Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.

Kyrgyz renegade troops involved in attacks

As eyewitness accounts reach the outside world, evidence emerges that once riots began in the multiethnic city of Osh (Kyrgyzstan), a number of renegade military units joined the violence and carried out some of the ethnic purges of Uzbek civilians seen earlier this week and over the weekend. This may explain why the military was “unable” to stop the violence for several days and seemed to lose control of the situation to the point where Kyrgyz mobs had suddenly gained access to armored transport vehicles from the troops deployed to restore order.

The accounts from the people of Shai-Tubeh [an Uzbek neighborhood of Osh] and numerous other reports by witnesses lend powerful credence to suspicions of organized violence, pointing to rogue elements of the Kyrgyz government and military. The involvement of even a faction of the military could be a sign that the interim Kyrgyz government is not in complete control.

Shai-Tubeh does not seem to be an isolated case. On Wednesday, at a mosque near the border with Uzbekistan that is now sheltering ethnic Uzbek refugees, several people from other areas of Osh described similar scenes of neighborhoods and houses being assaulted by men in uniform using Kyrgyz military vehicles, arms and matériel.

A doctor at the shelter, Halisa Abdurazakova, 37, said that residents of her neighborhood had blocked the main road with large boulders and other objects after the violence started. But a Kyrgyz Army tank soon arrived, she said, and pushed aside the debris, allowing gunmen in an armored personnel carrier to drive through and start shooting.

Assuming this is definitely what happened (the government of course denies any military involvement), the question now becomes how far up the rogue status exists in the chain-of-command and whether or not the provisional government is in danger of a military coup that would probably inevitably lead to further acts of genocide in southern Kyrgyzstan. If high level officers are involved or sympathetic to the Kyrgyz ethnic supremacist cause, they may even have compelled the civilian provisional government to rescind the request for Russian peacekeeping troops, since the cancellation of that request came rather unexpectedly on Tuesday during a lull in the killings.

According the article, Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan are an overall minority of 15%, but are concentrated in the regions near the border with Uzbekistan where the violence occurred and tend to be more economically well-off (or perceived as such) by the majority Kyrgyz population. According to early reports from United Nations investigators, the violence against the Uzbek population appears to have been partially planned, not random or spur-of-the-moment. It is not the first time ethnic violence has hit the region, but this was somewhat systematic, resulting in over 100,000 refugees and over one hundred killed within days.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

A Rwandan Genocide legacy (part 3)

In parts 1 and 2 of my expanding series on a lesser-noted legacy of the Rwandan Genocide, I looked at some of the abuses that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) committed in the past and are committing today. With very close ties to the United States government and military, President Paul Kagame has been able to get away with many things, in large part because he liberated Rwanda from the extremist Hutu dictatorship that was precisely carrying out a genocide against the Tutsi minorities. It’s pretty hard to criticize the person that finally ended one of the very worst genocides of the 20th century, after over 900,000 people had been systematically murdered nationwide, with the world watching and doing nothing.

In part 1, I cited Kagame and the RPF’s consolidation of power and suppression of opposition parties ahead of national elections this year, as well as the creation of a secretive work-prison camp holding abducted children. In part 2, I examined how dissent and new historical research attempts are being silenced on grounds of fomenting genocide and civil war.

In a similar vein, defense lawyers for those charged with crimes involving the 1994 genocide report serious intimidation even though they are merely serving the international community by providing legal counsel to defendants. One American lawyer has actually been arrested as a national security threat and Genocide denier, probably in part because he is representing a client that is an enemy of the individuals in power in the post-Genocide government. NY Times, 6/12/10:

Defense lawyers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has been prosecuting ringleaders of the 1994 genocide, are threatening to stop participating in cases after one of their colleagues was jailed by the Rwandan government last month.

A growing number of lawyers contend that Peter Erlinder, an American who represents a senior Rwandan Army officer accused of directing death squads, was arrested for his statements at the tribunal even though he is supposed to be protected by diplomatic immunity while working for it.

Mr. Erlinder, 62, is charged with denying Rwanda’s genocide and threatening national security through his writings and speeches. Rwanda’s government argues that Mr. Erlinder’s work can “instigate riots” and “civil disobediences,” but it seems that many of the statements that the Rwandan government finds objectionable are actually part of Mr. Erlinder’s work as a lawyer in the United States and in Arusha, Tanzania, where the United Nations-backed tribunal for Rwanda is based.

