JFP 1/10: NYT Public Editor says NYT should correct account of IAEA report
Just Foreign Policy News, January 10, 2012
NYT Public Editor says NYT should correct account of IAEA report
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NYT Public Editor says NYT should correct account of IAEA report
On the fundamental issues in dispute - the NYT's characterization of the IAEA report was wrong and the NYT should make a clear correction - Arthur Brisbane comes down on the side of the complainants:
In other words, the IAEA moved much closer with this report toward stating absolutely that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb. Yet the fact that the agency has stopped short of such a finding remains significant. Readers complaining about the Jan. 5 article believe The Times should avoid closing the gap with a shorthand phrase that says the IAEA thinks Iran's program "has a military objective."
I think the readers are correct on this. The Times hasn't corrected the story but it should because this is a case of when a shorthand phrase doesn't do justice to a nuanced set of facts. In this case, the distinction between the two is important because the Iranian program has emerged as a possible casus belli.
- Times errors: Iran's nukes, SF's voting
Thanks to everyone who complained to the New York Times!
WaPo: Sneaky Persians Menace Pentagon's Noble Aim to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Forever
In a front page exposé, the Washington Post "revealed" that sneaky Persian agitators are conspiring to thwart the Pentagon's noble aim of keeping 10,000-30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan on "non-permanent," "non-U.S." bases after "all foreign troops are supposed to be withdrawn" in 2014, just as these sneaky Persians conspired to thwart the Pentagon's noble aim of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.
Glenn Greenwald: The evil of indefinite detention and those wanting to de-prioritize it
This Wednesday will mark the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo prison camp.
March 2-6: Occupy AIPAC
"Plans for 'Occupy AIPAC' are under way and we hope you will join us March 2-6 in Washington DC."
Ezra Klein: Can we cut the military budget without harming innovation?
Klein responds to NYT article suggesting military cuts could hurt investment in R&D. [Addendum to Klein: a key reason military R&D accounts for 55% of federal R&D spending is that military spending is the majority of federal discretionary spending. It is likely that the military's spending on toilet paper represents the majority of federal spending on toilet paper. - JFP.]
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1) Defense Secretary Panetta says Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb, AP reports. As he has previously, Panetta cautioned against a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the region. Panetta's remarks on CBS' Face the Nation reflect the long-held view of the Obama administration that Iran is not yet committed to building a nuclear arsenal, only to creating the industrial and scientific capacity to allow one if its leaders to decide to take that final step, AP says.
2) The case against five UN peacekeepers caught on tape in an alleged sexual assault on a Haitian teenager has apparently stalled and the accused soldiers have been freed, ABC News reports. A UN spokeswoman said the release of the soldiers did not mean that they would not stand trial. But critics of the UN's handling of such cases noted that past abuses by UN troops in Haiti did not lead to prosecutions.
3) Critics of a possible Administration transfer of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo to promote peace talks are discussing tactics to block it, Reuters reports. Some members of Congress have already sent classified letters challenging the administration's tentative release plan. One Democratic congressional staff member said the administration signaled last year it would not go ahead with the transfer if it generated significant opposition in Congress. Democrats are more likely to support President Obama's peace bid, Reuters says.
4) Iran's top nuclear official announced this weekend that the country was on the verge of starting production at its second major uranium enrichment site, David Sanger reports in the New York Times. The new facility is buried deep underground on a well-defended military site and is considered far more resistant to airstrikes than the existing enrichment site at Natanz, a distressing prospect for Israeli officials, Sanger says. [Sanger rewrites history in the piece by claiming that the US originally "disclosed" the existence of the facility, when in fact it was "disclosed" by Iranian officials. See Gareth Porter, "U.S. Story on Iran Nuke Facility Doesn't Add Up," http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48649. To ask the New York Times for a correction: firstname.lastname@example.org; to complain to the Public Editor, email@example.com - JFP]
5) The Administration's stated goal in pursuing new sanctions against Iran is to bring Iran to the table to negotiate a deal that would end international concerns over its nuclear program, writes Tony Karon in Time Magazine. But many analysts familiar with the thinking of Iran's leadership warn that the pressure tactics being adopted by the Obama administration are incompatible with the objective of persuading Iran to refrain from building nuclear weapons, and may represent a raising of the ante which, if it doesn't persuade Iran to fold, could press the Iranian regime towards making the fateful nuclear decision. "The United States cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy," warned former Bush Administration State Department policy adviser Suzanne Maloney.
