JFP 5/21: Vets return medals in NATO protest; Honduran survivors dispute U.S. account
Just Foreign Policy News, May 21, 2012
Vets return medals in NATO protest; Honduran survivors dispute U.S. account
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In Chicago, Afghanistan and Iraq Veterans Put NATO's Endless War on Trial
At the intersection of Cermak and Michigan streets in Chicago yesterday, veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq told their stories when they threw back their service medals in protest at NATO leaders, echoing a famous protest against the Vietnam War. More than two million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. CNN and Fox can focus on what they want, but you can't hide the life experiences of two million people indefinitely.
Democracy Now: "No NATO, No War": U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit
ABC News Video: Veterans return medals during NATO protest
Len Tsou: IVAW joined anti-NATO march 5/20/12
Photos of the veterans' participation in the anti-war protest in Chicago.
Just Foreign Policy Radio Commentary on NATO Summit and Afghanistan Withdrawal
President Obama should follow President Hollande's lead and withdraw U.S. combat troops. Which is more important: making sure 46 million Americans have enough food to eat? Or keeping Afghan war policy on autopilot until 2014?
1) Forty-five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan returned their "Global War on Terror" medals in protest of NATO, ABC News reports. The ex-servicemen and women who took part say they wanted to send a message that withdrawal from Afghanistan cannot come too soon, and that the men and women returning are not getting the care - specifically, the mental health care, they need.
2) François Hollande used his first visit with President Obama as France's president on Friday to restate his pledge to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year, two years earlier than originally planned, the New York Times reports. American officials appeared resigned to losing the troops.
3) President Barack Obama and NATO leaders affirmed Monday that they will close the largely stalemated Afghanistan conflict at the end of 2014, a strategy that means their troops will still be fighting and dying for another two-plus years, AP reports. The coalition declared an "irreversible transition" that will put Afghan forces in the lead of the combat mission by the middle of next year. Even in a backup role, the U.S. forces will still face combat and attacks until the war's end. In essence, the partners, led by Obama, are staying the course, sticking with a timeline long established.
Obama will go before voters in November with tens of thousands more troops in Afghanistan than when we took office, AP notes. The U.S. has 90,000 of the 130,000 foreign forces in the war. Obama has pledged to shrink that to 68,000 by the end of September but has offered no details on the withdrawal pace after that, other than to say it will be gradual. There were just over 32,000 U.S. troops there when he took office.
4) According to three witnesses, a man, two pregnant women, and a 14-year-old boy were killed a week ago in a joint Honduran-American antidrug raid, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials have told reporters that the boat passengers were probably participating in the trafficking of illegal drugs. But local residents and officials tell a different story, and an official report by the Honduran Army has also concluded that four innocent people were killed.
The spot in the river where the shooting occurred is not as isolated as Honduran and U.S. officials have suggested, the Times notes. On Friday afternoon the landing where witnesses said the shooting occurred looked like a taxi stand: about 20 long, skinny boats bobbed in the water.
5) With the second round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six major powers due to begin on Wednesday, senior Israeli sources say Israel may be more flexible about Iranian low-level uranium enrichment than it is currently willing to let on, Haaretz reports. A senior Israeli official said that publicly, Israel will continue to talk tough on Iran to make sure the six powers don't rush into an agreement. It is clear that as long as negotiations between Iran and the six powers are continuing, the Israeli option of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities remains in abeyance, Haaretz says.
6) A suicide bomber attacked a group of U.S. soldiers in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, apparently killing and wounding an unconfirmed number of them, the New York Times reports. Separately, military officials reported that two ISAF soldiers were killed Sunday, but would not confirm if that was the result of the same incident.
7) The House has approved a $643 billion defense-spending bill for 2013 that's $3.7 billion more than the Obama Administration is seeking, notes Mark Thompson at Time. That difference is about the same amount the CBO estimates the House bill's push for an East Coast missile shield will cost over the next five years. But Iran isn't capable of sending a missile to hit the U.S., and we already have an East Coast missile defense system, Thomson argues. It's called the Atlantic Ocean.
8) Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement Sunday that paves the way for elections and a new unity government for the West Bank and Gaza, the New York Times reports. The agreement takes steps to carry out the previous one, particularly the registering of new voters in Gaza and the formation of an interim government. Both are to begin May 27.
