JFP 4/6: SyHersh: US backing MEK terrorists in Iran; Bahrain hungerstriker near death
Just Foreign Policy News, April 6, 2012
SyHersh: US backing MEK terrorists in Iran; Bahrain hungerstriker near death
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Amnesty International: Bahrain: Release leading rights activist at risk of death from hungerstrike
"Zionist BDS" -- Kosher for Passover
Peter Beinart's call for American Jews to support "Zionist BDS" calls the question: how can you say you support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict if you oppose the pressure on the Israeli government's West Bank colonization project necessary to bring a two-state solution about?
"No Contact" Is the Keystone XL of Iran Policy
Ending the "no contact" policy -- like the Keystone XL permit -- is totally under the control of the administration. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can reverse this anti-diplomacy policy right now. They don't need a hechsher from Joe Lieberman or Lindsay Graham.
Bureau of Investigative Journalism: Arab spring brings steep rise in US attacks in Yemen
Covert US strikes against alleged militants in Yemen have risen steeply during the Arab spring, and are currently at the same level as the CIA's controversial drone campaign in Pakistan, a new study by the Bureau reveals.
Video: Saar Skali – Talking about the Israeli Occupation – "The Big Brother" Reality show in Israel
On a top-rated prime-time reality TV show in Israel, Saar Skali says that Israel has to stop coveting Palestinian land if it is to avoid catastrophe.
Jerusalem Post: Barak reveals Israel's conditions for Iran-West talks
A noteworthy absence from Barak's list: a demand that Iran cease the enrichment of uranium. Thus, self-described "pro-Israel" voices who demand Iran cease enriching uranium are now exposed as "aktar maliki min il malik" - more royalist than the King.
MJ Rosenberg: Why Peter Beinart's Book Is Driving the "Pro-Israel" Establishment Crazy
The "pro-Israel" establishment is so invested in the dark past that it will not tolerate the image of a bright future.
Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control
April 28-29, 2012 - Washington, DC
The peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting the first international drone summit.
1) Twenty-six leading Iranian-American, Jewish-American, Muslim-American, arms control, human rights, pro-democracy, pro-peace, and faith organizations called for any legislation advanced by Congress to support a diplomatic resolution to the standoff with Iran and make clear there is no authorization for military force, NIAC reports.
In a letter to Congress, the organizations support H.R.4173, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act [the Barbara Lee bill - JFP], and to oppose S.Res.380 and H.Res.568, which would hinder US diplomatic efforts by replacing the established U.S. "redline" of a nuclear-armed Iran with the undefined "nuclear weapons capability" [the Lieberman/Graham bill - JFP.]
2) In 2005, the Joint Special Operations Command conducted training for the MEK in Nevada, even though the MEK was on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, Seymour Hersh reports in the New Yorker. A former senior U.S. intelligence official told Hersh that the U.S. had assisted Israel and the MEK in assassinating Iranian scientists, contrary to U.S. denials.
3) If Hersh's report is true, it means the U.S. Government actively trained a group that the U.S. Government itself legally categorizes as a "foreign terrorist organization," a clear felony under U.S. law, writes Glenn Greenwald in Salon. "Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life," U.S. law says. That alone compels serious DOJ and Congressional investigations into these claims, Greenwald writes.
4) Eight former U.S. officials planned to appear at a Washington event in support of the MEK, in the midst of a federal investigation into speaking fees paid for appearances at previous conferences, Talking Points Memo reports. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former Marine Corps Commandant James Conway, and former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg were named in the flyer.
5) Canada's plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin grew less certain on Tuesday after a scathing report by the country's auditor general which said the Canadian military had underestimated the cost, the New York Times reports. [Similar concerns dog the F-35 in Washington - JFP.]
6) Former Mossad head Meir Dagan says Israel should trust President Obama when he says that he will not let Iran build a nuclear weapon, the Jerusalem Post reports. Dagan said a strike on Iran could only destroy infrastructure, not nuclear know-how. He repeated his view that an attack would lead Israel into a regional war.
7) The UAE ordered the closing of the U.S. - funded National Democratic Institute, detained two of its employees and barred one of them from leaving the country, the New York Times reports. The U.S. response has been muted compared to the furor over the crackdown on U.S.-funded groups in Egypt, the NYT notes.