6) Treasury Secretary Geithner, is expected to press China's leaders to reduce the country's oil imports from Iran, the Washington Post reports. But Geithner is likely to find Beijing resistant. Cui Tiankai, the vice foreign minister responsible for U.S. relations, said that China supports global nonproliferation efforts but that trade is separate from the Iranian nuclear issue.
Cui noted that some have argued that any normal business dealings with Iran provided financial support for its nuclear program, but he said, "According to this logic, if the Iranians have enough money to feed their population, then they have the ability to develop nuclear programs," Cui told reporters. "If that is the case, should we also deny Iran the opportunity to feed its population?"
7) Israeli prosecutors charged five radical Jewish settlers with organizing a raid on an Israeli Army base in the West Bank last month, the New York Times reports. The indictment was the first sign of a promised crackdown on settlers whose increasingly provocative actions have been described by some Israeli officials as homegrown terrorism.
8) An Afghan investigative commission accused the US military of abusing detainees at its main prison in the country, saying anyone held without evidence should be freed and backing President Karzai's demand that the U.S. turn over all prisoners to Afghan custody, AP reports. The controversy mirrors that surrounding the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo, AP notes. There, as at the prison in Afghanistan, US forces are holding many detainees without charging them with a specific crime or presenting evidence in a civilian court.
9) Winter hardship for poor Afghans has sharply increased due to the number of people displaced by the US war, Laura King reports in the Los Angeles Times.
10) An American human rights activist, who intended to observe a protest-related trial in Bahrain, was denied entry into Bahrain despite authorities' pledge of transparency, AP reports. Richard Sollom of Physicians for Human Rights told AP Bahraini authorities gave no reason for their refusal to allow him into the country. "I am quite stunned. This was the first time a member of an international rights organization came to Bahrain after authorities promised to respect human rights and told us we can come and see for ourselves," Sollom said. "We can see now that not much has changed."
1) US: Iran has not yet decided to build nuclear bomb
Douglas Birch, AP, Sun, Jan 8, 2012
Washington - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Iran is laying the groundwork for making nuclear weapons someday, but is not yet building a bomb and called for continued diplomatic and economic pressure to persuade Tehran not to take that step.
As he has previously, Panetta cautioned against a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran's nuclear facilities, saying the action could trigger Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces in the region.
Panetta's remarks on CBS' Face the Nation, which were taped Friday and aired Sunday, reflect the long-held view of the Obama administration that Iran is not yet committed to building a nuclear arsenal, only to creating the industrial and scientific capacity to allow one if its leaders to decide to take that final step.
The comments suggest the White House's assessment of Iran's nuclear strategy has not changed in recent months, despite warnings from advocates of military action that time is running out to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.
In a talk at a Brookings Institution forum in December, Panetta said an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would "at best" delay Iran's nuclear program by one or two years. Among the unintended consequences, he said, would be an increase in international support for Iran and the likelihood of Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces and bases in the Mideast.
2) Haiti Outrage: UN Soldiers from Sex Assault Video Freed
Matthew Mosk, Brian Ross and Ansel Herz, ABC News, Jan. 9, 2012
The case against five United Nations peacekeepers caught on tape in an alleged sexual assault on a Haitian teenager has apparently stalled and the accused soldiers have been freed, a UN official has confirmed.
The men were sent back to Uruguay last summer to face trial after cell phone video obtained by ABC News appeared to show uniformed soldiers assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian as he is held down on a mattress in a UN compound in Port Salut, Haiti. The video shows soldiers in their UN uniforms, one of them with his pants down. The victim's mother said her son was taken inside the base by five UN soldiers who accused him of making fun of them.
