JFP 6/1: Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes

Just Foreign Policy News, June 1, 2012
Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Action: Urge your Representative to sign the Kucinich-Conyers letter on drone strikes
Fifteen Members of Congress are pressing the Administration to come clean with Congress and the American people about civilian deaths resulting from drone strikes and so-called "signature strikes" that target unknown people. Urge your Representative to join them.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/kucinich-conyers-drone-letter

Yes, Virginia, We Can Do Something About the Drone Strikes
It may well be true that drone strikes to kill "high value terrorists" who are known to be planning attacks on Americans are wildly popular. But here's what's not wildly popular: killing innocent civilians. Fifteen Members of Congress are raising their voices. Others should join them.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/obama-drone-strikes_b_1563081.html

Video: Stephen Colbert mocks "military age male" = "combatant"
"The administration has developed a brilliant system of ensuring that those building engulfing explosions don't kill non-combatants: they just count all military age males in a strike zone as combatants...This isn't just the president executing innocent people around the world by fiat, there is an appeals process. The men are considered terrorists unless 'there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent,' in which case, I assume, there is a legal process that un-kills them."
http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/414704/may-31-2012/the-word---two-birds-with-one-drone

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.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1242

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: Current signers include: Dennis Kucinich, John Conyers, Rush Holt, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Maurice Hinchey, Charlie Rangel, Pete Stark, Mike Honda, Raul Grijalva, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, Lynn Woolsey, Hank Johnson, Luis Gutierrez. Urge your Rep. to sign.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1219

Deepa Panchang: Withholding Water: Cholera, Prejudice and the Right to Water in Haiti
The cholera pathogen came to Haiti with foreign UN troops who carried the bacteria in their bodies, and whose military base was dumping its sewage into a nearby river. The imported disease has claimed more than 7,000 lives and continues to ravage communities across Haiti. Despite billions in post-earthquake aid dollars and hundreds of humanitarian NGOs, the country still faces a dearth of water and sanitation services, further fueling the epidemic.
http://truth-out.org/news/item/9532-withholding-water-cholera-prejudice-and-the-right-to-water-in-haiti

Just Foreign Policy challenges UN to take responsibility on Haiti cholera crisis
Post and share the Haiti cholera counter:
Tracks deaths, cases, and the number of days that have passed since the UN brought cholera to Haiti.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/haiti-cholera-counter

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.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/un-responsibility-haiti

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.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/conyers-letter-cholera

II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) No politician, subject to the pressures of re-election, should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle, argues the New York Times in an editorial. The U.S. cannot be in a perpetual war on terror that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat, the Times says. That power is too great and too easily abused.

The Defense Department is currently killing suspects in Yemen without knowing their names, using criteria that have never been made public, the Times notes. The administration is counting all military-age males killed by drone fire as combatants without knowing that for certain, assuming they are up to no good if they are in the area. That has allowed Brennan to claim an extraordinarily low civilian death rate that smells more of expediency than morality, the Times says.

A unilateral campaign of death is untenable, the Times says. President Obama should publish clear guidelines for targeting to be carried out by nonpoliticians, and allow an outside court to review the evidence before placing Americans on a kill list.

2) The House approved a measure requiring a report on the consequences of a military strike on Iran, JTA reports. The amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act, initiated by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), passed Thursday by a voice vote. It requires the director of national intelligence to submit to the congressional intelligence committees within 60 days "a report containing an assessment of the consequences of a military strike against Iran." "Today's vote reaffirms that Congress is hearing the warnings of American and Israeli security experts who believe that a military strike on Iran would not only fail to stop its nuclear program, but could actually trigger its acceleration," J Street said.

3) Appearing on CNN, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice urged caution about arming the Syrian rebels, writes Ali Gharib for Think Progress. Rice said the U.S. has less knowledge about the Syrian rebels than it did about Libyan rebels. Rep. Mike Rogers, Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also suggested it would be dangerous to supply arms to Syrian rebels without knowing who they are.

4) The majority of Israel's defense chiefs are against a military strike in Iran at this time, Ynet reports. Although officially, Israel's stance on the matter is that all options are viable, political sources told Ynet IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz, Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo and several top section chiefs in the Mossad are against a strike at this time. "Without Gantz' support the chances of mounting a strike are slim," a political source told Ynet.