8) Bahraini security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters marching Friday in support of a jailed human rights activist whose nearly two-month hunger strike has become a powerful rallying point, AP reports. Bahrain's most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, who predicted the unrest could "get out of control" if Abdulhadi al-Khawaja dies in custody. Al-Khawaja holds Danish citizenship, and officials in Copenhagen have urged Bahraini authorities to allow him to travel to Denmark for medical treatment.
9) The AFL-CIO urged President Obama to maintain pressure on the Colombian government to end rampant violence against union workers, the Huffington Post reports. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka noted that the Colombian government has prosecuted less than 10 percent of the cases of 3,000 trade unionists who have been murdered in Colombia since 1989, emphasizing, "None of the 29 labor activists killed in 2011 had their cases resolved by a successful prosecution." But Obama may nonetheless declare that Colombia has met its obligations under the US-Colombia Labor Action Plan, allowing key aspects of the US-Colombia trade agreement will go into effect.
10) Just after the Pope left Cuba last week, the Catholic Church hosted a talk by Miami millionaire Carlos Saladrigas, who said in a public forum that socialism wasn't working anymore in Cuba, the Washington Post reports. The meeting was clearly a sign that there is cautious but visible change on the island, the Post says. Although Saladrigas said Cuba's state-run economy needed to be opened to free enterprise, the investor also blamed the U.S. government and anti-Castro Cuban exiles and their politicians in South Florida for perpetuating a standoff that has hurt Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
1) Broad Coalition Calls for Congress to Support Diplomacy, Oppose War of Choice
NIAC, Thursday, April 5, 2012
Washington, DC - With rising concerns of war with Iran, twenty-six leading Iranian-American, Jewish-American, Muslim-American, arms control, human rights, pro-democracy, pro-peace, and faith organizations called for any legislation advanced by Congress to support a diplomatic resolution to the standoff and make absolutely clear there is no authorization for military force against Iran.
In a letter led by NIAC to Congressional leadership, the organizations call for Congress to advance H.R.4173, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act, and to oppose S.Res.380 and H.Res.568:
Dear Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader Pelosi, Minority Leader McConnell:
We are deeply concerned by the increasing prospects of a disastrous war between the United States and Iran. At a time of dangerously escalating tensions, we urge in the strongest possible terms that any legislation advanced by Congress support a diplomatic resolution to the standoff and make absolutely clear that there is no Congressional authorization for military force against Iran.
Ultimately, America's interests with Iran will only be successfully achieved through a diplomatic solution. We strongly encourage you to advance legislation in support of this goal, such as H.R.4173, the Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act. This legislation would advance diplomacy by lifting the "no contact policy" that bars U.S. diplomats from speaking with their Iranian counterparts. It would also establish a special envoy to lead direct talks with Iran, and would clarify that there is no authorization for war with Iran.
Similarly, we urge you to oppose S.Res.380 and H.Res.568, which greatly hinder the Administration's current diplomatic efforts by contradicting the long established U.S. "redline" of a nuclear-armed Iran, accepted and supported by our nation's military leaders and intelligence community. By introducing the undefined term "nuclear weapons capability," Congress would needlessly open the door to war based on a threshold that experts say could apply to numerous countries ranging from Brazil to Japan. This is a dangerous and irresponsible standard upon which to base the decision for military force and, if adopted as U.S. policy, would make a war of choice far more likely while obstructing a diplomatic, inspections-based solution.
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently declared that a war of choice with Iran would be a "catastrophe." Military and civilian leaders have unanimously echoed this assessment and warned that a military attack would make a nuclear-armed Iran more likely. Economists have warned that war with Iran would impose tremendous burdens on the fragile global economy, dramatically spike gas prices, and cost an untold number of jobs here at home. Members of Iranian civil society have warned that war, and even the threat of war, would be devastating for human rights and the pro-democracy movement in Iran. The American people expect all diplomatic and peaceful options to be exhausted before any military action against Iran is considered. Our brave servicemen and women deserve nothing less. And all Americans deserve a Congress that will ensure that the United States will never initiate an unauthorized war of choice and will instead utilize every diplomatic means at its disposal to peacefully resolve the standoff with Iran.
National Iranian American Council
3P Human Security
American Friends Service Committee
Americans for Peace Now
Center for Interfaith Engagement at Eastern Mennonite University
Center for International Policy
Council for a Livable World
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and United Church of Christ
Holy Name Province Franciscan JPIC Office
Just Foreign Policy
Lancaster Interchurch Peace Witness
Muslim Public Affairs Council
New Internationalism Project of the Institute for Policy Studies
Peace Action West
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Progressive Democrats of America
Project On Middle East Democracy
Student Peace Alliance
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Win Without War
Women's Action for New Directions
2) Our Men In Iran?
Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, April 6, 2012
From the air, the terrain of the Department of Energy's Nevada National Security Site, with its arid high plains and remote mountain peaks, has the look of northwest Iran. The site, some sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas, was once used for nuclear testing, and now includes a counterintelligence training facility and a private airport capable of handling Boeing 737 aircraft. It's a restricted area, and inhospitable-in certain sections, the curious are warned that the site's security personnel are authorized to use deadly force, if necessary, against intruders.
It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the M.E.K. The M.E.K. had its beginnings as a Marxist-Islamist student-led group and, in the nineteen-seventies, it was linked to the assassination of six American citizens. It was initially part of the broad-based revolution that led to the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran. But, within a few years, the group was waging a bloody internal war with the ruling clerics, and, in 1997, it was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department. In 2002, the M.E.K. earned some international credibility by publicly revealing-accurately-that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a secret underground location. Mohamed ElBaradei, who at the time was the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear monitoring agency, told me later that he had been informed that the information was supplied by the Mossad. The M.E.K.'s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration's fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the M.E.K. ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.
Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, M.E.K. has remained on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations-which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. "We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada," a former senior American intelligence official told me. "We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications-coördinating commo is a big deal." (A spokesman for J.S.O.C. said that "U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of M.E.K. members.")
The training ended sometime before President Obama took office, the former official said.
Massoud Khodabandeh, an I.T. expert now living in England who consults for the Iraqi government, was an official with the M.E.K. before defecting in 1996. In a telephone interview, he acknowledged that he is an avowed enemy of the M.E.K., and has advocated against the group. Khodabandeh said that he had been with the group since before the fall of the Shah and, as a computer expert, was deeply involved in intelligence activities as well as providing security for the M.E.K. leadership. For the past decade, he and his English wife have run a support program for other defectors. Khodabandeh told me that he had heard from more recent defectors about the training in Nevada. He was told that the communications training in Nevada involved more than teaching how to keep in contact during attacks-it also involved communication intercepts. The United States, he said, at one point found a way to penetrate some major Iranian communications systems. At the time, he said, the U.S. provided M.E.K. operatives with the ability to intercept telephone calls and text messages inside Iran-which M.E.K. operatives translated and shared with American signals intelligence experts. He does not know whether this activity is ongoing.
Five Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated since 2007. M.E.K. spokesmen have denied any involvement in the killings, but early last month NBC News quoted two senior Obama Administration officials as confirming that the attacks were carried out by M.E.K. units that were financed and trained by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. NBC further quoted the Administration officials as denying any American involvement in the M.E.K. activities. The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the M.E.K., adding that the operations benefitted from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not "Einsteins"; "The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale," he said, and to "demoralize the whole system-nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants." Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are "primarily being done by M.E.K. through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence." An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and M.E.K. activities inside Iran had been long-standing. "Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates," he said.
The sources I spoke to were unable to say whether the people trained in Nevada were now involved in operations in Iran or elsewhere. But they pointed to the general benefit of American support. "The M.E.K. was a total joke," the senior Pentagon consultant said, "and now it's a real network inside Iran. How did the M.E.K. get so much more efficient?" he asked rhetorically. "Part of it is the training in Nevada. Part of it is logistical support in Kurdistan, and part of it is inside Iran. M.E.K. now has a capacity for efficient operations that it never had before."
3) Report: U.S. trained terror group
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Friday, Apr 6, 2012
When the U.S. wants to fund, train, arm or otherwise align itself with a Terrorist group or state sponsor of Terror - as it often does - it at least usually has the tact to first remove them from its formal terrorist list (as the U.S. did when it wanted to support Saddam in 1982 and work with Libya in 2006), or it just keeps them off the list altogether despite what former Council on Foreign Relations writer Lionel Beehner described as "mounds of evidence that [they] at one time or another abetted terrorists" (as it has done with close U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, along with the El Salvadoran death squads and Nicaraguan contras armed and funded in the 1980s by the Reagan administration). But according to a new, multi-sourced report from The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the U.S. did not even bother going through those motions when, during the Bush years, it trained the Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) at a secretive Department of Energy site in Nevada:
So let's review what we have here. If this report is true, it means the U.S. Government actively trained a group that the U.S. Government itself legally categorizes as a "foreign terrorist organization," a clear felony under U.S. law:
"Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life."