"They beat and maltreated him," Rose-Marie Jean told ABC News in an interview. "Two raped him from behind."
The release of the accused men comes at an unsettling time for the UN in Haiti, two years after a devastating earthquake rocked the struggling island nation, and three months after the grainy video of the alleged assault triggered street protests from those who believe international peacekeepers are able to abuse Haitian citizens with impunity. Since the video surfaced, more UN peacekeepers -- this time from Brazil -- have been accused of beating Haitian civilians.
But word that the men alleged to be involved in the videotaped incident were freed poses new problems for senior United Nations officials, who told ABC News they shared the outrage over what they saw on the tape, and would stand behind the UN's pledge to end abuses by anyone in the blue-helmeted UN forces.
"The secretary general of the United Nations has a zero tolerance policy for any kind of misbehavior by soldiers," Assistant Secretary General Anthony Banbury told ABC News at the time.
Asked last week about the latest developments, UN spokeswoman Anayansi Lopez said the men were released from jail while investigators try to locate the 18-year-old Haitian victim and obtain his testimony -- something the Uruguayans said they had been unable to do. Once that occurs, she said, the men will be brought back for trial.
"The recent release of the soldiers, pending completion of the civilian trial, will not circumvent the possibility that the soldiers be re-imprisoned, should they be found guilty and sentenced accordingly," Lopez said.
Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, has been following the case closely, and told ABC News he was disappointed to learn the accused soldiers have been set free.
"These horrifying assaults make a mockery of the UN's supposed 'zero tolerance' policy for abuse," Weisbrot said. "The UN should take such allegations very seriously when they are made, investigate, and do their part to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice."
The incident with the Uruguayan troops was one in what has become a series of alleged abuses by UN peacekeepers in Haiti. In 2007, more than 100 troops from Sri Lanka were sent home after widespread accusations they had recruited young girls for sex. "They took them out of the country, but as far as we can tell they were never prosecuted," said Weisbrot.
Under UN rules, peacekeeping troops can only be prosecuted in their home countries. The UN itself has no authority to prosecute them. "It makes them feel like they can get away with anything," said Weisbrot.
3) Lawmakers may seek to block Taliban transfer
Mark Hosenball and Missy Ryan, Reuters, Fri, Jan 6 2012
Washington - Critics of a possible transfer of Taliban prisoners are discussing tactics to block it, even before the Obama administration appears to have made a final decision on the most politically contentious element of its bid to broker an Afghan peace deal.
Administration officials have, under strict conditions of secrecy, briefed senior lawmakers dealing with military, foreign policy and intelligence issues about the proposal that would move five senior Taliban detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba to Afghan custody.
But the White House has not yet initiated a formal, 30-day congressional notification process required by a new U.S. law, officials on Capitol Hill said.
Doing so would put the United States closer to implementing a set of confidence-building measures the Obama administration hopes will pave the way for an eventual deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Some members of Congress have already sent classified letters challenging the administration's tentative release plan. Congressional sources said moves to stymie a prisoner transfer could include attachment of blocking amendments to unrelated legislation.
"It's hard to envision that if they transfer really dangerous guys to a really dangerous place, there won't be a fight," a congressional staff member familiar with detainee policy said on condition of anonymity.
While the mechanics of a prisoner transfer remain unclear, it would mark a significant step forward in U.S. efforts to bring a decade of bloodshed in Afghanistan to an end. The efforts got a boost this week with news the Afghan Taliban had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political office in the Gulf nation of Qatar.
By law, the administration must notify congressional intelligence committees which detainees it intends to transfer and specify where a detainee is being sent and if the United States paid the receiving country money as part of the deal.
The administration must also certify to several committees that the Defense and State Departments and director of national intelligence assess that the countries accepting detainees meet certain requirements. Those include not being a state sponsor of terrorism and ensuring former detainees will not pose threats to the United States.