Iran
5) U.S. control of a key radar station in the Negev makes it less likely that Israel would try to attack Iran without U.S. support, argue Karl Vick and Aaron J. Klein in Time. The U.S. radar undercuts the notion of Israel launching a surprise attack on Iran that would also take Washington unawares. Not only does it see all traffic at Israeli air bases, it would certainly detect any large scale or other unusual patterns, including preparations for a massive air assault.

Yemen
6) With an estimated several hundred military advisers already deployed, Washington and its allies are already being drawn ever deeper into Yemen's internal conflicts, Reuters reports. U.S. and foreign involvement is increasing sharply, moving well beyond the long-running but now also intensifying campaign of drone strikes. Growing numbers of special forces advisers are now training Yemen's military.

Some, including US Naval War College expert Hayat Alvi, warn that a "myopic" focus on counterterrorism may be blinding the US to other issues. She suspects that in Yemen as elsewhere, the U.S. is being drawn deeper into growing region-wide struggle between ethnic Sunni and Shi'ite forces itself fuelled by growing confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi's Yemen policy, she believes, is focused primarily not on Al Qaeda but on crushing the northern Yemeni Shi'ite rebellion.

Egypt
7) Egypt's infamous emergency law expired Thursday, the Washington Post reports. Suspension of the law was among the key demands of revolutionaries who toppled Mubarak. The expiration of the law means in theory that detainees held under its provisions should have been released by the end of the day on Thursday, Human Rights Watch said. But HRW said at least 188 people who were picked up under the emergency law remained in custody. The military retains the authority to prosecute civilians in military tribunals.

Honduras
8) Government leaders in Honduras, who came to power in a controversial election a few months after a 2009 coup, have strongly supported drug war assistance from the U.S., but skeptics contend that enthusiasm is in part because the partnership bolsters their fragile hold on power, the New York Times reports.

Although U.S. officials say they know interdiction is not enough, federal budgets and performance measures outlined in government documents show that the priorities of the drug war have not significantly changed, the Times says. "The problem is that the budget doesn't match the rhetoric," said John Carnevale, who served as the director of planning, budget and research for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1989 to 2000. "The budget that is currently being funded for drug control is still very much like the one we've had for 10 or 12 years."


9) The new chief chosen to clean up a Honduran national police force tarred with allegations of corruption and involvement in murders was accused by the department's internal affairs investigators of running a death squad when he was a top regional police official, AP reports. A 10-year-old report named Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares in at least three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002 and said he was among several officers suspected in 11 other cases.

Internal affairs investigators weren't able to substantiate many of the cases because of interference by top security officials, said Maria Luisa Borjas, who as head of the police internal affairs department at the time signed the investigation. She was suspended before she finished the report because she had called a news conference to complain about the obstruction.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) Too Much Power for a President
Editorial, New York Times, May 30, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/opinion/too-much-power-for-a-president.html

It has been clear for years that the Obama administration believes the shadow war on terrorism gives it the power to choose targets for assassination, including Americans, without any oversight. On Tuesday, The New York Times revealed who was actually making the final decision on the biggest killings and drone strikes: President Obama himself. And that is very troubling.

Mr. Obama has demonstrated that he can be thoughtful and farsighted, but, like all occupants of the Oval Office, he is a politician, subject to the pressures of re-election. No one in that position should be able to unilaterally order the killing of American citizens or foreigners located far from a battlefield - depriving Americans of their due-process rights - without the consent of someone outside his political inner circle.

How can the world know whether the targets chosen by this president or his successors are truly dangerous terrorists and not just people with the wrong associations? (It is clear, for instance, that many of those rounded up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks weren't terrorists.) How can the world know whether this president or a successor truly pursued all methods short of assassination, or instead - to avoid a political charge of weakness - built up a tough-sounding list of kills?

It is too easy to say that this is a natural power of a commander in chief. The United States cannot be in a perpetual war on terror that allows lethal force against anyone, anywhere, for any perceived threat. That power is too great, and too easily abused, as those who lived through the George W. Bush administration will remember.
[...]
The Times article points out, however, that the Defense Department is currently killing suspects in Yemen without knowing their names, using criteria that have never been made public. The administration is counting all military-age males killed by drone fire as combatants without knowing that for certain, assuming they are up to no good if they are in the area. That has allowed Mr. Brennan to claim an extraordinarily low civilian death rate that smells more of expediency than morality.

