JFP 2/27: Afghan killings put U.S. plans in doubt; AP drone death count rebuts U.S.
Just Foreign Policy News, February 27, 2012
Afghan killings put U.S. plans in doubt; AP drone death count rebuts U.S.
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Help Keith Ellison & Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran
Ellison and Jones are circulating a letter to their colleagues urging that the U.S. step up diplomatic efforts to achieve agreements with Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Ask your Rep. to sign the Ellison-Jones letter.
Keith Ellison and Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran
Largely missing from the recent political debate, until now, has been a full-throated defense of diplomatic engagement with Iran towards negotiated agreements that would resolve or mitigate international concerns about its disputed nuclear program.
Robert Wright: Israel Meets the Arab Spring
With video, Wright documents the case of Palestinian youth activist Fadi Quran, accused of attacking an Israeli border policeman in Hebron. The videos "seem to remove any possibility that Fadi was being arrested for attacking a policeman," he writes.
Glenn Greenwald: The causes of the protests in Afghanistan
It's not just about burning the Koran. It's about airstrikes that kill children. It's about ten years of U.S. military occupation.
March 2: Occupy AIPAC
Under the banner of Occupy AIPAC, this long weekend will include a policy summit with panels on Iran, the Arab uprisings, Palestine/Israel and AIPAC, film screenings, mass protests, a teach-in on diplomacy and alternatives to war, creative actions, a cultural night, workshops, and a Capitol Hill policy briefing on the impact of U.S. military aid to Israel on Palestinians.
1) U.S. intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb, the New York Times reports. Recent assessments by U.S. spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former U.S. officials, the Times says. The officials said assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.
Some intelligence officials and outside analysts say Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call "strategic ambiguity," the Times notes. Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions. Some point to the examples of Pakistan and India, both of which had clandestine nuclear weapons programs for decades before they actually decided to build bombs and test their weapons in 1998.
"I think the Iranians want the capability, but not a stockpile," said Kenneth Brill, a former U.S. ambassador to the IAEA who also served as director of the intelligence community's National Counterproliferation Center from 2005 until 2009.
Some U.S. analysts warn that Iran's efforts to obstruct Western scrutiny of its nuclear program are not necessarily proof of a weapons program, the NYT notes. They say that one mistake the C.I.A. made before the war in Iraq was to assume that because Saddam Hussein resisted weapons inspections, it meant that he had a weapons program.
2) The U.S. ordered all Western advisors withdrawn from Afghan government ministries Saturday after two U.S. military officers were shot and killed in a heavily secured compound inside the Afghan Interior Ministry, the Los Angeles Times reports. The pullout came as a fifth straight day of protests raged over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base. Saturday's fatalities brought the death toll since the riots broke out Tuesday to more than 30, four of them Americans, with hundreds more people injured.
3) The burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan has set off a deadly chain of events that has possibly exposed a crippling weakness in the U.S. strategy to wind down the war, the Washington Post reports. The killing of two high-ranking NATO officers by an Afghan security official has spurred doubts about whether Afghan security forces can be relied upon to provide for the protection of their Western partners. "If the trust, ability and willingness to partner falls apart, you are looking at the endgame here," said Mark Jacobson, who served until last summer as the NATO deputy senior civilian representative in Kabul.
4) The world's major emerging economies rejected the tradition that an American automatically is selected to head the World Bank and they will look at putting forward their own candidate for the open job, Reuters reports. "Candidates should be based on merit and not on nationality," Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said. "It is time we break the traditions of the U.S. and Europe sharing the two seats and amongst all of us we must try harder this time to find some consensus," said Pravin Gordhan, South Africa's finance minister.
5) The trial of employees of four U.S.-backed nonprofit groups was adjourned Sunday amid signs that the case was growing into a broader indictment of Egypt's alliance with the U.S., the New York Times reports. Tensions over the case have escalated into threats from Washington to cut off $1.55 billion in annual aid to Egypt, and from Egypt to review its peace treaty with Israel. The trial has prompted an outpouring of pent-up resentment against the U.S. over its backing of Mubarak and Israel and the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan, the Times says. Though the accusations in the case seem far-fetched, many Egyptians say they resonate with the history of U.S. and Western involvement in the Middle East. [Notably, the New York Times does not refer to the U.S.-financed groups as "NGOs" or "democracy promotion groups," two disputed media descriptions - JFP.]
