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JFP 6/13: Drone strikes drive global disapproval of Obama; Rand Paul calls for judicial review
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 13 June 2012 - 6:17pm
Just Foreign Policy News, June 13, 2012
Drone strikes drive global disapproval of Obama; Rand Paul calls for judicial review
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Final Tally: Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
Twenty-six Members of Congress urged 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.
The signers of the Congressional letter were: 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, Peter Welch, Donna Edwards, Jerrold Nadler, Keith Ellison, Walter Jones.
PDF of the letter as sent:
NPR On The Media: Secrets That Aren't Secret
"The White House announced this week that they'd killed Al Qaeda's number 2 operative, but, following standard operating procedure, would not tell reporters how they'd killed him. Why? Because they killed him by targeted drone strike, a program which is widely known about but still technically classified. The New York Times reporter Scott Shane tells Bob [Garfield] that the administration's coy attitude towards classified secrets is stifling public debate."
The Guardian: Gaza Live Blog
Five years ago this month, Israel and Egypt announced a heightening of the blockade of Gaza. "Although some aspects of the restrictions on the flow of goods and people into Gaza have been eased by Israel and Egypt since 2010, many believe the blockade still amounts to a collective punishment of the Gazans. By live blogging a day in Gaza we are attempting to show what everyday life is like there for its 1.7 million people."
Conyers: Help Alleviate the Haitian Cholera Crisis
Members of Congress urge UN Ambassador Rice to press the UN to take responsibility for the cholera crisis it caused. Signatories: Conyers, Cohen, Clarke (NY), Moran, Towns, Grijalva, Rush, Lee, Kucinich, Edwards, Stark, Rangel, Brown, Maloney, Schakowsky, Clarke (MI), Waters, Honda, Clay, Lewis (GA), McCollum, Wilson (FL), Capuano, Blumenauer, McDermott, Ellison, Johnson (GA), Gutierrez, Jackson, Deutch, Olver, Moran, Alcee Hastings, Filner, McGovern, Keating, Norton, Farr, Cummings, Woolsey, Fattah, Bass, Sires, Tierney, Hirono, Richardson, Larsen, Hinchey, Welch, Thompson (MS), Hahn, Moore, Al Green, Watt, Frank, Markey, Christensen, Faleomavaega, Delauro, Polis, Davis (IL), Lynch, Castor, Michaud, Gene Green, Wasserman-Shultz. Urge your Rep. to sign.
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. Current: 606 days, 7270 dead, 556,532 ill. And still the UN refuses to apologize or take responsibility.
1) Global approval of President Obama's policies has declined significantly, reports the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries. In predominantly Muslim nations, American anti-terrorism efforts are still widely unpopular. And in nearly all countries, there is considerable opposition to a major component of the Obama administration's anti-terrorism policy: drone strikes. In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
2) Sen. Rand Paul says a U.S. decision to kill someone with a drone strike should be subject to judicial review, CNN reports. "So having the president decide who he's going to kill concerns me. I would rather it go through a court, and there are actually secret courts, the FISA court investigates intelligence information... I see no reason why there couldn't be some sort of court proceeding, even a secret court proceeding, to allow some protection."
3) The administration is defending a federal court challenge to the official secrecy of the drone strike program, writes Ari Melber for Politico. To win its case under current law, the White House must prove that no one in the administration has "officially acknowledged" the program. That may be harder now. "The volume and consistency of media leaks relating to the CIA's drone program," says the ACLU's new brief, "strongly suggest that the government is relying on [a secrecy] doctrine in this court while government officials … disclose selected information about the program to the media." The administration has to file papers reconciling its now well-known secrets by June 20.
4) According to WikiLeaks cables, US diplomats raised concerns that the frontrunner in Mexico's presidential election, Enrique Peña Nieto, was paying for favorable TV coverage as far back as 2009, The Guardian reports. Allegations that coverage by the country's main television network was biased in favor of Peña Nieto have triggered a wave of student demonstrations in the run-up to the election on 1 July. The claims are supported by documents seen by the Guardian, which also implicate other politicians in buying news and entertainment coverage.
