JFP 5/14: House moots wars, drone strikes; Pal prisoners reach deal to end hunger strike
Just Foreign Policy News, May 14, 2012
House moots wars, drone strikes; Pal prisoners reach deal to end hunger strike
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
[Updated:]NDAA and Iran "redline" this week
The National Defense Authorization Act is expected to be considered in the House this week. Amendments are expected to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan (Adam Smith, McGovern/Jones, Lee), to curtail "signature" drone strikes (drone strikes that target unknown people; Conyers-Kucinich), prohibit war with Iran (Conyers) to explicitly ban indefinite detention in the U.S. (Smith-Amash) and to cut the military budget (many amendments), among other issues.
Meanwhile, the House version of the Lieberman "lower the bar for war with Iran" resolution is on the House suspension calendar Tuesday.
Call your Representative. You can reach the Capitol Switchboard at 1-877-429-0678. Ask your Representative to support amendments to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan; prohibit "signature" drone strikes; oppose war with Iran; cut military spending.
Kucinich/Conyers amendment to NDAA: Prohibit conduct of drone strikes on unidentified targets
The offices of Rep. Kucinich and Rep. Conyers are offering an amendment on the National Defense Authorization Act that would block the military from conducting drone strikes to attack a target whose identity is unknown or is based solely on patterns of behavior of such target. (That is, it bars the military from conducting "signature strikes.")
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.
[Updated:] 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 [5/14] 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, Wilson (FL), Capuano, Blumenauer. Urge your Rep. to support this letter.
Brave New Foundation: Job Announcement: War Costs Campaign Director [Los Angeles]
IJDH: Job Announcement: Administrative Assistant [Haiti Solidarity, Boston]
1) Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails ended a hunger strike on Monday that had lasted weeks, signing an agreement with the Israeli authorities that promises improved conditions, the New York Times reports. Authorities said that the agreement calls for prisoners now in solitary confinement to be returned to ordinary sections of prisons and for family visits to resume for prisoners from Gaza. Israeli officials said they had made no commitment to end the practice of incarceration without formal charges or a trial, known as administrative detention. But Issa Qaraqe, the minister of prisoner affairs for the Palestinian Authority, said there were understandings that the terms of the roughly 300 prisoners being held without charges would not be extended.
2) On Tuesday, the House is slated to vote under suspension rules on a resolution designed to tie the president's hands on Iran policy, writes MJ Rosenberg at the Huffington Post. The resolution would "[urge] the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat." The resolution won't bind the President legally, but it is an attempt to constrain the President politically from negotiating a diplomatic resolution that would prevent war.
Moreover, Rosenberg writes, AIPAC is unlikely to stop with a non-binding resolution. Once the House and Senate have passed that, the lobby will look for an opportunity to make it binding.
3) The UN bears heavy responsibility for the outbreak of cholera in Haiti, notes the New York Times in an editorial: its own troops introduced the disease. The Times notes the letter being circulated by Conyers calling on Ambassador Rice to press the UN to commit to fully eliminating cholera from Haiti.
4) If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population, Reuters reports. In interviews in South Carolina, a military-friendly red state, many former soldiers expressed anger at the toll of a decade of war, questioned the legitimacy of George W. Bush's Iraq invasion, and worried that the surge in Afghanistan won't make a difference in the long run.
5) Robert Bergdahl, father of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, America's only known current prisoner of war, said he had become disillusioned by the military's doctrine of counterinsurgency, the New York Times reports. "The doctrine is fallacious," Bergdahl said. "It doesn't achieve what they say it's going to achieve. It's a biometric data-gathering device - send the rabbits out there to get I.E.D.-ed so you can figure out who to kill at night. How ethical."
6) Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to approve night raids requested by NATO, on the grounds they would result in civilian casualties, the Washington Post reports. The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts, the Post says.
