JFP 7/24: Roll-call Mulvaney; Dubai: Navy killing "murder"; CPJ/HRW Ecuador lies
Just Foreign Policy News, July 24, 2012
Roll-call Mulvaney; Dubai: Navy killing "murder"; CPJ Ecuador lies
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Roll call on the Mulvaney-Frank amendment
The Mulvaney-Frank amendment, freezing Pentagon spending at FY2012 levels (a cut of $1.1 billion), passed the House 247-167. Voting yes were 158 Democrats and 89 Republicans. Voting no were 146 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Thanks to everyone who contacted their Rep!
*Action: Ask the Times of Israel to correct the record
An article in the Times of Israel claimed President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he "will not allow the Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear weapon capabilities." That's not true: Obama promised he would not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear *weapon*. The distinction is crucial. Ask the Times of Israel to correct the record.
The article is here:
And the ToI contact page is here:
Video: Members of Congress: Bring them home from Afghanistan
On July 18th, 15 members of Congress spoke for 90 minutes on the FY 2013 Defense Appropriations Act in pursuit of one goal: End the war in Afghanistan. Bring our troops home.
647 days of cholera in Haiti
642 days, 7480 dead, 587,269 ill since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Still there is no apology or compensation.
1) Dubai Police is treating the shooting of an Indian fisherman by a U.S. Navy ship off its coast as 'murder', and has criticized the decision to open fire, ANI reports. "We are treating this incident as a murder case," Dubai's police chief said; he described the shooting as "the action of an irresponsible soldier" who misjudged the situation. The US has claimed the fishermen were warned; the fishermen say there was no warning.
2) Pentagon historian David Crist is concerned that the U.S. and Iran will blunder into "a war of miscalculation," writes Scott Shane in the New York Times. Crist has just published "The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran." While there has been much discussion of a conflict starting with an Israeli air campaign, Crist says it is at least as likely hostilities could begin with a maritime clash in the Persian Gulf between the U.S. and Iran that could begin with a misunderstanding.
3) Some people who are supposed to be concerned with human rights and freedom of expression have responded to Julian Assange's request for asylum to Ecuador, not by expressing concern for Assange's rights, but by attacking Ecuador, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian.
José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch accused Ecuador of having "the poorest record of free speech in the region" and "persecuting local journalists when the government is upset by their opinions or their research"; the Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that "Correa's administration has led Ecuador into an era of widespread repression by systematically filing defamation lawsuits and smearing critics."
HRW and CPJ are taking advantage of the fact that few people outside of Ecuador have any idea what goes on there, Weisbrot writes. To call it a "crackdown" when journalists were found guilty of libel for telling big lies is more than an exaggeration, he notes.
4) Sen. John McCain vigorously defended top State Department official Huma Abedin, who is Muslim-American, against allegations by Rep. Michele Bachmann that she is part of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government, the Huffington Post reports. "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit," McCain said. "And they need to stop now." Ed Rollins, Bachmann's former campaign chairman, compared her allegations to the conspiracy theories of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
5) A New York Times report over the byline of Nicholas Kulish and Eric Schmitt on U.S. and Israeli allegations that Iran was behind the killing of five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria treated those allegations as fact even though no evidence was provided, writes Glenn Greenwald in Salon. In contrast, the Washington Post's Karin Brulliard, reporting on the same allegations, carefully noted that "Israel offered no concrete evidence tying the bombing to Iran, and Bulgarian officials cautioned that it was too early to attribute responsibility."
6) The Obama administration has abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to forcibly bring down the government of Assad, the New York Times reports. US officials say they will not provide arms to the rebel forces, but they will support Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in doing so, and they will provide the rebels with more communications training and equipment to help improve their combat effectiveness.
7) A military judge's has ruled that Bradley Manning's lawyers can't use government reports in his defense to contend that there was little "actual harm" from the enormous leak of secret government documents, McClatchy reports. Some experts said the evidence of little or no harm would be relevant at sentencing. "There's a difference between running a red light and killing a pedestrian versus running a red light and nothing else happening," Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "If his disclosures produced only vague discomfort, then he deserves a firm slap on the wrist."
