“There was a moment that everything went wrong": Lara Logan

It only takes a minute for everything to turn wrong.

This was a special crowd situation — in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, after the announcement that Husni Mubarak was stepping down from his long-held — since the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat — post as Egypt’s president. There had been months of tension, weeks of world attention, adrenalin was flowing, the crowd was mixed and certainly infiltrated with people with all kinds of motives.

But, what happened to Lara Logan, CBS reporter visibly working in Tahrir Square with her producer and cameraman and crew and bodyguard who was suddenly set-upon set, in a frenzy, in an instant, can — and has — happened in other situations as well.

She was taken as a symbol, and not as a human being. This happens to women all the time, in many places around the world — but it seems to happen differently, if not more, in the area stretching from North Africa through West Asia.

Mukhtaran Mai, the then-illiterate Pakistani woman who was hauled before her village council, because they had actually ordered her to be raped. This outrageous order, a violation of all religious principles and all laws, was given for the most unjust of reasons: to avenge for something here 12-year-old brother was alleged to have done with a woman from a different tribe [later reports indicated that he had in fact been raped himself by men from that other tribe, and there was clear reason to believe he had not done what he was accused of]. The gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai then took place more or less in public, on the spot, and she was forced to walk home “semi-naked”, reports said — when they could more accurately have written “naked”. It was done without any pity, without the slightest pity, to an innocent human being. Last week, on 21 April, five out of the six of her assailants who were tried and convicted were released by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, and the sentence of the sixth man was commuted from the death penalty to life in prison. She has now said that with the release of the five men earlier convicted of raping her (there were apparently at least 13 other men involved who were not prosecuted), she fears for her life…

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Penance by laundry – Irish "Magdalene" laundries

The story doesn’t get better.

The truth about the ice cold, damp, grim, dark and immeasurably cruel saga of the Irish child penitentiary system is still unfolding.

The latest news concerns the Irish “Magdalene Launderies”.

Mary Magdalene — once reputedly a sex worker reviled by society, though this is now being described as a “misidentification” of her “sins” — became one of the closest associates or disciples of Jesus, according to the Gospel stories.

If memory serves, children were told stories of her washing the feet of Jesus with her hair [shown uncovered in most images — or, was it her “tears”?], as a mark of the most humble penitance.

If only that was all the “morally errant” girls of Ireland had to do… But, in the some quarters of the Irish Catholic Church, there was no forgiveness for girls who were identified as “morally errant”.

The Associated Press reported from Dublin today, which is posted here, that a new report compiled by the Irish Human Rights Commission says that “Ireland’s civil authorities for decades dumped women — often teenagers being punished for petty crimes or becoming pregnant out of wedlock — into the so-called Magdalene Laundries, a network of 10 workhouses that operated in independent Ireland from the 1920s to the mid-1990s”.

There has been no investigation, yet, into a system where girls “disappeared into the Magdalene laundries system like it was Pinochet’s Chile”.

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Quote of the day – (10th in our series)

The Syrian poet in exile, Adonis [Ali Ahmad Said Esber], is quoted in a New York Times profile, here, as saying to students in a class he visited at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor: “Right now we feel Arab culture is paralyzed. We suffer from women’s sense of their lack of freedom, of being deprived of their individualism. It’s impossible for a culture to progress with men alone, without women being involved …  The person who is oppressed is the woman, but the real slave is the man, caught up in defending his enslavement. Women should help him become free”.

That’s a big job.

Happiness and sadness are two drops of dew on your forehead”… [from one of his recent poems, quoted in the NYTimes]

What does this mean?

Ma’an News Agency has reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] issued a decree on Sunday banning all violations of privacy and personal freedoms, following the results of a Palestinian Authority inquiry into corruption allegations against his former chief of staff. ‘In light of the report handed over by the inquiry commission into the Rafiq Al-Husseini case, and reiterating previous instructions, the minister of interior must inform security services that any violator of the law of private freedoms will be called into account’, the presidential decree read”. This report can be read in full here.

What does this mean?

Is this another rebuke to Tawfik Tirawi (who reportedly previously lost his job as head of Palestinian General Intelligence because of this very scandal)? Tirawi was then apparently rehabilitated when he easily won a seat, in elections in Bethlehem in August, on the powerful Fatah Central Committee, and he now holds the portfolio on that body of Palestinian labor unions and syndicates (in which capacity he has been instrumental in changes affecting the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate)

Ma’an says: “Legal experts interpret the decree as signaling the need for court approval before recording private acts, such as phone tapping and video surveillance”.

We are still waiting for news about the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry that Abu Mazen set up to look into this whole affair … As Ma’an reported, the Commission of Inquiry completed its investigations — Ma’an says this happened on Monday, and the members handed their report over in a meeting with Abu Mazen on Saturday.

Abbas suspends Rafiq Husseini for "sex + corruption" affair – orders "investigation".

