JFP 2/6 - U.S. officer: military not saying Afghan truth; Obama: neither Israel nor Iran plan to attack
Just Foreign Policy News, February 6, 2012
U.S. officer: military not saying Afghan truth; Obama: neither Israel nor Iran plan to attack
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Glenn Greenwald: The growing Iranian military behemoth
Claims Iran will increase its military budget for next year by 127% have been widely reported. Whether this is feasible is dubious, but suppose it will actually happen. According to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, Iran's total annual military spending is $7 billion; an increase of 127% would take it to $15.8 billion - also known as: less than 2% of total U.S. military spending (which was $698 billion for fiscal year 2010). According to Defense News, Iran's official military budget for 2011 is actually $12 billion; an increase of 127% would bring it to $27.2 billion, also known as: less than 4% of U.S. military spending. [GG provides a graph to show the scale - JFP.]
Kyodo/Bloomberg: Marine base to remain in Futenma: U.S.
A senior U.S. official told Japanese officials in late January that Futenma Air Station will have to stay in Ginowan for the time being because of the standoff over its relocation plan. Okinawans have been pushing to move the base because of safety and noise concerns, but they also oppose moving it to Henoko; they want it out of Okinawa completely. [This development appears to represent a partial victory for the people of Okinawa, in that the U.S. appears to be giving up on relocating the base within Okinawa; but of course the demand to move the base is still unmet - JFP.]
"Occupy AIPAC": March 2-6
On Saturday, March 3rd, there will be a conference on reforming U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East away from AIPAC's priorities and towards supporting peace and popular aspirations in the region: no war with Iran, free Palestine, support the Arab Spring. Co-sponsored by CodePink/Women for Peace, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Just Foreign Policy.
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1), Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis returned from his second yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with a fervent conviction that the war was going disastrously and that senior military leaders had not leveled with the American public, the New York Times reports. Now he is on a one-man campaign of military truth-telling. "How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Colonel Davis asks in The Armed Forces Journal.
Last March, General Petraeus testified before the Senate that the Taliban's momentum had been "arrested in much of the country" and that progress was "significant." Colonel Davis fiercely disputes such assertions and says few of the troops believe them. Colonel Davis's doubts about reports of progress in the war are widely shared, if not usually voiced in public by officers on duty, the Times says.
2) President Obama tried to tamp down tensions with Iran, saying Sunday that he did not believe Israel had made a decision on whether to attack Iran to disrupt its nuclear program, the New York Times reports. In an interview with NBC, the president also said that administration officials "don't see any evidence" that Iran had the "intentions or capabilities" to mount an attack on U.S. soil in retaliation for a strike on its nuclear facilities.
[Both statements counter recent statements by Cabinet officials; the first counters Panetta's apparent statement to David Ignatius that he believed an Israeli strike likely in coming months; the second counters Clapper's recent testimony before Congress indicating increased Iranian willingness to attack on U.S. soil. On the other hand, by claiming Iran has a "nuclear weapons program," Obama countered in the other direction Panetta's recent statement that Iran is not now trying to develop a nuclear weapon - JFP.]
3) Egypt's military-led government said Sunday it would put 19 Americans and two dozen others on trial in a criminal investigation into the foreign financing of nonprofit groups, the New York Times reports. The prosecution is a rebuke to Washington in the face of warnings to Egypt's generals from President Obama, cabinet officials and senior Congressional leaders that it could jeopardize $1.55 billion in expected American aid this year, including $1.3 billion for the military. Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials have said the prosecution is a judicial matter outside their control. But the government, including the prosecutors, is under the direct authority of the military council, the Times says.
So far, the warnings from Washington appear to have only redoubled the determination of Egyptian authorities, the Times says.
4) The conventional understanding you get from the media is that Israel is worried that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a serious threat to the country's existence, notes Peter Hart for FAIR. But a recent NPR interview with Israeli insider journalist Ronen Bergman gave a very different story. "I know that most of Israel's leaders do not believe that Iran is going to use nuclear weapons against Israel," Bergman said. "The problem is that once Iran acquires this ability, it would change the balance of power in the Middle East… just imagine, [Minister of Defense Barak] said, that tomorrow we go into another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon like we did in 2006, and this time we are determined to take them out. But Iran comes forward and say, to attack Hezbollah is like attacking Iran, and we threaten you with nuclear weaponry. Now, Minister of Defense Barak says it's not necessarily that we would be threatened not to attack, and we would decide to cancel the war, but it would certainly make us think twice."
