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JFP 4/27: Tutu backs Methodist divestment; Israelis arrested for marking Nakba
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 27 April 2012 - 2:44pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 27, 2012
Tutu backs Methodist divestment; Israelis arrested for marking Nakba
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Alert: Tell Obama No to "Signature" Drone Strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
"Signature" drone strikes allow the CIA to target people without knowing who will be killed, people who are not on any list of suspected terrorists, contrary to President Obama's claim in January that drone strike only target people on a list. Urge President Obama not to permit "signature" drone strikes in Yemen or Pakistan.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu endorses Methodist divestment
"I therefore wholeheartedly support your action to disinvest from companies who benefit from the Occupation of Palestine. This is a moral position that I have no choice but to support, especially since I know of the effect that Boycotts, Disinvestment and Sanctions had on the apartheid regime in South Africa. May God bless your conference as you deliberate on this matter, and I pray that your decision will reflect the best values of the human family as we stand in solidarity with the oppressed."
[you can follow reports on the Methodist divestment resolution in Tampa at the Twitter hashtag #churchdivest: https://twitter.com/#!/search/realtime/churchdivest.]
The Real News: Israelis arrested on Independence Day for Commemorating Nakba
In "the only democracy in the Middle East," Israelis aren't allowed to talk to other Israelis about the Palestinian villages that were destroyed in 1948.
Budget Control Act Military Cuts Will Cover the Social Security Shortfall
If the cuts to military spending over the next 10 years mandated by the Budget Control Act are allowed to stand, over 75 years that would save taxpayers about as much money as the currently projected shortfall in Social Security's finances over the next 75 years. Thus Members of Congress cannot simultaneously claim that maintaining current military spending is affordable while claiming that the Social Security shortfall constitutes a dire fiscal threat, as Robert Greenstein might say.
Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control
The peace group CODEPINK and the legal advocacy organizations Reprieve and the Center for Constitutional Rights are hosting the first International Drone Summit. On Saturday, April 28, we are bringing together human rights advocates, robotics technology experts, lawyers, journalists and activists for a summit to inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States. Participants will also have the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Pakistani drone-strike victims.
1) The number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails has grown to 2,000, with more preparing to join the protest next week, the Guardian reports. Seven prisoners have been transferred to a prison medical center. The men's condition is rapidly deteriorating, according to a prisoners' rights group. Administrative detention is one of the main issues behind the protest. More than 300 Palestinians – a 50% increase since last year – are being held without charge, trial or even being informed of accusations or evidence against them.
2) A major case in the British High Court has revealed fresh evidence of civilian deaths during a notorious CIA drone strike in Pakistan last year, contradicting U.S. claims that there were no civilian deaths, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports. The Bureau has so far identified by name 24 of those killed in Datta Khel village. AP reported it has the names of 42 civilians who died. Last year an anonymous US official told the New York Times: 'The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ [Al Qaeda] -linked militants, were killed.' [Note the consistency of the US story with the rationale of "signature strikes" - JFP.] The CIA declined to comment when asked whether it still believed it had killed no 'non-combatants' in Pakistan since May 2010, or that no civilians died in Datta Khel last year.
3) Writing in the Washington Post, law professor Bruce Ackerman notes that the military appropriations act of 2012 declared that "[n]othing in this section is intended to . . . expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force [of September 2001.] That means that the language of the 2001 AUMF is still operative, Ackerman writes, and therefore that the Administration does not have legal authority to expand drone strikes in Yemen against people not covered by the 2001 AUMF.
4) Pakistan's foreign minister said Pakistan has spelt out in no uncertain terms that U.S. drone aircraft strikes against militants inside its territory must stop, but Washington is not listening, Reuters reports. "On drones, the language is clear: a clear cessation of drone strikes," Hina Rabbani Khar said. "I maintain the position that we'd told them categorically before. But they did not listen. I hope their listening will improve," she said. After a review of ties with Washington, a Pakistani parliamentary committee laid out a series of demands, including an end to U.S. drone strikes.
Khar said other methods should be used to take out militants in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan."We have to look at effective tools which are mutually acceptable," she said.
5) The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive program in American history, writes Winslow Wheeler in Foreign Policy. It is listed in proposals for Pentagon spending reductions by leaders from across the political spectrum. Last year, Pentagon leadership told Congress the acquisition price had increased another 16 percent, from $328.3 billion to $379.4 billion for the 2,457 aircraft to be bought. This February, the price increased another 4 percent to $395.7 billion and then even further in April. That's just the projected budget to acquire the planes, not to operate them. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion -- making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion. It's time for Defense Secretary Panetta and Congress to face facts: the F-35 is an unaffordable mediocrity, and the program will not be fixed, Wheeler writes. There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it.
