George W Bush cannot hide his crimes behind paintings


The former US president’s book of paintings depicting US soldiers is nothing more than an image reconstruction project.

In Portraits of Courage, there is no mention of the millions of people whose lives have been laid to waste by America's imperial wars, writes Jayawardane [Damian Dovarganes/AP]
In Portraits of Courage, there is no mention of the millions of people whose lives have been laid to waste by America’s imperial wars, writes Jayawardane [Damian Dovarganes/AP]



M Neelika Jayawardane is an Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego.

George W Bush, the former US president, is promoting a book of paintings, entitled Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors, depicting American soldiers – veterans from the ongoing “war on terror”.

The George W Bush Presidential Center tells us that the book “brings together sixty-six full-color portraits and a four-panel mural painted by President Bush of members of the United States military who have served our Nation with honour since 9/11 – and whom he has come to know personally”. The hardcover edition costs an affordable $35; the deluxe, signed and personalised edition sets you back $350, with proceeds from sales going to a non-profit organisation that helps veterans.

Bush’s latest efforts received a largely positive review from Mimi Swartz in the New York Times. The title of her article, Art of Redemption, hints – in its use of the word “redemption” – that having sinned and fallen from grace, “W” is trying to regain possession of his soul and his humanity through his paintings.

Bush, who is famously a “Born-Again Christian”, does not need to make these paintings in order to seek absolution from his God. However, he clearly feels the need to do something to gain favour from his earthly critics.

Admittedly, Bush’s portraits depict thoughtful engagements with his subjects – their contemplative expressions sometimes hinting that they have turned inward, sitting before the man who sent them to war. However, these paintings – with each painful stroke attempting to honourably depict individual American “warriors” – are also about recapturing Bush’s legitimacy as the former Commander in Chief of US Armed Forces.

‘Shock and awe’

Swartz, in her New York Times article, notes that audiences and art critics were in “shock and awe” at Bush’s growth as a painter – tastelessly referencing the name that US military gave the 2003 bombings of Baghdad using Tomahawk cruise missiles, killing more than 6,700 civilians during the initial phase of the invasion. But even she admits that these wars are “otherwise known as Mr Bush’s disastrous venture in the Middle East”.

The number of US military casualties from Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, as confirmed by the US Central Command, is now at 6,877, according to Military Times. In March 2013, Veterans Affairs – the body responsible for providing vital services to US veterans – stopped releasing statistics on non-fatal war casualties to the public, claiming unspecified “security” reasons; what is known is that 900,000 service personnel were treated by December 2012 after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And while the budget allocated for Veterans Affairs in 2014 was an astonishing $152.7bn ($182.3bn for 2017), it was estimated that 40 veterans died while waiting for healthcare. The scandal exposed systemic incompetence, mismanagement and corruption.

An image redemption tour

Given these statistics, it is troubling that the man who sent millions of US troops to a battlefront is now attempting to re-introduce himself as a person who cares deeply for their wellbeing.

Perhaps, Bush wishes to create a space for military veterans in the American public’s minds through his paintings.

Perhaps he wants to create understanding, and to elevate these men and women’s struggles.

Perhaps he paints veterans in order to learn what it might mean to inhabit their damaged bodies and troubled psyches.

But this exercise seems so little, so late.

Bush’s decision to go to war caused chaos and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in other countries surrounding the two, writes Jayawardane [AP]

Bush didn’t pay any attention back in May 2003  when he strutted on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to the roar of cheering military personnel, with a now infamous banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished” in the background, to the fact that the people he was sending to war were not “liberating” anyone.

He also didn’t pay any attention to the fact that the US military was ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable push-back from insurgents and their homemade IEDs, hell-bent on ridding themselves of an invading army that has destroyed their cities and engaged in well-documented human rights violations, murder-for-entertainment, and sexual violence.

Bush’s decision to go to war caused chaos and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other countries surrounding the two. A Physicians for Social Responsibility report estimated, in 2015, that at least 1.3 million – possibly more than 2 million – people have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan from both direct and indirect consequences of the US “war on terror”. Three million Iraqis have been displaced, and 2.5 million Afghan refugees are living precariously in Pakistan alone.

Rather than pulling out our pocketbooks, we should be taking off our shoes, and lobbing them at Bush for his naked attempts to elide his responsibility for the enormity of suffering he created for those in ‘other’ lands he had no trouble ravaging, as well as for his own countrymen and women.

In Portraits of Courage, there is no mention of these millions of people whose lives have been laid to waste by America’s imperial wars.Their existence – and the worlds they inhabited – are erased from Bush’s image-redemption tour.