6) An AP survey of civilian deaths in 10 of the deadliest U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan in the last 18 months indicates that the percentage of people killed in the strikes who were not "militants" was 20-30%, AP reports. That matches the findings of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. U.S. officials have disputed the BIJ count of civilian deaths due to the drone strikes as too high.
7) The municipality of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa took the exceptional step of naming a square in memory of Fouad Ismail Dajani, a respected Palestinian physician who founded the first private hospital in Jaffa in 1933, the Washington Post reports. Sunday's commemoration was a rare moment of recognition in Israel of its Palestinian past - in this case, the contribution of the esteemed surgeon from a prominent Palestinian family whose members are scattered across the globe, though some remain in Jerusalem, the Post notes.
8) Syria's Interior Ministry announced that voters had approved a new Constitution by a margin of almost 9-to-1 in a referendum, the New York Times reports. The ministry said 89 percent of the voters had voted in favor of the Constitution. The turnout exceeded 57 percent of eligible voters, according to the ministry. [Thus, if these numbers are correct, 50.7% of eligible voters participated and voted yes - JFP.] Although the government controlled the voting and the count, it was possible the authorities did not need to manipulate the results, since they still enjoy some support and the opposition mostly boycotted the balloting, the NYT notes.
The new Constitution's most important changes include ending the political monopoly of the Baath Party and introducing presidential term limits, the Times says. The president would be limited to two terms of seven years each, but the clock would start only when Assad's current term expires in 2014.
9) Garry Conille, the prime minister of Haiti, who had been backed by international donors, resigned on Friday in a series of disputes with President Martelly, the New York Times reports. More international aid to Haiti is unlikely unless a stable government is in place, the Times says.
10) The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia announced Sunday it was giving up kidnappings in a policy reversal that could be a step toward peace talks after decades of conflict, the Washington Post reports. The FARC's commander, Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño, has said the FARC hoped to become a social movement.
1) U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb
James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, February 24, 2012
Washington - Even as the United Nations' nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.
Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America's 16 intelligence agencies.
At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead - a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes.
In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.
"They are certainly moving on that path, but we don't believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon," Mr. Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Yet some intelligence officials and outside analysts believe there is another possible explanation for Iran's enrichment activity, besides a headlong race to build a bomb as quickly as possible. They say that Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call "strategic ambiguity." Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions. Some point to the examples of Pakistan and India, both of which had clandestine nuclear weapons programs for decades before they actually decided to build bombs and test their weapons in 1998.
"I think the Iranians want the capability, but not a stockpile," said Kenneth C. Brill, a former United States ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency who also served as director of the intelligence community's National Counterproliferation Center from 2005 until 2009. Added a former intelligence official: "The Indians were a screwdriver turn away from having a bomb for many years. The Iranians are not that close."
When an unclassified summary of the 2007 intelligence estimate on Iran's nuclear program was made public, stating that it had abandoned work on a bomb, it stunned the Bush administration and the world. It represented a sharp reversal from the intelligence community's 2005 estimate, and drew criticism of the C.I.A. from European and Israeli officials, as well as conservative pundits. They argued that it was part of a larger effort by the C.I.A. to prevent American military action against Iran.
The report was so controversial that many outside analysts expected that the intelligence community would be forced to revise and repudiate the estimate after new evidence emerged about Iran's program, notably from the United Nations' inspectors. Yet analysts now say that while there has been mounting evidence of Iranian work on enrichment facilities, there has been far less clear evidence of a weapons program.
Still, Iran's enrichment activities have raised suspicions, even among skeptics. "What has been driving the discussion has been the enrichment activity," said one former intelligence official. "That's made everybody nervous. So the Iranians continue to contribute to the suspicions about what they are trying to do."
Iran's efforts to hide its nuclear facilities and to deceive the West about its activities have also intensified doubts. But some American analysts warn that such behavior is not necessarily proof of a weapons program. They say that one mistake the C.I.A. made before the war in Iraq was to assume that because Saddam Hussein resisted weapons inspections - acting as if he were hiding something - it meant that he had a weapons program.
