JFP 6/7: UN rights chief urges probe of drone strike civilian deaths; 21 on K-C letter
Just Foreign Policy News, June 7, 2012
UN rights chief urges probe of drone strike civilian deaths; 21 on K-C letter
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Urge your Representative to sign the Kucinich-Conyers letter on drone strikes
Twenty-one Members of Congress are pressing the Administration to come clean with Congress and the American people about civilian deaths resulting from drone strikes and about so-called "signature strikes" that target unknown people. Urge your Representative to join them. If you've already written please call your Representative: 202-225-3121.
Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
Current signers of the Congressional letter 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, Ron Paul, John Lewis, George Miller, Jim McDermott, Yvette Clarke, Peter DeFazio.
Post and share Just Foreign Policy's Haiti cholera counter:
Tracks deaths, cases, and the number of days that have passed since the UN brought cholera to Haiti.
Michael Hastings: America's Last Prisoner of War
Three years ago, a 23-year-old soldier walked off his base in Afghanistan and into the hands of the Taliban. Now he's a crucial pawn in negotiations to end the war. Will the Pentagon leave a man behind?
Harper's: Eye of the drone
Testimony of families of victims and survivors of a March 17, 2011, drone attack in the village of Datta Khel in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan.
1) UN's human rights commissioner Navi Pillay called for an investigation of civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Salon reports. "Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law," she said. Pillay said she had suggested to the Pakistani government officials that they invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions to investigate some of the incidents.
2) Our increasing reliance on cyberweapons and unmanned drones should concern Congress, writes Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the Huffington Post. Congress must reassert its constitutional authority and conduct proper oversight of government's "counterterrorism" policies regardless of the technology being used.
3) A recent New York Times article claimed that drone strikes have "remained one of the United States' most effective tools in combating militancy," notes Peter Hart for FAIR. That's a striking assertion, Hart writes, given that "militancy" has increased in Yemen as drone strikes have increased, and the former CIA station chief in Pakistan says "we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield" in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
4) Larry Korb, assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, says that that failure to postpone the oil embargo on Iran would kill diplomatic talks, writes Kate Gould for Tehran Bureau. "If they go ahead with the European sanctions, both on the oil and financial, I don't think there is any hope after that.... If it doesn't happen in June, come 1 July, I don't know if you can really go back to the bargaining table after that."
5) The Afghan president said Thursday that 18 people killed in a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan a day earlier were all civilians, AP reports. He criticized NATO for not being able to provide an explanation for the vans piled with bodies of women and children that villagers displayed to reporters.
6) Bradley Manning has won a partial victory in his battle to force the government to disclose vital information that could help his defense, the Guardian reports. The government must now disclose to Manning's lawyers some of the damage assessments it carried out into the impact of the leak on US interests around the world. Should those assessments reveal the US government found the fallout from WikiLeaks was limited, that could be used by Manning's defense to argue his innocence against some of the charges he faces, such as aiding the enemy. If he is found guilty, the information might prove invaluable in reducing any sentence.
7) Some who previously claimed it was a huge deal that Iran was enriching uranium to 20% now claim it is not a significant concession if Iran ceases to do so, writes Yousaf Butt of the Federation of American Scientists for Foreign Policy. If Iranian enrichment to 20% is a serious issue, then it requires serious reciprocity like significant relief on sanctions, such as on the EU oil embargo that is set to begin in July
8) Iran's top crude oil buyers in Asia have just weeks to come up with ways to keep imports flowing without falling foul of the toughest Western sanctions to date against Iran's oil trade, Reuters reports. China, India and Japan are scrambling to deal with the biggest headache - an EU ban on insuring shipments of Iranian crude from July 1 - and are considering sovereign guarantees. Europe dominates the world's tanker insurance market.
9) Israel's plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, AP reports. On Wednesday, officials announced the government would build 850 apartments in various West Bank settlements after parliament, at Netanyahu's urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized Ulpana and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land. In a sharply worded statement, the U.S. accused Israel of hindering peace efforts with the newly announced settlement construction, AP says.
10) Colombia Constitutional Court will hear two suits challenging the new copyright law under Colombia's trade agreement with the U.S., writes Colombia Reports. Two senators said the law violated privacy rights and limited freedom of access to information and should be struck down as unconstitutional. One of the law's sections punishes the transmission of TV signals over the internet with prison time of four to eight years. Another section of the law grants any government agent the right to access the private information of individuals who are suspected of violating copyright regulations. [What do these provisions have to do with "free trade"? - JFP.]