5) An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for the Sunday Times reports that CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have been targeting people who who had gone to help rescue victims of previous strikes or were attending funerals, Glenn Greenwald writes in Salon. The findings come days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a "targeted, focused effort" that "has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties." Targeting rescuers and funeral attendees is patently illegal and almost certainly constitutes war crimes, Greenwald writes.
6) President Obama called the CIA drone strikes "a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists," notes Scott Shane in the New York Times. But U.S. officials familiar with the rules governing the strikes said many missiles had been fired at groups of suspected militants who are not on any list. These so-called signature strikes are based on assessments that men carrying weapons or in a militant compound are legitimate targets.
7) Former Bush CIA director and retired air force general Michael Hayden is uncomfortable with the Obama administration's expanding use of pilotless drones to kill suspected terrorists around the world, writes Doyle McManus in the Los Angeles Times. "Right now, there isn't a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel," Hayden says. "We needed a court order to eavesdrop on [Anwar Awlaki]," Hayden notes, "but we didn't need a court order to kill him. Isn't that something?"
Some former officials argue that the administration needs to set up a clearer, more rigorous system of internal review. John B. Bellinger III, who served as the State Department's top lawyer during the Bush administration, believes a good solution would be to expand the jurisdiction of the judges who currently authorize wiretaps to cover targeted killing cases as well.
8) President Abbas agreed to head a unity government with Hamas to prepare for elections in the West Bank and Gaza, the New York Times reports. The move was welcomed cautiously by a broad range of Palestinians who are fed up with the split, but have seen similar agreements fail to be implemented in the past. Palestinian officials say that Abbas is likely to revive the push for recognition in the United Nations in the coming weeks.
Qatar could prove to be a key element in helping the Palestinians, the Times says. Qatar is already spending money in Gaza for help the territory rebuild; Qatar could both greatly increase its spending there and make up for aid to the Palestinian Authority which may be cut off by the West as punishment for reconciling with Hamas.
9) Iran has warned it will attack any country used to launch airstrikes against its nuclear facilities, the Guardian reports. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said a western attack on Iran would be a "disaster" and that greater diplomatic efforts were needed.
10) A secret NATO report showing the strength of confidence among the Afghan Taliban raised concerns the militant group might overrun the country again when foreign combat forces finally leave, Reuters notes. But analysts doubt the militants will be able to again race into the capital, Reuters says. Experts say they don't have the military capability to seize control of the whole country when NATO combat troops withdraw. "The government is very fragile but we have to keep in mind it is supported by a 250,000 strong security apparatus ... which is also supported by the international community and these two big elements were missing when the Taliban seized the country in the mid-90s," said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul.
Kamran Bokhari, a South Asia expert at global intelligence firm STRATFOR, said the Taliban had become interested in a political solution over fighting because it needed both a withdrawal of foreign troops and international acceptance of a more moderate face to take part in eventual power sharing.
11) Khairat El-Shater, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official, says Egypt is on the brink of political and economic collapse and the West has an obligation to help sustain the country with financial aid and diplomatic support, the Washington Post reports. "We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship," Shater said. An economic meltdown, Shater warned, would "transform a peaceful revolution into a hunger revolution" with traumatic consequences for U.S. interests in the region.
1) In Afghan War, an Officer Becomes a Whistle-Blower
Scott Shane, New York Times, February 5, 2012
[Davis' article in The Armed Forces Journal: http://armedforcesjournal.com/2012/02/8904030]
Washington - On his second yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis traveled 9,000 miles, patrolled with American troops in eight provinces and returned in October of last year with a fervent conviction that the war was going disastrously and that senior military leaders had not leveled with the American public.
Since enlisting in the Army in 1985, he said, he had repeatedly seen top commanders falsely dress up a dismal situation. But this time, he would not let it rest. So he consulted with his pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where he sings in the choir. He watched his favorite movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," one more time, drawing inspiration from Jimmy Stewart's role as the extraordinary ordinary man who takes on a corrupt establishment.
And then, late last month, Colonel Davis, 48, began an unusual one-man campaign of military truth-telling. He wrote two reports, one unclassified and the other classified, summarizing his observations on the candor gap with respect to Afghanistan. He briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members, spoke with a reporter for The New York Times, sent his reports to the Defense Department's inspector general - and only then informed his chain of command that he had done so.
