Archive for the 'history' Category

Human Rights in Argentina and the 2×1 Decision

A few thoughts on the  big demonstrations yesterday against the Argentine Supreme Courts’s #2×1 judgement.

The judgement held that a now repealed law which meant that time spent on remand should count double when computing the time  to be served on conviction should apply to those serving sentences for crimes against humanity during the 1976-83 dictatorship. There is some excellent legal analysis of the decision here  by  Gustavo Arballo    and more here by  Roberto Gargarella. What interests me here though aren’t the de/merits of the judgement or why the SC judges may have taken it into their heads to rule on this at all  but rather the overwhelming public and political reaction to the judgement. As well as the huge demonstrations yesterday Congress has near unanimously  passed an insta-law which will supposedly stop the judgement from being implemented.

 I  think it’s the result of a number of factors…

A) An inherited feeling of societal guilt, when the dictatorship was killing and torturing  the bulk of the population either quietly approved or decided to keep its trap shut,  now that it’s all long in the past  there’s a tendency to act out chest-thumping public rejection of it all. Anyone would think that the dictatorship was about to be restored.  What was repressed keeps  bubbling back up.

B) The 12 years of Kirchnerismo during which the 76-83 dictatorship was reinvented as an attack on Argentine society by the military with help from the media and some business sectors; in effect as society attacked by entities extraneous to it.

C) A more recent attempt equate 76-83 dictatorship with the Holocaust, complete with talk of “deniers” and “denialism”, a more effective way to hamper reflection on what happened,  why it happened,  and how it happened  in Argentina  between the early 70s and early 80s would be hard to imagine.

D) The fact that being in favourof human rights in Argentina has largely come to mean   the channelling of an atavistic urge to get even with the surviving murderers and torturers and a reimagining of the armed revolutionary groups active in the period as a saintly army of human rights operatives. As well as being false that’s a travesty of their memory.

And finally E),   the current government isn’t peronist, the peronists now hold the copyright on human rights in Argentina and even the fact that the previous administration appointed an army chief who cut his teeth disappearing dissidents and the 100 other complicities of parts of the movement with the dictatorship will change that; the current government is therefore seen as an affront to human rights in itself, regardless of what it does or fails to do.

Finally, for personal reasons  I share the atavistic desire to get even with those who  seized control of the state to murder torture and enrich themselves between 1976 and 1983 in Argentina and I’ll not be sorry if the Supreme Court #2×1 decision is blocked or reversed. But that’s got nothing to do with human rights



Pablo Trapero and the Great Secret of Argentina

El Clan  is a  flawed movie in many respects: some incomprehensible music choices, poor political contextualization for non-Argentine viewers, confusing flashbacks (or forwards, who knows?? ) and much more besides.
However, it’s saved by the fact that it throws light  on the Great Secret of Argentina: the persistence of the deep state regardless of what government is in power (an amalgam of security forces, spies, elements of peronism, elements of the legal system; all working in collaboration with ordinary criminals) and it also hints at the pervasiveness of surveillance. 
Its other virtue is its treatment of the issue of class both in the way it satirizes the credulity and stupidity of the San Isidro  cheto, rugbier class and signals the tensions in its relations with those a couple of of rungs below them who feel entitled to the same privileges but know they will never enjoy them.

ISIS in Mosul, Iraq in 2003 And Iraq Now


The early years of the occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies were appallingly fucked up at every level. The responsibility for that is mainly political but some of it also falls to the senior military leaders, especially Sánchez and Casey.

The Americans eventually got a grip. Competent military leaders were put in place. The Sunni gunmen were put on the payroll. Fairish and freeish elections were held. Things improved quite a bit.
I forgot to mention that all this time the Kurds were also consolidating their proto-state in the north. Yes, it had been developing prior to the invasion under cover of the no fly zone but its continued existence was always threatened as long as Saddam was in power.
BO came to power thinking, “Not my circus, not my monkeys, how do we get out of here fast?”. While they remained the Yanks put some kind of brake on Al Maliki’s sectarianism but when they high tailed it, then it all went tits up again.
And the situation was aggravated by the war in Syria. Almost any determined course of action by the US government, fully supporting the status quo, fully supporting the secular opposition before they were all killed, or nearly all, or even supporting and disciplining some kind of Islamist resistance. Any one of those courses of action could have kept some of the pressure off the Iraqi state.
Instead we got tacit cooperation with Iran (mustn’t endanger the nuclear talks) and the use of a wide range of admonitory adjectives.
Now it’s “all options are on the table” again. Ha! Ha! Ha!
So, it’s a clusterfuck of giant proportions. Plenty of blame to go around, a good deal of it to the present US administration.
If you opposed the 2003 invasion, good for you. There were clear reasons to think the occupation might be fucked up. But you had no way of knowing how things would turn out 11 years later. So back the fuck off with the “I told you so” line as your 2003 position committed you to the survival of Baathism in Iraq, a concentration camp more than a country at the time. You can’t avoid some responsibility for the horrors Saddam and his family would have gone on to commit.

