Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe may be suffering from prostate cancer.
A fake uranium heist in Namibia.
Nigerian politicians are making money off of oil theft.
Is Uzbekistan using its supply route to Afghanistan to mess with Russia?
150 NATO flights cross into Pakistani airspace each day.
Singaporean journalists claim they're restricted from reporting bad news about the government.
Even more revelations about Thailand's royal family.
China wanted to invest in U.S. banks during the 2008 financial meltdown.
Vladimir Putin's beef with Estonia.
Saudi Arabia wants the United States to give it Predator drones to use in Yemen.
Israeli military official: "We don't do Gandhi very well."
Robert Mugabe has reportedly been badly shaken by the WikiLeaks revelations.
Has WikiLeaks lost its mojo now that the State Department cables are all out?
Assange accuses the Guardian of "negligence" for its role in the inadvertent release of the unredacted State Department cables.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Iran shipped UAVs to Venezuela (via Turkey) in 2009.
The collapse of the Venezuelan opposition.
Cuban doctors working in Venezuela complained to embassy officials of being "politically manipulated" and underpaid.
Did WikiLeaks out a Malaysian politician as gay?
Another day, another WikiLeaks e-book, this one by a British journalist who seems to have been a bit too into Julian Assange.
U.S. Embassy officials cautioned the Kenyan government to restrain itself in the violence following the country's 2007 election.
The U.S. State Department's energy envoy urged Canada in 2009 to improve its "messaging" on a proposed oil-sands pipeline to the United States, including promoting "more positive news stories."
U.S. officials accused the leader of a pro-Cuban government peace group of threatening to pull U.S. medical students' scholarships if they met with the U.S. mission on the island in 2007.
Julian Assange's extradition appeal decision is deferred. After his hearing -- complete with another round of more-than-you-wanted-to-know details about Assange's sex life -- Swedish prosecutors blast the Assange legal team's "19th Century" view of sexual consent.
U.N. torture investigator Juan Mendez says the U.S. government is violating U.N. rules in refusing him access to Manning.
Blocking WikiLeaks donations prompts a competition complaint against MasterCard and Visa in Europe.
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Members of Haiti's elite complained to the U.S. Embassy in 2005 about eroding security in the country.
A Taliban representative told U.S. officials in 1996 that the Taliban had shut down "Arab" training camps in Afghanistan, and had no idea where Osama bin Laden was. A U.S. embassy official met with a Taliban representative the following year to discuss the Afghan drug trade and the group's sheltering of bin Laden.
A 1999 State Department meeting with future Afghan President Hamid Karzai, identified here as the "son of an important Afghan tribal leader."
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad sizing up the Taliban's Mullah Omar, circa 1997.
Beijing was unhappy about North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, but powerless to stop them.
The Japanese island of Okinawa, host to a longstanding U.S. military presence, is tilting toward China and away from the United States.
Bahrain's recent crackdown on its Shiite minority came out of Saudi Arabia's playbook.
Julian Assange is reportedly backing off of plans to publish his memoirs.
A medic in Britain's Royal Navy has been sentenced to seven months' detention for refusing to train on account of WikiLeaks-inspired moral objections.
An excellent telling of the sad saga of Pfc. Bradley Manning from New York. (The online friend whose chats with Manning provide much of the new information in the piece has also made their correspondence available for download.)
SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Was the former Chinese finance minister caught in a Taiwanese honey trap?
A Cuban cardinal pushed to close a Cuban magazine critical of the Castro regime.
The journalists who could make a fortune off of WikiLeaks.
FP rounds up WikiLeaks' recent greatest hits.
A theatrical adaptation of the WikiLeaks saga (above) debuts in Australia.
WikiLeaks parodies MasterCard's "Priceless" ads:
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
Salvadorans are not into the idea of other people investigating Salvadorans.
U.S. officials in 2006 were concerned about the security of Saudi Arabia's oil infrastructure.
The granddaddy of WikiLeaks is officially released at last.
THE BIG PICTURE
Trying to make sense of the LulzSec hackers' motives.
How WikiLeaks begat the Sarah Palin email frenzy.
CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images, Tom Pennington/Getty Images, Flickr user Andy Miah
The U.S. government, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil joined forces to kill a Venezuelan oil deal in Haiti.
The frightening state of the developing world's nuclear energy programs.
China told U.S. officials it wasn't selling nuclear reactors to Pakistan, then did it anyway.
The British government worried that Russian gas behemoth Gazprom was being run by spies.
Julian Assange says WikiLeaks "played a significant role" in the Arab Spring, but that "there are no official allegations in the public domain" of anyone being hurt by the site's document dumps.
President Barack Obama nominates a replacement for the WikiLeaks-deposed U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the U.S. government to officially release WikiLeaked cables about the war on terror.
Al Jazeera's WikiLeaks-inspired document-sharing site isn't much safer than the Wall Street Journal's.
The Swedish Bar Association chastises Assange's lawyer.
Of course you want to know what Jesse Ventura thinks about WikiLeaks.
THONY BELIZAIRE/AFP/Getty Images
More than 700 files on Guantánamo Bay detainees obtained by WikiLeaks are released. Extensive coverage is here, here, here, and here. The Huffington Post has the backstory on the release. Also check out FP's roundup of the coverage and roundtable discussion of the cables with Karen Greenberg, Robert Chesney, Morris Davis, and Matthew Alexander.
