Wheels within wheels – Some thoughts on espionage, money-laundering and Christian missionaries

Turkey’s President Erdoğan has just returned from a visit to Washington where he and President Trump apparently “agreed to disagree” over the issue of American support for Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.

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Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy to the coalition against ISIL speaking with PKK militants currently being sought by Turkey through Interpol

Spokespersons for the US State department have openly admitted supporting and supplying weapons to the YPG, which Ankara claims has close links with the separatist Kurdish terrorist organisation, PKK. Jonathan Cohen, deputy assistant secretary for European and Asian Affairs (high level stuff!) is quoted as saying The relationship between the United States and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) is a temporary, transactional and tactical one. We are in this common [fight] to defeat a terrorist organization in Iraq and Syria. We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. We have not promised the YPG anything.”

  • Main US tactic: Delegate an underling (in this case, a “deputy assistant secretary”) to tell the big lies. Then later you can deny responsibility.
  • Second tactic: A “temporary, transactional and tactical” relationship. Remember how the US had a similar relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan to get rid of Russia? If the Kurdish separatists trust the US government, they’ll be in for a sad shock in future. In the mean time, the US is seriously upsetting a loyal ally (Turkey).
  • First big lie: “The YPG were the only force on the ground etc”. Turkey’s government has offered full cooperation to the US in combatting ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.
  • Second big lie: “We have not promised the YPG anything.” If you believe that, you’ll believe anything! The US government has been cooperating with and assisting Kurdish groups for years – for example enlisting them to help get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of course they are offering support for an independent Kurdistan.

So, Mr Erdoğan came back from Washington pretty disappointed. He did, however, more than hold his own in the handshaking competition:

What about Mr Trump? Apparently he asked Turkey’s government to “immediately release” the jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson. Brunson was arrested in December last year on a charge of “being part of a terrorist organisation.” He allegedly has connections to the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), and used his missionary activities to incite Kurdish separatist activities.

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Human rights – for who?

The US government would also dearly like to get their hands on Julian Assange and Edward Snowden – key players in the Wikileaks revelations that caused serious embarrassment over American actions in Iraq and elsewhere. The governments of Ecuador and Russia are kindly looking after those two gentlemen who fear that their democratic rights may count for little if the US government gets hold of them. In fact, that is pretty much confirmed by the latest news on Assange. It seems Swedish authorities have dropped their rape case against him – but the Brits say they will still arrest him as soon as he steps out of the Ecuadorean Embassy. Acting in their established role as America’s lapdog, they will probably then hand him over to the Yanks, who still want him. So now we understand the real situation, if we didn’t before.

Turkey’s government, for its part, wants the US to extradite ex-pat Muslim imam, Fethullah Gülen, who they say was a key figure in the 15 July coup attempt last year. They have also been asking the Greek government to hand over eight Turkish soldiers who took refuge in Greece after the failure of the coup. Now it seems Angela Merkel’s government is getting involved, granting political asylum to two Turkish generals known to have been active in the coup attempt, as well as several hundred Turkish military personnel.

Adding to the confusion, two Turkish citizens are currently on trial in the United States on charges of money laundering and conspiring to violate US trade sanctions against Iran. Wealthy businessman, Reza Zarrab, who is also a citizen of Iran, and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, assistant general manager of Turkey’s Halkbank are in custody in New York. Interestingly, they are being defended by American lawyers, one of whom is former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, whose firm also represents the US banks implicated in the case. In another twist, the judge has implied that the Turkish government is paying legal expenses for the two – though why that should concern him, I don’t understand – and anyway, the lawyers have stated that the two guys are paying their own costs.

Needless to say, President Erdoğan has added his voice to the discussion, asking that his two citizens be returned to Turkey. Amidst all the uproar, no one seems to be asking why the US imposed sanctions on Iran in the first place, and why Turkey should continue to suffer economically after loyally supporting America’s wishes in the matter for nearly forty years!

Getting back to the business of Andrew Brunson. Apparently he was/is involved with an organisation calling itself the Izmir Resurrection Church. According to their website: İzmir is the third largest city in Turkey and also the Biblical Smyrna. It has more churches than any city except İstanbul and unity between them has the potential to reap a great harvest. Now, for the towns and villages of Izmir!

There’s no greater testimony than a radiant Turkish believer, passionate to reach out.”

Related to the IRC is an outfit entitled The Bible Correspondence Course running an operation they call The 1881 Project. “Turkey,” they say, “is home to 75 million people who are both strongly nationalistic as well as loyal to their Islamic identity. But the truth of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice remains virtually unknown in what Operation World calls ‘the most unevangelised country in the world’.”

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Do Muslims really need to hear that?

“Since 1 July 2011, the Bible Correspondence Course is running an exciting 18 month initiative to challenge all of Turkey’s 81 provinces to consider the claims of Christ. Working together with local believers and churches from all over the world, we believe it is time to declare to every province in Turkey that a Savior has been born to them – a Son has been given to them. In more than a third of Turkey’s 81 provinces there is no meeting of believers and many have no known believer whatsoever.”

A Canadian mate of Brunson’s, David Byle, has also been involved in an ongoing legal battle with Turkish authorities who suspect him of being a threat to national security. This gentleman has been sounding off to another interesting organisation working under the name of World Watch Monitor. These people apparently have taken upon themselves the responsibility of reporting “the story of Christians around the world under pressure for their faith.” They love to cite the UN Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees among other things, “freedom of religion.”