“But that’s ridiculous, you are saying I am responsible for all the human rights abuses in all the countries we don’t invade”. No, I am not. There is no plan to/call for the overthrow of the Khartoum regime, for example, so there is no need to take a stand on it one way or the other.

And in the case of some countries, no matter how bestially they act, nothing can be done. If China starts regular barbecues of live Tibetan babies in Tianmen square, there is nothing we can do about it.

Each case has to be judged on its merits.
If you were in favor of the 2003 invasion, good for you too. The Saddam regime was a genocide committing, neighboring country invading non-stop horror show. But there was good reason to suppose the occupation would be monumentally fucked up and that might lead to terrible consequences. And it has. So you have some of the responsibility for that.
So whatever stand you took on the invasion of 2003, you are not innocent.

Ari Shavit and Zionism’s “Black Box”

OK, I haven’t read the book (I will, I will) and people whose opinion I value tell me Shavit is a great guy. But I have read this interview and I still don’t know what the fuck he means by language like this,

“Lydda is our black box … in it lies the dark secret of Zionism … if Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be.”

In spite of the reasonable enough stuff he says in response to Alan Johnson’s question about it, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that he attributes a unique evil, (perhaps to do with hiding its true nature and crimes) to Zionism. He points out that the Palestinians and Arab forces also committed atrocities during the same conflict but I see no similar language applied to them.

There’s no dark secret or black box in Zionism, there’s just a nationalist movement and the violent struggle to build and secure a state. There’s a willingness to get covered in the mud and gore of history and not to feel too sorry about that. Just like every other successful nationalist movement. Mine for sure, yours too.

Gerry Adams and Dealing with Victory

 Come on guys, we won the war, often using decidedly savage methods, but still, it was the right outcome, and after all the other side wasn’t exactly covering itself in glory from a human rights point of view either. And now the losers have accepted the democratic legitimacy of your sovereignty where they live and are actively participating in the autonomous government there. Some of them even talk like they have swallowed the complete works of Jürgen Habermas.

 What more do we expect the losers to do?  “Answer for their crimes before the courts”, you say. Well fine, let’s do that. But the only way that is going to be politically and morally viable is for everyone to answer for everything they did, winners and losers alike.  Otherwise we’ll be making a distinction between good and necessary crimes (ours) and foul and unjustifiable ones (theirs).

“A truth and reconciliation commission, what about that?” Not a bad idea and some kind of process that will recognize the suffering of victims and provide them with reliable information about what happened to them and their family is long overdue.  Again, however, *everyone* would have to fess up to make this work.

But some people are sounding  like they don’t want either of those options. It seems they aren’t satisfied with winning the war and having the losers become one of the guarantors of their sovereignty where they – the losers –  live.  It seems that there are some who want the losers to crawl, to cringe before them and admit that, unlike you and me, they are very bad people indeed.  It isn’t going to happen. It didn’t happen in South Africa or El Salvador, to give just two examples, and won’t happen in Colombia either.

Queen Elizabeth II had the former military head of the campaign to end her rule in part of her kingdom around for dinner the other day.  It’s quite possible that this man personally dispatched soldiers and policemen who had sworn loyalty to her. He certainly instructed others to do so. One of the victims of his campaign was a close relative of hers.

It feels a bit strange to say so but there is no denying it;  on this issue I’m a lot closer to Elizabeth Windsor than to many of my friends, Facebook and otherwise.

The Arrest of Gerry Adams

Q: Is Gerry Adams a bad man?

A: An exceptionally bad one, he was one of the principal architects of a campaign of heavily sectarian violence which cost thousands of lives.

