JFP 4/30: ObL anniversary riddle; drone summit highlights; Admin floats Iran deal

Just Foreign Policy News, April 30, 2012
ObL anniversary riddle; drone summit highlights; Admin floats Iran deal


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

ObL anniversary riddle: what is 378?
That's the number of U.S. soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan since the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, according to icasualties.org.

Could We Stop "Signature" Drone Strikes in Yemen and Pakistan?
"Signature strikes" - drone strikes that target people based on intelligence of "suspicious activity" without knowing who the people are - increase the risk of killing innocent civilians, as well as the risk of killing people who have no dispute with the United States.
http://truth-out.org/news/item/8771-could-we-stop-signature-drone-strikes-in-yemen-and-pakistan

*Take Action: Urge Obama and Congress to oppose "signature strikes" in Yemen and Pakistan
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/signature-strikes

Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control - highlights
A final statement from the summit is here:
http://droneswatch.org/2012/04/29/drone-summit-statement/
Presentation by Chris Woods of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: "Border control: US reporting of civilian drone strike casualties"
http://privacysos.org/sites/all/files/TBIJWashingtonfinal.pdf
Jeremy Scahill's talk - "the real death panels" - is here:
http://privacysos.org/node/609

Gareth Porter: Understanding Iran's diplomatic strategy
Iran sees its stockpile of enriched uranium as increasing its leverage towards a diplomatic agreement with the United States.
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/04/2012422833676280.html

II) Summary:

U.S./Top News
1) U.S. officials said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity if Iran agrees to unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards, the Los Angeles Times reports. The LAT says this would be a "significant concession," noting likely objections from Israeli leaders and Members of Congress. Under the NPT Iran is allowed to enrich uranium if it complies with rules to prevent bomb making, the LAT notes. The six nations negotiating with Iran have agreed that the principles of the treaty would guide the discussions. The P5+1 appears to be moving toward allowing lower-level enrichment, according to diplomats and nonproliferation experts. The LAT notes that last month, Israeli Defense Minister Barak outlined goals that would allow Iran to retain some low-enriched uranium for nonmilitary purposes.

2) Iranian officials said that if the U.S. overture on allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium were adopted unanimously by all six nations talking to Iran and the IAEA it would be a good start for talks, the Los Angeles Times reports.

3) Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert sharply criticized Netanyahu's foreign policy at an event in New York, the New York Times reports. Olmert said Netanyahu was unprepared to offer meaningful compromise to Palestinians and disrespectful to the U.S. Olmert was booed when he declared that while Israel should prepare the military ability to strike Iran's nuclear program as a last resort, it should first push for American-led international action against Iran. In response to the boos, Olmert said: "As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren, I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis."

4) Israel's former security chief has censured the country's "messianic" political leadership for talking up the prospects of a military strike on Iran's nuclear program, the Guardian reports. Yuval Diskin, who retired as head of the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet last year, said he had "no faith" in the abilities of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, to conduct a war.

5) U.S. officials and outside analysts now believe that the chances of war in the near future have significantly decreased, the New York Times reports.

6) White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan offered the most extensive formal Administration outline to date of its use of drone strikes against terrorism suspects, which officials had for years refused to discuss - even as evidence of its lethal toll mounted in such countries as Yemen and Pakistan, the Washington Post reports. But while Brennan acknowledged that the U.S. "conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists," he did not acknowledge that the U.S. also that the administration has also approved the use of so-called "signature strikes" in which the CIA and military have the authority to fire even in cases when the identities of those who could be killed is not known.

7) A conference of human rights groups in Washington put faces on the civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reports. Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar showed a photo of a teenager named Saadullah, who was helping his mother in the kitchen when a drone hit their home in Fata in 2009. He woke up in a hospital three days later without his legs. Sanaullah, a 17-year-old pre-engineering student, burned alive in his car during another strike in 2010. Akbar also showed photos of the Bismillah family: mother, father, a daughter and a son, all killed in a drone strike.

