JFP 5/8: Against War and Austerity, Hollande Is Right and Obama Should Agree

Just Foreign Policy News, May 8, 2012
Against War and Austerity, Hollande Is Right and Obama Should Agree


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Against War and Austerity, Hollande Is Right and Obama Should Agree
Newly elected French President François Hollande is coming to the White House next week to meet with President Obama ahead of the G8 and NATO summits. Press reports suggest that Obama will try to talk Hollande out of keeping his campaign promise to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan. Instead, Obama should agree with Hollande on a plan to expedite the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, as the majority of Americans - including the majority of Republicans - want.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/obama-hollande_b_1500740.html

FCNL: House Letter to Obama: We Want Out of Afghanistan
Next week anti-war amendments are expected on the National Defense Authorization Act. Sixty-two Members have now signed the Lee-Jones letter calling on the President to expedite withdrawal. The letter closes on May 10; check if your Rep. has signed.
http://fcnl.org/issues/afghanistan/house_letter_to_obama_we_want_out_of_afghanistan/

Peter Hart: Hillary Clinton's Iran Weapons Lie Is 'Tough Talk'
Secretary of State Clinton, in India, claimed that Iran has a "nuclear weapons program." Instead of noting the discrepancy between Clinton's words and the statements of U.S. officials that Iran is not believed to be trying to produce a nuclear weapon, USA Today characterized Clinton's remarks as "tough talk."
http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/05/08/hillary-clintons-iran-weapons-lie-is-tough-talk/

Urge John Brennan to Tell the Whole Truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
John Brennan didn't tell the whole truth about the drone strikes. He didn't admit that the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen against people who are not known to be on any list of "suspected terrorists," without knowing who would be killed.
Urge John Brennan to tell the whole truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan by signing our petition.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/brennan-petition

Public Citizen: Do you know what "TPP" stands for?
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) "free trade" agreement talks resume this week in Dallas. Negotiations will take place with the public locked out and the texts held in tight secrecy, while over 600 corporate "advisors" have regular access to the negotiating texts. The TPP agreement is likely to impact jobs, wages, agriculture, migration, the environment, access to medicine, consumer safety, banking regulations, indigenous rights, Internet freedom, government procurement and more.
http://action.citizen.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10295

Human Rights First: Smith Amendment to NDAA a Step in the Right Direction
Human Rights First welcomes the announcement that Representative Adam Smith, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, will propose an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would repeal mandatory military custody and ban indefinite detention in the United States.
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/2012/05/08/smith-amendment-to-ndaa-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) 63 percent of Americans reject the idea of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the Christian Science Monitor reports. A majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all disapproved, the Monitor says.

2) A spokesman for France's president-elect Francois Hollande confirmed Monday that France would use the NATO summit in Chicago to "announce the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan between now and the end of the year," AFP reports. Obama invited Hollande for talks at the White House amid concerns about this pledge to hasten the exit of France's 3,300-strong contingent from the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, AFP says

3) A U.S. House panel voted to cut spending on food stamps, health insurance and other aid for the poor to avoid planned cuts in defense spending, Bloomberg reports. The Budget Committee's measure would cut off food stamps to 1.8 million Americans. About 280,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school lunches because they receive food stamps. Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled plans to boost defense spending next year by $1 billion to $519 billion, with an additional $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan. Annual costs of the food stamp program, which currently benefits forty- six million Americans, are projected to reach $80 billion, Bloomberg notes. [That is, less than appropriated for the war this year, and 17% of the "non-war" military budget - JFP.]

4) The U.S. admitted responsibility for an airstrike in Afghanistan on Friday that killed a mother and her five children, notes Glenn Greenwald in Salon. At some point - and more than a decade would certainly qualify - the act of continuously killing innocent people, countless children, in the Muslim world most certainly does reflect upon, and even alters, the moral character of a country, especially its leaders, Greenwald writes. You can't just spend year after year piling up the corpses of children and credibly insist that it has no bearing on who you are. That's particularly true when, as is the case in Afghanistan, the cause of the war is so vague as to be virtually unknowable.