Someone should tell the U.S. Department of Defense that World Net Daily is a somewhat less-than-credible source of information.
The Guantánamo file on former detainee and Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj suggests just how suspicious the U.S. government was of the network.
Did the Ecuadorian government manipulate the country's bond market?
U.S. diplomats worry about Muammar al-Qaddafi's relationship with Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
Embassy officials don't think much of Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli.
The U.S. government apparently considers Pakistan's intelligence agency a terrorist (or at least terrorist-supporting) organization.
The arrest of Hmong guerrilla leader Vang Pao did wonders for the U.S.-Laos relationship.
WikiLeaks received nearly $2 million in donations last year.
Most people in 24 countries surveyed by Ipsos don't think Julian Assange is a criminal (though a lot of Americans disagree).
London's Telegraph newspaper is in hot water for publishing the name of a 15-year-old rape victim contained in the Guantánamo papers.
WikiLeaks' document cache is now pretty solidly out of the organization's control.
THE BIG PICTURE
What the Guantánamo documents tell us about mission creep in the War on Terror.
The Guantánamo papers aren't likely to change much of anything for the detainees themselves.
The New York Times owes WikiLeaks big time.
Virginie Montet/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. diplomats' relationship with Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government wasn't always so cold.
Is Chinese demand for ivory killing Kenyan elephants?
An Israeli settlement leader tells U.S. officials he's willing to move, for a price.
Bahrain's king is proud of intelligence ties to Israel, wants his government to drop references to the "Zionist enemy."
Israel and Egypt locked horns over smuggling on the Gaza strip.
Israel suspects that Turkey is helping Iran skirt international sanctions.
What the WikiLeaks cables tell us about the United States' relationship with embattled Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Ecuador kicks out U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges (above) over a WikiLeaks cable.
The Pentagon won't let anyone -- including U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and investigators from the United Nations and Amnesty International -- meet with Pfc. Bradley Manning in private. The British government is also raising concerns over Manning's treatment.
Julian Assange has another court date.
The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee proposes new penalties for leakers.
The feds won't leave friend of WikiLeaks Jacob Applebaum alone.
Karl Rove is copping WikiLeaks' style.
Qaddafi's Ukrainian nurse tells all.
Pentagon contractor (and Anonymous nemesis) HBGary's ambitious scheme to catch the next WikiLeaker.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
This weekend, the U.S. government finally threw Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh under the bus, with administration officials telling the New York Times on background that it was increasingly clear Saleh was incapable of reforming his government and had to go. On Tuesday, the Pentagon made it official, with spokesman Geoff Morrell saying the United States was "urging a negotiated transition [of power] as quickly as possible."
All of this would have been unthinkable even a month ago, when it seemed relatively likely that Saleh would survive the wave of unrest sweeping his country, at least through the end of his current term. The Yemeni president is a Hosni Mubarak-style survivor, who has managed to hold onto power for three decades in one of the Arab world's most reliably restive countries -- a longevity that is in no small part guaranteed by the United States, which has viewed Saleh as a crucial, if unreliable, ally in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
No one ever pretended it was an uncomplicated relationship, and the WikiLeaks cables show the United States making extraordinary, often unreasonable demands of counterterrorism allies such as Saleh. But you don't have to agree with the U.S. government's actions here to ask whether the $155 million the United States gave Yemen in military aid last year alone was worth the investment. A tour through the WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa -- of which the Times offered a very good overview in December -- is instructive. The cables, of course, present the State Department's view of the situation, not the U.S. intelligence community's -- but the diplomats seem to have trusted Saleh about as far as they could throw him.
WikiLeaks has claimed another WikiLoser: U.S. Ambassador Heather Hodges, who was kicked out of Ecuador today over a cable detailing alleged corruption in President Rafael Correa's government. "It is unfortunate that the published documents on WikiLeaks have made it impossible to continue collaborating with the current ambassador to Quito, but we hope to work with a new ambassador," Ecuador's Washington embassy said in a statement today, according to the Associated Press.
The offending cable, which was signed by Hodges (above, with Correa in happier times) in July 2009 and published on Monday by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, concerns Jaime Hurtado, the former commanding general of Ecuador's National Police. "The Embassy has multiple reports that indicate [Hurtado] used his positions to extort bribes, facilitate human trafficking, misappropriate public funds, obstruct investigations and prosecutions of corrupt colleagues, and engage in other corrupt acts for personal enrichment," Hodges wrote.
Hodges is the third U.S. ambassador to be forced out of an embassy post by an inconvenient cable; Carlos Pascual resigned from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City last month, and Gene Cretz was called back from Tripoli in January (though he's back in action now that the U.S. government is somewhat less concerned about Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's feelings). Of course, it's also worth noting that Correa -- like his regional allies -- drops U.S. diplomats like they're going out of style.
RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Has Hugo Chávez been selling missiles to Muammar al-Qaddafi?
The Kenyan government wanted to arrest a prominent opposition leader in 2007.
The Colombian military maintains a 100-man counter-guerrilla force inside Venezuela.
Colombia has been using U.S. drones to fight the FARC for five years.
A staffer in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Congress Party shows U.S. embassy aides chests full of cash being used to buy votes.
India faces a "growing Naxalite menace."
U.S. diplomats viewed Mohamed ElBaradei as "part of the problem" in the Middle East in 2009.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a "hunger for absolute power and for the material benefits of power".