As Mr. Kay explained, "The amount of evidence that you were willing to go with in 2002 is not the same evidence you are willing to accept today."
2) U.S. commander pulls back advisors from Afghan ministries
Hashmat Baktash and Laura King, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2012 | 12:42 pm
Kabul, Afghanistan/Dubai, United Arab Emirates -- The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan ordered all Western advisors withdrawn from Afghan government ministries Saturday after two American military officers were shot and killed in a heavily secured compound inside the Afghan Interior Ministry.
The abrupt pullout, a serious blow to strategic cooperation between the NATO coalition and the Afghan government, came as a fifth straight day of protests raged over the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base.
In the latest display of unrest, angry crowds laid siege to a provincial governor's compound in eastern Afghanistan and a United Nations office in the country's north.
Afghan authorities reported at least five more deaths, mainly in clashes between Afghan security forces and demonstrators, some of them armed.
Saturday's fatalities brought the death toll since the riots broke out Tuesday to more than 30, four of them Americans, with hundreds more people injured. The outbreak of violence is one of the country's most sustained instances of civil unrest in nearly a decade of conflict.
Calls for calm from Afghan officials and apologies from President Obama and the top U.S. general in Afghanistan have failed to quell the clashes, raising questions about the ability of the Afghan government and an international force numbering more than 100,000 troops to restore order.
3) Violence in wake of Koran incident fuels U.S. doubts about Afghan partners
Greg Jaffe, Washington Post, February 26
In the course of one week, the burning of copies of the Koran by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan has set off a deadly chain of events that has not only inflamed tensions but possibly exposed a crippling weakness in the American strategy to wind down the war.
The emerging U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is built around plans to replace large NATO combat formations with small teams of advisers who will live and work alongside their Afghan partners.
But the killing of two high-ranking NATO officers by an Afghan security official - and the subsequent decision by the top NATO commander in the country to recall his personnel from top Afghan ministries - has spurred doubts about whether Afghan security forces can be relied upon to provide for the protection of their Western partners. The consequences of that erosion of confidence, former U.S. officials and analysts say, could be devastating.
"If the trust, ability and willingness to partner falls apart, you are looking at the endgame here," said Mark Jacobson, who served until last summer as the NATO deputy senior civilian representative in Kabul.
The killing of the U.S. officers on Saturday occurred two days after a man wearing an Afghan army uniform fatally shot two American troops in eastern Afghanistan, the latest in a string of incidents in recent months in which local security forces have turned against NATO personnel.
Some of the killings have been perpetrated by Afghan troops whose loyalties lay with the Taliban. But, in most cases, the attacks have been the result of tensions between U.S. forces and Afghans who felt as though they had suffered an insult to themselves or their faith.
On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who initially responded to the Koran burnings with outrage, sought to stem the latest wave of violence by issuing a plea for calm and blessing the withdrawal of NATO advisers from his ministries as a justifiable measure.
But protests continued, including in the northern city of Kunduz, where Afghan demonstrators opened fire and tossed a grenade at a U.S. base, wounding seven American troops. The Afghan defense and interior ministers canceled a long-planned trip to Washington to focus on curbing the violence, which has claimed 25 Afghan lives.
For now, though, much of the cooperation between U.S. advisers and their Afghan partners is on hold. And even though the decision to withdraw the advisers is probably temporary, it is not clear how U.S. troops will be able to reestablish trust with Afghan security forces. "This is not going back to business as usual," an Army officer who works as an adviser in Kabul said Sunday. "The threat is still higher than normal."
Once advisers return to the ministries, the officer said, some will probably have to shorten their visits, instead of remaining there for six- to 10-hour shifts, to reduce risks.
Senior Obama administration officials have sought to reassure a war-weary American public that the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan would draw to a close by the middle of next year. These officials have implied that the change to an advisory mission would not only mean fewer U.S. service members in Afghanistan, but also less risk for the noncombat troops who remain behind.
Military experts, however, say that the smaller U.S. advisory force might be more exposed to fratricidal attacks than conventional military units. Such attacks - which were exceptionally rare in Iraq - often stem from a cultural chasm between U.S. and Afghan troops.
Carter Malkasian, who served as a State Department adviser in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province in 2010 and 2011, said one way to mitigate that risk is for advisers to build closer relationships with their Afghan partners. But the risk will always be there.