Israel/Palestine
8) All sides of the debate over divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation at the Methodist General Conference agree that the occupation is wrong and must end, write Anna Baltzer and Sydney Levy in Mondoweiss. Everyone agrees that the companies in question have been uncooperative or unresponsive. The General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC, Jim Winkler, who supports divestment, stated: "As someone who has been involved in the discussions by UM agencies and ecumenical partners with Caterpillar for six years, I would like to share critical issues we have repeatedly raised with the company. Regrettably, in all of these meetings, including one last week, Caterpillar has told us it has no intention to change any of its business practices relating to the occupied Palestinian territories." Chief Investment Officer of the church's General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, David Zellner, who opposes divestment, described efforts to ask CAT to change its behavior as "futile."

9) Last week UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay listed Israel among the countries that she says are restricting the activities of human rights groups, Haaretz reports.

Bahrain
10) A Bahraini court on Monday ordered retrials for a political activist who has been on a hunger strike for nearly three months and 20 others who were convicted by a military tribunal for their participation in protests last year against Bahrain's ruling monarchy, the New York Times reports. The activists were not released pending the new trials. The retrial announcement came amid mounting concern about the health of the hunger striker, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the NYT says. In a report released Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that Bahraini police officers were still beating and torturing detainees.

Iran
11) Iran says IAEA inspectors will be allowed to visit the Parchin military site, but it would require agreement between the two sides on guidelines for the inspection, AP reports. Iran has rejected allegations that it is trying to "clean up" Parchin, noting that radioactive traces could not be "cleaned up" [in a recent Christian Science Monitor article, former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley said the same - JFP.]

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) U.S. signals major shift on Iran nuclear program
The Obama administration might support letting Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity if it agrees to other U.N. restrictions.
Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2012, 5:28 p.m.
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iran-nuclear-20120428,0,353079.story

Washington - In what would be a significant concession, Obama administration officials say they could support allowing Iran to maintain a crucial element of its disputed nuclear program if Tehran took other major steps to curb its ability to develop a nuclear bomb.

U.S. officials said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity, which is the upper end of the range for most civilian uses, if its government agrees to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded.

Such a deal would face formidable obstacles. Iran has shown little willingness to meet international demands. And a shift in the U.S. position that Iran must halt all enrichment activities is likely to prompt strong objections from Israeli leaders; the probable Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney; and many members of Congress.

But a consensus has gradually emerged among U.S. and other officials that Iran is unlikely to agree to a complete halt in enrichment. Maintaining an unconditional demand that it do so could make it impossible to reach a negotiated deal to stop the country's nuclear program, thereby avoiding a military attack.

Iran has produced 210 pounds of 20%-enriched uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes, according to the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, but it has purified about 6 tons at 5% or below. Uranium is considered weapons grade at about 90% enrichment.

The question of whether to permit even low enrichment is highly sensitive for the U.S. government and its allies because of the risk that Iranian scientists still might be able to gain the knowledge and experience to someday build a bomb. But administration officials hope a new negotiating stance, backed by punishing economic sanctions, could help end the crisis.
[...]
At least publicly, the administration had denied suggestions that it would consider approving any Iranian enrichment effort. But recently, some officials had hinted they might be willing to reevaluate that position, although with numerous caveats.

A senior administration official said that if Iran fulfills U.S. and other world powers' demands for strict enforcement of U.N. monitoring and safeguards, "there can be a discussion" of allowing low-level domestic enrichment, "and maybe we can get there, potentially."

But the official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, emphasized that such discussions remained only a small possibility because Iran has shown so little willingness to meet international demands.

Gary Samore, the top White House official on nuclear nonproliferation, left open the door to Iranian enrichment in recent comments, saying the decision on which parts of Tehran's program can continue "is a matter for negotiations."

"We recognize that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program, once it has addressed concerns about its nuclear activities," Samore told Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty on April 17.

Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which says countries have a right to enrich uranium if they comply with rules to prevent bomb making. The six nations negotiating with Iran have agreed that the principles of the treaty would guide the discussions.
[...]
The so-called P5-plus-1 nations negotiating with Iran - the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany - have agreed that Iran must halt all 20% enrichment and ship that stockpile out of the country. Iran also must provide full disclosure of previous nuclear work, and sign and adhere to two additional treaty protocols that provide for more vigorous oversight, they say.