5) The leaders of congressional intelligence committees said they believed that the Taliban had grown stronger since Obama sent 33,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2010, AP reports. The pessimistic report by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., challenges Obama's assessment last week in his visit to Kabul that the "tide had turned" and that "we broke the Taliban's momentum." When asked if the Taliban's capabilities have been degraded since Obama deployed the additional troops two years ago, Feinstein said: "I think we'd both say that what we've found is that the Taliban is stronger."

Israel/Palestine
6) The Red Cross called on Israel on Tuesday to transfer six Palestinians who have been on hunger strike for weeks to hospital and allow visits from their families, Reuters reports. The humanitarian agency said that the six are in imminent danger of dying. "Their main demands are for a resumption of family visits from Gaza and for an end to solitary confinement in Israeli places of detention," the Red Cross said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said there would be serious repercussions if any of the prisoners died. "The most tragic thing is if you look at the list of demands they have presented Israel ... they are generally related to the basic rights of prisoners," he said. "There is a clear violation of the Geneva conventions."

Bahrain
7) A prominent human rights activist detained for posting tweets deemed "insulting" to Bahrain's Ministry of Interior must be released, Amnesty International said. Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested on Saturday evening and has been charged with "insulting a national institution." Amnesty renewed its call for the release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and twenty other "prisoners of conscience."

Honduras
8) Honduran journalist and gay rights campaigner Erick Martinez has been found dead two days after going missing, the BBC reports. Rights groups say more than 20 media workers have been killed in Honduras since the coup in 2009. A report by Honduras' human rights commissioner in April said at least 20 members of the LGBT community had been killed between 2010 and 2011.

Jamaica
9) Jamaica's "unsustainable public debt burden" continues to displace needed investments, preventing long-term growth, according to a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Caribbean Journal reports. In 2011, Jamaica had the highest debt interest payments as a percentage of GDP of any country in the world. The IMF and the World Bank deserve a large share of the blame for Jamaica's economic stagnation, because they have pressed Jamaica to prioritize debt service over stimulus and public investment, CEPR said.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Majority of Americans reject new US-Afghan security pact: poll
A large majority of Americans disapprove of a new strategic partnership with Afghanistan that will keep US troops on Afghan soil beyond 2014, according to a Monitor/TIPP poll.
Ben Arnoldy, Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2012
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2012/0508/Majority-of-Americans-reject-new-US-Afghan-security-pact-poll

A large majority of Americans do not favor the new strategic partnership with Afghanistan signed during a surprise visit to Kabul last week by President Obama.

By a margin of 63 percent disapproval to 33 percent approval, respondents rejected a description of the deal that will include a US troop presence and billions of dollars in monetary support for Afghan forces in the decade after 2014, according to a Monitor/TIPP poll conducted April 27 to May 4.
[...]
Some of the polling was done before Mr. Obama had a chance to outline his case for the deal in a national televised address on May 1, the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In that address, Obama presented the partnership as enabling a withdrawal of most US forces by 2014 while still safeguarding Afghanistan in the long-term from a return of Al Qaeda.
[...]
The agreement does not spell out US troop numbers or dollar figures. However, estimates for the yearly cost of sustaining the Afghan forces envisioned after 2014 are upwards of $4 billion. US and Afghan officials have suggested the US will pay several billion dollars a year annually, with the rest coming from the Afghans and from NATO partners.
[...]
Since the summer of 2010, however, tracking polls from the Pew Research Center show a majority of Americans want US troops to come home from Afghanistan "as soon as possible" rather than stay "until the situation is stabilized." Pew's most recent poll in mid-April found a 60 to 32 split for leaving now. That split resembles closely the new Monitor/TIPP poll on the strategic partnership deal.

Respondents in the TIPP poll were asked: "The US plans to remove most American forces from Afghanistan by 2014. To help Afghanistan after 2014, the US will sign a 10-year deal that keeps some US troops there and the US will also spend several billion dollars a year on the Afghan military. Do you approve or disapprove of such US involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014?"

Among Democrats, 13 percent strongly approved, 17 percent somewhat approved, 19 percent somewhat disapproved, and 46 percent strongly disapproved. Among Republicans, the percentages skewed only slightly more positive, 15, 22, 20, and 38, respectively. For independents, the percentages were 12, 21, 15, and 49.
[...]

2) No honeymoon from EU debt for new French leader Hollande
Dave Clark, AFP, Mon, May 7, 2012
http://news.yahoo.com/socialist-hollande-ousts-sarkozy-french-vote-032948890.html

France's president-elect Francois Hollande was plunged straight into the European economic debate Monday as doubts over his plans and turmoil in Greece threatened to tip the eurozone back into crisis.

