JFP 5/10: Kucinich, Conyers Press Admin on "Signature" Drone Strikes
Just Foreign Policy News, May 10, 2012
Kucinich, Conyers Press Admin on "Signature" Drone Strikes
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
NDAA expected next week
The National Defense Authorization Act is expected to be considered in the House next week. Amendments are expected to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan, to curtail drone strikes, and to cut the military budget, among other issues.
Action: More than 1600 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike. Where is the State Department?
Ten have been hospitalized; at least two have been characterized as "near death." The prisoners are protesting "administrative detention" - detention without charge - solitary confinement, and denial of family visits. Urge the State Department to speak up to save the lives of the hunger strikers and to protest the detention of Palestinians without charge or trial.
1500 Prisoners on Hunger Strike for Basic Rights: Could Hillary Say Boo?
Is it possible that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could say a few words about this situation? She took stronger positions in the past. What might a little bit of pressure accomplish? A few words from the State Department could tip the balance towards a negotiated solution that saves the lives of the hunger strikers and restores prisoners' rights.
Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
The office of Representative Dennis Kucinich is circulating a letter to President Obama asking that Congress be provided with information on the CIA and JSOCs use of "signature" drone strikes (strikes which do not have a known target, but are based on intelligence matching a "profile" of a suspected terrorist.) The office of Rep. John Conyers has signed on. Urge your Rep. to sign: 202-225-3121.
Conyers to Rice on UN: Help Alleviate the Haitian Cholera Crisis
The office of Rep. John Conyers is circulating a letter to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice urging UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti [a crisis initiated when UN troops brought cholera to Haiti.] Current signers [5/10] include: Conyers, Cohen, Clarke (NY), Moran, Towns, Grijalva, Rush, Lee, Kucinich, Edwards, Stark, Rangel, Brown, Maloney, Schakowsky, Clarke (MI), Waters, Honda, Clay, Lewis (GA), McCollum. Urge your Rep. to support this letter.
House Roll Call on the Ryan budget
The Ryan budget, which passed the House 218-199, would replace military spending cuts with domestic spending cuts, like food stamps. No Dems voted yes. 16 Rs voted no.
Video: The Real News: Two of Mass Palestinian Prisoners' Hunger Strike "On Verge of Death"
Over 1600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail hold mass hunger strike, two of the arrested pass 70 days without food.
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.
1) Israel's prison service has offered to ease restrictions on Palestinian prisoners in a bid to end a mass hunger strike that has left several detainees close to death, AFP reports. Haaretz said the Israel Prison Service had offered to remove some prisoners from solitary confinement, allow prisoners to take classes and remove a ban on books. But Qaddura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club which tracks the well-being of Palestinians in Israeli jails, poured cold water on talk of a deal. The discussions "are only exploratory rounds by the IPS, there are no real negotiations," he told AFP.
2) The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon's budget mandated by last summer's debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs. Democrats offered an alternative that also included no military cuts, The Hill says.
3) Palestinian national soccer team member Mahmoud Sarsak was seized at an Israeli checkpoint in July 2009 on his way to a national team contest in the West Bank, writes Dave Zirin in The Nation. Since that date, he has been held without trial and without charges. His family and friends haven't been permitted to see him. Now Sarsak is one of more than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike to protest their conditions and lack of civil liberties.
Some see a deliberate Israeli strategy of targeting and undermining the Palestinian national team, Zirin writes. In 2010, Michel Platini, president of European football's ruling body, threatened Israel with expulsion from FIFA if it continued to undermine football in Palestine.
4) Fahd al Quso, the senior commander of al Qaeda's wing in Yemen, was killed in a drone strike based on information about his whereabouts supplied by a Saudi/CIA agent, CBS News reports. [Thus, the attack on him was not a "signature strike," and the recent reported expansion of authority for drone strikes in Yemen was not necessary to carry it out - JFP.]