But the group now appears to be moving toward allowing lower-level enrichment, according to diplomats and nonproliferation experts.

That position is contrary to the mood of many in Congress. Lawmakers in both houses have begun circulating resolutions, with support from dozens of members, that demand an end to all Iranian enrichment. One senior Senate aide involved in the issue said any deal allowing continued enrichment "would be dead on arrival" in Congress.

Over the last several years, Congress has led the push for increasingly tough sanctions against Iran, and could approve even tougher measures that would drive Tehran away from any potential deal with the U.S. and other powers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also remains staunchly opposed. He argues that letting any centrifuges spin in Iran will allow scientists there to sharpen their mastery of nuclear science and edge toward bomb-making capability.

Israeli officials have talked of attacking Iranian's nuclear facilities before they are so advanced and hidden so deeply underground that they are invulnerable to bombs.

But Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an interview last month with the Jerusalem Post, outlined goals that would allow Iran to retain some low-enriched uranium for nonmilitary purposes. He did not call for an end to all enrichment.

"There have been many signals lately that the red line has shifted and they're no longer pushing for full suspension," said Michael Singh, who served as President George W. Bush's top Iran advisor and who strongly opposes allowing Iran to enrich any uranium.
[...]

2) Iran skeptical but open to U.S. overture on nuclear program
An Iranian Foreign Ministry official says the Obama administration's offer to consider allowing limited uranium enrichment 'would be a good start.'
Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2012
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iran-nukes-20120429,0,6608880.story

Tehran - Iranian officials expressed skepticism Saturday about possible Obama administration support for allowing the country to continue enriching some uranium but said it could be a good start for further negotiations on its disputed nuclear program.

Senior U.S. officials have said they might agree to let Iran enrich uranium up to 5% purity if its government agreed to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded.

If the deal was offered by all six nations negotiating with Iran and the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, "it would be a good start," said one official in Iran's Foreign Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The United States - along with China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany - began talks with Iran on April 14 in Istanbul, Turkey; the discussions are scheduled to resume May 23 in Baghdad.

"One thing I can tell you for sure is that Iran will never, ever close down the Fordow nuclear site," the official said, referring to the enrichment plant.

"But other issues such as 20% enrichment is open to negotiation. I can say Obama's proposal is good provided it is unanimously echoed."
[...]
The Foreign Ministry official said the different behavior of representatives of the negotiating countries - the French envoy was rude, while the U.S. one was surprisingly polite at the Istanbul talks, he said - indicated that they would have difficulty coming to a consensus on this issue.
[...]

[However, as Trita Parsi has noted, if Sarkozy loses the French presidential election as many expect, France could be less of an obstacle to diplomacy - JFP.]

3) Former Israeli Premier Assails Netanyahu on Iran
Anne Barnard, New York Times, April 30, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/world/middleeast/olmert-ex-premier-of-israel-assails-netanyahu-on-iran.html

Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, plunged on Sunday into the country's growing debate over Iran policy with harsh criticism of his successor, Benjamin Netanyahu.

As several recently retired top security officials have done, Mr. Olmert urged Mr. Netanyahu's government not to rush into unilateral military action against Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

But Mr. Olmert went much further. Drawing boos from a largely American audience in New York, he fired off a wide-ranging broadside against Mr. Netanyahu's foreign policy, saying that the prime minister was unprepared to offer meaningful compromise to Palestinians, disrespectful to the United States and dismissive of the international community at a time when Israel particularly needs foreign support to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

"A nation has the right to determine what it should do to defend itself," Mr. Olmert said at a conference held in a Manhattan hotel by The Jerusalem Post. "But when at the same time we ask the United States and other countries to provide us with the means to do it, no one is entirely independent to act, irrespective of the positions and attitudes and policies of other countries."

