Thursday, April 30, 2015

British Grandmother on Indonesia’s Death Row Fears Execution Soon


This file photo taken on Nov. 28, 2012, shows Lindsay June Sandiford, right, of Britain reacting inside a holding cell after her trial at a court in Denpasar, Bali.

A British grandmother on death row in Indonesia for smuggling drugs has condemned the “senseless, brutal” execution of two Australians, and reportedly fears she could be next in line for the firing squad.

Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by firing squad on Wednesday, along with five other foreigners and one Indonesian, despite a storm of international criticism and pleas from relatives.

Briton Lindsay Sandiford, who was in the same jail as the Australians on the resort island of Bali after being sentenced to death in 2013, said the pair were “reformed men — good men who transformed the lives of people around them”.

“Their senseless, brutal deaths leave the world a poorer place,” she said in a statement given to AFP on Thursday via her lawyer Craig Tuck.

The BBC quoted the lawyer as saying that Sandiford fears she could be next in line to be executed, as Indonesian President Joko Widodo mounts a campaign against what he says is a national emergency caused by rising drugs use.

Sandiford — who was caught trying to smuggle a huge stash of cocaine into Bali — referred to Chan as “my dear friend”.

“He counselled and helped me through exceptionally difficult times after I was sentenced to death in 2013.”

She added the Australians, ringleaders of the so-called “Bali Nine” drug-smuggling gang, used their time in Bali’s Kerobokan jail “to make life better for everyone around them”.

“They introduced the concept of rehabilitation to a prison that never had it before. They organized painting classes, cookery classes and computer classes, and gave practical help to make sure the poorest prisoners had food, clothing and essentials.”

The pair ensured that sick inmates had access to health care and hospital services which were not covered by the prison budget, she said.

Sandiford claims she was coerced into trafficking, and her family recently launched a fundraising drive to raise the money needed to lodge an appeal at the Indonesian Supreme Court, after the British government refused to fund her legal fight.

New Zealand lawyer Tuck, who is leading an international pro bono legal team representing Sandiford, says the money is needed to retain Indonesian lawyers who can fight her case.

If this challenge fails, Sandiford still has the opportunity to appeal for clemency from Joko.

The convicts executed Wednesday recently had their mercy pleas rejected by the president, and Jakarta has repeatedly insisted his decision is final.

Agence France-Presse


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Death penalty: Little deterrent effect

When Andrew Hammel called European politicians and scholars who contributed to the abolition of the death penalty in Europe “civilized rebels”, it was not without consideration. The elites in the UK, Germany and France, among other nations, decided to completely abolish capital punishment despite the huge support among the public for retaining the death penalty. Thousands of kilometers away, in 1993, according to scholar David T. Johnson, Hong Kong joined the bandwagon despite the fact that two thirds of the public supported the harshest punishment. These countries are often referred to as abolitionists, whereas those that still impose the death penalty are called retentionists.

Indonesia, along with 12 other Asian countries such as China, Singapore and Malaysia, impose the death penalty for extraordinary crimes, including drug offenses. After a five-year moratorium, Indonesia reinstated capital punishment in 2013. As a result, six drug offenders, five of whom were foreign nationals, were executed by a firing squad last January. Another batch of executions was carried out Tuesday for 8 of the 10 death row convicts, including the Australian Bali Nine drug chiefs duo, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Amid the strained relationship with Australia Indonesian government stands firmly on its argument that executing drug traffickers has a deterrent effect. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has even reiterated that the country is in a war on drugs, from which 50 people die every day. Despite the tough debate, one question remains: does the death penalty deter drug traffickers?

The answer is, no.

Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia Law School analyzed whether capital punishment had a deterrent effect by comparing the experiences in Singapore and Indonesia.

Notwithstanding Singapore’s much smaller population, the city-state executed almost 15 times as many convicts as Indonesia did from 1999-2005. Fagan argued that if capital punishment had a deterrent effect, there would be less drug trafficking and higher drug prices in Singapore. However, the prices for cocaine and heroin during 2003-2006 were significantly higher in Indonesia than in Singapore, and drugs were generally more prevalent in Singapore at the time.

In Malaysia, regardless of the fact that more than 200 people had been executed since 1975, the International Narcotics Control Board’s report in 2004 suggested that the availability of heroin in Malaysia had increased, due to the rising demand for the drug.

Therefore, as the two studies have shown, executing people is not the answer to deterring drug crimes. Although there is no reliable and accurate survey showing the stance of the Indonesian public in opposing or favoring the death penalty for the Bali Nine duo, political elites seem to be united in supporting retention of the death penalty. Nevertheless, as many countries (or states) have experienced, public opinion should not be the main hurdle to abolishing capital punishment. Then governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, went against public opinion when he signed a milestone bill on Dec. 18, 2007, to end the death penalty in his state, leaving an important legacy for the American capital punishment landscape.

