JFP 8/28: Rachel Corrie verdict; Ecuador threatened on trade; Colombia talks to FARC

Just Foreign Policy News, August 28, 2012
Rachel Corrie verdict; Ecuador threatened on trade; Colombia talks to FARC

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Romney-Ryan "Ploughshares to Swords" Budget Would Cost America At Least 530,000 Jobs
If we could only make the Ryan plan stick to the principle of at least one dollar in military cuts for every dollar in domestic cuts, that would reduce the job loss of the Ryan plan by at least 12.9% - saving 530,000 jobs. That's on the scale of the jobs at stake in last year's fight over continuing the stimulus.
http://truth-out.org/news/item/11099-romney-ryan-ploughshares-to-swords-budget-would-cost-america-at-least-530000-jobs

Let's Help WikiLeaks Liberate the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiating Text
Our "crowdsourced" reward for WikiLeaks to publish the text is now over $20,000.
http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/11019-lets-help-wikileaks-liberate-the-trans-pacific-partnership-negotiating-text

Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) An Israeli judge has ruled that the killing of Rachel Corrie was a "regrettable accident" for which the state of Israel was not responsible in a civil lawsuit brought by the Corrie family, the Guardian reports. The Corries vowed to appeal the decision to Israeli's high court. The judge said Rachel had "put herself in a dangerous situation" and her death was not caused by the negligence of the Israeli state or army. The ruling found no fault in the internal Israeli military investigation which cleared the driver of the bulldozer which crushed Corrie to death, an investigation which the U.S. has criticized as not being "thorough, credible and transparent." The family was "deeply saddened and deeply troubled" by the ruling, Cindy Corrie said. "I believe this was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel."

Human Rights Watch said the verdict "sets a dangerous precedent in its claim that there was no liability for Corrie's death because the Israeli forces involved were conducting a 'combat operation' … The idea that there can be no fault for killing civilians in a combat operation flatly contradicts Israel's international legal obligations to spare civilians from harm during armed conflict, and to credibly investigate and punish violations by its forces."

2) Amnesty International condemned the Israeli court's verdict, saying it continues the pattern of impunity for Israeli military violations against civilians and human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "Rachel Corrie was a peaceful American protestor who was killed while attempting to protect a Palestinian home from the crushing force of an Israeli military bulldozer," said Sanjeev Bery, Middle East and North Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International USA. "Rachel Corrie was clearly identifiable as a civilian, as she was wearing a fluorescent orange vest when she was killed," said Bery. "She and other non-violent activists had been peacefully demonstrating against the demolitions for hours when the Israeli military bulldozer ran over her." Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank is still routine, Amnesty notes. Over 600 structures were demolished in 2011, resulting in the forcible eviction of almost 1,100 people. In the first seven months of 2012, the Israeli military demolished 327 structures in the West Bank, displacing 575 people.

3) The Corrie case laid bare the state of the collective Israeli military mind, which cast the definition of enemies so widely that children walking down the street were legitimate targets if they crossed a red line that was invisible to everyone but the soldiers looking at it on their maps, writes Chris McGreal in the Guardian. The military gave itself a blanket protection by declaring southern Gaza a war zone, even though it was heavily populated by ordinary Palestinians, and set rules of engagement so broad that just about anyone was a target. With that went virtual impunity for Israeli troops no matter who they killed or in what circumstances. [McGreal was the Guardian correspondent in Israel when Rachel was killed -JFP.]

4) The US military announced on Monday that no criminal charges would be brought against the US marines in Afghanistan who videotaped themselves urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, notes Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian. Nor, the military announced, would any criminal charges be filed against the US troops who "tried to burn about 500 copies of the Qur'an ... despite repeated warnings from Afghan soldiers that they were making a colossal mistake." Parallel to that, an Israeli judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against the Israeli government brought by the family of Rachel Corrie. The commonality in all three of these episodes is self-evident, Greenwald writes: the perversion of the justice system and rule of law as nothing more than a weapon to legitimize even the most destructive state actions, while severely punishing those who oppose them. Contrast this tepid, reluctant wrist-slapping for the brutal crimes of occupying soldiers with what a UN investigation found was the US government's "cruel and inhuman treatment" of Bradley Manning before he was convicted of anything.