9) A negotiated deal between the U.S. and Iran is possible, write former U.S. and Iranian officials Matthew Bunn and Abbas Maleki in Foreign Policy. Both countries would be better off with an imperfect deal than continued stalemate. The U.S. and Europe should offer to lift the new oil and banking sanctions now going into effect as long as the talks are making progress, they argue. As an early gesture, the US and Europe could also allow the shipment of desperately needed spare parts for Iran's civilian aircraft, which have been blocked under sanctions for decades, and allow Iranian airliners to refuel and receive normal services in Europe.
10) The uncle of a Honduran wounded in a U.S.-Honduran drug raid says boats are a key form of transportation for workers in the area and boats often travel at night to avoid the heat and to carry workers to their jobs early in the morning, AP reports. "There are no roads here. The river is our highway," he said. "If the government wants us to stop traveling at night that would keep us from working."
1) Veterans return medals during NATO protest
Paul Meincke, WLS (ABC Chicago), Sunday, May 20, 2012
Chicago -- Before violence flared at points in the downtown area Sunday, a peaceful protest began with a rally in Grant Park. The rally promoted peace and ended with 45 veterans throwing their medals back, toward the NATO summit at McCormick Place.
"Violence is no answer - we must be the antidote to violence. We must go another way," said Rev. Jesse Jackson. "Stop the violence now - give peace a chance."
Jackson encouraged protesters to keep the peace during his speech at the Petrillo Band Shell. He was one of several speakers to take the stage before the massive march began.
A sea of protesters snaked through the Loop, eventually marching down Michigan Avenue. Police officers in riot gear lined both sides of the streets.
The march ended at Michigan and Cermak where another rally was held. Several veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan symbolically gave back the medals they had received for service to NATO.
There was a lot of negotiation that led to the vets not just leading a parade of many different causes but also being the only ones allowed to speak at parade's end.
Their message, at least initially, got lost in a scuffle because it preceded the clash between police and protestors. Nonetheless, it was a quite powerful message.
Each of them, for their own reasons, concluded that the wars they fought in were wrong, and so they marched together today, about four dozen veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each prepared to return their Global War on Terror medals in symbolic protest. Soldiers like Sgt. Jacob George, who did three tours in Afghanistan.
"I do not feel like the intentions of the overall mission matched my intentions as an individual and most of the people who served," said George. "I am willing to give them back even though it is a very emotional thing for me."
"I was in Iraq in '03 and what I saw there crushed me," said Ash Wilson. "I don't want us to suffer this again, and I don't want our children to suffer this again. So I'm giving these [medals] back."
One by one, 45 veterans spoke of their own anger or pain, and each turned and threw their medals toward McCormick Place. They had asked that the NATO representative formally accept them. That did not happen.
"I'm one of 40,000 people that left the United States Armed Forces because this is a lie," said one veteran.
"I will not continue to trade my humanity for false heroism," said another.
Vincent Emanuele is from a multi-generational military family. Returning his medals, he says, is about sending a message to the world, but is also cathartic.
"For many veterans to deal internally with what it is we have experienced overseas and then to come back and to make amends for ourselves," said Emanuele.
"This medal right here is because I'm sorry - I'm sorry to all of you," said Aaron Hughes. Hughes, who served in Iraq, helped organize what became a moment on an international stage - a moment meant, he says to show disdain toward policymakers and not the men and women still fighting.
"I love all my brothers and sisters that are in Afghanistan still, and I hope they get to come home soon," said Hughes.
The NATO leaders were meeting just a couple blocks from where the military marchers spoke their peace and threw their medals. We don't know if the event made it to their attention.
The ex-servicemen and women who took part say they - through this gesture - wanted to send a message - that withdrawal from Afghanistan cannot come too soon, and that the men and women returning are not getting the care - specifically, the mental health care, they need.
The ceremony was reminiscent of a similar scene at the U.S. Capitol decades ago when Vietnam War veterans threw their medals over a barricade because they were not allowed in.
2) Hollande Tells Obama Troop Pullout Will Proceed
Helene Cooper and John H. Cushman Jr., New York Times, May 18, 2012
Washington - François Hollande used his first visit with President Obama as France's president on Friday to restate his pledge to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year, two years earlier than originally planned.
In a visit that both leaders appeared keen to present as the start of a new relationship that maintains the countries' friendly ties, Mr. Hollande nonetheless said he would stand by his campaign promise to bring French troops home. American officials, for their part, appeared resigned to losing the troops, and they said their hope was that France would make up for the loss of troops by helping the American-led NATO mission in other ways.
