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JFP 5/30: CIVIC, Amnesty challenge drone strikes; Admin: "military-age men" = "combatants"
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 30 May 2012 - 6:38pm
Just Foreign Policy News, May 30, 2012
CIVIC, Amnesty challenge drone strikes; Admin: "military-age men" = "combatants"
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CIVIC, Amnesty International Challenge Admin on Signature Drone Strikes and Civilian Casualties
The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict has initiated a letter to the Administration challenging it to be more transparent about its drone strike policy, particularly regarding "signature strikes" and civilian casualties. The letter has been joined by Amnesty International and others. The issue has been given more urgency this week by the New York Times' report that the Administration is counting "military age males" as "combatants" for the purpose of saying that few civilians are being killed by drone strikes.
Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
The NGO letter tracks the Congressional letter initiated by Reps. Kucinich and Conyers.
Current signers of the Congressional letter include: Kucinich, Conyers, Holt, Jackson, Jr., Hinchey, Rangel, Stark, Honda, Grijalva, Filner, Lee. Urge your Rep. to sign: 202-225-3121.
Just Foreign Policy challenges UN to take responsibility on Haiti cholera crisis
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Tracks deaths, cases, and the number of days that have passed since the UN brought cholera to Haiti.
Sign the petition urging the UN to take responsibility
The petition urges the UN to make an official apology, compensate victims, and take a leadership role in addressing the resulting public health crisis by ensuring implementation of efficient treatment and prevention of the epidemic and by helping Haiti acquire adequate water and sanitation infrastructure to prevent the spread of cholera.
Urge your Representative to sign the Congressional letter to Ambassador Rice
Rep. John Conyers' office is circulating a letter to Ambassador Rice urging UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti. Ask your Rep to sign.
1) President Obama has embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes, the New York Times reports. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths, the Times notes.
In a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Obama was in the "single digits." But three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has troubled some administration officials outside the agency. One called it "guilt by association" that has led to "deceptive" estimates of civilian casualties. "It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants," the official said. "They count the corpses and they're not really sure who they are."
Obama's focus on drone strikes has made it impossible to forge the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned, the Times says. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the US than when Obama became president. Drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents, the Times notes.
2) The West should offer real sanctions relief to Iran if Iran agrees to meaningful curbs on its nuclear program, argues Bloomberg in an editorial. One measure in particular should be on offer in the Moscow talks, Bloomberg says: postponement of the July 1 European oil embargo. This could be used to induce a freeze on Iran's production of 19.75 percent enriched uranium, an agreement to ship its fuel stock out of the country in exchange for processed rods, and a provision for IAEA inspectors with full access to verify compliance.
3) An escalating campaign of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen is stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the U.S., the Washington Post reports. In 2009, U.S. officials said there were no more than 300 core AQAP members. That number has grown to 700 or more, Yemeni officials say. The U.S. strikes, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials say, are also angering powerful tribes that could prevent AQAP from gaining strength.
4) More moderate voices in the Jewish community are expanding their ability to generate money and political capital for pro-Israel candidates who favor a less confrontational approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues, the New York Times reports. J Street expects to raise nearly $2 million in support of more than 60 Congressional candidates whose views on Israel are aligned with its own.
J. J. Goldberg, editor-at-large for The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, and author of "Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment," said he was impressed by the inroads that J Street had made politically and financially. "I'm stunned that there are so many members of Congress willing to take their money," Goldberg said. "The fact that they've got 60 candidates who aren't afraid to accept their 'pro-Israel, pro-peace' argument is a real breakthrough."
5) An Israeli military court's conviction on May 20 of Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi of leading illegal demonstrations violates his right to freedom of assembly, while its conviction of him on a charge of urging children to throw stones on the basis of a child's coercively-obtained statement raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial, Human Rights Watch said. "Israel's military justice system indicted itself with its verdict against Bassem Tamimi," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
6) 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related, AP reports. More than 1,600 lost a limb; at least 156 are blind; More than 177,000 have hearing loss; more than 350,000 report tinnitus; as many as 200 may need face transplants; more than 400,000 have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem.
The average wait to get a new claim processed is now about eight months. More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged - older than 125 days.