5) Isabel Kershner, a New York Times correspondent in Israel, has a conflict of interest not disclosed to NYT readers, writes Alex Kane for FAIR. Her husband, Hirsh Goodman, works for the Institute for National Security Studies as a senior research fellow and director of the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Program on Information Strategy, tasked with shaping a positive image of Israel in the media. An examination of articles that Kershner has written or contributed to since 2009 reveals that she overwhelmingly relies on the INSS for think tank analysis about events in the region.
Media ethics expert Kevin Smith, the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee and an instructor at James Madison University, says that Kershner's case is a "basic ethics 101 lesson." In an email, Smith explained: "Repeatedly going to that agency for information still raises serious questions.... The relationship that develops here is not healthy for unbiased news coverage. It's too awash with personal connections." He added that, "at the very least, disclosure is demanded."
6) Bahrain vowed to crack down harder on anti-government protests as a leading opposition figure said the government had put a stop to talks on addressing the political grievances that fuelled last year's pro-democracy uprising, Reuters reports. Justin Gengler, a researcher on Bahrain based in Qatar, said the government had ditched dialogue in favor of a security crackdown to appease Sunni hardliners and avoid demands by other Sunnis for action on corruption and political reform.
7) The Treasury Department's claim of a "secret deal" between Iran and Al-Qaeda, a key talking point of right-wing activists who support war against Iran, has been discredited by former intelligence officials after publication of documents from bin Laden's files revealing a high level of antagonism between Al-Qaeda and Iran, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. Paul Pillar, former national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia, said the allegation of a "secret deal" between Iran and Al-Qaeda "has never been backed up by any evidence that would justify such a term." Treasury's original story about a secret deal coincided with a shift in Administration strategy from diplomatic engagement to maximizing pressure on Iran, Porter notes.
8) A journalist with a top Honduran radio station was kidnapped Wednesday, AFP reports. In the almost three years since a coup overthrew the government of leftist president Manuel Zelaya, 19 journalists have been killed in Honduras and all of the cases remain unsolved. "We're enormously worried that there are next to no investigations in the murders of our colleagues," said Juan Ramon Mairena, president of the Honduran College of Journalists.
9) Ecuador's legislature has passed a bill that would require banks to forgive any outstanding debt on mortgages for first-time home buyers of properties worth up to $146,000 if they default and forfeit the home, AP reports. The measure is aimed at discouraging a real estate bubble of the type that has caused so much pain in the U.S. and Europe, AP says.
1) Israel seeks deal with Palestinian hunger strikers
Shatha Yaish, AFP, May 10, 2012
Israel's prison service has offered to ease restrictions on Palestinian prisoners in a bid to end a mass hunger strike that has left several detainees close to death, sources told AFP on Thursday.
Just under 1,600 Palestinian prisoners are currently refusing food in a wide-ranging protest against solitary confinement, detention without charge and restrictions on family visits, education and various privileges.
The strike has drawn international attention, with the European Union and United Nations expressing concern. Two of those protesting, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, marked their 72nd day without food on Thursday.
But an official with Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer told AFP that negotiations between prisoners and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) appeared to be making progress. "According to what we have learned from the prisoners, there was a meeting last night in Nafha prison (in southern Israel) between the IPS and leaders of the hunger strike," she said on Thursday. "There might be a positive response in the next few days," she added.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the IPS appeared to have "agreed to allow visits for families from Gaza," and to revoke a range of restrictions on prisoners, including a ban on education.
And she added that an agreement on moving prisoners out of solitary confinement was also on the table. "On solitary confinement, in the meeting before this one the IPS offered to move all except for three out of 19 prisoners," she said. "The leaders of the strike refused, and said it's all or nothing. After the meeting yesterday, we have indications that IPS might have agreed on it."
IPS spokeswoman Sivan Weizman confirmed the Nafha meeting, saying it was part of an ongoing process of consultations between detainees and a committee examining prison conditions. "There was a meeting at Nafha prison, but it's not the only one," she told AFP. "We are holding meetings with the prisoners all the time, talking to them."
