THE INDEX – January 15, 2009

In the on-going war in the Middle East, Israel might be using Gaza as a laboratory for future conflict. By deploying white phosphorus as a weapon, instead of as a smoke screen, Israel—which denies its use—may be breaking international law by employing devices that can inflict “horrible damage to the human body.” Following this story, The Christian Science Monitor interviews scientists on the implications of white phosphorus weapons in war.

A new Osama bin Laden tape may have appeared on the Internet on Wednesday. The Al Qaeda leader issued a call to arms over the Israeli offensive in Gaza. To the “brothers in Palestine,” bin Laden stated, “we are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom.” As of yet, however, the tape and the voice could not be definitively verified.

“We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, now responsible for reviewing the practices at Guantánamo Bay. In an interview conducted by Bob Woodward for the Washington Post, Crawford explains that the United States used authorized techniques for interrogation, but in overtly aggressive and persistent ways. To Crawford, this adds up to torture. After reviewing the detention and interrogation of Qahtani, who was suspected of having planned to participate in the September 11, 2001, attacks (known as the “twentieth hijacker”), she is the first senior official in the Bush administration to publicly admit acts of torture.

In today’s Guardian, David Miliband, Britain’s foreign secretary, calls the term “war on terror” misleading and a hindrance to worldwide efforts against terrorist violence. Whereas “war on terror” presents the idea of battling a somewhat united force with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda at its core, Miliband reminds us that “the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate.” Indeed, a “war on terror” almost commands a militaristic response, but Miliband believes that effective, long-term, counterterrorism efforts require widespread cooperation and a variety of methods.

On Wednesday, Russia blamed the United States for “orchestrating” Europe‘s gas crisis. According to Russian officials, gas was headed to the European Union through Ukraine but the flow was blocked just after it began. This has led to heated accusations flying from all sides, but, as of yet, much of Europe is still cold.

Vladimir Putin showed a different side of his personality this week, displaying a number of his paintings, made in late December. His art (which was touched up by a professional painter) is to be sold at auction on Saturday, and the profits will go to a local hospital, a cancer unit, and a church restoration project in St. Petersburg.

Just a few weeks away from the presidential campaign, the favored South African candidate Jacob Zuma, leader of the African National Congress, is again facing corruption charges. According to The Economist, Zuma could win the coming presidential election, but the trial (his third for corruption, this one regarding an overturned appeal ruling on a 1999 arms deal) may reduce the ruling party’s share of the vote.

Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s autocratic and possibly ill leader, has apparently named his youngest and most favored son, Jong Un, as his successor, Leo Lewis in The Times reports. Although the decision came as a surprise to most in the region due to Jong Un’s youth (he’s 24), the succession process is a closely kept secret in North Korea and nothing has yet been made public. If Jong Un does succeed his father in Pyongyang any time soon, he will inherit a sluggish economy, strained relations with South Korea, and an agricultural slump that threatens much of the country with famine.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, advocates for tighter bonds between China and the United States. Analyzing current relations between the two countries, Brzezinski reports that both would benefit from an expanded relationship. Cooperation should prevail on a wide range of issues, from climate change to the creation of a “larger standby UN peacekeeping force for deployment in failed states.”

In Singapore, modernity is king. Only one rural village remains, surrounded by skyscrapers and other high-rise buildings, and it is soon to disappear. The government plans on transforming the village’s land into housing, schools, and other facilities. This last rural outpost, the size of three football fields, is home to 28 families—all of whom will be relocated to government housing.



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