In a recent speech, Mr. Brennan said the administration chooses only those who pose a real threat, not simply because they are members of Al Qaeda, and prefers to capture suspects alive. Those assurances are hardly binding, and even under Mr. Obama, scores of suspects have been killed but only one taken into American custody. The precedents now being set will be carried on by successors who may have far lower standards. Without written guidelines, they can be freely reinterpreted.

A unilateral campaign of death is untenable. To provide real assurance, President Obama should publish clear guidelines for targeting to be carried out by nonpoliticians, making assassination truly a last resort, and allow an outside court to review the evidence before placing Americans on a kill list. And it should release the legal briefs upon which the targeted killing was based.

2) House requires assessment of Iran strike consequences
JTA, May 31, 2012
http://www.jta.org/news/article/2012/05/31/3097011/house-requires-assessment-of-iran-strike-consequences

Washington -- The U.S. House of Representatives approved a measure requiring a report on the consequences of a military strike on Iran.

The amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act, initiated by Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), passed Thursday by a voice vote.

It requires the director of national intelligence to submit to the congressional intelligence committees within 60 days "a report containing an assessment of the consequences of a military strike against Iran."

The passage of the measure without significant debate follows approval in both houses of Congress in recent weeks of language noting that tough legislation targeting Iran does not constitute war authorization.

J Street, the dovish pro-Israel group, praised the passage of the amendment.

"Today's vote reaffirms that Congress is hearing the warnings of American and Israeli security experts who believe that a military strike on Iran would not only fail to stop its nuclear program, but could actually trigger its acceleration," it said in a statement.

3) Amb. Rice: Advocates Of Arming Syria Rebels Haven't 'Fully Thought Through The Consequences'
Ali Gharib, Think Progress, May 31, 2012 at 10:38 am
http://thinkprogress.org/security/2012/05/31/492748/rice-syria-rebels-arming-consequences/

Appearing on CNN last night, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice urged caution about arming the Syrian rebels. The Obama administration has already suggested it will help its Gulf Arab allies do so, but yesterday the Pentagon walked back the suggestion, with a spokesman telling reporters the U.S. focus "remains on economic and diplomatic pressure."

Rice told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the U.S. has less knowledge about the Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad than it did about Libyan rebels during that country's uprising against the dictator Muammar Qaddafi. In the Libyan case, the U.S., through NATO, provided air support but didn't directly arm the opposition. Reacting to a statement from Mitt Romney that suggested helping allies to arm the Syrian rebels, Rice said some advocates of arming the rebels had not thought through all of the consequences:

"Wolf, even in Libya, we did not take the very exceptional decision to arm the opposition. And in Syria, we know much, much less about the nature of this opposition. It's not coherent. There's not a unified command and control. It's a series of different groups in different cities. There's, clearly, also an extremist element that is trying to infiltrate elements of the opposition.

So to argue that we ought to be arming the opposition is a very consequential statement. And I don't think that those that are advocating that have fully thought through the consequences.

That would mean that we are conceding that the only option is to see the further militarization, to see an intensified regional war, which is hardly in our interests or in the interests of our allies and partners in that neighborhood."
[...]
Rice's words of caution were preceded by similar warnings yesterday from the Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers (MI), who told CNN: "I'm not sure arming is the right answer here, mainly because we're just not exactly sure who the bad guys are and who the good guys are right now in Syria. So you don't know who you're giving weapons to." Top U.S. officials have already acknowledged that they believe, for instance, that Al Qaeda in Iraq is behind some of the anti-government bombings in Damascus.

The proposed U.S. plan, which was at least publicly walked back by the Pentagon, called exactly for the U.S. to provide information on rebels who could be reliably armed. The original report on the U.S. plan, from the AP, said that "some intelligence analysts worry that there may be no suitable recipients of lethal aid in the Syria conflict."

4) 'Security officials oppose Iran strike'
Top defense officials, majority of nine-minister security forum are reportedly against mounting military strike against Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities at this time
Attila Somfalvi, Ynet (Yedioth Aharanoth), 05.31.12, 09:41
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4236477,00.html

The majority of Israel's defense chiefs are against a military strike in Iran at this time, Ynet has learned.

Although officially, Israel's stance on the matter is that all options are viable, political sources told Ynet on Wednesday that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz, Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo and several top section chiefs in the Mossad are against a strike at this time.

Such opposition has been noted within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special nine-minister security forum.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman support an attack on Tehran's nuclear facilities, but Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz and ministers Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Eli Yishai and Yuval Steinitz are against it.

