care Reform bill. Congratulations Madam Speaker for pushing hard to get this done.

Final vote tally is 220-215 as the House passes HR 3962. Well done.

Posted in Human Rights | Tagged | Comments Off on House Of Representatives Makes History

Bangladesh And The Illusion Of Freedom

A funny thing happened on the way to the exhibition.

On Sunday, Bangladeshi police descended upon Drik Gallery in Dhaka to prevent the launch of a photo exhibition on Tibet. BDNews24 reports:

Dhaka, Nov 1 (—Police prevented Drik Gallery in Dhanmondi from launching an exhibition, titled ‘Into Exile: Tibet 1949 – 2009’, on Sunday.

The exhibition was organised by ‘Students for a Free Tibet’, and includes some very rare photos of the Dalai Lama’s journey into exile.

An hour before the launch, scheduled for 5pm, police shut the gates preventing public from entering the gallery, said Drik authorities.

Drik managing director Shahidul Alam said Bangladesh Police Special Branch spoke with him and asked him to stop the exhibition citing a “government order”.

Alam said, although the police officers could not produce any document of the order, they threatened to shut down the show by force if the organisers did not do so willingly.

According to DrikNEWS, representatives from the Chinese Embassy requested the the weeklong photography exhibition be cancelled.

Drik authorities said they came under pressure for last two days to close down the exhibition.

Alam told, “The day before yesterday (Friday), two officers from the Chinese Embassy came and asked us to cancel the exhibition.”

“After that I also received a series of phone calls from the ministry of cultural affairs and from a number of MPs.”

“On Saturday, officers from the Special Branch of police came and exerted pressure to stop the exhibition according to a ‘government order’. I wanted a written copy of the government order but they refused to show me.”

The chief guest, who was to inaugurate the exhibition, was the chairman of Transparency International, Dr. Muzaffar Ahmed. I wonder if the government sees the irony in its police action.

This is the sad reality of Bangladesh. A country that has been ostensibly independent since 1971 uses its shock troops in the service of powerful foreign governments. The Bangladesh government has embarrassingly surrendered its sovereignty in order to appease its Chinese masters. Yet all of this is perfectly in line with the Bangladesh Constitution. Article 39 of the Bangladesh Constitution has a curious stipulation. Even though the Constitution guarantees freedom of thought and conscience, it is not so generous when it comes to freedom of speech, expression and press. Article 39 in it entirety states:

Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.

(1) Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence- the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed.  [Emphasis added by me]

So, according to the Bangladesh Constitution, a citizen can think whatever he or she wants, but he or she dare not say it, or express it, or publish it if it goes against the interests of “friendly relations with foreign states”. Bangladeshi citizens sadly are at the mercy of powerful states like China when it comes to exercising what they believe are rights they earned in 1971 at the cost of 3 million lives.

So, I feel bad for Drik and Bangladeshis who thought they could learn something about Tibet through the medium of art. But, sadly, they are working under an illusion of freedom. My friend and prominent Bangladeshi blogger Shada Kalo has written a post chastising the Bangladesh government for failing to “protect and follow the constitution of Bangladesh” in preventing the exhibition, but Shada Kalo has also been duped by this illusion. The government is sadly not in unconstitutional territory.

The illusion is the false promise of freedom in Bangladesh’s Constitution. It is incumbent on Bangladeshi citizens to demand this travesty be corrected. If not, it will not only be photo exhibitions that suffer.

Posted in Bangladesh, Constitution, Human Rights | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bangladesh Genocide Conference at Kean University

[Click image to see all photos from the conference]

Last Sunday I attended a conference on the Bangladeshi Genocide. It was organized by the Human Rights Institute and the Bangladesh Genocide Study Group at Kean University. This was the second such conference at Kean. The first one, which I also attended, was held in December 2007.

The conference consisted of multiple panel discussions as well as the presentation of a documentary on the 1971 genocide. The focus was on eyewitness accounts, documentation and memorialization of the Genocide, and the upcoming Genocide trials in Bangladesh.

Mofidul Hoque of the Bangladesh Liberation War Museum – a privately funded effort in Bangladesh – kicked off the discussion in the morning with a presentation of the efforts of the Museum to preserve the history of the War and Genocide. He was followed by a speech from the Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United States, Akramul Qader. The Ambassador outlined the Bangladesh government’s plan to begin genocide trials to bring to justice those who have enjoyed impunity for their actions for nearly 4 decades. Following the Ambassador, a number of eyewitnesses to the genocide of 1971 presented testimony of their experiences.