5) Sen. Rand Paul has pledged to use his speaking slot at the RNC to call for cuts in Pentagon spending if and until the department can pass an audit, notes William Hartung at the Huffington Post. Paul said "one of the messages that I will give to them is that Republicans need to acknowledge that not every dollar is well spent or sacred in the military and we have to look for ways to make every department accountable." Paul Ryan's most recent budget road map calls for increasing Pentagon spending by $400 million above what the Pentagon is currently asking for over the next decade. Romney's call for setting the Pentagon budget at 4% of GDP would increase Pentagon spending by $2 trillion over the next 10 years. When confronted with how he would pay for this huge increase without raising taxes, Romney mumbled something about eliminating waste in the Pentagon -- a nonsensical statement given that he has already committed to spending 4 percent of GDP on the Pentagon. Any waste Romney identifies would simply be plowed back into the Pentagon budget to pay for other programs.

Israel/Palestine
6) The UN says Gaza will no longer be "liveable" by 2020 unless urgent action is taken to improve water supply, power, health, and schooling, Reuters reports. "Action needs to be taken right now on fundamental aspects of life: water sanitation, electricity, education, health and other aspects," U.N. humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard said.

7) The Israeli education minister instructed all junior high and high schools in Israel to conduct a lesson on the attempted lynching of a Palestinian teenager by a mob of Jewish teenagers, the New York Times reports. A court held two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old in connection with the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi on the same day. The youths live in Bat Ayin, a religious Jewish settlement. The driver and his five passengers were wounded, two seriously.

"Unfortunately, more and more youth think that hate and racial violence are permissible," said Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of Israel's Parliament, a leader of the right-wing Likud Party. The vast majority of the school discussions will take place in something of a vacuum, since Israel has separate school systems for Arabs and Jews, the Times notes.

Ecuador
8) Cynthia Arnson, Latin America program director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says that Ecuador's decision to grant political asylum to Julian Assange "virtually guarantees" that Ecuador's trade preferences under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act will not be renewed when they expire in July, Bloomberg reports. A State Department official said the renewal of the trade deal is a Congressional decision.

Ecuador's trade preferences with the U.S. support about 400,000 jobs in Ecuador, according to the Ecuadorean-American Chamber of Commerce. The workers who harvest the flowers, shrimp and fresh produce exported under the program would feel the most impact, with 40,000 jobs immediately at risk, Ecuador's ambassador to the U.S. said in May. President Correa has labeled the threats to end trade preferences as "blackmail." "They can do whatever they want, Ecuador doesn't sell its sovereignty," Correa said Aug. 22. "They can keep their tariff preferences."

Colombia
9) President Santos said Monday his government had held "exploratory conversations" with the FARC about ending a nearly five-decade-old conflict, the New York Times reports. Santos said talks might also be conducted with a second rebel group, the National Liberation Army. Ariel Avila, an analyst who studies the FARC, said that there were reasons to be optimistic about talks this time around. He said that during the Pastrana talks in the late 1990s, both the FARC and the Colombian military were trying to strengthen their positions rather than finding a way out of the conflict. Now, he said, there is a real desire on both sides to reach an agreement.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) Rachel Corrie ruling 'deeply troubling', says her family
American activist's family vows to appeal against Israeli court's ruling that her death was a 'regrettable accident'
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Tuesday 28 August 2012 06.31 EDT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/28/rachel-corrie-ruling-deeply-troubling

Haifa - The death of pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie was a "regrettable accident" for which the state of Israel was not responsible, a judge has ruled, dismissing a civil lawsuit brought by the family.

The young American had "put herself in a dangerous situation" and her death was not caused by the negligence of the Israeli state or army, said Judge Oded Gershon at Haifa district court.

The 62-page ruling found no fault in the internal Israeli military investigation which cleared the driver of the bulldozer which crushed Corrie to death in March 2003. The judge said the driver could not have seen the activist from the cab of the bulldozer.

Corrie could have saved herself by moving out of the zone of danger "as any reasonable person would have done", he said. The area was a combat zone, and the US government had warned its citizens not to go there.

International activists were intent on obstructing the actions of the Israeli military and acting as human shields "to protect terrorists".

Corrie was killed on 16 March 2003, crushed under an Israeli military bulldozer while trying to obstruct the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah, on the Gaza-Egypt border.

The lawsuit, filed by Corrie's parents, Cindy and Craig, of Olympia, Washington state, accused the Israeli military of either unlawfully or intentionally killing Rachel or of gross negligence. The family had claimed a symbolic $1 (63p) in damages and legal expenses.

The judge said no damages were liable, but the family's court costs would be waived.

The family was "deeply saddened and deeply troubled" by the ruling, Cindy Corrie said at a press conference after the ruling. "I believe this was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel."

The state had, she said, employed a "well-heeled system" to protect its soldiers and provide them with immunity. "As a family, we've had to push for answers, accountability and justice."

