Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

Iranian dissidents and a U.S. dilemma

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 29, 2011 14:40 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — Call it the coalition of the baffled — a diverse group of prominent public figures who challenge the U.S. government’s logic of keeping on its terrorist blacklist an Iranian exile organization that publicly renounced violence a decade ago and has fed details on Iran’s nuclear programme to American intelligence.

On the U.S. Department of State’s list of 47 foreign terrorist organizations, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq is the only group that has been taken off similar lists by the European Union and Britain, after court decisions that found no evidence of terrorist activity in recent years. In the U.S., a court last July ordered the State Department to review the designation. Nine months later, that review is still in progress and supporters of the MEK wonder why it is taking so long.

The organization has been on the list since 1997, placed there by the Clinton administration at a time it hoped to open a dialogue with Iran, whose leaders hate the MEK for having sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war.

Calls to hasten the delisting process rose in volume after Iraqi troops raided the base of the MEK northeast of Baghdad, near the Iranian border, in an operation on April 8 that left at least 34 dead, according to the United Nations Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay. In Washington, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, called the raid a “massacre.” Video uploaded by the MEK showed gut-wrenchingly graphic images of dead and wounded, some after being run over by armoured personnel carriers.

The raid drew cheers from officials in Iran, where the group is also classified as terrorist, one of the few things on which Washington and Tehran agree. The word schizophrenia comes to mind here. Iran is one of four countries the U.S. has declared state sponsors of terrorism. The MEK’s stated aim is the peaceful ouster of the Iranian theocracy. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

Human rights and the US as global judge

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 15, 2011 16:20 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — Every year since 1976, The U.S. Department of State has published an extraordinarily detailed report on the state of human rights in the world. The latest, out in April, runs to more than 2 million words. Printed out from State’s website, it would run to more than 7,000 pages. The report covers 194 countries.

That’s every country in the world, except one: the United States.

Which gives rise to a few questions. Is the United States the one and only country on the planet with a perfect record of observing human rights, at home or in the countries where it wages war? If not, why does the government feel entitled to scrutinize the human rights practices of others? The report discovers blemishes even in countries that rarely come to mind in the context of human rights violations.

Switzerland, say, where in 2010 “police at times used excessive force, occasionally with impunity.” Or Canada, where “human rights problems included harassment of religious minorities, violence against women, and trafficking in persons.” Or the tiny South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, where American human rights checkers found “police violence, poor prison conditions, arrests without warrants, an extremely slow judicial process, government corruption, and violence and discrimination against women.”

Obama, Trump and the 2012 elections

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 12, 2011 13:39 UTC

“Part of the beauty of me is that I’m very rich. So if I need $600 million, I can put $600 million in myself. That’s a huge advantage … over the other candidates.”

So says real estate magnate and reality TV show host Donald Trump, talking about the 2012 U.S. presidential elections.

It’s 18 months to go to November 6, 2012, an eternity in politics, but two things already seem clear: it will be the most expensive campaign ever and the line between the political fringe and mainstream politics will often be blurred.

U.S. intelligence and the wisdom of crowds

Bernd Debusmann
Apr 1, 2011 14:11 UTC

After a string of world-shaking events America’s spies failed to predict, most recently the turmoil sweeping the Arab world, a vast project is taking shape to improve forecasting. It involves thousands of volunteers and the wisdom of crowds.

It’s officially known as the Forecasting World Events Project and is sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Activity (IARPA), a little-known agency run by a woman, Lisa Porter, who is occasionally described as America’s answer to the fictional Agent Q who designs cutting edge gadgets for James Bond. Much of IARPA’s work is classified, as is its budget. But the forecasting project is not classified. Invitations to participate are now on the Internet.

The idea is to raise five large competing teams of people of diverse backgrounds who will be asked to make predictions on fields that range from politics and global security to business and economics, public health, social and cultural change and science and technology. The project is expected to run for four years and stems from the recognition that expert forecasts are very often wrong.

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