U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual steps down over WikiLeaks-fueled flap with Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Damning corruption allegations in the WikiLeaks cables have India's Manmohan Singh on the ropes.
Protesters demonstrating over Pfc. Bradley Manning's treatment are arrested at Quantico.
An art group in Russia's Ural region is building a monument to Julian Assange.
Is Michael Bay basing the villains in the next Transformers movie on Julian Assange?
THE BIG PICTURE
FP tallies the biggest losers so far in the Cablegate saga.
More on the role of WikiLeaks in the Arab revolutions.
Bradley Manning's long road to WikiLeaks.
Julian Assange, houseguest: a reenactment.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
As you've probably heard, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual stepped down from his post in Mexico City over the weekend following his WikiLeaks-based falling out with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. In noting his departure, we thought it would be worth looking back over the arc of the U.S. State Department's slow-rolling PR catastrophe -- now rounding out its fourth month -- and tallying the casualties. The results are here.
The WikiLeaks unfortunates are a pretty varied group -- the expected array of diplomatic officials and WikiLeaks associates, plus a few politicians, a CEO, a university administrator, and a dictator -- and it's hard to draw much of a trend line through the circumstances of their respective scandals. The first and last of them were both genuine scandals: A German party official passing documents to American embassy officials, the prime minister of India's party allegedly buying votes with chests full of rupees.
But what strikes me as most noteworthy is how un-noteworthy most of the cables that got a lot of these people in trouble really were. U.S. ambassadors were pulled from their posts for noting that Mexico's drug war was going badly and that Muammar al-Qaddafi was rather eccentric. The fact that Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was a fantastically corrupt ruler was not exactly news to anyone in Tunisia. Europe's still-incomplete satellite system really is a boondoggle. There have been a few bombshells in the WikiLeaks cables -- some of them literal -- but these weren't them. They were significant only because they confirmed that the U.S. government knew what everyone else knew.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told an audience at MIT on Thursday that he thought the Defense Department's treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Blogger Philippa Thomas first reported Crowley's remarks, which she said were part of a lecture on "the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy" at an event organized by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media.
"One young man said he wanted to address ‘the elephant in the room'. What did Crowley think, he asked, about Wikileaks? About the United States, in [the questioner's] words, ‘torturing a prisoner in a military brig'? Crowley didn't stop to think. What's being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense ‘is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.' He paused. ‘None the less Bradley Manning is in the right place'. And he went on lengthening his answer, explaining why in Washington's view, ‘there is sometimes a need for secrets... for diplomatic progress to be made'," Thomas wrote.
Reached by The Cable, Crowley confirmed that he did in fact make the remarks.
"What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning," Crowley told The Cable.
Apparently unaware that his remarks would spark a controversy, Crowley thanked MIT over Twitter after the speech.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell declined to comment on Crowley's remarks.
Manning, who is being held in a maximum security prison and under isolation 23 hour a day at the Marine Corps' base in Quantico, VA, has been subject to daily disrobing and various other humiliations, which have been widely criticized by human rights groups including Amnesty International.
"PFC Manning is also being held under a Prevention of Injury (POI) assignment, which means that he is subjected to further restrictions," Amnesty wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January. "These include checks by guards every five minutes and a bar on his sleeping during the day. He is required to remain visible at all times, including during night checks. His POI status has resulted in his being deprived of sheets and a separate pillow, causing uncomfortable sleeping conditions; his discomfort is reportedly exacerbated by the fact that he is required to sleep only in boxer shorts and has suffered chafing of his bare skin from the blankets."
"The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement - which evidence suggests can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of concentration - may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defense and thus his right to a fair trial."
UPDATE: President Obama said Friday afternoon that he had personally asked the Pentagon if the conditions imposed on Manning were really necessary.
"They assured me that they are," Obama said. He wouldn't go into detail but added, "Some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety."
UPDATE II: Another blogger who was at the session reported that Crowley also said that Manning was being "mistreated," and that the crowd applauded.
UPDATE III: Another attendee Ethan Zuckerman posted his own transcript of Crowley's remarks, which includes a full text of Crowley's remarks about manning:
"I spent 26 years in the air force. What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don't know why the DoD is doing it. Nevertheless, Manning is in the right place." There are leaks everywhere in Washington - it's a town that can't keep a secret. But the scale is different. It was a colossal failure by the DoD to allow this mass of documents to be transported outside the network. Historically, someone has picked up a file of papers and passed it around - the information exposed is on one country or one subject. But this is a scale we've never seen before. If Julian Assange is right and we're in an era where there are no secrets, do we expect that people will release Google's search engine algorithms? The formula for Coca Cola? Some things are best kept secret. If we're negotiating between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there will be compromises that are hard for each side to sell to their people - there's a need for secrets.
Things just got even worse for Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged source for WikiLeaks' cache of U.S. military and State Department documents. The Army announced today that it has filed 22 new charges against Manning, in addition to the 12 counts he was initially charged with after his arrest in May.
Wired's Threat Level blog reports that the charges, which were filed Tuesday, "include aiding the enemy, theft of public property or records, computer fraud, transmitting defense information and wrongly causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy." Although the first charge is a capital offense, the Army has said it will not seek the death penalty. Even so, Manning is still looking at the possibility of life in prison. (Politico has the charge sheet here.)