Well, Turkish law does indeed permit freedom of religious belief, and does not forbid missionary activity. It is, however, a predominantly Muslim country. Although, unlike other Muslim states, it allows its Muslim citizens freedom to change their religion, its authorities are obliged to recognise that some devout citizens may not take a favourable view of public proselytising by tub-thumping Christians.

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Believe what you like, but keep it to yourself!

Furthermore, Christian missionaries in the past have given Muslim Turks some cause to be suspicious of their activities. Generally speaking, it is rare for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Islam recognises that Jesus Christ was a prophet of God, and accepts Christians as “People of the Book” – but insists that Muhammed was the last prophet, bringing God’s final message. So why should they switch to what is, in their view, a more backward religion?

Consequently, Christian missionaries, mostly American, operating in Anatolia during the 19th century, tended to work among the Armenian community – who were already Christians. Ottoman authorities believed that they had an ulterior purpose: that they were trying to stir up discontent and incite rebellion against the Ottoman government. When such rebellions were forcefully put down, the same missionaries were conveniently on hand to report Ottoman atrocities against their Christian subjects, providing a pretext for Western governments to intervene on behalf of their “co-religionists”.

Which brings us to important questions about freedom and democracy:

  • Does the United States government have the right to force other countries to suffer social and economic hardships to support their foreign policies?
  • Does the United States Government have the right to demand the handing over to its own judicial system the citizens of other sovereign nations?
  • Are the authorities in Turkey required to forget what happened on July 15, 2016, forgive its citizens who tried to overthrow the democratically elected government by force of arms, and act as though nothing out of the ordinary happened?
  • Do foreign governments have the right to question the legal process in Turkey and give asylum to Turkish citizens who may have committed criminal acts of treason?
  • Does the right to freedom of religion imply the right to make a protracted public nuisance of yourself, requiring local authorities to protect you from the righteous anger of their own offended citizens?

I have my answers to these important questions. What about you?

‘Sex was consensual’: WikiLeaks’ Assange reveals ‘denial of rape’ claims given to Swedish prosecutor — The Most Revolutionary Act

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange has released his full testimony to Swedish prosecutors for the first time, saying he is ‘entirely innocent’ regarding sexual assault claims. He has spent four years inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid arrest. It is the first time he has gone public with his version of events surrounding the […]

via ‘Sex was consensual’: WikiLeaks’ Assange reveals ‘denial of rape’ claims given to Swedish prosecutor — The Most Revolutionary Act

Diplomacy and Democracy in the Western Alliance – Do as I say, not as I do!

Last Friday two high profile Turkish journalists appeared in an Istanbul court to answer charges of procuring information vital to state security, political and military espionage, publishing state secrets and disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization. Serious charges indeed, which relate to an incident where trucks allegedly carrying weapons were seen crossing the border from Turkey into Syria.

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Pretty undignified for high-ranking diplomats, if you ask me

What was particularly surprising about the court hearing was that Consuls-General from ten European countries accompanied by their colleagues from Canada and the USA, plus the German Ambassador from Ankara, turned up to observe proceedings. Not content with quiet observation, the diplomatic ladies and gentlemen snapped a selfie of their group which the French Consul-General apparently uploaded to his Facebook page.

Needless to say, Turkey’s President, Tayyip Erdoğan, was not pleased. ‘Who do you think you are?’ he is reported to have demanded, apostrophizing the group in characteristic fashion. ‘This is Turkey. You can do what you like in your consular buildings and compounds, but elsewhere you need permission!’

Well, whatever the rights and wrongs of the charges against Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, Mr Erdoğan is absolutely right here. Foreign ambassadors and consular staff have diplomatic immunity to go about the business of representing their countries’ interests wherever they are posted; and that even includes the right to be whisked out of harm’s way in the event of being caught out doing something they shouldn’t. A blind eye is generally turned to what may or may not be going on behind the walls of embassies and consulates.

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Champions of press freedom in the West – and where are they now?

It is, however, generally agreed, I believe, that diplomatic rights stop short of allowing privileged foreign personnel to participate in direct political activity, especially when the issue involves national security. If the governments of Western nations believe Turkey (or any other country) is using its courts to stifle dissent, and imprisoning its citizens without due process of law, there are acceptable channels through which to express their disapproval.

Obviously foreign politicians can and do say what they like in the safety of their own countries. Diplomats can seek an audience with the host country’s leadership to make their official views clear. But do they have the right to congregate with others of their species at a high profile trial in an attempt to intimidate, or influence proceedings by their presence? I don’t think so.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for three years, knowing that, as soon as he sets foot outside the premises, he will be arrested by the local police and extradited to Sweden to face what he claims are trumped-up charges of rape; and he believes he will thence be shipped to the United States to face more serious charges that could see him imprisoned for life.

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London bobbies standing guard outside the Ecuadorean Embassy, London

Now there are quite a few people who believe that Assange and Wikileaks did us all a great service by bringing out into the open, amongst other things, shocking documents and videos showing how the United States military had been conducting its occupation of Iraq. How would it be, I wonder, if the Turkish Ambassador rounded up a dozen or so like-minded embassy staff from, say, Middle Eastern and South American countries, and hung around outside in a demonstration of solidarity with Assange and his Ecuadorean protectors, while conducting photo ops, and publishing selfies etc on social media? Or if governments of the same nations instructed their diplomats in Washington DC to stage a similar event in support of Chelsea/Bradley Manning, currently serving a 35-year jail sentence for supplying the actual leaks to Assange?