5) Writing at Nieman Watchdog, Dan Froomkin slams the Administration for opening a criminal investigation into leaks that are standard operating procedure for national security journalism. Leaks that expose secrets that have momentous public policy implications need to be treated differently, because they are a critical part of our nation's system of checks and balances, Froomkin writes. The six previous times the Obama administration has charged government officials who leaked to the press with Espionage Act violations - more than all previous presidents combined - have already sent a chilling message to investigative reporters and the whistleblowers they depend on.
6) Without dissent, the Supreme Court turned down seven separate appeals by Guantanamo Bay prisoners, Bloomberg Law's SCOTUSblog reports. Critics charge that the Supreme Court's historic ruling in Boumediene v. Bush giving Guantanamo prisoners a legal right to challenge their continued captivity has been effectively eviscerated by the Supreme Court's refusal to review D.C. Circuit Court decisions that guarantee that the prisoners lose every case the government contests.
7) The U.S. could easily help Mexico fight crime by sharing tax information with Mexico as it is obligated to do by treaty, writes Heather Lowe at CNN. An automatic system of information exchange, such as the U.S. has with Canada, would allow Mexican authorities to clamp down on illicit funds leaving their country. The Canadians have the same form of automatic tax information exchange with Mexico. All that is needed on the U.S. side is that the government collect a Form 1099 for all Mexican citizens with accounts in the United States.
8) Secretary of State Clinton said the US believed Russia was shipping attack helicopters to Syria that President Assad could use to escalate his government's deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule, the New York Times reports. Clinton dismissed Russian claims that the weapons were unrelated to the Syrian government's crackdown. But Pentagon sources suggested Clinton was referring to a Russian-made attack helicopter that Syria has not deployed to crack down on opposition forces. A Pentagon spokesman said whether Syria was using Russian weapons was not the issue. [Thus, Russia is using exactly the same defense of its weapons shipments to Syria as the U.S. has used to defend its weapons shipments to Bahrain: it's ok, because they're not using these weapons for the internal crackdown; according to what the Pentagon is saying, the Russian defense is as legitimate as the U.S. defense - JFP.]
9) The UN mission in Haiti is now is viewed by many as a poor use of money and an unnecessary presence, in part because of sexual abuse scandals and the UN's introduction of cholera to Haiti, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Most damaging to the UN's reputation has been the death of more than 7,000 people from cholera, and the infection of half a million others nationwide. The virus was linked to Nepalese UN troops who were not tested for the virus, though it is widespread in the area from which they originated. A Haitian public interest law firm is claiming on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims that MINUSTAH is liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for failing to adequately screen and treat soldiers arriving from countries experiencing cholera epidemics; dumping untreated wastes from a UN base directly into a tributary of Haiti's longest and most important river, the Artibonite, and failing to adequately respond to the epidemic.
Our petition urging the UN to take responsibility for the Haitian cholera crisis is here:
10) Local human rights organizations have documented the murders of 48 farmers associated with the land reform movement in Bajo Aguán since January 2012, writes Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group in the Christian Science Monitor. Several people have been tortured; a journalist who had favorably covered the movement was assassinated. These abuses are attributed primarily to private security guards on large plantations, as well as to soldiers and police. US support for the militarization of the area should end, Haugaard writes, as this only brings more violence.
1) Drone Strikes Widely Opposed
Global Opinion of Obama Slips, International Policies Faulted
Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, June 13, 2012
Global approval of President Barack Obama's policies has declined significantly since he first took office, while overall confidence in him and attitudes toward the U.S. have slipped modestly as a consequence.
Europeans and Japanese remain largely confident in Obama, albeit somewhat less so than in 2009, while Muslim publics remain largely critical. A similar pattern characterizes overall ratings for the U.S. – in the EU and Japan, views are still positive, but the U.S. remains unpopular in nations such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan.