"I recalled to President Obama that I had made a promise to withdraw our combat troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2012," Mr. Hollande said, appearing next to Mr. Obama before reporters in the Oval Office after their meeting. "I also stipulated that there would still be support in another form."
Mr. Obama said he expected NATO states to make good on their promise to help the Afghans build their security forces. The United States is trying to drum up money from its allies for training and financing the Afghan national security forces once the NATO mission winds down at the end of 2014.
European officials say that one possibility would be for French trainers to remain in Afghanistan after the combat troops depart. Polls show that a majority of the French want their troops home from Afghanistan.
3) Allies on 'irreversible' course to end Afghan war
Anne Gearan, Associated Press, May 21, 2012, 4:34 ET
Chicago - President Barack Obama and leaders around the globe locked down an exit path from the war in Afghanistan, affirming Monday that they will close the largely stalemated conflict at the end of 2014, a strategy that means their troops will still be fighting and dying for another two-plus years.
Gathered in Obama's hometown, the sprawling coalition of 50 NATO members and allies declared an "irreversible transition" that will put Afghan forces in the lead of the combat mission by the middle of next year.
Even in a backup role, though, the U.S. forces and all the rest will still face combat and attacks until the war's end.
In essence, the partners, led by Obama, are staying the course, sticking with a timeline long established and underscoring that there will be no second-guessing the decision to leave.
Since 2010, they have been planning to finish the war at the end of 2014, even as moves by nations such as France to pull combat troops out early has tested the strength of the coalition. The shift to have Afghan forces take the lead of the combat mission next year has also been expected. Leaders presented it as a significant turning point in the war.
The political stakes are high for the U.S. president, who will go before voters in November with tens of thousands more troops in Afghanistan than when we took office. His emphasis will remain that he is methodically winding down the war, after closing out the one in Iraq; U.S. voters desperate for better economic times have long stopped approving of the war mission.
NATO said it will keep providing "long-term political and practical support" to Afghanistan after 2014, but added: "This will not be a combat mission."
Despite the size of the coalition, the war remains a United States-dominated effort.
The U.S. has 90,000 of the 130,000 foreign forces in the war. Obama has pledged to shrink that to 68,000 by the end of September but has offered no details on the withdrawal pace after that, other than to say it will be gradual. There were just over 32,000 U.S. troops there when he took office in 2009.
4) From a Honduras Hospital, Conflicting Tales of a Riverside Shootout
Damien Cave, New York Times, May 18, 2012
Ahuas, Honduras - Lying in a sagging hospital bed with a gunshot wound in each leg, Hilda Lezama tearfully described what she considered the worst night of her life on the river she has known since she was a girl.
It was just before 3 a.m. a week ago when she, her husband and their 11 passengers finally returned home to this remote river town after a six-hour boat trip, traveling at night, she said, "to avoid the strong sun."
The passengers had just begun to climb onto land with items bought in larger towns upriver, when, they said, suddenly the air above seemed to explode. Four American helicopters then appeared overhead. Gunfire pierced the water and land.
"We were all so scared," Ms. Lezama said. "I was hit" - she pointed to one bandaged leg - "then again, then a boy was shot right next to me."
The boy was Chalo Brock Wood, 14, who had come home with new clothes, said his mother, who was also a passenger and saw him drift into the water and die. Two pregnant women were also killed, along with a man from a town to the north, according to three witnesses, who said that five people were wounded in what they discovered later was a joint Honduran-American antidrug raid.
American officials have told reporters that the boat passengers were probably participating in the intense trafficking of illegal drugs that is known to take place here. Official accounts described how gunfire came from Ms. Lezama's boat, leading Honduran police officers on the ground and in one of the helicopters to fire back, killing what these officials described as two traffickers. The authorities later seized 1,000 pounds of cocaine from another boat at the landing.
But residents and officials in this poor town tell a different story, and an official report, scheduled to be issued on Saturday by the Honduran Army, has also concluded that four innocent people were killed.
"It's terribly sad," said Col. Servio Arita, the Honduran military officer who led the investigative team, which interviewed survivors of the episode on Thursday. "It was an error."
Who is responsible for that error will continue to be the subject of dispute, here and among government officials from Honduras and the United States.
Colonel Arita - whose investigation did not include interviews with the Honduran authorities involved in the operation - said that many residents here told him they believed that American agents played at least some role in the shooting because they saw them get off one of the helicopters that landed after the brief firefight. Ms. Lezama said that the agents she saw, including one who spoke Spanish, looked afraid. "They knew what had happened here," she said.