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Freedom of speech American-style

Maybe the US government would laugh. Maybe they wouldn’t – but the fact is, whatever they may think about the state of democracy and freedom of speech in the USA, foreign governments would know better than to interfere in that country’s internal politics. So why do those Western countries think Turkey does not deserve the same respect? Unfortunately, ‘respect’ is the key word here. Those countries are so used to criticizing and belittling Turkey, they seem to feel they are absolved from normal standards of diplomatic behavior.

Moreover, whatever Western governments think about the state of democracy in Turkey, these foreign diplomats were permitted to sit in on a highly sensitive trial. They were not prevented from gathering in a group demonstration clearly intended to express support for the defendants and, by implication, criticism of the legal system and the government of Turkey. I suspect there are not many countries in the world, including some that claim the democratic moral high ground, that would permit such obvious and public meddling in their internal affairs.

And then there is the question of whether these two defendants are merely professional journalists doing their job of keeping the public informed – or whether they had some ulterior motive. Well, surely that is a matter for Turkey’s courts to decide. The story behind the criminal charges does beg some questions that foreign media and governments seem to be avoiding.

A couple of trucks were apparently stopped by police on Turkey’s southeast border, and alleged to have been carrying weapons. The government denied this, claiming the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid. The opposition CHP Party suggested that the government was supplying weapons to forces of ISIS/Daesh and Al Qaeda, and accused them of high treason. Can Dündar, a well-known opponent of Turkey’s AK Party government, and recipient of an award from Reporters Without Borders, published a piece referring to video evidence supporting the claim that the trucks had been carrying arms and munitions.

My questions are: If those were military vehicles crossing the border on official government business, who authorized the search? And who carried it out? And who filmed the trucks’ cargo? And how did the film get into the hands of a journalist in Istanbul? Given that anti-government militants in Syria have been waging a civil war for five years, who has been supplying them with weapons for the fight?

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Who’s really supplying the military hardware?

And of course I have some opinions of my own. First of all, assuming the government of Turkey had in fact dispatched those truckloads of weapons to Syria, who would be the most likely recipients? It is outrageous to suggest that Turkey’s government is actively supporting ISIS or Al Qaeda. It is far more likely that, given Ankara’s clearly stated desire for Bashar Al Assad to step down as President of Syria, military support would be directed to the anti-Assad rebels. Second, even if they have been providing some assistance, it is not possible that Turkey alone could have supplied sufficient weaponry to keep this war going for five years. It is well known that military hardware has been channeled through Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and America has made no secret of its desire to see the back of Assad. Finally, it must be true that a person or persons high up within Turkey’s military leaked information about those vehicles to news media, and organized the border search, with the aim of embarrassing Turkey’s government. What’s your definition of high treason?

I would be interested to hear from those Western diplomats what action they think their own governments would take in a similar situation? It has come to light that Turkish police had detained and extradited a Belgian national who went on to carry out one of the recent bombings in Brussels. It seems that Belgian security forces failed to act on the warning received, and they are placing the blame on their Ambassador in Ankara. If their communication channels are really so dysfunctional, and their envoys in foreign countries are acting on their own initiative, it seems to me Western governments need to get their diplomatic personnel under control.

The War on Terror – Could we possibly try a different approach?

You find a good deal of unadulterated donkey droppings in most of the mainstream media these days on the (in their view at least) related topics of terrorism, Islam and the Middle East. So it was with feelings of surprise and relief that I chanced upon a balanced and insightful piece in our very own New Zealand Herald, beloved daily rag of my hometown Auckland.

asymmetric-by-ted-rallRichard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago (nice to see that some universities manage to fund departments that probably don’t attract a huge amount of commercial sponsorship!), was speaking with a Herald reporter, Scott Yeoman. Mr Jackson said he was expecting more terrorist attacks on Europe and the rest of the world so long as world leaders continued to respond in the predictable and clearly unsuccessful ways they have been doing over the past fifteen years (and maybe longer). These responses include increasing security, intensifying military attacks on areas of the world where we think the terrorism is coming from, increasing restrictions on civil liberties, increased surveillance and the targeting of Muslim communities, and the introduction of “draconian” legislation’‘the only thing that has achieved,’ he said, ‘is more terrorism.’

Well, it’s not an original observation, but good on Richard Jackson for doing his best to keep the message out there in the public eye. We don’t hear so much these days about asymmetrical warfare – but it’s a concept we would do well to keep in mind. It’s fine and dandy for American Presidents to sound off about the cowardly nature of terrorist attacks – but when those presidents have the technology and the shameless gall to assassinate foreign citizens in their own countries without declaring war; and bombing those countries back to the Stone Age if they dare to object, it’s pretty clear that face-to-face combat in the traditional sense is only going to have one result. Check out what happened to Iraq after George Dubya’s ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ in 2003 if you have any doubts.

Despite George the Son’s continued belief in the righteousness of his nation’s actions, there are undoubtedly Iraqi citizens who believe just as strongly that they have grounds for taking revenge. Possibly some Afghans too, one or two Iranians and Palestinians, possibly a few Egyptians . . . who knows? They may even feel strongly enough to wrap some explosives around their waist and blow themselves to a better world, taking a few others with them. Even if we can’t see the logic in such actions, we should attempt to understand the desperation that drives human beings to such extreme measures. You may remember that the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ got under way in December 2010 when a young man in Tunisia torched himself in protest at his country’s dictatorial government. I can’t imagine the anger, frustration and helplessness that drove 26 year-old Muhamed Bouazizi to immolate himself in public – and I hope to God I never have to find out.