Rachel's sister, Sarah Corrie Simpson, said: "I believe without doubt that my sister was seen as the driver approached her." She hoped that the driver would one day "have the courage" to tell the truth.

The US government believed the military investigation was flawed, she added. Last week, the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, told the Corrie family that Washington remained dissatisfied with the inquiry. Hussein Abu Hussein, the family's lawyer, said: "This verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness. Rachel Corrie was killed while non-violently protesting home demolitions and injustice in Gaza, and today, this court has given its stamp of approval to flawed and illegal practices that failed to protect civilian life.

"We knew from the beginning that we had an uphill battle to get truthful answers and justice, but we are convinced that this verdict distorts the strong evidence presented in court, and contradicts fundamental principles of international law with regard to protection of human rights defenders. In denying justice in Rachel Corrie's killing, this verdict speaks to the systemic failure to hold the Israeli military accountable for continuing violations of basic human rights."

The family would appeal against the ruling to Israel's supreme court, he added.
[...]
According to Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch, the verdict "sets a dangerous precedent in its claim that there was no liability for Corrie's death because the Israeli forces involved were conducting a 'combat operation' … The idea that there can be no fault for killing civilians in a combat operation flatly contradicts Israel's international legal obligations to spare civilians from harm during armed conflict, and to credibly investigate and punish violations by its forces."

The judge's statement that the military inquiry into Corrie's death had been without fault was "hard to reconcile with the facts", he said. "Military investigators repeatedly failed to take statements from witnesses, to follow up with the witness's lawyer, and to re-interview witnesses to clarify discrepancies."
[...]

2) Rachel Corrie Verdict Highlights Impunity for Israeli Military
Amnesty International Calls Verdict 'Denial of Justice'
Amnesty International, August 28, 2012
http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/rachel-corrie-verdict-highlights-impunity-for-israeli-military

Washington, D.C. -- Amnesty International condemns an Israeli court's verdict that the government of Israel bears no responsibility in the death of Rachel Corrie, saying the verdict continues the pattern of impunity for Israeli military violations against civilians and human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The verdict shields Israeli military personnel from accountability and ignores deep flaws in the Israeli military's internal investigation of Corrie's death.

"Rachel Corrie was a peaceful American protestor who was killed while attempting to protect a Palestinian home from the crushing force of an Israeli military bulldozer," said Sanjeev Bery, Middle East and North Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.

"More than nine years after Corrie's death, the Israeli authorities still have not delivered on promises to conduct a 'thorough, credible and transparent' investigation. Instead, an Israeli court has upheld the flawed military investigation and issued a verdict that once again shields the Israeli military from any accountability," Bery said.
[...]
"Rachel Corrie was clearly identifiable as a civilian, as she was wearing a fluorescent orange vest when she was killed," said Bery. "She and other non-violent activists had been peacefully demonstrating against the demolitions for hours when the Israeli military bulldozer ran over her."

By upholding the flawed Israeli military investigation, completed within one month of Rachel Corrie's death in 2003, the verdict seems to have ignored substantial evidence presented to the court, including by eyewitnesses. The full military investigation has never been made public, but US government officials have stated that they do not believe the investigation was 'thorough, credible and transparent.'
[...]
Amnesty International has repeatedly condemned Israel's policy of demolishing homes and other structures in the OPT, but demolitions are still routine in the occupied West Bank. Over 600 structures were demolished in 2011, resulting in the forcible eviction of almost 1,100 people. In the first seven months of 2012, the Israeli military demolished 327 structures in the West Bank, displacing 575 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

3) Rachel Corrie verdict exposes Israeli military mindset
Corrie's parents have not received justice, but their quest reveals the lie of the IDF's claim to be the world's 'most moral army'
Chris McGreal, Guardian, Tuesday 28 August 2012
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/28/rachel-corrie-verdict-exposes-israeli-military-mindset

Reporters covering Israel are routinely confronted with the question: why not call Hamas a terrorist organisation? It's a fair point. How else to describe blowing up families on buses but terrorism?

But the difficulty lies in what then to call the Israeli army when it, too, at particular times and places, has used indiscriminate killing and terror as a means of breaking Palestinian civilians. One of those places was Rafah, in the southern tip of the Gaza strip, where Rachel Corrie was crushed by a military bulldozer nine years ago as she tried to stop the Israeli army going about its routine destruction of Palestinian homes.

