Peter Greste and Al Jazeera: Death on the Nile

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The unjust conviction of Peter Greste and other Al Jazeera journalists continues a long and often bloody vendetta against this truth telling media organisation — and not just by Egypt. Contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence reports.

PETER GRESTE, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Al Jazeera colleagues Sue Turton and Dominic Kane could just as easily have been sentenced to death  on Monday.

In what laughingly passes for a judicial system, Egypt has shamed herself and  squandered any remnant of self-respect and international standing.

It is really Qatar's Al Jazeera (literally 'The Island') that the Egyptian Provisional Government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his cronies firmly have in their crosshairs.

Greste and the others are symbols of what the al-Sisi regime most fear and loathe; the world's most powerful and influential news source, founded in the Middle East/Africa region — Al Jazeera English.

Moreover, the sentences, ranging from seven to 10 years, were a direct hit on press freedom and the role of the journalist as witness.

Around the world, more than 200 journalists are languishing in prisons, held hostage because of their profession. 

Despite their trial being held in absentia, Turton (who has a roving commission) and British citizen Kane, an Arsenal supporter and senior producer, might find their reporting activities severely restricted and their movements tracked electronically.

Last week, Egypt was readmitted to the 54-state strong African Union after an 11 month suspension, imposed when Muslim Brotherhood supremo President Mohammed Morsi was ousted in the night of the generals coup headed by Morsi's former supporter turned nemesis, al- Sisi, then head of Egypt's armed forces.

The journalists could be vulnerable to arrest and extradition if Egypt requests it of AU members.  

Egypt, it must be remembered, has long been the slaughterhouse and torture chamber for so-called 'civilised' countries — especially for the United States and especially under the Presidency of George W. Bush.

The West, including Australia, is adept at sub-contracting out its dirty work to offshore locations (ergo Manus Island) and Egypt has long regarded the lucrative retainers, bribes and kickbacks received for such 'black ops' in their prison laboratories, as ready  'baksheesh'.

Anyone under the delusion that Sweden would not extradite Julian Assange to the United States, ought to examine how obedient Sweden was on December 18, 2001 when it flouted international laws against torture and handed over Egyptian asylum seekers and suspected terrorists, Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza to CIA operatives. 

The pair endured the extraordinary rendition torture, for which Egypt, the United States and Europe and cohorts, have earned fame and infamy. 

The United Nations Human Rights Committee subsequently found Sweden violated global torture bans.

Under the human rights principle of non-refoulement, it is illegal to force asylum seekers to return 'home' where there is a risk of torture.

Because of widespread collaboration with other countries in illegal activities, Egypt and its various presidents have long been understandably dismissive of any protest by the West and its allies of violations of human rights on her shifting sands.

Moreover, once regarded as a relatively liberal muslim nation – albeit its political and religious factions gaffer taped by force – Egypt had the capacity to act as third party regional mediator and interloper in international political and commercial enterprises.

Late yesterday (our time), the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry described the sentences meted out to the Al Jazeera journalists as chilling and draconian.

ABC Radio aired audio of him saying:

"When I heard the verdict today I was so concerned about it ... that I immediately picked up the telephone and talked to the foreign minister of Egypt and registered our serious displeasure at this kind of verdict."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry must have been shaking in his desert boots at the other end of the phone.

Minister Shoukry's hand would still have been warm from his golden handshake with Mr Kerry, only hours before at their Cairo photo shoot.

Also known as Umm al-Dunya (Mother of the World), Egypt will get 650 million greenbacks in aid money — each one indubitably attached to a string.

At the meeting with al-Sisi and Shoukry, the U.S. promised it would still give Egypt a posse of Apache attack helicopters.

But hang on, isn't that stale news ?

Two months ago, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel announced to Egyptian counterpart, Sedki Sobhi, that America would give Egypt 10 Apache attack helicopters.

Apparently (via Al Jazeera):

The delivery will aid Egypt's "counter-terrorism" operations in the Sinai Peninsula, the Pentagon said.

"We believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten US, Egyptian, and Israeli security," Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said.

John Kerry, US secretary of State, paved the way for the deal by certifying to the US Congress that Egypt had met key criteria for the US to resume some aid.

But who oversees the morality judges?

As I recall, it was an Apache chopper from which red misted US military gunslingers massacred two Reuters journalists, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen, among others, and deliberately wounded two innocent terrified children.

The unforgettable and nightmarish video footage of these murders and war crimes were released to a outraged world by WikiLeaks under the headline 'Collateral Murder' at 10.44 Eastern Standard Time on 5th April 2010.

However, the horrifying 'incident' had actually taken place three years earlier on July 12, 2007 in Baghdad.