Asymmetrical-WarfareWhy should we try to understand these people? Simply because, as Richard Jackson points out in the interview, it is extremely difficult to defend against attack by a human bomb, who doesn’t care if he/she lives or dies.

Sad to say, the overwhelming signals we get on mainstream news media, and from Presidential hopefuls in the lead-up to the US election later this year is that the message is not getting through. I’m not going to waste words addressing the mindless outpourings of billionaire Donald Trump. Even Republican Party members in the USA seem to be having doubts about the wisdom of turning him loose in the Oval Office.

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I’m warnin’ that Ayatollah Khomeini!

But who’s Number Two for the GOP? I was astounded to read reports of a speech by Ted Cruz where he asserted that, as president, he would rip up the Iran nuclear deal ‘on day one’. ‘Hear my words Ayatollah Khomeini,’ he is reported as saying, ‘if I am president and Iran launches a missile test, we will shoot that missile down.’ Now that’s scary! Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Shah’s government, actually departed this world in 1984. Admittedly his replacement, Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, has a surname that, to the ordinary culturally-deprived US citizen, may look confusingly similar – but political hopefuls aspiring to leadership of the free world have had 32 years to sort out the difference. After all, we lesser mortals are expected to distinguish between Teddy and Franklin D Roosevelt; not to mention the George Bushes, father and son. How difficult is it? At least those Iranian guys have plenty of other first names, and we don’t have to focus on a ‘Dubya’. Thank heavens Hillary Clinton is a woman, or we’d have serious problems.

While we’re on the subject of Iran, I see in the news that a young citizen of the world, Reza Zarrab, has been arrested in the United States on charges related to the evasion of US sanctions against that country. The actual charges specify money-laundering and bank fraud – but there can be little doubt about the real reason the US government is pursuing yet another foreign national (think Julian Assange, Kim Dotcom).

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So, whose criminal is he, exactly?

Interestingly, anti-government fanatics in Turkey have apparently taken to their beloved social media offering rewards to the American judge who refused bail to Mr Zarrab. Well, it’s not easy to find out what’s actually going on in the world these days, if it ever was, with all the conflicting stories. Certain background information, however, seems to me necessary for an understanding of this business. First, those trade sanctions were imposed in 1979 after an Islamic revolution overthrew the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had been re-installed 27 years earlier by a CIA-sponsored coup d’état. Oil-poor, NATO stalwart Turkey especially suffered economically from those sanctions, which they had loyally and selflessly supported for 30 years. There have been suggestions that Turkey’s AK Party government was involved in shady dealings with Mr Zarrab – but of course, if those dealings were aimed at evading morally questionable US trade sanctions, they would, of necessity, have been conducted out of the public eye – and would have required transactions in some medium other than US dollars.

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Wonder if the US administration has considered a drone strike to take him out

Well, I have neither the time not the interest to pursue further the case of Mr Zarrab. I would like to turn briefly, however, to another surprising news item: the announcement by Russian President Putin that he would be withdrawing his military forces from Syria. Russian planes have been bombing the bejabers out of Syrian opposition troops that have been waging a civil war for five years against President-for-Life, Bashar al Assad. Now, I have mixed feelings about Vladimir Putin – but you can’t deny that the guy does what he thinks best for his country. In this case, he apparently felt the need to make a point that no one has the right to overthrow a country’s government other than the citizens of that country themselves – and it’s hard to dispute that, whatever arguments United States administrations may advance to the contrary. You assassinate Saddam Hussein, and what do you get in his place?

But I began with the subject of terrorism, and to that subject I wish to return. Another rumour the anti-government gossip-mongers in Turkey have been putting about lately is that Mr Erdoğan and his people are somehow working with the terrorists. They claim that they knew about the recent bombing in Ankara, but did nothing to prevent it. Which begs the obvious question: why would a democratically elected government connive in the murder of its own innocent citizens? I know some Americans believe George W Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks – but can he really have been that evil? In fact, it seems that Turkish police were expecting an attack on the Prime Ministerial HQ in Ankara, and turned back a suspicious-looking vehicle – whereupon the occupants decided to cut their losses and detonate. More plausible, at least to anyone not totally committed to blackening the AK Party government.

More interesting, it seems to me, is the news that two cabinet ministers in the Belgian government offered their resignations after it was announced that Turkey had arrested and deported a DAESH militant who turns out to have been one of the suicide bombers involved the March 22 attacks. Turkey had done its job, as requested by EU countries, to turn back militants trying to cross into Syria. They had returned Brahim El Bakraoui to his country of origin, with a warning that he was a militant, and apparently he had also ‘broken terms of his parole from a nine-year sentence for armed robbery’. In spite of Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens’ admission that ‘we missed it’, his boss, Prime Minister Charles Michel, has decided not to accept the resignations.

I would have thought that, in the circumstances, ordinary Belgians would be baying for the resignation of PM Michel – but on the contrary, it seems that everyone is full of sympathy. Not much sympathy for Turkey, however, I gather. The tourism sector has already been hard-hit by Russia’s decision to keep its citizens at home in their frozen wasteland rather than allow them to take their customary shopping trips to Istanbul, or sunshine breaks on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast; and European warnings that Turkey is now a dangerous place for its citizens to visit.