7) Palestinian Airlines is back in the skies after seven years, thanks to the easing of the Egyptian side of the Gaza blockade following the ouster of Mubarak, AP reports. On May 9 it resumed operations, starting with biweekly flights between El-Arish in Egypt and Marka Airbase in Amman. The new route means Gazans no longer have to travel to Cairo to board planes.
8) Romney's prescriptions for ending the death toll in Syria have been less definitive than his denunciations of the president, the New York Times reports. Proponents of a harder line acknowledge there is little support in either party for military intervention. Despite the support for military intervention in Libya voiced by Graham, McCain and Lieberman, Republicans pummeled Obama when the U.S. intervened militarily there, the NYT notes. [Thus, although opposition did not stop the Libya military intervention, it did have a lasting impact in making future military intervention less likely, according to the theory that "we're always fighting against the *next* war - JFP.]
9) A shareholder group led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is urging Chevron to settle a nearly 20-year legal battle pitting the multinational corporation against indigenous people in the Ecuadorian rainforest, Dow Jones reports. Chevron's continued efforts to fight an Ecuadorian court's judgment awarding $18 billion in damages related to the dumping of oil waste in the rainforest are hurting the indigenous people of Ecuador as well as Chevron's reputation, DiNapoli said
1) Secret 'Kill List' Proves a Test of Obama's Principles and Will
Jo Becker and Scott Shane, New York Times, May 29, 2012
Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret "nominations" process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding "kill list," poring over terrorist suspects' biographies on what one official calls the macabre "baseball cards" of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises - but his family is with him - it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a "Whac-A-Mole" approach to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers.
The administration's failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama's ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.'s strikes drive American policy there, saying "he didn't realize his main job was to kill people," a colleague said.
Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president's attempt to apply the "just war" theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.
But the strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda - just since April, there have been 14 in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan - have also tested both men's commitment to the principles they have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, "When the drones hit, they don't see children."
Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. "The steady refrain in the White House was, 'This is the only game in town' - reminded me of body counts in Vietnam," said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.
William M. Daley, Mr. Obama's chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough. "One guy gets knocked off, and the guy's driver, who's No. 21, becomes 20?" Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. "At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?"
That same mind-set would be brought to bear as the president intensified what would become a withering campaign to use unmanned aircraft to kill Qaeda terrorists.
Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. "The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, 'I want to know how this happened,' " a top White House adviser recounted.
In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a "near certainty" that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.
The president's directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because "the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration," said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.
It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. "Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization - innocent neighbors don't hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs," said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama's trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the "single digits" - and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it "guilt by association" that has led to "deceptive" estimates of civilian casualties.
"It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants," the official said. "They count the corpses and they're not really sure who they are."
Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not know. Officials say the criteria are tighter than those for signature strikes, requiring evidence of a threat to the United States, and they have even given them a new name - TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. But the details are a closely guarded secret - part of a pattern for a president who came into office promising transparency.
By withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has refocused the fight on Al Qaeda and hugely reduced the death toll both of American soldiers and Muslim civilians. But in moments of reflection, Mr. Obama may have reason to wonder about unfinished business and unintended consequences.
His focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.
Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.
3) To Stop Iran's Nuclear Program, Cut a Deal on Oil
Editorial, Bloomberg news, May 29, 2012 6:02 PM CT
Only the imposition of harsh economic sanctions brought Iranian negotiators back to the table for talks on its nuclear program last week in Baghdad. Only the prospect of lifting those sanctions can keep them there.
This is the central bind that the so-called P5+1 negotiators faced in Baghdad, and will do again June 18-19 in Moscow: Remove sanctions too soon and the Iranians will go back the holding pattern of the past six years, as they continue to develop their nuclear program while stringing talks out; set the bar for relief too high, and the Iranians lose all incentive to cut a deal.
Before Western diplomats sit down again with Iran's negotiator, Saeed Jalili, they need to agree on exactly what is their achievable goal in the talks, and to calibrate their proposals -- even for interim deals -- accordingly. For all the many sins and faults of the Iranian side in this dispute, in Baghdad last week, European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton and her patrons from the P5+1 -- the U.S., Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany -- appeared to get the balance wrong.