Manning's lawyer, David E. Coombs, said in a blog post today that he and Manning had been expecting the additional charges for several weeks:
The decision to prefer charges is an individual one by PFC Manning's commander. The nature of the charges and the number of specifications under each reflects his determination, in consultation with his Staff Judge Advocate's office, of the possible offenses in this case. Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial.
As Threat Level notes, the capital offense charge could play into the deliberation over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, which Assange's lawyers are in the process of appealing. A British judge ruled in favor of the extradition last week, and his ruling made virtually no mention of the political context of the case, effectively dismissing as implausible Assange's lawyers' arguments that an extradition -- even on unrelated charges -- would pave the way for their client's extradition to the United States on capital charges. Now that Manning has been charged with a capital offense, such arguments will be harder to dismiss.
Proceedings against Manning, meanwhile, are still on hold pending a psychiatric review sought by his lawyers. Politico reports that that review is expected to be completed in the next two to six weeks.
Qaddafi worried about a U.S. military presence in Africa.
Bernie Madoff once discussed investment opportunities with Qaddafi.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe OK'd "clandestine operations" against FARC rebels across the border in Venezuela.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia (and later Afghanistan) William Wood was not aware of the top Colombian military leader's dodgy résumé.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce tried to take down Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
China used U.S. debt obligations to pressure the United States on arms sales to Taiwan.
For the first time since World War II, Japan is building a full-blown foreign intelligence agency.
U.S. diplomats pushed Norway to buy American-made fighter jets.
Britain blocked an arms sale to Swaziland over fears the weapons could end up in Iran.
Bahrain's crown prince is not a big fan of the whole democracy thing.
A British judge rules in favor of Julian Assange's extradition to Sweden.
George W. Bush doesn't like the idea of sharing a stage with Assange.
Gaddafi's "voluptuous nurse" has had enough of Libya.
WikiLeaks cable revelations are factoring in Peru's 2011 elections.
PayPal freezes the account of a group raising defense funds for Pfc. Bradley Manning.
More on HBGary, the cybersecurity firm that tried to take down WikiLeaks' supporters.
WikiLeaks now has a gift shop.
Anonymous makes "The Colbert Report" (slightly NSFW)
THE BIG PICTURE
U.S. diplomats in 2008 called the Libyan city where protests erupted this week "a locus of extremist activity" not really under the control of Muammar Qaddafi's government.
What U.S. diplomats have to say about Xi Jinping, China's next leader.
NATO on Russia's military: Meh.
Inside the United States' cozy relationship with Bahrain.
Bahrain's king told U.S. officials that his country's opposition was trained by Hezbollah.
The U.S. government's WikiLeaks probe makes its courtroom debut in the United States.
The preposterously complex hacking and counter-hacking saga engulfing WikiLeaks' online allies.
Australia wants to make sure Julian Assange is treated justly in Sweden.
Anonymous is now going after Iran.
THE BIG PICTURE
Free speech advocate and celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz, now Julian Assange's lawyer, tells FP why WikiLeaks is "the Pentagon Papers case for the 21st Century."
WikiLeaks' Asia cables could be a whole lot worse.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Newly instated Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman has been a longtime favorite of Israel, according to new WikiLeaks cables released Monday. The cables reveal snippets from a strategic partnership that is often fraught with differences, but mostly sharing of similar concerns, among them Gaza, Iran, and terrorism. The revelations seem particularly notable in the context of ongoing turmoil in Egypt, where protestors are calling for Mubarak to step down. The United States is now backing Suleiman as a leader of a transition government -- something that, according to the recently released cables, should help quell Isreali anxiety.
In a cable dated August 29, 2008, David Hacham, a senior adviser to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, told U.S. diplomats about Barak's visit to Egypt earlier that month, calling it a success. While Hacham said the Israelis were "shocked" by President Hosni Mubarak's "aged appearance and slurred speech," they had only nice things to say about Suleiman, then head of Egypt's foreign intelligence service. Israel and Suleiman were apparently quite close, a relationship built through the daily use of a hot line set up between the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Suleiman's office. And even as most of the world expected Mubarak's son, Gamal, to be his successor, the Israelis had different thoughts, according to the cable:
Hacham noted that the Israelis believe Soliman is likely to serve as at least an interim President if Mubarak dies or is incapacitated. (Note: We defer to Embassy Cairo for analysis of Egyptian succession scenarios, but there is no question that Israel is most comfortable with the prospect of Omar Soliman.)
With Egypt eager to position itself as a leader in the Middle East, Suleiman also apparently took a keen interest in the Israel-Palestinian negotiations, according to a different 2008 cable. He told a U.S. Congressional delegation that he was optimistic about the situation between Egypt's neighbors, but stressed his concern over "continuing Israeli criticism of Egyptian anti-smuggling efforts."
According to the cable, the timing for Israeli-Palestinian progress was right, in 2008, for four reasons:
First, the PA leadership is moderate and willing to negotiate. Second, Hamas is isolated and politically cut off in Gaza. Third, the Israelis are ready for peace; Soliman assessed that the GOI coalition is broad and strong, and larger than Rabin's coalition of the mid-nineties. Fourth, Arab states are ready to see an end to "the struggle."
Suleiman said that Egypt wanted to help the United States continue the peace process, recommending steps to continue progress:
First , both the Israelis and Palestinians must be pressed hard to sign an agreement, which the U.S. and international community could endorse, to be implemented at the proper time. Second, the U.S. should insist that "phase one" of the Roadmap should be completed before the end of 2008.