Not only tourists, it seems. On Wednesday the Dutch government announced that it was ‘temporarily’ closing its consulate-general in Istanbul because of a ‘possible terror threat’. Well, pardon me for saying, I think that’s pretty pathetic! I would expect high-level foreign diplomats to show a little more backbone – especially when nothing’s actually happened to them yet. Turkey’s own diplomatic HQs abroad were targeted in a sustained campaign of terror by Armenian fanatics in the 1970s and 80s – but as far as I know the Turks toughed it out, and kept their offices open.

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Nice place! Wonder what they do there all day?

Still the Dutch are following a precedent set by the Brits in the early years of the millennium. After a couple of bombings in Istanbul in 2003, in which their own consul-general was unfortunately killed, the Brits built an impenetrable wall around their palatial consulate, and permanently ceased carrying out any of the normally expected consular services: visa issue, passport renewal, etc. I’m curious to know what they do there these days. The British Council, purveyors of English language teaching to benighted heathen the world over, also closed their Turkish operation in sympathy, leaving the Turks to get on with the job in their own inimitable fashion.

Well, at least the Turks retain their sense of humour. A couple of local newspapers, possibly in retaliation, advised their readers, I assume with tongue in cheek, ‘Don’t go to Europe’. But as far as I am aware, Turkey’s embassy in Brussels remains open for business.

Hollywood and the FBI in the Struggle For/Against democracy (delete one)

Dotcom and team in the dock

Dotcom and team in the dock

I haven’t seen much news about Kim Dotcom lately. You may remember he is the larger-than-life German entrepreneur who made headlines four years ago when he was arrested in New Zealand in a local police operation instigated at the request of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The Americans wanted Kim and his partners extradited to the Land of the Free to face charges of copyright infringement, money laundering and criminal conspiracy.

The charges relate to a file sharing company Megaupload these guys set up in 2005 in Hong Kong. If the New Zealand Government decides to send them to the USA (which seems pretty likely), and they are convicted, they face prison sentences that will run into decades. You’ll remember Chelsea (Bradley) Manning got 35 years for blowing the whistle on US shenanigans in Iraq, but at least he’s an American citizen, which the Dotcom team are not. Doesn’t worry the Yanks though. Julian Assange (an Australian citizen) is still under Ecuadorean protection in their London embassy to avoid a similar fate.

Well, the extradition hearing has begun in New Zealand, and I read an interesting article published in The New Zealand Herald focusing on the plight of one Finn Batato, Megaupload’s advertising manager who is one of the defendants. If you’re interested, you can read the article for yourself, but for me the most interesting snippets came near the end, where the writer, David Fisher, asks some interesting questions: ‘Was the case motivated by Hollywood?’ and ‘How is it the US’s business?’ – given that they accused are not US citizens and the company was set up in Hong Kong.

John Banks in the dock

John Banks in the dock

In answer to the first question, Fisher says, ‘Hollywood certainly pushed Washington to go hard on filesharing websites, including Megaupload. In 2010, the White House made intellectual property – and copyright – an issue of national security. The movie and music industry was described as a cornerstone of the US economy and in need for protection from rogue Internet businesses.’

To the second, he says, ‘The original prosecutor, Neil McBride, the US attorney for East Virginia, said in 2012: “I’m convinced that most emails in the world at some point transit through servers that sit somewhere in the Eastern District of Virginia, so that gives us venue.” By venue, he means jurisdiction, and that means US law travels with the Internet.’

That’s why the trial, if it comes to a trial, will be held in the state of Virginia. And I have to tell you, I don’t have a lot of confidence in the current government of New Zealand to stand up to the US of A. Dotcom was granted residency in NZ despite his known criminal record in Germany, on the strength of his considerable wealth – New Zealand’s tiny economy is subsidized by a fast track process granting generous privileges to mega-rich foreigners.

Kim who?

Kim who?

At the time of his arrest he was living in a leased mansion in the electorate of New Zealand’s multi-millionaire, free marketeering former banker Prime Minister, John Key. Mr Key subsequently switched loyalties after discovering that Dotcom was targeted by the FBI. A former member of Mr Key’s National Party, former cabinet minister, one-time mayor of NZ’s largest city and self-professed creationist, John Banks, was recently cleared of accepting a pay-off from Dotcom to help with his 2010 mayoral campaign. Originally convicted by NZ’s High Court and obliged to leave parliament, Banks’ conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal on the basis of sworn (but questionable) evidence by two American businessmen.

Dark Clouds over America – Democritic hypocracy

Dark clouds over America - But still they're in denial about climate change

Dark clouds over America – But still they’re in denial about climate change

I keep reading in US and other foreign news media that Turkey has more journalists in prison than any other country in the world. Most recently, I read an editorial in the New York Times asserting that the president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdoğan ‘has a long history of intimidating and co-opting the Turkish media.’ I confess I don’t know what the NYT editor means by ‘co-opting’ here – but I assume ‘intimidating’ implies that there is a threat of being sent to prison with the hundreds of other Turkish journalists who dared to criticize Mr Erdoğan and Turkey’s AK Party government.

Now I have to tell you, as one who has lived in this country for most of the last 20 years, who exercises no vote and has no political party affiliation, that the level of democracy in Turkey seems to me to have risen exponentially since I first arrived in 1995. I don’t know why those ‘journalists’ are in prison – if they actually are journalists, and if they are actually in prison – but I can confidently say it was not for simply criticizing Mr Erdoğan or his party’s government. Since the day the AK Party was elected to govern Turkey at the end of 2002 its representatives (and their spouses) have been subjected to torrents of criticism and personal abuse, much of it outrageously distorted if not outright lies.