"Without Gantz' support the chances of mounting a strike are slim," a political source told Ynet.
[...]

Iran
5) How a U.S. Radar Station in the Negev Affects a Potential Israel-Iran Clash
Karl Vick and Aaron J. Klein, Time, Wednesday, May. 30, 2012
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2115955,00.html

On a desert hilltop in the remote southwest of Israel stands a compelling argument against any notion that the Jewish state will launch an attack on Iran without the United States. The discreet complex atop Mt. Keren is a U.S. military installation, and the 100 U.S. service members who staff it are the only foreign troops stationed in Israel. Most are guards; a few are support. The technicians are recognizable by the protective suits they wear to shield them from the extraordinary amounts of radiation generated by the no less extraordinary apparatus the base is built around.

The small, rectangular-shaped portable radar peeking around a concrete blast wall is so advanced it can see over the horizon, and so sensitive it can spot a softball tossed in the air from 2,900 miles away. (Tehran is a mere 1,000 miles away to the northeast.) On Mt. Keren, the X-band radar is indeed pointed northeast, toward Iran, where it could detect a Shahab-3 missile launched toward Israel just seconds into its flight - and six to seven minutes earlier than Israel would know from its own radar, called Green Pine.

The extra time means a great deal. Six additional minutes increases by at least 60% the time Israeli officials would have to sound sirens that will send civilians scrambling into bomb shelters. It also substantially increases the chances of launching interceptors to knock down the incoming missile before it reaches Israel, hiking the likelihood its wreckage or warhead falls in, say, the wastes of the Jordanian desert rather than Israel's heavily populated coastal plain. And should the interceptor miss, the extra time might allow for the launch of a second one.

All this is possible, however, only if U.S. officials choose to share the information, because only Americans have eyes on the radar. And if it's difficult to imagine a U.S. commander-in-chief choosing to withhold an early warning that could save civilian lives of a close ally, both sides recognize that if the Iranian missiles were launched in retaliation for an Israeli air strike, the onus might be on the Israeli government that set such events in motion. In any event, military officials and outside analysts say that uncertainty can only inhibit any Israeli impulse to "go it alone."
[...]
Inside the wire, however, the chain of command is American. In the one-story building beside the radar, technically called the Army-Navy Transportable Surveillance Radar, or AN/TPY-2, the data flows first to technicians' readouts, then on to California, where the U.S. Missile Defense Agency also registers feeds from satellites and sea-borne sensors. If their computers recognize an ascending fireball as a hostile missile launch, U.S. commanders may pass the information to their Israeli counterparts.

The entire system is of course built on the assumption that they will. The American and Israeli militaries have meshed their missile defense systems so snugly that they operate a joint command center, located on an Israeli military base near Tel Aviv. The Arrow interceptor missile that would be launched to knock down the attack is itself a joint-effort of the Pentagon and the Kirya, as Israeli's defense headquarters is known. Come October, some 5,000 American troops will travel to Israel for their largest joint exercise ever, one constructed entirely around missile defense.

But the Israelis are keenly aware that, in this case, information is power, and Washington has the right to withhold it. "We share a lot, but there's a valve on the pipeline, and it's a one-way valve," says a Western military official involved in the program.

The workaday reality of the U.S. radar - it has been operating since 2009 - also undercuts the notion of Israel launching a surprise attack on Iran that would also take Washington unawares. Not only does it see all traffic at Israeli air bases, it would certainly detect any large scale or other unusual patterns, including preparations for a massive air assault.

Allowing the Americans that capability was a trade-off Israeli officials conceded only grudgingly, as TIME reported when the radar installation was announced in 2008.

"It's about the United States hugging the Israelis," says an American missile expert outside of government. The intense military cooperation between Washington and Jerusalem, which both sides agree is the closest it's ever been, not only helps assure Israel's security. It also tethers Israel's military to the Pentagon.
[...]

Yemen
6) As violence rises, U.S. and allies pulled into Yemen
Peter Apps, Reuters, 5:37am EDT
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/01/us-yemen-western-policy-idUSBRE8500G620120601

London - U.S. policymakers might talk down "boots on the ground" in Yemen but with an estimated several hundred military advisers already deployed, Washington and its allies are already being drawn ever deeper into the country.
[...]
But with a new Yemeni government seen providing the best chance in years to stabilize the chaotic country, there are growing signs of a wider strategy. U.S. and foreign involvement is increasing sharply, moving well beyond the long-running but now also intensifying campaign of drone strikes.