6) The Obama Administration may modify its proposal to promote peace talks by transferring Taliban detainees from Guantanamo by limiting its transfer to a single detainee in the hope of mollifying Congressional objections, Reuters reports. Sources identified the detainee as former Taliban regional governor Khairullah Khairkhwa, seen by U.S. officials as less dangerous than other senior Taliban detainees now held at Guantanamo. Khairkhwa was captured in Pakistan in early 2002, allegedly while seeking to negotiate surrender and integration into the new Afghan government. "If you were to take all the senior leaders associated with the Taliban since the start of the movement, and try to find the inclusive figures, acceptable to fellow Afghans and competent to work for a political agreement, Khairkhwa would definitely be in the top five," said Michael Semple, a former UN official with more than 20 years experience in Afghanistan.
7) Iran is unlikely to destroy the underground Fordow enrichment facility, writes former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It cost a lot of money and is suitable not just for enrichment to the 20 percent level but for other enrichment tasks. The Iranians see a proposal to close Fordow as mere facilitation of Israeli or US military strikes; shuttering Fordow would take out of the target list the one facility that makes such an attack demanding and difficult. One possibility for compromise might involve persuading Iran to leave Fordow on a stand-by status, with continued IAEA monitoring, pending further negotiations.
To consider anything as extensive as the expanded approaches favored by the P5+1, Iran would likely seek significant quid pro quos from the major powers, Pickering writes. These might include freezing of some sanctions, most likely those on the Central Bank of Iran and those that call for a July cut-off of significant European purchases of Iranian crude oil and gas.
8) Israeli President Peres distanced himself from Netanyahu's comparison of the Holocaust to Iran's nuclear program, AFP reports. "It's not the same thing," Peres said. "Holocaust is one thing and Iran is another. The comparison is out of place."
9) The Mexican government stepped up its response to the Wal-Mart bribery allegations, announcing the federal attorney general's office would begin an investigation, the New York Times reports. Calderón's government at first dismissed the bribery as a local problem. But as criticism echoed in Mexico's media and became part of the presidential campaign, the Calderón administration has appeared to backtrack.
10) The US government says that 68,000 guns recovered by Mexican authorities in the past five years have been traced back to the U.S., AP reports. According to ATF, many of the guns seized in Mexico and submitted to ATF for tracing were recovered at the scenes of cartel shootings while others were seized in raids on illegal arms caches. All the recovered weapons were suspected of being used in crimes in Mexico.
1) More Palestinian prisoners join hunger strike
Human rights groups say 2,000 are on hunger strike against indefinite detention without charge and alleged ill-treatment
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Thursday 26 April 2012 09.00 EDT
Ramallah - The number of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails has grown to 2,000, with more preparing to join the protest next week, according to human rights groups in the West Bank.
The Israeli prison service is taking punitive measures against hunger strikers, including solitary confinement, the confiscation of personal belongings, transfers and denial of family visits, say Palestinian organisations.
Seven prisoners have been transferred to a prison medical centre, including Tha'er Halahleh, 34, and Bilal Diab, 27, who by Thursday had been on hunger strike for 58 days. Their appeals against imprisonment without charge – known as administrative detention – were dismissed by a military court earlier this week.
The men's condition is rapidly deteriorating, according to Addameer, a prisoners' rights group. It expressed "grave concern that these hunger strikers are not receiving adequate healthcare … and that independent doctors are still being denied visits to them".
Administrative detention is one of the main issues behind the protest. More than 300 Palestinians – a 50% increase since last year – are being held without charge, trial or even being informed of accusations or evidence against them. Their term of imprisonment is determined by an Israeli military judge. Halahleh has been held for 22 months; Diab since last August.
Israel says administrative detention is a necessary security measure and that disclosing evidence could put intelligence-gathering or security operations at risk.
The prisoners are also protesting over the use of solitary confinement, denial of family visits and the treatment of sick detainees. "They also want to be treated with respect and dignity," said Shawan Jabarin of the human rights organisation al-Haq. "They want an end to middle-of-the-night checks, strip searches, humiliation and general ill-treatment. They are asking for humane treatment."