The 57-year-old Socialist won power on Sunday, ousting right-wing leader Nicolas Sarkozy, and is due to take office formally on May 15 before embarking on a packed calendar of major international summits.
[...]
After seeing Merkel shortly after his inauguration, Hollande will travel to the United States for the G8 summit on May 18 and 19 and a NATO gathering on May 20 and 21.
Hollande's communications director Manuel Valls confirmed Monday that France would use the summit to "announce the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan between now and the end of the year".

Obama invited Hollande for talks at the White House amid concerns about this pledge to hasten the exit of France's 3,300-strong contingent from the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

And a spokeswoman for NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said any decision on an early French pullout would have to be agreed with the other allies at the NATO summit in Chicago.
[...]

3) House Panel Reduces Aid for Poor to Avoid Defense Cuts
Brian Faler, Bloomberg, May 8, 2012 11:45 AM ET
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-05-07/house-panel-targets-aid-to-poor-to-spare-defense-cuts.html

A U.S. House panel voted to cut spending on food stamps, health insurance and other aid for the poor to avoid planned cuts in defense spending.

The House Budget Committee voted 21-9 yesterday for legislation that would reduce government spending by more than $300 billion over the next decade.

Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said the measure would eliminate duplicative programs and wasteful spending to head off Pentagon cuts without raising taxes.
[...]
Also yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee unveiled plans to boost defense spending next year by $1 billion to $519 billion, with an additional $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

The Budget Committee's measure would cut off food stamps to 1.8 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office, while reducing assistance to millions more. About 280,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school lunches because they receive food stamps, according to CBO.

The bill would give states more ability to pare their Medicaid rolls and would end social services block grants, which fund programs such as Meals on Wheels for senior citizens.

The bill would tighten rules on who may claim child-care tax credits in an effort to prevent aid from going to illegal immigrants.

Other provisions would reduce retirement benefits for federal workers, decrease funding for the administration's health-care overhaul, raise premiums in the government's flood insurance program and tighten medical malpractice laws, which the CBO said would reduce health-care costs.

The food stamp cuts are among the most contentious. Forty- six million Americans now receive aid, up 75 percent since 2007. Annual costs are projected to reach $80 billion, more than the annual budgets of many federal agencies. The average household receiving aid in 2010 had an annual income of about $8,800, according to CBO.

Food stamp aid averaged $287 per month, about $4.30 per person per day, according to the agency. Three-fourths of the households included a child, a disabled person or someone age 60 and older. The legislation would cut projected food stamp spending by about 4 percent over the next decade.
[...]

4) US attack kills 5 Afghan kids
The way in which the U.S. media ignores such events speaks volumes about how we perceive them
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Tuesday, May 8, 2012 10:17 AM ET
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/08/us_attack_kills_5_afghan_kids/singleton/

Yesterday, I noted several reports from Afghanistan that as many as 20 civilians were killed by two NATO airstrikes, including a mother and her five children. Today, the U.S. confirmed at least some of those claims, acknowledging and apologizing for its responsibility for the death of that family:

"The American military claimed responsibility and expressed regret for an airstrike that mistakenly killed six members of a family in southwestern Afghanistan, Afghan and American military officials confirmed Monday.

The attack, which took place Friday night, was first revealed by the governor of Helmand Province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, on Monday. His spokesman, Dawoud Ahmadi, said that after an investigation they had determined that a family home in the Sangin district had been attacked by mistake in the American airstrike, which was called in to respond to a Taliban attack. . . . The victims were the family's mother and five of her children, three girls and two boys, according to Afghan officials."

This happens over and over and over again, and there are several points worth making here beyond the obvious horror:

(1) To the extent these type of incidents are discussed at all - and in American establishment media venues, they are most typically ignored - there are certain unbending rules that must be observed in order to retain Seriousness credentials. No matter how many times the U.S. kills innocent people in the world, it never reflects on our national character or that of our leaders. Indeed, none of these incidents convey any meaning at all. They are mere accidents, quasi-acts of nature which contain no moral information (in fact, the NYT article on these civilian deaths, out of nowhere, weirdly mentioned that "in northern Afghanistan, 23 members of a wedding celebration drowned in severe flash flooding" - as though that's comparable to the U.S.'s dropping bombs on innocent people). We've all been trained, like good little soldiers, that the phrase "collateral damage" cleanses and justifies this and washes it all way: yes, it's quite terrible, but innocent people die in wars; that's just how it is. It's all grounded in America's central religious belief that the country has the right to commit violence anywhere in the world, at any time, for any cause.