Corzine’s measure to put life imprisonment without parole in place of capital punishment was made in spite the fact that the decision was opposed by a majority of people by a margin of 53 percent to 39 percent, according to a poll by Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Despite the low public support, Corzine successfully led his state into the ranks of the abolitionists, whereas in general the US remains a retentionist nation.In his article Asia’s Declining Death Penalty, David T. Johnson argues that unlike Europe and Africa, Asia’s most important factor in changing the death penalty law is still national (domestic) prerogatives, not regional or international. Thus, pressing Indonesia to abolish its death penalty, let alone using threats, will likely be of no avail. Rather, intensive dialogue and discussions with Indonesian elites should be one of the solutions to sharing the understanding of the “capital punishment has no deterrence” argument.

Abolishing the death penalty may not be politically popular. Yet, the risk must be taken in order to respect the most basic human right — the right to life. The Indonesian President and political elites have to be brave enough to become “civilized rebels” in order to respect the sanctity of such a right.

The writer is a journalist, who is now studying political communication at the University of Sheffield, UK. - See more at:

China’s Stock Bubble - Is the nation’s $7.7 trillion equity market a bubble waiting to burst?

Even as its economy slows, China’s stocks have been posting some astonishing gains.

Chinese stocks are soaring even while its property market and economy tank.

On April 24, the Shanghai Stock Exchange composite index closed at 4,393 points, up nearly 36 percent for 2015 but a staggering 123 percent over the past year. Its domestic counterpart, the Shenzhen Stock Exchange’s composite index, finished at 2,256, up nearly 60 percent this year but a 120 percent increase over the past year.

Combined trading on China’s two main bourses has reached nearly $200 billion on several daily sessions this year – around four times the total value of daily trading on the New York Stock Exchange during the first two months of 2015.

The outperformance of China’s major bourses is readily seen in comparison with other major Asian exchanges. Other the past year, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index has risen a relatively modest 41 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index is up 31 percent and both Singapore and South Korea’s benchmark indices have gained just 11 percent.

China’s stock surge has been partly facilitated by the central government, which has cut trading fees and had state-run media publish articles encouraging stock investing.

“In our summer last year we started seeing in the Chinese media almost educational pieces encouraging mainland investors to get back into the sharemarket,” Catherine Yeung, a Hong-Kong based investment director at Fidelity Worldwide Investment, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Beijing also recently introduced a measure allowing investors to operate up to 20 separate accounts, compared to just one previously. Following the move, a record 3.3 million equities trading accounts were opened in just one week, with nearly 200 million mainland trading accounts currently used by an estimated 100 million investors.

On a larger scale, a major factor has been the introduction in October 2014 of the Hong Kong-Shanghai Connect scheme, which has allowed foreign investors to trade Shanghai-listed A-class stocks via the Hong Kong bourse. The move has helped Hong Kong’s market triple daily turnover, from around HK$87 billion to HK$231 billion.

“The government is indeed encouraging stock investment,” Zeng Xianzhao, an analyst at Everbright Securities, told Bloomberg News. “They need the market to be vibrant to encourage foreign funds into the country.”

With economic growth recently falling to its slowest pace since 2009 amid an “acute oversupply of property,” China’s central bank has been injecting more monetary stimulus to prop up the economy. On April 19, the central bank’s reserve requirement ratio was cut by 100 basis points, injecting around 1.2 trillion yuan into the market to boost lending.

Critics have pointed to the low educational level of new investors as an example of the fervor. According to Bloomberg, the number of new investors with a high school degree or less now accounts for more than half, compared to 26 percent of existing investors.

“I don’t know much about the stockmarket, but my friends have made a fortune recently and they can give me some advice so I must seize the chance,” a Chinese investor called “Mrs Wu” told the Australian.

“I have been worried about some of the risks, but my friends have told me that the bull market is going to stay in place for a few more months, so hopefully I can make some money. One of the hot topics between my friends lately has been whether they should sell their houses to buy stock or should we be using money that we make in the market to buy houses.”

Bulls, Bears Balanced

Is China’s stockmarket now in bubble territory? In the U.S. options market, demand has recently surged for contracts that protect investors against losses, as well as those that profit from more gains, according to Bloomberg News.

“There is still a lot of conflict in the investment community with regard to the legitimacy of the rally,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist in Philadelphia at Janney Capital Management LLC. “Is it purely speculation and therefore vulnerable to get smashed, is there a disconnect between the rally in the equity market and what appears to be soft growth in China?”

In an indication that authorities are becoming worried, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) has launched a campaign targeting stockmarket manipulation and insider trading, with CSRC chairman Xiao Gang recently warning of stockmarket risks. Regulators have also taken action to slow margin lending, which has surged to account for around 15 percent of Shanghai’s daily turnover.

Despite the boom, stocks on the Shanghai bourse are currently trading at 18 times estimated earnings for 2015 – around the same level as the U.S. S&P 500 index, but below the 28 times of the U.S. Russell 2000 index.

“On an absolute basis, the valuations of these markets are not expensive, nor are they if you benchmark their P/Es [price/earnings ratios] against the U.S., Japan, Australia, or even Europe,” Joseph Lai, who manages Platinum Investment Management’s Asia Fund, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

China’s recent boom follows the markets’ lackluster performance from 2011 to 2014, when they “essentially stagnated” as investors chased property instead.

“If economic reforms can continue to progress towards a more equitable and ecologically sound outcome, and the country can allocate capital better, then I think the market today is very cheap,” Lai added.