In an article in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs, Malkasian and Kael Weston, who served a multiyear stint as an adviser in southern Afghanistan, estimated that NATO could hold off the Taliban and keep the Afghan government and security forces functioning with as few as 25,000 advisory troops.
The Afghans would rely on the NATO advisers to call in airstrikes if their position was about to be overrun by a larger Taliban force. The advisers would ensure that their Afghan partner units were receiving ammunition, food and fuel from their headquarters.
4) BRICS to look at bid for top World Bank job
Lesley Wroughton, Reuters, Sat, Feb 25 2012
Mexico City - The world's major emerging economies on Saturday rejected the tradition that an American automatically is selected to head the World Bank and they will look at putting forward their own candidate for the open job.
Finance chiefs from the BRICS group of emerging market powerhouses - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - met on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Mexico City and agreed the top World Bank job should be open to all countries. "Candidates should be based on merit and not on nationality," Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega told reporters.
Another BRICS official said the group will discuss the possibility of putting up their own candidate to challenge whoever the U.S. government nominates. "Certainly it is a discussion we will have."
Countries have until March 23 to submit names for the top post and a decision is likely by April meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Americans have held the top job since the World Bank was set up at the end of the Second World War but the unwritten rule has in recent years faced more resistance, along with the tradition that a European heads the International Monetary Fund, as emerging economies gain more economic clout.
"It is time we break the traditions of the U.S. and Europe sharing the two seats and amongst all of us we must try harder this time to find some consensus," said Pravin Gordhan, South Africa's finance minister.
5) Trial of U.S. Nonprofit Workers in Egypt Is Abruptly Put Off
David D. Kirkpatrick and Mayy el Sheikh, New York Times, February 26, 2012
Cairo - The politically charged trial here of employees of four American-backed nonprofit groups was adjourned Sunday less than two hours after it began, amid signs that the case was growing into a broader indictment of Egypt's alliance with the United States.
Until the last minute, United States diplomats made a high-level push to settle the case before the trial opened. American officials said later on Sunday that they still held out hope for a swift resolution of the case, perhaps through an early decision by the presiding judge.
Tensions over the case have already escalated into threats from Washington to cut off $1.55 billion in annual aid to Egypt, and from Cairo to review its Camp David peace treaty with Israel. It could thus upend the three-way alliance that has helped maintain regional stability for 30 years.
The adjournment of the case, until April 26, adds another wrinkle: Congress recently passed a law requiring that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton certify that Cairo is making progress toward democracy before American aid can be delivered to Egypt. State Department officials have said that the deadline for the certification is in April and that Mrs. Clinton would not make the certification while Egypt continued to restrict the American groups and other nonprofit groups.
The scenes of chaos that unfolded on the trial's opening day underscored the difficulty of unwinding the case. The trial has prompted an outpouring of pent-up resentment against the United States. Egyptians regularly cite America's support for former President Hosni Mubarak, as well as its steadfast backing of Israel and its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"State media has pushed this whole case as Egyptian sovereignty against 'U.S. interference,' " said Nancy Okail, the Egypt director at Freedom House, a federally financed American nonprofit organization that is one of the targets in the case. "And it was obvious a huge part of what was going on today was a political show for public consumption."
Ms. Okail, a 34-year-old Egyptian citizen, is a defendant in the case, one of 43. Only 14 of them, including Ms. Okail, appeared in court on Sunday afternoon, remaining in the large metal cage in which defendants are kept in Egyptian courtrooms, just as Mr. Mubarak has been at his trial.
Sixteen of the accused are American citizens; none of them were present. Nine of them are no longer in Egypt; the other seven, barred from leaving the country, have taken refuge at the American Embassy to avoid potential arrest.
Those seven Americans all work for one of two nonprofit groups that are federally financed and closely associated with the Congressional leadership of each major party. One of the seven, Sam LaHood of the International Republican Institute, is the son of Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation.
Lawyers, journalists and camera crews, and other onlookers crammed into the courtroom in a noisy rush. Many stood on court benches all through the hearing to catch a glimpse of the caged defendants.
Prosecutors read out the charges, accusing the defendants of undermining Egyptian sovereignty by opening unlicensed nonprofit groups, relying on unauthorized foreign financing, sending reports back to foreign countries and training political parties.