After a lunch break, the discussion moved to a number of expert panels on the genocide. Notable amongst these were a panel discussion on atrocities committed during the Genocide and the expert panel on prosecutable crimes during the Genocide. The panel on atrocities – with Dr. ABM Nasir of North Carolina Central University, Dr. Shelley Feldman of Cornell University and, via phone, Dr. Adam Jones of Gendercide Watch – brought into focus the dearth of source material on the Genocide available in the English language. This lack of material available in English has seriously hindered scholarly study of the 1971 Genocide.

The panel on prosecutable crimes consisted of experts on international law and war crimes. Dr. Keith Nunes, Coordinator of the Holocaust & Genocide Studies program at Kean, moderated the discussion involving Dr. David Matas, Senior Counsel of B’nai Brith of Canada and a member of Canadian delegations to conferences on the International Criminal Court and the Holocaust, Dr. Roza Pati, Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Intercultural Human Rights program at St. Thomas University, and Dr. Roger Clark of Rutgars University School of Law and a former member of the United Nations Committee on Crime Prevention and Control. The discussion focused on the 1973 International Crimes (Tribunals) Act which the Bangladesh government will use as the legal framework for the upcoming Genocide trials. It was pointed out by the panel that the 1973 Act defines genocide more broadly than the legal definition of genocide used in International Law. Specifically, the 1973 Act adds acts against a “political group” to the crime of genocide as defined by the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Given that the 1973 Act was passed after the crimes of 1971, there is a serious question as to the fairness of the trials if charges are brought against the perpetrators using the expanded definition of genocide beyond what is defined in International Law. In a subsequent conversation I asked Dr. Matas, given the problems with the 1973 Act, should the Bangladesh government go ahead with the Genocide Trials under the Act. He pointed out that it was important to get the process of the trials going, even with the flaws in the Act. He said as long as the charges stayed within the genocide defined in International Law, there was no need to rework the 1973 Act further to maintain the fairness and legitimacy of the trials.

Apart from a few minor hiccups, the conference was a success and a major step forward in the study of the 1971 genocide. I commend the organizers for their continued dedication to the important work that needs to be done. Important issues were raised at this conference. I hope these issues will be addressed.

The conference at Kean highlighted the embarrassing dereliction of duty by the Bangladesh government in preserving for posterity the history of the genocide of 1971. Apart from a wholly inadequate attempt in the early 1980s to bring together and document eyewitness accounts and historical records from the genocide, the failure of the government has been total. It should be a badge of shame for the government that it is left to private citizens to launch efforts like the Liberation War Museum to do what their government should have been doing. The government’s failure has been directly responsible for the distortion of Bangladesh’s history and for the lack of substantial scholarship surrounding one of the most concentrated acts of genocide in modern history. The conference at Kean was a clarion call to the Government of Bangladesh to do what it must do and should do to fulfill its obligations to its citizens and to those who gave their lives in the bloody birth of the country.

Another key takeaway from the conference is the importance of holding Genocide trials that are not only fair but that are seen to be fair as well. The Bangladesh government has a responsibility to the victims as well as posterity to see to it that it maintains the integrity of the upcoming trials. To this end, it should heed advice from international legal experts as it follows through with its obligation to try those responsible for the 1971 Genocide and to bring a measure of justice after nearly four decades of delay.

In terms of who the Bangladesh government intends to prosecute, a comment made by Ambassador Qader during his speech bothered me greatly. I did not get a chance to ask him to clarify his comments, so it is possible that he (I hope) misspoke. The Ambassador mentioned that the Bangladesh government only intends to bring charges against Bangladeshi citizens during the Genocide trials. He said that this decision was made so as not to “upset” foreign governments (read Pakistan and countries of the OIC). This, it seems to me, is a bizarre criteria to use in the pursuit of justice. I can understand the need to first bring to justice those that are within Bangladesh’s jurisdiction. But to exclude those that do not hold Bangladeshi citizenship is wrongheaded and legally unsound. It is well known that many perpetrators have either fled Bangladesh or were members of the Pakistan army. If Bangladesh government is indeed going to use this criteria for prosecution many key actors will continue to escape justice. Some of these perpetrators have taken shelter in Western countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States. To give these perpetrators of genocide continued impunity for their crimes is not only immoral, but will do nothing to convince future perpetrators that the world is serious about preventing genocide. In effect, the government of Bangladesh is saying this: that if you commit a murder or rape in Bangladesh, all you need do to escape justice is flee to another country and become its citizen. This stance will make a mockery of justice. I hope either the Ambassador misspoke or that the Bangladesh government will reconsider its ill considered stance.