At some point - and more than a decade would certainly qualify - the act of continuously killing innocent people, countless children, in the Muslim world most certainly does reflect upon, and even alters, the moral character of a country, especially its leaders. You can't just spend year after year piling up the corpses of children and credibly insist that it has no bearing on who you are. That's particularly true when, as is the case in Afghanistan, the cause of the war is so vague as to be virtually unknowable. It's woefully inadequate to reflexively dismiss every one of these incidents as the regrettable but meaningless by-product of our national prerogative. But to maintain mainstream credibility, that is exactly how one must speak of our national actions even in these most egregious cases. To suggest any moral culpability, or to argue that continuously killing children in a country we're occupying is morally indefensible, is a self-marginalizing act, whereby one reveals oneself to be a shrill and unSerious critic, probably even a pacifist. Serious commentators, by definition, recognize and accept that this is merely the inevitable outcome of America's supreme imperial right, note (at most) some passing regret, and then move on.

(2) Yesterday - a week after it leaked that it was escalating its drone strikes in Yemen - the Obama administration claimed that the CIA last month disrupted a scary plot originating in Yemen to explode an American civilian jet "using a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb deployed unsuccessfully in 2009." American media outlets - especially its cable news networks - erupted with their predictable mix of obsessive hysteria, excitement and moral outrage. CNN's Wolf Blitzer last night devoted the bulk of his show to this plot, parading the standard cast of characters - former Bush Homeland Security adviser (and terrorist advocate) Fran Townsend and its "national security analyst" Peter Bergen - to put on their Serious and Concerned faces, recite from the U.S. Government script, and analyze all the profound implications. CNN even hauled out Rep. Peter King to warn that this shows a "new level" of Terror threats from Yemen. CNN's fixation on this plot continued into this morning.

Needless to say, the fact that the U.S. has spent years and years killing innocent adults and children in that part of the world - including repeatedly in Yemen - was never once mentioned, even though it obviously is a major factor for why at least some people in that country support these kinds of plots. Those facts are not permitted to be heard. Discussions of causation - why would someone want to attack a U.S. airliner? – is an absolute taboo, beyond noting that the people responsible are primitive and hateful religious fanatics. Instead, it is a simple morality play reinforced over and over: Americans are innocently minding their own business - trying to enjoy our Freedoms - and are being disgustingly targeted with horrific violence by these heinous Muslim Terrorists whom we must crush (naturally, the solution to the problem that there is significant anti-American animosity in Yemen is to drop even more bombs on them, which will certainly fix this problem).

Indeed, on the very same day that CNN and the other cable news networks devoted so much coverage to a failed, un-serious attempt to bring violence to the U.S. - one that never moved beyond the early planning stages and "never posed a threat to public safety" - it was revealed that the U.S. just killed multiple civilians, including a family of 5 children, in Afghanistan. But that got no mention. That event simply does not exist in the world of CNN and its viewers (I'd be shocked if it has been mentioned on MSNBC or Fox either). Nascent, failed non-threats directed at the U.S. merit all-hands-on-deck, five-alarm media coverage, but the actual extinguishing of the lives of children by the U.S. is steadfastly ignored (even though the latter is so causally related to the former).

This is the message sent over and over by the U.S. media: we are the victims of heinous, frightening violence; our government must do more, must bomb more, must surveil more, to Keep Us Safe; we do nothing similar to this kind of violence because we are Good and Civilized. This is how our Objective, Viewpoint-Free journalistic outlets continuously propagandize: by fixating on the violence done by others while justifying - or, more often, ignoring - the more far-reaching and substantial violence perpetrated by the U.S.

(3) If one of the relatives of the children just killed in Afghanistan decided to attack the U.S. - or if one of the people involved in this Yemen-originating plot were a relative of one of the dozens of civilians killed by Obama's 2009 cluster bomb strike - what would they be called by the U.S. media? Terrorists. Primitive, irrational, religious fanatics beyond human decency.
[...]