Jesselyn Radack, the director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, said the defense still had a strong argument. She said that under the law, it must be shown that the defendant had the intent to harm the US or a foreign nation. "While it would have also been nice to show that nothing happened, I think we'll be able to show that he had no intent to harm the United States."
8) Immediately after the terror bombing of Israelis in Bulgaria, both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and a "senior U.S. official" expressed certainty about Iran's responsibility, writes Gareth Porter for Lobelog. Since then, the White House has backed away from that position, after Bulgarian investigators warned against that assumption before the investigation is complete. Some who wished to blame Iran immediately referred to the widespread belief that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the terrorist bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994. But in reality, the bombing of the Jewish community center in Argentina isn't evidence of Iran's guilt, but of the need for caution in evaluating such claims, because the Argentine case was fraudulent in its origins and produced a trail of false evidence in service of a frame-up. There is every reason to believe that the entire Argentine investigation was essentially a cover-up that protected the real perpetrators, Porter writes.
[Porter's 2008 article on the Argentina case in The Nation is here: http://www.thenation.com/article/bushs-iranargentina-terror-frame -JFP.]
9) Airport officials say Egypt is allowing Palestinians free entry into Egypt, ending part of a five-year blockade on Gaza, AP reports. The decision means Palestinians can freely leave Gaza. It also applies to Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
10) Syria threatened to use its chemical and biological weapons in case of a foreign attack, AP reports. The government stressed that it would not use its unconventional arms against its own citizens. A senior U.S. official said the Syrians have moved chemical weapons material from the country's north, where the fighting was fiercest, apparently to both secure it, and to consolidate it, which U.S. officials considered a responsible step.
11) Ecuador is in talks with Iran to buy $400 million of fuel, Bloomberg reports. Ecuador's central bank president said negotiations are still underway but insisted his government is free to trade with whomever it wishes. "Ecuador is a sovereign nation and can have relations with any country in the world," Pedro Delgado said.
1) Dubai police treating US Navy's shooting down of Indian fisherman as 'murder'
ANI, Fri 20 Jul, 2012
Dubai, July 20: Dubai Police is treating the shooting of an Indian fisherman by a U.S. Navy ship off its coast as 'murder', and has criticised the decision to open fire.
"Lives have been taken," the Wall Street Journal quoted Dahi al Kahlfan, Dubai's Police Chief, as saying, adding: "We are treating this incident as a murder case."
One Indian fisherman was killed and three other were injured off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Monday, when the refueling ship USNS Rappahannock fired at the vessel, mistaking its intentions as aggressive.
While the U.S. offered condolences to the relatives of the victim, it did not apologize for the killing, and defended the decision to open fire.
The U.S. Government, in a statement issued earlier this week, said the vessel "disregarded non-lethal warnings and rapidly approached the U.S. ship."
The fishermen, who were on the boat, have challenged this claim, saying they were given no warning at all.
Al Kahlfan described the firing as "the action of an irresponsible soldier" who misjudged the situation.
2) For Iran and the U.S., an Author Sees the Danger of a 'War of Miscalculation'
Scott Shane, New York Times, July 19, 2012, 2:12 PM
Washington - After two decades studying the dismal history of the relationship between the United States and Iran, David Crist regards the current escalating tension with particular alarm.
A Pentagon historian and Marine reservist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dr. Crist, 50, has just published "The Twilight War: The Secret History of America's Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran," a sweeping, 638-page book that draws on interviews with hundreds of American and Iranian officials, a long sojourn in military archives and his own close encounter with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf in 2003.
All of it, he said in an interview, has made him conscious of the danger that the United States and Iran will blunder into "a war of miscalculation." There has been much discussion of a conflict starting with an Israeli air campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities, or with a terrorist attack on an American target that is traced back to Iran. But it is at least as likely, he said, that hostilities could begin with a maritime clash in the Persian Gulf, now patrolled by both countries.
"An Iranian boat comes close to an American ship in a mock attack, the ship takes a warning shot, the Iranians misinterpret that and fire back, killing some American sailors," Dr. Crist said. "Or we tweak their nose by cutting through an area that Iran claims as territorial waters and that we don't recognize. Any one of these incidents could escalate into a shooting war."