Since leaving office in 2008, Mr. Olmert has often urged caution concerning Iran. His remarks on Sunday were noteworthy for their place and time - before an audience of some of Mr. Netanyahu's strongest American supporters, and only a few days after Israel's top military officer suggested that the threat posed by Iran was less urgent than Mr. Netanyahu has said, and the former head of Israel's internal security service said the prime minister had "messianic feelings."

Illustrating how visceral the debate has become, and how entwined it is with politics in both Israel and the United States, some in the crowd peppered Mr. Olmert with shouts of "Naïve!" and "Neville Chamberlain!" and booed loudly when he called for a less confrontational stance toward President Obama, whose political opponents Mr. Netanyahu has openly courted.

"You have to respect him," Mr. Olmert said of Mr. Obama. "He is the president of the most powerful nation on earth, and happens to be a friend of Israel." When boos rang through the conference room in response, he joked, "I can see that this hall is full of Democrats."

Mr. Olmert was booed again when he declared that while Israel should prepare the military ability to strike Iran's nuclear program as a last resort, it should first push for American-led international action against Iran, including sanctions and possible joint military action.

This time, he responded caustically. "As a concerned Israeli citizen who lives in the state of Israel with his family and all of his children and grandchildren," he said, "I love very much the courage of those who live 10,000 miles away from the state of Israel and are ready that we will make every possible mistake that will cost lives of Israelis."
[...]
In an interview after his appearance at the conference, Mr. Olmert said he was expressing legitimate concerns shared by most people in the Israeli security establishment, "present and past," including many who have not spoken publicly.
[...]

4) Ex-Israeli spy boss attacks Netanyahu and Barak over Iran
PM and defence chief not fit to lead Israel and are misleading the public over Iran, warns former Shin Bet boss Yuval Diskin
Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, 28 April 2012 07.58 EDT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/28/israeli-spy-chief-warns-netanyahu-barak

Jerusalem - Israel's former security chief has censured the country's "messianic" political leadership for talking up the prospects of a military strike on Iran's nuclear programme.

In unusually candid comments set to ratchet up tensions over Iran at the top of Israel's political establishment, Yuval Diskin, who retired as head of the internal intelligence agency Shin Bet last year, said he had "no faith" in the abilities of the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the defence minister, Ehud Barak, to conduct a war.

The pair, who are the foremost advocates of military action against Iran's nuclear programme, were "not fit to hold the steering wheel of power", Diskin told a meeting on Friday night.

"My major problem is that I have no faith in the current leadership, which must lead us in an event on the scale of war with Iran or a regional war," he said. "I don't believe in either the prime minister or the defence minister. I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings. Believe me, I have observed them from up close ... They are not people who I, on a personal level, trust to lead Israel to an event on that scale and carry it off.

"They are misleading the public on the Iran issue. They tell the public that if Israel acts, Iran won't have a nuclear bomb. This is misleading. Actually, many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race."
[...]
Diskin's remarks followed a furore over comments made on Wednesday by Israel's serving military chief, Benny Gantz, which starkly contrasted with Netanyahu's rhetoric on Iran. Gantz said he did not believe the Iranian leadership was prepared to "go the extra mile" to acquire nuclear weapons because it was "composed of very rational people" who understood the consequences.

In what was seen as a veiled rebuke to the prime minister, Gantz added: "Decisions can and must be made carefully, out of historic responsibility but without hysteria."
[...]
Diskin's comments also put him in agreement with the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, who has said that attacking Iran was "the stupidest thing I have ever heard" and that the Iranian regime was rational.

5) Experts Believe Iran Conflict Is Less Likely
James Risen, New York Times, April 30, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/world/middleeast/chances-of-iran-strike-receding-us-officials-say.html

Washington - After a winter of alarm over the possibility that a military conflict over the Iranian nuclear program might be imminent, American officials and outside analysts now believe that the chances of war in the near future have significantly decreased.

They cite a series of factors that, for now, argue against a conflict. The threat of tighter economic sanctions has prompted the Iranians to try more flexible tactics in their dealings with the United States and other powers, while the revival of direct negotiations has tempered the most inflammatory talk on all sides.