The near-total destruction of Baghdad's city zoo over the course of the 2003 invasion of Iraq was, in retrospect, a grim portent of the poor planning and disastrous mismanagement that would characterize the early years of the Iraq war. The zoo had been the largest in the Middle East before the invasion, with more than 650 animals; eight days after coalition troops arrived in the city, however, all but 35 were dead. "All the Americans would've had to do is drop off 50 men, with a few vets and a truckload of food, and they wouldn't have lost any of the animals," Lawrence Anthony, a South Africa conservationist who salvaged what was left of the zoo after the invasion, told me last year.
So it's heartening to read a February 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, signed by embassy staffer Greg D'Elia and released by WikiLeaks over the weekend, detailing the Baghdad zoo's resurgence as "reportedly … the most popular destination for family outings in Baghdad." As of late 2007, security in the city was still dicey enough that most of the zoo's visitors came from the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. But as the worst of the brutal sectarian violence of the preceding years ebbed, some 8,000 Baghdadis were visiting each weekend, and the zookeepers could boast of some one-of-a-kind acquisitions:
[T]he Baghdad Zoo staff took particular pleasure in reclaiming for the Iraqi public the exotic animals formerly possessed by Saddam Hussein and his family. Uday's pampered cheetah is now tame enough for visitors to pet. Two of Saddam's three lions gave birth last year to three cubs each; now the Zoo has nine lions on display. The Zoo also has in its possession Saddam Hussein's former stallion, Al Abor -- "the most famous horse in Iraq," according to Mousa. Saddam Hussein rode Al Abor in countless parades and public ceremonies.
The best part of the cable is its account of the zoo's "highlights and lowlights":
The Baghdad Zoo also featured some primitive practices, including the daily slaughter of two donkeys to feed the lions, and some modern flourishes, such as exotic fish with an image of the Iraqi flag lasered permanently into their scales. (NOTE: These fish sport the old Iraqi flag. Zoo staff could not predict whether they will employ laser surgery to amend these now-outlawed, swimming flags. END NOTE.)
Then there are the alcoholic bears:
To ease the trauma of the brown bears' move from Saddam Hussein's possession into the Zoo, staff reportedly plied them with copious amounts of Arak; visitors repeated rumors that the disheveled bears continue to imbibe this powerful drink.
British diplomatic officials don't exactly mince words about Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. From a WikiLeaked U.S. State Department cable sent from the London embassy several days before Zardari -- who had replaced his wife, Benazir Bhutto, on the ballot following her assassination the previous year -- won Pakistan's 2008 presidential election:
[British Foreign and Commonwealth Office] Pakistan Team Leader Laura Hickey told us September 3 that HMG [the British government] fully expects Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leader Asif Zardari to win Pakistan's presidency on September 6, but it is unlikely he will retain the position for long. In HMG estimation, Zardari has no popular support, is strongly disliked within his own party, is not trust-worthy, and is unable to deliver on the countless promises he has recently made to win support in his bid for the presidency. Absent popular support or military backing, Zardari will be unable to hold onto the presidency. HMG projects that he will encumber the top position for six to 12 months, and there will be elections before Zardari completes his term.
The cable goes on to note that "As far as [counterterrorism] and security cooperation are concerned, Zardari is not at odds with UK and U.S. interests. [The British government], however, finds it unlikely that he will be able to deliver because he is an ineffective leader who has 'no plans and no strategy.'"
Over the weekend, WikiLeaks decided to drop what (if memory serves) is its largest single release to date from its cache of U.S. State Department emails, almost all of them from the U.S. Embassy in London over the past few years. We'll be picking through the good bits here over the next few days, although at first glance they seem short on blockbusters, which may explain why they haven't commanded much attention in the media. (That, and the whole dumping-hundreds-of-cables-on-a-Friday-night thing.)
The London cables mostly concern foreign policy issues where Britain's interests are closely aligned with the United States', the war in Afghanistan among them; the effort to thread the needle between the British government's commitment to the war and waning support for it among the British public is a common theme. One cable offers a lengthy account of then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's November 2008 meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, in which Karzai tells Miliband (in the cable's paraphrase) that "it would be difficult or impossible to hold a credible Presidential election" the following year in Afghanistan, ticking off five particularly problematic provinces. (On that much, he was right.)
Karzai also expresses optimism about the United States' new president-elect, Barack Obama, but in his conversation with Miliband you can see the seeds of the estrangement between the Afghan and American presidents that would characterize the years that followed. There's the issue of American-employed private contractors, who Karzai would order out of his country in August 2010:
Afghanistan wanted to end the way in which the Americans sub-contracted major parts of their aid program to "doubtful contractors." He was also concerned that many of the private security companies were little more than "criminal organizations." The same applied to some of the transport companies used by the U.S.; it had become apparent to Karzai that the transport companies were responsible for much of the insecurity on the highways, in order to extract higher fees and insurance payments from the Americans.
Karzai also tells Miliband that he's leery about the United States dispatching more soldiers to his country:
Karzai emphasized that more U.S. troops were not the answer. He hoped the Americans would consult the Afghan Government before sending more troops. Karzai said that the U.S. had failed to send the troops for which Karzai had asked in 2002, but now it might be too late.
Miliband brings up the inevitable question of how all of this ends, and according to the cable suggests that "reconciliation" -- presumably with the Taliban -- "subject to strict conditions, would obviously be part of that."