On Monday, Dr. Crist noted, a United States Navy refueling ship in the gulf opened fire on an approaching 30-foot fishing boat after it ignored repeated warnings to stop, killing a crew member. The fishermen turned out to be Indian, according to local news reports, but the standoff with Iran was clearly on the minds of the Americans.
Dr. Crist witnessed a close call in April 2003 while serving aboard a catamaran-turned-American warship in Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that passes through Iraqi and Iranian territory before spilling into the gulf. Four Iranian speedboats rushed over to the group of American warships and Revolutionary Guards pulled a tarp off a rocket launcher and aimed it at the American vessels, declaring over the radio, "We will bomb and kill you!" American commanders, wary of a conflict with Iran even as American forces toppled Saddam Hussein, ordered the Navy vessels to retreat, Dr. Crist said.
His book includes some scoops and adds new details to many episodes, from the Pentagon's secret plan to invade Iran after the overthrow of the Shah in 33 years ago to Iran's plot last year to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a Washington restaurant.
"It's somewhere between peace and war - a cold war but with no diplomatic relations," Dr. Crist said. Iranians view the relationship through the C.I.A.-engineered overthrow of their country's prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953; Americans see it through the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran by Islamic radicals in 1979 and the holding of diplomats as hostages. "We've built on this base of mistrust," he said. "Both sides are captive to history."
He foresees no prospect of a breakthrough in relations any time soon. But he said the two sides "have to start talking to each other." Without a hot line to defuse crises, he said, the three decades of twilight war he has studied could end with the real thing.
3) Human Rights Defenders Should Support Ecuador's Right to Asylum, Rather than Attacking Ecuador
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian.co.uk, Saturday 21 July 2012
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, remains trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 19 June, as he awaits the government of Ecuador's decision on whether to grant him political asylum. It is interesting, if rather aggravating, to see how people who are supposed to be concerned with human rights and freedom of expression have reacted to this story.
Although Assange has not been charged with any crime, the Swedish government has requested his extradition to Sweden for questioning. For more than 19 months now, the Swedish government has refused to explain why he could not be questioned in the UK. Former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is "unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate", because he can be easily questioned in the UK.
Of course, it's not hard to figure out why Assange's enemies want him in Sweden: he would be thrown in jail and would have limited access to the media, and judicial proceedings would be conducted in secret. But most importantly, it would be much easier to get him extradited to the United States. Here in the US, there is an ongoing criminal investigation of WikiLeaks; and according to leaked emails from the private intelligence agency Stratfor, a criminal indictment for Assange has already been prepared. Powerful political figures such as Dianne Feinstein, Democratic chair of the US Senate intelligence committee, have called for his prosecution under the Espionage Act, which carries the death penalty.
For these reasons and many more, it is quite likely that the government of Ecuador will decide that Assange has a well-founded fear of political persecution, and grant him political asylum. Yet, surprisingly and shamefully, organizations whose profession it is to defend human rights and press freedoms have not only remained silent on the question of Assange's right to asylum, or Sweden's political persecution of a journalist, but have, instead, attacked Ecuador. For example, José Miguel Vivanco, director the Americas Watch division of Human Rights Watch (HRW), has stated:
"I think this is ironic that you have a journalist, or an activist, seeking political asylum from a government that has – after Cuba – the poorest record of free speech in the region, and the practice of persecuting local journalists when the government is upset by their opinions or their research."
Much of the media ran with this, perhaps not knowing a great deal about the media in Ecuador, and not realizing that any of the other independent democracies in South America would also grant asylum to Assange. When Assange was first arrested in 2010, then President Lula da Silva of Brazil denounced the arrest as "an attack on freedom of expression". And he criticized other governments for not defending Assange. If it was clear to Lula and other independent governments that Assange was politically persecuted then, it is even more obvious now.
The problem is that Sweden does not have an independent foreign policy from the United States, which is why the Swedish government won't accept Assange's offer to come to Sweden if they would promise not to extradite him to the US. Sweden collaborated with the US in turning over two Egyptians to the CIA's "rendition" program, by which they were taken to Egypt and tortured. The UN found Sweden to have violated the global ban on torture for its role in this crime.