5) Congress' intelligence heads: Taliban stronger
AP, May 6, 2012
http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2012-05-06/congress-taliban/54787178/1

Washington – The leaders of congressional intelligence committees said Sunday they believed that the Taliban had grown stronger since President Obama sent 33,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2010.

The pessimistic report by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., challenges Obama's own assessment last week in his visit to Kabul that the "tide had turned" and that "we broke the Taliban's momentum."

Feinstein and Rogers told CNN's State of the Union they aren't so sure. The two recently returned from a fact-finding trip to the region where they met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"President Karzai believes that the Taliban will not come back. I'm not so sure," Feinstein said. "The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces."

When asked if the Taliban's capabilities have been degraded since Obama deployed the additional troops two years ago, Feinstein said: "I think we'd both say that what we've found is that the Taliban is stronger."

More than 1,800 U.S. troops have been killed in the decade-long war. About 88,000 service members remain deployed, down from a peak of more than 100,000 last year. More troops are expected to leave by the end of summer with all combat troops gone by the end of 2014.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
6) Red Cross, U.N. appeal for Palestinian hunger strikers
Stephanie Nebehay; Reuters, Tue May 8, 2012 12:25pm EDT
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/08/us-palestinians-redcross-idUSBRE8470UB20120508

Geneva - The International Committee of the Red Cross called on Israel on Tuesday to transfer six Palestinians who have been on hunger strike for weeks to hospital and allow visits from their families.

All six are in prison under Israel's long-standing policy of detaining people it suspects of security offences or plotting attacks in a closed military proceeding between security forces and military judges rather than after a formal trial. Prison terms for "administrative detainees" are renewable for six months at a time.

In a statement, the humanitarian agency said that the six are in "imminent danger of dying", although it upheld their right to choose whether or not they wanted to receive treatment.

"We urge the detaining authorities to transfer all six detainees without delay to a suitable hospital so that their condition can be continuously monitored and so that they can receive specialized medical and nursing care," said Juan Pedro Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The six have refused food for between 47 and 71 days, and are among more than 1,600 detainees who have been on hunger strike for some three weeks, according to the ICRC.

"Their main demands are for a resumption of family visits from Gaza and for an end to solitary confinement in Israeli places of detention," it said.

The fate of the hunger strikers has touched a raw nerve in the Palestinian Territories with daily demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to support the protest.

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said there would be serious repercussions if any of the prisoners died.

"The most tragic thing is if you look at the list of demands they have presented Israel ... they are generally related to the basic rights of prisoners," he said in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "There is a clear violation of the Geneva conventions."

The ICRC's Shaerer stressed that the strikers' right to fast is protected by international conventions.

"While we are in favor of any medical treatment that could benefit the detainees, we would like to point out that, under resolutions adopted by the World Medical Association, the detainees are entitled to freely choose whether to consent to be fed or to receive medical treatment," he said. "It is essential that their choice be respected and their human dignity preserved," he said.

On Monday, Israel's Supreme Court turned down an appeal by two Palestinians who have been on hunger strike for the past 70 days, to free them from detention without trial.

But in its decision the court said security authorities should consider freeing them for medical reasons.

The scope of the hunger strike has posed a new challenge to Israel, which has come under international criticism over detention without trial and could face a violent Palestinian backlash if any of the protesters die.

The office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also voiced concern on the strikers' fate.

"International law is clear: administrative detention should only be used in exceptional cases and only for imperative reasons of security. Administrative detainees have the right to challenge the lawfulness of the detention," spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing.

Independent U.N. investigators and U.N. rights bodies have raised concerns about Israel's frequent and extensive use of administrative detention, including of children, infringing on detainees right to a fair trial, Shamdasani said.

Bahrain
7) Bahrain: Activist arrested over 'insulting' tweets must be freed
Amnesty International, 8 May 2012
http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/bahrain-activist-arrested-over-insulting-tweets-must-be-freed-2012-05-08

A prominent human rights activist detained for posting tweets deemed "insulting" to Bahrain's Ministry of Interior must be released, Amnesty International said.

Nabeel Rajab, the director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, was arrested on Saturday evening and has been charged with "insulting a national institution".