Meanwhile, the leader of a West Bank village protest movement was released on bail this week after more than a year in prison before the verdict in his military trial on 13 May. Bassem Tamimi, who has been recognised by the European Union as a "human rights defender", is accused of incitement and organising illegal demonstrations. He has previously spent around three years in administrative detention.
Palestinians had a duty to resist the Israeli occupation through popular peaceful protest, he told the Guardian after his release. "They have military superiority, but we have moral superiority," he said.
Under the terms of his bail he is not permitted to enter his home village of Nabi Saleh, which has been the scene of weekly protests against the expansion of a nearby Israeli settlement built within the village boundaries. The Israeli army routinely fires teargas, water cannon and rubber bullets at demonstrators.
[Western media have routinely used the phrase "rubber bullets" to refer to what are in fact "plastic-coated steel bullets." If you'd like to try to do something about this, try tweeting this: "dear @harrietsherwood: were those really "rubber bullets"? or were they in fact "plastic-coated steel bullets"? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/26/palestinian-prisoners-join-hunger-strike" - JFP. ]
The protests would continue despite regular night-time raids by the Israeli military and the arrest of at least 80 of Nabi Saleh's 500 inhabitants, Tamimi said.
2) Evidence in British court contradicts CIA drone claims
Chris Woods, Buraue of Investigative Journalism, April 24th, 2012
A major case in the British High Court has revealed fresh evidence of civilian deaths during a notorious CIA drone strike in Pakistan last year.
Sworn witness testimonies reveal in graphic detail how the village of Datta Khel burned for hours after the attack. Many of the dozens killed had to be buried in pieces.
Britain's GCHQ – its secret monitoring and surveillance agency – is reported to have provided 'locational evidence' to US authorities for use in drone strikes, a move which is reportedly illegal in the United Kingdom.
The High Court case focuses in particular on a CIA drone strike in March 2011 which killed up to 53 people.
Sworn affidavits presented in court and seen by the Bureau offer extensive new details of a strike the CIA still apparently claims 'killed no non-combatants'.
Ahmed Jan is a tribal elder in North Waziristan. On March 17 2011 he was attending a gathering with other village elders, to discuss a mining dispute.
'We were in the middle of our discussion when the missile hit and I was thrown about 24 feet from where I was sitting. I was knocked unconscious and when I awoke I saw many individuals who were dead or injured,' he says in his affidavit.
Most of those who died in Datta Khel village that day were civilians. The Bureau has so far identified by name 24 of those killed, whilst Associated Press recently reported that it has the names of 42 civilians who died that day.
Pakistan's president, prime minister and army chief all condemned the Datta Khel attack. A recent Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times quoted Brigadier Abdullah Dogar, who commanded Pakistani military forces in the area at the time.
"We in the Pakistan military knew about the meeting, we'd got the request ten days earlier. It was held in broad daylight, people were sitting out in Nomada bus depot when the missile strikes came. Maybe there were one or two Taliban at that Jirga – they have their people attending – but does that justify a drone strike which kills 42 mostly innocent people?"
Yet the US intelligence community has consistently denied that any civilians died.
Last year an anonymous US official told the New York Times: 'The fact is that a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ [Al Qaeda] -linked militants, were killed.'
The sworn affidavits seen by the Bureau offer a very different perspective. Imran Khan's father Ismail was another of the elders who died that day. Imran says of his father: 'He always did the right thing for the community and the tribe. He opposed terrorism and militancy and was not himself in any way connected to these things.'
Khalil Khan's late father Hajji Babat was a local policeman who was 'not an enemy of the United States of America or any other country.' His son describes in his affidavit how he rushed back to his village to find his father dead, the bus station and surrounding buildings still burning six hours after the drone strike.
And Fateh Khan, who once worked for British Telecom, lost his 25-year old nephew Din Mohammed in the CIA attack. He reports that his nephew's body had to be buried in pieces, and that 'he left behind four children, all of whom now live in my house. His eldest child is currently only five years old.'
The most senior tribal elder to die that day was Daud Khan. Initially he was claimed to have been a senior Taliban figure. His son Noor told the Bureau that this was 'an absolute lie'.
'My father was not a militant but an elder who was working day and night for his people. There have been many children who have been killed in drone strikes. I ask the US if they think those children were militants and combatants and dangerous enough to be killed in such a manner?'
The CIA declined to comment when asked whether it still believed it had killed no 'non-combatants' in Pakistan since May 2010, or that no civilians died in Datta Khel last year.
3) President Obama: Don't go there
Bruce Ackerman, Washington Post, April 20
[Ackerman is a professor of law at Yale and the author, most recently, of "The Decline and Fall of the American Republic."]