There remains a widespread perception that the U.S. acts unilaterally and does not consider the interests of other countries. In predominantly Muslim nations, American anti-terrorism efforts are still widely unpopular. And in nearly all countries, there is considerable opposition to a major component of the Obama administration's anti-terrorism policy: drone strikes. In 17 of 20 countries, more than half disapprove of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Americans are the clear outliers on this issue – 62% approve of the drone campaign, including most Republicans (74%), independents (60%) and Democrats (58%).
2) Sen. Paul says no to domestic drones
CNN, June 12th, 2012, 11:16 AM ET
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is supporting a bill to ban the use of domestic drones to monitor citizens in the U.S. [by the government without a judicial warrant - JFP.] He spoke with CNN's Carol Costello a day after a U.S. Navy drone crashed in Salisbury, Maryland.
Costello: Do you have concerns about the use of military drones in other countries?
Paul: I am concerned about one person deciding the life or death of not only foreigners but U.S. citizens around the world. And the chance that one person could make a mistake, you know, is a possibility. So having the president decide who he's going to kill concerns me. I would rather it go through a court, and there are actually secret courts, the FISA court investigates intelligence information. And most of these decisions aren't made like this. They make the decision over weeks and months. They target people and go after them. I see no reason why there couldn't be some sort of court proceeding, even a secret court proceeding, to allow some protection. I mean even in the United States where we have the best due process probably in the world, we have probably executed people wrongfully for the death penalty. They have found out through DNA testing, many people on death row are there inaccurately. And even Republicans have pulled back their beliefs some on death penalty. So I think when we decide to kill someone, that's obviously the ultimate punishment. We need to be very, very certain that what we're doing is not in error.
3) Exposing Obama's not-so-secret war
Ari Melber, Politico, 6/12/12 9:26 PM EDT
Washington has many "secrets," but few secrets. The Obama administration will face a test on the difference this month, in a case probing a major national security program.
The administration is defending a federal court challenge to one of its most significant operations in the war against Al Qaeda: the drone program of targeted killings. President Barack Obama's lawyers insist the entire program is a "secret" - so it can't even be hauled into court in the first place.
We know the program exists, however - thanks to the president's own statements. We even know a little about how it works, based on the many leaks that drove detailed coverage of the drone killings, including that big New York Times exposé on how the "kill list" is made.
To win its case under current law, however, the White House must do more than say it didn't authorize the recent leaks. It must prove that no one in the administration has "officially acknowledged" the program.
In their court filings, Obama's lawyers made two big claims that will surprise anyone who clicks through the day's headlines.
Not only do they say no government officials have acknowledged the drones - they double down and declare that there may not even be a drone program.
In legalese, that translates to: "The CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence [of the drone program or related records]." That's what the DOJ recently told a federal court in Washington - based on the premise that a confirmation or denial would jeopardize national security.
It's gotten harder to take the nonexistence claim seriously, of course, after all the recent news reports and public debates over drones. In fact, the administration's press strategy may have boomeranged and eviscerated Obama's legal position, according to the White House's legal adversaries.
Take the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully sued the administration for the torture memos and is now litigating a Freedom of Information request about the drones. The civil libertarians now think that their opponents in government did them a favor. "The volume and consistency of media leaks relating to the CIA's drone program," says the ACLU's new brief, "strongly suggest that the government is relying on [a secrecy] doctrine in this court while government officials … disclose selected information about the program to the media."
In other words, you can't have a press release one day and a state secret the next. That would be downright Orwellian. Or Kafkaesque. Or, just silly, according to the ACLU's lead lawyer, Jameel Jaffer. "It's beyond absurd," Jaffer told POLITICO, "that the administration continues to say in court that this program is a secret, when every day senior officials are talking about the program in the newspapers."
The administration has to file papers reconciling its now well-known secrets by June 20. A loss could force Obama's lawyers to release vital information about the drone program - from its supposed legal basis to the facts used to select the enemies of the state.