An Israeli judge on Tuesday perpetuated the fiction that Corrie's death was a terrible accident and upheld the results of the military's own investigation, widely regarded as such a whitewash that even the US ambassador to Israel described it as neither thorough nor credible. Corrie's parents may have failed in their attempt to see some justice for their daughter, but in their struggle they forced a court case that established that her death was not arbitrary but one of a pattern of killings as the Israeli army pursued a daily routine of attacks intended to terrorise the Palestinian population of southern Gaza into submission.

The case laid bare the state of the collective Israeli military mind, which cast the definition of enemies so widely that children walking down the street were legitimate targets if they crossed a red line that was invisible to everyone but the soldiers looking at it on their maps. The military gave itself a blanket protection by declaring southern Gaza a war zone, even though it was heavily populated by ordinary Palestinians, and set rules of engagement so broad that just about anyone was a target.

With that went virtual impunity for Israeli troops no matter who they killed or in what circumstances – an impunity reinforced by Tuesday's verdict in Haifa.

The Israeli military commander in southern Gaza at the time was Colonel Pinhas "Pinky" Zuaretz. A few weeks after Corrie's death, I (as the Guardian's correspondent in Israel) spoke to him about how it was that so many children were shot by Israeli soldiers at times when there was no combat. His explanation was chilling.

At that point, three years into the second intifada, more than 400 children had been killed by the Israeli army. Nearly half were in Rafah and neighbouring Khan Yunis. One in four were under the age of 12.

I focussed on the deaths of six children in a 10-week period, all in circumstances far from combat. The dead included a 12-year-old girl, Haneen Abu Sitta, killed in Rafah as she walked home from school near a security fence around one of the fortified Jewish settlements in Gaza at the time. The army made up an explanation by falsely claiming Haneen was killed during a gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

Zuaretz conceded to me that there was no battle and that the girl was shot by a soldier who had no business opening fire. It was the same with the killings of some of the other children. The colonel was fleetingly remorseful.

"Every name of a child here, it makes me feel bad because it's the fault of my soldiers. I need to learn and see the mistakes of my troops," he said. But Zuaretz was not going to do anything about it; and by the end of the interview, he was casting the killings as an unfortunate part of the struggle for Israel's very survival.

"I remember the Holocaust. We have a choice, to fight the terrorists or to face being consumed by the flames again," he said.

In court, Zuaretz said the whole of southern Gaza was a combat zone and anyone who entered parts of it had made themselves a target. But those parts included houses where Palestinians built walls within walls in their homes to protect themselves from Israeli bullets.

In that context, covering up the truth about the killings of innocents, including Corrie, became an important part of the survival strategy because of the damage the truth could do to the military's standing, not only in the rest of the world but also among Israelis.

The death of Khalil al-Mughrabi two years before Corrie died was telling. The 11-year-old boy was playing football when he was shot dead in Rafah by an Israeli soldier. The respected Israeli human rights organisations, B'Tselem, wrote to the army demanding an investigation. Several months later, the judge advocate general's office wrote back saying that Khalil was killed by soldiers who had acted with "restraint and control" to disperse a riot in the area.

But the judge advocate general's office made the mistake of attaching a copy of its own confidential investigation, which came to a very different conclusion: that the riot had been much earlier in the day and the soldiers who shot the child should not have opened fire. In the report, the chief military prosecutor, Colonel Einat Ron, then spelled out alternative false scenarios that should be offered to B'Tselem. The official account was a lie and the army knew it.

The message to ordinary soldiers was clear: you have a free hand because the military will protect you to protect itself. It is that immunity from accountability that was the road to Corrie's death.

She wasn't the only foreign victim at about that time. In the following months, Israeli soldiers shot dead James Miller, a British television documentary journalist, and Tom Hurndall, a British photographer and pro-Palestinian activist. In November 2002, an Israeli sniper had killed a British United Nations worker, Iain Hook, in Jenin in the West Bank.

British inquests returned verdicts of unlawful killings in all three deaths, but Israel rejected calls for the soldiers who killed Miller and Hook to be held to account. The Israeli military initially whitewashed Hurndall's killing but after an outcry led by his parents, and British government pressure, the sniper who shot him was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter.

That sentence apparently did nothing to erode a military mindset that sees only enemies.

Three years after Corrie's death, an Israeli army officer who emptied the magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl, Iman al-Hams, and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was cleared by a military court.

Iman was shot and wounded after crossing the invisible red line around an Israeli military base in Rafah, but she was never any closer than 100 yards. The officer then left the base in order to "confirm the kill" by pumping the wounded girl full of bullets. An Israeli military investigation concluded he had acted properly.