Karzai agreed, saying that he had consulted "the whole Afghan people," and they were all in favor of reconciliation. They wanted to "bring over the good guys, while excluding the bad guys." Karzai realizes that the U.S., Russia and Iran had doubts about reconciliation, but this was something that the Afghan people wanted, and which he was bound to press ahead.
The U.S. government has justifiably taken a lot of heat for its relative silence regarding -- and occasional complicity in -- the human rights abuses committed by Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt. But it's worth highlighting an exception in a recently WikiLeaked November 2008 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, signed by Amb. Margaret Scobey, in which American diplomats did the right thing -- while Silicon Valley played it safe.
The cable concerns an Egyptian blogger whose name is redacted in the document, but who CNET thinks is most likely Wael Abbas, a celebrated dissident journalist whose efforts to distribute videos of human rights abuses by Egyptian authorities have in one case led to convictions of the perpetrators (and who, incidentally, was arrested on Friday in Cairo, though according to his Twitter feed he's since been released):
Prominent Egyptian blogger XXXXXXXXXXXXX, contacted us November 17 to report that YouTube removed from his website two videos exposing police abuses -- one of Sinai bedouin allegedly shot by police and thrown in a garbage dump during the past week's violence (ref A), and the other of a woman being tortured in a police station. XXXXXXXXXXXXX told us that YouTube is also preventing XXXXXXXXXXXX from posting new videos, and asked us for assistance in urging YouTube to re-post his removed videos and reinstate his access to uploading new material. XXXXXXXXXXXXX said XXXXXXXXXXXXXX has tried to contact Google, but has not received a response.
The cable notes that the same thing happened to the blogger the previous year -- which again suggests that the blogger in question is Abbas, who had his YouTube access restored in December 2007 after getting kicked off for posting videos of Egyptian police brutality. At the time, YouTube explained in a statement that the company's general policy banned videos depicting graphic violence, but that "Having reviewed the case, we have restored the account of Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas -- and if he chooses to upload the video again with sufficient context so that users can understand his important message we will of course leave it on the site."
While the incident was widely reported at the time, there was no mention of any involvement of the State Department in YouTube's decision. But the 2008 cable notes:
In December 2007, DRL [State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor] and Embassy Cairo worked to convince Google [which owns YouTube] to restore XXXXXXXXXXXXX' YouTube access after a similar incident. We believe that a similar Department intervention with Google representatives could help in restoring XXXXXXXXXXXXX' access again. XXXXXXXXXXXXis an influential blogger and human rights activist, and we want to do everything we can to assist him in exposing police abuse.
A YouTube spokeswoman wouldn't confirm or deny the cable's account of the two incidents, saying in an emailed statement that "In order to protect the privacy of our users, we do not comment on actions taken on individual videos or accounts."
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WikiLeaks seems to have rediscovered the news cycle, releasing seven cables from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo as the Egyptian government crackdown on protesters and journalists turned ugly Thursday. There's not much in them that you didn't know if you've ever read a Human Rights Watch report on Egypt, though a 2009 scene-setter for a visit by FBI Director Robert Mueller does effectively sum up the sorry state of human rights and civil liberties in Hosni Mubarak's country:
Egypt's police and domestic security services continue to be dogged by persistent, credible allegations of abuse of detainees. Police brutality in Egypt against common criminals is routine and pervasive, resulting from poor training and understaffing. Over the past five years, the government has stopped denying that torture exists, and since late 2007 courts have sentenced approximately 18 police officers to prison terms for torture and killings. In March, a court sentenced a police officer to 15 years in prison for shooting a motorist following a dispute. The GOE [government of Egypt] has not yet made a serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution, but there are indications that the government is allowing the courts increased independence to adjudicate some police brutality cases.
The Interior Ministry uses SSIS [the State Security Investigative Services] to monitor and sometimes infiltrate the political opposition and civil society. SSIS suppresses political opposition through arrests, harassment and intimidation. In February following the Gaza war, SSIS arrested a small number of pro-Palestinian activists and bloggers, and detained them for periods of a few days to several weeks.
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It's been a while since WikiLeaked checked in on Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen's newly embattled president and a reliably interesting character in the WikiLeaks oeuvre. Most of what we've seen from Saleh in the leaked U.S. State Department cables has followed a pattern in which U.S. diplomats try to coax more counterterrorism cooperation out of the veteran strongman, while Saleh -- whose government received $155 million in military aid from the United States in 2010, twice the previous year's amount -- tries to finagle more cash and materiel out of the Americans. A newly released December 2004 State Department cable recounting a meeting between Saleh and U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski (pictured above with Saleh in a 2007 photo) is no exception.
The meeting takes place a little more than a month after U.S. President George W. Bush's reelection; Saleh badly wants to meet with Bush in Washington to congratulate him personally, he tells Krajeski, and also talk about "important new developments in the region 'that can only be discussed face to face,'" according to the cable. Krajeski hems and haws a bit about this, at which point, the cable notes, "True to form, Saleh launched into a list of what he believes the U.S. owes him. 'Where is the money for the Army, and what about my spare (F-5) parts?' Saleh demanded." (The cable notes, a little acidly, that there have been reported problems with getting the Yemeni Ministry of Defense "to follow through with the necessary paperwork on parts and equipment in order to spend the 17 million USD in Yemen's [foreign military financing] account.")