So far, 11 lawyers with imminent court appearances have formally requested that the courts postpone their cases. At least 40 in total — a majority of the defense lawyers working for the tribunal — have signed a general petition saying they plan not to work unless their security can be guaranteed.

An article published today suggests that the lawyer who has been arrested might actually have been arrested because outside the ICTR he had decided to represent an opposition candidate who had pointed out the RPF also committed reciprocal atrocities during, preceding, and following the Genocide, when they were a rebel group working to overthrow the Hutu regime and wipe out the genocidaires after the events of 1994. As I discussed at length in part 1 of this series, that’s exactly what did happen, and yet she was arrested as a promoter of “genocide ideology” because she chose to speak out with the truth.

Furthermore, the lawyer in question recently filed a lawsuit, on behalf of the widows of the late presidents of Burundi and Rwanda who were killed in 1994 in an attack on the presidential plane that set the Rwandan Genocide in motion… and the lawsuit alleged (as France has in the past) that then-General Kagame had ordered the RPF’s security detachment in the capital to shoot down the plane. Since Kagame is now president, this is an extremely unpopular move to make within the ruling party’s upper ranks and was probably a serious compounding factor in his arrest. (And from what I understand, it’s much more likely that Hutu military extremists behind the coup shot the plane down, to provide the pretext to seize control and begin the killings within hours, and so this is obviously a very touchy subject with the Tutsis in power.)

Now, I have to state that I have no idea what this lawyer’s actual motivations are. He could very well be sympathetic to the Hutu side or he could be in it for the money (though that’s hard to believe if he’s an ICTR lawyer). Maybe he really believes that the Genocide wasn’t planned, when he says that on behalf of his clients charged with war crimes. However, he is a law professor and an international lawyer. It’s much more likely that he believes he’s just fulfilling a necessary role in a fair judicial system, which is that somebody has to represent the worst of the worst, or even just “the other side” of the story, to make sure everyone gets their day in court without making a mockery of the system. His legal statements probably don’t reflect his personal beliefs.

On balance, sure, the Rwandan Patriotic Front were almost certainly the “good guys,” if we have to pick, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done bad things (e.g. killing Hutu civilians, destabilizing the Democratic Republic of the Congo several times), and as a political party in the post-Genocide period, they have been doing some very bad things that undermine the fledgling democracy of the country. If they continue to intimidate people and silence dissent or alternative viewpoints, they are not protecting any Rwandans or national security, but rather they are protecting themselves and their power… and the international community should be willing to criticize that and pressure the government to stop. Defense lawyers, who already face a nasty job in general, should not be facing the threat of twenty-year prison sentences just for doing their jobs to help international justice be served.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

UN: Kyrgyz ethnic violence may have been planned

Things were calmer today as the provisional government and Kyrgyzstan military re-took control of some areas for the first time in days, but United Nations investigators are already suggesting that there is evidence that the ethnic violence against Uzbeks by the ethnically Kyrgyz rioters was planned, systematic, and coordinated. As I had said the other day, that could mean there is an ethnic violence or genocide campaign afoot. Reportedly, already over 100,000 Uzbek civilians have fled to refugee camps inside Kyrgyzstan or across the border in Uzbekistan proper, and at least a hundred have been killed in the “riots” that targeted/looted/burned/raided Uzbek neighborhoods, stores, and buildings in the multi-ethnic cities of Osh and Jalabad.

Relief planes with medical and food supplies began arriving today to help non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross to fulfill needs in the refugee camps, in what has been rapidly deemed a serious humanitarian crisis.

The provisional government said it has withdrawn its request for Russian peacekeeping troops, although I am unclear on why they feel they have definitively reversed the situation. Russia was still debating the matter internally and before the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in any case. Also earlier today, deposed president Kurmanbek Bakieyev was spotted and “detained” in London, prompting Kyrgyzstan’s provisional government (which replaced him after the popular coup in April) to request his formal extradition on charges of allegedly fomenting the ethnic violence and other attempts to regain power. No word yet on whether Britain will comply.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Systematic ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan?

The situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is growing rapidly worse, as what seems to be systematic ethnic purges against Uzbeks began today (NY Times):

Rioting spread across the south of this strategically important Central Asian nation on Sunday as the authorities failed to contain mobs that appeared to be increasingly engaging in targeted ethnic violence.

The official death toll from four days of clashes neared 100 people, though the unrest seemed so widespread that the figure is likely to go far higher. Reports from the region said bands of ethnic Kyrgyz were seeking out Uzbeks, setting fire to their homes and killing them.

Thousands of Uzbeks have fled to the nearby border with Uzbekistan, and the authorities were said to have lost control of Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city.
“The situation in the Osh region has spun out of control,” Kyrgyzstan’s acting president, Roza Otunbayeva, said Saturday. “Attempts to establish a dialogue have failed, and fighting and rampages are continuing. We need outside forces to quell confrontation.”
“It was raining ash the whole afternoon, big pieces of black and white ash,” said Andrea Berg, a Human Rights Watch employee holed up her apartment in the city. “The city is just burning. It’s totally out of control.”

The rioters at one point commandeered two armored personnel carriers from troops stationed in the city, said Timur Sharshenaliyev, a spokesman for the government there. Soldiers were able to take only one back.

The provisional government passed a decree giving the police and soldiers permission to open fire on rioters to prevent attacks on civilians and government buildings, according to a statement on the government’s Web site.

Russia is moving slowly on a request for peacekeeping troops and plans to take up the matter before the Collective Security Treaty Organization this week. For more on that and for more background, you can read my post from last night: “Kyrgyzstan requests Russian peacekeepers.”

The New York Times has pointed out that in 1990, acts of reciprocal genocide in the same region were only halted by Soviet troops rolling in, but that was when Kyrgyzstan was still part of the USSR, which made such an intervention much easier. Even then, hundreds died before the troops arrived.

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

Kyrgyzstan requests Russian peacekeepers

In a potentially troubling development, the provisional government of Kyrgyzstan has formally requested the intervention of Russian peacekeeping troops to impose order as the country erupts again in ethnic violence. Russia has already offered civilian-medical aid relief. Nearly 80 people have been killed so far in the clashes, and a public health spokesman reported almost a thousand injuries.

The Russian government said it would consider the request carefully before acting, especially to determine the legality of such an intervention under a security alliance treaty of former Soviet states. NY Times:

“A decision about deploying peacekeeping forces to Kyrgyzstan can only be made collectively with all members of the C.S.T.O. [Collective Security Treaty Organization],” the spokeswoman, Natalya Timakova, said Saturday evening. She also said that Russia was continuing to ship humanitarian assistance, including medicine, to Kyrgyzstan.

To that end, Russian President Demetri Medvedev consulted with some of the CSTO leaders, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which neighbor Kyrgyzstan. Undoubtedly the possibility of a Russian intervention will lend credence to the conspiracy theorists who claimed Russia instigated the April popular overthrow of the ruling government of Kyrgyzstan for its own gain and to dislodge the United States from the Manas Air Base that supplies NATO in the War in Afghanistan.

However, since the violence is threatening to spread to neighbors, there is some real justification for an intervention:

It remained unclear what started the violence, which threatens to undermine the already fragile provisional government that took power in April after rioting deposed the country’s president. The interim government has never fully established control in parts of the south, where supporters of the ousted president, Kurmanbek S. Bakiyev, have frequently clashed with those loyal to the new government. The recent politically inspired clashes in the region have reopened a historic ethnic fault line there, with gangs of heavily armed Kyrgyz youths clashing with members of the region’s sizeable Uzbek minority. Much of Mr. Bakiyev’s base in the region, his ancestral home, is Kyrgyz, while many Uzbeks support the new government.

The Kyrgyz military, which has been moving troops around the South in armored vehicles and buzzing around in helicopters, said it had opened part of the border with Uzbekistan to allow women and children to flee, but they didn’t actually consult with Uzbekistan’s government before doing so.

Uzbekistan said it was “extremely alarmed and concerned” about the situation. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry said in a statement that violence against Uzbeks was being carried out in a manner calculated to provoke ethnic conflict.

“We have no doubt that all this has occurred at the instigation of forces whose interests are absolutely far from the interests of the Kyrgyz people,” the ministry said.
Similar violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh in 1990 left hundreds dead and only abated when the Soviet government sent in troops.