Tuesday's court verdict in Haifa will have done nothing to end that climate of impunity. Nor anything that would have us believe that Israel's repeated proclamation that it has the "most moral army in the world" is any more true than its explanation of so many Palestinian deaths.

4) How the US and Israeli justice systems whitewash state crimes
How the US and Israeli justice systems whitewash state crimes
Courts are supposed to check the abuse of executive power, not cravenly serve it. But in the US and Israel, that is now the case
Glenn Greenwald, Guardian, Tuesday 28 August 2012
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/28/us-israel-justice-whitewash-state-crimes

The US military announced on Monday that no criminal charges would be brought against the US marines in Afghanistan who videotaped themselves urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters. Nor, the military announced, would any criminal charges be filed against the US troops who "tried to burn about 500 copies of the Qur'an as part of a badly bungled security sweep at an Afghan prison in February, despite repeated warnings from Afghan soldiers that they were making a colossal mistake".

In doing so, the US military, as usual, brushed aside demands of Afghan officials for legal accountability for the destructive acts of foreign soldiers in their country. The US instead imposed "disciplinary measures" in both cases, ones that "could include letters of reprimand, a reduction in rank, forfeit of some pay, physical restriction to a military base, extra duties or some combination of those measures". Both incidents triggered intense protests and rioting that left dozens dead, back in February this year.

Parallel to that, an Israeli judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against the Israeli government brought by the family of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American student and pro-Palestinian activist who was killed by a military bulldozer in 2003 as she protested the demolition of a house in Gaza whose family she had come to befriend. Upon learning of the suit's dismissal, Corrie's mother, Cindy, said: "I believe this was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel."

Despite Corrie's wearing a bright orange vest, Judge Oded Gershon, in a 62-page decision, ruled that the bulldozer driver did not see her and her death was thus an accident. He went on to heap blame on Corrie for her own killing, arguing that, contrary to what "any reasonable person would have done", she "chose to put herself in danger" by trying to impede "a military activity meant to prevent terrorist activity".

The commonality in all three of these episodes is self-evident: the perversion of the justice system and rule of law as nothing more than a weapon to legitimize even the most destructive state actions, while severely punishing those who oppose them. The US and its loyal thinktank scholars have long demanded that other states maintain an "independent judiciary" as one of the key ingredients for living under the rule of law. But these latest episodes demonstrate, yet again, that the judiciary in the US, along with the one in its prime Middle East client state, is anything but "independent": its primary function is to shield government actors from accountability.

The US military has continuously imposed pitifully light "punishments" on its soldiers even for the most heinous atrocities. The wanton slaughter of two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq and the severe and even lethal torture of Afghan detainees generated, at worst, shockingly short jail time for the killers and, usually, little more than letters of reprimand.

Contrast this tepid, reluctant wrist-slapping for the brutal crimes of occupying soldiers with what a UN investigation found was the US government's "cruel and inhuman treatment" of Bradley Manning before he was convicted of anything. Manning has been imprisoned for more than two years now without having been found guilty of any crimes – already longer than any of the perpetrators of these fatal abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. He faces life in prison at the age of 23 for the alleged "crime" of disclosing to the world overwhelming evidence of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world's most powerful factions: disclosures that helped thwart the Obama administration's efforts to keep US troops in Iraq, and which, as even WikiLeaks' harshest critics acknowledge, played some substantial role in helping to spark the Arab spring.

Notably, the first disclosure for which Manning was allegedly responsible – the videotape of an Apache helicopter gunning down unarmed Reuters journalists and then the rescuers who came to help the wounded, including two young children – resulted in zero accountability: the US military exonerated everyone involved. Instead, it is Manning, the person accused of exposing these crimes, who is punished as the real criminal.
[...]

5) What if Republicans Had a Debate on Military Spending?
William D. Hartung, Huffington Post, 08/28/2012 12:41 pm
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-hartung/what-if-republicans-had-a_b_1836088.html

[Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.]

David Carr of the New York Times has rightly described the major party conventions as extended infomercials with little controversy to draw viewers away from reality TV or, this week, from dangerous weather. But there may be one exception. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has pledged to use his speaking slot to call for cuts in Pentagon spending if and until the department can pass an audit. As Paul puts it, "one of the messages that I will give to them [convention delegates] is that Republicans need to acknowledge that not every dollar is well spent or sacred in the military and we have to look for ways to make every department accountable."