4) WikiLeaks reveals US concerns over Televisa-Peña Nieto links in 2009
US cables back Guardian claims that Mexican presidential election frontrunner has been paying for favourable TV coverage Jo Tuckman, Guardian, Monday 11 June 2012 14.50 EDT
Mexico City - US diplomats raised concerns that the frontrunner in Mexico's presidential election, Enrique Peña Nieto, was paying for favourable TV coverage as far back as 2009, according to state department cables released by WikiLeaks.
Allegations that coverage by the country's main television network was biased in favour of Peña Nieto have triggered a wave of student demonstrations in the runup to the election on 1 July. The claims are supported by documents seen by the Guardian, which also implicate other politicians in buying news and entertainment coverage.
One cable, written shortly after US embassy officials were taken on a tour of Mexico State when Peña Nieto was governor, says: "It is widely accepted, for example, that the television monopoly Televisa backs the governor and provides him with an extraordinary amount of airtime and other kinds of coverage." The document, which dates from September 2009, was titled: "A look at Mexico State, Potemkin village style".
Another cable from the start of the same year emphasises the importance the then governor Peña Nieto was giving to securing convincing electoral victories for the Institutional Revolutionary party in his state in the upcoming midterm congressional elections that summer.
Peña Nieto, the cable says, "has launched significant public works projects in areas targeted for votes, and analysts and PRI party leaders alike have repeatedly expressed to [US political officers] their belief that he is paying media outlets under the table for favourable news coverage, as well as potentially financing pollsters to sway survey results".
The cables leaked from the US embassy in Mexico contain frequent mentions of the power that Televisa, and the other main commercial network, TV Azteca, exert over the country's political elite. The two networks control around 90% of free channels and are widely perceived to be political kingmakers.
In what appeared to be a form of revenge by the political elite on the networks, the newly elected legislature approved an electoral reform in 2007 that banned all paid political propaganda during electoral periods and restricted it outside of them as well.
This, however, was not fulfilling its aim of releasing politics from media pressure, according to one WikiLeaks cable dated June 2009.
"At any rate, parties and candidates are skirting the restrictions," the cable says. "Journalists and their bosses have been more or less free to engage in the time-honoured Mexican electoral tradition of selling favourable print and broadcast coverage to candidates and parties."
5) Stop Criminalizing Investigative Reporting
Dan Froomkin, Nieman Watchdog, June 12th, 2012
Criminally investigating the kinds of leaks that are the bread and butter of national security investigative reporting is a noxious overreaction by hyper-controlling government officials who don't want us to know what's being done in our name.
Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he has assigned two U.S. attorneys to lead criminal leak investigations into recent media reports about topics including how drone attacks are approved at the White House and how a computer virus attack was launched against Iran's nuclear program.
There is such a thing as a criminal leak - for instance, when an administration official intentionally outs a covert CIA operative in an attempt to discredit an administration critic.
But leaks that expose secrets that have momentous public policy implications need to be treated differently, because they are a critical part of our nation's system of checks and balances. Knowledge is essential to the public's ability to restrain executive (and legislative) power.
In this case, part of the pressure for an investigation came from Congress - from Sen. John McCain, who accused the Obama administration of leaking for political gain, and from the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, whose most righteous anger seems to be reserved not for violations of international law, torture statues or civil liberties, but for those occasions when the public, thanks to aggressive reporting by journalists, knows more than they do about something.
Outsourcing the investigation to the Department of Justice instead is a cowardly ducking of responsibility - with tremendously dangerous potential. This is especially the case because under Obama and Holder, the DOJ - presumably to build up good will with the intelligence community - has taken to charging such leaks as violations of the draconian Espionage Act, a 1917 law intended for the prosecution of people who are aiding the enemy. Furthermore, the official DOJ position now seems to be that there is no reporter's privilege at all in such matters, and therefore no need to even consider the nature of the leak, how much if any damage it actually caused, what the intentions of the leaker were, and how much it served the public interest.
The six previous times the Obama administration has charged government officials who leaked to the press with Espionage Act violations - more than all previous presidents combined - have already sent a chilling message to investigative reporters and the whistleblowers they depend on.
