Commentary

Schakowsky to Clinton: Investigate Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

Nine Congressional Democrats have written to Secretary of State Clinton, urging her to "fully investigate reports of severe human rights abuses in Honduras." The Members of Congress say that the U.S. "must make it clear that the ongoing intimidation and persecution of activists and dissidents is unacceptable." In addition to Rep. Schakowsky, the signers were: McGovern, Grijalva, Farr, Barbara Lee, Oberstar, Honda, Conyers, and Waters. The letter is posted here.

Kucinich Forces Congress to Debate Afghanistan

Today Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich introduced H. Con Res. 248, a privileged resolution with 16 original cosponsors that will require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the war in Afghanistan. Debate on the resolution is expected early next week.

Original cosponsors of the Kucinich resolution include John Conyers, Ron Paul, José Serrano, Bob Filner, Lynn Woolsey, Walter Jones, Danny Davis, Barbara Lee, Michael Capuano, Raúl Grijalva, Tammy Baldwin, Tim Johnson, Yvette Clarke, Eric Massa, Alan Grayson, and Chellie Pingree.

The Pentagon doesn't want Congress to debate Afghanistan. The Pentagon wants Congress to fork over $33 billion more to pay for the current military escalation, no questions asked, no restrictions imposed for a withdrawal timetable or an exit strategy.

Ideally, from the point of view of the Pentagon, Congress would fork over that money right away, before the coming Kandahar offensive that the $33 billion is supposed to pay for, because you can expect a lot of bad news out of Afghanistan in the form of deaths of U.S. soldiers and Afghan civilians once the Kandahar offensive starts, and it would sure be awkward if all that bad news reached Washington while the $33 billion was hanging fire.

Defense Daily: Hill To Weigh War Supplemental Next Month

Hill To Weigh War Supplemental Next Month
Defense Daily, March 2, 2010, Volume 245, No. 39, pg. 2
By Emelie Rutherford
http://www.defensedaily.com/publications/dd/Hill-To-Weigh-War-Supplement... (subscription required)

Congress is expected to start considering in mid-April President Barack Obama’s $33 billion request for supplemental war funding for the current fiscal year, which is expected to be approved without any major skirmishes.

Though Obama pledged to end the Bush administration practice of funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through such emergency appropriations bills, he has requested the $33 billion FY ’10 supplemental to fund a buildup of troops in Afghanistan.

The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) is expected to kick off consideration of the measure with a markup session on or around April 15. That date falls on the week after a two-week congressional recess set to begin on March 27. Until then, the congressional defense committees will continue to be enmeshed in hearings on the Pentagon’s request for a $548.9 billion base budget and $159.3 billion in war funding for FY ’11, which begins Oct. 1.

Senate appropriators are also expected to take up the FY ’10 supplemental soon after the congressional recess.

The $33 billion war-funding proposal is dominated by operations costs and does not include much procurement. Yet it notably seeks $1.1 billion for buying additional Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAP) for Afghanistan; that money combined with $3.4 billion in the Pentagon’s war-funding request for FY ’11 is intended to meet the Pentagon’s requirement for 28,882 trucks in the MRAP family of vehicles, which includes the newer MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV).

Is the UN Violating Haiti's Minimum Wage Law?

Press reports haven't provided enough detail to be certain, but there seems to be some evidence that the United Nations may be violating, if not the letter, then at least the spirit, of Haiti's minimum wage law with its cash-for-work program.

A recent AP report indicates that the minimum wage in Haiti for non-garment sector work is the equivalent of about $5 for an eight hour day. (If you're producing clothes for export to the United States, you can be paid less than the minimum for other workers - about $3.09 for an eight hour day.) Estimating from other press reports, I gather that the minimum wage in Haiti is actually 200 Haitian gourdes for an eight-hour day, or about $4.97.

A UN press release says workers in the UN's cash-for-work program are "receiving the equivalent of just under $5 a day."

But press reports here and here seem to indicate that the actual wage is 180 Haitian gourdes, or about $4.47, for six hours of labor.

If one looks at the UN wage as an hourly wage, then it's 30 Haitian gourdes an hour, or about 75 cents an hour. At that rate, a person working for eight hours would make 240 gourdes, or about $5.96. So, viewed in this hourly way, the UN could argue that it is paying more than the Haitian legal minimum.

But as we all know, food, shelter and clothing for a worker and a worker's family cost the same whether the person is working for 8 hours or 6 hours. There's no reason to believe that workers in the UN program have other wage income - the UN certainly hasn't provided any.

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Rachel Corrie Gets Her Day in Court

On March 10, in the Israeli city of Haifa, American peace activist Rachel Corrie will get her day in court. Rachel's parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, are bringing suit against the Israeli defence ministry for Rachel's killing by an Israeli military bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003.

Four key American and British witnesses who were present at the scene - members of the International Solidarity Movement - will be allowed into Israel to testify, despite having been barred previously by the Israeli authorities from entering the country. This reversal by the Israeli authorities is apparently due to U.S. government pressure, the Guardian reports. (Three cheers for any U.S. officials who contributed to this pressure. What else could you make the Israeli government do?)