A growing divide in Israel between political leaders and military and intelligence officials over the wisdom of attacking Iran has begun to surface. And the White House appears determined to prevent any confrontation that could disrupt world oil markets in an election year. "I do think the temperature has cooled," an Obama administration official said this week.
[...]
In a television appearance on Wednesday, Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, "I have confidence that there is a way forward."

Senior Iranian leaders have sought to portray the Istanbul round of negotiations as successful, which might be a sign, American officials and outside analysts said, that the Iranian government is preparing the public for a deal with the West that could be portrayed as a win for Iran.

"I see that we are at the beginning of the end of what I call the 'manufactured Iran file,' " the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said after the talks. "At the Baghdad meeting, I see more progress," he predicted.

IRNA, the Iranian state-controlled news service, reported last week that a leading Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Kazem Seddiqi, had made positive statements about the negotiations. The news service said that the cleric, in his Friday sermon to thousands of worshipers in Tehran, said that if the United States and other nations negotiating with Iran show "logical behavior in nuclear talks, the outcome will be good for all."
[...]
The latest comments came from Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, who on Friday said Mr. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak should not be trusted to determine policy on Iran. He said the judgments of both men have been clouded by "messianic feelings." Mr. Diskin, who was chief of Shin Bet until last year, said an attack against Iran might cause it to speed up its nuclear program.

Just days before, Israel's army chief of staff suggested in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranian nuclear threat was not quite as imminent as Mr. Netanyahu has portrayed it. In his comments, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz suggested that he agreed with the intelligence assessments of the United States that Iran has not yet decided whether to build a nuclear bomb.

Iran "is going step by step to the place where it will be able to decide whether to manufacture a nuclear bomb. It hasn't yet decided whether to go the extra mile," General Gantz told Haaretz. He suggested that the crisis may not come to a head this year. But he said, "Clearly, the more the Iranians progress, the worse the situation is."

Last month, Meir Dagan, the former chief of the Israeli spy agency Mossad, said he did not advocate a pre-emptive Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program anytime soon. In an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes," Mr. Dagan said the Iranian government was "a very rational one," and that Iranian officials were "considering all the implications of their actions."
[...]

6) Brennan speech is first Obama acknowledgement of use of armed drones
Greg Miller, Washington Post, Monday, April 30, 2:21 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/brennan-speech-is-first-obama-acknowledgement-of-use-of-armed-drones/2012/04/30/gIQAq7B4rT_story.html

The Obama administration formally acknowledged for the first time Monday its use of drone strikes against terrorism suspects, lifting but not removing the shroud of secrecy that surrounds the nation's expanding use of targeted killing operations overseas.


Saying that President Obama had instructed aides to be more open about the controversial issue, White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan offered the most extensive outline to date of a clandestine program that officials had for years refused to discuss - even as evidence of its lethal toll mounted in such countries as Yemen and Pakistan.

"So let me say it as simply as I can," Brennan said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. "Yes, in full accordance with the law - and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives -- the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones."

The White House's decision to acknowledge the use of drones, and the civilian casualties that have occurred during the strikes, comes on the anniversary of the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, at a time when the administration is moving to make its national security accomplishments a more central issue in the presidential campaign.

Critics of the drone program described Brennan's speech as a critical step in opening a wider debate on a program that the White House had previously only referred to in glancing terms, including when Obama mentioned "these strikes" in an online chat with voters earlier this year.

Brennan's speech "is an important statement, said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the government for greater disclosure about the use of drones. "First because it includes an unambiguous acknowledgment of the targeted killing program and second because it includes the administration's clearest explanation thus far of the program's purported legal basis."

Still, Brennan's speech was also noteworthy for how much was withheld.

Brennan talked extensively about "targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists," but did not acknowledge that the administration has also approved the use of so-called "signature strikes" in which the CIA and military have the authority to fire even in cases when the identities of those who could be killed is not known.

Brennan did not provide details on the criteria by which targets are selected, the language of Justice Department legal opinions on the matter, and the numbers of strikes and casualties. Nor did he offer a comprehensive list of the locations where armed drone patrols occur.