6) Court bypasses all new detainee cases
Lyle Denniston, SCOTUSblog (Bloomberg Law), Mon, June 11th, 2012 10:56 am
One day before the fourth anniversary of its most important ruling during the government's "war on terrorism," the Supreme Court confirmed emphatically on Monday that it is not now inclined to further second-guess the government's detention policy. Without one noted dissent, the Court turned down seven separate appeals by Guantanamo Bay prisoners, and refused to review an appeal by U.S. citizen Jose Padilla - one of the best-known prisoners captured as a terrorism suspect, who was complaining of torture during his detention in a Navy brig.
The practical effect is that the D.C. Circuit Court now functions as the court of last resort for the 169 foreign nationals remaining at the U.S.-run military prison in Cuba, and that court has a well-established practice of overturning or delaying any release order issued by a federal judge, when the government objects. One dissenting judge on that court has protested that the result is that there is very little left of the Supreme Court's historic ruling in Boumediene v. Bush, decided four years ago tomorrow and giving Guantanamo prisoners a legal right to challenge their continued captivity.
The Boumediene case was the last major terrorism case that went against the government. There, while establishing a constitutional right for Guantanamo prisoners to file habeas challenges to their detention, the Court left it to lower courts to sort out just how that judicial process would work, case by case. More than a dozen District Court judges in Washington then took on the initial review task and, for a time, found in a majority of cases that the government had not justified further detention of the individual involved. But, when the government appealed release orders, the D.C. Circuit ruled against the detainee, or else ordered the District judge to reconsider.
In a string of decisions, not one of which the Supreme Court has been willing to review, the D.C. Circuit fashioned its own legal rules for Guantanamo cases, including at least two review methods that strongly favored the government's evidence. Along the way, three judges on the D.C. Circuit - Senior Judges A. Raymond Randolph and Laurence H. Silberman, and Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown - have publicly and sharply criticized the Boumediene decision. The Supreme Court, turning its judicial cheek, has never responded to any of those criticisms, other than to leave the D.C. Circuit with virtually sole control of continuing litigation by Guantanamo prisoners and their volunteer lawyers.
Perhaps the most significant of the Circuit Court rulings that the Justices left intact on Monday was its decision in the case of Yemeni national Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, which ordered District judges to "presume" that government intelligence reports used to justify detention were reliable and accurate, unless a detainee could prove they are flawed. Latif's lawyers challenged that ruling as tipping the judicial scales much in the government's favor; indeed, the dissenting judge in that case, Circuit Judge David S. Tatel, said the effect would be that the government would win in every case.
7) Illicit funds from Mexico find safe haven in U.S.
Heather A. Lowe, CNN, Tue June 12, 2012
[Lowe is legal counsel and director of government affairs at Global Financial Integrity.]
The United States has a strong national interest in economic, political and civil stability in Mexico. Its war against transnational drug cartels has dramatically highlighted Mexico's problems, but the truth is that the nation has had deep, unsolved, structural problems in its economy and an opaque international financial system for decades.
Global Financial Integrity's report on Mexico found that $872 billion in illicit finances left the country from 1970 through 2010. Although some laundered drug money may be included in that figure, it overwhelmingly represents tax evasion by both domestic and multinational corporations doing business in Mexico, as well as corruption, kickbacks and bribery from wealthy Mexican public officials and business leaders.
Evidence in the report suggests that much of this illicit money ends up in the United States. Illicit flows, through a phenomenon known as trade mispricing, dramatically increased after the North American Free Trade Agreement was established, and have remained high. Bank deposit data from the Bank of International Settlements show that the United States is the No. 1 destination for Mexican funds. The study reveals that increases in the flow of illicit funds significantly drive Mexico's underground economy, which includes drug smuggling and human trafficking. As a result, Mexico's underground economy has ballooned to more than 30% of its GDP.
But the United States has the power to help Mexico at little cost to itself. Mexico's tax authorities need easy, automatic, access to bank deposit information on Mexican citizens with accounts in the United States, so that they may track tax evasion and other financial crimes across the border.