The state media continue to air more conspiratorial claims about the groups, including that they collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency, that they sought to manipulate the Egyptian uprising to benefit Israel, that they wanted to destabilize Egypt to keep it dependent on the West or even that they plotted to divide Egypt into four smaller countries.
Though the accusations seem far-fetched, many Egyptians say they resonate with the history of American and Western involvement in the Middle East, from the carving up of the map after World War I to the disparity in American aid in favor of Israel, Egypt's more affluent neighbor. Some say the nonprofit groups' mission to promote democracy abroad echoes American rhetoric before the invasion of Iraq.
Debate about the case has produced calls from across the political spectrum here for Egypt to break free of dependence on the United States and its money.
Still, human rights advocates here also note that the government officials leading the case were all senior figures in Mr. Mubarak's United States-backed autocracy.
Despite the chaos in the court, the 14 defendants in the cage appeared relaxed, joking with one another and chatting on mobile phones. All pleaded not guilty and were released without bail.
Still, Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egyptian-born scholar at the Century Foundation, said the outpouring of anti-American feeling surrounding the case reflected a latent element of the revolt against Mr. Mubarak. "The demands for dignity that were part of the protest movement also implicated what many perceive to be Egypt's undignified dependency on the U.S.," Mr. Hanna said.
He said those emotions were making it increasingly hard for the presiding judge or the ruling military council to shut the case down now and avoid a collision with Washington. The Egyptian authorities "have whipped up this frenzy," Mr. Hanna said, "and it makes a face-saving solution very difficult."
6) New light on drone war's death toll
Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press, February 25, 2012
Islamabad -- American drone strikes inside Pakistan are killing far fewer civilians than many in the country are led to believe, according to a rare on-the-ground investigation by The Associated Press of 10 of the deadliest attacks in the past 18 months.
The widespread perception in Pakistan that civilians, not militants, are the principal victims - a view that is fostered by leading right-wing politicians, clerics and the fighters themselves - fuels pervasive anti-American sentiment and, some argue, has swelled the ranks of al-Qaida and the Taliban.
But an AP reporter who spoke to about 80 villagers at the sites of the 10 attacks in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militants in Pakistan's northwest tribal region along the Afghan border, was told that a significant majority of the dead were combatants.
Indeed, the AP was told by the villagers that of at least 194 people killed in the attacks, about 70 percent - at least 138 - were militants. The remaining 56 were either civilians or tribal police, and 38 of them were killed in a single attack on March 17, 2011.
Excluding that strike, which inflicted one of the worst civilian death tolls since the drone program started in Pakistan, nearly 90 percent of the people killed were militants, villagers said.
But the civilian deaths in the covert CIA-run program raise legal and ethical concerns, especially given Washington's reluctance to speak openly about the strikes or compensate the families of innocent victims.
U.S. officials who were shown the AP's findings rejected the accounts of any civilian casualties but declined to be quoted by name or make their own information public.
The U.S. has carried out at least 280 attacks since 2004 in Pakistan's tribal region. The area is dangerous and off-limits to most reporters, and death tolls from the strikes usually rely on reports from Pakistani intelligence agents speaking on condition of anonymity.
The numbers gathered by the AP turned out to be very close to those given by Pakistani intelligence on the day of each strike, the main difference being that the officials often did not distinguish between militants and civilians.
Drone attacks began during the Bush administration. President Barack Obama has ramped them up significantly since he took office but slowed them down in recent months because of increased tension between the U.S. and Pakistan caused by American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.
Some analysts have been skeptical about carrying out on-the-ground investigations, assuming villagers would follow the militants' narrative of high civilian death tolls to avoid reprisals. But the AP study showed otherwise. While some villagers spoke on condition of anonymity saying they feared for their safety, others let their names be published.
Many knew the dead civilians personally. They also said one way to distinguish civilians from militants was by counting funerals, because the bodies of dead militants would usually be whisked away for burial elsewhere.
Before dawn on April 22, 2011, a drone fired missiles at the guest room of a large compound in Hasan Khel, a village in the mountains dominated by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a Pakistani militant commander fighting foreign troops in Afghanistan.