That alone compels serious DOJ and Congressional investigations into these claims. Worse, this reportedly happened at the very same time that the U.S. aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned numerous Muslims for providing material support for groups on that list even though many of those prosecuted provided support that was far, far less than what the U.S. Government itself was providing to MEK. Meanwhile, right at this moment, America's closest ally - Israel - is clearly a state sponsor of this designated Terrorist organization, providing training, funding and arms to it, and the U.S. may very well be as well (independent of all else, given that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, the U.S., at the very least, is financing a state sponsor of Terror).
At the same time, a glittering bipartisan cast of former Washington officials is receiving large payments from this designated Terrorist group, meeting with its leaders, and then advocating on its behalf - again, providing far more material support than many powerless, marginalized Muslims who have been and continue to be prosecuted under this law. All of this appears to be clearly criminal regardless of whether MEK belongs on the list - once a group is placed by the State Department on the list, whether justifiably or not, it is a felony to provide material support to it - but MEK appears to be doing exactly that which is typically considered Terrorism: assassinating civilian scientists (and severely wounding their wives) with bombs and causing other civilian-killing explosions on Iranian soil in order to induce fear.
4) Former Officials To Appear At D.C. Event On Behalf Of 'Terrorist' Group
Ryan J. Reilly, Talking Points Memo, April 6, 2012,
Eight former U.S. officials will appear at a Washington, D.C. event on Friday in support of an Iranian opposition group labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, all in the midst of a federal investigation into speaking fees paid for appearances at previous conferences.
An unknown number of former officials who have spoken at events in support of the People's Muhajedin Organization of Iran, or MEK, have been subpoenaed by the Treasury Department. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former FBI Director Louis Freeh have hired former Clinton Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman in response to the probe.
Friday's event, held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., will feature Mukasey, Freeh, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former Marine Corps Commandant James Conway, Former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg and former U.S. Ambassador Stuart Holliday. Mitchell Reiss, former State Department Policy Planning Director, will moderate.
5) Canada's Plan to Buy F-35 Jets Is in Doubt as Auditor General Cites 'Significant Problems'
Ian Austen, New York Times, April 3, 2012
Ottawa - Canada's plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin grew less certain on Tuesday after a scathing report by the country's auditor general.
While large military contracts are often politically contentious in Canada, the Conservative government's decision in 2010 to join the United States in selecting the F-35 as the country's next fighter aircraft has been particularly controversial.
Cost increases and delays in the F-35 program have caused headaches for both governments, and Canadian critics argue that the aircraft costs too much and is too sophisticated for the needs of the country's air force.
Michael Ferguson, the auditor general, said on Tuesday that his staff had concluded that the F-35 was selected without a "fair competition" and that the Canadian military had underestimated the cost of the aircraft and overstated industrial spinoffs for Canadian manufacturers. He added that the government had not made sufficient provisions to handle increased costs.
[The huge cost of the F-35 program has also been a major controversy in Washington; this news will buttress the Washington controversy - JFP.]
6) 'Israel should trust Obama to stop Iran nukes'
Full exclusive interview: Dagan says nuclear knowledge can't be eliminated, Iran regime will choose survival over atomic weapon.
Ilan Evyatar, Jerusalem Post, 04/05/2012 18:00
Israel should trust US President Barack Obama when he says that he will not let Iran build a nuclear weapon, former Mossad head Meir Dagan told The Jerusalem Post this week.
"If the US president says that he is not going to allow Iran to reach nuclear capability, if we are not going to trust him, then who are we going to trust?" Dagan said.
He told the Post that Israel was making a mistake by portraying the issue of Tehran's nuclear ambitions as one of Israel against Iran, and should leave the question to the international community.
Dagan, who stepped down as head of the Mossad just over a year ago and now heads oil, gas and uranium exploration company Gulliver Energy, said that a strike on Iran would not be able to halt the Islamic Republic's drive for nuclear weapons, as such a move could only destroy infrastructure, not nuclear know-how.
"Knowledge on the nuclear issue is something that you are not able to prevent, because knowledge is something that remains in the brains of people," he said. "You are not capable, really, of eliminating knowledge from people."
He repeated his view that an attack would lead Israel into a regional war conducted mostly through Tehran's proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and perhaps even Syria.