CIA Director David H. Petraeus is asking the administration to expand the bombing campaign in Yemen. If President Obama approves this request, he will be breaking the legal barrier that Congress erected to prevent the White House from waging an endless war on terrorism.
Just days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Congress authorized the use of force against groups and countries that had supported the terrorist strikes on the United States. But lawmakers did not give President George W. Bush everything he wanted. When the White House first requested congressional support, the president demanded an open-ended military authority "to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States."
Even at this moment of panic, Congress refused to hand Bush a blank check: "Given the breadth of activities potentially encompassed by the term 'aggression,' the President might never again have had to seek congressional authorization for the use of force to combat terrorism," David Abramowitz, chief counsel to what was then the House Committee on International Relations, wrote in a Harvard legal journal in 2002. Congress's final resolution eliminated the offending language and authorized the use of force against groups and countries that were involved in "the terrorist attacks on September 11th." The effect was to require the president to return to Congress, and the American people, for another round of express support for military campaigns against other terrorist threats.
The Petraeus proposal, reported this week by The Post, assaults this fundamental principle. Up to now, the CIA's drone campaign in Yemen has kept close to the legal line by restricting strikes to terrorist leaders, like the American Anwar al-Awlaki. Such leaders may have had personal links to the original al-Qaeda group, based in South Asia, that targeted New York and Washington in 2001. But now Petraeus is seeking permission to expand bombing raids whenever there is "suspicious behavior" at sites known to be controlled by a terrorist group - al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - that did not exist on Sept. 11.
Before the death of Osama bin Laden, it would have been plausible for the administration to suggest that the al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan were giving orders to the group's namesake in Yemen. But al-Qaeda's failure to replace bin Laden with a credible leadership structure underscores the fact that the Yemeni group is on its own. In fact, The Post reported that the administration is weighing expansion of the CIA program precisely because it considers Yemen to pose the world's most serious terrorist threat.
The risk of attacks from Yemen may be real. But the 2001 resolution doesn't provide the president with authority to respond to these threats without seeking further congressional consent.
Congress hasn't reversed itself in the years since it authorized the use of military force. While lawmakers recently elaborated on the president's powers over captive terrorists in the military appropriations act of 2012, that legislation declared that "[n]othing in this section is intended to . . . expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force [of September 2001]." If the administration wishes to escalate the fight against terrorists in Yemen, it should return to Congress for express approval.
Obama has an option. He has avoided Bush-era claims that he has the unilateral power as commander in chief to open up new fronts in an endless war against terrorism, independently of Congress. As a constitutional lawyer, he recognizes the weakness of such claims. As a politician he recognizes that they would profoundly alienate his base just when he needs it.
But unless Obama is prepared to cross this particular Rubicon, he should reject Petraeus's proposal. The president should not try to sleep-walk the United States into a permanent state of war by pretending that Congress has given him authority that Bush clearly failed to obtain at the height of the panic after Sept. 11.
4) Pakistan Says U.S. Not Listening: Drone Strikes Must Stop
John Chalmers and Michael Georgy, Reuters, April 26, 2012
Islamabad - Pakistan has spelt out in no uncertain terms that U.S. drone aircraft strikes against militants inside its territory must stop, but Washington is not listening, the country's foreign minister said.
"On drones, the language is clear: a clear cessation of drone strikes," Hina Rabbani Khar said. "I maintain the position that we'd told them categorically before. But they did not listen. I hope their listening will improve," she told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday.
The attacks by the unmanned aircraft from Afghanistan, which U.S. officials say are highly effective against militants, fuel anti-American sentiment in Pakistan because they are seen as violations of sovereignty that inflict civilian casualties.
After a review of ties with Washington, a Pakistani parliamentary committee laid out a series of demands, including an end to U.S. drone strikes.
Khar said other methods should be used to take out militants in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We have to look at effective tools which are mutually acceptable. The cost of using tools which are not mutually acceptable is far, far too high. We're looking at alternatives," she said, without elaborating.
The commander of the frontline corps in Pakistan's northwest told Reuters last week that one alternative would be for the United States to share intelligence so that its ally's F-16 fighter jets could target militants there.
5) The Jet That Ate the Pentagon
The F-35 is a boondoggle. It's time to throw it in the trash bin.