But she declined to comment on specific proposals or decisions, saying the discussions were ongoing. "I won't comment on the decisions that were reached. On the subject of solitary confinement, what was decided was that a committee would be set up to examine each particular case on its merits."
Haaretz newspaper said the IPS had offered to remove some prisoners from solitary confinement, allow prisoners to take classes and remove a ban on books. It said there was no agreement on allowing relatives in Gaza visit prisoners, and disagreements remained about moving three prisoners out of solitary confinement.
But Qaddura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners' Club which tracks the well-being of Palestinians in Israeli jails, poured cold water on talk of a deal. The discussions "are only exploratory rounds by the IPS, there are no real negotiations," he told AFP.
The hunger strike has widespread support among Palestinians, and demonstrations have been held in solidarity with the prisoners across the West Bank and Gaza.
On Thursday, around 50 protesters rallied outside the headquarters of the Red Cross seeking its support for the prisoners, while another 50 protested outside the offices of the European Union in east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile more than 150 Palestinians clashed with security forces near Ofer military prison not far from Ramallah, with some throwing stones at the Israeli troops who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, a military spokeswoman said.
[Typically, Western media use the phrase "rubber bullets" in this context to describe what are in fact "plastic-covered steel bullets" -JFP.]
Palestinian sources said a demonstrator was hospitalised in Ramallah after being wounded by a rubber bullet that hit his head and 10 others were lightly wounded from tear gas inhalation.
2) House votes to replace Pentagon cuts mandated by debt deal
Erik Wasson and Pete Kasperowicz, The Hill, 05/10/12 02:17 PM ET
The House voted Thursday to override steep cuts to the Pentagon's budget mandated by last summer's debt deal and replace them with spending reductions to food stamps and other mandatory social programs.
While doomed in the Senate and opposed by the White House, the legislation, which would reduce the deficit by $243 billion, is a Republican marker for post-election budget talks with the White House.
Members approved the Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act in a party-line 218-199 vote. As expected, the bill was supported by nearly all Republicans - only 16 opposed it, and no Democrats supported it.
Both parties are looking to avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to Pentagon and domestic discretionary spending that are mandated to begin in 2013 because of the failure of the deficit supercommittee to agree to a deficit-reduction plan. The entire process was set up by the 2011 deal between Congress and the White House to raise the debt ceiling.
The House bill would leave pending mandatory cuts in place, including cuts to Medicare. It would turn off $72 billion in cuts to both the Pentagon and on defense spending mandated by sequestration, but add $315 billion in new cuts, none of which are imposed on the Pentagon.
Under the House-approved legislation, food stamp eligibility is tightened, the Prevention and Public Health Trust Fund under the 2010 healthcare law is ended, the Federal Medicaid match to states is reduced, new stricter eligibility standards for Medicaid are imposed, and the Social Services Block Grant, which funds Meals on Wheels, is ended.
More savings come from cutting all funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, cutting federal worker pay and through medical tort reform.
The cuts would reduce the overall discretionary spending cap for 2013 by $19 billion below the level set in the debt deal.
But the GOP bill is highly controversial because it completely exempts defense cuts and focuses cuts only on social programs, a move Democrats blasted as the bill was debated. "Today, my Republican friends have brought to the floor a reconciliation bill that actually makes sequestration look good," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said.
Democrats offered an alternative that also included no defense cuts, but they bristled at the absence in the GOP bill of any new tax revenue, which they say should help contribute to deficit reduction, and rejected language in the bill that requires government workers to contribute more to their retirement.
[It's not a good sign that "Democrats offered an alternative that also included no defense cuts." Press reports - like this one - have characterized the Ryan plan as the opening Republican bid in post-election negotiations to replace the sequester. If we understood this "Democratic alternative" the same way, then it would mean that the "opening bid" of Democrats in the post-election negotiations would be to replace military cuts, mostly with tax increases - in other words, to raise taxes to protect military spending - JFP.]