11) A report from the International Trade Union Confederation says Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists, writes Colombia Reports. The report shows that in 2011 at least 76 union workers around the world were killed, with more than half the deaths occurring in Latin America, including 29 in Colombia and ten in Guatemala.
1) UN rights chief calls for drone probe
Civilian victims are due compensation, says top official; Panetta says strikes will continue
Jefferson Morley, Salon, Thursday, Jun 7, 2012 12:10 Pm Cdt
The UN's human rights commissioner called for an investigation of civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan yesterday, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the aerial attacks would continue.
"Drone attacks do raise serious questions about compliance with international law," the UN's Navi Pillay told a news conference in Islamabad, according to AFP. It was the UN's strongest condemnation yet of President Obama's remote control war that has killed four top al-Qaida commanders in recents months and scores of bystanders.
Chris Woods of the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBJI) reported this week that the CIA has resumed the practice of attacking rescuers who come to the aid the victims of the strikes as well as funeral goers who mourn them. The attacks were front page news in Pakistan during Pillay's four day visit to the country.
"I see the indiscriminate killings and injuries of civilians, in any circumstances, as human rights violations," she said.
Pillay said she had suggested to the Pakistani government officials that they invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary or Arbitrary Executions to investigate some of the incidents. She said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has urged states to be "more transparent" about circumstances in which drone attacks are mounted.
"So therefore I stress the importance of investigating such cases and ensuring compensation and redress to the victims, " she said.
Two of the most recent U.S. attacks have killed civilians, according TBIJ reporter Chris Woods who cited credible news accounts.
"On Monday U.S. drones attacked rescuers in Waziristan in western Pakistan minutes after an initial strike, killing 16 people in total according to the BBC. On May 28, drones were also reported to have returned to the attack in Khassokhel near Mir Ali.
And on Sunday, a CIA drone strike targeted people gathered for funeral prayers of militant victims killed in an earlier attack. The intended Taliban targets appear to have survived, although up to ten people died. A mosque was also struck last week – possibly accidentally – killing at least three civilian worshippers."
The last reported attack on rescuers in Pakistan came on July 12, 2011, according to Woods. "Their cessation coincided with the departure of CIA Director Leon Panetta," he said.
2) Cyberweapons, Drone Strikes Circumvent Congress' Constitutional Authority
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Huffington Post, 06/06/2012 2:56 pm
The United States' use of cyberweapons against Iran threatens to undermine the critical and sensitive ongoing negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Building trust is a significant component of these negotiations, and the use of cyberweapons may break down that trust and leave us vulnerable to similar attacks.
Technology has changed the nature of modern warfare. Drone strikes, "precision" incursions and cyberweapons are examples of these changes. The war in Libya proved that war does not necessarily mean boots on the ground. In Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, unmanned drones kill suspected militants and civilians. Yet these tactics may ultimately undermine our national security. One only needs to understand that this is in fact warfare by asking what the United States would do if we were targets of similar attacks.
Our increasing reliance on cyberweapons and unmanned drones should concern Congress. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution makes clear that only Congress has the power to declare war. No Administration should be permitted to assert high tech exceptions to the U.S. Constitution.
Congress must reassert its constitutional authority and conduct proper oversight of government's "counterterrorism" policies regardless of the technology being used. Cyberweapons and unmanned drones must be subject to the same laws, oversight and accountability as so-called "conventional weapons." It is time for Congress to weigh in and work to create a legal framework which reflects the changing face of modern day warfare in order to protect the United States Constitution, our citizens and the long-term security of our nation.
3) NYT: Drone Strikes 'Combat Militancy' by Increasing Militants
Peter Hart, FAIR, 06/06/2012
In today's New York Times article (6/6/12) about the apparent drone killing of Al-Qaeda "deputy leader" Abu Yahya al-Libi, Declan Walsh and Eric Schmitt write:
"If his death is borne out this time, it would be a milestone in a covert eight-year airstrike campaign that has infuriated Pakistani officials but that has remained one of the United States' most effective tools in combating militancy."
That's revealing. It's inarguable that the drones kill people the U.S. government wants to kill, and some it doesn't intend to kill. But does this really qualify as "combating militancy"? In Yemen, the increase in drone attacks has resulted in a doubling of the ranks of the local branch on Al-Qaeda. Some would-be attackers reportedly cite the drone attacks on civilians as motivation to attack the United States. And former CIA Pakistan station chief Richard Grenier tells the Guardian (6/5/12):
"We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are creating more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regards to Pakistan and Afghanistan."