7) The Obama administration said Friday it will resume some military sales to Bahrain, the Washington Post reports. "This is exactly the wrong time to be selling arms to the government of Bahrain," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "Things are getting worse, not better. . . . Reform is the ultimate goal and we should be using every tool and every bit of leverage we have to achieve that goal." Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch characterized the decision to resume some arms sales as shortsighted, saying that "the number one U.S. security interest in Bahrain right now is not making sure they have slightly better F-16 engines, it's making sure that they implement the reforms needed to make the relationship sustainable over the long term."
8) David Albright of ISIS has been cited in press reports as claiming that Iran could be sanitizing a site at the Parchin military base that the IAEA wants to inspect, notes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. But former senior IAEA nuclear inspector Robert Kelley told IPS that IAEA inspectors "will find uranium particles at a site like this if they ever were there." Kelley recalled that Syria had been sent to the Security Council "on the basis of tiny microscopic particles found at a site that had been bulldozed a year after the event."
9) The commander of the Israeli Prison Service's elite "Masada" unit testified that undercover soldiers hurled stones in the "general direction" of IDF soldiers as part of their activity to counter weekly demonstrations in the Palestinian village of Bil'in, Haaretz reports.
10) Commenting on the Haaretz report, Haggai Matar writes at +972 that organizers had made a special point of making sure that no stones would be thrown at the soldiers at any point of that demonstration. But as the demonstration progressed towards the construction site of the separation barrier, several young men unknown to organizers started throwing stones, giving the soldiers the cue they needed to disperse the demonstration with tear gas and make arrests. According to several witnesses, leaders in the popular struggle approached the young men and asked them to stop throwing stones – at which point the strangers pulled out concealed guns and handcuffs and arrested the people who asked them to stop.
11) In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed - and may jettison entirely by the end of the year - a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission, the New York Times reports.
A lesson given by an American police instructor to a class of Iraqi trainees neatly encapsulated the program's failings, the Times says. There are two clues that could indicate someone is planning a suicide attack, the instructor said: a large bank withdrawal and heavy drinking. The problem with that advice was that few Iraqis have bank accounts and an extremist Sunni Muslim bent on carrying out a suicide attack is likely to consider drinking a cardinal sin. Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training suddenly refused to attend, saying they saw little benefit from the sessions.
1) Palestinian Prisoners End Hunger Strike With Deal
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, May 14, 2012
Jerusalem - Hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails ended a hunger strike on Monday that had lasted weeks, signing an agreement with the Israeli authorities that promises improved conditions, according to officials. The end of the strike averted fears of widespread unrest in the event of a prisoner's death.
"There is an agreement - the strike is over," Sivan Weizman, a spokeswoman for the Israel Prison Service, said by telephone on Monday evening.
Israeli officials said that Egypt and Jordan had played roles in bringing the strike to an end.
Qadura Fares, the president of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, based in Ramallah in the West Bank, said that the agreement was reached by prison leaders on behalf of all the Palestinian factions.
The Israeli authorities said that among other provisions, the agreement calls for prisoners now in solitary confinement to be returned to ordinary sections of prisons and for family visits to resume for prisoners from Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas, the more radical of the major Palestinian factions.
Israeli officials said they had made no commitment to end the practice of incarceration without formal charges or a trial, known as administrative detention, and that current administrative detainees would serve out their terms.
But Issa Qaraqe, the minister of prisoner affairs for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, said earlier on Monday that there were understandings that the terms of the roughly 300 prisoners being held without charges would not be extended.
2) House Votes This Week to Tie Obama's Hands on Iran
MJ Rosenberg, Huffington Post, 05/13/2012
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives is slated to vote on a resolution designed to tie the president's hands on Iran policy. The resolution, which is coming up under an expedited House procedure, was the centerpiece of AIPAC's recent conference. In fact, 13,000 AIPAC delegates were dispatched to Capitol Hill, on the last day of the conference, with instructions to tell the senators and representatives whom they met that supporting this resolution was #1 on AIPAC's election year agenda.
Most of the language in H. Res.568 is unremarkable, the usual boilerplate (some of it factual) denouncing the Islamic Republic of Iran as a "state sponsor of terrorism" that is on the road to nuclear weapons capability.