3) What If Kobe Bryant Were an Imprisoned Palestinian Soccer Player?
Dave Zirin, The Nation, May 10, 2012 - 12:41 PM ET
Imagine if a member of Team USA Basketball - let's say Kobe Bryant - had been traveling to an international tournament only to be seized by a foreign government and held in prison for three years without trial or even hearing the charges for which he was imprisoned. Imagine if Kobe was allowed no visitation from family or friends. Imagine if he was left no recourse but to effectively end any future prospects as a player by terminating his own physical health by going on a hunger strike. Chances are we'd notice, yes? Chances are the story would lead SportsCenter and make newspaper covers across the world. Chances are all the powerful international sports organizations - the IOC, FIFA - would treat the jailing nation as a pariah until Kobe was free. And chances are that even Laker-haters would wear buttons that read, "Free Kobe."
This is what has happened to Palestinian national soccer team member Mahmoud Sarsak. Sarsak, who hails from Rafah in the Gaza Strip, was seized at a checkpoint on his way to a national team contest in the West Bank. This was July 2009. Since that date, the 25-year-old has been held without trial and without charges. His family and friends haven't been permitted to see him. In the eyes of the Israeli government, Sarsak can be imprisoned indefinitely because they deem him to be an "illegal combatant" although no one - neither family, nor friends, nor coaches - has the foggiest idea why. Now Sarsak is one of more than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike to protest their conditions and lack of civil liberties. As the New York Times wrote last week, "The newest heroes of the Palestinian cause are not burly young men hurling stones or wielding automatic weapons. They are gaunt adults, wrists in chains, starving themselves inside Israeli prisons."
But no organization has claimed Sarsak as a member or issued fiery calls for his freedom. All we have is a family and a team that are both bewildered and devastated by his indefinite detention. His brother Iman said, "My family never imagined that Mahmoud would have been imprisoned by Israel. Why, really why?"
His family doesn't understand how someone, whose obsession was soccer, not politics, could be targeted and held in such a manner. But in today's Israel/Palestine, soccer is politics. Sarsak is only the latest Palestinian player to be singled out for harassment or even death by the Israeli government. In 2009, three national team players, Ayman Alkurd, Shadi Sbakhe and Wajeh Moshtahe, were killed during the bombing of Gaza. The National Stadium as well as the offices of the Palestinian Football Association were also targeted and destroyed in the Gaza bombing. In addition, their goalie, Omar Abu Rwayyis, was arrested by Israeli police in 2012 on "terrorism charges." If you degrade the national team, you degrade the idea that there ever be a nation.
More than police violence is a part of this process of athletic degradation. Currently the Palestinian soccer team is ranked 164th in the world and they've have never been higher than 115th. As one sports writer put it delicately, "Given the passion for football that burns among Palestinians, such lowly status hints at problems on the ground."
These problems on the ground include curfews and checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza that often mean the forfeiting of matches. If Palestinians living in Israel's borders want to play for the team, they have to give up any benefits of Israeli citizenship. The end result is that the Palestinian national team becomes dependent on the Diaspora, relying heavily on Palestinians who have lived for two and three generations in South America and Europe. This is why many of the key players on Palestine's national team are named Roberto or Pablo.
In 2010, Michel Platini, president of European football's ruling body - Israel plays in the European qualifiers - threatened Israel with expulsion from FIFA if it continues to undermine football in Palestine. Platini said, "Israel must choose between allowing Palestinian sport to continue and prosper or be forced to face the consequences for their behaviour." Yet Platini never followed through on threats and quite the opposite, awarded Israel the 2013 Under-21 European Championships.
