JFP 1/8: Obama taps war-skeptic Hagel for Defense; Question Brennan on drone strikes

Just Foreign Policy News, January 8, 2013
Obama taps war-skeptic Hagel for Defense; Question Brennan on drone strikes

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Urge Senators to Question Brennan on Drone Strikes
President Obama has nominated John Brennan to lead the CIA. Human Rights Watch - and the Washington Post editorial board - have called for the CIA to stop conducting drone strikes, because of the CIA's lack of transparency and accountability to international law. Urge your Senators to question Brennan on drone strike policy and the demand that the CIA get out of drone strikes.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/cia-head-drones

Senators: Confirm Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense
President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. As Secretary of Defense, Hagel will push to end the war in Afghanistan, cut the Pentagon budget, and avoid war with Iran. Right-wing pro-war groups are trying to obstruct Senate confirmation. 16,000 people have signed a Just Foreign Policy petition at SignOn urging the Senate to confirm Hagel.
http://signon.org/sign/senators-confirm-chuck-1?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

Juan Cole: Top Ten Reasons Chuck Hagel Should be Secretary of Defense

War hero cautious about wars; advocate for veterans; against unilateral sanctions; against "imposing democracy"; criticized Bush Administration in 2006 for not supporting ceasefire to stop Israeli invasion of Lebanon; in 2009, advocated indirect U.S. engagement with Hamas (which is U.S. and Israeli policy today); supports withdrawal from Afghanistan; signed Global Zero proposal to sharply cut U.S. nuclear arsenal; has argued against an attack on Iran, saying it would only accelerate Iran's nuclear program; has criticized right-wing pull of AIPAC on Congress on U.S. Middle East policy.
http://www.juancole.com/2013/01/reasons-secretary-defense.html

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Soundbites:
"For neoconservatives, who dominated foreign policy during George W.Bush's presidency, Hagel represents a threat to their continued influence at the Pentagon. He was critical of Bush foreign policy initiatives in Iraq and Afghanistan and has challenged the influence of pro-Israel activists on U.S. foreign policy."
- "Chuck Hagel nomination creates rare partisan fight over Pentagon post"
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/chuck-hagel-nomination-creates-rare-partisan-fight-over-pentagon-post/2013/01/07/e32ec200-5902-11e2-88d0-c4cf65c3ad15_story_1.html

"Anthony Cordesman...a former Pentagon official who has closely followed the 10- year war in Afghanistan ... questioned recent Pentagon statements of continuing successes, saying his reading of official reports shows 'there has been no meaningful military progress since the end of 2010.'"
- "The open question of Afghanistan"
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-open-question-of-afghanistan/2013/01/07/38e2d56a-58ea-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html

Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Risking a potentially rancorous battle with Congress, President Obama on Monday nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, the New York Times reports. Obama also nominated John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to be director of the CIA. Like the president, Hagel is deeply suspicious of a lingering American military presence in Afghanistan, the Times says.

2) If he is confirmed as secretary of defense, Hagel will face the immediate and daunting prospect of shrinking the Pentagon, the Washington Post reports. Many leaders at the Pentagon are resigned to the likelihood that further cuts are inevitable. In September 2011, Hagel told the Financial Times that the Defense Department was "bloated," adding: "The Pentagon needs to be pared down." Last year, Hagel endorsed a report by the advocacy group Global Zero that called for an 80 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal. Such a cut could save $100 billion over 10 years, the group estimated.

Many conservatives suspect Hagel he would be more willing to impose cuts than Panetta or Gates, the Post says. "If the picture was gloomy before, the clouds just got darker," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Hagel's just been recruited to be a front man for further budget cuts."

3) The Obama administration is considering keeping a force of 3,000 to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the New York Times reports. The new options under consideration are smaller than the 6,000 to 20,000 troops Gen. Allen is said to have previously suggested. In a statement issued Saturday, the Taliban warned that they would continue the war if any "residual" troops remained.
The White House also needs to decide how quickly to withdraw the 66,000 troops currently in Afghanistan and how many troops to keep there in 2013, the Times says. Officials said last year General Allen wanted to keep a significant military capability through the fighting season ending in fall 2013, which might translate to a force of more than 60,000 troops until the end of that period. The White House is believed to favor faster reductions.