Rand Paul's message is consistent with the position that his father Ron Paul took during his presidential campaign. In fact, the elder Paul stood together with liberal Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank in endorsing up to $1 trillion in Pentagon cuts over the next decade, a figure comparable to what would be called for under the allegedly disastrous implementation of automatic cuts under the process known as sequestration. In a significant example of counter-programming, Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain of Arizona have been touring the country on a misleading scare campaign that has been suggesting that cuts at the level called for under sequestration would devastate the economy and hollow out our military.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (D-SC) joined Barney Frank in promoting a successful amendment to cut Pentagon spending, a refreshing switch from the hysterical calls for high Pentagon outlays by members such as House Armed Services Committee chair Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, who never met a weapons contractor he didn't like.

This all brings us to the Republican ticket itself, where Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) have historically been far apart in their proposals for how much money to throw at the Pentagon. After initially endorsing the Obama administration's approach, Ryan's most recent budget road map calls for increasing Pentagon spending by $400 million above what the Pentagon is currently asking for, spread out over the next decade. But Ryan's proposed increase is pocket change compared to Romney's longstanding call for setting the Pentagon budget at 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product, an approach which would increase Pentagon spending by an astonishing $2 trillion over the next 10 years. When confronted with the question of how he would pay for this huge increase without raising taxes, Romney mumbled something about eliminating waste in the Pentagon -- a nonsensical statement given that he has already committed to spending 4 percent of GDP on the Pentagon, come hell or high water. Under this plan, any waste Romney identifies would simply be plowed back into the Pentagon budget to pay for other programs.

Given this wide range of views -- from a real cut, to a moderate increase, to an irresponsible and massive infusion of new funds -- one might ask which position on Pentagon spending represents the true Republican party. Given that he is the nominee, one would assume that Romney's plan would carry the day. But it is so out of line with reality that it's hard to believe he could carry it out in full if elected.

What if the Republican Party had a real debate on Pentagon spending that addressed the underlying issue of what our military is for? Should we be poised to fight major wars of occupation and/or counterinsurgency like those in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do we need 700-plus foreign military bases? Why are we investing in new nuclear bomb facilities, bombers and submarines at a time when maintaining the U.S. arsenal at current levels serves no useful purpose? It's probably too late for that to happen this year, on the verge of a presidential election, but it would be both refreshing and responsible if it were to happen in the years to come.

Israel/Palestine
6) Gaza not "liveable" by 2020 barring urgent action: U.N
Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, Mon, Aug 27, 2012
http://news.yahoo.com/gaza-not-liveable-2020-barring-urgent-action-u-153403821--business.html

Gaza - Gaza will no longer be "liveable" by 2020 unless urgent action is taken to improve water supply, power, health, and schooling, the United Nations' most comprehensive report on the Palestinian enclave said on Monday. "Action needs to be taken now if Gaza is to be a liveable place in 2020 and it is already difficult now," U.N. humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard told journalists when the report was released on Monday.

Five years into an Israeli blockade supported by Egypt, and living under one-party rule, Gaza's population of 1.6 million is set to rise by 500,000 over the next eight years, say the authors of the U.N.'s most wide-ranging report on the territory.

Gaza has one the youngest populations in the world, with 51 percent of people under the age of 18. "Action needs to be taken right now on fundamental aspects of life: water sanitation, electricity, education, health and other aspects," Gaylard said.

Since 2007, Gaza has been under the control of the Islamist Hamas organization, an armed political movement which rejects permanent peace with Israel. They fought a three-week war in January 2009, and Israel is resisting international pressure to lift its blockade, which it says prevents arms reaching Hamas.

Gaza has no airport and no sea port. The border is tense, with frequent clashes over rocket or mortar fire from Gaza and air strikes by Israel. Gaza rockets hit Israeli land on Sunday, damaging a factory in the town of Sderot, east of the enclave.

Israel partly eased restrictions in mid-2010, and Gaza's crippled economy began to revive from rock bottom. Real GDP is estimated to have risen by 28 percent in the first half of 2011 as unemployment fell to 28 percent in 2011 from 37 percent.

But the report, involving expertise from more U.N. agencies and making projections further into the future than before, said growth over the next eight years would be slow, since Gaza's current isolation renders its economy essentially non-viable.

The people in the narrow coastal strip live mainly on U.N. aid, foreign funding and a tunnel economy which brings in food, construction materials, electronics and cars from Egypt.

But the smuggling trade is no solution. Robert Turner, director of operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said Gaza by 2020 will need 440 more schools, 800 more hospital beds and over a 1,000 additional doctors.

Gaylard called on international donors to increase their aid to a population which is 80 percent aid dependent. "Despite their best efforts the Palestinians in Gaza still need help," he said. "They are under blockade. They are under occupation and they need our help both politically and practically on the ground."
[...]