On Wednesday, the British organization Soccer Without Borders, said that they would be calling for a boycott of the tournament, writing:
"Football Beyond Borders, a student-led organisation which uses the universal power of football to tackle political, social and cultural issues, stands in solidarity with Mahmoud Sarsak and all of the Palestinian political prisoners currently being detained by Israel on hunger strike, as together we protest the injustices being inflicted upon Palestinian prisoners in Israel, and draw attention to their plight. [We] take this opportunity to announce our official boycott of the UEFA 2013 Under-21 European Championships, which Israel has been awarded the honour of hosting."
Soccer Without Borders joined forty-two football clubs and dozens of team captains, managers and sports commentators in Gaza who submitted a letter to Platini in 2011 demanding that European football's governing body reverse its decision to allow Israel to host the under-21 tournament.
Amidst all this tumult is Mahmoud Sarsak, a threat for reasons no one can comprehend and Israel will not reveal. As long as Sarsak remains indefinitely detained and as long as Israel targets sport and athletes as legitimate targets of war, they have no business being rewarded by FIFA or the UEFA, let alone even being a part of the community of international sports. If Sarsak is to see the inside of a courtroom and if Israel is to, as Platini said, "face the consequences for their behaviour," silence is not an option. After all, even a Celtic fan would surely agree, we'd do it for Kobe.
4) CIA Sacrifices Intel Source To Foil Bomb Plot
CBS News, 12:27 PM, May 9, 2012
New York - It's a stunning revelation in the foiled plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner: The triggerman chosen by al Qaeda was actually a double agent who was working for the CIA and Saudi intelligence services.
He delivered the explosive device to U.S. intelligence officials and provided information on the whereabouts of Fahd al Quso, the senior commander of al Qaeda's wing in Yemen, who was killed in a drone strike last weekend. It's an intelligence victory, but it came with a cost.
"This is an intelligence coup; the fact that the CIA and partner intelligence agencies got inside the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula networks to not only disrupt this plot, but also to get information about the location of senior al Qaeda figures, including Fahd al-Quso, who was killed last week," observes CBS News national security consultant Juan Zarate.
[Note that whatever one thinks of drone strikes in general, according to this report, Fahd al Quso was killed in a drone strike that targeted him specifically, based on intelligence that indicated where he was. Thus, it was not a "signature strike," and the recent reported expansion of authority for drone strikes in Yemen was not necessary to authorize this strike - JFP.]
5) New Conflict of Interest at NYT Jerusalem Bureau
Isabel Kershner's family tie to pro-government think tank
Alex Kane, Extra! (FAIR), May 2012
After the news broke that New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner had a son who enlisted in the Israeli army (Extra!, 1/27/10), Times public editor Clark Hoyt noted (2/6/10) that it was problematic for Bronner to continue reporting on "one of the world's most intense" conflicts while his son took up arms for one side. Hoyt spoke to a former Times Jerusalem bureau chief, David Shipler, who stressed the importance of disclosing this relationship to readers.
Bronner is now close to the end of his tenure in Jerusalem. But two years after that controversy, the New York Times has yet to learn the importance of disclosure. And the concealed relationship again concerns a Times reporter who writes from Jerusalem: This time, it's correspondent Isabel Kershner.
Kershner has a record of misleading reporting (Extra!, 7/10, 4/11, 1/12) that reflects the New York Times' bias toward the Israeli government perspective.
But even more damning is this: Her husband, Hirsh Goodman, works for the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) as a senior research fellow and director of the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Program on Information Strategy, tasked with shaping a positive image of Israel in the media. An examination of articles that Kershner has written or contributed to since 2009 reveals that she overwhelmingly relies on the INSS for think tank analysis about events in the region.
The close family tie Kershner has to the leading Israeli think tank, a branch of Tel Aviv University, has never been disclosed to readers of the New York Times. The paper did not return requests for comment.
The INSS is well-connected to both the Israeli government and its military. Many of its associates come from government or military careers; its website boasts of the group's "strong association with the political and military establishment." In 2010, according to INSS financial documents, the Israeli government gave the institute about $72,000.