"This is the Bahraini authorities' latest attempt to clamp down on dissenting voices in the country," said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "Nabeel Rajab is a prisoner of conscience and he must be immediately and unconditionally released."

Rajab was arrested on arrival at Bahrain International Airport, following a trip to Denmark, Sweden and finally Lebanon.

Just before travelling abroad, he had been summoned for questioning by the Public Prosecutor after the Ministry of Interior accused him of sending "insulting" tweets. He did not attend because of his travel.

The activist was brought to the Public Prosecutor's Office on Sunday and interrogated. Rajab's lawyer said about eight insulting tweets were mentioned, and he was given a seven-day detention order pending investigation.

Rajab also appeared before a lower criminal court on Sunday in another case against him, in which he is charged with calling for participation in illegal gatherings in which some protesters acted violently. The trial was adjourned until 22 May.

"Nabeel Rajab has not called for the use of violence - in fact he has publically stated he is against the use of violence in protests - so the authorities have no grounds to punish him," said Philip Luther. "Peaceful public gatherings and freedom of expression must be allowed in Bahrain, in line with the country's international obligations to uphold these rights."

Rajab has denied all charges against him and is currently held in al-Houra police station in Manama.

Repression of government critics has continued in Bahrain despite government pledges to implement reforms recommended in November, when a team of international jurists published a key report on the crackdown on protests.

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry – chaired by Egyptian jurist Cherif Bassiouni – prescribed wide-ranging change that included decriminalizing public gatherings. However, key recommendations have so far not been implemented.

Bahrain's High Criminal Court of Appeal today held its first session in the case of 21 prominent opposition activists, seven of whom were being tried in absentia. However, the trial was adjourned until 21 May because two defendants are in hospital.

One of the men, human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, has been on hunger strike for more than two months in protest at his unfair imprisonment. Amnesty International understands his physical condition is critical.

Amnesty International considers all those currently detained in the case as prisoners of conscience and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Honduras
8) Missing Honduran journalist Erick Martinez found dead
BBC, 8 May 2012 Last updated at 07:17 ET
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17990638

Honduran journalist and gay rights campaigner Erick Martinez has been found dead two days after going missing, officials say.

Local media quoted police as saying Mr Martinez showed signs of strangulation.

The motive for his reported killing remains unclear but rights groups say more than 20 media workers have been killed in Honduras since 2009.

The country has the world's highest murder rate: 86 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to UN figures.

Mr Martinez's body was found by the roadside in the village of Guasculile, north of the capital, Tegucigalpa.

He worked for an association defending lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Mr Martinez had also been chosen last year as a candidate for a coalition of parties that emerged after the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya nearly three years ago.

According to rights groups, more than 20 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2009 when the military helped to overthrow Mr Zelaya.

It has not been established if all the murders were work-related.

But last December, the country's human rights commissioner warned that journalists were facing a growing risk amid a rise in drug trafficking and other organised crime.

A report by the commissioner in April said that at least 20 members of the LGBT community had been killed between 2010 and 2011.

Jamaica
9) Jamaica's Debt Interest Payments Were World's Highest in 2011: Report
Caribbean Journal, May 7, 2012 | 8:25 pm |
http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/05/07/jamaicas-debt-interest-payments-were-worlds-highest-in-2011-report/

Jamaica's "unsustainable public debt burden" continues to displace needed investments, preventing long-term growth, according to a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In 2011, Jamaica had the highest debt interest payments of any country in the world, calculated as a percentage of GDP, according to the paper.

The country's debt, along with pro-cyclical microeconomic policies supported by the IMF, have held back the country's recovery, according to the paper, "Update on the Jamaican Economy."

"The IMF, World Bank, IDB and other multilateral institutions deserve a large share of the blame for Jamaica's prolonged and ongoing economic stagnation and debt trap," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the CEPR. "Their contractionary policies priorities the servicing of debt over growth and development. They have also favoured debt service over the paying of back wages, stimulus, public investment and other measures that could help Jamaica get out of the hole it's been in."
[...]
"Jamaica should be able to invest in infrastructure and human capital, and have the financial resources ready to be able to respond to frequent natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tropical storms," Johnston said. "Instead, it is forced to prioritize servicing its debt, with payments that are exceptionally large, even compared with other debt-burdened nations."

-

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