Q: So all decent people should be pleased that he is currently under arrest.

A: I am not so sure. As well as being an exceptionally bad man he also achieved a remarkable political feat; he turned the movement which carried out the campaign mentioned above into pretty much the exact opposite of what it had been before and all the while proclaiming loyalty to its original goals. And he got almost all of his own supporters to follow him. And he didn’t get killed along the way as a result. Imagine turning the Sinaloa cartel into the local subsidiary of the DEA, something like that.

While we can’t know his deep motives for doing this among them must have been the fact that he could see that he and his friends were losing the war against the British state. And the methods the British state employed: mass internment, torture, deniable killings by loyalist death squads, allowing informants in the PIRA to carry out grave crimes in order to keep credible with the comrades they were snitching on etc. weren’t very nice either. People up on their moralising high horses about his arrest should remember that. You supported the defeat of the PIRA and you supported all that too. I certainly did. Dirty hands and all that. 

Q. But regardless, surely he should pay for the crimes he is personally responsible for.

A. I agree. If the British state has suddenly decided that everyone who committed a grave crime in NI over the last 45 years should answer to the cops and courts for his or her actions then I am all for that. And if that is indeed what happened then I expect we will soon see a wave of arrests of former British soldiers, RUC special branch, int & squint types and a whole variety of ex-spooks too, so that they can face justice for what they did. And if we don’t see that, and particularly if Adams and only Adams has to face charges for his crimes, then I will be obliged to conclude that there is some political motive to all this, the nature of which escapes my understanding at the moment.

Q: So, so, you support this vile man !!!! 

A: No, you have not been paying attention, I do not. My family is blue shirt to the core. Our political forebearers took sterner measures against proto-provoism than the British ever dared to in Northern Ireland.

Heidegger’s Black Notebooks

An excellent comment by David Hirsh on Facebook.

“The reason the new revelations may be  important […] is because there are plenty of people in universities today who think that Heidegger is a serious philosopher with something important to say about the nature of modernity. Yes, You might find this odd. But remembering that Orwell warned us that there are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them, bear with me. The idea that the Holocaust is “the same thing in its essence” as the commonplace components of modernity is widespread. […]  in its standard respectable form, […] it  vacillates between Holocaust as modern and Modernity as Holocaust. The hatred of Jews (for their exclusivity and their symbolic connection with modernity) dovetails nicely with a hatred of American and British imperialism, capitalism, modernity, technical advance, scientific thinking, and legal and bureaucratic organisation. The ultra-radical critique of contemporary bourgeois society, the disdain for law, for democracy, representation, science, and even truth – the writing off of everything that exists as thoroughly corrupt – this is shared between today’s avant garde and yesterday’s Nazis. with the left losing its Utopian vision but keeping its Utopian disdain for what exists, has more and more given way to this kind of negative ‘critical’ thinking; when you have given up on making the world better, and are interested instead only in fighting the powers that be, and asserting your own moral cleanliness, then you’re back to Hedidgger’s and Hitler’s critique of modernity. This, in fact, was one of the very key things that Arendt taught us – that it was the Nazis and not the left who came closest to realizing the dream of a world without law, without classes, without rights”.

Aerial Bombing Then And Now

In a review of “The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945” by Richard Overy, Richard Evans writes,

Above all, bombing was staggeringly inaccurate. Bomber fleets had to fly high to avoid anti-aircraft fire from the ground, so even if the weather was clear, they were often unable to locate their targets effectively. On one mission, Robert Kee, a bomber pilot who later became a successful historian, “bombed some incendiaries at what we hoped was Hanover” but mostly dropped his bombs on searchlight concentrations because that was all he could see through the cloud. One report, compiled in September 1941, reported that only 15% of aircraft were bombing within five miles of their target. In the last three months of 1944, it was reckoned that only 5.6% of bombs fell within a mile of the aiming point if there was cloud, despite the use of electronic navigation aids. One raid on a major oil plant saw 87% of the bombs missing their target entirely, and only two actually hitting the buildings.

In 1944, during the controversial bomb attacks on the Italian monastery of Monte Cassino, used by the Germans as a military and communication base, the headquarters of general Oliver Leese, three miles from the abbey, were destroyed, as was the French corps headquarters 12 miles away. It took another three months before the strongpoint was taken. A raid on the V-2 rocket production site in a large park north of The Hague dropped 67 tons of bombs on a residential area on 1 March 1945, largely because the briefing officer had got the map coordinates wrong. Carpet bombing of cities was, in the end, virtually the only way to destroy the economic and military targets they contained.