Instead, Brennan offered a broad outline and defense of a program that he described as critical to disrupting terrorist attacks and saving American lives, likening it to the use of a scalpel to remove cancerous tissue from a patient.

Drones enable unprecedented "surgical precision," Brennan said, "the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumor called an al-Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it - that makes this counterterrorism tool so essential."

Early in his remarks, Brennan was interrupted by a protester who shouted the names of U.S. citizens who have been killed in drone strikes in Yemen. Brennan was forced to pause for several minutes while woman was removed from the venue at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Brennan also signaled that further disclosures are forthcoming, saying that more files from the trove of material that was recovered from bin Laden's compound in Pakistan last year will be released online this week by an organization affiliated with the U.S. military academy at West Point.

7) Peace conference puts face to drone victims
Anwar Iqbal, Dawn, April 30, 2012
http://dawn.com/2012/04/30/peace-conference-puts-face-to-drone-victims-fm/

Washington: Drone victims are not just figures on a piece of paper, they are real people and that's why it is important to see what happens on the ground when a missile hits a target, argues Pakistani attorney Shahzad Akbar. "We have to see what exactly is happening on the ground, what is happening to the people," he told a Washington conference on drones.

"We apologise to the people of Pakistan for the strikes that have killed so many civilians," said Nancy Maneiar, a peace activist associated with the US-based, anti-war Code Pink Group. "The CIA needs to be held accountable for their strikes."

"Those who order a drone strike act at once "as prosecutors, judges, jury and executioners," said journalist Jeremy Scahill who recently travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to observe the consequences of the drone war. "This is lawless activity that the US is indulging in around the world," he said.
[...]
They were among two dozen peace activists, lawyers, journalists and retired military officials attending a two-day conference, which began in Washington on Saturday.

International peace groups had to lobby hard for Akbar to attend the conference as the US government delayed his visa application for 14 months because he has sued the CIA over drone strikes in Pakistan.

Akbar told an audience of about 300 people from across the United States that it was important to put faces on the drone victims; otherwise people will not understand their plight.

"They feel this imminent threat of being attacked from the sky. And they feel helpless because they have no other place to relocate. Many have no skills, no education, so they cannot relocate to other parts of Pakistan," he said. Advocate Akbar showed a photo of a teenager named Saadullah, who was helping his mother in the kitchen when a drone hit their home in Fata in 2009. He woke up in a hospital three days later without his legs.

Sanaullah, a 17-year-old pre-engineering student, burned alive in his car during another strike in 2010. Akbar also showed photos of the Bismillah family: mother, father, a daughter and a son, all killed in a drone strike.

Other speakers noted that US drone strikes in Pakistan had also killed 168 children. They quoted from recent surveys suggesting the number of ordinary people killed could be 40 per cent higher than previously reported.

US officials, however, have rejected such studies as "exaggerated", and said the "the claims of extensive non-combatant casualties are uncorroborated".

The "Drone Summit: Killing and Spying by Remote Control," organised by American human rights groups, noted that there had been a lethal rise in the number of drone strikes under the Obama administration.

President Obama argues that drone strikes are focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists and have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.

Supporters of drone warfare say the drone technology is an accurate and less expensive weapon that minimises risks to US troops and protects America by killing terrorists.

Clive Stafford Smith, founder and director of Reprieve, an organisation that helped secure the release of 65 prisoners from notorious Guantanamo Bay, also highlighted this point. "We can kill people without any risk to ourselves and that's why the politicians like it," said Smith while addressing the drone conference.

Other panelists noted that US drones had the potential to be equipped with heat sensors, Geographic Positioning Systems, licence-plate readers, extremely high resolution cameras, infrared cameras, and facial-recognition software. Coordinated swarms easily could track people's daily movement from home to the office to a political rally to the grocery store.