One would expect better from a human rights organization that is supposed to be independent of any government's political agenda. But Vivanco's attack on Ecuador is inexcusable. As anyone who is familiar with the Ecuadoran media knows, it is uncensored and more oppositional with respect to the government than the US media is.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has mounted a similar political campaign against Ecuador, falsely charging: "Correa's administration has led Ecuador into an era of widespread repression by systematically filing defamation lawsuits and smearing critics."
What HRW and CPJ are doing is taking advantage of the fact that few people outside of Ecuador have any idea what goes on there. They then seize upon certain events to convey a completely false impression of the state of press freedom there.
To offer an analogy, it so happens that France and Germany have laws that make it a crime, punishable by fines and imprisonment, to lie about the Holocaust, and have recently prosecuted people under these laws. Personally, I agree with a number of scholars who see these laws as an infringement on freedom of expression and believe they should be repealed. But I would not try to pretend that the people who have been prosecuted under these laws – like the extreme rightwing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen of France – are themselves champions of free speech. Nor would I try to create the impression that such laws, or their enforcement, are part of a generalized "crackdown" on political opposition; or that France and Germany are countries where the freedom of expression is under attack from the government.
If I were stupid enough to do so, nobody would believe me – because France and Germany are big, rich countries that are much better known to the world than Ecuador.
Let's look at one of the major cases that groups like Americas Watch and CPJ have complained most about. Last February, the nation's highest court upheld a criminal libel conviction against the daily El Universo, with three directors and an opinion editor sentenced to three years in prison, and $40m in damages. President Correa announced a pardon for the convictions 13 days later – so no one was punished.
As noted above, I am against criminal libel laws and would agree with criticism advocating the repeal of such laws. But to say that this case represents a "crackdown" on freedom of expression is more than an exaggeration. These people were convicted of libel because they told very big lies in print, falsely accusing Correa of crimes against humanity. Under Ecuadorian law, he can – like any other citizen – sue them for libel, and the court can and did find them guilty. Just as Le Pen in France was found guilty of having "denied a crime against humanity and was complicit in justifying war crimes."
Groups like Americas Watch and CPJ are seriously misrepresenting what is going on in Ecuador. Rather than being a heroic battle for freedom of expression against a government that is trying to "silence critics", it is a struggle between two political actors. One political actor is the major media, whose unelected owners and their allies use their control of information to advance the interests of the wealth and power that used to rule the country; on the other side is a democratic government that is seeking to carry out its reform program, for which it was elected.
In this context, it is difficult to take seriously these groups' complaints that President Correa's public criticism of the media is a human rights violation.
While I would not defend all of the government's actions in its battle against a hostile, politicized media, I think human rights organizations that grossly exaggerate and misrepresent what is going on in Ecuador undermine their own credibility – even if they can get away with it in the mainstream US media. It is equally disturbing that they cannot find the courage – as more independent human rights defenders, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, have done – to defend a journalist who is currently being persecuted by the government of the United States and its allies.
4) John McCain Slams Michele Bachmann's 'Unfounded' Attacks On Huma Abedin, Muslim-Americans
Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, 07/19/2012 12:33 pm
Washington -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vigorously defended top State Department official Huma Abedin, who is Muslim-American, against allegations by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and other conservatives that she is part of a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. government.
"These allegations about Huma and the report from which they are drawn are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant," McCain said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday morning.
The accusations stem from a report by the Center for Security Policy. The organization is run by Frank Gaffney, who has been crusading against the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia law for years.
Bachmann, along with Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), recently sent letters to five federal agencies demanding investigations into infiltration by the Muslim Brotherhood, citing Gaffney's work.
McCain never mentioned Bachmann or the other lawmakers by name, but pointedly criticized their letters and the report, noting he had worked with the Center for Security Policy in the past.
"The letter alleges that three members of Huma's family are 'connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations,'" he said. "Never mind that one of those individuals, Huma's father, passed away two decades ago. The letter and the report offer not one instance of an action, a decision or a public position that Huma has taken while at the State Department that would lend credence to the charge that she is promoting anti-American activities within our government."