The administration can waive some of the certification requirements, including a guarantee the prisoner will not re-engage in terrorism, on national security grounds.
Democrats are more likely to support President Barack Obama's peace bid. The White House's desire to draw down U.S. forces in Afghanistan is fueled partly by fiscal pressures and a widespread belief the war cannot be won on the battlefield alone.
A senior congressional defense aide said reaction to any Taliban release plan depended on who would get custody, at least initially, of the Taliban detainees and where.
"There are people up here who are going to criticize no matter what. There will be a lot of people who will say, 'I'm against this - this is only going to embolden the Taliban,'" the aide said.
Yet Congress ultimately has little power to delay or stop planned detainee releases, other than its ability to pass new legislation, which would have to be approved by both chambers and signed by the president.
Still, Obama might be risk-averse as he heads toward the November election. One Democratic congressional staff member, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration signaled last year it would not go ahead with the transfer if it generated significant opposition in Congress.
4) Iran Trumpets Nuclear Ability At A Second Location
David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 8, 2012
Cairo - Iran's top nuclear official announced this weekend that the country was on the verge of starting production at its second major uranium enrichment site, in a defiant declaration that its nuclear program would continue despite new international sanctions restricting its oil revenue.
The announcement, made through official news media reports, came after a week of escalating confrontations between Washington and Tehran, including a threat that Iran would respond with military force if the United States tried to send an aircraft carrier strike group back into the Strait of Hormuz.
The imminent opening of the enrichment site - the Fordo plant, near the city of Qum - confronts the United States and its allies with difficult choices about how far to go to limit Iran's nuclear abilities. The new facility is buried deep underground on a well-defended military site and is considered far more resistant to airstrikes than the existing enrichment site at Natanz, limiting what Israeli officials, in particular, consider an important deterrent to Iran's nuclear aims.
When the existence of the Qum facility was first disclosed by President Obama and his counterparts in France and Britain in the fall of 2009, American officials expressed doubts that Iran would ever go forward with the facility. But once it goes into operation, the chances of disabling it, in the words of one former top Israeli official, "diminish very dramatically."
[The New York Times is rewriting history here. The US, Britain and France did not "disclose" the facility; the Iranians disclosed it. See Gareth Porter, "U.S. Story on Iran Nuke Facility Doesn't Add Up," http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48649. To ask the New York Times for a correction: firstname.lastname@example.org; to complain to the Public Editor, email@example.com - JFP]
[Note further what is the evident source of horror: Iran is enriching uranium in a facility that would be difficult for the U.S. or Israel to bomb. According to David Sanger and the New York Times, this outrageous activity constitutes a major Iranian escalation - JFP]
5) Why New Sanctions Raise Danger of Iran Building Nuclear Weapons
Tony Karon, Time Magazine, January 9, 2012
The White House believes the latest round of saber rattling from Iran is a sign that sanctions are beginning to bite. Perhaps. But as the U.S. and its European partners move to throttle Iran's economy by cutting off its ability to export oil, it requires a stretch of the imagination to posit that Tehran's response will be the one desired by Washington.
The Administration's stated goal is to bring Iran to the table to negotiate a deal that would end international concerns over a nuclear program that has given Iran the means to build nuclear weapons-even though, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta emphasized in a TV interview on Sunday, U.S. and allied officials believe Tehran has not yet decided to build the bomb. Panetta allowed that the U.S. might launch a military strike if Iran tried to build nuclear weapons. "But the responsible thing to do right now," he continued, "is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them to force them to do the right thing. And to make sure that they do not make the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon."
But many analysts familiar with the thinking of Iran's leadership warn that the pressure tactics being adopted by the Obama administration are incompatible with the objective of persuading Iran to refrain from building nuclear weapons, and may represent a raising of the ante which, if it doesn't persuade Tehran to fold, could press the Iranian regime towards making the fateful nuclear decision.