The resolution's overarching message is that Iran must be deterred from developing weapons, a position the White House (and our allies share). That is why the sanctions regime is in place and also why negotiations with Iran have resumed (the next session is May 23).
But the resolution does not stop with urging the president to use his authority to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. If it did, the resolution would be uncontroversial .
But there is also this: The House "urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."
Think about that.
The resolution, which almost surely will pass on Tuesday, is telling the president that he may not "rely on containment" in response to "the Iranian nuclear threat."
Since the resolution, and U.S. policy itself defines Iranian possession of nuclear weapons as, ipso facto, a threat, Congress would be telling the president that any U.S. response to that threat other than war is unacceptable. In fact, it goes farther than that, not only ruling out containment of a nuclear armed Iran but also containment of an Iran that has a "nuclear weapons capability."
That means that the only acceptable response to a nuclear armed or nuclear capable Iran is not containment but its opposite: war.
Any doubt that this is the intention of the backers of this approach was removed back in March, when the Senate was considering new Iran sanctions. Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA) offered their own "no containment" language to the sanctions bill and the Senate moved to quickly to accept it.
However, amending a bill once it is already on the Senate floor requires unanimous consent and one, and only one, senator objected. Rand Paul (R-KY) said that he would oppose the containment clause unless a provision was added specifying that "nothing in the Act shall be construed as a declaration of war or an authorization of the use of force against Iran..."
That did it.
Neither the Democratic or Republican leadership would accept that (knowing that AIPAC wouldn't) and Paul's objection killed the bill, for the time being. In other words, the purpose of "no containment" language is precisely to make war virtually automatic. Because Paul's provision would thwart that goal, it was unacceptable.
So now it's the House's turn.
On the substance, the "no containment" idea is absurd and reckless.
Imagine if President Kennedy had been told by the Congress back in 1962 that if the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba, he would have no choice but to attack Cuba or the USSR. If it had, it is likely none of us would be around today.
Presidents need latitude to make decisions affecting matters of national security and, until now, all presidents have been afforded it, as provided for in the United States Constitution. But, in the case of Iran, the cheerleaders for war are trying to change the rules. They are doing that because they understand that after almost a decade of war, the last thing Americans want is another one.
No president is going to ask Congress to declare war, or even to authorize it. Making war against Iran automatic would eliminate that problem. (That is precisely Sen. Paul's objection; he believes that backing into war is unconstitutional. He recalls the Gulf of Tonkin resolution of 1964 which led to ten years of war in Vietnam and 50,000 American dead without a declaration of war or even a specific authorization for war).
So why would the House vote for a resolution like this? The main reason is AIPAC. It may be the only lobby pushing for war with Iran but it also, by far, the most powerful foreign policy lobby and also the one that sees to it that those who play ball with it are rewarded and those who don't are punished.
The other reason is that the resolution is non-binding. Voting for it is good politics but does not affect policy.
Believing that is a mistake. An overwhelming vote for "no containment" may not tie the president's hands legally, but it does go a long way to tying his hands politically. After all, Congress will be expressing its clear (bipartisan) intent. A president cannot easily ignore that.
Moreover, the lobby is unlikely to stop with a non-binding resolution. Once the House and Senate have passed that, the lobby will look for an opportunity to make it binding. The goal is to take the president's discretion away from him because this president is unlikely to choose war when there are other options available.
It is those options that the lobby is determined to block. It remains hell-bent for war.
3) Haiti's Cholera Crisis
Editorial, New York Times, May 12, 2012
The cholera epidemic in Haiti, which began in late 2010, is bad and getting worse, for reasons that are well understood and that the aid community has done far too little to resolve. A chronic lack of access to clean water and sanitation make Haitians vulnerable to spreading sickness, especially as spring rains bring floods, as they always do. Summer hurricanes are bound to come; more misery and death will follow. The Pan American Health Organization has said the disease could strike 200,000 to 250,000 people this year. It has already killed more than 7,000.