A Palestinian doctor from Gaza who treated Corrie after she was injured has not been given permission by the Israeli authorities to leave Gaza to attend. (This would seem to be important testimony concerning the nature of Rachel's injuries - did U.S. officials exert pressure for his appearance?)

This case isn't just about accountability for Rachel's death. It's a test case for the power of the rule of law in Israel, when the rule of law comes into conflict with the policies of military occupation.

Haitian Garment Workers Should Get $5 a Day

Americans want to help Haiti; Democrats control the U.S. Congress; the Haitian Parliament has passed legislation saying Haitian workers should be paid at least $5 a day; and specific legislation that provides preferential access to the U.S. market to garments from Haiti is already U.S. law. Therefore, the following policy reform ought to be a slam dunk: Haitian garment workers whose products receive preferential access to the U.S. market under the HOPE II Act ought to be paid at least $5 a day.

The international community is dusting off a plan to expand Haiti's low-wage garment assembly industry as a linchpin of recovery, AP reports. The Obama Administration is on board, encouraging U.S. retailers to obtain from Haiti at least 1 percent of the clothes they sell. Garments are central an economic growth plan commissioned by the UN and promoted by former President Clinton, the UN's special envoy for Haiti.

In 2008, Congress passed the "HOPE II" Act, which lets Haiti export textiles duty-free to the U.S. for a decade.

Currently, the minimum wage in Haiti for garment workers who produce for the U.S. consumer market is $3.09 a day. Last year the Haitian Parliament passed legislation to raise the minimum wage for all workers from $1.72 a day to $5 a day. But factory owners in the export sector producing for the U.S. consumer market complained to Haitian President Preval, and he refused to implement the law. A compromise was reached: the minimum wage is now $5, except for the garment workers; they get $3.09 a day.

AP gives the example of Jordanie Pinquie Rebeca, a garment worker:

 

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NYT "Mystery" Oped Calls for More Afghan Civilian Deaths

On Thursday the New York Times made an astonishing editorial choice, for which its editors owe the public an explanation: it published an op-ed by an obscure and poorly identified author attacking General Stanley McChrystal for his directive last July that air strikes in Afghanistan be authorized only under "very limited and prescribed conditions." The op-ed denounced an "overemphasis on civilian protection" and charged that "air support to American and Afghan forces has been all but grounded by concerns about civilian casualties."

The author of the op-ed, Lara M. Dadkhah, is identified by the Times merely as "an intelligence analyst." In the body of the op-ed, the author identifies herself as "employed by a defense consulting company," without telling us which company, or what her relationship might be to actors who stand to lose financially if the recognition that killing civilians is bad for the United States were to affect expenditures by the United States military.

As Glenn Greenwald asks in Salon:

 

We've Caught the Taliban Chief! Can We Go Home Now?

How the U.S. handles the Pakistani arrest of the top Afghan Taliban military commander, and the aftermath of the U.S. military assault in Marja, may have a decisive impact on whether we get to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan soon, or in the far-off future. Some analysts - like Gareth Porter - think the key motivation of the present U.S. military escalation is political in the bad sense: in order to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, first the U.S. has to "show that nobody pushes us around," just as President Bush had to escalate militarily in Iraq before he could cut deals with the Sunni Awakening and the Mahdi Army militia. It's a grim world in which the most powerful country kills people to look tough; but right now, the way to minimize human suffering is for the U.S. to take advantage of recent "successes" to take a high road towards going home.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could cut two ways, the New York Times notes. While it's obviously a psychological blow, at the least, against the Afghan Taliban, it could complicate efforts to reach a peace deal:

 

Team America Kills Five Kids in Marja

"Civilian casualties are inevitable," said U.S. officials before launching their weekend military assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, and in this case, they were telling the truth. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, a U.S. rocket strike "hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians... killing at least 10 people, including 5 children."

What justification has been provided by the government of the United States for its decision to kill these five children?

It will be argued that the government of the United States did not decide to kill these five children specifically, and that's absolutely true. The U.S. government did not decide to kill these particular children; it only decided to kill some Afghan civilians, chosen randomly from Marja's civilian population, when it decided to launch its military assault. These five children simply had the misfortune of holding losing tickets in a lottery in which they did not choose to participate.

Recall the U.S. government's instructions to Marja's residents before the assault:

 

Afghan villagers should stay inside and "keep their heads down" when thousands of U.S. Marines launch a massive assault on a densely-populated district in coming days, NATO's civilian representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday.

[...]

NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting.

These five kids were staying inside, as instructed. It didn't save them from U.S. rockets. Perhaps they weren't keeping their heads down.

Afghan Civilians Imperiled by US/NATO Assault in Marjah

The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah district in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah, in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?

Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports. "If [NATO forces] don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Under the laws of war, the US and NATO - who have told civilians not to flee - bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch notes. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility."