By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA– Newly installed US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas, Jr., celebrates his birthday, his 54th and his first in the Philippines, on June 3. The new resident of the swanky, tall-gated mansion of the US Ambassador in Forbes Park, Makati City, the Philippines toniest address, also happens to be the first African-American US ambassador to this country.
Although he has been here just two months Ambassador Thomas has already made his presence felt in Philippine politics, clearly sending the message that he would aggressively protect US interests. Until now, local politicians bristling at his overt clues that the Philippines is a neo-colony and its formal government a mere puppet of US imperialism, are debating over the appropriateness of the courtesy call-cum briefing last week of Ambassador Thomas with presumptive president Senator Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino.
Ambassador Thomas virtually led a parade to Aquino’s Times St. residence of envoys of wealthy governments with substantial interests in the Philippines. He was the first diplomat to have visited Aquino and conducted business with him, as if Aquino’s proclamation was already a done deal.
Prior to the visit at Times St., Ambassador Thomas has also been congratulating Filipinos on the “successful conduct of the elections,” thereby glossing over the numerous glitches of the counting machines of American-controlled Smartmatic-TIM, the disenfranchisement of voters and accusations of fraud. He dismissed these as just “some bumps and bruises but that are to be expected, we have that in the United States.”
It would also be remembered that in the thick of the election campaign, Sen. Noynoy Aquino was featured by Time magazine, leading many to believe that it was a clear endorsement of Aquino by the US government.
Ambassador Thomas’s Rise During the US’ Global War on ‘Terror’
Based on his record, Ambassador Thomas’ career in the US State Department began to take off after George W. Bush “won” against Al Gore in the hotly contested canvassing of votes in the US’ 2000 elections. The US was in recession in 2001 when Bush became president and Thomas was recalled from overseas posting to serve in the White House.
The Bush administration officially minted its global “War on Terrorism” after the Sept. 11 attack during its 1st year in power. However, according to reports, its plans to launch a war on Afghanistan had been hatched even before the Sept 11 attacks. The US began invading Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and started sending weapons inspectors to Iraq the next year, opening the door to the eventual invasion of Iraq on the third year of the Bush government. This invasion caused a schism among the world’s powerful nations and was met by protest actions from peoples all over the globe.
Harry Thomas was with the National Security Council in the White House, serving as director for South Asia during the launching of the US “war on terror.” Pakistan, which has a common border with Afghanistan, was used by the US as a launching pad for its attacks on the Taliban. After the launching of its “global war on terror”, the US pressed its allies to pass their own anti-terror laws, where “terror” covers anyone or any group resisting the US and its allies’ predatory policies. Pakistan, a close ally of the US, passed its anti-terror law in 1997 and amended it in 1999. The government of India, which is enmeshed in a battle against a growing armed communist movement, passed one of the most repressive anti-terror laws in 2002. In the Philippines, the passage of an anti-terror law had to break through a strong protest movement. Nevertheless, the local anti-terror law, euphemistically called as the “Human Security Act”, was also dubbed as one of the most repressive.
Thomas became a US ambassador for the first time in 2003 in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is strategic because of its proximity to India where two communist parties merged in 2003 to jointly wage war against the US-allied Indian government and Pakistan, a transit point for US troops, equipment and supplies and is now an arena of battle as the US suspects that the Taliban is holed up in its border areas. Bangladesh also has a festering labor unrest particularly in its huge export processing zones where the US has significant interests. Thomas lost no time in visiting the executive chair of the Bangladesh Export Processing Authority, a military general, to assure him of US support.
The US embassy in Bangladesh led by Thomas up to 2005 employed some 600 to 700 staff, had a budget of more than $100 million, and “great counterterrorism” work. When he arrived, Bangladesh had a sorry record of state-sponsored human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings which also victimized journalists and human rights defenders. When Thomas left in 2005 to serve as executive secretary of Condoleeza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state, Bangladesh had an even worse human rights record.
Thomas’ stint in Bangladesh coincided with the formation of the Rapid Active Battalion (RAB) in that country in 2003. The RAB was an elite ‘anti-crime’ unit composed of armed personnel from several of the existing security branches in Bangladesh. Its formation, according to human rights organizations, worsened the peoples’ repression in Bangladesh, continuing where “Operation Clean Heart,” dubbed as the dirty war of Dhaka (capital of Bangladesh), left off.
Operation Clean Heart ended in 2003 with an ordinance prohibiting law-suits or prosecutions for human rights violations during the period it was in operation, thus giving the armed forces and police impunity from being prosecuted for their actions, said human rights groups.