Western diplomats said, one after the other as they went into the talks, that U.S. oil related sanctions against Iran's central bank scheduled to take effect on June 28, and European Union restrictions on oil imports from Iran due on July 1, would go forward no matter what. They offered only to lift a ban on the sale to Iran of spare parts for civilian aircraft, and provide it with medical isotopes.
That offer would do nothing to relieve the economic pressure now on Iran -- on the contrary, it ensured that the squeeze would get far tighter in few weeks. In return, Iran was being asked to suspend efforts to enrich uranium to 19.75 percent purity (which could be used in a medical research reactor), agree to ship its stockpile out of the country and open up to United Nations inspectors. These would be significant, if reversible, concessions -- and the approach was guaranteed to fail.
Western negotiators are right to focus first on suspending enrichment of uranium to 19.75 percent, which brings Iran an important step closer to weapons grade. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency released Friday shows that Iran has now produced 146 kilograms (323 pounds) of the fuel, already more than enough to power its existing research reactor, making future production doubly suspicious. Meanwhile, production of 3.5 percent uranium, which is appropriate for use in civilian nuclear power plants, accelerated significantly in March, boosting Iran's stockpile to 6,197 kilos. This would be enough for five nuclear weapons if it were further processed to weapons grade (90 percent).
The international community has two goals to choose from. The first is to stick with the aim of getting Iran out of the nuclear fuel business altogether. That has been the target ever since international inspectors confirmed in 2003 that Iran had a covert nuclear fuel program, has been set out in UN Security Council resolutions since 2006, and continues to be a red line for Israel and many in the U.S. Congress.
This would be, without question, the most desirable outcome. But after 10 years of failed negotiations, it's clear that such a capitulation would require either regime change in Tehran or a wholly successful military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. It cannot be achieved through talks, and most military analysts -- including senior figures in Israel -- say that it can't be achieved by airstrikes either.
The alternative is to clear Iran of its 19.75 percent uranium, mothball the hardened facility at Fordo and ensure full transparency to international inspectors. This would need to include installation of IAEA cameras that could monitor Iran's continued enrichment of uranium to 3.5 percent for power plants. It would also require a halt to construction of further enrichment facilities and heavy water plants. Later talks could cap Iran's production of low enriched uranium to match its current consumption needs, and secure a full accounting for past weaponization programs.
This compromise is the best we can hope to do through negotiations. The Obama administration appeared to open the door to a deal along these lines this year by de-emphasizing the demand for a ban on all enrichment. The White House is doubtless wary of being seen to give away too much, too early, ahead of presidential elections in November. With Israel threatening war and Iran pushing ever harder toward a nuclear breakout capacity, too much is at stake to let U.S. domestic politics dictate the outcome in Moscow next month.
The P5+1 shouldn't give away the store for an interim freeze, and it should make clear to Iran a road map that will lead to a staged removal of sanctions, together with the understanding that a limited right to uranium enrichment would be on the table in an eventual, permanent deal.
There is a huge list of sanctions to pick from in giving Iran inducements to stay engaged in a meaningful process. One measure in particular should be on offer in Moscow: postponement of the July 1 European oil embargo. This could be used to induce a freeze on Iran's production of 19.75 percent enriched uranium, an agreement to ship its fuel stock out of the country in exchange for processed rods, and a provision for IAEA inspectors with full access to verify compliance.
If all these conditions can be met by July 1, then the European oil sanctions should be postponed. They could always be resurrected if subsequent negotiations fail and Iran resumes production. The goal here isn't to look tough. The goal is keep up the pressure in a way that is most likely to halt Iran's nuclear program and avoid war.
3) In Yemen, U.S. airstrikes breed anger, and sympathy for al-Qaeda
Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, May 29
Aden, Yemen - Across the vast, rugged terrain of southern Yemen, an escalating campaign of U.S. drone strikes is stirring increasing sympathy for al-Qaeda-linked militants and driving tribesmen to join a network linked to terrorist plots against the United States.
After recent U.S. missile strikes, mostly from unmanned aircraft, the Yemeni government and the United States have reported that the attacks killed only suspected al-Qaeda members. But civilians have also died in the attacks, said tribal leaders, victims' relatives and human rights activists.