According to AMP Capital’s Patrick Ho, further gains will be spurred by Shanghai’s potential inclusion in the MSCI Emerging Markets index, which would spark greater buying by institutional investors such as pension funds.

“If progress with Stock Connect is made quickly enough, the Shanghai Composite could potentially be included for the first time as early as this year, which would prompt a massive influx of passive funds,” Ho was quoted as saying in the Australian Financial Review.

However, analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently cut their rating on the China bourse from “overweight” to “neutral,” urging investors to take profits.

“China’s real interest rates remain too high, the currency is too expensive, fiscal policy is tight, and debt deflation is taking hold,” the analysts said.

“We are now concerned that the scale of monetary/fiscal easing required in China is so large, and so radically different from where policymakers’ assessments are, that an overweight [rating] is no longer tenable.”

A famous Wall Street saying warns: “When even the shoeshine boy [or taxi driver] is giving stock tips, it’s time to sell.” According to Beijing media, “even the cleaning lady” has now opened an account to trade shares.

Chinese investors do not have far to look when seeing the consequences of an overinflated stockmarket. On December 29, 1989, Japan’s Nikkei reached its all-time high of 38,916, with even “cautious predictions” from analysts expecting it to end 1990 above 45,000. Having expanded sixfold during the 1980s, the Nikkei tumbled all the way back down to 7,054 in 2009, only recently regaining a level nearly half its 1989 peak.

For now though, both Beijing and China’s millions of new stock investors will be hoping that their boom proves far longer lasting. The Diplomat


What’s Next for US-Philippine Military Ties? -A brief look at what might lie ahead for Washington and Manila.

A brief look at what might lie ahead for Washington and Manila.

As I reported previously, the United States and the Philippines are now carrying out this year’s iteration of the Balikatan exercises, which have been expanded significantly. But with those exercises soon coming to a close on April 30, there have been some discussions about what we might expect from U.S.-Philippine military relations in the near future.

One evolving issue is what the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed last year between the two countries might mean specifically in terms of the U.S. access to Philippine bases. In mid-April, Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario had already said that the Philippines welcomed the U.S. plan to deploy air and naval assets to the country as part of the next phase of Washington’s rebalance to the region. While del Rosario said he had not discussed specifics with his U.S. counterparts, he noted that handling such equipment “will require U.S. presence.” Department of National Defense (DND) spokesman Peter Galvez also added that Manila had planned and looked at where some of these new capabilities “may be appropriately deployed,” including Subic and Clark which the United States had access to up till 1991.

On April 24, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Gregorio Catapang offered a bit more clarity on this question when he disclosed to ABS-CBN News that US troops would have access to at least eight Philippine military bases under EDCA. These are: Fort Magsaysay in Neuva Ecija; Crow Valley in Tarlac; Basa Air Base in Pampanga; Naval Station San Miguel in Zambales; Antonio Bautista Air Base in Palawan; Benito Ebuen Air Base in Cebu; and Naval Base Rafael Ramos in Cebu. Two of those bases face the South China Sea.

The list of bases is not new – it was agreed upon during a meeting between Catapang and Admiral Samuel Locklear, the chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, last October. Catapang was also careful to emphasize that the list would only be formalized once the Philippine Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of EDCA, which is still yet to occur. And while media reports have stressed that some of these bases face the South China Sea (which Manila calls the West Philippine Sea), Catapang himself noted that the Philippines recognizes that this does not solve its problems in disputed areas and Manila cannot expect Washington to defend its ally if an armed conflict erupts.

“EDCA will not solve our problem. We understand the treaty, it does not include the West Philippine Sea. So we want to develop our own capabilities,” he said.

In that vein, the Philippines is also looking to boost its own capabilities in this respect in the coming months with the help of several countries including the United States. On 27 April, Galvez, the DND spokesman, reportedly told IHS Jane’s that the Philippines is preparing to submit a request to the U.S. government to procure additional military equipment – especially those that could boost the country’s offshore military capabilities in the face of rising Chinese assertiveness – in line with official meetings between the two sides.

“We will be requesting to acquire equipment that can improve our military capabilities, particularly in the maritime domain,” Galvez said. “We have a list of priorities but we will not be specific with our requirements until we know what is available from the U.S.”

As IHS Jane’s notes, stated requirements by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) include additional transport aircraft, long-range patrol aircraft, close-air support aircraft, anti-submarine warfare helicopters, light frigates, amphibious assault vehicles, and communications and surveillance systems. By Prashanth Parameswaran for The Diplomat

US and Japan: Another Step Forward on Security

The new U.S.-Japan defense guidelines open the door to a more aggressive take on regional security.

The United States and Japan on Monday took one significant step further towards closer security cooperation in the increasingly contested Asia-Pacific, issuing new defense guidelines that lay the foundations for a more expansive approach to regional threats.

The 24-page document published by the Pentagon revised previous defense guidelines the two governments adopted in 1997, adding new criteria that allow for coordinated military actions.

The announcement, which came while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is on a state visit to the U.S., aimed to strengthen Tokyo’s economic and military ties with Washington. It has also quickly angered China, which has been aggressive in modernizing its military and taking up territorial disputes in the past few years. Responding in Beijing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said the U.S. and Japan are responsible for ensuring their alliance does not harm the interests of a third country, like China, or regional peace and stability.

