30 August 2016

In Latin America, people disappear but crimes remain

Al Jazeera English

Back in 2012, in the southern Peruvian city of Ayacucho - birthplace of the Maoist guerrilla outfit Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) - I found myself carrying a small white coffin containing the remains of a man named Alejandro Aguilar.
As I recounted at the time in a blog post for the London Review of Books, Aguilar had been an itinerant wool trader and was one of the victims of a 1984 guerrilla massacre of more than 100 Peruvians.
Twenty-eight years later, his remains had been exhumed from a mass grave and were being returned to his wife and other family members, who had travelled to Ayacucho by bus from their village more than 700 km away.
I happened to be standing nearby when a hand was needed with the coffin, and thus paid my first and last respects to Aguilar before he was loaded back on to the bus for his final journey home.
There were copious tears from the family, but they assured me they were grateful to have closure at long last. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.

26 August 2016

Honduras and Israel: A New Special Relationship

TeleSUR English

In the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Honduras, I had the opportunity to interview deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who, having been kindly escorted in his pajamas to Costa Rica by the Honduran military, had then resurfaced in Tegucigalpa and taken refuge in the embassy of Brazil. The interview took place via an intermediary inside the embassy, who conveyed my questions to Zelaya.
One topic we touched on was a comment the left-leaning Zelaya had made concerning “Israeli mercenaries” operating in Honduras. This had unleashed a predictable hullabaloo in international media, with commentators tripping over each other to portray the besieged leader as an anti-Semite extraordinaire on some sort of permanent acid trip.
In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!
Now that the coup has restored Honduras to its rightful position as glorious hub of right-wing extremism, it’s even easier to bring the Israelis in. And current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández knows it.In my write-up of the interview, which was published in an insignificant publication, I happened to point out that Israeli mercenaries weren’t exactly foreign to the Central American landscape. When the piece came out, the publisher of another insignificant publication—to which I had contributed some anti-coup articles—threw a fit. How dare I bring the Israelis into it; I would alienate all of Washington!
He’s currently pushing the country’s Congress to approve a military cooperation agreement with Israel that he swears is “fundamental to the growth of the Honduran nation.” READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

22 August 2016

Disappearing the disappeared in Lebanon

Middle East Eye

On 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared will once again be observed.
In Lebanon, where an estimated 17,000 persons are still missing on account of the “civil” war that ravaged the country - with plenty of outside help - from 1975 until 1990, it will mark yet another year of unanswered questions for family members of the victims.
Earlier this year, I spoke with one such family member: a silver-haired man named Abed, whose younger brother, Ahmad, joined the PLO in 1983 at the age of 17 and then promptly disappeared.
Over pineapple juice in the garden of his home in the tiny south Lebanese village of Maaroub, Abed recounted the decades of futile searches for Ahmad.
During one period, the family was strung along by an enterprising fellow involved in a missing persons scam industry; in exchange for several hefty payments, he produced what he claimed was an official paper from a prison in Aleppo, Syria, confirming that Ahmad was being held there.  
An eventual visit to the jail by a Lebanese politician destroyed that myth. Reports that Ahmad had been spotted at Lebanon’s notorious Roumieh Prison also proved unfounded and the family continued to allow for the possibility that he had been delivered into the hands of either the Syrians or the Israelis by some sympathetic Lebanese formation. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

10 August 2016

Can a new UN leader change the Middle East?

Middle East Eye

As the hour draws near for the changing of the UN guard - the selection of a new secretary general - many observers have signed up to the campaign for a female leader to take the organisation’s reins for the first time in its more than 70 year history.
There are several women among the current candidates to replace Ban Ki-moon whose 10-year term expires in December, although none has done particularly well in straw polls.
But while men should certainly not continue to dominate the international scene for the rest of eternity, there’s also the question of what any individual - regardless of gender - can bring to the UN in terms of organisational change.
In the Middle East, for one, the odds of charting a new course are slim to none.
Let’s inspect one Middle Eastern country whose experience with UN operations has spanned various decades and secretaries general: Lebanon, the host of UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.

07 August 2016

Security for a Post-Human World

TeleSUR English

Last summer, I received an email invitation to a terrorism conference in Tehran—the only problem being that the email was addressed not to me but to the former head of the Pakistani military. (I eventually finagled my own invitation, as well, and was able to attend as myself.)
This summer, a new addition was added to my arsenal of misdirected correspondence with the arrival to my inbox of an email bearing the subject line “Northwestern University startup - Indoor security drone.”
The email continued: “Of course, a guard still must be on site in case a human presence is required, but we believe the new technology can fundamentally change indoor security. Since you're the expert, I wanted to ask for your thoughts on how an indoor drone could be used.”In the message, the founder of a robotics startup at Northwestern University in Illinois informed me that “we're making an indoor autonomous security drone to help security guards patrol by collecting video, images, and 3D maps remotely.”
When I responded with a request to find out for whom, exactly, the dispatch had been intended, the young man wrote back: “Honestly, I used [digital services marketplace] Fiverr to purchase a $5 gig from a Bangladeshi guy who said he’d help me find a contact list of people in the security industry. He gave me a list of 11,000 contacts in a few hours.”
Ah, the wonders of technology. We can only hope that the actual production of the drones will be conducted in just as professional a fashion.
As for the notion that the devices might “fundamentally change indoor security,” there are presumably no truly revolutionary changes in store given the already existing landscape of mechanized hyper-surveillance in the United States—characterized by ubiquitous security cameras and other installations ostensibly meant to safeguard law and order.
Granted, most Americans have not yet progressed to that special level of familiarity with drones that certain blessed populations of the earth enjoy.
In the Gaza Strip, for example, the buzz of Israeli drones overhead is an acoustic mainstay of everyday life — and essentially a means of continuously terrorizing the inhabitants of the besieged coastal enclave. READ MORE AT TeleSUR ENGLISH.

06 August 2016

Pokemon Go: When reality just isn't enough

Al Jazeera English

As if human beings did not already have enough excuses for keeping their eyeballs permanently fixed on one variety of screen or another, a new all-consuming distraction has burst forth into existence to further challenge the apparent tedium of reality.
The phenomenon, of course, is Pokemon Go, the "augmented reality" mobile phone game that debuted in early July and rapidly amassed more daily users than even such institutionalised addictions as Twitter.
It has soared to unprecedented popularity especially in the United States, where its developer - Niantic Inc - is also based. . . .
At first glance, Pokemon Go might seem at least less pernicious than other experiments in reducing the human race to automaton status, in that it forces players to get out, move around, "experience" things - and perhaps crash into a police car or get robbed in the process.
But the fact is that the whole enterprise still feeds into the idea that life itself should be a video game - which happens to be the same premise that underlies, for example, the high-tech warfare of drones and other methods of remote-control killing. READ MORE AT AL JAZEERA ENGLISH.