It has just been announced in Ramallah that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has apparently suspended (not fired) his Chef de Cabinet Rafiq Husseini, and established an investigation committee headed by the Fatah No. 2, Abu Maher Ghneim, in the wake of the all-too-public release of a “sex + corruption” videotape featuring Husseini. (Azzam al-Ahmad is a second member … Rafiq an-Natshe is the third.)

UPDATE: Husseini apparently intends to hold a press conference at 7:30 pm Sunday evening at the Palestinian Red Crescent building …

UPDATE TWO: Despite the interest, this press conference does not appear to be on television — it is neither on Al-Jazeera mubashir (live), which is running only program announcements, or on Palestinian television, which is doing a lottery-style program …

UPDATE THREE: Husseini told journalists that the videotape shown on Israel’s Channel 10 television — “Israel’s“, he stressed — was dubbed and falsified (i.e., he is claiming that he did not say bad things about Yasser Arafat, President Abbas, or Abbas’ two sons.  He made a short statement, with his voice betraying anger, and then did not answer any questions.) He said that the episode shown in the videotape happened a year and a half ago. And he said he would cooperate with the investigation committee set up by President Abbas

UPDATE FOUR: Palestinian TV played it straight.  The top story was the presidential decision to suspend Husseini and establish an investigation committee, then Husseini’s brief, angry, statement to journalists was aired in its entirety.

UPDATE FIVE: Al-Jazeera TV did it’s first report on the matter tonight. It showed a brief excerpt from the Husseini remarks to the press. Then an anchor in Doha quizzed first Palestinian presidential aide Nimr Hammad in Ramallah, then the disgruntled Palestinian security agent who had also been shown on the videotape, Fahmi Shabaneh, was interviewed from his home in East Jerusalem. There was a brief mention of the role of Shabaneh’s former boss, Tawfik Tirawi who was moved to another job (supervision of the Palestinian Police Academy in Jericho) after the videotape entrapment, but who was subsequently elected to the powerful Fatah Central Committee at elections last August in Bethlehem. None of the Al-Jazeera correspondents in the West Bank were put on the story, and bureau chief Walid Omary instead did a report focussing on Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from West Jerusalem.

UPDATE SIX: AP reported that “Husseini told a news conference that he was the victim of a conspiracy aimed at deterring him from fighting for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem … ‘I was ambushed by a gang that works for Israeli intelligence’, Husseini said. “This gang used the tape to blackmail me financially and politically, which means that I (should) abandon my work in Jerusalem and leave the homeland. I did not submit to it’.” This AP report can be read in full here.

It’s too bad that Husseini himself did not resign, and apologize. But, like many others, he seemed to think that he might not have done anything wrong…

And, it took Abbas too long. The incident that the Israeli media began to expose at the end of January, with a crescendo of articles and TV reports including very embarassing videotape footage of Husseini sitting (like King Farouk, according to my friend Mohammad) on a sofa in a living room having a bizarre discussion with two women (one of them either his secretary or a secretary working in another office in the Palestinian Presidential headquarters in Ramallah’s Muqata’a), and then in a bedroom (perhaps not in the same place at the same day or time, but still absolutely embarassing) getting completely undressed, rolling into bed, between the covers, and calling out to a woman who remained offscreen (because she was aware that it this episode was being filmed by Palestinian security officials…).

It seems that Husseini was not fired because he did what is shown on the videotape + possibly more — but because it became public in the way that it did.

For the past week, people have spoken of little else here.

Rafiq Husseini being interviewed on television in better days – Ma’an News Agency photo

Rafiq Hussein in television interview - Ma'an photo

Palestinian politics wonks will have a field day analyzing all the conflicting internal rivalries that finally lined up to create a critical mass of consensus forcing this decision… One hint of this was the participation by former West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub in the discussion on Palestinian TV (in which Husseini himself was supposed to participate, but didn’t) two nights ago.

Probably the threats of the disgruntled Palestinian security officer who revealed the videotape to the Israeli media, to hold a press conference by 28 February if Husseini were not fired before hand, probably that did not enter into the equation at all…

As to the investigation committee — well, the Palestinian leadership has been aware of this videotape for over a year, and nothing happened. And, there have been many of these in these parts, concerned with many matters, with few results…

The three-member investigative committee is to present its findings in two weeks, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Palestinian "sex + corruption" videotape scandal continues

Some of the reactions are interesting — some Israeli comments on various news stories and blog posts say they are happy to learn that the Palestinian leadership is interested in sex rather than violence… “Let them make love, not war”, one Israeli wrote.

OK.

This only shows how the lack of contact, the media incitement against Palestinians, and the separation of peoples has created such a demonization that it has become impossible to view The Other as really just human.

But, this “he’s only human, and nobody is perfect” business does not adequately deal with what was shown about Rafiq Husseini, Chef de Cabinet of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the Palestinian “sex + corruption” videotape that was aired, repeatedly, on Israeli TV during the past week, and which is also now available globally on the internet via Youtube.