The new guidelines appeared to take a more liberal interpretation of when the two governments should activate a series of readiness measures to deter a potential attack. Previously, the measures were to be enforced only when an attack against Japan is “imminent.” In the latest guidelines, they will be applied as long as an attack is “anticipated.”

In the case of an actual attack, the guidelines clarified scenarios for the U.S. and Japanese militaries to jointly respond to ground, air, maritime, ballistic missile and cross-domain offensives.

Although not specified, the guidelines provided a basis for many cases where U.S. and Japan could confront China – the regional power most capable of carrying out attacks – over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

“If the need arises, the Self-Defense Forces will conduct operations to retake an island,” the guidelines said. Backed by forward-deployed U.S forces, they can take necessary actions including “operations to prevent and repel airborne and seaborne invasions, amphibious operations, and rapid deployment.”

This wording will certainly displease China, since it applies directly to the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute between Tokyo and Beijing.

The guidelines would allow the U.S. to back Japan’s actions to defend its airspace, some of which overlaps a newly established air defense identification zone that China created in 2013.

These highly targeted scenarios are inevitably seen as a means to counter China’s heavy investment in developing its anti-access/area denial strategy – an investment that has entailed sophisticated ballistic missiles, anti-ship submarines, and new fighter jets – even though both U.S. and Japan would deny any connection.

Also included in the new guidelines was cooperation on cyber security. Beijing’s rapid advances in cyber technology have prompted regular accusations from the U.S. and its allies of intrusions and espionage.

The guidelines would also permit Japan to respond to scenarios where attacks occurred against a third country, potentially enabling it to take part in South China Sea issues, where other U.S. allies are confronting Beijing over territorial issues. This came as Abe’s administration approved a resolution last July that opened the door for Japan to send troops overseas and abandon its postwar pacifist policy.

The new guidelines came after U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently said that America’s “newest” and “best” things are being deployed to the region, in a seemingly desperate move to assure allies of commitments to regional security.

Both U.S. and Japan insisted the guidelines were merely serving defense purposes that fit an ever-challenging environment rather than provoke any party. “We don’t think that a strong U.S.-Japan alliance should be seen as a provocation,” Obama told a joint White House press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when asked how Beijing should view their relationship. “As I’ve said before, we welcome China’s peaceful rise.”

China’s Foreign Ministry noted that the U.S. and Japan did notify Beijing before publishing the guidelines. Now that they have been published, the two allies could soon expect pushback from Chinese military and foreign policy hawks who have long suspected any U.S. alliance with its Asian allies of being designed to contain China’s rise. Of course, that pushback will be contained by the growing areas of U.S.-China cooperation, recently extended to China’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

Kevin Wang is a researcher for CNN’s editorial oversight team in Atlanta.


What Really Happened in the Persian Gulf on April 28, 2015?

Iran’s navy has seized a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel, the MV Maersk Tigris.

A 65,000 ton, Danish-owned, Singapore-chartered, container ship, en route to the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia, manned mostly by Eastern European and Asian sailors, is intercepted, boarded, and confiscated by the Iranian navy, prompting a U.S. destroyer to investigate.*

That wasn’t an anecdote from Tom Friedman’s next book on globalization–it’s a rough description of what took place on Tuesday, April 28, in the strategically important sea lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.

Allow me to get into the details:

The shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz have long been highlighted as a potential flashpoint amid the simmering geopolitical tensions between the United States and Iran. Its waters are of particular geostrategic significance given that over a third of the world’s petroleum traded by sea passes through the region. Iran has repeatedly emphasized its dominance over the waters, threatening to blockade the strait in a time of crisis. Today, we saw an acute manifestation of Iran’s audacity when the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) seized and escorted the Marshall Islands-flagged MV Maersk Tigris, a shipping vessel belonging to Denmark’s A.P. Moller–Maersk Group and chartered by Singapore-based Rickmers Shipmanagement, toward the Iranian port at Bandar Abbas. The incident sparked a response by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which ordered the USS Farragut, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer that was 60 miles from the point of the Tigris’ interception, to respond to the vessel’s distress signal. The incident took place as Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif led a delegation to New York City for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference at the United Nations, meeting with Western diplomats on the sidelines to discuss the ongoing P5+1 talks over his country’s nuclear program.


Map depicting the MV Maersk Tigris’ original path toward the UAE and diversion after being intercepted by the IRGCN. (Source:

Saudi Arabia-backed, UAE-based Al Arabiya was among the first sources to break the news in English. It reported that Iran had fired warning shots (true) and seized a U.S.-flagged vessel (false). Nevertheless, the initial reports sparked considerable online panic at the prospect that the United States and Iran could be headed for a major confrontation. The report also noted that the crew of the ship numbered 34 and were American. Needless to say, U.S. citizens being held against their will by Iran hits a raw nerve for the United States given certain historical events. We’ve since learned, thanks to Reuters, that the Tigris’ has a crew of 24, most of whom hail “from Eastern Europe and Asia.” In the process of the seizure, the IRGCN fired across the bow of the ship. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told CNN that “the master was contacted and directed to proceed further into Iranian territorial waters. He declined and one of the IRGCN craft fired shots across the bridge of the Maersk Tigris.”