"These attacks are making people say, 'We believe now that al-Qaeda is on the right side,'" said businessman Salim al-Barakani, adding that his two brothers - one a teacher, the other a cellphone repairman - were killed in a U.S. strike in March.
Since January, as many as 21 missile attacks have targeted suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen, reflecting a sharp shift in a secret war carried out by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command that had focused on Pakistan. But as in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where U.S. drone strikes have significantly weakened al-Qaeda's capabilities, an unintended consequence of the attacks has been a marked radicalization of the local population.
The evidence of radicalization emerged in more than 20 interviews with tribal leaders, victims' relatives, human rights activists and officials from four provinces in southern Yemen where U.S. strikes have targeted suspected militants. They described a strong shift in sentiment toward militants affiliated with the transnational network's most active wing, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.
In 2009, when President Obama was first known to have authorized a missile strike on Yemen, U.S. officials said there were no more than 300 core AQAP members. That number has grown in recent years to 700 or more, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders say. In addition, hundreds of tribesmen have joined AQAP in the fight against the U.S.-backed Yemeni government.
On May 6, a U.S. drone strike killed Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaeda leader who was on the FBI's most-wanted list for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, an attack that killed 17 American sailors. The drone strike in Shabwa province also killed a second man, whom U.S. and Yemeni officials described as another al-Qaeda militant.
But according to his relatives, the man was a 19-year-old named Nasser Salim who was tending to his farm when Quso arrived in his vehicle. Quso knew Salim's family and was greeting him when the missiles landed. "He was torn to pieces," said Salim's uncle, Abu Baker Aidaroos, 30, a Yemeni soldier. "He was not part of al-Qaeda. But by America's standards, just because he knew Fahd al-Quso, he deserved to die with him."
The U.S. strikes, tribal leaders and Yemeni officials say, are also angering powerful tribes that could prevent AQAP from gaining strength. The group has seized control of large swaths of southern Yemen in the past year, while the government has had to counter growing perceptions that it is no more than an American puppet. "There is more hostility against America because the attacks have not stopped al-Qaeda, but rather they have expanded, and the tribes feel this is a violation of the country's sovereignty," said Anssaf Ali Mayo, Aden head of al-Islah, Yemen's most influential Islamist party, which is now part of the coalition government. "There is a psychological acceptance of al-Qaeda because of the U.S. strikes."
Quso and Salim are from the Awlak tribe, one of the most influential in southern Yemen. So was Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni American preacher who was thought to be a senior AQAP leader and was killed in September by a U.S. strike. The following month, another U.S. strike killed Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also an American citizen, generating outrage across Yemen.
Awlak tribesmen are businessmen, lawmakers and politicians. But the strikes have pushed more of them to join the militants or to provide AQAP with safe haven in their areas, said tribal leaders and Yemeni officials. "The Americans are targeting the sons of the Awlak," Aidaroos said. "I would fight even the devil to exact revenge for my nephew."
In early March, U.S. missiles struck in Bayda province, 100 miles south of Sanaa, killing at least 30 suspected militants, according to Yemeni security officials. But in interviews, human rights activists and victims' relatives said many of the dead were civilians, not fighters.
In some cases, U.S. strikes have forced civilians to flee their homes and have destroyed homes and farmland. Balweed Muhammed Nasser Awad, 57, said he and his family fled the city of Jaar last summer after his son, a fisherman, was killed in a U.S. strike targeting suspected al-Qaeda militants. Today, they live in a classroom in an Aden school, along with hundreds of other refugees from the conflict. "Ansar al-Sharia had nothing to do with my son's death. He was killed by the Americans," Awad said. "He had nothing to do with terrorism. Why him?"
No Yemeni has forgotten the U.S. cruise missile strike in the remote tribal region of al-Majala on Dec. 17, 2009 - the Obama administration's first known missile strike inside Yemen. The attack killed dozens, including 14 women and 21 children, and whipped up rage at the United States. Today, the area is a haven for militants, said Abdelaziz Muhammed Hamza, head of the Revolutionary Council in Abyan province, a group that is fighting AQAP. "All the residents of the area have joined al-Qaeda," he said.