Bradley/Chelsea Manning - shut away for life for telling the truth

Bradley/Chelsea Manning – shut away for life for telling the truth

The United States government, on the other hand, has shut away Wikileaks whistle-blower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning for 35 years for telling the truth about what the US military was doing in Iraq. If they can get Edward Snowden out of Russia, his fate will be pretty similar. As for Australian citizen Julian Assange, the brains behind the whole business, you can be pretty sure that Swedish rape stuff is a ruse for the Yanks to get hold of him too. So far the Ecuador government is keeping him safe, but it can’t be much of a life, holed up in their London embassy for three years and no end in sight. So, public-spirited truth-tellers, or treacherous enemies of the state? Depends on your point-of-view, I guess.

Four times from 1960 to 1997, elected governments in Turkey were ousted by military intervention – and there is little doubt in my mind that, had Mr Erdoğan’s government not succeeded in pre-emptively pulling the teeth of the generals, he and his team would have gone the same way. That NYT editor further states that ‘some critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fear a new crackdown is starting to ensure that his Justice and Development Party wins’ the upcoming general election. Again, the meaning is not crystal clear, but the implication, I guess, is that the ‘crackdown’ will involve some electoral jiggery-pokery, if not outright violence. Well, I can inform the Times editor and his readership that many of Mr Erdoğan’s supporters have good reasons for believing that the United States had a hand in activating those military coups d’état. Does he know anything about that?

Turkish democracy in the good old days

Turkish democracy in the good old days

The first military takeover, in 1960, resulted in the overthrow of one of the country’s most popular and long-serving prime ministers, Adnan Menderes. The poor man was peremptorily hanged along with two of his ministers – though later posthumously pardoned and his reputation restored. The third, in 1980, precipitated a bloody reign of terror and produced a rewritten constitution aimed at ensuring that Kurdish people and other undesirable left wing elements would not be represented in the country’s legislature. The leader of that 1980 coup, praised by Time Magazine at the time as the man who was ‘holding Turkey together’, General Kenan Evren, died last week of natural causes at the age of 97 – and there are many in Turkey who would have preferred a different end for him. In fact he died as Private Evren, having been demoted and sentenced to life imprisonment for his political activities. As far as I know, no United States representatives attended his funeral, which is sad, perhaps, given that most local politicians stayed away too.

Sad end of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes  1960

Sad end of a democratically elected Prime Minister, Adnan Menderes 1960

But getting back to the New York Times and its prestigious fellow ‘newspapers of record’, can anyone tell me why they are so concerned that Turkey’s AK Party government should not be returned on 7 June? Wikipedia informs me that the United Nations has 193 member states. A record 206 countries participated in the 2012 London Olympic Games; and the CIA World Factbook recognizes 267 world ‘entities’. I can’t tell you, off the top of my head, how many of those states, countries or ‘entities’ hold regular elections whose results in any way reflect the wishes of their people – but I am reasonably confident that Turkey does. I am equally optimistic that the June 7 election will be a fair reflection of public opinion. Can the same be said of presidential elections in the USA?

I do know that an Arab Spring revolt in 2011 led to the removal of Egypt’s US puppet-president Hosni Mubarak; and the subsequent election, whose fairness no one (as far as I know) disputes, brought Muhammed Morsi to power. Within a year Mr Morsi had been ousted in turn and replaced by a military regime that has now condemned him to death – with not a peep of protest, to my knowledge, from the US government or the New York Times. The ‘entity’ of Palestine, whose people had been living in that location for millennia before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, has no official representation at the United Nations – yet the United States government and the editor of the NY Times seem quite comfortable with that.

On the other hand, that anonymous editor is also quite comfortable ending his piece with a call to action: ‘The United States and Turkey’s other NATO allies should be urging [Mr Erdoğan] to turn away from [his] destructive path.’ Destructive of who, or what? The country’s economy and the living standards of most of its people have improved enormously in the last 12 years. Small wonder that Turkey’s president is accusing the New York Times of making provocative attacks on his country’s government, and unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs two weeks prior to an important parliamentary election. And in my opinion, President Erdoğan is absolutely right on this one. At the very least, if US business and political leaders won’t adopt consistent standards in their judgment of the political situation in other countries, they might work on getting their own house in order before presuming to interfere in the affairs of other sovereign states.

Trusting in God - since 1956

Trusting in God – since 1956

The NY Times did publish in March a piece written by the author of a book “Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.” Kevin M Kruse argues that, from the 1930s to the 1950s, big business leaders countered the anger caused by their complicity in two world wars and a Great Depression by enlisting corporate evangelists like Billy Graham. ‘During these years, Americans were told, time and time again, not just that the country should be a Christian nation, but that it always had been one. They soon came to think of the United States as “one nation under God”. They’ve believed it ever since.’

Another NYT piece, A Pacific Isle, Radioactive and Forgotten, dated 4 December last year reports a visit to a Pacific Island where the US military tested 67 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. The island, Enewetak in the Marshall group is still dangerously radioactive, although the former inhabitants were allowed to return and the United States has no interest in cleaning up the mess it left behind.

'I did not have sex with that woman' pales into trivial insignificance!

‘I did not have sex with that woman’ pales into trivial insignificance!

Late last year the US senate released a report which found that ‘the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees.’ Former vice-president Dick Cheney defended his government’s actions, arguing that ‘We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack. We were successful on both parts.’