Growing numbers of special forces advisers are now training Yemen's military, while financial and humanitarian aid from Western and Gulf states has increased sharply.
[...]
Earlier this month, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters there was "no prospect" of "boots on the ground" in Yemen. Certainly, with a presidential election a mere five months away and public fatigue with long-running wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is little enthusiasm for a major conventional military campaign.

Instead, Yemen looks set to be the scene of the kind of largely clandestine, barely publicly discussed U.S. intervention that many believe will be the model for conflicts in the years to come.

"After Iraq and Afghanistan, there is a realization that large, troop-heavy interventions are not the way forward," says Christopher Steinitz, an analyst specializing in Yemen at the Centre for Naval Analysis, part of U.S. government funded think tank CNA. "What you're seeing here is a very different strategy using drones, advisers and local Yemeni forces."
[...]
But whether the campaign against AQAP succeeds or fails, some including US Naval War College expert [Hayat] Alvi warn that a "myopic" focus on counterterrorism may be blinding it to other issues.

In particular, she suspects that in Yemen as elsewhere, the U.S. is being quietly drawn into growing region-wide struggle between ethnic Sunni and Shi'ite forces itself fuelled by growing confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Saudi's Yemen policy, she believes, is focused primarily not on Al Qaeda but on crushing the northern Yemeni rebellion. That comes as Riyadh battles its own Shi'ite uprising in eastern Saudi and attempts to shore up Bahrain's Sunni rulers. Whether it wants to be or not, Washington is seen being dragged into the same agenda.

"They are locked in a sectarian competition... and this will go on for a long time, if not forever," Alvi says. "Anything Shi'ite is interpreted as Iranian supported in the eyes of the Saudis... this is also the inspiration for Gulf states to be so outspoken against the Assad regime in Syria, not because of the goodness of their hearts but because of Assad's good relations with Iran."
[...]

Egypt
7) Egypt's infamous emergency law expires
Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post, May 31
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-infamous-emergency-law-expires/2012/05/31/gJQAWqqQ5U_story.html

Cairo - Egypt's infamous emergency law, which had given President Hosni Mubarak and his police forces vast authority to crack down on dissent, expired Thursday, and officials said they were disinclined to extend it.

Suspension of the law, which had been in effect for more than 30 years, was among the key demands of revolutionaries who toppled Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011. Human rights activists hailed its expiration as a historic milestone and among the most important dividends of last year's popular revolt.

"It's a law that symbolized the extraordinary powers given to the police, which created an environment in which forced disappearances and torture happened regularly," said Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.

The expiration of the law means in theory that detainees held under its provisions should have been released by the end of the day on Thursday, Morayef said. But the researcher said her group had confirmed that at least 188 people who were picked up under the emergency law remained in custody.

Egypt's military council, which assumed power after Mubarak was forced to step down, vowed Thursday to continue maintaining security, saying in a statement issued to the state news agency that it "affirms to the great people of Egypt that it continues bearing this responsibility."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the United States had "repeatedly encouraged" the generals to lift the law, and he called its expiration a step toward the country's democratic transition.

The generals made no mention in their statement of seeking an extension to the law, a step that would require parliamentary approval.

Farid Ismail, the deputy head of the defense and national security committee in parliament, said that the military chiefs had not asked that the law be kept in place, and that lawmakers would be unlikely to sign off on such a request. "There is no willingness to extend the state of emergency law," said Ismail, a member of the dominant group in parliament, the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

The Brotherhood, a venerable Islamist organization, was among the opposition groups in the country that suffered most from the law. Many of the organization's leaders were imprisoned for years, without due process, based on the government's contention that they posed a security threat.

The expiration of the law does not mark the end of the state security tactics that human rights activists call heavy-handed. The military, for example, retains the authority to prosecute civilians in military tribunals.
[...]

Honduras
8) Despite Deaths in Honduran Raid, U.S. to Press Ahead With New Antidrug Policy
Damien Cave, Charlie Savage and Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 31, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/americas/honduran-drug-raid-deaths-wont-alter-us-policy.html

Washington - After several villagers were killed on a Honduran river last month during a raid on drug smugglers by Honduran and American agents, a local backlash raised concerns that the United States' expanding counternarcotics efforts in Central America might be going too far. But United States officials in charge of that policy see it differently.
[...]
With Washington's attention swinging from Iraq and Afghanistan - and with budget dollars similarly flowing in new directions - the United States is expanding and unifying its antidrug efforts in Central America, where violence has skyrocketed as enforcement efforts in the Caribbean, Colombia and Mexico have pushed cocaine traffic to smaller countries with weaker security forces.