Iran’s reasons for seizing the ship were at first unclear. Speculation abounded that the incident was a show of force intended to strike back at the United States after it sent the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) to intercept an Iranian arms shipment to Yemen’s Houthis last week. Additionally, others suggested that the seizure could have been a move by hardliners opposing Iran’s negotiations with the West over its nuclear program  –  an attempt to spark a broader crisis to derail those talks. Reza Marashi, research director of the National Iranian American Council, told The Hill that the IRGCN’s boldness could have actually been in retaliation against Saudi Arabia. Tensions between the two geopolitical rivals has been high recently given Saudi Arabia’s campaign against the Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Marashi notes that the ship’s point-of-departure being Saudi Arabia supported this hypothesis.

Soon enough, however, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported that the reason for the seizure was far more mundane: the Iran Ports Authority had procured a court order to seize the ship. ”The ship was seized after a relevant court order was issued for its confiscation,” stated an “informed” source that spoke to Fars. The agency added that that the ship was reportedly “seized for trespassing on Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf,” though a quick Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) assessment dispelled that fairly quickly. (The ship was bound for the United Arab Emirates port of Jebel Ali, from Saudi Arabia, according to Marine Traffic’s open source tracker.) The ship’s status, as of this writing, is noted as “at anchor” at Bandar Abbas.

In the wake of the Tigris incident, CNN learned that a U.S.-flagged ship had been intercepted by the IRGCN  –  on Friday, April 24, four whole days before the Tigris incident. Reportedly, the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet issued a notice to commercial ships to exercise caution in the Persian Gulf and the Hormuz Strait following the incident.

The Marshall Islands isn’t normally a country whose name you’ll read at the center of a major international incident, but the fact that the Tigris was flagged with the country’s flag complicated the situation. After gaining independence from the United States in 1986, the Marshall Islands enjoys pseudo-protectorate status under the United States’ security umbrella. As per the Compact of Free Association governing the relationship between the United States and the Marshall Islands, the United States “has full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to the Republic of the Marshall Islands.” The U.S. Defense Department’s lawyers have determined, however, that for the purposes of the Tigris‘ capture by the IRGCN, the U.S. has no obligation to respond or come to the defense of the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. (Eli Lake and Josh Rogin have more on the Marshall Islands angle over at Bloomberg View.)

The U.S. government’s reaction has to the incident has been somewhat underwhelming. State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke noted, somewhat obviously, that ”it’s a key concern of the United States to ensure that sea lanes in the region remain open and safe.” In a slightly more lively take, the U.S. Senate’s national security dynamic duo, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, chimed in as expected, issuing a statement in which they noted that the Tigris incident was “a serious and deliberate provocation against the United States and the international community.” They added, “This act is another display of Iran’s contempt for the rules-based international order and a threat to the freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most vital sea lanes.”

The Maersk Tigris‘ fate remains in flux, but it is already apparent that this episode will be cited by U.S. critics of the Iran nuclear talks. Iran’s brazen aggression in international waters is indeed worrying and a threat to principles that the United States holds dear, including the freedom of navigation. The administration will do its best to contain the fallout of this incident and avoid escalation with Iran lest it affect the fragile diplomatic rapprochement that seems to be budding between the two decades-long enemies. The coming days will offer an opportunity to better assess the significance of this anomalous but important event.

* Hat-tip to Jeffrey Lewis for highlighting the multi-national absurdity of the situation. By Ankit Panda for The Diplomat



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I'm going to cop a blast for this, but I struggle to find much sympathy for the Bali Nine ringleaders.

I'm going to cop a blast for this, but I struggle to find much sympathy for the Bali Nine ringleaders.

First up, I'm opposed to the death penalty, but there are convincing arguments in extreme cases - for terrorists and child abusers, both who inflict horrible, unforgivable crimes against innocents.

Do drug dealers fit into this category? It's borderline for me.

Drugs are a scourge on our society. But both parties make the choice to buy and sell drugs. Please don't tell me that drug abusers don't have a choice. Unless they have a gun placed at their head when they first use a drug, they had a choice.

Drug abuse is not a victimless crime. The victims are the families. Those victims are a direct result of the decisions of the thrill-seeking junkie - and the profiteering dealer.

Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan knew exactly what they were doing - trading in pain, misery and death for profit.

They knew the cost, they knew the penalty if caught. The signs are everywhere when you enter Bali.

Sukumaran and Chan weren't naive novices, they were hardened career drug traffickers, seeking rich reward for high risk. They threw the dice, over and over, until one day the odds went against them.

They made choices, knowing the consequences.

The argument that they've rehabilitated in gaol, is a worthy one that should have some bearing on their fate, but who wouldn't change, while locked up, with the grim reaper knocking at the door?

Chances are if they hadn't been caught they would have continued to ply their nasty trade in misery and death.

Indonesia carries the death penalty for drug trafficking. That was known to the Bali Nine. It may not be our penalty in Australia, but they were in Bali when caught (yes, I know the AFP role).