"How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Colonel Davis asks in an article summarizing his views titled "Truth, Lies and Afghanistan: How Military Leaders Have Let Us Down." It was published online Sunday in The Armed Forces Journal, the nation's oldest independent periodical on military affairs. "No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan," he says in the article. "But we do expect - and the men who do the living, fighting and dying deserve - to have our leaders tell us the truth about what's going on."
Colonel Davis says his experience has caused him to doubt reports of progress in the war from numerous military leaders, including David H. Petraeus, who commanded the troops in Afghanistan before becoming the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in June.
Last March, for example, Mr. Petraeus, then an Army general, testified before the Senate that the Taliban's momentum had been "arrested in much of the country" and that progress was "significant," though fragile, and "on the right azimuth" to allow Afghan forces to take the lead in combat by the end of 2014.
Colonel Davis fiercely disputes such assertions and says few of the troops believe them. At the same time, he is acutely aware of the chasm in stature that separates him from those he is criticizing, and he has no illusions about the impact his public stance may have on his career. "I'm going to get nuked," he said in an interview last month.
But his bosses' initial response has been restrained. They told him that while they disagreed with him, he would not face "adverse action," he said.
If the official reaction to Colonel Davis's campaign has been subdued, it may be partly because he has recruited a few supporters among the war skeptics on Capitol Hill. "For Colonel Davis to go out on a limb and help us to understand what's happening on the ground, I have the greatest admiration for him," said Representative Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, who has met with Colonel Davis twice and read his reports.
Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, one of four senators who met with Colonel Davis despite what he called "a lot of resistance from the Pentagon," said the colonel was a valuable witness because his extensive travels and midlevel rank gave him access to a wide range of soldiers.
Moreover, Colonel Davis's doubts about reports of progress in the war are widely shared, if not usually voiced in public by officers on duty. Just last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at a hearing that she was "concerned by what appears to be a disparity" between public testimony about progress in Afghanistan and "the bleaker description" in a classified National Intelligence Estimate produced in December, which was described in news reports as "sobering" and "dire."
In his recent tour in Afghanistan, Colonel Davis represented the Army's Rapid Equipping Force, created to bypass a cumbersome bureaucracy to make sure the troops quickly get the gear they need.
He spoke with about 250 soldiers, from 19-year-old privates to division commanders, as well as Afghan security officials and civilians, he said. From the Americans, he heard contempt for the perceived cowardice and double-dealing of their Afghan counterparts. From Afghans, he learned of unofficial nonaggression pacts between Afghanistan's security forces and Taliban fighters.
When he was in rugged Kunar Province, an Afghan police officer visiting his parents was kidnapped by the Taliban and killed. "That was in visual range of an American base," he said. "Their influence didn't even reach as far as they could see."
Some of the soldiers he interviewed were later killed, a fact that shook him and that he mentions in videos he shot in Afghanistan and later posted on YouTube. At home, he pored over the statements of military leaders, including General Petraeus. He found them at odds with what he had seen, with classified intelligence reports and with casualty statistics. "You can spin all kinds of stuff," Colonel Davis said. "But you can't spin the fact that more men are getting blown up every year."
But Martin L. Cook, who teaches military ethics at the Naval War College, says Colonel Davis has identified a hazard that is intrinsic to military culture, in which a can-do optimism can be at odds with the strictest candor when a mission is failing. "You've trained people to try to be successful even when half their buddies are dead and they're almost out of ammo," he said. "It's very hard for them to say, 'can't do.' "
2) No Israeli Decision on Iran Attack, Obama Says
Scott Shane, New York Times, February 5, 2012
President Obama said Sunday that he did not believe Israel had made a decision on whether to attack Iran to disrupt its nuclear program and that diplomacy remained the "preferred solution" to resolving the standoff over what Western leaders believe is Tehran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In an interview with Matt Lauer of NBC, broadcast before the Super Bowl on Sunday night, the president also said that administration officials "don't see any evidence" that Iran had the "intentions or capabilities" to mount an attack on United States soil in retaliation for a strike on its nuclear facilities.
Mr. Obama's remarks appeared to be intended to ratchet down emotions after a series of reports and public statements about possible attacks on Iran or from Iran. Leon E. Panetta, the defense secretary, for instance, did not dispute a report last week by David Ignatius of The Washington Post that Mr. Panetta believed Israel might strike Iran this spring.