While we have seen, in recent years, images of a number of Palestinian men forced to strip down to their underwear — or more — to fulfill the imperious demands of Israeli mililtary forces, this is the first time we have seen one of the top officials (he couldn’t really be called an operative) in the Palestinian Authority take of all his clothes — all of them — roll into bed, and wait for a woman (who remained off-camera in what was clearly a “sting operation” to entrap him. When he is surprised by a group of four Palestinian men who walk into the bedroom (instead of the woman he was waiting for), Husseini keeps a lid on his anger, and hops out of bed and gets dressed again.

The defense offered by some Palestinian leaders, going now right to the top, is not inspiring.  Ma’an News Agency reported today that Abbas told a Dubai satellite TV channel yesterday that “When Israel wants to defame someone or some party, they launch accusations against him from all directions”.  Ma’an said that “Abbas referred to ‘Israel’s attack’ on him via a media interest in hundreds of leaked document and a sex tape allegedly used in a corruption scandal”.  This Ma’an report is published here.

For full disclosure, it should be noted that Ma’an chief editor Nasser Lahham yesterday wrote an editorial published by his news agency which — among other things — called on Husseini to resign: “No matter what pain it causes him personally, chief of staff Rafik Al-Husseini must resign immediately for the sake of the country and national interest. Bold steps are required to overcome this crisis and quickly – his silence is no longer enough … guilty or not, any competent media advisor would urge someone in his position, the head of the Office of the President, to cede all responsibilities until a commission of inquiry can be established and its results reviewed … [But] The leadership has unfortunately adopted the same tired and evasive tactics, failing to take responsibility”.

Nasser Lahham does see himself, of course, as a media pundit and a media advisor, and was invited to appear on the Palestinian TV show last night on which Rafiq Husseini was supposed to participate as well, but didn’t. Instead (see below) one of the women involved, apparently Husseini’s secretary, called in. On the TV show, Lahham expressed outrage and indignation, said that there was no real, free, journalism in Palestine, called into question the authenticity of the full videotape that was shown on Israeli TV, and said that he was once honored to have a visit from Rafiq Husseini. His editorial can be read in full here.

Also in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Ma’an News Agency last night published a “right of reply” from the disgruntled Palestinian Authority (PA) security officer who was shown on the videotape interrupting what Husseini thought would be a sex session, and who was interviewed non-stop on Israeli TV last week — after Israeli-Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh flogged the story for all it was worth starting in late January in the Jerusalem post. In the “right of reply”, the disgruntled Fahmi Shabaneh wrote, among other things, that “The Rafiq Al-Husseini episode occurred in June 2008. Rafiq misled President Abbas about what happened. I was suspended for 10 days through a decision taken by President Abbas, after he was contacted by [PA official] Ibrahim Al-Masri Tawfiq At-Tirawi, who was abroad … After President Abbas reviewed the facts that I told him, and after I delivered copies of the tapes that revealed the lies and fabrications of Rafiq Al-Husseini, I was back at work on 31 November 2008 at Abbas’ request. I was also promoted as head of intelligence in the West Bank’s northern district on 21 December 2008. That I returned to my post infuriated Rafiq Al-Husseini, so I found myself imprisoned in an Israeli jail for a month and a half, after which they imposed house arrest from 4 January 2009 until just recently. After the Al-Husseini story came to light, Israel demolished part of my house, which is in At-Tur, East Jerusalem. The Palestinian general intelligence and the PA didn’t help me [after I was arrested by Israel – n.b. he writes later that this happened on 12 January 2009] by hiring a lawyer, paying legal fees, or paying expenses related to my house arrest, which resulted in my having to sell my home to cover the costs of the case and the arrest. I wrote President Abbas four letters, two others to the prime minister, another to the Fatah movement’s court [established by Abbas for inter-party matters], three letters to Ahmad Qurei (Abu Ala), a letter to [PA Housing Minister] Muhammad Ishtiyah, and letters to the head of each security department and a plethora of other officials, knocking on doors to no avail. I still have all this correspondence … I will not waver from what I’ve committed to doing, and will host a press conference on 28 February 2010 in the event that no procedures are taken against those whose names I gave to President Abbas”.