Winslow Wheeler, Foreign Policy, April 26, 2012
The United States is making a gigantic investment in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, billed by its advocates as the next -- by their count the fifth -- generation of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat aircraft. Claimed to be near invisible to radar and able to dominate any future battlefield, the F-35 will replace most of the air-combat aircraft in the inventories of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and at least nine foreign allies, and it will be in those inventories for the next 55 years. It's no secret, however, that the program -- the most expensive in American history -- is a calamity.
This month, we learned that the Pentagon has increased the price tag for the F-35 by another $289 million -- just the latest in a long string of cost increases -- and that the program is expected to account for a whopping 38 percent of Pentagon procurement for defense programs, assuming its cost will grow no more. Its many problems are acknowledged by its listing in proposals for Pentagon spending reductions by leaders from across the political spectrum, including Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), President Barack Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and budget gurus such as former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget.
How bad is it? A review of the F-35's cost, schedule, and performance -- three essential measures of any Pentagon program -- shows the problems are fundamental and still growing.
First, with regard to cost -- a particularly important factor in what politicians keep saying is an austere defense budget environment -- the F-35 is simply unaffordable. Although the plane was originally billed as a low-cost solution, major cost increases have plagued the program throughout the last decade. Last year, Pentagon leadership told Congress the acquisition price had increased another 16 percent, from $328.3 billion to $379.4 billion for the 2,457 aircraft to be bought. Not to worry, however -- they pledged to finally reverse the growth.
The result? This February, the price increased another 4 percent to $395.7 billion and then even further in April. Don't expect the cost overruns to end there: The test program is only 20 percent complete, the Government Accountability Office has reported, and the toughest tests are yet to come. Overall, the program's cost has grown 75 percent from its original 2001 estimate of $226.5 billion -- and that was for a larger buy of 2,866 aircraft.
Hundreds of F-35s will be built before 2019, when initial testing is complete. The additional cost to engineer modifications to fix the inevitable deficiencies that will be uncovered is unknown, but it is sure to exceed the $534 million already known from tests so far. The total program unit cost for each individual F-35, now at $161 million, is only a temporary plateau. Expect yet another increase in early 2013, when a new round of budget restrictions is sure to hit the Pentagon, and the F-35 will take more hits in the form of reducing the numbers to be bought, thereby increasing the unit cost of each plane.
A final note on expense: The F-35 will actually cost multiples of the $395.7 billion cited above. That is the current estimate only to acquire it, not the full life-cycle cost to operate it. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion -- making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain. And that estimate is wildly optimistic: It assumes the F-35 will only be 42 percent more expensive to operate than an F-16, but the F-35 is much more complex. The only other "fifth generation" aircraft, the F-22 from the same manufacturer, is in some respects less complex than the F-35, but in 2010, it cost 300 percent more to operate per hour than the F-16. To be very conservative, expect the F-35 to be twice the operating and support cost of the F-16.
Already unaffordable, the F-35's price is headed in one direction -- due north.
Despite what many believe, "stealth" is not invisibility to radar; it is limited-detection ranges against some radar types at some angles. Put another way, certain radars, some of them quite antiquated, can see "stealthy" aircraft at quite long ranges, and even the susceptible radars can see the F-35 at certain angles. The ultimate demonstration of this shortcoming occurred in the 1999 Kosovo war, when 1960s vintage Soviet radar and missile equipment shot down a "stealthy" F-117 bomber and severely damaged a second.
The bottom line: The F-35 is not the wonder its advocates claim. It is a gigantic performance disappointment, and in some respects a step backward. The problems, integral to the design, cannot be fixed without starting from a clean sheet of paper.
It's time for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the U.S. military services, and Congress to face the facts: The F-35 is an unaffordable mediocrity, and the program will not be fixed by any combination of hardware tweaks or cost-control projects. There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it. America's air forces deserve a much better aircraft, and the taxpayers deserve a much cheaper one. The dustbin awaits.
6) US eyes options to restart Afghan peace talks
Reuters, April 25
Washington: President Barack Obama's administration, seeking to revive stalled Afghan peace talks, may alter plans to transfer Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay prison after its initial proposal fell foul of political opponents at home and the insurgents themselves.
As foreign forces prepare to exit Afghanistan, the White House had hoped to lay the groundwork for peace talks by sending five Taliban prisoners, some seen as among the most threatening detainees at Guantanamo, to Qatar to rejoin other Taliban members opening a political office there.
In return, the Taliban would make its own good-faith gestures, denouncing terrorism and supporting the hoped-for talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
While that plan has not been scotched entirely, several sources familiar with preliminary discussions within the US government said the United States may instead, as an initial gesture meant to revive diplomacy, send one of those detainees directly to Afghan government custody.
