Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Also in this morning's Times: Tsunami, Malawi, Bolton and Negroponte

Also in this morning's Times is Somini Sengupta's "Powerful Quake Jolts the Seabed Off the West Coast of Indonesia." From that article:

Just three months after a deadly tsunami punched through the Indian Ocean, a powerful underwater earthquake struck again late Monday off the west coast of Indonesia, sending a ripple of panic and public warnings across a still traumatized region.
The quake, which was measured at a magnitude of 8.7, hit shortly after 11 p.m. about 200 miles farther south along the same fault as the more powerful Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that killed as many as 270,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean countries, including more than 100,000 in Indonesia.
Early signs seemed to indicate that this time the quake had not inflicted anywhere near the same damage. The one glaring exception was the Indonesian island of Nias, where 1,000 to 2,000 people were feared dead, Indonesia's vice president, Jusuf Kalla, said in an interview on Al Shinta radio. But reports from remote affected areas were slow in coming, and scientists and other officials were reluctant to dismiss the possibility of wider devastation, including what might come from new tsunamis.

Also check out Sharon LaFraniere's "A Ghost Story Turns Very Scary for Malawi Journalists:"

Malawi's president, Bingu wa Mutharika, spent a week this month at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, polishing his image as a progressive leader committed to thoroughly modern strategies to usher his impoverished nation into the 21st century.
Then he came home to a flurry of news reports that he had fled his 300-room palace because he believed it was infested with ghosts. Two journalists quoted the president's religious adviser as saying that the president had summoned religious leaders to exorcise the evil spirits. A third reported that the president had sensed invisible rodents crawling over him at night.
It was not unthinkable that a former World Bank economist like Mr. Mutharika, highly skilled in such matters as how to conquer inflation and spur development, might fret about the possibility of spirits. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, traditional superstitions coexist seamlessly with modern sensibilities.
But it is not true, according to Mr. Mutharika. "I have not seen any ghosts yet," he said, returning from Europe. "I have never in my life been afraid of them."

[. . .]
Now the question is not so much whether Mr. Mutharika believes in ghosts, but whether he firmly believes in freedom of the press.

Also check out Reporters Without Borders "Two journalists to be charged with "causing ridicule" to president" from March 23rd:

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay at yesterday's announcement by Malawian director of public prosecutions Ishmael Wadi that an additional charge of "causing ridicule" to President Bingu wa Mutharika will be brought against two journalists who were arrested on 15 March for reporting that he abandoned the presidential palace in Lilongwe for fear of ghosts.
BBC correspondent Raphael Tenthani and Mabvuto Banda, a reporter with the privately-owned daily The Nation and a contributor to Reuters, were already charged with "publishing false news." They were freed on bail on 16 March.

Kara calls our attention to an Associated Press article in this morning's Times, "Ex-Diplomats to Urge Rejection of Bolton as U.N. Ambassador:"

"We urge you to reject that nomination," the former diplomats said in a letter dated Tuesday that was obtained by The Associated Press.
The former diplomats have served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, some for long terms and others briefly.

On Bolton, I'll reference "Diff'rent Strokes for Diff'rent Folks" by John Maxwell:

Mr. Bush’s appointment of John Bolton to be Ambassador to the United Nations – a job once held by Adlai Stevenson – seems weirdly appropriate, since Mr. Bolton is not only about as far right as Adolph Hitler but is a pathological liar to boot. Mr. Negroponte’s appointment as America’s security czar seems fitting too, in this age of American gulags around the world, and of people being rendered like fat pork – "teased" into confessing while their brains turn to jelly in some faraway, foreign torture chamber.

Which takes us to Ben's e-mail noting Scott Shane's "Poker-Faced Diplomat, Negroponte Is Poised for Role as Spy Chief:"

Now, as the United States fights another borderless war against a different enemy, terrorism, he is about to move to the center of that world, as the first director of national intelligence. His task will be to coordinate 15 spy agencies so that the United States is never again surprised as it was on Sept. 11, 2001, nor as ill-informed as it was about Iraq's weapons programs.
Mr. Negroponte's career has been distinguished by an unflinching allegiance to his government's policies, whether he was helping arm the Nicaraguan contras or lining up support for the war in Iraq as ambassador to the United Nations. As he prepares for Senate confirmation hearings next month, a central question is whether the traits that served him well as a diplomat are suited to a post that may require him to tell the president what he does not want to hear.

Ben: This is one of the most embarrassing stories the Times has run on a nominee. Unlike with suprise Bernie [Kerik], Negroponte's record is well known.

For those unfamiliar, check out Robert Parry's "Negroponte’s Dark Past
The case against Bush’s new intelligence czar
" from In These Times magazine:

George W. Bush's choice of John Negroponte to be the first U.S. intelligence czar signals that Washington is heading down the same road that has led to earlier American intelligence failures and controversies--from politicizing analysis to winking at human rights abuses.
Although Negroponte's nomination is expected to sail through the Senate, one question that might be worth asking about his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 is: "Were you oblivious to the Honduran military’s human rights violations and drug trafficking, or did you just ignore these problems for geopolitical reasons?"
Negroponte either oversaw a stunningly inept U.S. intelligence operation at the embassy in Tegucigalpa--missing major events occurring under his nose--or he tolerated atrocities that included torture, rape and murder, while slanting intelligence reports to please his superiors in Washington.