There are plenty of questions out there about whether or not sections of the tape may have been doctored, whether or not the dialogue was electronically altered by sophisticated means, and whether some of the sequences may have been shot at different times, there are some facts that stand up:
(1) Rafiq Husseini is shown sitting in a small living room with two women whose faces are blurred on the Israeli TV video, apparently to hide their identities, but whose voices were apparently not altered. (Both the living room, and the bedroom which is shown later, do not look as though they are places where someone normally lives. The two rooms are quite small, and have the anonymous crisp look of a temporarily-rented furnished apartment. Nasser Lahham noted on last night’s Palestinian television program that Husseini appeared to be wearing a different shirt in the living room and in the bedroom which was shown later…)
(2) In any case, one of these women is apparently either his secretary, or a secretary working in another office in the Ramallah Muqata’a Presidential headquarters where Yasser Arafat was beseiged under constant threat of death for the last years of his life, and where Yasser Arafat’s tomb now stands.
(3) The other woman is a friend of the secretary, and was apparently sseeking something that Rafiq Husseini was in a position to arrange.
(4) One or both of these women were apparently aware that a unit of the Palestinian security services was seeking to get Rafiq Husseini in a compromised and ridiculous position on videotape; and cooperated with this operation.
(5) The conversation between Husseini and the two women in the living room did not have the tone of a normal social interaction. Husseini appeared arrogant, and bantered in a suggestive way.
(6) Though it is clearly suggested, it is not absolutely certain either (a) that the bedroom was in the same apartment as the living room shown on the videotape, or (b) whether or not the presence of Husseini in both rooms happened in sequence on the same day.
(7) What is clear is that Husseini in the living room was being asked for something … and Husseini in the bedroom was clearly expecting a sexual encounter from a woman to whom he called out, but remained off camera.
(8) At least some of the men who entered the bedroom and surprised the naked Husseini waiting expectantly between the sheets were recognized by Husseini as Palestinian.
(9) One of these women who was in the living room — who identified herself in a phone call into last night’s Palestinian TV program as one of the two women, and whose voice seemed very similar if not identical to the voice of one of the women who was pictured on the videotape with Rafiq Husseini, and who apparently is either his secretary, or a secretary working in another office of the Presidency — said that almost everything that was being said was a lie (but neither of these women appeared undressed or in the bedroom with the visibly naked Rafiq Husseini). The explanation that this woman offered in her phone call last night was illogical, unsatisfactory, and implausible.

Many here are remembering Bill Clinton’s unforgettable testimony: “I did. not. have. sex. with. that. woman”.

(I should note here that neither the host of the program nor Nasser Lahham asked her any probing questions — they seemed embarrassed. Nasser Lahham wrote in his editorial published before the TV show that “Adults and children alike were left speechless when they saw what aired on Israel’s Channel 10 last night. How could parents explain to their kids, with any credibility, what they were witnessing? The shock was enormous”.)

It has been written in other news reports about this sex + corruption scandal that Palestinian society is “deeply conservative”. Well, yes and no. There is enormous social pressure to appear deeply conservative. But from what I have seen, observed, heard and experienced, I can state that everything that goes on everyplace else in the world also happens here. It’s just that here, it’s important to pretend that it doesn’t happen, and to save face publicly. Some people would call this hypocrisy. Palestinians would say it’s simply smart — and it would be not only utterly insensitive, but would show a complete lack of culture, delicatesse and good manners, and would also be incredibly stupid to behave otherwise, here.

Just this is enough to set aside all the other possible questions and discrepancies about the videotape (and about the motivations of the person who made the accusations, about the motivations of the Israeli media and the Israeli leadership and the Israeli secret services) and to show that something is very wrong inside the Muqata’a, and inside at least a certain segment of the leadership.

The episode(s) shown in the videotape aired on Israeli TV are reported to have happened in June 2008. And nothing was done, until now?

The crisis has been brewing since Khaled Abu Toameh published in the Jerusalem Post on 29 January his first article in this recent series. And nothing was done, until now.

The fact that the leadership appears to be tone-deaf, and prefers to lash out at all its possible opponents rather than acting as it should and must act, shows that this is just a repeat of the scandal concerning the lightly-taken decision to put off the first Human Rights Commission vote the Goldstone report … and it further erodes the political viability of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian Authority.

Another indication that something is wrong is the defiant reaction that there is no corruption so long as “the PA maintains transparency with donor countries and operates a strict oversight mechanism on their payments”, as one PA official reportedly told YNet, here — as if donor money is the only thing that is important, the only thing that needs to be handled correctly.

What is going on here?

This is a story about an American diplomat in Algiers — apparently the CIA bureau chief, and surprisingly a convert to Islam (unusually tolerant for the CIA, no?) — whose name is Andrew Warren, who apparently had a very bad habit of putting rather common drugs (xanax and valium) into women’s drinks, that caused violent nausea almost immediately, then a kind of paralyis … Then, this guy  videotaped his “conquests” of his drugged victims — and some 33 tapes were found in his official residence and shipped to the U.S.A. as evidence for use in his trial. 

The Egyptian blogger, Zenobia, is one of those following this case on her site — covering the Egyptian angle in particular. One of her recent posts is here. Zenobia writes that Egyptian officials, at least, suspect that Warren was trying to recruit his victims as agents.

Zenobia has a particularly interesting post, here.

In this post, she embds a Youtube video (also viewable here of an ABC television news report on this case:

An affadavit sworn by a U.S. Department of State diplomatic security officer to obtain a court order for a search warrant, described the extraordinary and sensational charges — that while on duty in Algiers, Warren offered and prepared in his home alcholic drinks to two women of Algerian origin, and he then raped them. This affadavit is posted online here.