4) Lobbying Group Is Being Heard as Moderate Voice on Israel
Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 30, 2012
Washington - There was a time not so long ago when political contributions from Americans supportive of Israel inevitably veered toward those Congressional candidates who were the most hawkish and outspoken in defending Israel and its security.
No longer. While aggressive defenders of Israel still dominate the debate, more moderate voices in the Jewish community are expanding their ability to generate money and political capital for pro-Israel candidates who favor a less confrontational approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues.
Leading the push for a middle-ground approach is J Street, an American Jewish lobbying group that has positioned itself as a pro-Israel alternative to harder-line advocates for Israel. It supports increased diplomacy, a two-state Israeli solution and continued aid to the Palestinian Authority, among other steps to solving decades of fighting. Critics attack it, however, as being soft in its support for Israel.
This week, J Street is expected to land one of its biggest names when it announces its endorsement of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the veteran Democrat from California who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, an important forum for Middle East intelligence. With Ms. Feinstein's acceptance of J Street's endorsement, the group's PAC plans to raise at least $100,000 in support of her re-election bid, the officials said.
Founded in 2008, J Street's political action committee is on pace to set a fund-raising record this election. By November, it expects to raise nearly $2 million in support of more than 60 Congressional candidates whose views on Israel are aligned with its own, said Alexandra Stanton, a co-chairwoman of the PAC, and she said it had tapped into pro-Israel donors who had no real political outlet before now. Several leaders from J Street, along with a number of other Jewish groups, are also scheduled to attend a White House reception with President Obama on Wednesday as part of Jewish Heritage Month.
In the past, some Congressional candidates were reluctant to take J Street's money and saw its support as more of a potential liability than a boost, because of charges from some American Jewish leaders and even from Israeli officials that the group's moderate positions made it "anti-Israel" or worse.
That view still exists in some quarters. "These are people who cannot be considered friendly to Israel," said Morris J. Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a rival group widely considered the most powerful American lobbying force on Israeli matters. AIPAC has generally supported a more aggressive defense of Israel, including possible use of American military force against Iran.
Josh Block, another former AIPAC official critical of what he sees as J Street's hostility toward Israel's security, called the group "a gnat" in the Israel debate and "a fringe organization with no credibility."
Capitol Hill critics say the group has been unnecessarily sharp-elbowed in attacking lawmakers over policy differences, leading to friction with one-time supporters like Representative Gary L. Ackerman, Democrat of New York, who broke from the group last year over its support for a United Nations resolution criticizing Israel's West Bank settlements as illegal.
For J Street defenders, the vitriol directed toward the group is a sign that they are beginning to have an impact.
Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran who is challenging Representative Joe Walsh, Republican of Illinois, a staunch Israel defender, is another candidate who has aligned herself with J Street. The group's ideas fall in line with her own, Ms. Duckworth said, and J Street's political action committee expects to raise $50,000 or more for her campaign in a tight primary, the group's leaders said. "I stand by Israel," Ms. Duckworth said in a telephone interview, "but from everything I'm hearing, a two-state solution is really the way forward. Sometimes the best security is peace."
Her moderate stance stands in contrast to that of Mr. Walsh, who wrote in an op-ed piece this month in The Washington Times that a single Israeli state is "the only viable solution for the Middle East," and suggested that the Palestinians move to Jordan.
So far this year, J Street is endorsing and raising money for more than 60 candidates - all Democrats - including the Senate campaigns of Representatives Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and the re-election campaigns of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Representatives Steve Cohen of Tennessee, John D. Dingell of Michigan, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Anna G. Eshoo of California, Ed Pastor of Arizona, and Melvin Watt of North Carolina.
J. J. Goldberg, editor-at-large for The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, and author of "Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment," said he was impressed by the inroads that J Street had made politically and financially, considering the controversy that still surrounds it among many Jews. "I'm stunned that there are so many members of Congress willing to take their money," Mr. Goldberg said. "The fact that they've got 60 candidates who aren't afraid to accept their 'pro-Israel, pro-peace' argument is a real breakthrough."