The sources identified the detainee as a former Taliban regional governor named Khairullah Khairkhwa, who is seen by American officials as less dangerous than other senior Taliban detainees now held at the US military prison in Cuba.
No final decision appears to have been made on Khairkhwa's fate.
A senior Obama administration official, while not disputing that Khairkhwa's unilateral transfer had been suggested, cautioned that it was still at a "brainstorming" level. The onus was still on the Taliban to show it is interested in Afghan reconciliation, he said.
"It's most definitely not policy," said the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "At the moment we've made clear what we expect from reconciliation … and the Taliban understand that, full stop."
More than a year ago, the White House launched what began as a secretive diplomatic bid to coax the Taliban, the Islamist group that ruled Afghanistan until 2001, into peace talks. That campaign has become central to US strategy as officials conclude the Afghan war will not end on the battlefield alone.
US efforts to broker the talks were dealt a blow last month when the Taliban suspended its participation and appeared to reject even minimal restrictions for prisoners transferred to Qatar.
From the beginning, a transfer of Taliban prisoners has posed major political risks for Obama in an election year.
US lawmakers from both parties, but particularly Republicans, have warned that prisoners such as Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a "high-risk" detainee and former Taliban military commander alleged to be responsible for the killing of thousands of minority Shia Muslims, might rejoin militant operations.
The transfer proposal has also been divisive within the Obama administration. Because Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, under US law, must personally approve the transfer, Pentagon officials worry their agency will be deemed responsible for any future actions by those detainees.
Partly for those reasons, US negotiators are now focusing on Khairkhwa. Once the Taliban's governor of western Herat province, he was also a Taliban spokesman and interior minister.
The senior US official said Karzai has been asking the United States for years to send Khairkhwa, imprisoned since 2002 at Guantanamo Bay, back to Afghanistan. The Taliban has long demanded release of its prisoners, in part as a good-faith move.
US military assessments that have been made public characterize Khairkhwa as a 'high-risk' detainee and a 'direct' associate of the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
But they also describe him as more of a civilian than a military figure, and he is said to be a friend of Karzai.
Khairkhwa was captured in Pakistan in early 2002, allegedly while seeking to negotiate surrender and integration into the new Afghan government.
"If you were to take all the senior leaders associated with the Taliban since the start of the movement, and try to find the inclusive figures, acceptable to fellow Afghans and competent to work for a political agreement, Khairkhwa would definitely be in the top five," said Michael Semple, a former UN official with more than 20 years experience in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's High Peace Council, under the leadership of the late former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, had advocated for Khairkhwa's release, saying he might play a positive role in the peace process.
"The cause of Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa is good for peace, and totally acceptable to Karzai," Semple said, in part because Karzai and Khairkhwa both come from the Popalzai tribe.
The transfer would still require the Obama administration to notify Congress 30 days ahead of time. But the hope is that Khairkhwa's transfer would avoid the furor in Congress that moving the other prisoners might bring.
7) Iran, Istanbul and the future
Thomas R. Pickering, Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, April 23, 2012
The outcome at Istanbul neither pleased everyone nor broadly disappointed many.
Those looking for an Iranian replay of some of its regular rebuffs of the six major powers (whether one calls them the EU3+3 or the P5+1) were disappointed in April. Tehran failed to behave badly and left the pro-war zealots in the United States and Israel still looking for the definitive fact that would set the dogs of war loose again in the region. In a more nuanced way, those looking for a diplomatic solution were made happy, not just by the lack of a clear failure at this meeting, but by the scheduling of a second meeting on May 23 in Baghdad. But if they are pleased, the players in these talks have also been tight lipped, probably a helpful indication that neither side wants to upset the apple cart or be the first to display rotten fruit.
The meeting was preceded by helpful signs from both sides, including invitation and response letters that were apparently simple, businesslike and -- perhaps most important and unusual -- "un-preconditioned."
In Iran, the Supreme Leader re-issued his fatwa, which dates back at least to 2003, calling nuclear weapons haram, or "not permitted," for Muslims at least and styling them for the first time as a "cardinal sin." This pronouncement was complemented by guarded praise on his website for Obama's speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the reissuance of a book on negotiations surrounding events affecting Shi'ism in the eighth century; the final two words of the book's title are the optimistic "flexibility and compromise."
