Daily Archives: 16/01/2011

( News Roundup by Rainey Reitman

Since late November, the whistleblower website Wikileaks has been in the process of releasing in waves over 250,000 leaked United States diplomatic cables. Known as “Cablegate,” this is the largest publication of confidential documents by any organization. (Catch up on Wikileaks developments by reviewing EFF’s page on this issue).

Wikileaks’ disclosures have caused tremendous controversy, with critics of Wikileaks claiming the leaks of classified information could endanger lives and harm international diplomacy. Others have commended Wikileaks, pointing to a long history of over-classification and a lack of transparency by the United States government.

Regardless of the heated debate over the propriety of Wikileaks’ actions, some of the cables have contributed significantly to public and political conversations all around the world. In this article, we highlight a small selection of cables that been critical to understanding and evaluating controversial events.

  1. “Dancing Boy” Scandal Alleges Child Prostitution, Possible Drug Use among U.S. Private Contractors
    The Guardian reported on a cable describing an incident in which employees of DynCorp, a U.S. military contractor, hired a “dancing boy” for a party. The term “dancing boy,” also known as bacha bazi, is a euphemism for a custom in Afghanistan in which underaged boys are dressed as women, dance for gatherings of men and are then prostituted. Read more. The incident allegedly involved soliciting local Afghan police for a bacha bazi as well as usage of illegal drugs. The cable detailed that Hanif Armar, minister of the Interior of Afghanistan, urged the United States to help contain the scandal by warning journalists that reporting on the incident would endanger lives.The incident contributed important information to the debate over the use of private military contractors in Afghanistan. The articles published in the wake of Wikileaks’ publication of the cable are far more critical than the original reporting on the issue. For example, back in July of 2009, the Washington Post described the incident as “questionable management oversight,” in which “DynCorp employees in Afghanistan hired a teenage boy to perform a tribal dance.” This cable helped the Post and the public understand there was more to this story than a tribal dance.
  2. Pfizer Allegedly Sought to Blackmail Nigerian Regulator to Stop Lawsuit Against Drug Trials on Children
    A cable released by Wikileaks says that Pfizer “had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to [Nigerian] Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases.” The Guardian reported that the drug giant was trying to convince the Nigerian attorney general to settle lawsuits arising from medical testing of the oral antibiotic Trovan that it administered to children living in Kano during a meningitis epidemic in 1996. The cable also noted that Pfizer Nigeria Country Director Enrico Liggeri felt the lawsuits “has had a ‘chilling effect’ on international pharmaceutical companies because companies are no longer willing to conduct clinical testing in Nigeria.” This episode helped the public understand more about the controversies surrounding drug testing in underdeveloped countries, as well as the politics behind Nigeria’s settlement of the multi-billion dollar lawsuit for $75 million.
  3. U.S. Failed to Bully Spain Into Adopting Untested Anti-P2P bill
    A diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks to the Spanish paper El Pais shows that the United States used bullying tactics to attempt to push Spain into adopting copyright laws even more stringent than those in the U.S. As EFF reported, a U.S. official apparently pressured the government of Spain to adopt novel and untested legislative measures that have never been proposed in the United States. The Wikileaks revelations came just in time, providing critical information in a December legislative session, and saving Spain from the kind of misguided copyright laws that could cripple innovation and facilitate online censorship.
  4. U.S. to Uganda: Let Us Know If You Want to Use Our Intelligence for War Crimes
    The United States has long supported the efforts of the Ugandan government to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army, as part of a conflict known for its brutality and the use of child soldiers. One cable released by Wikileaks indicated the United States was considering selling arms to Uganda. The Guardian reported that the U.S. ambassador accepted verbal promises from the Ugandan defense minister that they would “consult with the US in advance if the [Ugandan army] intends to use US-supplied intelligence to engage in operations not government [sic] by the law of armed conflict.” That same article noted that the United States has been concerned that the Ugandan government is engaged in actions which might violate the laws of war.Learning that U.S. intelligence might be used outside the laws of law, and that the U.S. government merely wanted a consultation, helped the public understand more about the American-Ugandan cooperation against the LRA, and informed the debate over the methods used to combat rebellions in Africa. This is not an idle concern- the very next day a cable detailed the use of extrajudicial execution of a Ugandan prisoner.
  5. U.S. Haggling over Guantánamo Detainees
    President Obama promised to close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp since his campaign for the office, and reiterated the promise once he took office. Yet the controversial detention facility remains open. An article by the New York Times analyzed cables released by Wikileaks which indicated the United States is having difficulties in fulfilling this promise and is now considering some unique solutions. The cables show that U.S. diplomats have been searching for countries that would take detainees, often bargaining with foreign countries over the placement of prisoners. In return for accepting detainees, the receiving country might get a one-on-one meeting with Obama, assistance obtaining International Monetary Fund assistance, or some other helping hand from the United States. In one cable, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah recommended that the U.S. implant an electronic chip in each detainee for location tracking, using technology developed for livestock.