In this project, Bush puts himself to the foreground and damningly instrumentalises American soldiers as image-rehabilitation tools. He uses their painful experiences – through code-words such as “courage”, “patriotism” and “sacrifice” – to avoid answering difficult questions about the millions killed in the arenas of war. Their erasure is justified by using potent references to “threats to freedom” and “terrorists”.

An attempt to elide responsibility

Back in 2013, some of Bush’s early paintings went viral after a hacker accessed Bush’s sister’s email account. These paintings appeared to be self-portraits. In one, Bush contemplates his own pale feet, peeking up from above a bathtub; the tap is still running at full speed, filling the tub to the brim. In another, he stands to the right side of a running shower, with his back to the audience, facing the wall. In an odd play in perspective, a blurry reflection of his visage can be seen on a small, round shaving mirror hung to his left. The reflection stares back at us, while the stream of water runs on wastefully.

It may be true that Bush has – since completing his own two tours of duty as President of the United States – spent many hours in bathtubs and showers, contemplating the ways in which resources of his country went down the drain as he attempted to fashion himself as a decisive leader.

It may be true that Bush cares for the men and women who served on the front lines of the so-called global “war on terror”. It may even be true that he regrets sending these military personnel to a battlefront with little cause: no evidence that Iraq held weapons of mass destruction has ever been found.

Yet, he has done little to call attention to the veterans’ services that have failed them, leaving PTSD-affected soldiers untreated, and their healthcare in shambles. He also did little to help people who are still trying to survive the aftermath of America’s imperial wars.

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The nostalgia that is so desperately being mined at this juncture in American history says more about a desire to return to a folksy, “aww shucks!” cowboy innocence and naivete – a mentality that does not require citizens or leaders of this powerful Empire to think about the consequences of their actions.

Rather than pulling out our pocketbooks, we should be taking off our shoes, and lobbing them at Bush for his naked attempts to elide his responsibility for the enormity of suffering he created for those in “other” lands he had no trouble ravaging, as well as for his own countrymen and women.

M Neelika Jayawardane is Associate Professor of English at the State University of New York-Oswego, and an Honorary Research Associate at the Centre for Indian Studies in Africa (CISA), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). She is a founding member of the online magazine, Africa is a Country, where she was senior editor and contributor from 2010 to 2016. Among numerous published texts, Jayawardane recently contributed the main essay for the South Africa pavilion’s 57th Venice Biennale catalogue, and essays for The Walther Collection’s publication (2017) and other artists’ catalogues. Her writing is featured in Transitions, Aperture, Contemporary&, Art South Africa, Contemporary Practices: Visual Art from the Middle East, Even, and Research in African Literatures. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy. 

Hacked files suggest NSA monitored Middle East banks

Files released by ‘Shadow Brokers’ also suggest the NSA exploited weaknesses in Microsoft Windows products.

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No one has yet discovered the identity of Shadow Brokers [Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images]

Files released by the mysterious hacker “Shadow Brokers” on Friday suggested the US National Security Agency (NSA) had penetrated the SWIFT banking network and monitored a number of Middle East banks.

The files, according to computer security analysts, also showed the NSA had found and exploited numerous vulnerabilities in a range of Microsoft Windows products widely used on computers around the world.

Analysts generally accepted the leaked files came from the NSA.

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“The tools and exploits released today have been specifically designed to target earlier versions of Windows operating system,” said security specialist Pierluigi Paganini on the Security Affairs website.

They “suggest the NSA was targeting the SWIFT banking system of several banks around the world”.

The SWIFT system is used by banks to transfer trillions of dollars each day.

The files appear to indicate that the NSA had infiltrated two of SWIFT’s service bureaus, including EastNets, which provides technology services in the Middle East for the Belgium-based SWIFT and for individual financial institutions.

Via that entry point the agency appears to have monitored transactions involving several banks and financial institutions in Kuwait, Dubai, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen and Qatar.

SWIFT said in a statement that the allegations involve only its service bureaus and not its own network.

“There is no impact on SWIFT’s infrastructure or data, however we understand that communications between these service bureaus and their customers may previously have been accessed by unauthorised third parties.”

“We have no evidence to suggest that there has ever been any unauthorised access to our network or messaging services.”

In a statement on its website EastNets rejected the allegations.

“The reports of an alleged hacker-compromised EastNets Service Bureau network is totally false and unfounded,” it said.

“We can confirm that no EastNets customer data has been compromised in any way.”

Analysts say many of the exploits revealed appear to be three years old or more, but have some unknown vulnerabilities that could still be used by other hackers.

“Eastnets’ claim is impossible to believe,” said Kevin Beaumont, who was one of several experts who spent Friday combing through the documents and trying out the code.

He told the Associated Press news agency that he had found password dumps, an Excel spreadsheet outlining the internal architecture of the company’s server, and one file that was “just a massive log of hacking on their organisation”.