Still, she added, it was impossible to know who fired the fatal shots. "We were facedown on the ground," Ms. Lezama said. "How could we see anything?"
Honduran and American officials continue to insist that only the Honduran authorities fired. The Honduran foreign minister, Arturo Corrales, said during a routine trip to Washington on Friday that his nation's minister of security confirmed that the initial inquiry had shown that "our police responded," not the American agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration's commando squad.
He also continued to challenge the version of events offered by villagers, noting that the exchange of fire occurred when "it was totally dark, in a place that is not a fishing spot." He added: "It's in the jungle. It is very hard to believe that at 2 a.m., in the jungle, the people in a boat that is beside another boat with 400 kilograms of cocaine were fishing."
In fact, Ms. Lezama and her husband say, they were not fishing, as the mayor initially suggested - they were returning from a daily trip in which they dropped off lobster fishermen at the Caribbean coast, coming back with passengers picked up at several spots along the river.
"We've been doing this for 25 years, day and night," Ms. Lezama said. Her husband and other relatives, surrounding her as she lay in bed, nodded. They and other town residents confirmed that the family business had been making the trip for years.
And the spot in the river where the shooting occurred is not as isolated as Honduran and American officials have suggested.
"The Patuca River is like a highway; it's always full of traffic from the village," said Mayor Lucio Baquedano. Indeed, on Friday afternoon the landing where witnesses said the shooting occurred looked like a taxi stand: about 20 long, skinny boats bobbed in the brown water.
"What worries me is that if there are more drugs moving along that river," Mayor Baquedano said, "more of our people are going to be attacked."
He and a local lawmaker, Mylo Wood, have called for a thorough investigation into the role American agents may have played and why the helicopter fired on a boat full of innocent passengers.
Both men said they would be satisfied if the army report concludes the shooting killed innocent residents. But they said they did not trust their government or that of the United States to tell the whole truth.
In a hospital hallway, Clara Wood was stiff with tension after the death of her son. She said that she was not sure who was to blame, but that someone needed to be held responsible. She fell into tears. "He was just a boy," she said. "He was just a boy."
5) Israel inches closer to compromise on Iran uranium enrichment, officials say
Senior Israeli official says that publicly, Israel will continue to talk tough on Iran to make sure the six powers don't rush into an agreement with Tehran.
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, May 21, 2012 | 1:01 AM
With the second round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six major powers due to begin in Tehran [actually, in Baghdad - JFP] on Wednesday, senior Israeli sources say Jerusalem may be more flexible about Iranian low-level uranium enrichment than it is currently willing to let on.
Though Israel has been expressing zero flexibility regarding a possible deal with Iran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak a few weeks ago issued a written statement that Israel would consent to Iran's continuing enrichment of uranium to a low level of 3.5 percent, as well as to allowing a few hundred kilograms of 3.5-percent enriched uranium to remain in that country.
A senior Israeli source said that Barak's remarks, which were shared in private conversations with U.S. officials, contradict the tough line being presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has demanded that Iran stop all uranium enrichment and give up any enriched uranium it has in its possession.
More recently, Barak has publicly toed Netanyahu's line, but the assessment is that the things the defense minister said in his statement represent the limited concession Israel is willing to make to enable the P5 +1 powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - to continue discussions with Iran.
A senior Israeli official said on Sunday that publicly, Israel will continue to talk tough on Iran to make sure the six powers don't rush into an agreement with Tehran. "We're the indicator on the right," the official said. "We are aware that the powers want to come to an agreement with Iran, which is why we are warning against euphoria. A good atmosphere during the negotiations with Iran is liable to be addictive."
Sources note that it is clear that as long as negotiations between Iran and the six powers are continuing, the Israeli option of attacking Iran's nuclear facilities remains in abeyance. In such a situation, Israel can do little except warn the P5 +1 against falling into an Iranian honey trap.
6) Bomber Strikes U.S. Soldiers in Southern Afghanistan
Taimoor Shah and Rod Nordland, New York Times, May 20, 2012
Kandahar, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber on foot attacked a group of American soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, apparently killing and wounding an unconfirmed number of them.
Separately, military officials reported that two ISAF soldiers were killed Sunday, but would not confirm if that was the result of the same incident, nor would they identify the victims' nationality pending notification of next of kin.