Doctors Without Borders said this month that the country is unprepared for this spring's expected resurgence of the disease. Nearly half the aid organizations that had been working in the rural Artibonite region, where this epidemic began and 20 percent of cases have been reported, have left, the organization said. "Additionally, health centers are short of drugs and some staff have not been paid since January."
It gets worse: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this month that cholera in Haiti was evolving into two strains, suggesting the disease would become much harder to uproot and that people who had already gotten sick and recovered would be vulnerable again.
The United Nations bears heavy responsibility for the outbreak: its own peacekeepers [sic] introduced the disease through sewage leaks at one their encampments. Before that, cholera had not been seen in Haiti for more than a hundred years. But the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, admitted in an interview on May 3 that "what we are doing is sort of patchwork, Band-Aid work on a fundamental problem." While two nongovernmental organizations began a vaccination program last month in Port-au-Prince, it is only a trial that will protect a tiny part of the population. It is a worthy effort that will save lives, but not a substitute for basic water and sanitation.
A letter circulating in Congress calls on Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, to urge the world body to fully commit to eliminating cholera from the island of Hispaniola. The C.D.C. estimates that adequate water and sanitation systems will cost $800 million to $1.1 billion, a sum that can surely be wrested from the billions that nations have pledged to Haiti, though contributions have flagged as attention to the crisis has faded.
The Congressional letter echoes a demand from the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a human rights group that has sued the United Nations on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims. The U.N. and the international community have a responsibility to meet the crisis head-on. There are pledges to fulfill, dollars to deliver and lives to save.
4) Weary warriors favor Obama
Margot Roosevelt, Reuters, Sun May 13, 2012 3:01am EDT
Columbia, South Carolina - Mack McDowell likes to spend time at the local knife and gun show "drooling over firearms," as he puts it. Retired after 30 years in the U.S. Army, he has lined his study with books on war, framed battalion patches from his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, a John Wayne poster, and an 1861 Springfield rifle from an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. But when it comes to the 2012 presidential election, Master Sergeant McDowell is no hawk.
In South Carolina's January primary, the one-time Reagan supporter voted for Ron Paul "because of his unchanging stand against overseas involvement." In November, McDowell plans to vote for the candidate least likely to wage "knee-jerk reaction wars."
Disaffection with the politics of shock and awe runs deep among men and women who have served in the military during the past decade of conflict. Only 32 percent think the war in Iraq ended successfully, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. And far more of them would pull out of Afghanistan than continue military operations there.
While the 2012 campaign today is dominated by economic and domestic issues, military concerns could easily jump to the fore. Nearly 90,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan. Israeli politicians and their U.S. supporters debate over whether to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities as partisans bicker over proposed Pentagon budget cuts.
Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of "a dangerous course" in wanting to cut $1 trillion from the defense budget - although the administration's actual proposal is a reduction of $487 billion over the next decade. [Moreover, a reduction from a previously planned increase; under the administration's proposal military spending would roughly keep pace with inflation over the next ten years - JFP.]
"We should not negotiate with the Taliban," the former Massachusetts governor contends. "We should defeat the Taliban." He has blamed Obama for "procrastination toward Iran" and advocates arming Syrian rebels.
If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney, higher than his margin in the general population.
The GOP's heated rhetoric, aimed at the party's traditional hawks, might be expected to resonate with veterans. Yet in interviews in South Carolina, a military-friendly red state, many former soldiers expressed anger at the toll of a decade of war, questioned the legitimacy of George W. Bush's Iraq invasion, and worried that the surge in Afghanistan won't make a difference in the long run.
"We looked real cool going into Iraq waving our guns," said McDowell, 50, who retired from the 82d Airborne Division in November with a Legion of Merit and two Bronze Stars. "But people lost their lives, and it made no sense."
Now he worries. "I really don't like the direction we are going, how we seem to come closer daily towards a war with Iran."
5) Idahoan's Unlikely Journey to Life as a Taliban Prisoner
Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, May 13, 2012
Hailey, Idaho - Off a gravel road in a horse pasture in the crystalline air of the Northern Rockies, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl grew up skiing, fencing and dancing the role of the Nutcracker in the nearby Sun Valley Ballet School - on the surface, at least, an unlikely recruit for the United States Army.