Pointing out that any meetings with senior U.S. officials would quickly turn to the subject of Yemen's huge grey market in SA/LW [small arms/light weapons], Ambassador told Saleh that Yemen needs to gain control over the huge flow of these weapons in and through the country. Washington is very concerned about this issue and ready to help the ROYG tackle it, added Ambassador. "I will do it!" Saleh exclaimed, insisting that he was insisting that he was already "cracking down" on the SA/LWs market.
The conversation soon turns, inevitably, to counterterrorism, in which Saleh has been a longstanding if not unproblematic partner to the United States. Pressed on the subject of Hadi Dulqum, an arms dealer with alleged links to Al Qaeda, the cable reports that "Saleh stuck to his line that Hadi Dulqum is just a 'simple arms dealer:'"
The Saudis want Dulqum, said the President, "they are crazy for him. What do you expect?" he asked, "if we arrest every arms dealer in the country, we will have hundreds of them in prison." The USG [U.S. government] agrees with the Saudis, said Ambassador, adding that Dulqum's connections with AQ are too extensive for him to be simply another Yemeni arms dealer.
Months later, Saleh does manage to swing a White House invite, prompting a June 2005 cable from the Sanaa embassy titled PRIORITIES FOR WASHINGTON VISIT: SALEH NEEDS TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION. The cable characterizes relations with Saleh's government as "frustrating and difficult," noting that "Saleh has indicated to top advisors in the past that he believes he can pull the wool over the eyes of the [U.S. government.]" On the political front, "Saleh touts Yemen as a leader in regional reform and has committed to democratization," the cable says. "Domestically, however, he has run-out of reforms he can implement at no political cost to himself."
The cable proposes "a public show of support via a greater role in public fora such as the G-8" as a possible inducement to greater democratization, but it seems that half a decade later, the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt may have done the job more effectively.
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While the community of Middle East leak-watchers is focused on Al Jazeera's release of 1,600 documents from the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, WikiLeaks has released a number of U.S. diplomatic cables that call into question the long-term viability of Algerian strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Particularly in the wake of Tunisia's revolt -- and the U.S. Embassy's success at identifying the seeds of unrest there -- these cables deserve a close read.
The most engaging report is a 2008 cable on disaffected Algerian youth known as "the harraga," or literally "one who burns." Unlike Mohamed Bouazizi, who lit himself on fire in Tunisia two years later, these men aren't burning themselves -- they're burning their identification papers before setting out on makeshift boats in an attempt to reach the shores of Spain or Italy. It's an unbelievably dangerous journey: The embassy estimates that over 90 percent of the harraga die at sea, are detained indefinitely by North African authorities, or are returned to their host country. According to one article cited in the cable, up to 50,000 Algerians and Libyans attempted to reach European shores in search of economic opportunities in 2007.
From the Algerian regime's perspective, perhaps the most troubling aspect of this story is that the harraga hail -- like Bouazizi -- from the society's educated classes. One boat, the embassy reported "includ[ed] five university graduates and two doctors." The grandson of a former Algerian president also departed the country in this way and "has not been heard from since."
A 2007 cable signed by U.S. Amb. Robert Ford -- now the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Damascus -- lays out the consequences of this disaffection more explicitly. The Algerian regime, he writes, is "plagued by a lack of vision, unprecedented levels of corruption and rumblings of division within the military rank and file."
The most explosive comments in the cable are relayed to the embassy by Said Sadi, an opposition leader. Sadi described a conversation that he had with Gen. Toufik Mediene, Algeria's head of military intelligence, who "acknowledged that all was not well with the health of Bouteflika and Algeria writ large." When the conversation turned to Algeria's endemic corruption, Sadi reports that the general "motion[ed] silently to the portrait of Bouteflika that hung over their heads" to indicate where the problem lay.
Ford hedged his bets in late 2007, writing that the embassy does not expect an imminent revolt in Algeria. But in the aftermath of the Tunisian revolt -- and with Algerian protests and self-immolations mounting -- the moment may just be now.
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Not much is known about Xi Jinping, the expected next president of China, but according to a newly public WikiLeaks cable, Xi has been complaining to America's neighbors about "well fed foreigners" pointing fingers at China.
In a February 2009 trip to Mexico, the first stop in Xi's six-country tour of Latin America, the current vice president of China blurted out his feelings about criticisms of Chinese diplomacy, according to a diplomatic cable classified by acting deputy chief of mission James Williard.
"There are some well fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point fingers at our affairs," Xi blurted out at a lunch meeting, appropriately. "China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; third, cause troubles for you."
Xi showed up with representatives of 20 Chinese companies in tow and made the case that China and Mexico have common cause to cooperate economically, as both are developing countries facing the consequences of a global financial crisis they didn't cause. The embassy cable noted that Xi's outburst seemed to reveal the Xi's true feelings about America despite a more diplomatic message during the rest of his visit.
"It should be noted that his criticism of 'well-fed foreigners' sharply contrasted from the overarching cooperation theme of his visit and were delivered on the first leg of his trip in a country with strong ties to the United States," the cable said.
The cable reported that Mexico was trying to correct its huge trade deficit with China and that Mexican officials were wary of China's tactic of expanding economic activity in developing countries.
"We don't want to be China's next Africa," a Mexican official told a U.S. Embassy economics officer, according to the cable, referring to the oft-cited criticism that China has pursued a strategy of seizing the continent's huge natural resources while dumping cheap industrial and manufactured products into foreign markets. "We need to own our country's development."