The debate over Wikileaks will continue for some time. But these examples make clear that Wikileaks has brought much-needed light to government operations and private actions which, while veiled in secrecy, profoundly affect the lives of people around the world and can play an important role in a democracy that chooses its leaders. As founding father James Madison explained, “a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps both.” Regardless of whether you agree with WikiLeaks, Cablegate has served an important role in bettering public understanding on matters of public concern.

(Amnesty International) 14 January 2011

Amnesty International is today calling on the Tunisian authorities to rescind permissions to “shoot on sight”, after a wave of protests led to the reported departure from the country of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and a state of emergency imposed.

Amnesty International’s investigative team in Tunisia has reported media broadcasts warning that gatherings of more than three people will not be tolerated, and that anyone breaking the curfew exposes themselves to the risk of being shot.  After the announcement, the team reported hearing shots.

“It is simply irresponsible to grant the power to ‘shoot on sight’,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“It is not by continuing to shoot demonstrators that public order will be restored. The bloody crackdown must end.”

This power appears to grant official sanction to the Tunisian security forces to commit extrajudicial executions – in violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees the right to life and prohibits arbitrary deprivation of life.

“The Tunisian authorities have a responsibility to preserve law and order and to protect the rights and safety of its population,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“However, human rights must be upheld even in situations of emergency. Any action by the state, including invoking emergency powers, must be in full conformity with international human rights standards.

“Such licence given to the army and security forces, in a very volatile situation, could be a recipe for further violence and killings,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Both the police and army should know that they can’t hide behind orders to shoot at protestors, and that they will be held accountable for their actions.”

Under Article 4 of the ICCPR, Tunisia may not under any circumstances suspend basic rights notably the right to life, the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as fundamental principles of fair trial and freedom from arbitrary detention.

Certain other rights may be limited, “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation,” but only “to the extent strictly required” and as long as this does not conflict with the nation’s other international obligations, and if the government immediately informs the UN Secretary General about what rights have been suspended and why.

“After more than two decades of ruthless repression, Tunisian authorities must now realize that the time for accountability has come,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“The licence to ‘shoot on sight’ must be rescinded and, if Tunisia is to move forward, reform of the security apparatus must be a priority.”

( Ed Vulliamy, The Observer, Sun 16 Jan 2011 00.06 GMT

He will disclose the details of  ‘massive potential tax evasion’
before he flies home to stand trial over his actions.

The offshore bank account details of 2,000 “high net worth individuals” and corporations – detailing massive potential tax evasion – will be handed over to the WikiLeaks organisation in London tomorrow by the most important and boldest whistleblower in Swiss banking history, Rudolf Elmer, two days before he goes on trial in his native Switzerland. Read more…
( Saturday, January 15 2011 @ 02:00 PM UTC Contributed by: WorkerFreedom

Rage Against The Machine have come out in support of striking workers in some of the world’s most prominent guitar manufacturers.

One of the world’s best selling musical instruments, the guitar is now big business. Assembled in factories across the globe, it is now subject to the same market forces which make and shape every other area of our lives.

Which is why it is sad to report that production in South Korea has been halted amid an industrial strike. It seems that some of the world’s largest guitar companies are involved with factories who have questionable conditions.

Cort Guitar workers have gone on strike after years of apparent abuse. A statement from their union reveals support from Rage Against The Machine icons Tom Morello and Zach de la Rocha.

A statement from the workers states:

“The Cort and Cor-tek guitar workers of South Korea produced guitars at Cort’s factories for famous brands such as Fender and Ibanez for decades, but were abruptly fired in 2007 for forming a union to change their sweatshop-like conditions. Both Korea’s National Labor Relations Commission and the Seoul courts judged Cort’s mass dismissal and the sudden closure of its Korean factories to be illegal.”