But his family and friends say that in retrospect his enlistment made a certain sense. Sergeant Bergdahl had learned to shoot in the sagebrush hills surrounding his family home and was a superb marksman. He admired the military for its discipline and for what he saw as its role in protecting the American way of life.
After years of odd jobs and adventures, he told friends he was ready for the focus that a career in the Army would bring. Not least, his family said, he was lured by the promises of military recruiters that he would be helping people in other parts of the world. He had come to see the military as a kind of Peace Corps with guns. "I don't think he understood really what he was going to do," said Sky Bergdahl, Sergeant Bergdahl's older sister.
The story of Sergeant Bergdahl, 26, America's only known current prisoner of war, is one of the strangest and now most consequential mysteries in the 10-year involvement of the United States in Afghanistan. He was captured under still unclear circumstances in June 2009 by insurgents in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, only two months after he arrived on the battlefield, and is now believed to be held, alive and relatively well, by the militant Haqqani network across the border in the tribal area of Pakistan's northwest frontier.
Last week his anguished family broke a yearlong silence and announced that their son had become the centerpiece in secret but stalled negotiations between the Obama administration and the Taliban over a proposed prisoner exchange. The deal, which would trade five Taliban prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay for Sergeant Bergdahl, is considered a crucial first step toward striking a broader political settlement with the Taliban to bring the decade-long war to an end.
Sergeant Bergdahl's father, Robert Bergdahl, who said he went public to try to push the Obama administration to revive the talks, has in the meantime reached out to the insurgents. He is now in regular e-mail contact with a man he believes is a member of the Taliban with accurate knowledge of his son.
"You don't leave something like this to government officials," Mr. Bergdahl said in one of three interviews with The New York Times in recent months, two of them last week in Idaho. "Why wouldn't a father do this? This is my job." He said he now believed that the Taliban would not harm his son.
Mr. Bergdahl would say only that he himself had become disillusioned by the military's doctrine of counterinsurgency, aimed at winning over the Afghan population by building roads, schools and good governance while protecting them from insurgents. As part of the strategy, American troops often travel on roads planted with homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices, to meet with villagers during the day to collect information about their needs - and to ask the whereabouts of insurgents so they can target them in night raids.
"The doctrine is fallacious," Mr. Bergdahl said. "It doesn't achieve what they say it's going to achieve. It's a biometric data-gathering device - send the rabbits out there to get I.E.D.-ed so you can figure out who to kill at night. How ethical." His son, Mr. Bergdahl contended, was frustrated by what he saw.
6) Afghan commanders show new defiance in dealings with Americans
Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, May 11
Kabul - Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to act on U.S. intelligence regarding high-level insurgents, arguing that night-time operations to target the men would result in civilian casualties, Afghan officials say.
The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts.
For much of the past decade, NATO commanders have dictated most aspects of the allied war strategy, with Afghan military officers playing a far more marginal role. But with the signing of an agreement last month, Afghans have now inherited responsibility for so-called night raids - a crucial feature of the war effort.
To Afghan leaders, the decisions made by their commanders reflect growing Afghan autonomy from Western forces as NATO draws down, and prove that Afghan forces are willing to exercise more caution than foreign troops when civilian lives are at stake.
"In the last two months, 14 to 16 [night] operations have been rejected by the Afghans," said Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the top Afghan army officer. "The U.S. has said, 'This operation better be conducted. It's a high-value target.' Then my people said, 'It's a high-value target. I agree with you. But there are so many civilian children and women [in the area].' "
Many of the rejected night operations are later conducted once civilians are no longer in the vicinity of the targets, Karimi said.
U.S. officials point to progress they have made in their own efforts to reduce civilian casualties, and say that while the Afghans occasionally choose not to act on American intelligence, night operations are nonetheless frequently conducted. Americans continue to provide logistical support and backup, U.S. officials say, using their aircraft to deposit Afghan soldiers at the targets.