7) House Pushes for East Coast Missile Shield
Mark Thompson, Time, May 21, 2012
The House has approved a $643 billion defense-spending bill for 2013 that's $3.7 billion more than the Obama Administration, and its Pentagon, is seeking. That's just about the same amount the Congressional Budget Office estimates the House bill's push for an East Coast missile shield will cost over the next five years.
It's amazing that a country without money can consider building a missile shield against a threat that doesn't exist.
True, we've already invested billions building such a West Coast system against the threat of a North Korean missile attack, so why shouldn't we build a mirror system on the other side of the country to protect its denizens from attack by the Iranians?
The missile-defense language calls for spending $100 million on an East Coast site in 2013, with a goal of having such a system in place by 2016. The Congressional Budget Office estimates such a system will cost $3.6 billion through 2017, but warns that the program's cost is likely to go higher. The White House has said building such a site is "premature," and it's unlikely to win backing when the Senate considers its version of the defense authorization bill this week.
It's the missile-defense mania that truly baffles. There seems to be a pathological need in some quarters of the nation's politics to defend against attacks from far-off enemies, no matter how unlikely. They cite intelligence reports from agencies that have erred in the past, and take their predictions of doom as gospel. You can worst-case anything, and missile-defense advocates do.
At least the Soviets had bombers they could actually fly and ICBMs they could actually launch to justify our Nike air-defense missile bases and Safeguard missile shield.
Neither Iran nor North Korea is yet capable of sending an armed missile across oceans to hit a specific target in the U.S. In the unlikely event they surmount the immense technical challenges associated with such a feat – it's not as easy as missile-defense boosters would have you believe – they would be few in number. If U.S. relations with either Iran or North Korea soured sufficiently, enemy missiles, and their launchers, would be subject to pre-emptive attack by U.S. forces.
The nation's West Coast missile-defense site is called the Pacific. Its East Coast missile defense is called the Atlantic. Think of it as God's investment in missile defense.
8) Palestinians Sign Deal to Set Up Elections
Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram, New York Times, May 20, 2012
Jerusalem - The rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement late Sunday in Cairo that paves the way for elections and a new unity government for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, officials said.
The Cairo agreement comes three and a half months after a broader reconciliation pact was signed by the leaders of the two factions in Doha, Qatar, and a year after they first reached a unity accord.
The new agreement essentially takes steps to carry out the previous one, particularly the registering of new voters in Gaza and the formation of an interim government. Both are to begin May 27, and Egypt "will follow each party's commitment to the deal," according to Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman.
Mkhaimar Abusada, professor of political science at Al Azhar University in Gaza, said the agreement was an incremental step while both sides wait for political events abroad - Hamas is closely watching the Egyptian elections that start this month to see whether it might have a new Islamist sponsor, and Mr. Abbas is hopeful that a re-elected President Obama might take a more aggressive approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
"The talks are aimed at absorbing Palestinian frustration and pressure for the stalemate of the real reconciliation," Mr. Abusada said.
One senior Palestinian official in the West Bank, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the talks, said the promise to allow the Central Election Commission to begin work in Gaza next week was the most substantive and significant component of the agreement.
"If they say now we are supposed to start working on a government of national consensus - we were supposed to start working on a government of national consensus a year ago," this official noted. "If there is something significant, it will be signed by President Abbas himself."
9) How to Avoid a War With Iran
Matthew Bunn and Abbas Maleki, Foreign Policy, May 21, 2012
[Bunn, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, is a former nonproliferation advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Maleki, professor of energy policy at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran and fellow at the Center for International Studies at MIT, is a former deputy foreign minister of Iran.]
Despite real obstacles, there is a serious chance for progress if both sides come to the table willing to compromise and focused on a step-by-step approach that gives each side real gains, builds confidence, and allows more time for talks on the harder issues. The next round of negotiations between Iran and world powers, slated for May 23 in Baghdad, is crucial -- though only the start of a long road.
No one could claim these negotiations will be easy. Iran and the United States have been locked in mutual hostility since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, and this enmity has produced deep mistrust and tough political constraints on both sides. In a U.S. presidential election year, compromise will be difficult, as no candidate can be seen as "soft" on Iran -- and in Iran, which has a presidential election next year, no faction can be seen as advocating retreat in the face of Western pressure. For a deal to work, both sides have to see it as genuinely serving their national interests.