In this affadavit, which was posted on the ABC news website, Victim One (Vi) said that she was invited to a party by U.S. Embassay employees at Warren’s home. She stated that Warren mixed for her, out of her sight, several drinks of cola and whisky. Toward the end of the evening, after the last drink that Warren prepared, “she suddenly felt nauseated and felt an immediate need to vomit. and violent onset of nausea as nothing like the physiological effects of alcohol that she had experienced while consuming alcohol on previous occasions. V1 physically held her hand over her mouth in order to avoid vomiting on the floor of the residence. V1 ran to a bathroom where she vomited into a toilet. While V1 was vomiting, Witness #1 (“W1”), a female, was trying to assist V1 in the bathroom. V1 remembered Warren standing in the bathroom doorway while she was sick, saying that V1 should stay the night at his house. After this memory, V1 could not remember anything that happened the rest of the evening. W1 stated that all of the other individuals at the party left the house around this time, and that only V1, W1 and Warren stayed the night in the residence” … and so on.

Victim Two (V2) had known Warren in Egypt, then visited him in Algiers in February 2008 after he was transferred there. She testified that Warren invited him to his new home (which, according to the affadavit, is “within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States”), and prepared apple martinis for both of them, then a second drink for her, and that “While drinking the second apple martini, V2 suddenly felt faint and felt the immediate needed to vomit. V2 described the sudden and violent onset of the illness as nothing like the physiological effects of alcohol related sickness that she had experienced when she consumed alcohol on previous occasions. V2 stated she immediately began to pass in and out of consciousness. V2’s recollections of the ensuing events are characterized as passing in and out of consciousness, due to the debilitating effects of the illness. After nearly fainting and experiencing the immediate need to vomit, V2’s next recollection was being located in Warren’s upstairs bathroom, on the floor. V2 could see and hear, but she could not move” … and so on,

The affadavit adds that “V2 told her husband and her psychologist about the
incident on February 17, 2008, but did not inform anyone at the United States Embassy
until she next returned to Algeria in September 2008. On October 9, 2008, Warren flew from Algeria to the United States, for a meeting scheduled on October 10, 2008. On October 9, 2008, Warren checked into Hilton Washington Hotel, Room 7212, located at 1919 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, DC. This hotel is located in the District of Columbia. On October 10, 2008, I met with Warren at his place of employment in Northern Virginia to inform him of the allegations leveled against him by V1 and V2. During this meeting, Warren agreed to cooperate with the investigation. Warren admitted during this meeting that he had engaged in consensual sexual intercourse with V1 and V2 at his residence in Algiers, Algeria. Warren informed me that his personal lap top computer was in his hotel room located at the Washington Hilton Hotel and that photographs of V1 and V2 were probably on his personal lap top computer. Following this meeting, Warren voluntarily surrendered his cell phone and digital camera, which were located in his rental car, to me for forensic analysis. That analysis uncovered multiple photographs of V1 and V2, along with various other women. He declined consent to the seizure or search of his personal computer”.

The diplomatic security agent added, in the report, that “Through the toxicology expert, I learned that drugs which are commonly used to facilitate sexual assault are prescribed sleeping medications, muscle relaxants, anxiety pills, Xanax, and Valium, which are then converted from pill form to powdered form … These drugs are rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the body. Detectable levels remain in the urine for 8 to 12 hours and in the blood for 4 to 8 hours. Symptoms of these drugs appear within 15 to 30 minutes of ingestion, and the effects persist for 3 to 6 hours … [and that] information on how to obtain and use the above-described substances to facilitate sexual assaults can be found on the Internet”.

The diplomatic security agent then adds, in his affadavit in support of a search warrent, that “Searching computer systems requires the use of precise, scientific procedures
which are designed to maintain the integrity of the evidence and to recover
‘hidden’, erased, compressed, encrypted or password-protected data. Computer
hardware and storage devices may contain ‘booby traps’ that destroy or alter data
if certain procedures are not scrupulously followed. Since computer data is
particularly vulnerable to inadvertent or intentional modification or destruction, a
controlled environment, such as a law enforcement laboratory, is essential to
conducting a complete and accurate analysis of the equipment and storage devices
from which the data will be extracted … Computer users can attempt to conceal data within computer equipment and storage devices through a number of methods, including the use of innocuous or misleading filenames and extensions. For example, files with the extension ‘.jpg’ often are image files; however, a user can easily change the extension to ‘.txt’ to conceal the image and make it appear that the file contains text. Computer userscan also attempt to conceal data by using encryption, which means that a password or device, such as a ‘dongle’ or ‘keycard’, is necessary to decrypt the data into readable form. In addition, computer users can conceal data within
another seemingly unrelated and innocuous file in a process called ‘steganography’. For example, by using steganography a computer user can conceal text in an image file which cannot be viewed when the image file is opened. Therefore, a substantial amount of time is necessary to extract and sort through data that is concealed or encrypted to determine whether it is evidence,contraband or instrumentalities of a crime”.

Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and the International Herald Tribune are among the media which have covered these accusations.

Newsweek reported at the end of January that “Andrew Warren is a 6-foot-4 African-American schooled in the martial arts. Steeped in Middle Eastern history, he is a convert to Islam who speaks six Arabic dialects … Though the CIA won’t confirm it, numerous U.S. government officials acknowledged to NEWSWEEK the revelation, first reported by ABC News correspondent Brian Ross, that Warren was serving in Algiers as CIA station chief … Speaking anonymously in order to be candid, one of Warren’s former instructors at the ‘Farm’, where spies are trained, told NEWSWEEK that Warren was ‘a loose cannon’ whose confidence ‘bordered on narcissism’.” This article can be read in full here.