The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (10/5/08) identified INSS-produced papers as backing the "Dahiyah doctrine," an Israeli military doctrine that calls for disproportionate force to be used on civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon during operations against Hamas and Hezbollah. The doctrine was applied in 2008–09 during Israel's invasion of Gaza, and was cited, along with the INSS papers, in the UN Goldstone report, which accused Israel of committing possible war crimes (9/25/09).
Goodman's job within that context is spin. "The media is of strategic importance in a political and military conflict, since it has a formative influence on the degree of legitimacy that each side enjoys," he writes in an explanation of the Bronfman Program on the INSS website. "Israel must devise a strategy to impact positively on international and Arab public opinion and overall disseminate its message more effectively."
The INSS is certainly disseminating its message effectively in the Times. From 2009–12, there were 17 articles Kershner wrote or contributed to where officials from the INSS were quoted, far more than other comparable think tanks Kershner uses for analysis. Over the same time period, for example, the Shasha Center of Hebrew University was quoted two times and the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa was quoted once.
It's normal, of course,for Kershner to have sources in a well-connected and respected institution like the INSS, and she has never used her husband as a source. But it's extraordinary to report on Israel/Palestine without ever disclosing to readers the tie Kershner has to someone in the heart of Israel's security establishment whose job is precisely to make sure that Israel receives favorable media coverage.
Media ethics expert Kevin Smith, the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee and an instructor at James Madison University, says that Kershner's case is a "basic ethics 101 lesson." In an email, Smith explained: "Repeatedly going to that agency for information still raises serious questions.... The relationship that develops here is not healthy for unbiased news coverage. It's too awash with personal connections."
He added that, "at the very least, disclosure is demanded.... You cannot expect trust or to maintain credibility from the public when, before they read a word of your copy, you have engaged in an act of deception by not disclosing your potential conflicts."
The New York Times' own ethics code recognizes the problems such a situation raises. "Staff members must be sensitive that direct political activity by their spouses...may well create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts," one section states. "If newsroom management considers the problem serious, the staff member may have to withdraw from certain coverage. Sometimes an assignment may have to be modified or a beat changed."
Kershner's situation, like Bronner's, also illustrates that many Western journalists covering Israel/Palestine are enmeshed within Israeli society, and Israeli society only - hardly a recipe for fair and inclusive coverage of the conflict.
"While it would be convenient to think otherwise, there is no question that this deep personal integration into Israeli society informs our overall understanding and coverage," one unnamed Jerusalem bureau chief told Israeli-based British journalist and author Jonathan Cook, explaining Western media bias in Israel/Palestine (CounterPunch, 2/25/10).
6) Bahrain "to get tougher" on protest as talks stop
Andrew Hammond, Reuters, Tue, May 8, 2012
Dubai - Bahrain vowed on Tuesday to crack down harder on anti-government protests as a leading opposition figure said the government had put a stop to talks on addressing the political grievances that fuelled last year's pro-democracy uprising.
Bahraini media have reported a new security plan to "restore order" to the Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchy and, in recent days, authorities have detained a leading activist and warned a top Shi'ite cleric to stop alleged incitement to violence.
Bahraini government spokesman Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Mubarak Al Khalifa told Reuters: "Because of the escalation in violence, we are looking into the perpetrators and people who use print, broadcast and social media to encourage illegal protest and violence around the country."
"If applying the law means tougher action, then so be it," he added.
Asked about the dialogue with the opposition, he said opposition parties must first declare they are prepared for talks without preconditions.
"This escalation is not good for the country, it will take us back to square one," said Abduljalil Khalil, a senior member of the leading opposition party Wefaq who was involved in meetings this year with royal court minister Khaled bin Ahmed. "The talks have stopped, so the authorities are really moving to another phase of the security approach," he said. "I don't know if it was the hardliners in the family or from outside, but at any rate the outcome now is that everything has stopped."
