<%-- Page Title--%> News Notes <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 154 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 14, 2004

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Ahsanullah Master Gunned Down

Sheer absence of the rule of law and the government's indifference have made Bangladesh a failed state. The latest victim of the escalating violence was Ahsanullah Master, an Awami League MP from the Jazipur-2 constituency. He was killed, along with a schoolboy, by unknown assailants in Tongi. The 54-year-old politician, whose illustrious career started at the age of 12, was about to leave Noagaon MA Majid Mian High School field, where he was attending the council of ward-10 of Awami Shechchhasebak League.

Ahsanullah was elected union parishad chairman in 1983, upazila parishad chairman in 1990; and an MP in 1996 and 2001 as an Awami League candidate. Police are yet to find any motive or the perpetrators behind the gruesome killing that has shocked the country.

B Chowdhury Launches Bikalpa Dhara

Former president AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury has launched his political party, Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters' Unity on May 8. "We have come up with an alternative with the launch of the Bikalpa Dhara as corruption has emerged as an endemic when most government decisions are taken for either personal, family or party benefits," Chowdhury told an army of journalists. He, however, regretted that even the National Press Club authorities did not give them any room for holding the press conference, a newspaper report says.

Dr Chowdhury was nominated as the founding president and major (retired) Abdul Mannan was declared as the secretary general of the new party.

Old Wine in an Overused Bottle

While there has been much speculation about a downsizing of the cabinet, the recent reshuffle has not pleased even the young lawmakers of the BNP. On May 6, the government relocated the portfolios of six ministers and two state ministers and merged four ministries into two ahead of the Bangladesh Development Forum (BDF) meeting that begun on May 8.

Though it was meant to infuse dynamism into the administration, experts are calling this a mere cosmetic change. Last year, on May 22, the 60-member jumbo cabinet was reduced to 53 along with distribution of portfolios of 11 ministries. By that standard, the recent change was aimed at bringing down the number of ministries rather than downsizing the cabinet, which in turn is no real change at all.

US Powerless to Halt Iraq Net Images

Last year's US-led war in Iraq has presented a showcase for the Pentagon's superior military technology -- but as the occupation drags on, gadgetry is increasingly showing another side of the American armed forces.

When the shocking images depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US troops began to surface, it became clear that many of them were amateur pictures, apparently taken by soldiers using their own digital cameras.

The internet also played a role in the distribution of the photographs, highlighting the ease with which troops serving in Iraq can now send pictures to friends and relatives back home.

Many of these are quite innocuous, the equivalent of the snaps taken by tourists abroad. But whatever the content, the images are not subject to any kind of military censorship and are transmitted freely back to the US.

In his testimony to congressional committees, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the flood of pictures was now beyond the US authorities' control.

"There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist," he said. "If these are released to the public, obviously it is going to make matters worse... I looked at them last night and they are hard to believe."

Unapproved footage
Rumsfeld was indignant at the publication of such images: "We're functioning with peacetime constraints, with legal requirements, in a wartime situation in the Information Age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise."

However, he admitted that he had not realised the seriousness of the allegations until the pictures were leaked to the media. The internet has been acting as an unofficial clearing-house for all sorts of unapproved images of conflict in Iraq.

Photographs of the coffins of dead American soldiers repatriated from Iraq were published on the web, but only after activists successfully filed a Freedom of Information Act request to overcome the Pentagon's objections. And at least one website is showing a video report containing footage apparently shot from the cockpit of a US military helicopter and showing the killing of a wounded insurgent in cold blood. The film is said to have come from a European working as a sub-contractor for the US Army who left Iraq last month. Despite Rumsfeld's concerns, the American military does not have any centrally determined policy on the use of digital cameras by soldiers. That is left to commanding officers in the field.

A spokesman for US Central Command in Iraq, Lt Cdr Nick Balice, told BBC News Online: "Certainly the use of digital cameras and the internet provides methods of communicating that did not exist before.

"As far as I know, there is not a policy that covers theatre-wide with regards to digital cameras. It depends on what area they are in - there may be restrictions, such as along flight lines or within secure areas."

Internet links
BBC Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus points out that frontline soldiers in combat zones are normally too busy to take pictures and that this is more of an issue for what are called "rear area support troops". "The US military have reasonably sophisticated camps for their troops," he says. "In those places, they're often linked to the internet and it's a legitimate means of allowing soldiers to communicate with their families. It's hard to control the content of what they're saying." Jonathan Marcus argues that social change, just as much as technological change, is responsible for the climate that allows these images of abuse to circulate. "In World War I, the only means of communication was by letter, and military mail was heavily censored. Even when soldiers returned home, social pressures probably led them not to talk at length about the issues they faced.

"Now it's different - you have a professional army and people have a different attitude to authority." In a less deferential society, today's soldiers would be unlikely to tolerate the level of censorship that was considered routine in previous conflicts. But of course, the real issue is not the depiction of the abuse, but the fact that it should have happened at all. "Certainly one of the issues that might be looked into is the use of digital cameras and whether or not any policy might be desirable," says US Central Command's Lt Cdr Balice.

"But if there's some kind of thought that we might introduce a policy because we fear that wrongdoing might be exposed, then that is incorrect. In any case, the photographing of detainees is prohibited." Ultimately, then, the only way that the coalition can prevent the spread of images depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is to prevent the abuse itself.

Technology may change, but the morality of war will always pose the same dilemmas.
-BBC News Online


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