Six months after the charges were formulated (and many months after the alleged events). this 41-year-old ex-CIA agent was indicted just hours ago on 30 June in Washington DC for sexual assault, as reported by the Washington Post, here

After the indictment, the Washington Post adds, Warren “was released on personal recognizance after a brief appearance yesterday in the District’s federal court. The sexual-abuse charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison”.

On top of all the unanswered questions in this case, there are these: Is it normal to indict someone six months after the accusations are formalized? Is it normal to release someone “on personal recognizance” who is facing life in prison?

Irish Survivors of Child Abuse – report finally published "sides almost completely" with the victims

This is a heartbreaking story.

Even worse than the physical abuse, even worse than the misplaced trust in those who were supposed to be most caring, even worse than the official indifference and efforts to avoid accountability, was the effort to break a person’s soul and spirit through humiliation.

It is difficult to say that some things could be worse than sexual abuse or rape, which is a terrible crime. But, in this case, there are examples to sustain such an argument.

The crushing of the personalities, of the identities, of these children was systematic and thorough.

They were put into Purgatory, if not Hell, on earth. From news reports published in recent years, as the inquiry dragged on, it seems that it was even worse for the girls than for the boys — though the girls endured less sexual abuse, it was their spirits and personalities, and their gender identity, which were relentlessly attacked — and they were all tortured.

The stories, recounted sporadically in the press, cut off one’s breath. Over 1,090 victims gave testimony.

It took nine years, but finally, a long-avoided and long-awaited report was released today in Ireland: “unveiled by High Court Justice Sean Ryan, [it] found that molestation and rape were ‘endemic’ in boys’ facilities, chiefly run by the Christian Brothers, and supervisors pursued policies that increased the danger. Girls supervised by orders of nuns, chiefly the Sisters of Mercy, suffered much less sexual abuse but frequent assaults and humiliation designed to make them feel worthless

According to a report by the Associated Press, “Wednesday’s 2,600-page report sides almost completely with the horrific reports of abuse from former students sent to more than 250 church-run, mostly residential institutions“.

John Kelly, a former inmate of a Dublin industrial school who fled to London and today leads a pressure group called Irish Survivors of Child Abuse, said that “Victims will feel a small degree of comfort that they’ve been vindicated. But the findings do not go far enough”.

The AP reported that “Irish church leaders and religious orders all declined to comment Wednesday, citing the need to read the massive document first. The Vatican also declined to comment. The Irish government already has funded a parallel compensation system that has paid 12,000 abuse victims an average of 65,000 euros ($90,000). About 2,000 claims remain outstanding. Victims receive the payouts only if they waive their rights to sue the state and the church. Hundreds have rejected that condition and taken their abusers and those church employers to court. Wednesday’s report said children had no safe way to tell authorities about the assaults they were suffering, particularly the sexual aggression from church officials and older inmates in boys’ institutions. ‘The management did not listen to or believe children when they complained of the activities of some of the men who had responsibility for their care’, the commission found. ‘At best, the abusers were moved, but nothing was done about the harm done to the child. At worst, the child was blamed and seen as corrupted by the sexual activity, and was punished severely’ … [T]he commission said its fact-finding — which included unearthing decades-old church files, chiefly stored in the Vatican, on scores of unreported abuse cases from Ireland’s industrial schools — demonstrated that officials understood exactly what was at stake: their own reputations”.

More information is available on the internet here.

This AP report can be read in full here.

The BBC reported that “The commission said overwhelming, consistent testimony from still-traumatized men and women, now in their 50s to 80s, had demonstrated beyond a doubt that the entire system treated children more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential”. According to the BBC, the Irish report said that “The reformatory and industrial schools depended on rigid control by means of severe corporal punishment and the fear of such punishment … It was systemic and not the result of individual breaches by persons who operated outside lawful and acceptable boundaries”. The BBC story can be viewed in full here.

The religious correspondent of The Times of London (many in Britain are prejudiced against the Irish, particularly because they are mainly Catholic) wrote, quoting from the report “ ‘A climate of fear, created by pervasive, excessive and arbitrary punishment, permeated most of the institutions and all those run for boys’, says the report. ‘Children lived with the daily terror of not knowing where the next beating was coming from’. The authorities failed repeatedly to do anything effective about the systemic abuse of children. Many of these poor children were in the care of the Catholic Church in the first place – mostly the Christian Brothers for boys and Sisters of Mercy for girls – only because of truancy or petty crime, or because they were unmarried mothers or their infants”. This article can be read in full here.

What happened to these children in Irish custodial care is one of the major historical crimes and tragedies on this earth. It ranks right up there with a number of better-known horrors. And it deserves full and sober attention, so that it will never happen again.

Sometimes — and what happened to these children is one of these times — it is a horror to be alive. But, for whatever reason, the Creator wills an imperative to live. For these children, living was immensely cruel.