Under an existing treaty, the U.S. government is required to make information about specific Mexican account holders available to Mexico upon request. But the United States does not collect enough information from U.S. banks to meet most requests and must go to the banks and collect it. In practice, that system is too slow and burdensome to generate the volume of information needed to enable the Mexican government to analyze the flow of funds across the border. An automatic system of exchange would allow Mexican authorities to clamp down on illicit funds leaving their country.
The U.S. and Canada employ such a system. The U.S. Treasury already collects the requisite information on Canadian citizens' accounts in the United States and sends it to Canada automatically, and vice versa. The Canadians have the same form of automatic tax information exchange with Mexico. This means that the only exchange relationship missing between NAFTA countries is between the United States and Mexico.
The technology is already in place to execute automatic exchange, and all that is needed on the U.S. side is that the government collect a Form 1099 for all Mexican citizens with accounts in the United States. It should be very easy for Treasury to quickly and cheaply expand automatic exchange of tax information to our southern neighbor.
Mexico has asked for this information. In 2009, then-Mexican Finance Secrecy Agustin Carstens formally requested that the United States automatically exchange tax information with Mexico, in order to "help detect and prevent tax evasion, money laundering, terrorist financing, drug trafficking and organized crime." As far as we know, the Treasury has not replied.
Money is the lifeblood of any criminal organization. Tracking money has proven to be an effective way for law enforcement to catch criminals over countless generations. Al Capone himself was only caught by Eliot Ness through charges of tax evasion. Mexico needs those same tools in its arsenal to combat organized crime. Without U.S. cooperation, this becomes much more difficult.
If the United States truly wants Mexico to successfully combat the corruption, violence and pervasive influence of organized crime inside its borders, it should help Mexico address the root structural causes of its turmoil. There is no good reason to withhold this information from our neighbors. By virtue of our geographic proximity, Mexico's problems become the United States' problems. There is no excuse to ignore a highly effective, low-cost option available to us in this fight.
8) New Weapons Push Syrian Crisis Toward Civil War
Mark Landler and Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, June 13, 2012
Washington - With evidence that powerful new weapons are flowing to the Syrian government and to opposition fighters, the bloody uprising in Syria has thrust the Obama administration into an increasingly difficult position as the conflict shows signs of mutating into a full-fledged civil war.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Tuesday that the United States believed that Russia was shipping attack helicopters to Syria that President Bashar al-Assad could use to escalate his government's deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. Her comments reflected rising frustration with Russia, which has continued to supply weapons to its major Middle Eastern ally despite an international outcry over the government's brutal crackdown.
"We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria," Mrs. Clinton said at an appearance with President Shimon Peres of Israel. "They have, from time to time, said that we shouldn't worry; everything they're shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That's patently untrue."
Russia insists that it provides Damascus only with weapons that can be used in self-defense - an assertion made in a rejoinder to Mrs. Clinton by Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, while on a visit to Iran on Wednesday. "All these contracts exclusively concern anti-aircraft weapons," he said in remarks carried by the Interfax news service.
"We are not providing Syria or any other place with things which can be used in battles with peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such weaponry to this region," he said. "But for some reason the Americans consider this completely normal." Mr. Lavrov did not specify which governments he was referring to.
At a news conference, Mr. Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akhbar Salehi, also accused the United States and its allies of arming the Syrian opposition.
The fierce government assaults from the air are partly a response to improved tactics and weaponry among the opposition forces, which have recently received more powerful antitank missiles from Turkey, with the financial support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, according to members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, and other activists.
The United States, these activists said, was consulted about these weapons transfers. Officials in Washington said the United States did not take part in arms shipments to the rebels, though they recognized that Syria's neighbors would do so, and that it was important to ensure that weapons did not end up in the hands of Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
The increased ferocity of the attacks and the more lethal weapons on both sides threatened to overwhelm diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Kofi Annan, the special envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League, continued to pressure Damascus to halt the violence and to respect a cease-fire.