Although I find it somewhat concerning that Russia could use the crisis as an opportunity to tighten control over the former-soviet sphere-of-influence and could end up occupying Kyrgyzstan, the idea would be similar to United Nations interventions in Africa and Asia that consciously involve peacekeeping troops from former colonial powers. However, it is unclear whether this would be a UN authorized intervention or more akin to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999, which Russia will probably cite if the CTSO authorizes an intervention. Russia might use the CTSO to circumvent United Nations Security Council roadblocks, just as Britain and the United States did in Kosovo to get around the Russian veto threat then.

In fact, last February the CTSO established a new “Collective Rapid Reaction Force” (the KSOR), meaning Russia could even request this operation be a true multilateral force under Russian direction, rather than a purely Russian force. Uzbekistan is not a KSOR participant, however, and has expressed reservations about the existence of such a force in the CTSO, but it’s probably more in their interests to have a multilateral force instead of what amounts to a Russian invasion of Kyrgystan. This could be Russia’s chance to prove itself a responsible major power in the international community of the fragmented post-Cold War world, but it could also be exploited for ulterior motives.

Also of possible concern at some point is that China also borders Kyrgystan, and it remains to be seen how they will react to both this situation and the idea of a Russian/CTSO peacekeeping mission or perhaps a United Nations operation (over which both China and the United States would have veto powers).

This post originally appeared at Starboard Broadside.

A Long War

Recently, we crossed the trillion dollar threshold for Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the War in Afghanistan is officially longer than the Vietnam War, in length of American military presence, clocking in at 104 months long. Rick Hampson, USA Today, wrote on this milestone on May 27th this year:

Three months after 9/11, every major Taliban city in Afghanistan had fallen — first Mazar-i-Sharif, then Kabul, finally Kandahar. Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were on the run. It looked as if the war was over, and the Americans and their Afghan allies had won.

Butch Ivie, then a school administrator in Winfield, Ala., remembers, “We thought we’d soon have it tied up in a neat little bag.”

But bin Laden and Omar eluded capture. The Taliban regrouped. Today, Kandahar again is up for grabs. And soon, Afghanistan will pass Vietnam as America’s longest war.

The Vietnam War’s length can be measured in many ways. The formal beginning of U.S. involvement often is dated to Aug. 7, 1964, when Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, giving the president a virtual carte blanche to wage war. By the time the last U.S. ground combat troops were withdrawn in March 1973, the war had lasted 103 months.

Hampson visited several American communities particularly affected in the two wars (and in the Iraq War) and wrote about them in his article.

It’s long since time to bring the troops home.

Don’t forget all those who have died during the wars but were not soldiers and weren’t Americans.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

The Right-Wing Alternate Universe

I’m working on a longer post on the specific news story in question here, but I wanted to point out this segment by Jon Stewart that shows the alternate universe FOX News creates for its viewers:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck Airs Israeli Raid Footage
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Actually, it’s really true of all the right-wing media. They get people to watch/listen to their news exclusively because they create whole alternate universes that tell you can only get that news from them. Now, other networks will tell you CNN=Politics or whatever or that they’re the best source of coverage, and sometimes they’ll claim to have a story exclusively… but few non-conservative media outlets go to such lengths to tell you can literally not find the news anywhere else because of pervasive bias and conspiratorial propaganda flooding the other airwaves.

People who only listen to right-wing radio and only watch FOX News to get their information often seem to live in their own shared world. I’m betting this is probably strongly a function of the alternate universe presented by right-wing media that constantly reminds them that not only will they miss critical news by checking elsewhere but that they will hear only propaganda by listening to or watching anybody else.

What are the consequences? First, the audience begins to think the vast majority of Americans share their political views and policy aims, when that’s not the case, and then they begin to turn to deeply-rooted conspiracy theories to explain how forces of evil are keeping their (minority) agenda at bay for so long, and the right-wing media feeds it. It’s the only possible explanation when you get your politics from a source espousing the same view and never showing that others might disagree or why.