4) Insider attacks by Afghan security forces on their Western allies became "the signature violence of 2012," in the words of one former US official, the New York Times reports. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable. Many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban, the Times says. "A great percentage of the insider attacks have the enemy narrative - the narrative that the infidels have to be driven out - somewhere inside of them, but they aren't directed by the enemy," said a senior coalition officer. The result is that, although the Taliban have successfully infiltrated the security forces before, they do not always have to.

5) Reported drone strike civilian deaths fell sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with Bureau data suggesting that a minimum of 2.5% of those reported killed were civilians compared with more than 14% in 2011, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports. This suggests the CIA is seeking to limit non-militant casualties, perhaps as a result of sustained criticism, the Bureau says. Drone strikes in Pakistan are now at their lowest level in five years, as Islamabad protests almost every attack. The CIA also appears to have abandoned 'signature strikes' on suspected militants fitting certain patterns of behavior – at least for the present. Almost all attacks in recent months have been against named al Qaeda and other militant leaders. But as drone strikes fell in Pakistan they rose steeply in Yemen.

Israel/Palestine
6) Two Israeli-produced documentaries about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been shortlisted for possible nomination in this year's Academy Awards, AP reports. "The Gatekeepers" features candid interviews with retired Israeli spymasters, while "5 Broken Cameras" tells the personal story of an amateur Palestinian cameraman who documents clashes between his fellow villagers and Israeli soldiers and settlers. The security chiefs' testimonies offer biting criticism about Israel's failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying military might alone cannot bring peace, AP says. "5 Broken Cameras," features footage shot by Palestinian farmer and amateur filmmaker Emad Burnat, who documented six years of family life on the backdrop of weekly Palestinian demonstrations against the construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier through his village of Bilin.

Iran
7) President Obama signed a defense funding bill that included Iran sanctions he had opposed, JTA reports. Obama on Jan. 2 signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which would sanction entities that circumvent existing banking sanctions on Iran by paying for Iranian oil with gold and restrict dealings with Iran's ports. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee had lobbied for the Iran sanctions, JTA says.

Bahrain
8) A court in Bahrain on Monday upheld prison sentences for 13 of the country's most prominent dissidents, in a decision that government opponents offered as evidence that the monarchy was ignoring calls to negotiate a political solution, the New York Times reports. The decision ends all appeals for the dissidents, who were sentenced to between five years and life in prison.

The court decision deepened the sense of a political stalemate in Bahrain, the Times says. Since pledging to accept reform recommendations made by an independent panel that investigated the uprising - including to commute sentences of those charged with "political expression" - Bahrain's government has continued to silence its critics. In November, the government stripped 31 people, including former opposition lawmakers and exiled dissidents, of their citizenship.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Obama Nominates Hagel as Defense Secretary and Brennan as C.I.A. Chief
Mark Landler, New York Times, January 7, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/us/politics/obama-picks-hagel-as-defense-secretary-brennan-for-cia.html

Washington - Risking a potentially rancorous battle with Congress at the start of his second term, President Obama on Monday nominated Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska whom Mr. Obama hailed as "the leader that our troops deserve," to be secretary of defense.

Mr. Obama also nominated John O. Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, putting a close aide who was at his side during the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden into the top job at the agency.

The president extolled Mr. Hagel's record as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, describing how he once dragged his brother to safety after he struck a landmine.

"Just as Sergeant Hagel was there for his brother, Secretary Hagel will be there for you," said Mr. Obama, who was flanked by Mr. Hagel and the current defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, at the White House ceremony.

"More than most, Chuck understands that war is not just an abstraction," Mr. Obama said.
[...]
Like the president, Mr. Hagel is deeply suspicious of a lingering American military presence in Afghanistan, and would most likely be comfortable with a more rapid drawdown of American troops after the United States and its allies turn over responsibility for security to the Afghans at the end of 2014.

John Nagl, a retired Army officer and professor of history at the United States Naval Academy, recalled Mr. Hagel addressing a class he was teaching at West Point. "He said, 'I was that 19-year-old rifleman. Look me in the eye and tell me that if you send a kid to get killed, it will be for a mission that matters.' "

"He'll be a voice for G.I. Joe, and that's a very valuable thing," Mr. Nagl said.
[...]