Israel/Palestine
8) The push for divestment continues as the Methodist General Conference enters its second week
Anna Baltzer and Sydney Levy, Mondoweiss, April 30, 2012
http://mondoweiss.net/2012/04/the-push-for-divestment-continues-as-the-methodist-general-conference-enters-its-second-week.html

At this moment, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is holding its General Conference in Tampa, Florida. About one thousand delegates are considering whether to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. We are talking about companies with a solid track record of human rights violations: Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. Caterpillar produces the bulldozers that have been responsible for the demolition of innumerable Palestinian homes and the uprooting of full orchards. Motorola Solutions produces equipment used to maintain surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard provides on-going support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank which deprive Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land and allows the Israeli military occupation to grant or deny special privileges to the civilians under its control.

The UMC holds shares in these three companies valued at $35 million. The church acknowledges that divestment from these companies has no financial implications, meaning that divestment can be achieved without causing any financial loses to the church.

The delegates will cast their vote sometime this week (the exact timing has not been set yet.) To the extent that we will be able to tweet from the convention floor, we will do so under hashtag #churchdivest. The group leading the effort, United Methodist Kairos Response, can be followed at @UMKairosResp. While it is impossible at this moment to predict the result of the vote, we can already start taking stock of what has become clear at the convention this past week. Here are five of them:

NUMBER ONE: Everyone agrees the occupation is wrong and must end.

Whether you are for or against divestment, the consensus in the church is that the Israeli occupation is wrong and must end. In fact, the church has taken a position against Palestinian home demolitions as early as 1988, among dozens of resolutions condemning Israel's discriminatory policies for more than forty years. The petition to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard does not seek a new policy. Rather, it seeks to align the church's investments with its long-held resolutions and values. The United Methodist Book of Discipline discourages investment in companies "that directly or indirectly support the violation of human rights."

NUMBER TWO: Everyone agrees that the companies in question have been uncooperative or unresponsive.

The General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC, Jim Winkler, recently stated:

"As someone who has been involved in the discussions by UM agencies and ecumenical partners with Caterpillar for six years, I would like to share critical issues we have repeatedly raised with the company. Regrettably, in all of these meetings, including one last week, Caterpillar has told us it has no intention to change any of its business practices relating to the occupied Palestinian territories."

Chief Investment Officer of the church's General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, David Zellner, testified in committee last week and described efforts to ask CAT to change its behavior as "futile."

NUMBER THREE: There is disagreement about what to do next.

Zellner opposes divestment. He prefers an alternate approach, namely that the church ask corporations to sign onto a set of principles of ethical business conduct and then consider divestment only for companies that refuse to sign these principles. Since the principles are unenforceable, nothing would stop the companies from signing on the dotted line in order to avoid divestment while doing nothing to change their behavior.

Mr. Winkler supports divestment. He said it best when he said: "this is first and foremost a moral issue, yet sadly Caterpillar offers only misleading interpretations of the law and irrelevant arguments as a basis for continuing their sales. The question before delegates is whether our church should profit from the sales of equipment which are clearly used in ways that violate human rights."
[...]
The church agrees that the occupation is wrong and that the complicit target companies have shown no signs of change. Thus, ultimately, this vote is not about the occupation but about whether to listen to Palestinian voices, the voices of the oppressed, who are calling for divestment. Will delegates assert that they know better than the Palestinians themselves what is needed for Palestinian freedom?

Regardless, the conversations in the corridors, in committee, and on the plenary floor are sure to leave their mark on hundreds of delegates now forced to face their very own financial connections to the oppression of the Palestinian people.

9) Israel joins UN list of states limiting human rights organizations
UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay lists Israel along with countries such as Belarus, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela.
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 00:48 30.04.12
http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-joins-un-list-of-states-limiting-human-rights-organizations-1.427184

A senior UN official in Geneva last week listed Israel among the countries that she says are restricting the activities of human rights groups.

The statement, issued on Wednesday by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, lists Israel along with countries such as Belarus, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia and Venezuela.

Israel was named due to the bill approved by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation six months ago to restrict funding by foreign governments to nonprofit organizations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supported the bill throughout most of its formulation. However, he ordered it frozen after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said such a law would be struck down by the High Court of Justice.