“The Commission and the courts also found the company’s claim of financial hardship to be false and fined the company. However, despite these rulings, Cort has used intimidation and violence to secure forced resignations from the workers to deny them unemployment benefits and to retaliate against the union through hired thugs. The workers’ case is now in Korea’s Supreme Court.”

“Cort Guitars has profited in the billions of dollars from making guitars for the global market. But at NAMM, the guitar workers and supporters from all walks of life will call on Cort, Fender and Ibanez to respect basic worker rights and re-open Cort’s illegally shuttered factories.”

A full press conference by the worker’s union is scheduled for January 13th in Los Angeles, during the NAMM Show.

For more details click HERE.



( Soldiers and police have exchanged fire with assailants in front of Tunisia’s Interior Ministry amid unrest after the longtime president was ousted.

Associated Press reporters saw the shootout Saturday that left two bodies on the ground on a big square in central Tunis. It was not clear whether the two were dead or injured, or who they were. Snipers could be seen lying down on top of the ministry’s roof. The exchange came soon after Tunisia swore in a new interim president on Saturday. The country has been grappling with looting, deadly fires and widespread unrest after protests forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee on Friday. Read more…


By Amel Yacef

first published on

On 5 January, the frustration, deep unease, and hopelessness of young Algerians exploded onto the streets. Since then, they have been throwing stones, burning tires and brandishing any object that they can turn into a weapon. By Amel Yacef


Given the non-existence of space in the precarious housing situation, these streets have become their homes. With their mounting anger, Algerian youths are organising stocks of stones and improvising Molotov cocktails.

Instead of watching others driving cars and shopping in fancy new shops – built to showcase how modern Algeria has become, fooling people into a notion that ‘development’ has arrived – they smash those very cars and loot those very shops.

From luxury goods to bread, these kids have been stocking up on anything they can put their hands on. This seems to frustrate the general population that sees it as unjustified robbery. However, without condoning looting in any way, it does appear that it is basic products that are being robbed more so than luxurious items…

October 1988, when thousands of young Algerians took to the streets resulting in the fall of the governing National Liberation Front (FLN), comes to mind. This time, however, protests are not confined to the capital or even the major cities. The whole country including towns in the Sahara (traditionally very quiet and with no track record of violence even during the darkest hours of the 90s) are being set alight.

Minister for Trade Mustapha Benbada has responded by saying the government will decrease the price of sugar and cooking oil “as early as next week”. There is little mention of the riots and silence from the authorities. The police seem to be dealing with the whole thing with no support and the only answer from the government to the infuriated mobs of young people, some as young as 13 years old, is a promise to decrease the price of the sugar and cooking oil.

The international take on the riots seems to focus on the high prices of food and linking these events to the world food crisis. However , similar to what is happening in Tunisia, the crisis in Algeria goes beyond the price of sugar.

The question which needs to be asked is why are these kids on the streets in the first place? The Algerian government has been bragging about having €155 billion in the foreign exchange reserves. At the same time not a dime is going to be invested in education, training or job creation when more than 70% of the population is under 30 years old. Not a dime is going towards building housing for people who lost everything in the earthquakes of the 1980s let alone the most recent natural disasters. Not a dime is going towards health and hospitals or the thousands of forgotten victims of Islamist terrorism.

In a country where protesting is against the law, where any film, documentary or other media work has to be approved by the Minister for Culture; where human rights are always viewed as a hindrance; where unions are brought to their knees and any attempt at free speech is violently aborted it is not surprising that new and innovative channels for expression are growing in popularity.

Thousands of people are blogging, tweeting and facebooking; armed with their camera phones and praying the internet will not be cut as it is their only way of telling the world their truth.

Rumour has it that the students and other groups are getting organised and there is talk of a general strike despite a very present sense of fear: fear of Islamist extremists highjacking the situation, fear of the army being brought back into the streets, fear of reliving the sudden disappearance of loved ones and overall fear of a very uncertain future.

In the midst of the tear gas and burning tyres a sense of hopelessness felt by so many young people is turning into spontaneous action which needs the meaningful support of the whole nation in order to bloom into a real beginning of hope for a better life.