Just as members of the U.S. Congress are now conducting a review of Bush’s war policy in Iraq, it may well be timely to include a review of the U.S. armed intervention in the Philippines where the support for the Philippine military operations has promoted gross and systematic violations of human rights.
BY BOBBY TUAZON
The Philippine press is being taken for a ride by the PR handlers of both the Arroyo and U.S. governments. For the past several days, there has been media hype about the so-called exploits of the Philippine military in southern Mindanao regarding the “neutralization” of Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) leaders Jainal Antel Sali (a.k.a. Abu Sulaiman) and chieftain Khadafy Janjalani.
Subsequently, President Gloria M. Arroyo’s defense officials played up U.S. military assistance in terms of intelligence, surveillance and training that led to the successful operations. However, they tried to downplay other reports that it was a million-dollar bounty that led to the killing of Sulaiman.
The military operations also led to the unannounced visits in southern Philippines of FBI and CIA agents apparently to follow up leads regarding the reported presence of members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Jolo one of whom, Dulmatin, a suspected Indonesian “bomber,” was reportedly wounded in a clash with Filipino soldiers last week. JI has links with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaida, according to U.S. intelligence.
Providing some clue to the air of mystery in this buildup is the visit in the country of U.S. President Bush’s confidante, Karen Hughes, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs. Hughes’ job is to sell U.S. foreign policy abroad specifically Bush’s “war on terrorism” and blunt any negative publicity that may jeopardize the war efforts in Iraq. Her well-publicized mission last week came at a time when her own president is facing resistance in the U.S. Congress over his plan to deploy 21,000 more troops to Iraq, which is presently under occupation by 300,000 American forces aside from thousands other troops sent by U.S. coalition partners.
Bush’s ambiguous military plan in Iraq led to the defeat of the Republican Party in the U.S. November elections and the new Democratic majority in both houses of the U.S. Congress has pledged to review the Iraq war strategy. A number of key Democrats have called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, more than 600,000 Iraqi civilians have been lost. To the American public, however, more devastating has been the death of more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers amid no tangible signs of victory. Bush’s job approval rating, which peaked at 90 percent in the wake of 9/11, has slipped to 30 percent with 66 percent of Americans opposed to sending more troops.
Jan. 27 march
On Jan. 27, tens of thousands of Americans from 30 states led by the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) along with anti-war U.S. soldiers who have served in Iraq will march to Washington, DC against the war on terrorism. The march is being organized to put pressure on the Democrat-dominated Congress to end the war that, many Americans now believe, began with lies and is both illegal and immoral. They will ask Congress to “Bring All the Troops Home Now!”
Hughes is expected to drumbeat in America the U.S.-assisted Philippine military “feats” against the ASG in an effort to dampen Bush’s negative rating attributed to the Iraq quagmire. The Philippine “success story” will be used to secure decisive votes in the U.S. Congress that would endorse Bush’s proposal to send additional troops to Iraq and, if that fails, to use it just the same to justify the increase of troops with or without the votes of the Congress.
The Abu Sayyaf, however, should be treated as an entirely different case. More deserving of congressional scrutiny is how U.S. military aid is being used to commit war crimes in the Philippines.
The ASG was founded by remnants of the Islamist mujahadeen, bankrolled and manipulated by the CIA, the Pakistani intelligence ISI, and elements of Saudi Arabia’s wealthy elite during the jihad against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Philippine Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. called Abu Sayyaf a “CIA monster.” John Cooley, author of Unholy Wars, says the Abu Sayyaf was the last of the seven Afghan guerrilla groups to be organized late in the war in Afghanistan in 1986 or three years before the Soviets withdrew.
Since the early 1990s, the ASG which by then had gone back to Mindanao, has been involved chiefly in criminal operations while maintaining liaisons with both military and local officials. Just as the U.S. has inflated the al-Qaeda, the U.S. and Philippine officials are playing up the Abu Sayyaf “monster” and its alleged connection to al-Qaeda to justify a bigger U.S. military assistance program and bigger operations in the Asia Pacific region.
Months before 9/11, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) had boasted of having “neutralized” the ASG, reduced to an insignificant few. Just the same, Mrs. Arroyo’s support for Bush’s “war against terrorism” led to the proclamation of the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia as the war’s “second front” thus paving the way for the entry into the country of thousands of U.S. forces in the guise of war exercises and training support for the Philippine military actions against the ASG. U.S.-assisted military operations against the ASG have resulted in the killing of scores of Muslim civilians, massacres, several incidents of torture and the displacement of tens of thousands of communities. All these could constitute, under international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Center of military partnership
The center of this close Arroyo-Bush military partnership, however, is the total war against the armed Left which, reports say, has included the “neutralization” of its “vulnerable” infrastructure of support – alleged to be communist “front organizations.” The internal security plan, Operation Plan Bantay Laya, now on its second phase, has led to the political assassination of 824 activists and the enforced disappearance of more than a hundred other individuals. The Arroyo administration’s counter-insurgency campaign has been boosted by increased U.S. military aid, amounting to some $300 million, special operations trainings and other types of support.
Just as members of the U.S. Congress are now conducting a review of Bush’s war policy in Iraq, it may well be timely to include a review of the U.S. armed intervention in the Philippines where the support for the Philippine military operations has promoted gross and systematic violations of human rights. The U.S. Congress can start its inquiry by reviewing the recent report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Citing the U.S. State Department’s 2004 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the GAO confirmed that elements of the Philippine government’s security forces “were responsible for arbitrary, unlawful and, in some cases, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.” The Bush administration may be asked to answer for violating U.S. laws that restrict the provision of military aid to foreign governments whose security forces are found to have committed gross violations of human rights.
Various lawyers groups in the U.S. have earlier called on the U.S. Congress to conduct an investigation of the alleged use of military funds from Washington by its local counterpart for political repression in the Philippines. In June last year, the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, also called for a probe into “the use of U.S. funding for Philippine military operations against the legal Left that are being conducted under the guise of the war on terror.”
Similar calls were also issued by Church institutions and human rights watchdogs based in the U.S. (Bulatlat.com)