7) After Attacks, Israeli Schools Confront Hate
Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, New York Times, August 27, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/world/middleeast/israeli-schools-to-discuss-racism-after-palestinians-beating.html

Jerusalem - Tamer Jbarah, a 17-year-old Palestinian student who speaks accentless Hebrew after years in a bilingual school that is about half Jewish, said he was not at all surprised when a mob of Jewish teenagers beat an Arab teenager unconscious this month while hundreds watched and did nothing to help. "People are taught to hate," he said, "so they hate."

Tamer attends an unusual school, one that seeks to bridge the Arab-Jewish divide. But on the first day of classes Monday, when his teacher opened a discussion about the attack, the smoldering anger and distrust came through, even there. "From the age of 5, they say, 'Death to Arabs,' " he said.

When the teacher countered, recalling a film in which Palestinian children chanted, "Death to Israel, death to Jews," Tamer appeared defeated. "There is no hope when you see things like that," he said.

The classroom conversation, as some two million Israeli children started school on Monday, was part of national hand-wringing over the Aug. 16 beating in Zion Square, which was described as an attempted lynching that left 17-year-old Jamal Julani near death. The education minister instructed all junior high and high schools to conduct a lesson on the episode, which revealed festering wounds regarding race, violence and extremism.

Israel has been struggling with myriad internal conflicts involving identity and pluralism. As the ultra-Orthodox population has grown, battles have erupted over the role of women in the public sphere and whether Yeshiva students should remain exempt from military service. A surge of illegal immigration by African workers led to a fierce backlash this spring, raising questions of tolerance. And a spate of mosque burnings and vandalism has hit Palestinian villages in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Monday's effort to draw a lesson, perhaps a healing moment, came as the nation was shocked again when a court held two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old in connection with the firebombing of a Palestinian taxi on the same day. The youths live in Bat Ayin, a religious Jewish settlement, and the taxi was hit on a nearby road. The driver and his five passengers were wounded, two seriously. The youths' lawyer on Monday denied their involvement; the father of one called the case "a modern-day blood libel." Eight teenagers, ages 13 to 19, have been arrested in the Zion Square attack, and several are expected to be formally charged on Tuesday with criminal conspiracy and grievous bodily harm by two or more people.
[...]
The Zion Square episode began in Hahatulot Square, where a crowd was singing racist, anti-Arab songs when, according to the police, a girl announced that she had recently been sexually assaulted by an Arab, sending the boys off on a rampage.

Only one suspect, identified as O. because of his age, has admitted beating Jamal; he is believed to have delivered the critical blow that caused the youth's heart to stop. Shortly after his arrest, he said to reporters outside court, "For my part he can die; he's an Arab." O.'s defense lawyer, Itzhak Bam, described him as the only child of a quiet ultra-Orthodox couple, who he said found it hard to cope with their child's behavioral problems and took him to a psychiatrist in the days before the assault.

A Jewish medical student administered CPR to Jamal, who was released from the hospital a week after the attack.
[...]
Right and left alike have been shaken by the attack. Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of Israel's Parliament, called it "a microcosm of a national problem that could endanger Israeli democracy," and said the government itself is responsible. "This evil comes from insufficient education," Mr. Rivlin, a leader of the right-leaning Likud Party, said after visiting Jamal in the hospital last week. "Unfortunately, more and more youth think that hate and racial violence are permissible."

In ordering schools to confront the episode, the education minister warned that some pupils might speak in support of the perpetrators. Educators were told to let the youngsters express themselves, but that "the unequivocal message must be a condemnation of racism and violence."
[...]
The vast majority of these discussions will take place in something of a vacuum, since Israel has separate school systems for Arabs and Jews (and, indeed, distinct ones for secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews). The rare exception is Tamer's school, Hand in Hand, which runs three campuses enrolling a total of 950 students. After some brief words about the schedule Monday and a required volunteer program, the 12th-grade teacher turned quickly to Zion Square.

The discussion started out hopefully enough, with Yael Keinan, 17, announcing that her Jewish youth group would return to the scene of the crime the next afternoon to try to initiate conversations about racism and violence.

But that was quickly overcome by her classmates' personal experiences.

Rasha Masalha recalled a Jewish 4-year-old telling her it was important to learn Hebrew and English - "Hebrew because it's the language of the Bible and English because the Americans saved us from the Arabs."

Kevin Kahkedjian said that when he and a Jewish friend traveled together through Ben-Gurion International Airport a couple of years ago, "I had to strip to my underwear and he just went through."

Tamer told of hanging out with a group of Tel Aviv teenagers who were shocked to discover he was Arab because, he said, "I didn't look like a terrorist or a rapist."
[...]