2) As defense secretary, Chuck Hagel would have to shrink Pentagon immediately
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, January 7
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/as-defense-secretary-chuck-hagel-would-face-shrinking-pentagon-immediately/2013/01/07/1f14f8c4-58fa-11e2-95d2-c7e9f0ba96c8_story.html

If he is confirmed as the next secretary of defense, former senator Chuck Hagel will face the immediate and daunting prospect of shrinking the Pentagon, a job that is likely to persist for the duration of President Obama's second term and reshape the mission and makeup of the armed forces.

With the war in Iraq over and the conflict in Afghanistan steadily winding down, Obama and Congress have ordered nearly $500 billion in reductions to the defense budget over the next decade. But with the country still confronting record deficits, many leaders at the Pentagon are resigned to the likelihood that further cuts are inevitable, followed by fresh rounds of infighting over money.

"Whatever that budget decline looks like will set the context for whatever else Hagel wants to do as defense secretary," said Gordon Adams, an international-relations professor at American University who served as a White House budget official during the Clinton administration. "We know the cuts are coming. This is a drawdown."
[...]
In September 2011, Hagel told the Financial Times that the Defense Department was "bloated," adding: "The Pentagon needs to be pared down. I don't think our military has really looked at themselves strategically, critically in a long time."

Last year, Hagel endorsed a report by the advocacy group Global Zero that called for an 80 percent reduction in the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal. Such a cut could save $100 billion over 10 years, the group estimated.

Otherwise, he has given few specific indications of where he would look to save money. Many conservatives, however, suspect that he would be more willing to impose cuts than Panetta or his predecessor, Robert M. Gates.

"If the picture was gloomy before, the clouds just got darker," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense and security policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Hagel's just been recruited to be a front man for further budget cuts."

Swollen by a decade of war spending, the Pentagon's annual budget peaked in 2010 at $690 billion and has gradually begun to recede. Most of the cuts imposed, however, have merely rolled back projected increases or reflected savings from reduced war-fighting expenses. This year's Defense Department budget declined to $616 billion.

Few major weapons programs have been canceled since 2009. The Army and the Marine Corps are each shedding tens of thousands of troops, but only back to levels last seen in 2007, during the height of the fighting in Iraq.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military brass have accepted the budget trimming with minimal fuss, closing ranks behind Panetta as he has tried to manage an orderly downsizing.

But that could change almost as soon as his successor takes office. Unless Congress and the White House come up with an alternate savings plan by March, the Pentagon will be forced to cut as much as $500 billion more over the next 10 years.

Even if that outcome is avoided, many defense officials and analysts assume that the Pentagon's budget will gradually dwindle as lawmakers and Obama haggle over ways to improve the country's finances.

As defense secretary, Hagel would take on one of the biggest managerial jobs in the United States, overseeing 1.4 million active-duty service members and about 800,000 civilian employees.

Hagel is highly familiar with veterans' issues. He served for two years as an enlisted soldier during the Vietnam War and was decorated with two Purple Hearts for wounds sustained during combat. He was deputy director of the Veterans Administration during the Reagan administration and later served as president of the United Service Organizations.
[...]
Although examples of wasteful military spending are commonly cited, virtually every defense program has a political or business constituency that will vigorously lobby Congress to keep the money flowing - even when the Pentagon doesn't want it.

Last year, Panetta proposed a new round of military base closures, but the idea was immediately shot down by lawmakers, virtually all of whom have a base in their district. Congress also routinely gives troops bigger annual raises than the Pentagon requests.
[...]
Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine Corps major general and former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said soaring compensation costs, inefficient weapons-acquisition programs and bloated overhead expenses are "ticking time bombs" in the defense budget that the new defense secretary will have to address.

"These things are like rust on a bridge," he said. "They're basically eating away at our national security."

3) U.S. Weighs Fewer Troops After 2014 in Afghanistan
Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, January 5, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/world/asia/us-weighs-fewer-troops-after-2014-in-afghanistan.html

Washington - The Obama administration is considering keeping a force of 3,000 to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, American officials said Saturday.

The new options under consideration are smaller than the 6,000 to 20,000 troops Gen. John R. Allen, the American commander in Afghanistan, is said to have previously suggested.

These potential alternatives were produced by the Pentagon at the behest of the White House and reflect a familiar pattern within the Obama administration on the use of force. Sensitive to public opinion and budgetary pressures, the White House has generally favored lower troop levels during its previous deliberations on Afghanistan and Iraq.