The writer in The Times of London used the “H” word — though with a lower-case letter [a word which we in Israel of course know we cannot use except in reference to one particular historical genocide, or Shoah, during the Second World War], saying: “It would be no exaggeration to call this a holocaust of abuse. Time after time, victims complained, even though in most cases merely speaking out constituted an immense act of courage. And time after time, Catholic priests, monks and nuns claimed the accusations were lies”. Again, this article is available online here.

The Irish Times wrote that “Physical, emotional and sexual abuse was ‘endemic’ in institutions run by the religious congregations throughout the 20th century, blighting the lives of thousands of victims, the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has found. The Department of Education failed to carry out proper inspections and disregarded the violence within the industrial school system for which it was responsible, according to the five-volume report published yesterday. The department’s deferential and submissive attitude toward the religious congregations impeded change and compromised its ability to carry out its duty to monitor the schools where abuse was rife, the report says. It accuses religious authorities of a ‘culture of silence’ for seldom bringing sexual abuse by members of orders to the department’s attention. Religious congregations were not prepared to accept responsibility for the sexual abuse carried out by their members, and did not listen to or believe people who complained of sexual abuse.
The report makes 21 recommendations, starting with a proposal to erect a memorial to victims of abuse in institutions. It says the State should admit that abuse of children occurred because of policy, systems and management failures, and should take steps to learn lessons from the past.
Religious orders need to examine how their ideals became debased by systemic abuse, and how they tolerated breaches of their own rules. The report also calls for the provision of counselling and family tracing services, and stresses the need for a childcare policy that is child-centred. ‘In addition to being hit and beaten, witnesses described other forms of abuse such as being flogged, kicked and otherwise physically assaulted, scalded, burned and held under water’. Witnesses told of being beaten in front of other staff and pupils and in private. The abuse was carried out by religious and lay staff, older residents and others associated with the schools and institutions, and the many reports of injuries include broken bones, lacerations and bruising. More than 500 witnesses said they had been sexually abused. ‘Acute and chronic contact and non-contact sexual abuse was reported, including vaginal and anal rape, molestation and voyeurism in both isolated assaults and on a regular basis over long periods of time’. Witnesses also reported widespread neglect and emotional abuse. Some were incorrectly told their parents were dead and were given false information about their siblings and family members. These people told the commission this had a devastating emotional impact on them. Witnesses believed awareness of the abuse taking place existed within society, both officially and unofficially. At times, protective action was taken following complaints being made but, in other instances, complaints were ignored, witnesses were punished or pressure was brought to bear on a child or family to remain silent. The report sets out the devastating impact of the abuse on many victims, with lives marked by poverty, social isolation, alcoholism, mental illness, sleep disturbance, aggressive behaviour and self-harm. One-third of witnesses reported a variety of mental problems [this is a tribute to human resiliancy — the World Health Organization estimates that 25% of the general population has mental health problems] … Children were committed to institutions by the courts using procedures with the trappings of the criminal law, and the authorities were unwilling to address the failings in the system”. This account can be read in full here.

Another story in the Irish Times reported that “in all schools up until the 1960s clothes stigmatized the children as industrial school residents. Accommodation in the institutions was ‘cold, spartan and bleak’ with sanitary provision ‘primitive’ in most boys’ schools particularly”. This account can be read in full here.

A transcript of one of the public hearings of the inquiry revealed that most institutions to which these children were sent had no hot water until 1973. Another transcript revealed how the children were flogged repeatedly, and mercilessly, mostly at night, and on their “bare bottoms”. There is much, much more. And, what happened to the boys was a horror, but what happened to the girls was, if possible, worse.

A writer at the Irish Independent noted that the mechanism by which society contrived this utter and unconscionable betrayal of innocent children remained obscured: “Setting aside everything done to the children during their incarceration, nothing was as terrible or alarming as the events which led so many of them to lose their liberty by being placed in the hands of the gardai and taken away to what were child prisons, there to serve terms of up to 14 years. The children were not represented in the courts. Their circumstances were not properly investigated. They were, as the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff, asserted in a letter to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, ‘shovelled into the industrial schools’.’ This analysis can be read in full here.

Diplomats, like bureaucrats, should never be asked to deal with rape

The NY Times is reporting an interesting skirmish in a UN General Assembly Committee vote — was it the Sixth (or Legal) committee?

The U.S. sponsored what it thought was a self-evident text, and was mystified when other delegates didn’t agree.