4) Let's Make a Deal: Serious Sanctions Relief Imperative for Iran Pact
Reaching a real accord with Iran will require real compromise -- and that means real easing of sanctions.
Kate Gould, Tehran Bureau, 02 Jun 2012
During the most recent round of talks between the United States and other world powers with Iran in Baghdad, a major sticking point was that the powers refused to propose Iran genuine sanctions relief in exchange for their far-reaching demands. Instead, the powers merely offered Iran access to civilian aircraft parts and other small-scale incentives. To achieve progress during the next talks, scheduled for June 18-19 in Moscow, all parties must be willing to conduct serious "give and take" negotiations. This will require that the United States and other world powers offer some form of genuine sanctions relief, in return for Iran limiting its uranium enrichment program.
The panelists on last week's edition of Al Jazeera English's Inside Story: Americas illustrated why sanctions relief -- and specifically the postponement of the impending European Union oil embargo against Iran -- must be on the table to make diplomatic progress in Moscow. The E.U. has already stated that it will press ahead with the embargo; however, it has also not ruled out changing course if Iran were to agree to a package deal with the powers.
"What happened in Baghdad, of the various things put on the table, sanctions relief was not one of them. From the Iranian perspective, they view this as too much of a concession," Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and one of the featured panelists, explained. For the talks to be successful, he said, both sides need to be able to claim victory in order to rally support for the deal internally. Parsi warned that if Iran concedes to the powers' demand for limiting enrichment while the E.U. embargo goes ahead as planned, it will be nearly impossible for Iran to claim victory:
"I find it very difficult [to imagine] that they would be able to claim a victory if they cease 20%, but then you still have oil sanctions kick in three weeks later. It's not going to be possible for them to spin that as a win domestically or to their own elites."
Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, and Hooman Majd, a veteran Iranian-American journalist, agreed that the postponement of the embargo would be critical for a successful deal in Moscow.
Postponement of the E.U. embargo is widely recognized as the most likely form of significant sanctions relief, since it wouldn't actually require the lifting of existing sanctions, but rather a delay in imposing additional ones.
Lawrence Korb has gone so far as to say that failure to postpone the oil embargo would kill the talks: "If they go ahead with the European sanctions, both on the oil and financial, I don't think there is any hope after that.... If it doesn't happen in June, come 1 July, I don't know if you can really go back to the bargaining table after that."
Trita Parsi agreed, concluding, "I personally doubt that an agreement can be found if there isn't at least some form of sanctions relief involved in the deal in return for some tangible, verifiable, valuable concession from the Iranian side."
5) NATO airstrike killed 18 Afghan civilians, Karzai says
Amir Shah and Heidi Vogt, Associated Press, 06/07/2012 10:34:10 AM PDT
Kabul, Afghanistan -- The Afghan president said Thursday that 18 people killed in a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan a day earlier were all civilians.
The deadly incident has further soured relations between NATO and the Afghan government, already outraged by civilian casualties in previous operations.
"This is unacceptable. It cannot be tolerated," President Hamid Karzai said in a statement condemning the strike in Logar. He criticized NATO for not being able to provide an explanation for the vans piled with bodies of women and children that villagers displayed to reporters.
Karzai's office said the president had spoken to a man who was related to some of the victims. He promised a thorough investigation and pledged that those responsible would face justice.
Karzai's condemnation of the strike and NATO's treatment of it served as a reminder of the ongoing tension between Afghanistan and its Western allies.
NATO confirmed only militant deaths from Wednesday's strike but sent a team to investigate allegations that civilians were killed either along with or instead of insurgents.
Villagers displayed 18 bodies at the provincial capital on Wednesday, including five women, seven children and six men.
Nighttime raids on militants taking cover in villages have been a repeated source of strain between the Afghan government, which says the raids put civilians in the crossfire, and its international allies, who say such operations are key to capturing and killing insurgent leaders.
A deal signed in April was supposed to resolve the issue by putting the Afghan government in charge of such operations. But Karzai's statement put all the responsibility for Wednesday's strike on NATO.
The conflicting reports about the raid in the Baraki Barak district also show the confusion and strife that continue to surround these raids, despite the document signed in Kabul.
Villagers said that the airstrike hit a house where a number of families had come in from out of town for a wedding party. Afghan police said it was a gathering of militant leaders in the area who had holed up in a village house for the night.