The military, by contrast, has tended to favor somewhat higher numbers, because of the greater risks posed by a smaller force carrying out its mission in a rugged and hostile environment like Afghanistan. In this case, the Pentagon believes that the 9,000-troop option - the upper range of the new scale - is more realistic, officials said.

The new troop options were first reported Saturday by The Wall Street Journal, which said they would leave approximately 3,000, 6,000 or 9,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, when NATO nations are scheduled to hand over responsibility for security to the Afghans.

The Obama administration's deliberations over troops comes as Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is preparing to visit Washington early this week. The United States and Afghanistan began talks in November on a possible agreement that would authorize an American troop presence in Afghanistan after 2014.

Any force that remains is expected to have several missions. It would include Special Operations forces, which would be assigned to carry out raids against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that are deemed to threaten American interests.

The troops would also advise and mentor the Afghan Army and police in conjunction with forces from other NATO nations.

In addition, any American force that remains needs to be able to support itself logistically, to have the ability to carry out medical evacuations and to conduct airstrikes to protect any NATO troops that might be in danger.

A White House decision to field a minimal force might add to the already formidable list of difficulties with Mr. Karzai. The Afghan leader might see a minimal force as an indication that the United States is less interested in advising and training Afghan troops than in retaining the capability to carry out operations against terrorist groups.

The Taliban have also sought to influence the debate over United States troop levels. In a statement issued Saturday, the Taliban warned that they would continue the war if any "residual" troops remained, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors terrorist organizations and their communications.

The number of troops to retain in Afghanistan after 2014 is not the only decision facing the White House. It also needs to decide how quickly to withdraw the 66,000 troops currently in Afghanistan and how many troops to keep there in 2013.

Two American officials said last year that General Allen wanted to keep a significant military capability through the fighting season ending in fall 2013, which might translate to a force of more than 60,000 troops until the end of that period. The White House is believed to favor faster reductions.

4) An Afghan Soldier's Journey From Ally to Enemy of America
Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, January 3, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/afghan-soldiers-journey-from-friend-to-killer-of-americans.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - It was only after the young Afghan soldier's hatred of Americans had grown murderous that he reached out to the Taliban.

The soldier, named simply Mahmood, 22, said that in May he told the insurgents of his plan to shoot Americans the next time they visited the outpost where he was based in northeastern Afghanistan. He asked the Taliban to take him in if he escaped.

The Taliban veterans he contacted were skeptical. Despite their public insistence that they employ vast ranks of infiltrators within the Afghan Army and the police, they acknowledged that many of the insider attacks they take credit for start as offers by angry young men like Mahmood. They had seen many fail, or lose their nerve before even starting, and they figured that Mahmood, too, would prove more talk than action or would die in the attempt.

"Even the Taliban didn't think I would be able to do this," Mr. Mahmood said in an interview.

He proved them wrong days later, on the morning of May 11, when he opened fire on American trainers who had gone to the outpost in the mountains of Kunar Province. One American was killed and two others were wounded. Mahmood escaped in the ensuing confusion, and he remains free in Kunar after the Taliban welcomed him into their ranks.

It was, he said, his "proudest day."

Such insider attacks, by Afghan security forces on their Western allies, became "the signature violence of 2012," in the words of one former American official. The surge in attacks has provided the clearest sign yet that Afghan resentment of foreigners is becoming unmanageable, and American officials have expressed worries about its disruptive effects on the training mission that is the core of the American withdrawal plan for 2014.

"It's a game changer on all levels," said First Sgt. Joseph Hissong, an American who helped fight off an insider attack by Afghan soldiers that left two men in his unit dead.

Cultural clashes have contributed to some of the insider attacks, with Afghan soldiers and police officers becoming enraged by what they see as rude and abusive behavior by Americans close to them. In some cases, the abusive or corrupt behavior of Afghan officers prompts the killer to go after Americans, who are seen as backing the local commanders. On rare occasions, like the killing of an American contractor by an Afghan policewoman late last month, there seems to be no logical explanation.

But behind it all, many senior coalition and Afghan officials are now concluding that after nearly 12 years of war, the view of foreigners held by many Afghans has come to mirror that of the Taliban. Hope has turned into hatred, and some will find a reason to act on those feelings.

"A great percentage of the insider attacks have the enemy narrative - the narrative that the infidels have to be driven out - somewhere inside of them, but they aren't directed by the enemy," said a senior coalition officer, who asked not to be identified because of Afghan and American sensitivities about the attacks.