The NYT writes that today “A UN committee has watered down a U.S. draft resolution on rape that will now go to the full UN General Assembly for approval. South Africa’s ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, defended the revised measure. ‘The original U.S. draft appeared to concentrate on condemning rape when perpetrated for political and military purposes only’, he said. ‘We felt strongly that this would have created two categories of rape, that is, [1] rape by military and militia groups and [2] rape by civilians’. Mr. Kumalo said that the Africans had insisted on the changes ‘to balance the text by making certain that there was no politicization of rape’. [!] Grover Joseph Rees 3rd, an American ambassador with responsibilities for human rights, protested that ‘contrary to what some have suggested, this resolution never said there were ‘two kinds of rape’. He said the original language had been aimed at ‘the particularly outrageous situation in which a state condones the use of systematic mass rape by its own forces or surrogate militias in order to advance their military or political objectives’. While he said the Unites States welcomed the final agreement by consensus, he added, ‘is no secret that we would have strongly preferred the final wording to place stronger emphasis on the use of rape to attain political and military objectives’. Kristen Silverberg, the [U.S.] assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, said Friday: ‘We are very disappointed that we could not secure stronger language condemning government-sponsored rape. We would not have imagined that language along those lines would provoke controversy‘.”
The NYTimes account of a UN GA Committee negotiation on a U.S. draft resolution on state-sponsored or military rape is here.

Send the whole battalion back!

If these “allegations” are true, concerning activities in Haiti by UN Peacekeepers from Sri Lanka “of a transactional sex nature”, then sending home those caught is just not enough.

The whole Sri Lankan battalion should leave.

It doesn’t matter if, as the UN spokesperson told journalists on Friday, “Sri Lanka is a longstanding and important troop-contributing country with a history of dedicated
service with United Nations peacekeeping missions”.

Half-measures are not enough.

It happens over and over, in different parts of the world, time and time again.

Soldiers sent as peacekeepers simply must behave differently than an occupying “force with a bit of hard currency in their pockets. They must take their rest and recreation someplace other than where they serve.

The fact that a transaction occured does not make the two parties to it equal.

Peacekeepers with cash are not on the same footing as a hungry young girl (or boy). he UN spokesperson told journalists at the regular Noon Briefing at UNHQ/NY on Friday that “there is a question of some underage girls.”

These peacekeepers sent by the UN don’t stay forever in these posts, so they should refrain totally from any kind of sexual abuse and exploitation — even of “a transactional nature”.

The only way to make the troop-contributing countries — and the UN — take this matter with the seriousness it deserves is to send the whole battalion back — of course, only after the accusations are fully proven after a real investigation (and not just a UN amateur-hour look at the matter, and all the while looking over their shoulders to see if they have satisfied the requirments of some idea of political correctness, yet not offending member states…)

The UN would just hate to do this, apparently.

The UN News Centre reported Friday that “After hearing of allegations of abuse and exploitation incidents by SriBat in several locations in Haiti, MINUSTAH asked for an immediate investigation by OIOS [the Office of Internal Oversight Services] and Sri Lanka dispatched a high-level national investigative team, which includes a female officer [emphasis added — this means that there is one person on the investigative team who is supposed to radiate greater sensitivity], according to the statement”.

However, there is only a “preliminary report”, and not a full investigation — yet the UN has ordered a disciplinary repatriation. The UN is simply scared of the adverse public reaction, and doing a thorough investigation is much less important than public relations.

The UN spokesperson was drawn out by questioning from journalists on Friday:
“Question: Michele, when you say that the allegations were of a transactional sex nature, are we talking about paying for prostitutes, or are we talking about sort of… favours? Paying for prostitutes?
Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: Any question of underage?
Spokesperson: There is a question of some underage girls, yes.
Question: What would be the expectation of the UN system if they’re repatriated and sent back to Sri Lanka? What would the UN expect to take place in Sri Lanka to them?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, they are back under their national jurisdiction. So far, Sri Lanka has said –- and you heard the statement –- that they are going to be prosecuted in Sri Lanka and UN Headquarters will follow up, of course, as they usually do on the procedures that are carried out against those soldiers. Right now, MINUSTAH, Sri Lanka and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] are assessing the situation and they have begun discussion on ways and means to bring assistance also to the victims because that’s also one of the issues. The transcript of Friday’s briefing is here.

The UN News Centre reported that the UN spokesperson told journalists that “Currently, MINUSTAH, Sri Lanka and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) are assessing the situation and considering how to assist the victims … The United Nations and Sri Lanka take this matter very seriously and reiterate their shared commitment to both the Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation and abuse and to best practices in peacekeeping … The United Nations and the Sri Lankan Government deeply regret any sexual exploitation and abuse that has occurred, despite their efforts to ensure the highest standards of conduct and discipline.” The UN News Centre story is here.

The UN’s action so far is to announce “that it will repatriate more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers serving with the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) on disciplinary grounds. Out of a total of 950 members of the Sri Lankan battalion (SriBat), 108 will be repatriated tomorrow, 3 November, with the cooperation of Sri Lankan authorities and following the receipt of a preliminary report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Among those to be repatriated will be the battalion’s second-in-command and two company commanders, Ms. Montas said. The UN will follow up on the issue, she [also] said”.

A later statement issued by the spokesperson [Michele Montas] says that “Issues of command accountability within the contingent will be addressed by the Mission in cooperation with the Sri Lankan authorities. The United Nations has been in close consultation with the Sri Lankan authorities at high levels and will continue to provide all possible assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka as it undertakes appropriate disciplinary measures to address this serious issue at the national level”. The UN Spokespersons statement is posted here.