Administration officials declined to give details about the helicopters, saying the information was classified. But Pentagon sources suggested that Mrs. Clinton, in her remarks at a Brookings Institution event, was referring to a Russian-made attack helicopter that Syria already owns but has not yet deployed to crackdown on opposition forces.
A Pentagon spokesman, Capt. John Kirby, said the precise status of the helicopters was not as important as the violence being directed against opponents of the Syrian government. "The focus really needs to be more on what the Assad regime is doing to its own people than the cabinets and the closets to which they turn to pull stuff out." Captain Kirby said. "It's really about what they're doing with what they've got in their hand."
Speaking in Istanbul, council members also described efforts to supply the opposition with arms, specifically antitank weaponry delivered by Turkish Army vehicles to the Syrian border, where it was then transferred to smugglers who took it into Syria.
Turkey has repeatedly denied that it is giving anything other than humanitarian aid to the opposition, mostly at refugee camps near the border. It has recently made those camps harder to visit: permission was not granted to two reporters in the vicinity for five days last week. Turkey did not act alone, but with financial support from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and after consultation with the United States, said these officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the subject's diplomatic delicacy.
9) Will the United Nations' legacy in Haiti be all about scandal?
Will the United Nations' legacy in Haiti be all about scandal?
The accomplishments of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti have been overshadowed by scandals, from a cholera outbreak to sexual abuse cases. How will this affect future missions?
Kathie Klarreich, Christian Science Monitor, June 13, 2012
Gonaives, Haiti -
[T]he UN mission now is viewed by many as a poor use of money and an unnecessary presence – a result in part of numerous scandals that have rocked the mission in recent years. From accusations of sexual abuse of two boys, ages 14 and 18, to the deadly cholera epidemic, peacekeepers [sic] are being blamed for impeding the path to a sustainable state.
[T]he UN spokesperson in Haiti, Silvie Van den Wildenberg, says she can't mention the mission without someone asking her about cholera or the cases of abuse.
In Uruguay, four marines are currently on trial for sexually abusing an 18-year-old Haitian boy last year while they were posted in Port Salud. The teenager and his family were forced to leave their seaside home after the incident went viral on the Internet. It had been captured on a mobile phone by the Uruguayan peacekeepers themselves.
Earlier this year, three Pakistani peacekeepers were found guilty of raping a mentally challenged 14-year-old boy in the western town of Gonaives. The boy is now a ward of the state. A man accused of helping the Pakistanis cover up their involvement is also in prison. Two other cases of sexual abuse by MINUSTAH peacekeepers are pending.
Finally, unrelated to cases of sexual abuse but perhaps most damaging to MINUSTAH's reputation has been the death of more than 7,000 people from cholera, and the infection of half a million others nationwide. The virus was linked to Nepalese peacekeepers who were not tested for the virus, though it is widespread in the area from which they originated. Mismanagement of their human waste is thought to have contaminated the water and soil in an area known as Haiti's breadbasket, just a few hours from the capital.
Throughout the country, graffiti slurring the forces is as prominent as the troops' trademark blue helmets. A parliamentary recently referred to the mission as a "fish bone stuck in our throats." Ms. Van den Wildenberg, the UN spokesman, says the damage these cases have done to MINUSTAH is irreparable.
"What happened is ying and yang," says Van den Wildenberg. "It is the opposite of why we are here, to defend the highest values and ideals and this is killing our credibility worldwide.... We will always wear the scar." She says MINUSTAH and the UN are very sorry for what happened but their apologies are "not being heard anymore."
[In fact, the UN has never actually apologized for bringing cholera to Haiti. Our petition calling on the UN to do so - and to compensate victims and take the lead in ending the cholera crisis - is here:
Many victims are looking for more than an apology, though. A Haitian public interest law firm – supported by a nonprofit organization and law firms in the US – is claiming on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims that MINUSTAH is liable for hundreds of millions of dollars for failing to adequately screen and treat peacekeeping soldiers arriving from countries experiencing cholera epidemics; dumping untreated wastes from a UN base directly into a tributary of Haiti's longest and most important river, the Artibonite, and failing to adequately respond to the epidemic.