As part of those efforts, the United States is pressing governments across Central America to work together against their shared threat - sharing intelligence and even allowing security forces from one nation to operate on the sovereign soil of another - an approach that was on display in the disputed raid. But reviews from Central America include uncertainty and skepticism.

Government leaders in Honduras, who came to power in a controversial election a few months after a 2009 coup, have strongly supported assistance from the United States, but skeptics contend that enthusiasm is in part because the partnership bolsters their fragile hold on power.

More broadly, there is discontent in Latin America with United States efforts that some leaders and independent experts see as too focused on dramatic seizures of shipments bound for North America rather than local drug-related murders, corruption and chaos.

"Violence has grown a lot; crimes connected to trafficking keep increasing - that's Central America's big complaint," President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala said in an interview. He added that the drug cartels were better organized than they were 20 years ago and that "if there are no innovations, if we don't see something truly different than what we have been doing, then this war is on the road to defeat."
[...]
In the area of Honduras called the Mosquito Coast, where the two recent operations occurred, residents have simpler demands. "If you're going to come to the Mosquito Coast, come to invest," said Terry Martinez, the director of development programs for the area. "Help us get our legitimate goods to market. That will help secure the area."

American officials say they know that interdiction alone is not enough. The number of United States officials assigned to programs that are designed to strengthen Central America's weak criminal justice systems has quadrupled, to about 80 over the past five years.

And the United States Agency for International Development has, since 2009, helped open more than 70 outreach centers for young people, offering job training and places to go after school, officials report.
[...]
Despite the shift that officials described, federal budgets and performance measures outlined in government documents show that the priorities of the drug war have not significantly changed. Even as cocaine consumption in the United States has fallen, the government's antidrug efforts abroad continue to be heavily weighted toward seizing cocaine.

Most financing for the Central American Regional Security Initiative has gone to security and interdiction work, according to a recent Congressional report.

"The problem is that the budget doesn't match the rhetoric," said John Carnevale, who served as the director of planning, budget and research for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1989 to 2000. "The budget that is currently being funded for drug control is still very much like the one we've had for 10 or 12 years, or really over the past couple of decades."
[...]
The May 11 raid started with Colombian intelligence passing along a tip about the plane to a joint intelligence task force under the American military's Southern Command, which has its headquarters in Miami.

A surveillance aircraft from the United States Customs and Border Protection agency then tracked the plane as it landed, leading to a raid that was carried out by four State Department helicopters. They flew out of one of three new forward operating bases built this year by the American military's Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras.

Guatemalan pilots flew the aircraft - after overcoming some resistance from Honduran officials - because Honduras lacks qualified pilots. The helicopters carried a strike force of Honduran police officers who had been specially vetted and trained by United States Drug Enforcement Administration agents, several of whom are part of a special commando-style squad that was on board as advisers.

The helicopters struck around 2 a.m., after about 30 men had unloaded 17 bales of cocaine from the plane into a pickup truck, which had carried it to a boat in the nearby Patuca River. Men working on the boat scattered as the helicopters swooped down, and a ground force moved in.

What happened next remains under investigation in Honduras. Officials say a second boat approached and opened fire on the agents on the ground. They and a door gunner aboard the helicopter returned fire in a quick burst.

But rather than hitting drug traffickers, villagers contend, the government forces instead hit another boat that was returning from a long trip upriver - killing four unarmed people, including two pregnant women. While the D.E.A.'s rules of engagement allowed agents to fire back to protect themselves and their counterparts, both United States and Honduran officials insist that no Americans fired.
[...]

9) New Honduras top cop once investigated in killings
Katherine Corcoran and Martha Mendoza, Associated Press, Fri, Jun. 01, 2012
http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/01/v-fullstory/2827057/new-honduras-top-cop-once-investigated.html

The new chief chosen to clean up a Honduran national police force tarred with allegations of corruption and involvement in murders was accused by the department's internal affairs investigators of running a death squad when he was a top regional police official.

A 10-year-old report on Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, nicknamed "The Tiger," resurfaced in widely distributed emails and on a local website after he was named police chief May 21 as part of President Porfirio Lobo's efforts to reform a department that is widely accused of killings and human rights violations. The report named Bonilla in at least three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002 and said he was among several officers suspected in 11 other cases.