The strike killed 25 people, including 20 militants, three children and two women, said Mamrez Gul, who owns a shop near the site of the attack. The militants were staying in the guest room, and the civilians were sleeping in a nearby room that was also destroyed by the blasts. A funeral was held for the women and children, but the bodies of the militants were taken away, said Mamrez Gul.
He said the women and children were relatives of the compound's owner, Gul Sharif, a militant commander loyal to Bahadur. He survived the attack, said two villagers, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A U.S. counterterrorism official in Washington said no women and children were observed in the compound before the strike. But Mamrez Gul, taxi driver Noor Habib Wazir and farmer Gul Paenda Khan said they attended the funeral of the women and children.
A strike on August 14, 2010, on a compound in Issori Boikhel village also illustrated the danger to civilians who live close to militants. The attack killed seven Pakistani Taliban fighters and seven tribesmen, said Shera Deen, the owner of the compound that was hit. Safir Ullah, a student, corroborated the casualty count, as did a third villager who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Deen, who was not in the compound when it was attacked, said he lost two sons, a brother and three nephews, one of them 10 years old.
The seventh tribesman killed was 26-year-old Sohrab Khan, who was leading evening prayers for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when the missiles struck, the villagers said. According to them, the Taliban fighters entered the compound to join the prayers, which would explain why they were bunched together with civilians.
Regarding the March 17, 2011, strike on Shiga village, the bloodiest attack investigated by the AP, U.S. officials familiar with drone operations said the group targeted was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to al-Qaida, and all "acted in a manner consistent with AQ (al-Qaida)-linked militants."
But villagers and Pakistani officials said the missiles hit a community meeting, or jirga, held to resolve a mining dispute, killing four Pakistani Taliban fighters and 38 civilians and tribal police.
The militants were there because they controlled the area and any decision made would need their approval, said Gul Ahmed, a farmer.
Citing the number visible in the monitoring before and during the attack, U.S. officials said the total of dead was roughly half what villagers reported. But Ahmed said there were 42 caskets lined up at the funeral, and he provided the victims' names.
Christopher Rogers, a lawyer who has studied civilian casualties in Pakistan from drone attacks and other military action, said that regardless of casualty tolls, the U.S. still needed to make the program more transparent to prove it is complying with international laws on who may be targeted and measures to minimize the loss of innocent lives.
"The percentage of militants killed is an important piece of this, but it is one piece of a larger picture," said Rogers, who works at Open Society Foundations, an advocacy group in New York City. "The bigger issue here is the covert nature of the program, the complete lack of any transparency and accountability and the lack of information about how the U.S. distinguishes a militant from a civilian."
The drone program is so secretive that only last month did Obama publicly acknowledge its existence. He said the strikes "have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties," but gave no details.
Rights organizations have been unable to verify the number of civilian casualties caused by drones because of the danger and difficulty of getting to sites.
One London-based group, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has published drone casualty figures based on media reports, witness testimony and other information. It said strikes have killed between 2,383 and 3,109 people, of whom 464 to 815 were civilians. That implies the percentage of militants killed was roughly 70 to 80 percent. The group said an unidentified U.S. counterterrorism official insisted its civilian casualty figures were much too high.
7) In Israeli city, a tribute to a Palestinian doctor
Joel Greenberg, Washington Post, Monday, February 27, 2:55 PM
Jaffa, Israel – Freighted with memories, a bus carrying Najwa Dajani and her extended family pulled into this city by the sea that she had left under gathering clouds of war more than six decades ago."We're going home," she said.
Najwa, 75, had not been back since she left for Cairo with her mother and siblings in January 1948 as fighting raged between Arabs and Jews in the war that accompanied the creation of Israel. The departure, part of a mass Palestinian exodus, was supposed to be temporary, until the hostilities died down, but became a lifelong exile.
On Sunday, Najwa, who lives in Amman, Jordan, was back in Jaffa by invitation with her sole surviving brother, Omar Dajani, who arrived from Baltimore, for an unusual tribute.
The municipality of Tel-Aviv-Jaffa took the exceptional step of naming a square in memory of their father, Fouad Ismail Dajani, a respected Palestinian physician who founded the first private hospital in Jaffa in 1933.