"The United States cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy," warned former Bush Administration State Department policy adviser Suzanne Maloney, writing in Foreign Affairs. She continued:
"As severe sanctions devastate Iran's economy, Tehran will surely be encouraged to double down on its quest for the ultimate deterrent [nuclear weapons]… Given the ayatollahs' innate mistrust of the West, they cannot be nudged into a constructive negotiating process by measures that exacerbate their vulnerability. American policy is now effectively predicated on achieving political change in Tehran. Such an outcome will likely prove even more elusive than productive talks with the revolutionary regime."
Regardless of the Administration's intent, the new measures, which are explicitly designed to throttle the Iranian economy, are being read in Tehran as further evidence that Washington's goal is to force regime-change. That's hardly likely to convince Iran's leaders that they don't need nuclear weapons; on the contrary, Iran appears to be bracing itself for war.
"My sources inside the country say the circle of regime insiders around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei truly believes an attack is inevitable, perhaps even before the U.S. presidential election," says Century Foundation analyst Genevieve Abdo.
6) Beijing rejects sanctions on Iranian oil, Washington Post, January 9, 2012
Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, January 9
Beijing - Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, visiting Beijing this week, is expected to press China's leaders to reduce the country's oil imports from Iran. But Geithner is likely to find Beijing resistant to putting financial pressure on the government in Tehran.
In a briefing for reporters Monday, Cui Tiankai, the vice foreign minister responsible for U.S. relations, said that China supports global nonproliferation efforts but that trade is separate from the Iranian nuclear issue.
"The normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue," Cui said. "We should not mix issues of different natures, and China's legitimate concerns and demands should be respected."
Cui noted that some have argued that any normal business dealings with Iran provided financial support for its nuclear program, but he said, "This argument does not hold water."
"According to this logic, if the Iranians have enough money to feed their population, then they have the ability to develop nuclear programs," Cui told reporters. "If that is the case, should we also deny Iran the opportunity to feed its population?"
China also took issue Monday with the Obama administration's new military strategy, unveiled last week at the Pentagon, which shifts the focus of the U.S. armed forces to the Asia-Pacific region, to counter China's rising influence in the region.
"Although different presidents have been in office, the China policy of the administrations has been fairly consistent," Cui said. "I see no reason we should disrupt or stop this trend."
Cui said that despite a few "hot-spot issues," the Asia-Pacific region was, on the whole, "stable and peaceful," and that Asian countries wanted to concentrate on their economic development. "I don't think military alliances is what they need most."
"The U.S. has the strongest military in the world and spends more than any other country," Cui said. "But the U.S. always feels unsafe or insecure about other countries." He added, "I suggest the United States spend more time thinking about how to make other countries feel less worried about the United States."
7) Israel Charges 5 Settlers in West Bank Army Base Clash
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, January 8, 2012
Jerusalem - Israeli prosecutors on Sunday charged five radical Jewish settlers with tracking troop movements in the West Bank and organizing a raid on an Israeli Army base there last month.
The indictment was the first sign of a promised crackdown on settlers whose increasingly provocative actions have been described by some Israeli officials as homegrown terrorism.
In recent years, small groups of radical settlers have pursued a policy known as "price tag," attacking Palestinian civilians and vandalizing property as well as distracting Israeli security forces and damaging military equipment. The point is to either thwart or retaliate for any attempt by the Israeli Army or the police to dismantle property in illegally built outposts scheduled to be removed by the government.
Israeli leaders have expressed growing alarm at the actions by the settlers, including arson attacks against several mosques. But the December attack on the army base shocked much of country and drew a strong condemnation from leaders of the settler establishment, not least because the Israeli Army is responsible for protecting the settlements in the West Bank.
According to the indictment, the military was planning to dismantle an illegal outpost in the northern West Bank called Mitzpe Yitzhar on the night of Dec. 12. But the prosecutors said that the evacuation was thwarted by the five suspects who organized the raid on the army base, during which dozens of settlers broke in, rioted, blocked the entrance with rocks and burning tires, and damaged military vehicles.