Two other recently released WikiLeaks cables also detailed China's charm offensive in Latin America and skepticism on that continent of Chinese motives and practices.
"China's strategy in Latin America is clear: it wants to 'control the supply of commodities,' said the Brazilian consul general in Shanghai," according to one cable sent to Washington from the U.S. Shanghai Consulate in April 2009.
"Colombia is wary of Chinese motives and what it sees as lax Chinese environmental and labor standards. However, Colombia needs new economic partners, particularly given the lack of progress on a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade agreement (FTA)," said another cable, conveying the views of Colombian diplomats as reported by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The cables paint a picture of an aggressive Chinese effort to insert state-owned companies into America's backyard while Latin American countries have few options but to go along in the face of American neglect.
Xi, who is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2012, has been intimately involved in those efforts, the cables show.
So how did his trip to Mexico go? The cables report the results as mixed.
"Xi's visit intensified the Mexico-China dialogue," the cable said. "However, Mexico's trade deficit with China and concerns over China's approach to investment continue to color Mexico's perception of China as a true partner."
AFP / Getty Images
Has Cablegate claimed its first State Department scalp? McClatchy's Warren P. Strobel reports:
In what appears to be the first diplomatic casualty from the latest WikiLeaks revelations, the U.S. ambassador to Libya has returned to Washington and is likely to leave his post, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Ambassador Gene Cretz (above), who had held the post since 2008, signed a handful of cables about the health and personal eccentricities of Muammar al-Gaddafi which were among the first and most high-profile State Department documents published by WikiLeaks. The most notorious among them (which was high-profile enough to make it into a Saturday Night Live skit) noted that Qaddafi "relies heavily" on a Ukrainian nurse, "who has been described as a ‘voluptuous blonde.'"
Strobel reports that even if Cretz's recall was not entirely WikiLeaks related, the scandal apparently had a lot to do with it:
A senior State Department official said that the WikiLeaks revelations were not the only reason for Cretz's return, noting the frustrations of U.S.-Libyan ties.
"It's a complicated relationship, and WikiLeaks just added to that complication," said the official, who requested anonymity because no announcement has been made on Cretz's status.
Cretz was the first U.S. ambassador dispatched to Libya since his predecessor was withdrawn in 1972, three years after Gaddafi took power in a coup. Where Cretz is headed next hasn't been announced.
Cables from the U.S. Embassy in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare account for just 13 of the nearly 2,000 State Department documents that WikiLeaks has posted so far, but President Robert Mugabe's government has gotten a lot of mileage out of them -- in fact, he's probably made more enterprising use of the slow-rolling scandal than any other world leader. When an independent Zimbabwean newspaper reported on a cable alleging that members of Mugabe's circle -- including his wife, Grace Mugabe -- had profited extensively from the country's black -market diamond trade, the first lady sued the paper for $15 million (a move that has prompted reprisals from hackers). When WikiLeaks published a year-old cable detailing a meeting between Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and U.S. officials, Mugabe -- who had grudgingly acceded to a power-sharing arrangement with his old nemesis -- jumped at the opportunity.
Last week, Johannes Tomana, Zimbabwe's attorney general, announced that he would consider charging Tsvangirai with high treason over the contents of the cable, in which Tsvangirai suggests the possibility of working with U.S. and other foreign officials on the international sanctions regime imposed on Mugabe's government -- penalties that Tsvangirai publicly opposed but privately insisted "be kept in place," according to the cable. High treason carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe, and a number of writers -- Christopher Albon in the Atlantic, James Kirchick in the Wall Street Journal, and James Richardson in today's Guardian, among others -- have pre-emptively placed Tsvangirai's blood on Julian Assange's hands. Richardson's piece is a particularly good summary of the events thus far and builds to a withering conclusion:
And so, where Mugabe's strong-arming, torture and assassination attempts have failed to eliminate the leading figure of Zimbabwe's democratic opposition, WikiLeaks may yet succeed. Twenty years of sacrifice and suffering by Tsvangirai all for naught, as WikiLeaks risks "collateral murder" in the name of transparency.
Before more political carnage is wrought and more blood spilled -- in Africa and elsewhere, with special concern for those US-sympathising Afghans fingered in its last war document dump -- WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it -- at least to those who understand the value of a life.
It's certainly true that Assange has been maddeningly unwilling to examine the implications of his actions -- or, alternately, convinced that he can have it both ways, remaking the business of geopolitics while claiming no casualties. But I'm somewhat more persuaded by Albon's measured take from last week. After noting that a Tsvangirai conviction based on the cable alone is unlikely, he writes:
It's difficult to see this as anything but a major setback for democracy in Zimbabwe. Even if Tsvangirai is not charged with treason, the opponents to democratic reforms have won a significant victory. First, popular support for Tsvangirai and the MDC will suffer due to Mugabe's inevitable smear campaign, including the attorney general's "investigation." Second, the Prime Minister might be forced to take positions in opposition to the international community to avoid accusation of being a foreign collaborator. Third, Zimbabwe's fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.
As Robert Rotberg wrote here last week, WikiLeaks may have provided Mugabe with a useful pretext for dispatching Tsvangirai from his government, but it's an open question whether he needed one. In reward for his decade-plus of political efforts, Tsvangirai has been variously arrested, beaten, tortured, thrown from a 10th-floor window, and involved in a suspicious collision with a truck that claimed his wife's life. WikiLeaks is useful to Mugabe, but it's hardly necessary.
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