6) Bradley Manning defence gets report on WikiLeaks damage to US interests
Judge rules that Obama administration must hand over documents assessing leak of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks
Ed Pilkington at
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 June 2012 15.28 EDT
Fort Meade - Bradley Manning, the US soldier accused of being the source of the biggest leak of state secrets in American history, has won a partial victory in his battle to force the government to disclose vital information that could help his defence.
The judge presiding over his trial at Fort Meade in Maryland has ordered the US government to hand over several confidential documents relating to the massive leak to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
In particular, the Obama administration must now disclose to Manning's lawyers some of the damage assessments it carried out into the impact of the leak on US interests around the world.
Should those assessments reveal that the US government found that the fallout from WikiLeaks was limited, that could be used by Manning's defence to argue his innocence against some of the charges he faces, such as aiding the enemy. If the soldier is found guilty, the information might then prove invaluable in reducing any sentence.
As a result of the ruling, Manning's defence team was handed the main findings of a state department investigation into the impact of WikiLeaks on Tuesday evening.
7) A Queen for a Queen
If the West really wants to halt Iran's uranium enrichment, it needs to get serious about scaling back sanctions.
Yousaf Butt, Foreign Policy, June 5, 2012
[Butt, a nuclear physicist, serves as a scientific consultant for the Federation of American Scientists.]
In January of this year, Olli Heinonen declared that "it would take half a year [for Iran] to go from 3.5 percent enriched uranium to weapons-grade material for the first nuclear device." Well let's sound the all-clear: there is no hint whatsoever that Iran will have a nuclear device this summer, and its enriched uranium stockpile continues to be under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In a new but equally breathless and alarmist account, Heinonen parades a litany of technical facts about Iran's uranium enrichment to 20 percent that worries him. Oddly, he then goes on to characterize Iran's offer to suspend enrichment to this allegedly highly dangerous level as Iran only offering a "pawn ... in exchange for the queen -- the lifting of oil sanctions."
Which is it? Is 20 percent enrichment merely a "pawn," or is it the imminent and mortal threat that Heinonen describes?
If it is merely a pawn, why bother negotiating about it?
If, however, Iranian enrichment is seen as a serious issue -- a "queen," say, in chess parlance -- then it requires serious reciprocity such as some significant relief on sanctions, perhaps even involving the EU oil embargo that is set to begin in July.
8) Analysis: Time running out for Asian buyers of Iran oil
Judy Hua and Osamu Tsukimori, Reuters, Wed Jun 6, 2012 6:44am EDT
Beijing/Tokyo - Iran's top crude oil buyers in Asia have just weeks to come up with ways to keep imports flowing without falling foul of the toughest Western sanctions to date against Tehran's oil trade. Solutions have proved elusive so far.
A year ago, Iran was selling around two-thirds of its crude exports, or roughly 1.45 million barrels per day, to China, Japan, India and South Korea, securing vital flows of foreign exchange for a government many Western nations accuse of running a secret nuclear weapons program.
South Korean refineries have already given up, industry sources said. They will switch to other sources of crude supply from July 1.
China, India and Japan are scrambling to deal with the biggest headache - an EU ban on insuring shipments of Iranian crude from July 1 - and are considering sovereign guarantees.
Europe dominates the world's tanker insurance market, so Asian buyers are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to replace mandatory cover, which for a supertanker means liability protection on personal injury and pollution of $1 billion.
"No responsible financial institution is going to take on this kind of risk lightly," said Jonathan Hare, senior vice president for Oslo-based maritime insurer Skuld. "This doesn't mean that it can't happen, but it is going to require a significant commitment on the part of governments or potential underwriters."
In what could be the first sign of whether Asian crude buyers have found a way around the sanctions, refineries over the next week must start chartering tankers if they intend to receive Iranian crude in July.
South Korea, which has a term import agreement with Iran for 200,000 bpd, plans to halt all imports by the time the ban takes effect, industry sources have said.
Japan could follow suit, unless the government decides to provide sovereign insurance guarantees for oil tankers. Japan is preparing a bill that would enable the government to provide insurance cover.
Japan secured an exemption from U.S. sanctions in March after cutting Iranian crude imports by 15-22 percent in the second half of 2011, but Tokyo has hit a wall in the EU insurance ban. "We are waiting for the government to come up with a solution. Without insurance we cannot do any business," said a trading source at a Japanese buyer.
China and India are also considering sovereign guarantees for tankers. But even without these assurances, industry sources expect the two countries to carry on importing Iranian crude.
Lacking another choice, China will pay for Iran to deliver and insure the crude, while India's shipping firms will ship the crude with reduced insurance cover, industry sources said.