The gruesome selfies and what seemed to be trophy or sport shootings are accompanied by an indicting commentary by the team as a human killing machine, confirming the many continuing reports of indiscriminate killings of civilians, including children.

On the subject of the U.S. military machine killing journalists (not that our lives are any more important than anyone else's) we ought not to redact the war files on Al Jazeera.

Is it possible the United States hates Al Jazeera more than Egypt does? Yes it is.

On November 13, 2001, Al Jazeera's Kabul office was destroyed by a U.S. missile.

On April 8, 2003, Al Jazeera correspondent, Palestinian Jordanian Tareq Ayoub, was killed in a US air raid that bombed Al Jazeera's Baghdad bureau. It was a direct missile strike.

From the World Socialist Website:

Surviving Al-Jazeera staff sought shelter in the nearby offices of rival satellite station Abu Dhabi TV, which then also came under US attack.

...Shortly after the Al-Jazeera strike, two cameramen died when a US tank fired on Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, which houses more than 200 international correspondents—nearly all of the “non-embedded” journalists left in the besieged city. The victims were Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian national, and Jose Couso, 37, who worked for the private Spanish television station Telecinco. Another three members of the media were injured.

The strike on Al Jazeera’s broadcasting facilities was undoubtedly deliberate.

Al-Jazeera had written to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on February 23 giving the precise location of its office so as to avoid being targeted.

Both Ayoub and a cameraman, Zuheir Iraqi, who was wounded with shrapnel to his neck, were standing on the station’s roof in preparation for a live broadcast when the missiles hit the building, leaving Al-Jazeera’s bureau in ruins.

In both the Afghanistan and Iraq bombings on Al Jazeera by the U.S., Washington had been notified by the satellite station of the precise location of their bureaux — as is correct and normal protocol.

The U.S. cannot claim they were unaware of their locale.

On 22 November 2005, journalists Kevin Maguire and Andy Lines scored an exclusive for their newspaper, Britain's Daily Mirror exposing a 'BUSH PLOT TO BOMB HIS ARAB ALLY'  in a 'top secret' No 10 Downing St memo.

The ally in question was Qatar and the target was Al Jazeera.

The gist of the story was that Bush wanted to bomb the Al Jazeera HQ, but the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, talked him down.

The story and the memo continue to provoke controversy, with Bush and Blair revisionists saying Dubya was joking. As if.

The United States are serial killers when it comes to journalists and their habitat.

The IFEX website report at the time is interesting reading:

Britain's Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, has warned newspapers that they could be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) if they publish the contents of an internal memo that allegedly contains a conversation between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004. In their meeting, Bush reportedly suggests that Al-Jazeera's office be bombed, and is rebuffed by Blair.

The memo was first cited on 22 November 2005 by "The Daily Mirror", a British tabloid, which said its sources disagreed over whether Bush's idea was a serious suggestion. The newspaper has agreed not to publish any more stories on the subject.

A civil servant, David Keogh, and Leo O'Connor, a former researcher for Member of Parliament Tony Clarke, have been charged under the OSA for leaking the memo.

For decades, the United States – that bastion of Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment and halal Apple Pie – succeeded in locking Al Jazeera out of America.

But in early January last year, Al Jazeera bought Current Television, founded by President Bill Clinton's sidekick, former U.S. 'Veep', Al Gore.

The purchase would have been A Most Inconvenient Truth for Bush the Younger and his kennel mates Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney — the latter two hating Al Jazeera just as much as Dubya.

Current Media issued a statement on the sale that reads, in part:

Current Media was built based on a few key goals: To give voice to those who are not typically heard; to speak truth to power; to provide independent and diverse points of view; and to tell the stories that no one else is telling," Gore and Hyatt said.

Al Jazeera has the same goals and, like Current, believes that facts and truth lead to a better understanding of the world around us.

Last week, Al Jazeera Arabic journalist Abdullah El Shamy was released from Cairo's Scorpion Prison after being illegally incarcerated for 307 days.

Some have been trying to portray this as a watershed act of mercy by the Egyptian Government. No way.

He had been on a hunger strike for some time and his deteriorating health, mental stress and physical disintegration was all too apparent — so much so that the public prosecutor ordered his release, no doubt to avoid a death whilst John Kerry was in town.

After thanking everyone who supported him whilst in prison, El Shamy also called for the Egyptian Government to release all imprisoned journalists, including his three Al Jazeera colleagues.

It is ironical that the facile case brought against Team Al Jazeera was not only devoid of any substantial evidence or testimony, but also claimed they ruined Egypt's reputation.

The only people who have ruined Egypt's reputation in this unfinished sorry saga have been her successive governments and the gutless and corrupt judiciary who have done the bidding of their equally gutless and corrupt masters.

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