In spite of Mr Cheney’s assertion, however, a widely circulated AP article earlier this month reported ‘Iraq war judged a mistake by today’s White House hopefuls.’ And not just the Democrat hopefuls. ‘All these Republicans said last week that, in hindsight, they would not have invaded Iraq with what’s known now about the faulty intelligence that wrongly indicated Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.’

Some might feel ‘hindsight’ to be a weasel word implying ‘If we knew then what we know now . . .’ when, in fact, United Nations observers and the US’s own intelligence had provided adequate information about the true situation. In spite of that, GW Bush’s administration, for whatever reasons of their own, had decided they would invade Iraq. And they were self-righteously angry with France and Turkey for not supporting their war on truth and innocent Iraqis. Now there are many who believe that ill-advised invasion created an environment in the Middle East which led directly to the current chaos in the region, including the rise of ISIS – these days coming to be known as Daesh.

Adding to the tension, according to a recent Time Magazine article, relations between the United States and the Arab GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) nations are at a low ebb. Their oil dependent economies are being hurt by US determination to produce expensive and environmentally disastrous shale oil in the interests of self-sufficiency. The Arabs are responding by driving down the price of oil to thwart the American plans. The extremely undemocratic Saudis and UAE states are also nervous about which way the USA will jump if popular uprisings occur. Their anxiety is further increased by America’s sudden interest in cosying up to Iran.

Nevertheless, rather than admitting the dreadful error made by his predecessor, President Obama last November authorised sending a further 1,500 US troops to Iraq, and requested an extra $5.6 billion in funding to fight ISIS/Daesh. Where will the money go? you may ask. Well, according to another article I read recently, The Fraud of War, a good chunk of it will disappear into ‘theft, bribery and contract-rigging crimes’ run by US military personnel. As far as I am aware, this report did not appear in the pages of the New York Times.

At present, the GCC Muslim brotherhood have been doing America’s dirty work in Yemen, supposedly dealing to al-Qaeda’s breeding ground in that failed state. Iran, on the other hand, is opposed to outside interference in Yemen; and if US-Saudi relations deteriorate, who knows what will happen? According to Robert D Kaplan, writing for Foreign Policy, ‘It’s Time to Bring Imperialism back to the Middle East.’ His thesis is that the collapse or decline of the Ottoman, British and American empires, which hitherto ‘bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been’ is the reason for the current chaotic situation. No fan of democracy, Kaplan’s family is Jewish, and he actually served in the Israeli army before resettling in the United States and becoming a senior adviser to the US Department of Defense. And those guys are criticizing the state of democracy in Turkey!!

'We don't like you - but thanks for letting us use your bay'

‘We don’t like you – but thanks for letting us use your bay’

Closer to home, another former bête noir that the White House has been attempting to build bridges with is the nearby island of Cuba. A stumbling block in the ‘normalisation’ process, however, is the United States’ refusal to consider handing back control of Guantanamo Bay to its rightful owners. The Bay was commandeered by the US in 1902 after their victory in the Spanish-American War. It became the site of a US naval base and, in 2002, of the infamous Guantanamo Prison – which presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to close down, but has so far been unable to do.

As if the Middle East were not providing enough problems for America, the US government has recently decided to apply sanctions to Venezuela which it claims poses an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”. Possibly Robert D Kaplan will be encouraged at these signs of rejuvenated US imperialism – but I suspect he would prefer to see them concentrate on looking after Israel’s interests.

I could go on to mention the disastrous drought in California, exacerbated by the thirst for water of the oil-fracking industry. Our friends at the New York Times published an opinion piece earlier this month entitled ‘The End of California?’ Also in the Sunshine State, a ‘war zone’ has apparently erupted in the Mission District of San Francisco where gentrification is resulting in the displacement of the poor Mexican and Central American migrant families who have traditionally lived there. So Ferguson, Missouri, where police used rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds protesting the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, is not the only war zone in the Land of the Free.

Well, an 18 year-old these days is pretty much considered an adult, I guess – but a Human Rights Watch report last year revealed that, on farms in North Carolina, ‘Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problems from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands.’ On a more microcosmic scale, I read the other day about a driver in Fredericksburg, Virginia who was driving erratically as a result of suffering a stroke – and was sympathetically tasered and pepper-sprayed by an over-enthusiastic police officer. And then there’s the woman in West Palm Beach, Florida, who was arrested for contempt of court after fleeing with her four-year-old son because the child’s father was determined to have the little fellow’s foreskin sliced off.

Ah well, at least cases like that may win America some support among the more extreme Muslim groups. I’m not sure it’s something to be particularly proud of, though.

YouTube’s back in Turkey!