But on Sunday, Mr. Obama said, "I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do. "I think they, like us, believe that Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program," he said in the interview, broadcast from the White House. "Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be very concerned, and we are as well."
His remarks about a lack of evidence suggesting Iran was planning attacks in the United States, meanwhile, followed a statement Tuesday by the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., who said in testimony to the Senate that the apparent plot to kill the Saudi envoy in Washington showed that Iranian leaders "are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime."
3) Egypt Defies U.S. by Setting Trial for 19 Americans on Criminal Charges
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, February 5, 2012
Cairo - Egypt's military-led government said Sunday that it would put 19 Americans and two dozen others on trial in a politically charged criminal investigation into the foreign financing of nonprofit groups that has shaken the 30-year alliance between the United States and Egypt.
The decision raises tensions between the two allies to a new peak at a decisive moment in Egypt's political transition after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak a year ago. Angry protesters are battling security forces in the streets of the capital and other major cities. The economy is in urgent need of billions of dollars in foreign aid. And the military rulers are in the final stages of negotiations with the Islamists who dominate the new Parliament over the terms of a transfer of power that could set the country's course for decades.
The criminal prosecution is a rebuke to Washington in the face of increasingly stern warnings to Egypt's ruling generals from President Obama, cabinet officials and senior Congressional leaders that it could jeopardize $1.55 billion in expected American aid this year, including $1.3 billion for the military. But for Washington, revoking the aid would risk severing the tie that for three decades has bound the United States, Egypt and Israel in an uneasy alliance that is the cornerstone of the American-backed regional order.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she had personally warned the Egyptian foreign minister, Mohammed Amr, at a security conference in Munich on Saturday that the continuing investigation of the nonprofit groups cast new doubt on the aid. "We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt," she told reporters there.
Mr. Obama delivered a similar warning to Egypt's acting chief executive, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, less than two weeks ago. Last week, 40 members of Congress signed letters to Field Marshal Tantawi making the same threat. "The days of blank checks are over," Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democrat who chairs the spending panel overseeing the aid, said in a speech from the Senate floor on Friday.
Congress recently required the State Department to certify that Egypt is making progress toward democracy before aid can be disbursed. Lawmakers and administration officials say the crackdown on the civil society groups could violate the criteria set out in the law.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry officials have said the prosecution is a judicial matter outside their control. But the government, including the prosecutors, is under the direct authority of the military council. The investigation has also been accompanied by an escalating drumbeat of anti-American statements from Egypt's government suggesting that Washington has been handing out cash to stir unrest in the streets. Some state news media, citing unnamed sources, have reported that one of the foreign-financed organizations paid illiterate laborers to join protests.
So far, the warnings from Washington appear to have only redoubled the determination of Egyptian authorities. At a news conference here on Sunday, Faiza Abu el-Naga, who oversees foreign aid, declared that the government "will not be pulling the plug" on the case, the state newspaper Al Ahram reported on its Web site.
4) Iran and the Threat of Not Having Future Wars
Peter Hart, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, 02/03/2012
The conventional understanding you get from the media is that Israel is worried that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a serious threat to the country's existence.
Is that really what's happening, though? Another interpretation is that Iran might want nuclear weapons not to launch any such an attack but to prevent an attack on its country--nuclear deterrence, in other words. (Of course, it's important to note that there is currently no evidence that Iran is pursuing a weapons program.)
I was struck when I heard Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman bring up some of these ideas on NPR's Talk of the Nation on January 30. Bergman is no outsider critic of Israeli policy; when he appeared recently on the NewsHour (1/12/12) and was asked about the assassination of Iranian scientists, his answer was: "I don't know. And even if I knew, I would tell you that I don't know."
Here's what he said on NPR, appearing to talk about his New York Times magazine piece on Israel and Iran:
NEAL CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call. Israel itself possesses, what, 300 nuclear weapons we believe, maybe more? Why does not deterrence work? Israel, of course, would retaliate if Iran were to use a nuclear weapon.
BERGMAN: I would assume that--oh, I know that most of Israel's leaders do not believe that Iran is going to use nuclear weapons against Israel. The problem is not the nuclear threat. The Iranians are not stupid. They want to live.... And I think that most leaders, and me personally as well, see that there are only a few people who believe that Iran would be hesitant enough to--sorry, brutal enough and stupid enough to use nuclear weapon against Israel.