Posted in Bangladesh, Bangladesh Liberation War | 5 Comments

President Obama’s Healthcare Speech Liveblog

8:05:50 PM: After painting himself into a corner in August and losing his base, Obama will try to reclaim the initiative. Maybe.

8:16:54 PM: A lot on the line for Obama, and the country.

8:18:46 PM: Obama says he wants to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes. So far, his program has failed miserably.

8:19:21 PM: Obama says his gov has helped bring the economy back from the brink.

8:20:53 PM: Not the first Prez to take up healthcare reform, but he wants to be the last. Good line, but his inaction last month tells another story.

8:22:24 PM: Makes the point that US lags behind other developed countries in healthcare.

8:22:48 PM: Do Americans believe healthcare is a right or a privilege? I wonder.

8:25:12 PM: Clapping when Obama said that no one in the US should be denied coverage by insurers. If everyone agrees, why the resistance?

8:26:02 PM: Obama takes his first shot at the “left” and “single payer”. He’s going “bipartisan”. Good luck.

8:26:59 PM: Everyone is now clapping because Obama just said we must build on the status quo, and not replace it. Insurance lobbyists must be happy.

8:28:41 PM: “Time for bickering is over.” “Time for action”. “Now is the time to deliver on healthcare”. Deliver what?

8:29:07 PM: Obama says his plan has three basic goals:

8:29:38 PM: 1) provide more security and stability to those who have health insurance

8:30:02 PM: 2) provide insurance for those who don’t.

8:30:36 PM: 3) slow the growth of healthcare costs for families, businesses, and government.

8:31:43 PM: Obama says his plan includes input from “everyone”! Great. I am not sure I care.

8:32:36 PM: He reiterates his plan will not cause those with insurance to change their plan or doctor, but it will make ins work better for you.

8:33:15 PM: His plan: ins companies cant deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, drop coverage when you get sick.

8:34:13 PM: Insurance companies cant cap coverage limits under his plan.

8:34:51 PM: So far, I am still waiting for the big stuff. This is beating around the edges.

8:35:25 PM: He says his plan will offer those without insurance “quality affordable coverage”.

8:36:07 PM: He’ll create an insurance exchange where individuals and biz can shop for insurance.

8:38:00 PM: Basically a giant group that everyone can be a member of.

8:38:42 PM: My question is, if we are ready to create an insurance exchange where individuals can go to, why do we still want to tie ins to work?

8:39:18 PM: Why not go all the way and let everyone go through the exchange….or did I just stumble into “single payer”?

8:41:00 PM: He says exchange will take effect in 4 years.

8:41:23 PM: In the meantime, they will offer low cost coverage for everyone?!?

8:42:03 PM: At least McCain is happy.

8:43:23 PM: Individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance. Mandate. Mandate. Mandate.

8:43:46 PM: It seems to me that American politicians turn the healthcare problem on its head.

8:44:14 PM: “Significant details need to be ironed out”. Laughter all around.

8:44:29 PM: No mention of public option yet.

8:45:26 PM: Obama now moving on to clearing misconceptions. I smell trouble ahead!

8:46:22 PM: Hmm. Noise in the hall when Obama says “death panels” are a lie. I guess some in GOP dont think so.

8:47:03 PM: Obama used the word “lie”. Good. Most politicians never seem to be able to call a lie a lie.

8:47:55 PM: Standing ovation from Dems. GOP sitting on their hands. Does this mean GOP members are pro-Lying?

8:49:30 PM: Wow! Once Obama used the word “lie”. Now someone from the GOP side just called Obama a liar on live TV. Simply surreal.

8:50:26 PM: Joe Biden just shook his head in disgust. Can you feel the bipartisan love in the halls of congress?

8:57:40 PM: First mention of public option from Obama.

8:58:02 PM: “choice and competition” are guiding principles.

8:58:56 PM: “No interest in putting insurance companies out of business”. He wants to hold them accountable.

9:00:23 PM: “An additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available…”

9:01:11 PM: Dems on their feet. GOP sitting on their hands.

9:01:31 PM: “public insurance option would have to be self-sufficient”

9:02:18 PM: Good anology. Compares impact of public option to how public universities compete with private universities.

9:03:06 PM: “Public option means to end”. The end being healthcare reform.

9:07:50 PM: Obama going directly after GOP hypocrisy on Medicare.

9:10:55 PM: “We didnt come to fear the future, we came here to shape it”. Kennedyesque.

9:12:17 PM: Well written speech. Let’s see if he can back it up.

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