5) Israel: Palestinian's Conviction Violates Freedom of Assembly
Separate Charge of Encouraging Child Stone-Throwing Is Based on Coerced Statement
Human Rights Watch, May 30, 2012
Jerusalem – An Israeli military court's conviction on May 20, 2012, of a Palestinian activist, Bassem Tamimi, of leading illegal demonstrations violates his right to freedom of assembly, while its conviction of him on a second charge of urging children to throw stones on the basis of a child's coercively-obtained statement raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The court sentenced Tamimi on May 29 to 13 months in prison, which he has already served, as well as a 17-month suspended sentence.
"The Israeli military authorities seem to have known it would be hard to justify convicting an activist for only leading peaceful protests, so they apparently used oppressive methods to produce evidence that he also encouraged children to throw stones," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The court convicted Tamimi of leading illegal demonstrations, on the basis of Israeli military orders that criminalize even non-violent protests. The conviction came against a background of laws and practices that made it practically impossible for Tamimi to hold a demonstration in his home village, Human Rights Watch said.
"Israel's military justice system indicted itself with its verdict against Bassem Tamimi," Stork said. "In practice, the military made it virtually impossible for him to protest in his village and then convicted him of leading illegal demonstrations when he tried to hold protests anyway."
He was further convicted of soliciting children and youths to throw stones on the basis of evidence that, the court said, rested to a decisive degree on a statement obtained by police interrogators from a 15-year-old Palestinian boy whom soldiers had arrested at gunpoint late at night. They questioned the boy for more than four hours the following morning, after he had not slept, without letting him have a parent or lawyer present. In that statement, the boy said that Tamimi had encouraged youths to throw stones, but in court the boy retracted his statement and said the police had instructed him to incriminate Tamimi.
6) Almost half of new vets seek disability
Marilynn Marchione, Associated Press, Sun, May 27, 2012
America's newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.
A staggering 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.
What's more, these new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average, and the most recent ones over the last year are claiming 11 to 14. By comparison, Vietnam veterans are currently receiving compensation for fewer than four, on average, and those from World War II and Korea, just two.
Of those who have sought VA care:
-More than 1,600 of them lost a limb; many others lost fingers or toes.
-At least 156 are blind, and thousands of others have impaired vision.
-More than 177,000 have hearing loss, and more than 350,000 report tinnitus - noise or ringing in the ears.
-Thousands are disfigured, as many as 200 of them so badly that they may need face transplants. One-quarter of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw, one study found.
Others have invisible wounds. More than 400,000 of these new veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD.
Tens of thousands of veterans suffered traumatic brain injury, or TBI - mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts - and doctors don't know what's in store for them long-term.
On a more mundane level, many new veterans have back, shoulder and knee problems, aggravated by carrying heavy packs and wearing the body armor that helped keep them alive. One recent study found that 19 percent required orthopedic surgery consultations and 4 percent needed surgery after returning from combat.
All of this adds up to more disability claims, which for years have been coming in faster than the government can handle them. The average wait to get a new one processed grows longer each month and is now about eight months - time that a frustrated, injured veteran might spend with no income.
More than 560,000 veterans from all wars currently have claims that are backlogged - older than 125 days.
7) Palestinian Airlines resumes flights after 7 years
Ibrahim Barzak and Karin Laub, Associated Press, Mon, May 28, 2012
Marka Airbase, Jordan - Palestinian Airlines is back in the skies after being grounded for seven years by the deepening enmities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Once hailed as a symbol of Palestinian statehood dreams, the carrier is a tiny operation, with just two 48-seat turboprop planes, two weekly flights and a borrowed hub in Egypt.
But Palestinians say just being on the map again is what matters. "My hands were shaking when I bought the ticket ... and it said the name of the carrier is Palestinian Airlines," said recent passenger Zuhair Mohammed, a 38-year-old teacher from Gaza.
In the late 1990s, when Palestinians appeared on the verge of a statehood deal with Israel, Palestinian Airlines operated from Gaza International Airport, flew tens of thousands of passengers a year to Middle Eastern destinations and planned to expand to Europe.
Those ambitions were crushed by the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in September 2000, following the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks. Over the next year, Israeli troops destroyed the Gaza airport, and Palestinian Airlines was forced to move its base to El-Arish, an Egyptian coastal resort about 60 kilometers from Gaza.