A deputy brigade commander was injured when he was struck on the forehead. The same night, extremists stopped a car driven by a local Israeli commander and threw a brick at him. The forces that had been deployed to dismantle the outpost ended up being diverted to handle the disturbances.
Two nights later, Israeli forces removed two structures at the outpost. The following morning, a mosque in a village outside the West Bank city of Ramallah was defaced and set on fire. Hebrew graffiti said "war," "price tag" and "regards from Mitzpe Yitzhar."
The violence prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to announce new measures to curb the radicals.
He said that Israeli extremists would be treated the same way that suspected Palestinian militants were: detained for long periods without charge and tried in military courts.
But it was the civil Jerusalem District Court that indicted the five on Sunday. The indictment said that all were residents of Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the West Bank.
They were charged with, among other things, operating a hot line to collect reports on troop and police movements in the West Bank, distributing the information and calling on supporters to be at specific locations to thwart attempts by Israeli forces to evacuate outposts.
One of the five, Akiva HaCohen, has long been considered an architect of the "price tag" doctrine. He and three others among the five have been served administrative orders in the past barring them from the West Bank for certain periods.
8) Afghan commission alleges US detainee abuse
Kay Johnson and Rahim Faiez, AP, Sat, Jan 7, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - An Afghan investigative commission accused the American military Saturday of abusing detainees at its main prison in the country, saying anyone held without evidence should be freed and backing President Hamid Karzai's demand that the U.S. turn over all prisoners to Afghan custody.
The demands put the U.S. and the Afghan governments on a collision course as negotiations continue for a Strategic Partnership Document with America that will determine the U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014, when most foreign troops are due to withdraw. By pushing the detainees issue now, Karzai may be seeking to bolster his hand in the negotiations.
At the center of the dispute are hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida operators captured by American forces. The controversy mirrors that surrounding the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. There, as at the prison in Afghanistan, American forces are holding many detainees without charging them with a specific crime or presenting evidence in a civilian court.
Members of the Afghan investigation said U.S. officials told them that many of those militant suspects held at the U.S.-run portion of the prison outside Bagram Air Base north of Kabul were taken based on intelligence that cannot be used in Afghan courts.
Detainees interviewed during two visits by the investigators complained of freezing cold, humiliating strip searches and being deprived of light, according to Gul Rahman Qazi, who led the investigation ordered by Karzai.
Another investigator, Sayed Noorullah, said the prison must be transferred to Afghan control "as soon as possible," adding that "If there is no evidence ... they have the right to be freed."
Karzai on Thursday abruptly demanded that the U.S. military turn over full control of the prison, officially known as the Parwan Detention Center but generally referred to as the Bagram prison, within a month. A spokesman for the president said Saturday that he made the announcement in response to the investigation team's report.
In the ongoing negotiations over the Strategic Partnership, Karzai has demanded an end to night raids by international troops and complete Afghan control over detainees.
Karzai is walking a fine line in the brinkmanship over the negotiations. He needs America's military and financial strength to back his weak government as it battles the Taliban insurgency. At the same time, he is under pressure from the public, where there is widespread resentment of U.S. methods in the fight against the Taliban - and Karzai has in the past sought to demonstrate his independence from the Americans with anti-U.S. rhetoric.
9) Afghanistan's poor face difficult decisions amid winter cold
Seasonal hardship is nothing new for Afghans, but a combination of factors is making this winter harder to bear as the number of displaced soars in Kabul.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - In the gray light of each cold dawn, the parents of 10-month-old Shoaib hold their own breath as they listen for the rasp of his, waiting to see whether their coughing, feverish little boy has survived another night.
Winter's chill has settled over the Afghan capital, and with it, privation is sharpening, especially among the city's poor. Nighttime temperatures regularly fall into the teens, or even lower. The season's first snow is on the ground, the open sewage ditches are crusted over with ice, and in shantytowns such as the one where Shoaib's family lives, survival turns on a series of cruelly simple calculations.