Bahrain's status as a banking and tourism hub is under threat from the continued unrest. Economic growth more than halved in 2011, and even weekend Saudi revelers seeking escape from the kingdom's strict social controls have dried up.
Justin Gengler, a researcher on Bahrain based in Qatar, said the government had ditched dialogue in favor of a security crackdown to appease Sunni hardliners and avoid demands by other Sunnis for action on corruption and political reform. "They do not want Sunnis and Shi'ites at the same table, but they can at least appeal to those Sunnis who want the harsher security response," he said, noting a recent Sunni call for the veteran prime minister to stand down - a stock Shi'ite demand.
7) U.S. Treasury Claim of Iran-Al-Qaeda "Secret Deal" Is Discredited
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, May 10
Washington - The U.S. Treasury Department's claim of a "secret deal" between Iran and Al-Qaeda, which had become a key argument by right-wing activists who support war against Iran, has been discredited by former intelligence officials in the wake of publication of documents from Osama bin Laden's files revealing a high level of antagonism between Al-Qaeda and Iran.
Three former intelligence officials with experience on Near East and South Asia told IPS they regard Treasury's claim of a secret agreement between Iran and Al-Qaeda as false and misleading.
That claim was presented in a way that suggested it was supported by intelligence. It now appears, however, to have been merely a propaganda line designed to support the Barack Obama administration's strategy of diplomatic coercion on Iran.
Under Secretary of Treasury David S. Cohen announced last July that the department was "exposing Iran's secret deal with Al-Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory." The charge was introduced in connection with the designation of an Al-Qaeda official named Yasin al-Suri as a terrorist subject to financial sanctions.
The Treasury claim has been embraced by the right-wing Weekly Standard and others aligned with hardline Israeli views on Iran, as primary source evidence of an alliance between Iran and Al-Qaeda.
But Paul Pillar, former national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia, told IPS the allegation of a "secret deal" between Iran and Al-Qaeda "has never been backed up by any evidence that would justify such a term" and that it is "a highly misleading characterisation of interaction between Iran and Al-Qaeda…."
Pillar said the recently released bin Laden documents "not only do not demonstrate any agreement in which Iran condoned or facilitated operations by Al-Qaeda, they contradict the notion that there was any such agreement."
"I've never seen anything that suggests that happened," said another former intelligence official, referring to an Iran-Al Qaeda agreement. "I'm very sceptical about that."
A third former intelligence official said Treasury's "secret deal" claim "doesn't pass the BS test" and noted that it is perfectly aligned with the Obama administration's policy of pressure on Iran.
The official said the Treasury Department's push for its "secret deal" line is emblematic of a larger split in the intelligence community between those for whom intelligence is secondary to their role in "counterterrorism" policy and the rest of the community. "The counterterrorism types are like used car salesmen," the former official told IPS. "They are always overselling something. They have to show that they are doing important work."
The actual text of the Jul. 28, 2011 "designation" of Yasin al-Suri suggests that the claim of such a "secret deal" is merely a political spin on the fact that Iran dealt with al-Suri on the release of prisoners.
It says that Yasin al Suri is an Al-Qaeda facilitator "living and operating in Iran under agreement between Al-Qaeda and the Iranian government". Iranian authorities, it said, "maintain a relationship with (al-Suri) and have permitted him to operate within Iran's borders since 2005".
The designation offers no other evidence of an "agreement" except for the fact that Iran dealt with al-Suri in arranging the releases of Al-Qaeda prisoners from Iranian detention and their transfer to Pakistan.
The official notice of a 10-million-dollar reward for al-Suri on the website of the "Rewards for Justice" programme under the Diplomatic Security office of the State Department also indicates that the only "agreement" between Iran and Al-Qaeda has been to exchange prisoners.
"Working with the Iranian government," it said, "al-Suri arranges the release of al Qaeda personnel from Iranian prisons. When al Qaeda operatives are released, the Iranian government transfers them to al- Suri, who then facilitates their travel to Pakistan."