The result is that, although the Taliban have successfully infiltrated the security forces before, they do not always have to. Soldiers and police officers will instead go to them, as was the case with Mr. Mahmood, who offered a glimpse of the thinking behind the violence in one of the few interviews conducted with Afghans who have committed insider attacks.

"I have intimate friends in the army who have the same opinion as I do," Mr. Mahmood said. "We used to sit and share our hearts' tales."

[...]

5) Emerging from the shadows: US covert drone strikes in 2012
Chris Woods, Jack Serle and Alice K. Ross, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 3rd, 2013
http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/01/03/emerging-from-the-shadows-us-covert-drone-strikes-in-2012-2/

Reported civilian deaths fell sharply in Pakistan in 2012, with Bureau data suggesting that a minimum of 2.5% of those reported killed were civilians – compared with more than 14% in 2011. This suggests the CIA is seeking to limit non-militant casualties, perhaps as a result of sustained criticism.

Drone strikes in Pakistan are now at their lowest level in five years, as Islamabad protests almost every attack. The CIA also appears to have abandoned 'signature strikes' on suspected militants fitting certain patterns of behaviour – at least for the present. Almost all attacks in recent months have been against named al Qaeda and other militant leaders.

As drone strikes fell in Pakistan they rose steeply in Yemen, as US forces aided a major military campaign to oust al Qaeda and other Islamists from southern cities. A parallel CIA targeted killing programme killed numerous alleged militants, many of them named individuals. Yet US officials took more than three months to confirm that American planes or drones had killed 12 civilians.

Little is still known about US drone strikes in Somalia, with only two credibly reported incidents in 2012. One of those killed was a British-Somali militant, Bilal al-Barjawi.

In 2012, the US also chose to loosen the bonds of secrecy on its 10-year-old drone targeted killing programme. A number of senior officials went on the record about aspects of the covert war. But details of those killed – still a highly contentious issue - remain classified.

The year also saw a number of significant legal challenges to the campaign, most of them ultimately unsuccessful. UN experts also announced a study into possible war crimes, partly in response to a Bureau/Sunday Times investigation.

President Obama became the first senior US official in eight years openly to discuss the covert drone programme in January, telling viewers of a Google Town Hall session that 'a lot of these strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Area], and going after al Qaeda suspects.'

And he insisted that 'actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties, for the most part they have been very precise precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates.'

Days afterwards, the Bureau and the Sunday Times published evidence in February showing that the CIA has deliberately targeted rescuers and funeral-goers in Pakistan, leading to the reported deaths of civilians. The administration has yet to deny the claims – although one anonymous senior official appeared to claim that the Bureau was 'helping al Qaeda.' [Actually, the Acting U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan did deny that the U.S. was targeting "rescuers" when we met with him in Pakistan - JFP.]

[...]

Israel/Palestine
6) 2 Israeli documentaries shortlisted for Oscar
Daniel Estrin. Associated Press, Jan 03, 2013 11:14 AM CST
http://www.njherald.com/story/20495103/2-israeli-documentaries-shortlisted-for-oscar

Jerusalem - The Mideast conflict has done little to help Israel's image in the world, but the way local filmmakers deal critically with the Israel-Palestinian issue has won wide international praise - and this year, recognition from the top of the movie industry.

Two Israeli-produced documentaries about the conflict have been shortlisted for possible nomination in this year's Academy Awards. Few Israeli films have contended in the Best Documentary category before. The shortlisted films represent rare recognition of foreign entrants in a category dominated by American productions.

The two films examine the conflict from contrasting viewpoints, one through the eyes of the occupier and the other through those of the occupied. Neither does the Israeli government any favors - though it helped foot the bill.

"The Gatekeepers" features candid interviews with retired Israeli spymasters, while "5 Broken Cameras" tells the personal story of an amateur Palestinian cameraman who documents clashes between his fellow villagers and Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Both films were listed by the New York Times as "Critics' Picks," and "The Gatekeepers" won praise from the paper's chief critic as 1 of the best documentaries of 2012. The final Oscar nominations will be announced Jan. 10.
[...]
In Israel's informal society, filmmakers and journalists have easy access to senior officials. That helped director Dror Moreh secure exclusive interviews with some of Israel's most shadowy figures: six retired directors of Israel's domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet.