"If I buy food, I can't afford to buy firewood. And if I buy firewood, I can't buy food," said Shoaib's father, Faida Mohammed, a 40-year-old laborer who lives with his family of 12 in a two-room lean-to alongside one of Kabul's busier traffic circles. "If we eat lunch, we won't have dinner. If we eat dinner, there's nothing for breakfast in the morning. All the time, you have to choose."
Seasonal hardship is nothing new for Afghans, but a combination of factors is making this winter harder than usual to bear. The number of refugees from other parts of the country, known as internally displaced people, has ballooned to an estimated half a million. Many end up in the capital after fleeing fighting elsewhere, and make their homes in slum encampments that authorities euphemistically call "settlements."
Parwan Du, where Shoaib's family lives, began as a few tents on an open lot, some using crumbling mud-brick walls as supports for flimsy shelters made of plastic sheeting and plywood. Now it is home to about 230 people, some of whom have been there for years.
With the city's population thought to have tripled to about 4 million during this decade of war, the few services on offer are stretched thin. Electricity falters; potholed streets grow more impassable as newly fallen snow turns to icy slush and then to clinging mud before the cycle begins again. Prices of staples such as cooking oil have lately jumped, driven up in part by a Pakistani border blockade, imposed after U.S. airstrikes accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
With the falling temperatures, winter aid has become more crucial. Late last month, the United Nations refugee agency handed out blankets, plastic sheeting, warm clothes and fuel to about 300 families in Deh Sabz, an impoverished district of Kabul. But the demand far outstrips the supply, aid workers say.
"The ones we are helping are the most desperate we can find," said Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "There are many, many others who are also suffering."
Despite billions of dollars in international assistance over the last decade, urban poverty is becoming more entrenched across Afghanistan, aid workers say. The U.N. World Food Program, which normally expends most of its efforts in the countryside, recently launched a food voucher system in Kabul, giving nearly 19,000 poor families about $25 a month for basic supplies.
But most wintertime deaths involve a quieter slipping away. In Parwan Du, where sickness stalks nearly every flimsy shelter, Shoaib's parents were filled with dread when a neighbor's baby died in the night a week earlier. The children run about barefoot, sometimes napping in the weak winter sunlight if the previous night's cold made it too hard to sleep. The only food in the house was a plastic bag filled with stale bread, begged from a nearby restaurant.
"We hope that the government will help us someday," said the family's matriarch, Faida Mohammed's 60-year-old widowed mother, Zeliha. "But these days, we think our only help will come from God."
10) Bahrain denies entry to US human rights activist ahead of protest-related trial of medics
Associated Press, Sunday, January 8, 2:58 PM
Dubai, United Arab Emirates - An American human rights activist, who intended to observe a protest-related trial in Bahrain, was denied entry into the Gulf kingdom on Sunday despite authorities' pledge of transparency.
Richard Sollom, deputy president of the U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights, told The Associated Press that Bahraini airport authorities gave no reason for their refusal to allow him into the Gulf country, which was hit hard by political unrest during last year's Arab Spring.
Sollom charged that Bahrain authorities do not want international observers at the trial of doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters, which is set to resume Monday. International human rights organizations have harshly criticized the prosecution of the health professionals who were working at the state-run Salmaniya Medical Center during the massive protests in February and March.
"I am quite stunned. This was the first time a member of an international rights organization came to Bahrain after authorities promised to respect human rights and told us we can come and see for ourselves," Sollom said in a telephone interview after he landed in Dubai Sunday evening. "We can see now that not much has changed," he added.
The government had made a pledge of transparency following an international inquiry into months of anti-government demonstrations and the ensuing crackdowns that accused Bahrain of rights abuses, including denying a fair trial to arrested protesters.
Sollom holds a U.S. passport. He arrived in Bahrain on Sunday morning with a five-year, multiple entry visa. He said he wanted to observe Monday's retrial of 21 doctors and nurses who were convicted last year of anti-state crimes and received lengthy prison sentences from a special security court that was set up after Bahrain imposed martial law to quell dissent.
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