Nevertheless, as an American and an Iranian, both of us patriots, we believe that a negotiated deal is possible. Although genuine clashes of interests are at stake, we believe our countries would be better served by such a pact, however imperfect, than by continued stalemate or military conflict. For Iran, the status quo means ongoing sanctions, limited access to foreign investment and technology, and the looming danger of military strikes. For the United States, stalemate means no negotiated limits on the Iranian nuclear program, continued high oil prices (reflecting the risks of conflict), and no resolution of U.S.-Iranian disputes over terrorism, Israel, and more.
To open the path to an accord, the parties must combine the realism of small initial steps with a vision of a long-term rapprochement. Early steps should be designed to build confidence on both sides that it is worth continuing the process, and to buy time for further talks.
There are a number of ways both sides could bolster confidence in the negotiating process. Iran should offer to halt its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent U-235, its buildup of larger stocks of 5 percent enriched uranium, and its acquisition of ever-more centrifuges as long as the talks are making progress. As in past proposals, the United States and Europe should offer to provide low-enriched fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor in exchange for Iran's agreement to ship a substantial portion of its enriched uranium out of the country. And Iran should agree to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency's Additional Protocol, which allows for broader international inspections of nuclear facilities, as long as cooperation is moving forward.
At the same time, the United States and Europe should offer to lift the new oil and banking sanctions now going into effect -- again, as long as the talks are making progress. Such initiatives would allow each side to say to skeptics in its own camp: Things are no longer getting worse; give us more time.
As an early gesture, the United States and Europe could also allow the shipment of desperately needed spare parts for Iran's civilian aircraft, which have been blocked under sanctions for decades, and allow Iranian airliners to refuel and receive normal services in Europe. Iran could commit to prevent any arms or other assistance from flowing to armed groups in Iraq or Afghanistan. The sides could also negotiate a pact to prevent inadvertent clashes in the Persian Gulf and work together to stop the flow of heroin from Afghanistan into Iran.
None of these interim steps, of course, will be able to produce a breakthrough unless both Iran and the United States share a long-term vision of forging a more productive relationship. The nuclear deal that would be a part of this vision would inevitably involve some level of continued enrichment in Iran under agreed-upon constraints. Iran would agree to far-reaching inspections and transparency, including resolving concerns about past work that the West suspects may have been weapons-related. The United States and its negotiating partners would agree that Iran's admissions about past activities will not be punished.
10) Survivor: Honduran police fired on passenger boat
Alberto Arce, Associated Press, May 21, 2012
La Ceiba, Honduras - Lucio Adan Nelson dozed on a riverboat ferrying him home from a visit with his mother when helicopters appeared overhead and started shooting. He and about a dozen other passengers traveling in the middle of the night jumped into the water for cover.
The young Honduran man was hit in the arm and back, but says he couldn't seek help.
"I had to stay in the water for some time because they kept shooting," he said Sunday from a hospital bed.
Honduran police, who with DEA agents were aboard U.S. helicopters for an anti-drug operation, have said they were shooting at drug traffickers who fired first from a boat in the Patuca River in the remote Mosquitia region near the Caribbean coast.
Local officials say four innocent people died in the incident May 11. Honduran police say they can't confirm that, saying the anti-drug team didn't find any casualties after the shooting but only an empty boat with nearly a half ton of cocaine.
Honduran military intelligence is investigating, but no one has talked to Nelson, 22.
He could hardly speak from the pain Sunday, more than a week after the shooting, as he recovered in the hospital in La Ceiba where he was flown for treatment.
Elsewhere in the hospital lay 14-year-old Willmer Lucas Walter, who had a hand amputated because of injuries from the shooting.
Nelson's uncle, Dany, 32, helped tell the story for his nephew, who speaks mostly Miskito, the language of the indigenous who have lived in the isolated region for centuries.
Nelson has been awaiting surgery to put pins in his lower arm.
He and Willmer were flown from Ahuas, a community of less than 2,000 people, by the Moravian Church, said Dany Nelson, a health technician who works for the Honduran government on malaria prevention.
Dany Nelson said boats are the public transit of the river, running people from tiny communities to larger towns such as Barra Patuca and Brus Laguna. Ahuas is about 18 miles (30 kilometers) as the crow flies from Barra Patuca, but at least double or triple that distance on the winding river. It takes four hours between major points and the boats often travel at night to avoid the heat and to carry workers to their jobs early in the morning, he said.
"The boats make a lot of stops between communities. There are no roads here. The river is our highway," he said. "If the government wants us to stop traveling at night that would keep us from working. We know the criminals travel at night, but so do workers."
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