The position is so secretive that until recently, the director of the Shin Bet was long known to the public only by his first initial, and his identity was disclosed only upon retirement.

In Moreh's film, they sit before the camera dressed informally in polo shirts or suspenders, speaking frankly about their memories of tracking Palestinian militants and radical Israeli settlers.

Their accounts are woven together with animated graphics that bring to life archival photos and news clippings, to reveal the behind-the-scenes calculations during targeted killings and interrogations.

In more private moments, the spymasters speak about the morality of their actions.

"For them (the enemy), by the way, I was also a terrorist," said Yuval Diskin, Shin Bet chief from 2005 to 2011. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Together, the security chiefs' testimonies offer biting criticism about Israel's failure to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying military might alone cannot bring peace.

"These moments end up etched deep inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist," said Yaakov Peri, Shin Bet head from 1988 to 1994.

"We're winning all the battles," said Ami Ayalon, Shin Bet chief from 1996 to 2000, "And we're losing the war."

Moreh said he wanted his film to change the understanding of the Mideast conflict by featuring the people whose job it was to manage it.

"They are responsible for targeted assassinations, for torture, for getting information," Moreh said in an interview. The criticism they voice "didn't come from the leftists, it came from the heart of the defense establishment. If they say such things, then, OK, there must be something to it."

The other film shortlisted for an Oscar, "5 Broken Cameras," features footage shot by Palestinian farmer and amateur filmmaker Emad Burnat, who bought a camera to film home videos but ended up documenting six years of family life on the backdrop of weekly Palestinian demonstrations against the construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier through his village of Bilin.

Those demonstrations started the same week his son was born. His film shows his son's birthday parties along with the young boy's developing awareness of the political realities he was born into.

One by one, Burnat's cameras were damaged by an Israeli army tear gas canister, hit by rubber bullets, thrown to the ground by an angry Jewish settler, and smashed in a tractor accident. When his cameras broke, he suffered serious injuries.

[...]

Iran
7) Obama enacts new Iran sanctions, despite opposing them
JTA, January 6, 2013
http://www.jta.org/news/article/2013/01/06/3116081/obama-enacts-new-iran-sanctions

Washington - President Obama signed a defense funding bill that included Iran sanctions he had opposed.

Obama on Jan. 2 signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which would sanction entities that circumvent existing banking sanctions on Iran by paying for Iranian oil with gold and restrict dealings with Iran's ports, among other enhancements.

Obama administration officials had argued that the new restrictions would inhibit efforts to persuade other nations to adhere to existing sanctions that aim to force Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Congressional negotiators gave the White House more time to implement the sanctions but would not further water them down. The amendments had strong bipartisan backing in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

[...]
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee had lobbied for the Iran sanctions and missile defense funding portions of the act.

Bahrain
8) Court in Bahrain Confirms Jail Terms for 13 Dissidents
Kareem Fahim, New York Times, January 7, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/world/middleeast/court-in-bahrain-confirms-jail-terms-for-13-dissidents.html

Cairo - A court in Bahrain on Monday upheld prison sentences for 13 of the country's most prominent dissidents, in a decision that government opponents offered as evidence that the monarchy was ignoring calls to negotiate a political solution that could quiet a nearly two-year-old uprising.

The decision ends all appeals for the dissidents, who were sentenced to between five years and life in prison for their leadership roles in the revolt that began in February 2011, according to a colleague of one of the jailed opposition members. The 13 are part of a group of 20 opposition leaders who were sentenced by a military tribunal on charges that included trying to overthrow the government. Other dissidents were sentenced in absentia.

The court decision deepened the sense of a political stalemate in Bahrain, an important ally of the United States and the host of the Navy's Fifth Fleet. Since pledging to accept reform recommendations made by an independent panel that investigated the uprising - including to commute sentences of those charged with "political expression" - Bahrain's government has continued to silence its critics. In November, the government stripped 31 people, including former opposition lawmakers and exiled dissidents, of their citizenship.

Last month, a judge upheld a prison sentence for a human rights advocate, Nabeel Rajab, who was convicted of inciting protests. As the security forces have moved to contain protests, the contest over freedom in Bahrain has moved to the judiciary. Activists accuse the courts of being little more than arms of the government that endorse charges for political crimes.

[...]

--
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