So the outcome isn't surprising, their fate sealed.

A fate of their own making. The Pickering Post, Paul Zanetti


Monday, April 27, 2015

How Indonesia carries out executions

About the executioners

Fourteen personnel from the police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) are assigned to an execution, but only 12 are tasked with shooting while the two others are placed on standby.

Of the 12 executioners, only one is equipped with a live bullet while the others have empty ones.

None of the 12 executioners know who receives the live bullet.

The reason for the use of only one live bullet is to avoid the inmate's chest being heavily damaged and causing more pain, according to the police.

Police officers in their early 20s are usually selected to carry out the task as they are considered to be physically and mentally fitter than their seniors.

The officers selected for the firing squad are given extra training to sharpen their shooting skills.  Rendi A. Witular



Execution procedures according to Law No. 2/1964


1. Death-row convicts are to be moved to a prison or an isolation cell of a prosecutor's choosing where he or she will be informed of their execution three days beforehand. At this time, the prosecutor should accept any messages or thoughts the convict would like to convey.

2. The execution must not be made public and should be done as simple as possible unless the president orders otherwise. The convict's lawyer can attend the execution on request.

3. The provincial police will form a firing squad made up of 12 enlisted officers (Tamtama) and one non-commissioned officer (Bintara) who will be led by a high-ranking officer. The prosecutor will have full authority over the firing squad until the executions is complete.

4. The convict, dressed simply, will be escorted by the police to the designated location of the execution. The convict may also request religious counsel to accompany him or her.

5. Once at the destination, an officer will blindfold the convict unless he or she requests otherwise. The convict may choose to stand, sit or kneel. The convict may also have their hands and feet tied if the prosecutor deems it necessary.

6. Once the convict is deemed ready, the firing squad will be called upon with their firearms where they will position themselves no less than 5 meters and no more than 10 meters from the convict.

7. The prosecutor will then order the execution to start, to which the firing squad's commander will lift up his sword to signal the squad to focus their firearms on the convict's heart and then put down the sword to order the shooting to start.

8. If the convict still shows signs of life, the police commander will order the non-commissioned officer to take the final shot at the convict's head, near the ear. A doctor will then confirm whether the convict has died.

9. The convict's family or close friends are responsible for the convict's burial unless the prosecutor says otherwise. If the convict cannot be buried by their family or friends then the government will organize a burial based on the convict's religious beliefs.

10. The prosecutor must write up and sign a report on the execution that will be inserted in the official court ruling letter.


From the Fall of Saigon to the Decline of the United States Empire



How to Turn a Nightmare into a Fairy Tale. 40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?

If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly -- and it won't be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the “fall,” while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.

The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war.  We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression. In the Vietnamese case, of course, the rescue was so incomplete and the defeat so total that many Americans concluded their country had “abandoned” its cause and “betrayed” its allies. By focusing on the gloomy conclusion, however, you could at least stop dwelling on the far more incriminating tale of the war’s origins and expansion, and the ruthless way the U.S. waged it.

Here’s another way to feel better about America’s role in starting and fighting bad wars: make sure U.S. troops leave the stage for a decent interval before the final debacle. That way, in the last act, they can swoop back in with a new and less objectionable mission. Instead of once again waging brutal counterinsurgencies on behalf of despised governments, American troops can concentrate on a humanitarian effort most war-weary citizens and soldiers would welcome: evacuation and escape.

Phony Endings and Actual Ones

An American president announces an honorable end to our longest war. The last U.S. troops are headed for home. Media executives shut down their war zone bureaus. The faraway country where the war took place, once a synonym for slaughter, disappears from TV screens and public consciousness. Attention shifts to home-front scandals and sensations. So it was in the United States in 1973 and 1974, years when most Americans mistakenly believed that the Vietnam War was over.

In many ways, eerily enough, this could be a story from our own time. After all, a few years ago, we had reason to hope that our seemingly endless wars -- this time in distant Iraq and Afghanistan -- were finally over or soon would be. In December 2011, in front of U.S. troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, President Obama proclaimed an end to the American war in Iraq. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” he said proudly. “This is an extraordinary achievement.” In a similar fashion, last December the president announced that in Afghanistan “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

If only. Instead, warfare, strife, and suffering of every kind continue in both countries, while spreading across ever more of the Greater Middle East. American troops are still dying in Afghanistan and in Iraq the U.S. military is back, once again bombing and advising, this time against the Islamic State (or Daesh), an extremist spin-off from its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that only came to life well after (and in reaction to) the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. It now seems likely that the nightmare of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began decades ago, will simply drag on with no end in sight.

The Vietnam War, long as it was, did finally come to a decisive conclusion. When Vietnam screamed back into the headlines in early 1975, 14 North Vietnamese divisions were racing toward Saigon, virtually unopposed. Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese troops (shades of the Iraqi army in 2014) were stripping off their military uniforms, abandoning their American equipment, and fleeing. With the massive U.S. military presence gone, what had once been a brutal stalemate was now a rout, stunning evidence that “nation-building” by the U.S. military in South Vietnam had utterly failed (as it would in the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan).