Nothing new here for anyone who has read a bit about the subject before.   Things have moved on a bit since then and it strikes me as  a bit odd that today it’s the extraordinary accuracy of aerial bombing, both from manned and unmanned vehicles, that seems to be a source of much moral outrage.

A note on the death of Videla

He was a very bad bastard: ultra-Catholic, anti-Semite, murderer and torturer of thousands. So good riddance. However, he was never, in the normal meaning of the term, a dictator. In 1976 the three armed forces rebelled jointly ( a first for them) and formed a “junta”, a committee, to run the country, he was primus inter pares, and that until March 1981, not 1983. It wasn’t a one man show like Pinochet in Chile, or a family affair like the Castros in Cuba.

Also, and this may come as a shock to some, he was tried and jailed for his crimes as long ago as 1985. Menem, the then leader of the movement that currently runs the country, let him go in 1990. On the return of democracy in 1983 the same movement’s presidential candidate – Luder- had endorsed the auto-amnesty the armed forces had awarded themselves before leaving power. So if it was up to them Videla would never even have been tried in 1985.

“But, but, but, it was the same movement –under the heroic leadership of Dr. Néstor Carlos Kirchner – that in 2007 annulled the 1990 amnesty and this allowed him to be tried again. You know that times change, historical learning processes etc.”

Yes, it’s nice that they changed their minds on the dictatorship, decades later, when it was completely safe to do so and without ever giving the slightest explanation of or making any declaration of contrition for their previous support for impunity for some of the worst criminals in the history of the country.

So “historical learning processes” my arse. The Kirchners’ decision to turn on the aging tyrants and torturers was a brilliant political stroke, an exercise in real politik which bought them a stock of political capital that has kept the female half of the combo in power to this day. They’d have raised a statue to Videla and declared him the successor of San Martín and Rosas if they’d thought there was more political mileage in it.

Obama and the Urge to “Do Something” in Syria

I’d like to ask what the thing   that Obama is supposed to do about Syria is but won’t because he is a wuss,  or  whatever. A something that would make Iran  take the US seriously, not lead to the US neglecting risks elsewhere in the world and would stand a  fair chance of reducing the body count over the short/medium term. Some possibilities:

 1. “Send in the drones, Assassinate Assad”

Okay, might take a long time to get him though (remember Saddam), with a risk of US credibility draining public appearances in the meantime.  And HB, the Iranians and the non-trivial number of Syrians who support the regime are going to pack it in because of that? It’s going to make a significant difference to the outcome? It’s going to reduce the body count?

 2. “Establish a NFZ zone or something similar. Look what the Israelis have been able to do.”

 The grave weaknesses of this argument are  extensively dealt with in this article. It’s a little long but you need to read it if you want to talk about what the US should/shouldn’t do in Syria.

 3.  “Arm the rebels”

I guess we’re already doing that. I guess also that we could do it some more. The benefits of this for human rights outcomes in even the short term remain unclear to me.

 4. ” Bomb Assad’s chemical weapons stocks”.

 How many of the 70,000 odd deaths in Syria have been caused by chemical weapons?  If the government (or the rebels) starts using them  on a large scale then we might be in different territory but so far, if we haven’t been moved by the mass slaughter occasioned by the use of conventional weapons then it’s hard to see why we should go to war over this.

“We should do it to deter Iran and because we said we would”, you say. So a couple of quick in and out raids with stand-off weapons like those carried out by the Israelis is going to have them sitting up and taking notice in Tehran? Really?

 “We could do it on a much bigger scale”. Yes, we could, that brings us to …

 5. “Invade Syria, overthrow the regime, rerun the occupation of Iraq but this time do it right”.

Now we’re talking.  Anything less than this isn’t worth doing in terms of the outcomes for Syrians. It’s not clear that doing it is in the US’s interest though and certainly it couldn’t be sold to US public opinion and it’s rather risky in terms of the pressure it might put the US military under when the amount of money it has to spend is being reduced.

So, you are in favor of US intervention in Syria? Great, you are in effect in favor of option 5. TINA

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