The problem is that once Iran acquires this ability, it would change the balance of power in the Middle East. And a country that possesses nuclear weapon is a different country when it comes to support proxy jihadist movement. And these Israeli leaders afraid would significantly narrow down the variety of options from the point of view of Israel, just to quote one example coming from Minister of Defense Barak, when he said, just imagine--he told me in a meeting we had on the 13th of January in his house--said, just imagine, Ronen, that tomorrow we go into another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon like we did in 2006, and this time we are determined to take them out. But Iran comes forward and say, to attack Hezbollah is like attacking Iran, and we threaten you with nuclear weaponry.
Now, Minister of Defense Barak says it's not necessarily that we would be threatened not to attack, and we would decide to cancel the war, but it would certainly make us think twice.
[Peter Hart:] In other words, Israel's position might be that an nuclear-armed Iran could make it harder to have future wars. That's a very different discussion from the one we're having now.
5) U.S. drones targeting rescuers and mourners
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Sunday, Feb 5, 2012 8:51 AM CST
[The Bureau of Investigative Journalism report is here: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2012/02/04/obama-terror-drones-cia-tactics-in-pakistan-include-targeting-rescuers-and-funerals/]
On December 30 of last year, ABC News reported on a 16-year-old Pakistani boy, Tariq Khan, who was killed with his 12-year-old cousin when a car in which he was riding was hit with a missile fired by a U.S. drone. As I noted at the time, the report contained this extraordinary passage buried in the middle:
"Asked for documentation of Tariq and Waheed's deaths, Akbar did not provide pictures of the missile strike scene. Virtually none exist, since drones often target people who show up at the scene of an attack."
What made that sentence so amazing was that it basically amounts to a report that the U.S. first kills people with drones, then fires on the rescuers and others who arrive at the scene where the new corpses and injured victims lie.
In a just-released, richly documented report, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, on behalf of the Sunday Times, documents that this is exactly what the U.S. is doing - and worse:
'The CIA's drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.
The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a "targeted, focused effort" that "has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties""
'A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims. More than 20 civilians have also been attacked in deliberate strikes on funerals and mourners. The tactics have been condemned by leading legal experts.'
As I indicated, there have been scattered, mostly buried indications in the American media that drones have been targeting and killing rescuers. As the Bureau put it: "Between May 2009 and June 2011, at least fifteen attacks on rescuers were reported by credible news media, including the New York Times, CNN,Associated Press, ABC News and Al Jazeera." Killing civilians attending the funerals of drone victims is also well-documented by the Bureau's new report:
'Other tactics are also raising concerns. On June 23 2009 the CIA killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud, a mid-ranking Pakistan Taliban commander. They planned to use his body as bait to hook a larger fish – Baitullah Mehsud, then the notorious leader of the Pakistan Taliban.
"A plan was quickly hatched to strike Baitullah Mehsud when he attended the man's funeral," according to Washington Post national security correspondent Joby Warrick, in his recent book The Triple Agent. "True, the commander… happened to be very much alive as the plan took shape. But he would not be for long."
The CIA duly killed Khwaz Wali Mehsud in a drone strike that killed at least five others. [...]
Up to 5,000 people attended Khwaz Wali Mehsud's funeral that afternoon, including not only Taliban fighters but many civilians. US drones struck again, killing up to 83 people. As many as 45 were civilians, among them reportedly ten children and four tribal leaders.'
The Bureau quotes several experts stating the obvious: that targeting rescuers and funeral attendees is patently illegal and almost certainly constitutes war crimes.
6) U.S. Said to Target Rescuers at Drone Strike Sites
Scott Shane, New York Times, February 5, 2012
Washington - British and Pakistani journalists said Sunday that the C.I.A.'s drone strikes on suspected militants in Pakistan have repeatedly targeted rescuers who responded to the scene of a strike, as well as mourners at subsequent funerals.
The report, by the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found that at least 50 civilians had been killed in follow-up strikes after they rushed to help those hit by a drone-fired missile. The bureau counted more than 20 other civilians killed in strikes on funerals. The findings were published on the bureau's Web site and in The Sunday Times of London.
But Mr. Obama spoke about the program in an online appearance last week.