Although the law never reached the Knesset, Pillay said in her statement: "In Israel, the recently adopted Foreign Funding Law could have a major impact on human rights organizations, subjecting them to rigorous reporting requirements, forcing them to declare foreign financial support in all public communications, and threatening heavy penalties for non-compliance."
[...]
Last month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman instructed the Israeli mission to the United Nations in Geneva to cut ties with the UN Human Rights Commission after member countries in the Human Rights Council voted to establish an international commission of inquiry on the West Bank settlements. A senior source in the Foreign Ministry said Israel's inclusion in Pillay's statement was a direct outcome of Lieberman's move. "This was a mistake and now we see the results," the source said.

Bahrain
10) Bahrain Court Orders Retrial for Jailed Activists
Kareem Fahim, New York Times, April 30, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/world/middleeast/bahrain-court-orders-retrial-for-jailed-activists.html

Cairo - A Bahraini court on Monday ordered retrials for a political activist who has been on a hunger strike for nearly three months and 20 others who were convicted by a military tribunal for their participation in protests last year against Bahrain's ruling monarchy.

The activists, including some with life sentences, were not released pending the new trials. The official Bahraini news agency said the court that would hear the appeal would reconsider "the proceedings from the beginning."

Bahrain, a close American ally, promised broad reforms after its harsh crackdown on months of protests last year, protests that focused attention on the ruling Sunni minority's stranglehold on political life, torture of dissidents and dominance of the country's Shiite majority. Up to 70 people have been killed since the protests broke out in February 2011.

Despite the promises of reform and some improvements, human rights advocates say the monarchy has resisted fundamental change, failing to hold senior officials to account or to release activists imprisoned on politically motivated charges. In some cases, the authorities have simply adjusted, rather than ended, their abusive tactics, advocates say, and unrest has continued.

In a report released Sunday, Human Rights Watch said that Bahraini police officers were still beating and torturing detainees, months after the kingdom recruited high-profile police officials from London and Miami to reform the security services. The group said it had interviewed 14 males who said they were arrested and beaten for participating in protests.

The group said the authorities had begun installing video cameras in police stations to discourage abuse, so police officers were taking protesters elsewhere to beat them, including a youth hostel and a police equestrian school. The report also found that protesters had used rocks and gasoline bombs to confront the police.

The retrial announcement came amid mounting concern about the health of the hunger striker, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, one of those sentenced to life in prison. Mr. Khawaja's family said that in recent days, the authorities had tied Mr. Khawaja to his bed, drugged him and started force-feeding him.

His wife, Khadija al-Mousawi, said in an online news conference Monday that the government was "buying time" in announcing the new trials. "For me, it's not good news," she said. "It's the same system, the same people, different clothes, different buildings." She added, "For my husband, this is assassinating him in a very slow and painful way."

Iran
11) Iran: Talks with UN nuclear agency set for May 13-14 in Vienna, AP, April 29, 2012
Associated Press, April 28
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iran-talks-with-un-nuclear-agency-set-for-may-13-14-in-vienna/2012/04/28/gIQANv07mT_story.html

Tehran, Iran - A new round of talks between Tehran and the U.N.'s nuclear agency will be held in Vienna on May 13-14, Iran's state TV reported Saturday in a signal of possible progress after separate negotiations resumed with world powers over the country's controversial nuclear program.

The technical talks in Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency come in addition to negotiations with the six world powers - U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - set for May 23 in Baghdad.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, said the talks will focus on resolving "questions" about Tehran's alleged attempt to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran and the IAEA have been at loggerheads over the agency's inspections of Iranian military sites. IAEA inspectors have demanded access to a military complex where the agency suspects secret atomic work has been carried out. Iran says inspectors will be allowed to visit the Parchin military site as a goodwill gesture, but it would require agreement between the two sides on guidelines for the inspection.

IAEA officials have said satellite photos of Parchin show an apparent clean-up under way, adding they fear protracted talks on a framework for the visit could be a delaying tactic.

Iran has rejected such allegations as misleading, saying any alleged radioactive traces could not be cleaned up. [Former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has said the same thing, that any past experiments involving uranium at Parchin would be easily detected by the IAEA, regardless of efforts to "clean up" - JFP.]

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


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