On the P5+1 side, Obama's AIPAC speech was itself a conciliatory move, emphasizing for the first time the "d" word -- "diplomacy" -- over military threats and noting that the Iranians hadn't yet apparently decided to construct a nuclear weapon, a shared view of US and Israeli intelligence analysts. But the speech also made clear that the US red line in terms of acting militarily against the Iranian nuclear program was a direct Iranian decision to construct such a weapon, marking a difference from Israeli policy, which is centered on the more vague and uncertain concept of "nuclear capability."
Even with another round of talks scheduled, not all the news on negotiations is positive. The press is reporting that the Iranians failed to accept a US proposal for a bilateral meeting, a move that would be in keeping with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's private statement during a September 2011 visit to New York that such would be Iranian policy until the United States changed its approach fundamentally. It also seems to be something of an open secret that the P5+1 countries are still not all on the same page regarding their positions on the Iranian nuclear program.
Two thoughts at this point are relevant for the future of Iranian negotiations: First, the openness of both sides to "expert-level" talks -- such as those between the assistants to EU foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton and the Iranian representative to the talks, Saeed Jalili -- is at least an effort to take things from the general and procedural toward the potentially specific. The Iranian side seems to be interested in a step-by-step process that will make obligations reciprocal and presumably equal in some fashion, and that is based on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the latter element a code word that conveys the Iranians want acceptance of their right to enrich uranium, presumably for civil purposes only. Such an agreement could be in accord with the treaty, but it would run counter to the Security Council resolution that seeks a freeze on enrichment in Iran. There are now new openings for progress. Experts could help bridge the gaps. The parties' willingness to try to do so will be a further positive signal.
The second thought: The current political situation provides some impetus for progress. Given a willingness on both sides to seek agreement, the pressure of sanctions against Iran, and Israeli interest in some kind of a military strike before the US elections, efforts to maximize this opening would constitute a wise and fruitful course of action.
Many have postulated that a first step could build around the very simple proposition of ending Iranian enrichment at 20 percent uranium 235, in return for a Western supply of fuel elements (or "plates") for the Tehran Research Reactor, which is used to produce radioactive medical isotopes for what Iran claims are 800,000 cancer patients annually. Iran has produced at least one fuel element for testing in the reactor, but this is certainly not a sign that the Iranians are ready for full independence in this regard (contrary to Iran's statements that imply such). In terms of the physics of the process, 20 percent enrichment (actually, 19.75 percent) takes the Iranians more than halfway to the level of enrichment that would be useful for weapons. The P5+1 and Israel have serious concerns in this regard are likely to insist on limitations.
The cessation of 20 percent enrichment alone will likely not assuage those concerns. Some have suggested a cap could be put on Iranian enrichment at the 3.5 to 5 percent level, which equates to the low-enriched uranium used in power reactors. There is also the thought that the accumulated stock of 20 percent material in Iran -- estimated at 100 to 110 kilograms -- should be absorbed in the process, perhaps by being exchanged for new fuel elements manufactured in another country, perhaps by being blended back down to 3.5 percent enrichment, and perhaps by a combination of both practices. Whatever course is chosen, it would have to be maintained under the full oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's atomic watchdog.
The final piece of an expanded first stage or step agreement could involve the P5+1 and Israeli interest in seeking to shut down the underground Fordow enrichment facility at Qom, which is located inside a mountain, under many meters of rock overburden. Iran is unlikely to destroy this facility; it cost a lot of money and is suitable not just for enrichment to the 20 percent level but for other enrichment tasks. The Iranians see a proposal to close Fordow as mere facilitation of Israeli or US military strikes; shuttering Fordow would take out of the target list the one facility that makes such an attack demanding and difficult. One possibility for compromise might involve persuading Iran to leave Qom on a stand-by status, with continued IAEA monitoring, pending further negotiations.
It's possible to envision further steps and stages. To consider anything as extensive as the expanded approaches favored by the P5+1, however, Iran would likely seek significant quid pro quos from the major powers. These might include freezing of some sanctions, most likely those on the Central Bank of Iran and those that call for a July cut-off of significant European purchases of Iranian crude oil and gas.
At some point, the P5+1 will want a clear Iranian commitment not to make a nuclear weapon, and Iran will want "recognition," even on a limited basis, of its "right" to enrich. Other desiderata would likely include a P5+1 request for a much wider scope for future IAEA inspections, based on the Additional Protocol that allows for "challenge" inspections, and, on the Iranian side, a lifting of the full set of UN Security Council and unilateral sanctions, once a resolution is reached. Both sides are aware too that solutions to the nuclear issues might be aided by a willingness to consider solutions to the many other outstanding issues between the parties, including Iraq and Afghanistan, drug trade in the region, support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbullah and Hamas, and opposition to the Middle East peace process.