"These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis and no merit," McCain added. "And they need to stop now."
Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is married to former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, who is Jewish and strongly pro-Israel.
McCain said that he traveled overseas with Clinton and Abedin when Clinton was a senator.
"I have every confidence in Huma's loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well," he said. "All Americans owe Huma a debt of gratitude for her many years of superior public service. I hope these ugly and unfortunate attacks on her can be immediately brought to an end and put behind us before any further damage is done to a woman, an American, of genuine patriotism and love of country."
But McCain said his larger reason for condemning Bachmann's allegations is to stand up for the character of America.
"Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person," he said. "This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be.
"When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it."
Ed Rollins, Bachmann's former campaign chairman, posted a blistering op-ed on Fox News' website on Wednesday afternoon, comparing her allegations to the conspiracy theories of former Sen. Joseph McCarthy:
"I have been a practitioner of tough politics for many decades. There is little that amazes me and even less that shocks me. I have to say that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's outrageous and false charges against a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin reaches that threshold.
Her unsubstantiated charge against Abedin, a widely respected top aide to Secretary Hillary Clinton, accusing her of some sort of far-fetched connection to the Muslim brotherhood, is extreme and dishonest.
Having worked for Congressman Bachman's campaign for president, I am fully aware that she sometimes has difficulty with her facts, but this is downright vicious and reaches the late Senator Joe McCarthy level."
"Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working, loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges. As a devoted Christian, you need to ask forgiveness for this grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior."
5) Journalism v. propaganda
The US and Israel blame Iran for the suicide attack in Bulgaria, but offer no evidence for the accusation
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Friday, Jul 20, 2012 09:27 AM EDT
Almost immediately after a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on Wednesday, Israeli officials, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, blamed Iran, an accusation uncritically repeated by most Western media outlets even as Bulgarian investigators warned it would be a "mistake" to assign blame before the attack could be investigated. Now, Israel, along with the U.S., is blaming Hezbollah and, therefore, Iran for the attack. Today's New York Times article by Nicholas Kulish and Eric Schmitt – headlined "Hezbollah Is Blamed for Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria" – uncritically treats those accusations as confirmed fact despite no evidence being offered for it:
'American officials on Thursday identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel's assertions and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran.
One senior American official said the current American intelligence assessment was that the bomber, who struck Wednesday, killing five Israelis, had been "acting under broad guidance" to hit Israeli targets when opportunities presented themselves, and that the guidance had been given to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, by Iran, its primary sponsor. Two other American officials confirmed that Hezbollah was behind the bombing, but declined to provide additional details.'
By "identified," "confirmed" and "corroborated" Iranian and Hezbollah responsibility, what The New York Times means is this: American officials asserted that this was so, even as they "declined to provide additional details" and even though "the investigation was still under way." Indeed, this accusation is, as the NYT sees it, "confirmed" and "corroborated" even though "no details yet about the bomber like his name or nationality" are known; even though their anonymous American source "declined to describe what specific intelligence - intercepted communications, analysis of the bomber's body parts or other details - led analysts to conclude that the bomber belonged to Hezbollah"; even though "the Bulgarians are still trying to figure out how the bomber entered the country, how he traveled around and where he stayed"; and even though the Bulgarian Foreign Minister said: "We're not pointing the finger in any direction until we know what happened and complete our investigation." All The Paper of Record knows is that U.S. and Israeli officials have blamed Iran and Hezbollah, and - as usual - that's good enough for them. Identified, Confirmed and Corroborated.
By stark contrast, The Washington Post's Karin Brulliard, reporting from Jerusalem, commits an act of actual journalism with her story on this event. She, too, notes the official accusations of Hezbollah and Iranian responsibility, but, as Think Progress' Ali Gharib points out, she heavily qualifies that in the third paragraph of her story: "Israel offered no concrete evidence tying the bombing to Iran, and Bulgarian officials cautioned that it was too early to attribute responsibility." That's called basic journalism: instead of just repeating official claims, treating them as "confirmed," and shaping the entire article around those assertions, she prominently notes that there is no real evidence to lead anyone to believe these accusations. She then adds more skepticism: "U.S. intelligence officials said it was 'plausible' that Hezbollah carried out the attack but that analysts at the CIA and other agencies were still evaluating the intelligence surrounding the bombing and had not reached a conclusion."