Seven years ago, the airline stopped flying altogether after its reservoir of passengers dried up. It had mainly served Gazans who, starting in 2005, could no longer reach El-Arish because of increasingly frequent Israeli closures of Gaza's borders.
The closures accompanied an Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and intensified with the capture of an Israeli soldier by Gaza militants a year later and the violent takeover of Gaza by the Islamic militant Hamas in 2007.
Until last year, the vast majority of Gaza's 1.7 million residents were locked inside the territory, in part because Egypt went along with Israel and largely kept its Rafah border terminal with Gaza closed.
After the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Rafah gradually reopened and Gazans are now able to travel, though restrictions remain, particularly for men under 40, who need Egyptian security clearance.
Palestinian Airlines once again had potential customers. On May 9 it resumed operations, starting with biweekly flights between El-Arish and Marka Airbase in the Jordanian capital of Amman. The new route means Gazans no longer have to travel to Cairo, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) from their territory, to board planes.
Mustafa Abu Dan, a Palestinian civil servant, on Sunday bought four tickets at a Gaza City travel agency for a flight to Amman. He said he's pleased to be saving time and money, but he worried that Gazans and their travel plans will always vulnerable to political upheaval. "Rafah is the only gate for us to the world now, but still it's linked to the political developments in Egypt," said Abu Dan, 32. "I voice my hope to have our own airport again so we can travel without problems, like others."
8) Romney Calls for Action on Syria, but His Party Is Divided
Mark Landler, New York Times, May 29, 2012
Washington - The massacre of more than 100 civilians, many of them children, in Syria over the weekend has presented Mitt Romney with a new opportunity to sound a familiar theme: that President Obama's foreign policy is feckless and lacking in courage.
But Mr. Romney's own prescriptions for ending the mounting death toll in Syria have been less definitive than his denunciations of the president.
He called for the United States to "work with partners to organize and arm Syrian opposition groups so they can defend themselves" - a policy that goes somewhat further than Mr. Obama's but falls short of the airstrikes advocated by Republicans like Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The White House has rejected arming rebel groups, saying it does not know enough about them and does not want to "further militarize the situation." But the question of whether to arm the Syrian opposition has also split Republicans.
Such caution, from both the incumbent and the challenger, reflects the complexities of the Syrian uprising as well as the recognition that Americans have little appetite for another large-scale military engagement.
Even human rights groups are not demanding intervention. "No human rights organization wants to criticize the administration for failing to do something we haven't yet asked them to do," said Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. "We see more complexity and risk in Syria because of the sectarian dimension and the weakness of the opposition."
Still, proponents of a harder line acknowledge that there is little support in either party for military intervention. Despite the support for intervention in Libya voiced by Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, Republicans pummeled Mr. Obama when the United States did join NATO in acting there.
9) Shareholders Urge Chevron To Stop Fighting Ecuador Judgement
Dow Jones Newswires, May 25, 2012
A shareholder group led by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is urging Chevron Corp. (CVX) to settle a nearly 20-year legal battle pitting the multinational corporation against indigenous people in the Ecuadorian rainforest.
Chevron's continued efforts to fight an Ecuadorian court's judgment awarding $18 billion in damages related to the dumping of oil waste in the rainforest are hurting the indigenous people of Ecuador as well as its own reputation, DiNapoli said in a statement.
The case dates back to Texaco's operations in Ecuador, which began in 1964. A lawsuit against Chevron was brought by a group of Ecuadorians in 2003, two years after the company bought Texaco. The suit alleged that Texaco had dumped millions of gallons of oil waste products into the Ecuadorian rainforest, and spilled millions of gallons of oil.
The comptroller is trustee of the $150.3 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, which owns 7.24 million shares of Chevron, worth around $713 million. He joined with 39 other investors from North America and Canada to call on the company to end its battle to undo the verdict in the case.
"The time for delay is over," said DiNapoli. "The company's attempt to undo the court's verdict only keeps the case in the public eye and further damages Chevron's reputation. Chevron's actions are hurting shareholders as well as the indigenous people of the rainforest."
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