Given that a regional war is the likely outcome of attacking Iran and that it would only be able to delay the project, not to stop it, the question arises whether an attack is the best solution to the issue, Dagan said.
"I believe that such a solution should be a tool available to the political level, but I'm not sure it should be the first option. It should be the last option," he said.
He added that he believed the Iranian regime to be a rational regime and said that in his estimate, Tehran would back down from its nuclear weapons ambition if faced with choosing between the program and its own survival.
"If they were to face a situation where they would have to judge the survival of the regime versus the [nuclear] project, I believe they would choose the survival of the regime," Dagan said.
7) Emirates Detain Pair From U.S.-Backed Group
Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, April 5, 2012
Washington - The United Arab Emirates detained two employees of an American-financed pro-democracy organization and barred one of them from leaving the country on Thursday, worsening a diplomatic confrontation with the United States that has embarrassed and puzzled administration officials.
The United Arab Emirates, one of the closest American allies in the Persian Gulf, last week ordered the closing of the organization, the National Democratic Institute, and then detained its two employees as they prepared to leave the country late Wednesday, administration officials and others briefed on the detentions said.
The institute's local director, Patricia Davis, an American, was ultimately allowed to leave. Her deputy, Slobodan Milic, a Serb, was released on Thursday after being detained overnight and questioned, but was not allowed to leave the country, they said. The detentions appeared to be part of a broader crackdown on nongovernmental organizations in the country, which also shut down a German advocacy group, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which has close ties to the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In a statement to the state-run news agency on Thursday, the assistant foreign minister for legal affairs of the Emirates, Abdul Rahim al-Awadhi, said that the authorities ordered the closings because the organizations violated regulations governing their work in the country. He did not elaborate or identify the organizations involved. "Some foreign institutions that were operating in the U.A.E. have violated the terms of the license," Mr. Awadhi said. "Some have been operating without a license."
It was the first public explanation of the closings, which occurred on the eve of a highly trumpeted security summit meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and leaders of the six Arab nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes the Emirates.
Mrs. Clinton, traveling in neighboring Saudi Arabia on Saturday, expressed regret over the closings and said she raised the matter with the Emirates' foreign minister, Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. The American response since then has been muted compared with the furor [over] the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, Freedom House and other groups operating in [Egypt.]
After the United States threatened to cut off $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt under a new law, an Egyptian court ultimately allowed American and foreign employees of the groups to leave the country after paying nearly $5 million in bail. At the time, leaders of the groups expressed concern that Egypt's crackdown on the groups - which promote democracy and basic political rights in line with stated American policy - could have reverberations through the region at a time of popular protests and political upheaval.
Last month, Mrs. Clinton waived new Congressional restrictions on military assistance to Egypt, even though the criminal case against the organizations continues, with the next court date set for next week for defendants still in Egypt. It remains unclear whether Egypt will summon the six Americans who paid the bail and left the country when the proceedings resume.
8) Police Descend on Bahrain Rally for Hunger Striker
Associated Press, April 6, 2012 at 10:53 AM ET
Manama, Bahrain - Bahraini security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at thousands of protesters marching Friday in support of a jailed human rights activist whose nearly two-month hunger strike has become a powerful rallying point for the tiny nation's Shiite-led uprising against the Sunni monarchy.
"Freedom or martyrdom," cried marchers who carried portraits of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, whose declining health has brought appeals for international intervention from groups such as Amnesty International.
Al-Khawaja and seven other opposition leaders were sentenced to life in prison in June after bring convicted of anti-state crimes. Bahrain's Shiite majority began an uprising nearly 14 month ago against the political controls of the Sunni monarchy, which remains backed by its Western allies and holds strategic ties such as hosting the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.
The rallies followed a strongly worded sermon by Bahrain's most senior Shiite cleric, Sheik Isa Qassim, who predicted the unrest could "get out of control" if al-Khawaja dies in custody.
Al-Khawaja holds Danish citizenship, and officials in Copenhagen have urged Bahraini authorities to allow him to travel to Denmark for medical treatment.
9) Obama Urged To Pressure Colombia On Workers' Rights Following Murders
Zach Carter, Huffington Post, 04/ 5/2012 4:12 pm
Washington -- On Wednesday, the leaders of the largest coalition of American labor unions sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to maintain pressure on the Colombian government to end the rampant violence against union workers in the South American nation.
Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the signing of a Labor Action Plan between the two nations, an accord which helped Obama garner votes from congressional Democrats and that enabled the passage of a free-trade agreement with Colombia last fall. The AFL-CIO has long been critical of the trade pact, which originally was negotiated by former President George W. Bush, on the grounds that the Colombian government does not have the capacity to enforce protections for workers.
"It is premature to declare the Labor Action Plan a success," wrote AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in the Wednesday letter, obtained by HuffPost. "Now is not the time to relieve the pressure on Colombia to uphold the commitments it made in the Labor Action Plan."
Trumka detailed a host of labor disputes in Colombia, and noted that the Colombian government has prosecuted less than 10 percent of the cases of 3,000 trade unionists who have been murdered in Colombia since 1989, emphasizing, "None of the 29 labor activists killed in 2011 had their cases resolved by a successful prosecution."
Trumka outlines a handful of problems in the letter, including the local government of Jamundi, Colombia, which chose to fire 43 municipal workers who began an effort to unionize. One of the activists for the new union, Miguel Mallana, "was gunned down in the street on March 25," Trumka wrote.
Obama will visit Cartagena, Colombia, April 14-15 for the Summit of the Americas, an international conference of political leaders hosted by the Organization of American States. If Obama declares that Colombia has met its obligations under the Labor Action Plan, key aspects of the free trade agreement will go into effect.
10) Former hard-line exiles return to Cuba to talk
William Booth, Washington Post, Friday, April 6, 8:53 AM
Havana - The setting was historic. The looming 18th-century Seminary of San Carlos in Old Havana. The attendance remarkable. A hall packed with professors, dissidents, clergy, bloggers, leftists, diplomats. The subject matter once unthinkable.
Just after Pope Benedict XVI left Cuba last week, the Catholic Church hosted a talk by Miami millionaire Carlos Saladrigas, who politely but directly said here in a public forum that socialism - the bedrock of the revolution - wasn't working anymore on the communist-run island.
"To be honest," Saladrigas said later, "who could have thought such a meeting possible? Not me. Never."
But the meeting was clearly a sign that there is cautious but visible change on the island.
Saladrigas, a Cuban exile entrepreneur and former hard-liner who has flourished in Miami, said that "big changes in the next few years" were inevitable, and he advised young Cubans to stay put. Although Saladrigas said that Cuba's state-run economy needed to be opened to free enterprise, the 63-year-old investor also blamed the U.S. government and the anti-Castro Cuban exiles and their politicians in South Florida for perpetuating a standoff that has hurt Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits.
"Change is not easy, I know this personally," he said.
"This was an event of tremendous importance, the first time that a prominent Cuban from aboard could express these thoughts in a large forum," said Oscar Espinosa Chepe, an independent Cuban economist who attended the meeting. He remarked that Saladrigas and the dozen people who stood at the microphone criticized both the Cuban and U.S. governments - and even offered a few solutions - in voices respectful and calm.
There were tough questions, too, directed at Saladrigas. Participants asked how the Miami exiles could really help Cuba while still supporting the 50-year-old embargo. The questioners wanted to know how U.S.-style capitalism could replace Cuban socialism, without turning workers into wage slaves and leaving the most vulnerable at the mercy of the markets.
In the past three years, President Raul Castro has begun to open the Cuban economy to its citizens. The government now allows small businesses - like car washers, shoe cobblers, pizza makers - to operate, even hire employees, though it restricts the size and ambition of the enterprise.
The streets these days are filled with legal bazaars (and some blackmarketeering) as fledging entrepreneurs dip their toes into the capitalist stream. Some neighborhoods in Havana look like a perpetual garage sale.
When Pope John Paul II came to Cuba in 1998, it was Saladrigas who organized mass demonstrations - and backroom arm-twisting - that led the Catholic Church in Miami to cancel plans to charter a cruise ship to bring South Florida pilgrims to the island to greet the pope.
Saladrigas now says he was wrong, and he vowed not to make the same mistake twice. In the past year, with sponsorship from the Church, the Cuban government has awarded Saladrigas four visas to visit the island. (In the years proceeding, he was turned down eight times).
Last week the Catholic church in Miami brought 800 pilgrims in five planes to Cuba to celebrate Mass with the pope, led by the Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
The exile community in Miami has more confidence in the Catholic Church in Cuba to act as a force for positive change, Wenski said, to help negotiate a "soft landing" as Cuba makes the inevitable transition to post-Castro realities.
"Of course, not everyone wants a soft landing. Some people want chaos and bloodshed and civil war," Wenski said, "but those people are in the minority now."
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