"The Afghans are the ones who give final say on whether or not the mission gets conducted. That's how the process works now," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. "The operational tempo hasn't been affected by this. I don't think there's been a night when they haven't conducted a good number of operations."
But the resistance to American guidance on night operations represents the clearest indication to date that Afghan military commanders are heeding a directive from President Hamid Karzai last month. Just a day after signing a 10-year bilateral agreement with the United States, Karzai said Afghan soldiers should discard questionable information provided by the U.S. military.
"If you have any doubt about an American intelligence report, do not conduct any operation based on it," he told officials at the Interior Ministry.
The Afghan president grew even more disenchanted over the last week, when separate NATO airstrikes killed 18 civilians in Logar, Kapisa, Badghis and Helmand provinces, according to Afghan officials. The president and his advisers said the attacks raise questions about the newly minted partnership agreement.
"Karzai signed the strategic pact with the United States to avoid such incidents and if Afghans do not feel safe, the strategic partnership loses its meaning," said a presidential statement released Monday.
In the past, such complaints would have been unlikely to affect military operations. But the transition to greater Afghan control of security has left Karzai and his military in a stronger position to stymie the American strategy.
7) U.S. to resume some military sales to Bahrain
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, May 11
The Obama administration said Friday it will resume some military sales to Bahrain, while continuing to withhold certain types of defense equipment because of human rights concerns in the Persian Gulf kingdom.
A State Department announcement recognized "a number of serious unresolved human rights issues" and cited increased "polarization" in Bahrain, where arrests and repression against increasingly violent political protests have increased despite the government's pledges to begin a political dialogue with its opponents.
The decision to lift the restrictions, which had frozen tens of millions of dollars worth of planned arms sales last fall, was based on "our desire to help the Bahrainis maintain their external defense capabilities, and a determination that it is in U.S. national interest to let these things go forward," said one of several senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The equipment released for sale did not include requested items such as TOW missiles or Humvees or supplies such as tear gas, stun grenades and other items that could be "used against protesters in any scenario," one official said.
Congressional approval would be required for transfer of some of the newly released defense items, assuming Bahrain decides to purchase them. Administration officials briefed congressional staffs Friday morning on the decision, which some lawmakers criticized as amounting to rewarding Bahrain for its human rights failings.
"This is exactly the wrong time to be selling arms to the government of Bahrain," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "Things are getting worse, not better. . . . Reform is the ultimate goal and we should be using every tool and every bit of leverage we have to achieve that goal."
Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, gave the administration "credit for pushing very hard" for the Bahraini government to implement its commitments to open the political process. "I don't think there's any question about what [the administration] is trying to achieve in Bahrain or the sense of urgency they feel."
But Malinowski characterized the decision to resume some arms sales as shortsighted, saying that "the number one U.S. security interest in Bahrain right now is not making sure they have slightly better F-16 engines, it's making sure that they implement the reforms needed to make the relationship sustainable over the long term."
8) IAEA Refuses Iran Cooperation Pact Until After Parchin Visit
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, May 14
Washington - In meetings with Iranian officials in Vienna this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) apparently intends to hold up agreement on a plan for Iran's full cooperation in clarifying allegations of covert nuclear weapons work by insisting that it must first let the nuclear agency visit Parchin military base.
That demand, coupled with the IAEA's insistence in the talks on being able to prolong the inquiry on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons work indefinitely, make the failure of the current talks very likely. Iran has made it clear that it wants assurances that the IAEA inquiry on the allegations will allow it to achieve closure on an agreed timetable by responding fully to IAEA questions.
That intention was signaled by IAEA Director General Yukia Amano's handling of the previous round of negotiations in February in an interview with Michael Adler in The Daily Beast Mar. 11. Amano told Adler that what he called the "standoff" over access to Parchin "has become like a symbol" and vowed to "pursue this objective until there's a concrete result".
But the "standoff" was not over access to Parchin itself but whether the IAEA would insist that the cooperation plan be held hostage to such a visit.