Iran and the P5+1 are off to a start that is positive enough to show promise and indefinite enough to leave open doubts about what will happen next. There are enough signs of continuing interest on both sides to require each to think through carefully the next steps. An idea proposed by Iran reasonably recently of a cessation of 20 percent enrichment in return for fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor seems a possible beginning. Expansion of that idea by steps and stages also holds promise, if both sides are ready to look at win-win possibilities, but there is a long, hard path before the negotiators, and they are many miles from a "victory lap."
8) Peres dismisses Holocaust, Iran comparison
AFP, April 26, 2012
Jerusalem - President Shimon Peres on Thursday distanced himself from the Israeli premier's comparison between the Holocaust and the threat posed by Iran's nuclear programme.
"It's not the same thing," Peres told the Ynet website of Yediot Aharonot newspaper in an interview for Israel's independence day. "Holocaust is one thing and Iran is another. The comparison is out of place."
But Peres voiced confidence the sanctions imposed on Iran by the international community would prove an effective deterrent. "Every person can judge this for himself. I believe we can handle the Iranian threat. The United States leading and Europe joining (them) -- it's not just lip service," he said.
"They, like us, cannot afford to have a nuclear Iran and they want to stop it. As for Hitler, the world was asleep then. This couldn?t happen today, the world has woken up," he said.
"Israel can defend itself but we are not alone, and that's a plus, not a minus. I believe what (US President Barack) Obama says. There is no need for saber-rattling, but there is a need to impose sanctions and political pressure."
9) Attorney General in Mexico Will Investigate Wal-Mart
Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times, April 26, 2012
Mexico City - The Mexican government on Thursday stepped up its response to the bribery allegations that have been tied to Wal-Mart's breakneck growth here, announcing that the federal attorney general's office would begin an investigation into the company's actions.
President Felipe Calderón also made his first public comment on the Wal-Mart scandal since The New York Times first reported the bribery allegations over the weekend. Calling himself "very indignant" about the case during a meeting with Mexican migrants in Houston on Wednesday evening, Mr. Calderón said "it wasn't right" to do business "based on mordidas," using the common expression for the petty bribes Mexicans pay to smooth their way through bureaucracy or extricate themselves from traffic offenses and legal scrapes.
The Times reported that Wal-Mart had detected that its Mexican subsidiary had paid $24 million in bribes or "donations" last decade to speed up permits and licenses for new stores. The company then buried its own investigation, The Times reported.
The attorney general's investigation is the most serious action the government has announced so far, since investigators will gather evidence about the company's executives as well as public officials.
Mr. Calderón's government at first dismissed the bribery as a local problem, arguing that construction and zoning permits of the sort described in The Times's investigation are the responsibility of state and municipal authorities. As criticism echoed in Mexico's media and became part of the presidential campaign ahead of the July 1 vote, the Calderón administration has appeared to backtrack.
By Wednesday, the government tacitly admitted that the federal government did have a say in some of Wal-Mart's licenses when the federal comptroller - the government's anticorruption watchdog - announced that it would begin an investigation. The environment ministry also asked the comptroller to review the permits it had granted the retailer.
10) US: Mexico seized 68,000 guns from US since 2006
Pete Yost, Associated Press, April 26, 2012
Washington - The government said Thursday that 68,000 guns recovered by Mexican authorities in the past five years have been traced back to the United States.
The flood of tens of thousands of weapons underscores complaints from Mexico that the U.S. is responsible for arming the drug cartels plaguing its southern neighbor. Six years of violence between warring cartels have killed more than 47,000 people in Mexico.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released its latest data covering 2007 through 2011. According to ATF, many of the guns seized in Mexico and submitted to ATF for tracing were recovered at the scenes of cartel shootings while others were seized in raids on illegal arms caches. All the recovered weapons were suspected of being used in crimes in Mexico.
At an April 2 North American summit in Washington, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said the U.S. government has not done enough to stop the flow of assault weapons and other guns from the U.S. to Mexico.
Calderon credited President Barack Obama with making an effort to reduce the gun traffic, but said Obama faces "internal problems ... from a political point of view."
There is Republican opposition in Congress and broad opposition from Republicans and gun-rights advocates elsewhere to a new assault weapons ban or other curbs on gun sales. The Obama administration says it is working to tighten inspections of border checkpoints in the absence of an assault rifle ban that expired before Obama took office.
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