"I want to make sure that people understand: actually, drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties," he said in the forum on YouTube. "For the most part they have been very precise precision strikes against Al Qaeda and their affiliates." He called the strikes "a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists."
However, American officials familiar with the rules governing the strikes and who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that many missiles had been fired at groups of suspected militants who are not on any list. These so-called signature strikes are based on assessments that men carrying weapons or in a militant compound are legitimate targets.
7) McManus: Who reviews the U.S. 'kill list'?
There has been remarkably little public debate in the U.S. about drone strikes, which have killed at least 1,300 people in Pakistan alone since President Obama came to office.
Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2012
When it comes to national security, Michael V. Hayden is no shrinking violet. As CIA director, he ran the Bush administration's program of warrantless wiretaps against suspected terrorists.
But the retired air force general admits to being a little squeamish about the Obama administration's expanding use of pilotless drones to kill suspected terrorists around the world - including, occasionally, U.S. citizens. "Right now, there isn't a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel," Hayden told me recently.
As an example of the problem, he cites the example of Anwar Awlaki, the New Mexico-born member of Al Qaeda who was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen last September. "We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him," Hayden notes, "but we didn't need a court order to kill him. Isn't that something?"
There has been remarkably little public debate about the drone strikes, which have killed at least 1,300 people in Pakistan alone since President Obama came to office. Little debate inside the United States, that is. But overseas, the operations have prompted increasing opposition and could turn into a foreign policy headache.
But there are questions that go beyond the legal underpinning for targeted killing. Who puts names on the "kill list," and who reviews them? And is the process rigorous enough to withstand outside scrutiny?
But congressional oversight comes after the fact, and it is divided between Congress' intelligence committees, which review CIA operations, and its armed forces committees, which review military operations.
That's one reason some former officials argue that the administration needs to set up a clearer, more rigorous system of internal review - for its own good. John B. Bellinger III, who served as the State Department's top lawyer during the Bush administration, believes a good solution would be to expand the jurisdiction of the judges who currently authorize wiretaps to cover targeted killing cases as well.
8) Palestinian Factions Reach Unity Deal
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, February 6, 2012
Jerusalem - President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority embraced reconciliation with the Islamist movement Hamas on Monday, agreeing to head a unity government to prepare for elections in the West Bank and Gaza. His move was welcomed cautiously by a broad range of Palestinians who are fed up with the brutal split at the heart of their national movement.
Mr. Abbas and Mr. Meshal announced their agreement on Monday in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Hamas has had to leave its longtime base in Damascus, the Syrian capital, because of the unrest and violence there, and Qatar appears to be seeking the role of Hamas's new sponsor.
The two Palestinian leaders said they would announce a full government in the next week or two, along with a date for presidential and legislative elections. It was unclear what role the current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, would play in the interim government. Mr. Fayyad is admired abroad for his financial transparency, and is the reason that some countries provide aid to the Palestinian Authority - more than $1 billion annually in total.
The planned elections are unlikely to take place this spring, as promised last May when the Hamas-Fatah unity accord was first signed. Many of the details are bound to produce a struggle, and Palestinians greeted the news on Monday with relief but with skepticism, especially in Gaza.
"The Palestinian people look suspiciously at Fatah-Hamas understandings because they have been repeated dozens of times without finding their way to implementation," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza's Al-Azhar University.
This latest signed document may face the same fate. The rival movements have to negotiate the terms of complex power sharing and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which Hamas has been excluded.
It remained unclear how some of the Hamas leaders in Gaza, who are destined to lose their jobs in the new arrangement, would react to a deal struck by Mr. Meshal, who lives in exile and recently said he would not seek a new term as head of the movement.
But some analysts argued that the regional shifts of the last year and the failure of recent Palestinian-Israeli talks to reach a breakthrough were pushing Fatah and Hamas into each other's arms. They said that Hamas would soon undergo some of the changes that Islamist movements elsewhere in the region are seen by some to be experiencing.
"The Arab awakening is witnessing the rise of a reformist political Islam in Egypt and Tunisia, and I believe we will see that Hamas is no exception," asserted Mahdi Abdul Hadi, chairman of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem. "Western governments are dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and it is only a matter of time before they will meet with Hamas as well."
There are senior defense officials in Israel who see a significant shift happening in Hamas as well. One, speaking recently on condition of anonymity, said, "Hamas is learning that governance is more important than terrorism."