Ecuador
8) Assange Asylum Wins Correa Anti-U.S. Cachet as Trade to Suffer
Nathan Gill and Eric Martin, Bloomberg, August 28, 2012
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-08-28/assange-asylum-wins-correa-anti-u-dot-s-dot-cachet-as-trade-to-suffer

Ecuador President Rafael Correa is emerging from the shadow of Venezuelan mentor Hugo Chavez as his decision to grant asylum to WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange plunges relations with the U.S. to new lows.

While such a tactic may boost his chances of re-election in February, the political gain may spell economic loss for Ecuador, as harboring Assange sparks reprisals from the South American nation's top trade partner, said Cynthia Arnson, Latin America program director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Ecuador's economy, about the size of Nebraska's, benefitted from $1.7 billion in duty-free exports to the U.S. last year under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act. Protecting Assange, who published classified U.S. military cables over the internet, is the latest in a series of conflicts with the U.S., including ties with Iran, which top U.S. lawmakers say justify re-imposing tariffs when the trade preferences expire in July.

"This latest move completely undermines the relationship with the U.S. and virtually guarantees that Ecuador will be removed from the Andean trade preference benefits," Arnson said in a phone interview from Washington.

A State Department official in Washington, who declined to be named, citing agency policy, said the U.S. relationship with the upper levels of Ecuador's government is very difficult. The renewal of the trade deal is a Congressional decision, he said.
[...]
Ecuador's trade preferences with the U.S., set up in 1991 to promote democracy and fight cocaine trafficking, support about 400,000 jobs in the nation of 14.5 million people, according to the Ecuadorean-American Chamber of Commerce in Quito. The workers who harvest the flowers, shrimp and fresh produce exported under the program would feel the most impact, with 40,000 jobs immediately at risk, Nathalie Cely Ecuador's ambassador to the U.S., said in a May interview.
[...]
Ecuador's government said July 18 that it is in talks to buy $400 million of fuel from Iran, which faces U.S. sanctions aimed at convincing the Islamic republic to curb its nuclear program.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican and chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has condemned Ecuador's ties with Iran and its decision to grant Assange asylum. "This recent action by Correa is just another reason why the United States needs to reexamine our relationship with Ecuador, deny Ecuador its trade preferences with the U.S., and hold Rafael Correa accountable to the injustices he has perpetrated," she said on Aug. 17.

Correa has labeled the threats to end trade preferences as "blackmail."

"They can do whatever they want, Ecuador doesn't sell its sovereignty," Correa said Aug. 22. "They can keep their tariff preferences."

Colombia
9) Colombia Explores Talks With FARC
Jenny Carolina González and William Neuman, New York Times, August 28, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/world/americas/colombia-in-exploratory-talks-with-farc.html

Bogotá, Colombia - President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said on Monday that his government had held "exploratory conversations" with the country's largest rebel group, aimed at ending a nearly five-decade-old conflict.

In a brief televised appearance, Mr. Santos said the details of the talks with the rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, would be made public in the coming days.

The group, which has long financed its operations through narcotics trafficking and kidnapping for ransom, is considered a terrorist organization by Colombia and the United States.

The war with the FARC has bedeviled several Colombian presidents. In the last effort to hold talks, in the late 1990s, President Andrés Pastrana gave the FARC a large safe haven in the jungle of southern Colombia during talks that lasted for several years. But the group used the territory to train troops and continue its drug trafficking. The talks ended in bitter failure.

Mr. Santos vowed on Monday "not to repeat" earlier errors, and said that during these talks, the Colombian military would keep a presence in "every centimeter of national territory."

He said that talks might also be conducted with a second rebel group, the National Liberation Army or E.L.N.

The FARC has been weakened over the last decade, with the help of United States military support to the Colombian government. Last November, the FARC's top leader, Alfonso Cano, was killed in a government operation. But the group remains active and has been responsible for many bombings and deadly attacks on government forces this year.

Military analysts estimate that the group has about 9,000 fighters, down from a peak of 17,000 in the 1990s. Ariel Avila, an analyst who studies the FARC, said that there were reasons to be optimistic about talks this time around. He said that during the Pastrana talks, both the FARC and the Colombian military were trying to strengthen their positions rather than finding a way out of the conflict. Now, he said, there is a real desire on both sides to reach an agreement.

Public opinion strongly favors a peace deal. "The populations affected by the conflict are literally tired of the conflict," Mr. Avila said.

---
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A lot of people would be so affected with threat. That can really degrade us.

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