I have no idea who is behind the attacks. If it turns out to be Hezbollah and/or Iran, that will not shock me: after all, if it is perceived that you have sent hit squads onto a country's soil to murder their nuclear scientists, it's likely that the targeted nation will want to respond with violence of their own. But there is no evidence to confirm the American and Israeli accusations. A reader of the New York Times article would not know that, while a reader of Brulliard's article in the Post would. That's the difference between journalism and propaganadistic stenography. It's really not that difficult or complex, when repeating government claims, to note clearly and prominently that no evidence has been furnished to support those claims.
6) NYT: Stymied at U.N., U.S. Refines Plan to Remove Assad
Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper, New York Times, July 21, 2012
Washington - The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.
Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is headed to Israel in the next several days to meet with Israeli defense counterparts, following up on a visit last week by President Obama's national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, in part to discuss the Syrian crisis.
The White House is now holding daily high-level meetings to discuss a broad range of contingency plans - including safeguarding Syria's vast chemical weapons arsenal and sending explicit warnings to both warring sides to avert mass atrocities - in a sign of the escalating seriousness of the Syrian crisis following a week of intensified fighting in Damascus, the capital, and the killing of Mr. Assad's key security aides in a bombing attack.
The administration has had regular talks with the Israelis about how Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, administration officials said. The administration is not advocating such an attack, the officials said, because of the risk that it would give Mr. Assad an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.
Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It's also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.
By enhancing the command-and-control of the rebel formations, largely by improving their ability to communicate with one another and their superiors and to coordinate combat operations, American officials say they are seeking to build on and fuel the momentum of the rebels' recent battlefield successes.
"You'll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened," a senior Obama administration official said Friday. "Now we're ready to accelerate that." The official said that the hope was that support for the Syrian opposition from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey would tip the balance in the conflict.
Senior administration officials say the changes are in response to a series of setbacks at the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has staunchly refused to engineer the removal of Mr. Assad, as well as the turmoil that has left the Syrian government reeling, at least for the moment.
A small number of C.I.A. officers have been operating secretly in southern Turkey for several weeks, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive weapons to fight the government.
The C.I.A. effort is aimed in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. By helping to vet rebel groups, American intelligence operatives in Turkey also hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties to fighters who may be the country's leaders one day.
7) Experts: Ruling could hurt Bradley Manning's defense in WikiLeaks case
Annika McGinnis, McClatchy Newspapers, Friday, July 20, 2012
Washington - Legal experts say WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning's lawyers might have lost a key element of their defense because of a military judge's ruling this week that would prevent them from using evidence to contend that there was little "actual harm" from the enormous leak of secret government documents.
Manning, a U.S. soldier, is charged with "aiding the enemy" through leaking of hundreds of thousands of classified documents – the largest in U.S. history – to the secret-exposing website. Recent evidence from dozens of government reports showed the leaks caused little "actual harm" to national security, Manning's defense says, arguing that it should be able to use that evidence.
"Two years after the alleged leaks, the conclusion is still merely that the information 'could' cause damage – not that it 'did' cause damage," the defense wrote in a filing to the court, calling the speculation of possible damage without proof "far-fetched and fanciful." Defense attorneys said they'd been given an opportunity to review some of the damage assessments.
On Thursday, however, a military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, ruled in favor of the government's argument, saying that evidence of harm caused after the leaks were released isn't relevant to determining Manning's guilt or innocence and that it might confuse jurors by shifting the trial's focus, according to the Associated Press.
"The government would like this to be a case solely about whether or not Manning violated the rules, not what the consequences of what such violations would be," said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy in the Federation of American Scientists, a nonpartisan research center for national security issues.
But because evidence of harm still can be used during sentencing, it could help lessen Manning's sentence if he's convicted, said Michael Navarre, special counsel at Steptoe & Johnson LLP. Manning could face life imprisonment.