Adler cited an "informed source" as saying that the IAEA rejects any linkage between a visit to Parchin and the rest of the plan for cooperation being negotiated and insists that a visit to Parchin must come first before any agreement.
Iran had implicitly been using the IAEA's desire for the Parchin visit as a bargaining chip in negotiations over the terms of their cooperation – and especially the question of whether the process is to have an agreed endpoint.
Amano and Western officials have justified the insistence on immediate access to the Parchin site to investigate an alleged explosive containment vessel for testing related to a nuclear weapon by suggesting that satellite photographs show Iran may be trying to "clean up" the site.
David Albright, who has frequently passed on information and arguments originating with the IAEA on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security, was quoted by the Associated Press Sunday as arguing that a clean-up of the Parchin site "could involve grinding down the surfaces inside the building, collecting the dust and then washing the area thoroughly".
Albright further suggested that Iran could remove "any dirt around the building thought to contain contaminants".
But former senior IAEA nuclear inspector Robert Kelley told IPS that IAEA inspectors "will find uranium particles at a site like this if they ever were there."
Kelley, who worked in U.S. nuclear weapons programmes at Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories and was director of the Remote Sensing Laboratory in Las Vegas, recalled that Syria had been sent to the U.N. Security Council "on the basis of tiny miscroscopic particles found at a site that had been bulldozed a year after the event".
Access to Parchin has not been the issue in Iran's negotiations with the IAEA. Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has said that Iran is willing to grant access to Parchin as part of an agreed plan for Iranian cooperation with the IAEA.
The unfinished text of the agreement as of the end of February round of talks reveals that the real conflict is over whether the IAEA can prolong the process of questioning Iran about allegations of covert nuclear weapons work indefinitely.
On Mar. 8, in response to a presentation by Soltanieh to the IAEA Board of Governors detailing the negotiations, Amano confirmed, in effect, that the agency was insisting on being able to extend the process by coming up with more questions, regardless of Iran's responses to the IAEA's questions on the agreed list of topics.
He complained that Iran had sought to force the agency to "present a definitive list of questions" and to deny the agency "the right to revisit issues…."
Amano's demands for immediate access to Parchin and for a process without any clear endpoint appear to be aimed at allowing the United States and its allies to continue accusing Iran of refusing cooperation with the IAEA during negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group scheduled to resume in Baghdad May 23.
Amano was elected to replace the more independent Mohamed ElBaradei in 2009 with U.S. assistance and pledged to align the agency with U.S. policy on Iran as well as other issues, as revealed by WikiLeaks cables dated July and October 2009.
8) 'Undercover Israeli combatants threw stones at IDF soldiers in West Bank'
Testimony by commander of the Israeli Prison Service's elite 'Masada' unit sheds light on IDF methods in countering demonstrations against barrier.
Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, May.07, 2012, 2:46 AM http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/undercover-israeli-combatants-threw-stones-at-idf-soldiers-in-west-bank-1.428584
Undercover soldiers hurled stones in the "general direction" of IDF soldiers as part of their activity to counter weekly demonstrations in the Palestinian village of Bil'in, the commander of the Israeli Prison Service's elite "Masada" unit revealed during his recent testimony in the trial of MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash).
Barakeh has been charged with assaulting a border guard in Bil'in who was attempting to arrest a demonstrator.
Since 2005, the weekly protests against the separation barrier in Bil'in, which cuts the village off from much of its residents' land, have attracted international attention as well as the participation of Israeli and international activists.
Several "Masada" fighters testified two weeks ago in Barakeh's trial in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's court. The fighters testified from behind a curtain and their identity is to remain secret. The central witness was "Fighter 102," an officer in "Masada," who told the court that "we were sent to counter the disruptions at the separation barrier in Bil'in. It was the first time I was undercover. Two men were arrested, they were Palestinians."
When quizzed by defense attorney Orna Kohn if the undercover soldiers hurled stones, "102" answered that they did. When asked if he hurled stones toward IDF soldiers, he answered "in the general direction."