Serving both Arabs and Jews, the hospital was familiar to many Israelis who were born there over the years, and though its formal name has since changed, it is still widely called the Dajani Hospital. The doctor, who specialized in surgery and obstetrics, died in 1940 at the age of 50 from an infection contracted from a patient during an operation.
Sunday's commemoration was a rare moment of recognition in Israel of its Palestinian past - in this case, the contribution of the esteemed surgeon from a prominent Palestinian family whose members are scattered across the globe, though some remain in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
"When we first heard about it we were very surprised," Omar, 72, the youngest of the doctor's six children, said before the event. "I do not understand it, but I accept it with great pride."
A group of about 20 Dajanis - children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the doctor - came to Jaffa for Sunday's ceremony, some arriving from Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, which have no diplomatic ties with Israel, as well as from Jordan, Hong Kong, England, Switzerland and the United States.
They went back to the old family house on the grounds of the hospital, now a geriatric center, and prayed at the doctor's grave in the courtyard.
Echoing the cooperation at the Dajani Hospital, which was designed by a Jewish architect, and where Jewish doctors and nurses were among the staff, the commemoration was the product of joint efforts by Arabs and Jews.
The idea originated with Samuel Giler, a Tel Aviv architect, who learned of Fouad Dajani from a televised documentary about two Palestinian and two Israeli women who, as girls, shared a room in boarding school during the British Mandate in Palestine. One of the Palestinian women was the doctor's eldest daughter, and in one scene in the film, she lamented the absence of a headstone on his grave.
Giler helped arrange for a tombstone that was erected on the 60th anniversary of the doctor's death, inscribed in Arabic, Hebrew and English, and went on to suggest that city authorities memorialize Dajani by naming a street after him.
The cause was taken up by Ahmed Mashharawi, a city council member from Jaffa's Arab community, which makes up about one-third of the mixed city's population. He has been leading a campaign to name city streets after prominent Arab figures, and he persuaded the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council to unanimously endorse the naming of a square near the hospital after its founder.
"There are 400 streets in the city with Jewish names. We have to remind people that we're together here in Jaffa," Mashharawi said. "Don't erase my Arab identity. It's a small and symbolic step, but important. It makes you feel that you belong."
The ceremony, conducted in Hebrew, Arabic and English, went off without a hitch, and with moments of high emotion. A 93-year-old Israeli woman who served as a nurse at the hospital came forward and was warmly welcomed by the doctor's children. An Arab-Jewish women's choir sang a haunting Arab song, and the mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Ron Huldai, greeted the Dajanis, calling the naming of the square "an attempt to fight the cruel forgetfulness brought by time."
Choking back tears, Omar Dajani said he hoped the day's events would be "an example to the two peoples, descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, to whom God promised this land, that like the healer we are honoring, we will heal the wounds of our differences and find a way to live in peace and harmony in this holy land."
8) Syrians Said to Approve New Charter as Battles Continue
Neil MacFarquhar and Alan Cowell, New York Times, February 27, 2012
Beirut, Lebanon - As violence continued to rage in Syria on Monday, the country's Interior Ministry announced that voters had approved a new Constitution by a margin of almost 9-to-1 in a referendum on Sunday that Western leaders labeled a farce.
In a bulletin across the bottom of the screen on state television, the ministry said 89 percent of the voters, or nearly 7.5 million of the 8.4 million people who cast ballots, had voted in favor of the Constitution - an offer of reform that critics dismissed as too little, too late.
More than 750,000 no votes were cast, or about 9 percent of the total, the ministry said, while nearly 133,000 ballots, or 1.6 percent, were rejected as spoiled. The turnout exceeded 57 percent of the more than 14 million eligible voters, according to the ministry.
Referendums in Syria generally produce the results the government wants, so the huge plurality in favor of the Constitution was unsurprising. Although the government controlled the voting and the count, it was possible that the authorities in Damascus did not need to manipulate the results, since they still enjoy some support and the opposition mostly boycotted the balloting.
The referendum came after almost a year of a bloody crackdown on dissent in Syria that has sent tremors throughout the region and has driven a widening wedge between the United States on one hand and Russia and China on the other. That division seemed to expand on Monday, with both Russia and China castigating the Obama administration's calls for President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.