Only one of the allegations against the now-46-year-old Bonilla led to murder charges, however, and he was acquitted in 2004. The verdict was upheld by Honduras' Supreme Court in 2009.

Internal affairs investigators weren't able to substantiate many of the cases because of interference by top security officials, said Maria Luisa Borjas, who as head of the police internal affairs department at the time signed the investigation. She was suspended before she finished the report because she had called a news conference to complain about the obstruction.

"I said the investigation pointed to certain officials, that we had evidence and witnesses, but there was no desire on the part of any authority to process this case," she told The Associated Press, adding that she and her team at the time also received death threats.

Borjas said she documented a policy of killing gang members and crime suspects rather than bringing them to trial when Bonilla was regional police chief in charge of Copan, Santa Barbara and Ocotepeque provinces in western Honduras. He held that post from 1998 until September 2011. Borjas said she collected descriptions of cold-blooded killings in San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and other parts of the country to try to establish what she called a pattern.

In one case, a witness said Bonilla sent a team of officers to track down a suspected leader of a kidnapping gang, Angel Maria Romero, in December 2001.

When they identified him, Bonilla said, "You've got him. Do what you have to do," according to a witness quoted in the report.

The witness, who was with Bonilla while talking to Romero on a cellphone, reported he heard thunderous gunshots, and then Bonilla said: "It's done. Let's go take a look"

They arrived at the scene to see Romero's body in a car that had crashed against a wall.
[...]
The national police chief post has become a revolving door, with various scandals of alleged police involvement in high-profile crimes.

Bonilla replaced Ricardo Ramirez del Cid amid charges that police were involved in the May 9 kidnapping and murder of one of Honduras' best-known journalists, Alfredo Villatoro, a close adviser to Lobo. Villatoro's body was found six days after he was abducted. Ten people have been detained in the case, including a former police officer already incarcerated for another crime, police spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia said.

Ramirez had been appointed in November after charges that police were involved in the murder of Rafael Vargas, 22, son of Honduras National Autonomous University President Julieta Castellanos. Security cameras filmed men in police uniforms killing him and a friend. Some of the officers involved in the crime escaped after being granted weekend leave. The head of the municipal police division and its investigative section were removed and are also under investigation.

Borjas' 2002 internal affairs report coincided with a United Nations report that said Honduran police were conducting a campaign of "social cleansing," using killings to rid the streets of gang members.
[...]
In the 2012 human rights report issued last week, the State Department also said Honduran law enforcement agents have murdered and tortured people, though it did not mention Bonilla.
[...]
The internal affairs report lists 22 deaths or disappearances in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The most direct allegations against Bonilla involve suspects or witnesses in the kidnapping of former Economy Minister Reginaldo Panting, who was found dead in 2001 after his family paid a ransom of $125,000.

Borjas told the AP she was ordered to conduct an investigation based on a complaint from Enelda Caballero, whose son disappeared in custody in June 2002. According to local news reports, Caballero knew of a band of kidnappers her son was involved with and gave the information to Bonilla. Instead of arresting them, he killed them, she said. She and her other children fled to Costa Rica after receiving death threats, having filed a complaint against Bonilla with the prosecutor and the human rights ombudsman.



At the time of the internal affairs report, authorities had already issued an arrest warrant for Bonilla in the June 6, 2002, killing of Jorge Luis Caceres, who was picked up for questioning by men in ski masks and was found riddled with 36 gunshots the next day. Bonilla was at the scene of his abduction, witnesses told Borjas.

Neither the security minister nor the police department "moved to carry through" in arresting Bonilla or ordering him to appear, the document said.

Borjas said she was hampered from the start by then-Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez, who took away her investigators, then gasoline for her cars, then the cars. Borjas called the news conference in September 2002 and was suspended that Nov. 28 for violating rules of confidentiality, she said. She delivered her report three days later.

The investigative report lists names and dates of the alleged killings, and in many cases a short paragraph describing how a victim was lured to a particular spot and then ambushed. Borjas said the interference kept her from producing more evidence.
[...]
In its conclusion, the report said the investigation "gives us the names of some police officials who allegedly are responsible for directing an intelligence team that has the responsibility for, or has had something to do with, the extrajudicial killings of young people in the country ... operating as a supposed death squad."

---
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews



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