9) Commander admits: Undercover Israeli officers threw stones at soldiers in Bil'in
Seven years after the incident took place, an officer in the elite 'Metzada' unit of the Israel Prison Service admits that his subordinates threw stones at soldiers in Bil'in – as part of their mission.
Haggai Matar, +972, Monday, May 7 2012
At the time, almost nobody believed what the activists had said. The village of Bil'in was organizing one of its first mass demonstrations against the fence built on its lands, in the very early days of the local popular struggle. Organizers made a special point of making sure that no stones would be thrown at the soldiers at any point of this specific demonstration, in April 2005, even if the soldiers were to attack first – which was and to this day still is the trigger to attacks against them.
However, as the demonstration progressed towards the construction site of the fence, several young men of Arab appearance, unknown to organizers and thought to have come from neighboring villages, started throwing stones, giving the soldiers the cue they needed to disperse the demonstration with tear gas and make arrests. According to several witnesses, leaders in the popular struggle approached the young men and asked them to stop throwing stones – at which point the strangers pulled out concealed guns and handcuffs and arrested the people who asked them to stop. It would later be made known that these were combatants in the IPS elite anti-riot unit Metzada ("Masada"), lent to the army to infiltrate demonstrations and make them violent. And yet – most Israelis would not believe this story.
Now, seven years later, the IPS admits that its combatants threw stones at soldiers. As published in Haaretz Monday morning, a commander in the Metzada unit admitted as much in a trial against MK Mohammed Barake (Hadash). Barake, who attended the demonstration, is charged with assault against a Border Police officer at the scene, apparently as an attempt to de-arrest a local activist captured by the undercover agents.
11) U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police
Tim Arango, New York Times, May 13, 2012
Baghdad - In the face of spiraling costs and Iraqi officials who say they never wanted it in the first place, the State Department has slashed - and may jettison entirely by the end of the year - a multibillion-dollar police training program that was to have been the centerpiece of a hugely expanded civilian mission here.
What was originally envisioned as a training cadre of about 350 American law enforcement officers was quickly scaled back to 190 and then to 100. The latest restructuring calls for 50 advisers, but most experts and even some State Department officials say even they may be withdrawn by the end of this year.
The training effort, which began in October and has already cost $500 million, was conceived of as the largest component of a mission billed as the most ambitious American aid effort since the Marshall Plan. Instead, it has emerged as the latest high-profile example of the waning American influence here following the military withdrawal, and it reflects a costly miscalculation on the part of American officials, who did not count on the Iraqi government to assert its sovereignty so aggressively.
"I think that with the departure of the military, the Iraqis decided to say, 'O.K., how large is the American presence here?' " said James F. Jeffrey, the American ambassador to Iraq, in an interview. "How large should it be? How does this equate with our sovereignty? In various areas they obviously expressed some concerns."
Last year the State Department embarked on $343 million worth of construction projects around the country to upgrade facilities to accommodate the police training program, which was to have comprised hundreds of trainers and more than 1,000 support staff members working in three cities - Baghdad, Erbil and Basra - for five years. But like so much else in the nine years of war, occupation and reconstruction here, it has not gone as planned.
A lesson given by an American police instructor to a class of Iraqi trainees neatly encapsulated the program's failings. There are two clues that could indicate someone is planning a suicide attack, the instructor said: a large bank withdrawal and heavy drinking.
The problem with that advice, which was recounted by Ginger Cruz, the former deputy inspector general at the American Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, was that few Iraqis have bank accounts and an extremist Sunni Muslim bent on carrying out a suicide attack is likely to consider drinking a cardinal sin.
Last month many of the Iraqi police officials who had been participating in the training suddenly refused to attend the seminars and PowerPoint presentations given by the Americans, saying they saw little benefit from the sessions.
The State Department has consistently defended the program, even after it was whittled down in scope and criticized publicly by the head of Iraq's Interior Ministry, Adnan al-Assadi, who last year questioned the wisdom of spending so much on a program the Iraqis never sought. [In a particularly biting way: al-Assadi suggested spending the money on something that would benefit the American people instead - JFP.]
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