The U.S. financial sanctions aimed at slashing Iran's oil export revenues and funding for its controversial nuclear program - which Tehran counters is for peaceful purposes - are due to take effect at the end of June.
On July 1, the European sanctions, which include an EU oil embargo, come into force.
They have already had a dramatic impact as the sanctions cut off financial networks and made it difficult to make or receive trade payments with Iran, even affecting the SWIFT system, which handles most international cross-border payments.
India is paying for some oil in rupees and Iran has swapped oil and gold for food. On the streets of Iran, prices for food in dollar terms have doubled or tripled as the country struggled to import rice, cooking oil and other staples for its 74 million population. It buys 45 percent of its rice and most of its animal feed from abroad.
9) To placate settlers, Israel to build additional 850 apartments in West Bank
Associated Press, Thursday, June 7, 11:30 AM
Jerusalem - Israel's plans to build hundreds of new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements have put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at odds again with Washington and the Palestinians, without appeasing settlers furious over the government's plan to dismantle an illegally built settler enclave.
On Wednesday, officials announced the government would build 850 apartments in various West Bank settlements after parliament, at Netanyahu's urging, voted down a bill that would have legalized Ulpana and other settler outposts built illegally on privately held Palestinian land. The international community condemns settlement construction, and the Palestinians have refused to talk peace while Israel builds on land they claim for a future state.
Netanyahu found himself in the politically difficult position of having to carry out a Supreme Court ruling ordering the 30 apartments in Ulpana destroyed by July 1. Knowing it would not stand up to the court's scrutiny, he pressured coalition lawmakers on Wednesday to vote down a proposal by hardline legislators to legalize outposts built on privately held Palestinian land.
To blunt the blow to settlers, he vowed to build 300 more homes in the authorized settlement of Beit El, on whose outskirts Ulpana lies.
Later, Construction Minister Ariel Attias announced that an additional 551 apartments would be built elsewhere in the West Bank. "Thirty apartments will be evacuated, but 850 will be built instead," said Attias in a statement. "Under the circumstances, this is a worthy solution."
In a sharply worded statement, the U.S. accused Israel of hindering peace efforts with the newly announced settlement construction - and appeared to question both sides' declared commitments to peacemaking. [It's not obvious what AP is referring to about "both sides" - JFP.]
"We're very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. "We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity."
10) Two suits challenge copyright law under US-Colombia FTA
Victoria Rossi, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 06 June 2012 12:15
The Constitutional Court will hear two suits challenging the new copyright law under Colombia's free trade agreement with the United States, local media reported Tuesday.
The two senators to file suit, Jorge Enrique and Camilo Robeldo, said law 201 -- part of the U.S.-Colombia trade pact that went into effect May 15 -- violated privacy rights and limited freedom of access to information and should be struck down as unconstitutional.
One of the law's sections punishes the transmission of TV signals over the internet with prison time of four to eight years -- an excessive sentence, according to Sen. Enrique, and one that unjustifiably limits the public's right to access and divulge information.
The new law also provides more protection to the companies who have bought the rights to an artistic work than to the artists themselves, Enrique's suit said. It called the two extra decades afforded to companies who had purchased copyright privileges "unreasonable."
Sen. Romero's suit dovetailed Enrique's, challenging a section of the law which grants any government agent the right to access the private information of individuals who are suspected of violating copyright regulations.
In an open letter to the Colombian legislature before the trade agreement when into effect May 15, a group of international copyright scholars wrote that "unbalanced legal reform may reduce public access to information and, by stifling legitimate innovation, put Colombia and its people at a cultural and competitive disadvantage."
11) Colombia is the most dangerous country for unionists: ITUC
Jet van Dijck, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 05 June 2012 14:32
Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for trade union workers, according to a report from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
The document shows that in 2011 at least 76 union workers around the world were killed, with more than half the deaths occurring in Latin America, including 29 in Colombia and ten in Guatemala.
The General Secretary of the ITUC, Sharan Burrow, accused employers of "trying to sweep the worst abuses under the carpet".
A recent study by the United Nations Development Programme warned that Colombia is one of the world's countries with the worst rates concerning freedom of association and labor rights, with a record of more than 2,800 killings of trade unionists and members between 1984 and 2011, El Espectador reported
The National Union School (ENS), a labor rights NGO and think-tank, reported 480 acts of violence or intimidation against workers and unionists in 2011, including 29 homicides, and instances of torture, kidnapping, disappearances and forced displacement.
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