But there’s another bigger consequence, regarding the content itself, not just the frame constraining that content. Intellectual critics, including those on the right, accuse the right-wing media of feeding a closed information loop, which sometimes even feeds itself so directly that it’s hard to tell when the media personalities (Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.) eventually believe their own lies or still lie consciously. A recent example of a rigidly closed information loop is how the right-wing media, which loves to demonize the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has made it quite the boogeyman over the years, willfully ignored what the ACLU was actually doing so it could create an alternate reality where it was doing what their preconceived expectations said the mythical-demon ACLU would do…

Conservative blogger (and critic of the closed information loop) Conor Friedersdorf wrote up the details on Trueslant last week:

On May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo, five students at a high school in Morgan Hill, California wore American flag attire to class. “The vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out,” the local NBC affiliate reported. “When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.” The story got picked up in the national media, bloggers debated whether the boys were being patriotic or deliberately insensitive, and almost everyone at least agreed that in this country they were well within their rights to wear the American flag.

I am very interested in one aspect of the discussion that followed this story. The conservative blog Stop the ACLU is a natural place to begin. “Cinco De Mayo Means Suspension of Free Speech and Patriotism,” their post began. “At least in Morgan Hill, California where they live by the rules of political correctness gone crazy.” The ultimate reaction: “Absolutely ridiculous! Where is the ACLU?”

From there, Friedersdorf next almost exhaustively examines (and you should read the post), big-name to small-name right-wing media personalities/op-ed writers/bloggers to their random commenters — all of whom access the same information loop — and finds the right wing uniformly echoed this view: Limbaugh, News Real Blog, Ralph Wenzinger, Speak Now America, Elijah Friedman, Pirate’s Cove, The Old Jarhead, etc. etc… They all demanded to know where the ACLU was on this or claimed the ACLU was defending the school. And as he conclusively showed further, the ACLU was not only already on the case and defending the boys’ right to wear the shirts, but they have historically already served as legal counsel in four separate cases on the exact same issue.

It being extremely rare for authorities to crackdown on American flag wearing in the United States, it says something that the ACLU has invested resources in four separate instances of this behavior.

It’s almost as if the conservative media complex is systematically misleading its audience about the nature of the ACLU, so much so that right-of-center commentators across the Internet spontaneously mocked the organization for failing to intervene on the right side of this case, despite it being precisely the kind of case where the ACLU reliably does exactly what the critics themselves would want.

Perhaps the confusion comes from listening to talk radio hosts and reading blogs that cast all of American politics as a grand struggle between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, tyranny and liberty. The rank and file, rightly judging that the ACLU operates on the left, automatically concludes that they are the enemy in any case worth caring about.

His conclusion? When a blog called Stop the ACLU is leading the charge in creating an alternate reality of a specific incident and lying about or being unaware of what the real ACLU was actually doing, the information loop (or as I call it, an alternate universe) not only exists but exists as an imperviously closed system. And he sounds like he pities the people who are closed inside the system:

The right cannot adeptly navigate a political environment that it is systematically misled about.

As much as the adherents of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. make me want to tear my hair out most of the time, I do almost feel sorry for them. It’s so delusional.

Some people, of course, try to create false equivalences and say that this happens on the left as well. That’s simply not true. There’s a reason why FOX News is the “highest-rated” cable news network: the left fragments to multiple competing sources or goes to a variety of media for news. Yes, most of us could broaden our horizons, but our frame of reference is nowhere near as constrained, unified, or repetitive. (Even on this blog, with a bunch of writers from basically similar backgrounds, we often sharply disagree with each other and read different sources with different views on the same events or policies.) The American right sticks to a narrow range of sources that all feed on each other in a continuous loop of opinions and alternate realities of events, and that loop tells the audience not to go elsewhere so as not to corrupt their minds with propaganda. Thus that’s where the average listener and viewer is getting virtually 100% of his or her political information. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t call his loyal listeners “dittoheads” for nothing.

And, sadly, they’re busy trying to run all the rational/intellectual conservatives out of town, thereby purging their ranks of people who aren’t engulfed in the system, people who might moderate their excesses and find ways to compromise and still get conservative agenda items passed. They accuse these intellectual conservatives of being elitists or brainwashed by the mainstream “liberal” media. What’s left isn’t pretty.

It’s a struggle to have a rational conversation with a person who lives and breathes that information system because they walk into the discussion with a completely different set of “facts.” Why is there no common ground these days in both family political arguments and the broader American political scene? Because a large chunk of the participants working from a different planet altogether. If not a separate right-wing alternate universe.