Aftergood said he thought the question of harm would become much more relevant at sentencing. "There's a difference between running a red light and killing a pedestrian versus running a red light and nothing else happening," he said. "If he disclosed information that caused identifiable harm, then he needs to answer for that. If his disclosures produced only vague discomfort, then he deserves a firm slap on the wrist."
Jesselyn Radack, the director of national security and human rights at the Government Accountability Project, an advocacy group in Washington for whistleblowers, said she thought the defense still had a strong argument, even without the inclusion of actual harm.
"I don't know if it's that huge of a blow," Radack said. She said that under the law, it must be shown that the defendant had the intent to harm the United States or a foreign nation. "While it would have also been nice to show that nothing happened, I think we'll be able to show that he had no intent to harm the United States – that's been the big hurdle."
The debate over using evidence of harm ties to the larger issue of alleged overclassification and secrecy in government, experts said. The defense had hoped to use the reported lack of significant actual harm from the leaks to argue that many of the documents shouldn't have been classified in the first place, Hillman said.
8) Why The Buenos Aires Bombing Is A False Indicator On Burgas
Gareth Porter, lobelog, July 22nd, 2012
Immediately after the terror bombing of a busload of Israeli youth in Burgas, Bulgaria, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a "senior U.S. official" expressed certainty about Iran's responsibility. Since then, the White House has backed away from that position, after Bulgarian investigators warned against that assumption before the investigation is complete.
Similarly, it is generally assumed that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the terrorist bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994, because US and Israeli officials, journalists and commentators have repeated that conclusion so often. It was the first reference made by those who were most eager to blame the Burgas bombing on Iran, such as Matthew Levitt and Jeffrey Goldberg.
But that terrorist bombing 18 years ago was not what it has come to appear by the constant drip of unsubstantiated journalistic and political references to it. The identification of that bombing as an Iranian operation should be regarded as a cautionary tale about the consequences of politics determining the results of a terrorist investigation.
The case made by the Argentine prosecutors that Iran and Hezbollah committed that 1994 terrorist bombing has long been cited as evidence that Iran is the world's premier terrorist state.
But the Argentine case was fraudulent in its origins and produced a trail of false evidence in service of a frame-up. There is every reason to believe that the entire Argentine investigation was essentially a cover-up that protected the real perpetrators.
That is what I learned from my ten-month investigation in 2006-07 of the case, the results of which were published in early 2008.
[In The Nation, and that link is here:
"Bush's Iran/Argentina Terror Frame-Up"
http://www.thenation.com/article/bushs-iranargentina-terror-frame - JFP]
William Brencick, who was then chief of the political section at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires and the primary Embassy contact for the investigation of the AMIA bombing, told me in an interview in June 2007 that the US conviction about Iranian culpability was based on what he called a "wall of assumptions" - a wall that obstructed an objective analysis of the case. The first assumption was that it was a suicide bombing, and that such an operation pointed to Hezbollah, and therefore Iran.
But the evidence produced to support that assumption was highly suspect. Of 200 initial eyewitnesses to the bombing, only one claimed to have seen the white Renault van that was supposed to have been the suicide car. And the testimony of that lone witness was contradicted by her sister, who said that she had seen only a black and yellow taxicab.
That is only the first of many indications that the official version of how the bombing went down was a tissue of lies. For example:
- The US explosives expert sent soon after the bombing to analyze the crime scene found evidence suggesting that at least some of the explosives had been placed inside the community center, not in a car outside.
- The engine block of the alleged suicide car which Police said led them to the arrest of the Shi'a used car salesman and chop shop owner who sold the car, was supposedly found in the rubble with its identification number clearly visible - something any serious bombing team, including Hezbollah, would have erased, unless it was intentionally left to lead to the desired result.
- Representatives of the Menem government twice offered large bribes to the used car dealer in custody to get him to finger others, including three police officials linked to a political rival of Menem. The judge whose bribe was videotaped and shown on Argentine television was eventually impeached.
Apart from an Argentine investigation that led down a false trail, there were serious problems with the motives attributed to Iran and Hezbollah for killing large numbers of Jewish citizens of Argentina. The official explanation was that Iran was taking revenge on the Menem government for having reneged, under pressure from the Clinton administration, on its agreements with Iran on nuclear cooperation.