From CounterPunch, note "How Negroponte Changes the Ground Rules: A Salvador Option for Iraq?" by W. John Green:

The designation of John Negroponte as the first director of national intelligence recalls the Central American wars of the 1980s, where he played a critical, if deeply controversial, role as U.S. ambassador to Honduras, 1981-85. Despite feigning amnesia while questioned, Negroponte implicitly participated in questionable events at the time, including bribes handed down from the embassy to high ranking military and government officials and ties between Honduran death squads and the witnessed massacres of dissidents in nearby El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

And see Matthew Rothschild's "Negroponte, Servant of the Empire, Rises to the Top:"

If you wink at torture, if you don’t mind mass slaughter, if lying is of no concern to you, you can go far in this world.
Just ask John Negroponte.
He served as a political officer in Saigon from 1964 to 1968, and then he headed up the Vietnam desk at the National Security Council from 1971 to 1973. During that decade of time, the Johnson-Nixon war was killing two to three million Vietnamese, along with 58,000 U.S. soldiers.
But Negroponte did not want the war to end. In fact, as an aide to Henry Kissinger at the Paris Peace Talks, he urged Kissinger not to come to terms so readily.
A decade later in Central America, Negroponte essentially ran the illegal Contra War against Nicaragua from his post as U.S. ambassador to Honduras.This war cost the lives of some 30,000 people.

Note David Corn's "Negroponte: Unfit to Lead:"

Negroponte has been a loyal Bush foot soldier, serving as ambassador to the United Nations (and pitchman for the phony Iraq-has-WMDs argument) before heading off to Baghdad, but he is unsuited for this position. The ultimate goal of the DNI is to guarantee that the President and other policy-makers receive unvarnished and valuable information. Yet there is evidence that Negroponte, when he was Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, suppressed intelligence that was politically inconvenient. At the time, the Reagan Administration was relying on the Honduran government and military in its not-too-secret war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. After Congress ended aid to the anti-Sandinista contras, the Reagan Administration essentially bribed the Honduran government into providing further assistance to the contras in what was arguably an illegal deal. (For helping the contras, the Hondurans received economic aid that had been withheld and military supplies.) Throughout this episode, Negroponte acted as the boss of the contra operations in Honduras, and he participated in the covert quid pro quo arrangement. According to a 1997 CIA inspector general's report, he also smothered reports on human rights abuses committed by the Honduran military.
Since the early 1980s, Negroponte has denied that his partners in Honduras perpetuated deliberate and extensive human rights abuses. Yet this CIA report concluded, "The Honduran military committed hundreds of human rights abuses since 1980, many of which were politically motivated and officially sanctioned." According to the report, the US-backed Honduran army was linked to "death squad activities." The report quoted an official in Negroponte's embassy saying that "the embassy country team in Honduras wanted reports on subjects such as [human rights abuses] to be benign" because such reporting "would reflect negatively on Honduras and not be beneficial in carrying out US policy." The heavily redacted CIA report said that in one case the embassy discouraged reporting on a particular human rights matter because of Negroponte's concern that it would "create human rights problems for Honduras." A groundbreaking 1995 Baltimore Sun series noted, "A comparison of the annual human rights reports prepared while Negroponte was ambassador with the facts as they were then known shows Congress was deliberately misled." The newspaper reported, "Time and again...Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives." None of this made it into State Department reports.

And don't miss Katrina vanden Heuvel's "No Stems, No Seeds:"

If George Bush is the Cheech Marin of turning past vices into present virtues, then John Negroponte is Tommy Chong. While ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte was involved in Iran/Contra, misled Congress about Honduras' human rights record, and denied the existence of CIA-trained death squads which, in fact, were then hunting down, torturing, and killing suspected subversives.
Negroponte's resume doesn't stop there. He was ambassador to the United Nations, when Colin Powell presented false WMD intelligence to the Security Council. And finally, if more proof is needed that he is the last person in the world you want to hear the United States has assigned to be ambassador to your country, Negroponte's most recent posting was Iraq.

Somehow Scott Shane misses most of that in an article, as Ben notes, "that trots out Lee Hamilton, a Democrat Zell Miller can love, and assures you that the support for Negroponte is widespread except for those pesky liberal activists. You get the idea you're supposed to feel sorry for Negroponte as he's stalked by people in fringes and love beads. This valentine usually comes when the person is first announced and the paper wants to do the glamour portrait. At this point in the nomination process, we can usually count on a little more realisim creeping into the hagiography. I found this very disappointing and nominate Shane to the Elite Fluff Patrol squadron based on his two articles in the paper today."

In fairness, way into the article, Shane does point out that:

Not only rights activists but also Jack R. Binns, Mr. Negroponte's predecessor as ambassador, have accused him of discouraging reporting to Washington of abductions, torture and killings by notorious Honduran military units.
"I think he was complicit in abuses, I think he tried to put a lid on reporting abuses and I think he was untruthful to Congress about those activities," said Mr. Binns, now retired in Arizona.
A 1997 report by the inspector general of the C.I.A. seemed to support the accusations, saying Mr. Negroponte was "particularly sensitive" about reporting abuses.

But Shane, for all the talk of contras, fails to point out the illegal nature of much of the aid to the contras (and that's putting it mildly). Perhaps he assumes everyone's familiar with the story? If he's assuming that, he's mistaken and should certainly realize that two decades later, he's coming across new readers as well as readers whose minds may have gone as hazy as the reporting he turns in on this subject. (He or "Scott Shane" implying copy editors and/or others who may have rewritten his story to turn it into what appears today in print under his byline.)

Shane's usually assigned to mop-up detail, showing up to plug in the details that the Fluff Patrol (among others) leave out their front page reporting. Who will do mop up for Shane?

E-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com. There are other stories in the paper this morning (there always are) but due to problems with this Blogger program, I'll leave it at that. If you see something you feel should have been highlighted, please feel free to write something up and we'll post it. Or if you'd like to weigh in with your opinion on something (as KeShawn does, please check out his post) e-mail it and note that it's for the community and not a private e-mail. Due to blogger problems, I'm behind on Women History's Month. Gina's post will run tonight and my apologies to Gina for not getting it up last night.