In an article in the Moscow News on Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia castigated Washington for seeking to emulate NATO's intervention in the Libyan revolt that overthrew Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. "No one should be allowed to employ the Libyan scenario in Syria," Mr. Putin wrote. "I would like to warn our Western colleagues against the temptation to resort to this simple, if previously used, tactic."
"The logic is such conduct is counterproductive and very dangerous," he wrote. "No good can come of it. In any case it will not help reach a settlement in a country that is going through a domestic conflict."
In Beijing, the official People's Daily newspaper said that the United States had no right to criticize Chinese and Russian policy. The Obama administration, the newspaper said, "has not considered how to allow the Syrian people to put an early end to this disaster at minimal cost."
Russia and China had endorsed the referendum process and accused participants in the Tunis conference of promoting war.
The new Constitution's most important changes include ending the political monopoly of the Baath Party and introducing presidential term limits.
Those changes come with enormous caveats, however. The president would be limited to two terms of seven years each, but the clock would start only when Mr. Assad's current term expires in 2014. That would allow him to serve two more terms and potentially to remain in office until he is 62, a total of 28 years. His father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled for 30 years until his death in 2000 at age 69.
The document also includes provisions that appear to be intended to prevent the political opposition from entering politics or winning the presidency. It requires candidates to have lived in Syria for 10 successive years and to have a Syrian-born wife, and it prohibits parties that are based on religion or ethnicity, which would bar groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or representatives of the Kurdish minority from participating.
9) Haitian Premier Says Loss of Support Led Him to Quit
Randal C. Archibold, New York Times, February 25, 2012
The prime minister of Haiti, whose abrupt resignation on Friday threw the country into political turmoil once again, said he knew his job was finished when he called cabinet ministers to a meeting a day earlier: None showed up.
Months of tension had been building between the prime minister, Garry Conille, a former United Nations bureaucrat who runs the day-to-day operations of government, and President Michel Martelly, a former Carnival singer who insists that he is in charge. Mr. Conille was his third choice for the job, backed by international donors eager to get rebuilding projects under way, after Parliament had rejected his other nominees.
Mr. Conille - who by law remains in office until his successor, not yet named, takes over - insisted that his overall relationship with Mr. Martelly was positive, and he said he was anguished that his departure might further disrupt Haiti's dragging recovery from an earthquake in January 2010. Half a million people are still living in tents, and many international donors and investors are skittish as political instability continues.
Still, diplomats had sought to head off the crisis and were rocked by the resignation. Of the $4.5 billion pledged by international donors, only about half has been delivered, and more is unlikely unless a stable government is in place.
The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission - for which Mr. Conille as prime minister had served as chairman, along with Mr. Clinton, and which was set up to make sure the aid was delivered - has faded into oblivion after Mr. Martelly and Parliament could not agree on extending it past its expiration date in October. "So many actors are not willing to commit resources when the government is not stable," said retired Major Josesph M. Bernadel, a member of the commission representing Haitians living abroad.
10) Colombia's FARC rebels say they'll stop kidnapping
Juan Forero, Washington Post, February 26
Bogota, Colombia - Latin America's last major rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, announced Sunday it was giving up kidnappings in a policy reversal that could be a step toward peace talks after decades of conflict.
On its Web site, the FARC, as the group is known, said it would release 10 soldiers and policemen that have been held in jungle camps going back as far as the 1990s. The group also announced the end of a policy that has terrorized ordinary Colombians for decades - kidnapping for ransom to fund its war against the state.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reacted cautiously to the FARC's message. "We value the FARC's announcement of renouncing kidnapping as an important and necessary step forward," Santos said via his Twitter account. But Santos also said the shift was "not sufficient in the right direction," meaning it fell short of renouncing the violence that has made the FARC a feared group in Colombia's conflict.
Under its latest commander, Rodrigo "Timochenko" Londoño, who replaced a predecessor killed by the security forces, the FARC seems to have slightly softened its message. When Londoño was chosen to head the FARC in November, the group boldly announced that "the continuation of the strategic plan toward the people's taking of power has been guaranteed."
But soon after, in a letter to a university professor that was made public, Londoño said that the FARC was not interested in defeating the army on the road to taking power. Instead, he wrote, the FARC hoped to become a social movement. In his communiques, Londoño has also publicly reached out to Santos about the possibility of peace talks.
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