No one contacted at the UN would comment on the cholera lawsuit, saying only that its legal counsel was reviewing the claim and that an independent panel concluded it was not possible to determine the cause of the outbreak. This contradicts claims by five scientific studies, more than a dozen scientists, and a statement by former President Bill Clinton indicting the Nepalese as the source of the virus.
Legal firms representing the two victims of sexual abuse are also asking for compensation. Mr. Dieujuste, whose firm represents the Gonaives youth, is outraged by what he says is the stonewalling – local UN officials here have told him that the situation is with the legal department in New York. He's heard nothing for the past two months, Dieujuste says. "It's unacceptable." He is asking for $5 million for his client.
10) Peasants fighting for land in Honduras attract international attention
A commission of Latin American, European, and US experts heard testimony on the land clashes that activists say have left 48 people dead in Bajo Aguan since January, writes a guest blogger.
Lisa Haugaard, Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2012
[Haugaard, Executive Director at the Latin America Working Group.]
"We just want the government to enforce its own laws," we heard over and over again, as we listened to women and men from campesino communities who were testifying about murder, torture, and violent land evictions in Bajo Aguán, Honduras.
I was in the farm town of Tocoa, Honduras, in the open-air parish meeting hall, for an International Public Hearing on the Human Rights Situation of the Peasant Communities of Bajo Aguán, on May 28, 2012. The Latin America Working Group [LAWG] was part of a commission of Latin American, European, and US experts hearing the testimony and issuing recommendations to encourage justice and protection for peasant communities. Surrounding the town are miles and miles of massive African palm plantations, beautiful and a bit sinister. The roads leading from Tocoa are filled with army and police roadblocks.
Local human rights organizations have documented the murders of 48 campesinos, or peasants, associated with the campesino movements in Bajo Aguán since January 2012. One campesino leader was disappeared, a number of campesinos have been wounded, and several people have been tortured. There are numerous incidents of threats against campesino activists. In addition, a journalist who had favorably covered the peasant movement, along with his partner, were assassinated.
These abuses are attributed primarily to private security guards on large plantations, as well as to soldiers and police. Campesinos are not the only ones harmed. According to the Attorney General's office, 12 security guards have also been killed during this time period. There are several other deaths that are still not explained.
Soldiers took 16-year-old Santos Bernabe Cruz from his house. "They put a plastic bag over my head, doused me in gasoline, and threatened to burn me," he said. "They took me to the cemetery, said that there was an open grave to put me in." According to Santos's father, while this crime has been denounced to the Attorney General's office, the family is not aware of progress in attaining justice. ¨They take our information, but then they just shelve the cases."
"We were just trying to call for land, as usual," said Neptaly Equivel, who approached the table where testimony was given on crutches. "But the battalion and the police did not try to dialogue. They threw tear gas, then they shot me in the leg, and beat me with their rifles. When I woke up later in the hospital, I was told that soldiers and police were trying to see me, saying they were my cousins. But I don't have cousins in the police."
The violence stems from several long-standing, unresolved land conflicts. Much of the disputed land was agrarian reform land granted to cooperatives, and this land was not supposed to be sold. But once the Law to Modernize the Agrarian Sector was passed in 1992, corrupt Agrarian Reform Institute officials and large landowners pressured cooperative leaders to sell their land, often without the consent of the membership. A variety of peasant movements, such as MUCA, MARCA, and MCA, for some years have been "recovering" this land, taking it over, farming it, and negotiating with the Agrarian Reform Institute and the large landowners to purchase it back.
What is the solution? The Honduran government must seek a just, sustainable solution to the campesinos' demands for land, livelihoods, and a life with dignity. All human rights violations and murders in Bajo Aguán must be effectively and promptly investigated. The private security guards that act as the law in Bajo Aguán must be strictly regulated. And the militarization of the area, and any US support for it, should end, as this only brings more violence, not true security.
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