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Beaumont said there was bad news in the release for Microsoft as well. He said the malicious code published on Friday appeared to exploit previously undiscovered weaknesses in older versions of its Windows operating system – the mark of a sophisticated actor and a potential worry for many of Windows’ hundreds of millions of users.

The opinion was seconded by Matthew Hickey of UK-based cybersecurity company Hacker House.

“It’s an absolute disaster,” Hickey said in an email to AP. “I have been able to hack pretty much every Windows version here in my lab using this leak.”

Microsoft said in a statement that it is reviewing the leak and “will take the necessary actions to protect our customers”. It declined to elaborate.

The NSA has previously shown interest in targeting SWIFT, according to documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

No one has yet discovered the identity of Shadow Brokers, or of the hackers that gained access to the NSA materials.

Shadow Brokers first surfaced last year offering for sale a suite of hacking tools from the NSA. There were no takers at the price – stated of tens of millions of dollars – and since then the hacker or hackers have leaked bits of the trove for free.

Source: News agencies

Pharmaceutical giant planned to destroy stocks of cancer drugs to force price hike – report

One of the world’s leading drug companies considered destroying its stockpiles of life-saving cancer medicines and allegedly created artificial shortages in its attempts to profit from price hikes, the Times reports.

The South African Aspen Pharmacare drug company nurtured a plan of destroying its own cancer medicine supplies during its row with the Spanish health service in 2014. It sought to push a price increase for its products amounting to 4,000 percent, the Times reports, citing the company’s internal emails it obtained.

A cache of documents seen by the newspaper allegedly shows that Aspen took an “aggressive” approach in negotiations with Spanish authorities and stopped direct supplies of five cancer drugs from May 2014, forcing patients to buy other foreign packs of medicines at much higher prices.

At the same time, the company still had drugs in store for Spain. In October 2014, one of the employees at Aspen’s European headquarters in Dublin asked superiors what should be done with these stocks and the company’s senior executive allegedly replied that “the only options will be to donate or destroy this stock” unless the Spanish health ministry did not agree to the price hike, according to the Times.

However, it was not an isolated example of such “aggressive” policy as Aspen also actively tried to impose higher prices on its cancer drugs throughout Europe. The documents cited by the Times reportedly show that Aspen began to target increases in the prices health authorities in European countries paid for the drugs since 2012.

In October 2013, the company was engaged in a bitter row with Italy and threatened to stop supplying the medicines if the health authorities did not accept a price hike accounting for up to 2,100 percent within three months.

The company also reportedly orchestrated artificial drug shortages during the dispute with Italian authorities to exert additional pressure, the Italian competition watchdog (AGCM) alleged, as reported by the Times.

Some other European countries, including Germany, Greece and Belgium, also faced similar shortages of the same cancer drugs produced by Aspen around the same time.

Other emails seen by the Times show that company staff discussed possibilities of making more money by selling cancer medicines meant for Italy to Spain – even though they were aware that such a move would lead to running out of supplies of life-saving drugs in Italy.

The inflated price drive began after Aspen bought the marketing rights to the so-called “Cosmos” portfolio of oncology medicines from the British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 2009 as part of a £273 million ($342 million) deal.

The portfolio included such drugs as mercaptopurine, a treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia which occurs in children; busulfan, also used by leukaemia patients; and chlorambucil, used to treat blood cancer, along with other medicines often used by elderly patients suffering from cancer.

In the UK, the company also significantly increased the price on these drugs. The cost of busulfan rose from £5.20 ($ 6.5) to £65.22 ($ 81.7) for a pack during 2013 while the cost of chlorambucil rose from £8.36 ($ 10.47) to £40.51 ($ 50.74) a pack over the same year, the Times reports.

Currently, a legal loophole allows companies to impose higher prices on medicines in the UK as long as an existing brand name of a drug is dropped. However, the government introduced new legislation last year that would allow it to impose lower drug prices in case it rules that the cost of a medicine is “excessive.”

In response to the Times report, Aspen Pharma issued a statement refusing to “comment on these public allegations.”

“The content of the reports concern matters that are sub-judice,” the company said. “Out of respect for the integrity of ongoing legal processes with regulators as well as the court, in Italy and Spain, Aspen will not comment on these public allegations. Instead, Aspen looks forward to the opportunity to demonstrate the integrity and legality of its practices in the context of these legal processes.”

In the meantime, Dennis Dencher, the chief executive of Aspen Pharma Europe, told the Times that all price hikes were “at levels appropriate to promote long-term sustainable supply to patients,” adding that the company had to increase the costs of the drugs that had “a very low and unsustainable base.”

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