Mr. Abbas has his own tortured calculations. He has been pursuing three tracks toward Palestinian statehood; all have proved problematic. The first has been his recently renewed talks with the Israelis under Jordanian auspices, which have gone poorly. The second is the track of unity with Hamas, which until Monday seemed stuck and which remains far from stable.
The third is his efforts at the United Nations, meant to obtain international backing for Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem; that track has proved harder than expected. Last September, Mr. Abbas was unable to get enough members of the United Nations Security Council to vote yes for recognizing Palestine as a state. He did gain membership in Unesco, a U.N. agency, but that led the United States cutting off American funds to that organization and to a pause in the Palestinian efforts in international bodies.
But Palestinian officials say that Mr. Abbas is likely to revive that path in the coming weeks, especially if the Israeli track stalls, as many expect.
An abandonment of negotiations with Israel brings with it risks, in particular that Hamas will campaign on its long-standing assertion that talks with Israel were a humiliating waste of time and that Hamas's approach of resistance and links to the broader Islamic movement deserve the people's votes.
In addition, Israel has a great deal of power over the Palestinian economy, and could make it suffer. Israel could also make the lives of Palestinian officials even harder than they are, by denying them travel privileges.
Qatar, a Gulf emirate that is both wealthy and diplomatically ambitious, could prove to be a key element in helping the Palestinians. Qatar is already spending money in Gaza for help the territory rebuild and rehabilitate from the Israeli invasion there three years ago; the emirate could both greatly increase its spending there and make up for missing aid to the Palestinian Authority.
9) Iran warns against attacks on its nuclear bases
Revolutionary Guards deputy head says countries face 'retaliatory aggression' if used to launch airstrikes against Iran
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Sunday 5 February 2012 12.05 EST
Jerusalem - Iran has warned it will attack any country used to launch airstrikes against its nuclear bases, as increasingly aggressive rhetoric emanating from the Islamic Republic and Israel has increased apprehension that military confrontation is looming. "Any spot used by the enemy for hostile operations against Iran will be subjected to retaliatory aggression by our armed forces," Hossein Salami, the deputy head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, told the semi-official Fars news agency.
The warning followed a threat by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Friday to attack Israel in retaliation for western sanctions and a pledge to support any country or group that wanted to fight Israel. In a two-hour televised speech, Khamenei said: "From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this." He referred to Israel as a "cancerous tumour that should be cut and will be cut".
At an international gathering of security officials and diplomats in Munich, the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said a western attack on Iran would be a "disaster" and that greater diplomatic efforts were needed. "A military option will create a disaster in our region. So before that disaster, everybody must be serious in negotiations. We hope soon both sides will meet again but this time there will be a complete result," he said.
10) Military Comeback A Distant Dream For Afghan Taliban
Rob Taylor, Reuters, Sun, Feb 5 2012
Kabul - A secret NATO report showing the strength of confidence among the Afghan Taliban is raising concerns from Kabul to Washington that the militant group might overrun the country again when foreign combat forces finally leave.
But analysts doubt the militants, who rose from the ashes of Afghanistan's civil war, will be able to again race into the capital in pick-up trucks, hang their opponents in public and once more impose their austere brand of Islam on the country.
Although still much feared, experts say they don't have the military capability to seize control of the whole country when NATO combat troops withdraw in 2014.
Despite the bold predictions of Taliban detainees whose opinions formed the basis of the NATO report, which was leaked last week, circumstances have changed substantially. A partial comeback appears to be the best the Taliban can hope for.
"When they ruled before, many people had fled Afghanistan. There was no young generation. Without much fighting, they captured 90 percent of Afghanistan. But now the situation has completely changed," said Waheed Mujhda, Kabul-based expert on the Taliban. "They accept that the time has changed. They accept that it's impossible for one party to capture all Afghanistan and rule all over Afghanistan."
The Taliban, ousted after a U.S. invasion in 2001, was able to sweep to power in 1996 partly because it was able to exploit the chaos gripping Afghanistan in the years following the end of the failed Soviet occupation.
The Afghan army and security forces may still be deeply flawed, but their mere size would make it difficult for the Taliban to simply topple the government when NATO troops go. With an estimated 25,000 fighters at the most, the Taliban is hugely outnumbered by NATO and Afghan forces.