But in fact, Argentina had only halted two of the three agreements reached in 1987 and 1988, as was revealed, ironically, in documents cited by the Argentine prosecutor's report on the arrest warrant for Iranian officials dated October 2006 (unfortunately never made available in electronic form). The documents showed that the Menem government was continuing to send 20 percent enriched uranium to Iran under the third agreement, and there were negotiations continuing both before and after the bombing to resume full nuclear cooperation.
As for Hezbollah, it was generally assumed that it wanted to avenge the Israeli killing of its "ally" Mustafa Dirani in May 1994. But when Hezbollah really wanted to take revenge against Israel, as it did after the Israeli massacre in Qana in 1996, it did not target civilians in a distant country with no relationship to the conflict with Israel; it openly attacked Israel with Katyusha rockets.
It is not clear yet who committed the latest terrorist bombing against Jewish civilians in Burgas, Bulgaria. But the sorry history of that Buenos Aires investigation should not be used to draw a premature conclusion about this matter or any other terrorist action.
9) Officials: Egypt allowing Palestinians to enter without permits, visas, ending [part of] Gaza blockade
Sarah El Deeb, The Associated Press, Sun, Jul 22, 2012
Cairo - Airport officials say Egypt is allowing Palestinians free entry into the country, ending part of a five-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The decision means Palestinians can freely leave Gaza. It also applies to Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a branch of new Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood. The blockade was imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza by force in 2007. It banned most Palestinians from leaving.
The officials said the decision was applied early Monday for the first time, when seven Palestinians waiting at Cairo International Airport were allowed into Egypt without the usual security clearances and visas. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
No formal announcement was made.
10) Syria says will use chemical weapons if attacked [by foreign forces]
Ben Hubbard and Paul Schemm, Associated Press, July 23, 2012
Beirut - The Syrian regime threatened Monday to use its chemical and biological weapons in case of a foreign attack, in its first ever acknowledgement that it possesses weapons of mass destruction.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed, however, that Damascus would not use its unconventional arms against its own citizens. The announcement comes as Syria faces international isolation, a tenacious rebellion that has left at least 19,000 people dead and threats by Israel to attack to prevent such weapons from falling into rebel hands.
"No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the developments inside Syria," Makdissi said in news conference broadcast on Syrian state TV. "All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression."
The Syrian government later tried to back off from the announcement, sending journalists an amendment to the prepared statement read out by Makdissi adding the phrase "if any," in attempts to return to their previous position of neither confirming or denying the existence of unconventional weapons.
The regime subsequently blasted foreign media outlets for taking its remarks out of context and focusing on the announcement of chemical weapons instead of its attempt to "respond to a media campaign aimed at preparing international opinion for foreign intervention into Syria under the false pretext that it was going to use weapons of mass destruction inside the country."
Syria is believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard gas, Scud missiles capable of delivering these lethal chemicals and a variety of advanced conventional arms, including anti-tank rockets and late-model portable anti-aircraft missiles.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said Friday the Syrians have moved chemical weapons material from the country's north, where the fighting was fiercest, apparently to both secure it, and to consolidate it, which U.S. officials considered a responsible step.
11) Ecuador to Buy Iranian Fuel in Defiance of Western Sanctions
Nathan Gill, Bloomberg, Jul 18, 2012 2:44 PM ET
Ecuador is in talks with Iran to buy $400 million of fuel amid growing efforts by the U.S. and European Union to crack down on the Islamic republic's crude sales.
Ecuador's central bank President Pedro Delgado said negotiations are still underway though insisted his government is free to trade with whomever it wishes.
"Ecuador is a sovereign nation and can have relations with any country in the world," Delgado told reporters in Quito today.
Ecuador, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, is trying to guarantee gas supplies as the country's biggest refinery is scheduled to go offline in October for about a year of maintenance work.
The U.S., which accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, sanctioned the National Iranian Tanker Co. and four alleged front companies for Iran's oil trade on July 12 in its latest bid to curtail the country's petroleum sales until it abandons illicit aspects of its disputed nuclear program.
The U.S. action doesn't impose penalties on non-U.S. companies that continue to do business with NITC.
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