On April 30, 1975, a Communist tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace in the southern capital of Saigon, a dramatic and triumphant conclusion to a 30-year-long Vietnamese struggle to achieve national independence and reunification. The blood-soaked American effort to construct a permanent non-Communist nation called South Vietnam ended in humiliating defeat.

It’s hard now to imagine such a climactic conclusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam, where the Communists successfully tapped a deep vein of nationalist and revolutionary fervor throughout the country, in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has any faction, party, or government had such success or the kind of appeal that might lead it to gain full and uncontested control of the country. Yet in Iraq, there have at least been a series of mass evacuations and displacements reminiscent of the final days in Vietnam. In fact, the region, including Syria, is now engulfed in a refugee crisis of staggering proportions with millions seeking sanctuary across national boundaries and millions more homeless and displaced internally.

Last August, U.S. forces returned to Iraq (as in Vietnam four decades earlier) on the basis of a “humanitarian” mission. Some 40,000 Iraqis of the Yazidi sect, threatened with slaughter, had been stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq surrounded by Islamic State militants. While most of the Yazidi were, in fact, successfully evacuated by Kurdish fighters via ground trails, small groups were flown out on helicopters by the Iraqi military with U.S. help. When one of those choppers went down wounding many of its passengers but killing only the pilot, General Majid Ahmed Saadi, New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, injured in the crash, praised his heroism.  Before his death, he had told her that the evacuation missions were “the most important thing he had done in his life, the most significant thing he had done in his 35 years of flying.”

In this way, a tortured history inconceivable without the American invasion of 2003 and almost a decade of excesses, including the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, as well as counterinsurgency warfare, finally produced a heroic tale of American humanitarian intervention to rescue victims of murderous extremists. The model for that kind of story had been well established in 1975.

Stripping the Fall of Saigon of Historical Context

Defeat in Vietnam might have been the occasion for a full-scale reckoning on the entire horrific war, but we preferred stories that sought to salvage some faith in American virtue amid the wreckage. For the most riveting recent example, we need look no further than Rory Kennedy’s 2014 Academy Award-nominated documentary Last Days in Vietnam. The film focuses on a handful of Americans and a few Vietnamese who, in defiance of orders, helped expedite and expand a belated and inadequate evacuation of South Vietnamese who had hitched their lives to the American cause. 

The film’s cast of humanitarian heroes felt obligated to carry out their ad hoc rescue missions because the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, refused to believe that defeat was inevitable. Whenever aides begged him to initiate an evacuation, he responded with comments like, “It’s not so bleak. I won’t have this negative talk.” Only when North Vietnamese tanks reached the outskirts of Saigon did he order the grandiloquently titled Operation Frequent Wind -- the helicopter evacuation of the city -- to begin.

By that time, Army Captain Stuart Herrington and others like him had already led secret “black ops” missions to help South Vietnamese army officers and their families get aboard outgoing aircraft and ships. Prior to the official evacuation, the U.S. government explicitly forbade the evacuation of South Vietnamese military personnel who were under orders to remain in the country and continue fighting. But, as Herrington puts it in the film, “sometimes there’s an issue not of legal and illegal, but right and wrong.” Although the war itself failed to provide U.S. troops with a compelling moral cause, Last Days in Vietnam produces one. The film’s heroic rescuers are willing to risk their careers for the just cause of evacuating their allies.

The drama and danger are amped up by the film’s insistence that all Vietnamese linked to the Americans were in mortal peril. Several of the witnesses invoke the specter of a Communist “bloodbath,” a staple of pro-war propaganda since the 1960s. (President Richard Nixon, for instance, once warned that the Communists would massacre civilians “by the millions” if the U.S. pulled out.) Herrington refers to the South Vietnamese officers he helped evacuate as “dead men walking.” Another of the American rescuers, Paul Jacobs, used his Navy ship without authorization to escort dozens of South Vietnamese vessels, crammed with some 30,000 people, to the Philippines. Had he ordered the ships back to Vietnam, he claims in the film, the Communists “woulda killed ‘em all.”

The Communist victors were certainly not merciful. They imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people in “re-education camps” and subjected them to brutal treatment. The predicted bloodbath, however, was a figment of the American imagination. No program of systematic execution of significant numbers of people who had collaborated with the Americans ever happened.

Following another script that first emerged in U.S. wartime propaganda, the film implies that South Vietnam was vehemently anti-communist. To illustrate, we are shown a map in which North Vietnamese red ink floods ever downward over an all-white South -- as if the war were a Communist invasion instead of a countrywide struggle that began in the South in opposition to an American-backed government.

Had the South been uniformly and fervently anti-Communist, the war might well have had a different outcome, but the Saigon regime was vulnerable primarily because many southern Vietnamese fought tooth and nail to defeat it and many others were unwilling to put their lives on the line to defend it. In truth, significant parts of the South had been “red” since the 1940s.  The U.S. blocked reunification elections in 1956 exactly because it feared that southerners might vote in Communist leader Ho Chi Minh as president. Put another way, the U.S. betrayed the people of Vietnam and their right to self-determination not by pulling out of the country, but by going in.