"The government is very fragile but we have to keep in mind it is supported by a 250,000 strong security apparatus ... which is also supported by the international community and these two big elements were missing when the Taliban seized the country in the mid-90s," said Pakistani security analyst Imtiaz Gul.
Without tanks and fighter planes, the Taliban could find itself battling government forces -- and remaining Western special forces - for years.
Taliban commanders still speak of waging jihad until Islamic rule is restored. But some militants are starting to long for a peaceful end to Afghanistan's years of conflict.
"There are fighters who had suffered losses, lost their family members in fighting and became homeless who want a peaceful solution to the long war," said a Taliban commander who identified himself by his codename, Qari Baryal.
In a surprise announcement last month, the Afghan Taliban announced it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to negotiate -- for government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.
That also suggests it thinks the odds of a complete takeover are slim and is instead looking for major gains in the political arena.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said it was too soon to say how political maneuvers towards peace negotiations could unfold, although the Taliban was open to conciliation.
The Taliban's medieval justice and punishment system -- including hangings, oppression of women and amputating the limbs of thieves -- was initially accepted by Afghans because it brought security and an end to a period of chaotic warlord rule.
Today, many Afghans have grown accustomed to improved access for women to education and work, and an economy in which growth has averaged 9.1 percent. Foreign investment has climbed sharply from zero in Taliban days to a peak of $300 million in 2008.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are catching on among young Afghans, providing a forum for users to criticize the government and the Taliban.
Kamran Bokhari, a South Asia expert at global intelligence firm STRATFOR, said the Taliban had become interested in a political solution over fighting because it needed both a withdrawal of foreign troops and international acceptance of a more moderate face to take part in eventual power sharing.
11) Muslim Brotherhood official says West is neglecting Egypt
Stephen Glain, Washington Post, February 3
Cairo - Egypt is on the brink of political and economic collapse and the West has an obligation to sustain the country with financial aid and diplomatic support, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official has warned.
Khairat El-Shater, deputy supreme guide of the Islamist movement that controls half the Egyptian parliament, said this week that the United States and Europe are neglecting Egypt at their peril a year after a popular uprising deposed a key U.S. ally in former president Hosni Mubarak.
"The democratic transition in Egypt is hanging in the balance," Shater said this week at the Brotherhood's headquarters in a Cairo suburb. "We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship."
Shater's appeal was extraordinary, coming as it did from a group the United States had long kept at arm's length out of respect for Mubarak, who persecuted the Brotherhood as a threat to his secular rule. It was only two months ago that high-level U.S. officials engaged in rare formal meetings with senior Brotherhood members, many of whom regard Washington warily for its unstinting support of Mubarak.
Since Mubarak's ouster, the Egyptian economy has suffered from capital flight, rising inflation, a yawning balance-of-payments deficit and a failed bid to stabilize the local currency that halved its foreign reserves. An economic meltdown, Shater warned, would "transform a peaceful revolution into a hunger revolution" with traumatic consequences for U.S. interests in the region. Tensions in Egypt boiled over this week in response to the deaths of more than seventy people at a soccer riot in Port Said, an incident rumored to have had political motivations.
The 61-year-old Shater made his remarks as relations between Washington and Cairo have decayed amid reports the White House is pressuring Egypt's military-run interim government to hasten a transition to civilian rule.
He warned against a reduction in U.S. aid to Egypt, a reference to recent reports that the Obama administration has threatened to cut Washington's annual $1.3 billion package of military assistance, a legacy of Egypt's three-decade old peace treaty with Israel.
[It's not obvious that the Post is right in claiming that Shater was referring to threats to cut military aid - the thrust of Shater's remarks concerns economic aid, not military aid - JFP.]
Shater, an engineer by training, is widely regarded as a shrewd pragmatist informed by a successful business career and the 12 years he spent in Mubarak's prisons. He has emerged as a powerful voice in a country polarized by the generals in power, an Islamist revival and a loose coalition of secular groups that led the anti-Mubarak revolt only to lose badly at the ballot box.
In the interview, Shater played down his influence over an organization known for its rigid hierarchy. Nevertheless, he is thought to be the driving force behind recent Brotherhood commitments to recognize Egypt's diplomatic and trade accords with Israel and to not impose Islamist strictures such as dress codes on women and bans on alcohol. "The general feeling is that he is the one who is making these decisions," said Ibrahim Zaafarani, a former group member who heads Cairo's Arab Doctors Association.
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