Neither the Treasury Department nor the State Department, which joined the February 2012 press briefing on the reward for finding al- Suri, referred to the fact that Iran had been forced to deal with al- Suri and to release Al-Qaeda detainees in order to obtain the release of the Iranian diplomat kidnapped by Pakistani allies of Al-Qaeda in Peshawar, Pakistan in November 2008.
In one of the documents taken from the Abbottabad compound and published by West Point's Counter-Terrorism Center last week, a senior Al Qaeda official wrote, "We believe that our efforts, which included escalating a political and media campaign, the threats we made, the kidnapping of their friend the commercial counselor in the Iranian Consulate in Peshawar, and other reasons that scared them based on what they saw (we are capable of), to be among the reasons that led them to expedite (the release of these prisoners)."
The designation of Yasin al-Suri as a terrorist subject to financial sanctions Jul. 28, 2011 did not have any impact on Al-Qaeda funding. The objective was to allow Treasury to generate press coverage of its charge of a secret Iran-Al Qaeda agreement. The timing of the move coincided with a shift in Obama administration strategy from diplomatic engagement to maximising pressure on Iran.
During the period when neoconservatives were pushing for an explicit policy of support for regime change in Iran during the first George W. Bush administration, U.S. officials frequently talked as though any Al-Qaeda presence in Iran was evidence of Iran's cooperation with the terrorist organisation.
But as ABC News reported on May 29, 2008, Bush administration officials were acknowledging privately that they were not complaining about Iranian policy toward Al-Qaeda operatives in Iran, because Iran had "kept these al Qaeda operatives under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate".
One official said Al-Qaeda officials under Iranian control, "some of whom are quite important," were "essentially on ice".
8) Journalist kidnapped in Honduras
AFP, May 9, 2012
Tegucigalpa - A journalist with a top Honduran radio station was kidnapped Wednesday on his way to work, police and co-workers said, days after another reporter was killed and dumped on the side of a road. "This morning when he was driving from his house to carry out his duties, our comrade Angel Alfredo Villatoro was kidnapped," HRN radio said in a broadcast.
In the almost three years since a coup overthrew the government of leftist president Manuel Zelaya, 19 journalists have been killed in Honduras and all of the cases remain unsolved.
Journalist groups and news organizations expressed alarm at the wave of kidnappings and executions targeting their profession.
"We're enormously worried that there are next to no investigations in the murders of our colleagues," said Juan Ramon Mairena, president of the Honduran College of Journalists, a professional association. Authorities "have told us that there are four cases under investigation, but there is no one under arrest and no prosecutions underway," Mairena said. "They tell us that the murders were not related to their professional duties, but they offer no proof of that," said Mairena.
Human rights groups also condemned the authorities for failing to close a single case.
"The results of the investigations of these crimes is a blank page. There's no interest in investigating them," said Ramon Custodio, head of a governmental human rights commission, speaking to AFP.
9) Ecuador law would forgive mortgage debt
Gonzalo Solano and Frank Bajak, Associated Press, Wed, May. 09, 2012
Ecuador's legislature has passed a bill that would require banks to forgive any outstanding debt on mortgages for first-time home buyers of properties worth up to $146,000 if they default and forfeit the home.
The measure, aimed at discouraging a real estate bubble of the type that has caused so much pain in the United States and Europe, won praise from many Ecuadoreans on Wednesday.
Approved Tuesday evening by a 68-21 vote, the bill also covers loans by banks to first-time purchasers of automobiles that cost up to $29,200.
The law appears to be unique. San Diego State University economist Michael Lea, a real estate specialist, said the only similar measure he was aware of was the creation of a national housing bank by the leftist Sandinista movement in Nicaragua after it won power in 1979.
Pablo Davalos, an economist at Catholic University, said the move would be good for most Ecuadoreans. "This law is positive for the consumer and negative for the banker, who now has to increase his reserves and that means less liquidity and less profit for the bankers," Davalos said.
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