Last Days in Vietnam may be the best silver-lining story of the fall of Saigon ever told, but it is by no means the first. Well before the end of April 1975, when crowds of terrified Vietnamese surrounded the U.S. embassy in Saigon begging for admission or trying to scale its fences, the media was on the lookout for feel-good stories that might take some of the sting out of the unremitting tableaus of fear and failure.

They thought they found just the thing in Operation Babylift. A month before ordering the final evacuation of Vietnam, Ambassador Martin approved an airlift of thousands of South Vietnamese orphans to the United States where they were to be adopted by Americans. Although he stubbornly refused to accept that the end was near, he hoped the sight of all those children embraced by their new American parents might move Congress to allocate additional funds to support the crumbling South Vietnamese government.

Commenting on Operation Babylift, pro-war political scientist Lucien Pye said, “We want to know we’re still good, we’re still decent.” It did not go as planned. The first plane full of children and aid workers crashed and 138 of its passengers died. And while thousands of children did eventually make it to the U.S., a significant portion of them were not orphans. In war-ravaged South Vietnam some parents placed their children in orphanages for protection, fully intending to reclaim them in safer times. Critics claimed the operation was tantamount to kidnapping.

Nor did Operation Babylift move Congress to send additional aid, which was hardly surprising since virtually no one in the United States wanted to continue to fight the war. Indeed, the most prevalent emotion was stunned resignation. But there did remain a pervasive need to salvage some sense of national virtue as the house of cards collapsed and the story of those “babies,” no matter how tarnished, nonetheless proved helpful in the process.

Putting the Fall of Saigon Back in Context

For most Vietnamese -- in the South as well as the North -- the end was not a time of fear and flight, but joy and relief. Finally, the much-reviled, American-backed government in Saigon had been overthrown and the country reunited. After three decades of turmoil and war, peace had come at last. The South was not united in accepting the Communist victory as an unambiguous “liberation,” but there did remain broad and bitter revulsion over the wreckage the Americans had brought to their land.

Indeed, throughout the South and particularly in the countryside, most people viewed the Americans not as saviors but as destroyers. And with good reason. The U.S. military dropped four million tons of bombs on South Vietnam, the very land it claimed to be saving, making it by far the most bombed country in history. Much of that bombing was indiscriminate. Though policymakers blathered on about the necessity of “winning the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese, the ruthlessness of their war-making drove many southerners into the arms of the Viet Cong, the local revolutionaries. It wasn’t Communist hordes from the North that such Vietnamese feared, but the Americans and their South Vietnamese military allies.

The many refugees who fled Vietnam at war’s end and after, ultimately a million or more of them, not only lost a war, they lost their home, and their traumatic experiences are not to be minimized. Yet we should also remember the suffering of the far greater number of South Vietnamese who were driven off their land by U.S. wartime policies. Because many southern peasants supported the Communist-led insurgency with food, shelter, intelligence, and recruits, the U.S. military decided that it had to deprive the Viet Cong of its rural base. What followed was a long series of forced relocations designed to remove peasants en masse from their lands and relocate them to places where they could more easily be controlled and indoctrinated.

The most conservative estimate of internal refugees created by such policies (with anodyne names like the “strategic hamlet program” or “Operation Cedar Falls”) is 5 million, but the real figure may have been 10 million or more in a country of less than 20 million. Keep in mind that, in these years, the U.S. military listed “refugees generated” -- that is, Vietnamese purposely forced off their lands -- as a metric of “progress,” a sign of declining support for the enemy.

Our vivid collective memories are of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their homeland at war’s end. Gone is any broad awareness of how the U.S. burned down, plowed under, or bombed into oblivion thousands of Vietnamese villages, and herded survivors into refugee camps. The destroyed villages were then declared “free fire zones” where Americans claimed the right to kill anything that moved. 

In 1967, Jim Soular was a flight chief on a gigantic Chinook helicopter. One of his main missions was the forced relocation of Vietnamese peasants. Here’s the sort of memory that you won’t find in Miss Saigon, Last Days in Vietnam, or much of anything else that purports to let us know about the war that ended in 1975. This is not the sort of thing you’re likely to see much of this week in any 40th anniversary media musings. 

“On one mission where we were depopulating a village we packed about sixty people into my Chinook. They’d never been near this kind of machine and were really scared but they had people forcing them in with M-16s. Even at that time I felt within myself that the forced dislocation of these people was a real tragedy. I never flew refugees back in. It was always out. Quite often they would find their own way back into those free-fire zones. We didn’t understand that their ancestors were buried there, that it was very important to their culture and religion to be with their ancestors. They had no say in what was happening. I could see the terror in their faces. They were defecating and urinating and completely freaked out. It was horrible. Everything I’d been raised to believe in was contrary to what I saw in Vietnam. We might have learned so much from them instead of learning nothing and doing so much damage.”

What Will We Forget If Baghdad “Falls”? 

The time may come, if it hasn’t already, when many of us will forget, Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended to use against us; that he had a “sinister nexus” with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay for itself; that it would be over in “weeks rather than months”; that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself, and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to pre-war levels of stability and security?

The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I’m sure we’ll think of something.

Christian Appy, TomDispatch regular and professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, is the author of three books about the Vietnam War, including the just-published American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Viking).