Well, I’m not a big YouTube user – to my shame I have never actually uploaded any video content – but I did miss it while it was unavailable. It had happened once before, some years ago, and a younger, more technologically savvy colleague gave me directions to a site that was able to bypass the blockage. As one might have expected, the government was on to that this time around, so the bypass no longer worked. Still, I’m guessing the younger generation in Turkey weren’t unduly disturbed by the ban, except as a matter of democratic principle.
Anyway, I’m delighted to see YouTube up and running again. It’s a marvellous resource, and a further indication of how the Internet and social media have changed our lives in ways that we could scarcely have imagined in that distant 20th century.
The blocking of YouTube (and, I understand, Twitter, though to my greater shame, I haven’t got into that at all) did, however, get me thinking about larger issues to do with social media, the Internet and the big question of censorship.
Much was made in Western news media of the role played by social media in events collectively referred to as The Arab Spring that began in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread rapidly to Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and other Islamic states. The anarchy of the Internet was credited with empowering a switched-on younger generation to achieve greater political awareness and organize themselves in numbers sufficient to overthrow despotic regimes.
Sad to say, a return to military rule in Egypt and the disastrous ongoing civil war in Syria have taken the gloss somewhat off that brave new vernal world of ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ – and as for ‘brotherhood’, that seems to have become a dirty word rendering further analysis unnecessary. Those much-vaunted social media, it seems, have their limitations when it comes to producing meaningful long-term political change.
Nevertheless, it’s disturbing when governments use their powers to censor our activities. We have come to depend on the Internet and social media so much in our daily lives that it’s hard to imagine a time when people lived in relative contentment without them. It was natural for people in Turkey to feel angry when their government blocked access to YouTube and Twitter. Some are also complaining that the same government is taking measures to control the sale and consumption of alcohol in public places, and to limit the display of naked female flesh on roadside advertising.
Now I have to tell you, I have mixed feelings about these issues. I confess I enjoy the occasional tipple of fermented and even spirituous liquors for relaxation and social purposes. I can appreciate the sight of a well-turned ankle as much as the next red-blooded male. On the other hand, I am well aware that my own homeland, New Zealand, and our near neighbor, Australia, not renowned either of them for alcoholic moderation, impose quite tight restrictions on the sale and consumption of such beverages. As an example, in Melbourne a couple of years ago, I went to Federation Square with my daughter and her partner to watch Australian Open tennis on the giant screen. One would expect a typical Aussie to enjoy a frosty VB or Fosters on such an occasion – but eagle-eyed private security boys were circulating to ensure that they did not.
I can also say that, despite the importance given to eye-catching advertising in subways and other public places in Auckland, Sydney, London and New York, I don’t recall seeing large-size posters of fetching young lasses clad in skimpy underwear or bikinis, of the kind that are commonplace on the streets of Istanbul. Not sure if there’s a law against it – it just doesn’t seem to be the done thing.
Which brings me to the question of censorship – and I have to tell you, I’m against it, as a matter of principle, as, I suspect, are most modern, broad-minded, right-thinking adults in Western societies. At the same time, I can understand why some people feel there should be some control over the dissemination of child pornography, and material depicting actual physical abuse. I have some sympathy for the argument that says children under a certain age should not be exposed to visual material deemed to be ‘adult’ in nature. Google and YouTube actually include such restrictions as part of company policy.
So we have a paradoxical situation here: a conflict between theory and practice which is not easy to resolve. If we accept that some measure of censorship is socially desirable, the question shifts to one of where we will draw the line – and who will have authority to draw it. Again, few of us have confidence in the willingness of private enterprise to regulate its own activities, so in the end, most of us would reluctantly accept that governments have a necessary role to play.
But now, of course, we have given a dangerous power to politicians who, as we suspect, are not always driven by an altruistic concern for the welfare of their people. In the end, those of us fortunate enough to live in democracies have the power of the ballot box where we can call elected governments to account. Between elections, we have the responsibility of participating in the democratic process by joining pressure groups, working for social change though NGOs, even taking to the streets in protest.
I have written elsewhere on the complex nature of democracy. Most writers on the subject agree that there is a continuum from one extreme of absolute slavery to the other of absolute individual freedom – and most countries lie somewhere on the line between. In fact there may even be several components of democracy, such as press freedom, representative electoral systems, separation of church and state, limitations on corporate power, for example, and countries may be ahead in some while lagging behind in others.
The United States and Europe, for example, place, as far as I am aware, no restrictions on the use of social media such as Twitter and YouTube, and some of their political leaders have been outspoken in their criticism of the Turkish Government for doing so.
On the other hand, they seem to see no contradiction between their position on this matter, and what some might see as a greater danger – their willingness to persecute individuals who use the power of the Internet to question the activities of governments and corporations. I’m thinking here of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – still, as far as I know, holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, threatened with deportation if he emerges; Edward Snowden, epic whistleblower stripped of his US passport and similarly unable to leave Russia; Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking information many of us think we had a right, even a need, to know. I wouldn’t put New Zealand’s very own Kim Dotcom in the same league as those guys, but nevertheless, I appreciate the light he is shining on the shenanigans of politicians downunder.
What is important, in my opinion, is the responsibility we all have to speak out against corruption and injustice wherever we see it, although doing so will not necessarily win us friends and public acclaim. Our voice of protest, however, will possess greater credibility if we nail our colours to the mast, rather than maintain a safe electronic distance via social media on the Internet. For me, the greatest figures of history are those who were willing to sacrifice personal comfort, even life itself, to achieve a greater social goal:
Not everyone will thank you
for wanting to change the world
Mahatma Gandhi in India, whose 32-year struggle brought no personal wealth, ending in his own assassination – but resulted in independence for his people.
Jesus of Nazareth, who challenged the establishment of his time in unacceptable ways, knowing that they would kill him for it in a most unpleasant way.
Even Turkey’s own Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Despite widespread public adulation, he assuredly faced opposition from vested interests in his own lifetime – and denied himself the important Turkish dreams of family and dynastic succession for the greater goal of building a nation.
And to be fair, that’s why I don’t rank Mr ‘Megaupload’ Dotcom with that other triumvirate of Internet heroes. I’m not convinced there is quite the same spirit of self-sacrifice underlying his actions.

Well, YouTube is back, and I’m happy. I would, however, make a plea to armchair political activists wishing to bring down the Turkish Government. By all means express your views, but at the same time show a little consideration for your fellow citizens who enjoy using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for less controversial purposes.