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JFP 2/27: Subpoena the drone strike memos; Former hostages push Iran diplomacy
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 27 February 2013 - 6:53pm
Just Foreign Policy News, February 27, 2013
Subpoena the drone strike memos; Former hostages push Iran diplomacy
Go Straight to the News Summary
Congress: Subpoena the Drone Strike Memos
On the outskirts of a House Judiciary Committee hearing today, Members of Congress mooted issuing subpoenas for the drone strike memos if the Administration doesn't hand them over. Urge them to do it.
Conyers at the Drone Strike Hearing: "this Committee requires those documents"
Today the House Judiciary Committee held the first ever public hearing of a full committee on the drone strike policy of either the House or Senate. In his opening statement, Rep. Conyers, the ranking Member, said about the drone strike memos: "I am pleased that we have reached a clear, bipartisan consensus on this issue: this Committee requires those documents to fulfill its oversight responsibilities, and we will work together to convince the Administration to satisfy our request."
The Real News: Secretary Hagel, Israel's Future, and the Pentagon Budget
The Real News talks to Just Foreign Policy, the National Priorities Project, and Bob Pollin about Hagel's confirmation, Israel-Palestine, and the Pentagon budget.
Daily Show: Administration's Refusal to Release the Drone Memos
President Obama's promise of transparency in the State of the Union address didn't last as long as Jon Stewart's New Year's resolution to go on a diet.
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1) Two top officials who were held hostage in Tehran in 1979 called for expanded diplomatic outreach to the Iranian government, Foreign Policy reports. "Only sustained, robust, and comprehensive diplomacy based on the premise of mutual compromise can break this cycle [of confrontation], which threatens to enflame the region," Bruce Laingen, who was the senior U.S. diplomat in Iran, said. John Limbert, who was political officer in Tehran in 1979, and the first deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran under the Obama administration, argued that the Obama administration has not made any real, substantive offers that would allow Iran to compromise on its nuclear program while saving face.
2) Talks between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear program ended with specific agreement for further meetings in March and April over a proposal that would sharply constrain Iran's stockpile of the most dangerous enriched uranium in return for a modest lifting of some sanctions, the New York Times reports. The six powers dropped their demand Iran shut down its enrichment plant at Fordo, instead insisting that Iran suspend enrichment work there. The six also agreed that Iran could produce and keep a small amount of 20 percent enriched uranium for use in a reactor to produce medical isotopes. In return, an official said, the six would suspend some sanctions, but not those involving oil or financial transactions, which are the harshest.
The chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called this meeting positive, asserting that the six powers had offered a revised proposal that was "more realistic" and "closer to the Iranian position." But senior Western diplomats were less enthusiastic, the Times says, saying that Iran had not in fact responded to the proposal of the six and that real bargaining had not yet begun.
3) AIPAC's agenda next week will focus on Congress enacting legislation that would designate Israel a "major strategic ally" of the United States and on facilitating a U.S. green light should Israel decide to strike Iran, JTA reports. The "strategic ally" designation is aimed at protecting military aid to Israel from across the board cuts, JTA says.
4) The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide rebels there with equipment such as body armor and armored vehicles, and possibly military training, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials remain opposed to providing weapons to the rebels, the Post says. Western officials have acknowledged that the opposition coalition is unlikely to quickly develop a governing infrastructure or attract significant support from fence-sitting Syrian minorities and Assad supporters, the Post says. The EU turned back a British and French push to lift the EU arms embargo on Syria, but will now allow the supply of night-vision equipment, armored vehicles and military training.
5) In an op-ed in the New York Times, Louise Ivers of Partners in Health notes the UN rejection of a legal claim for compensation on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti on the grounds of UN diplomatic immunity. The UN has a moral if not legal obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start, Ivers notes. The UN should immediately increase its financial support for the Haitian government's efforts to control the epidemic.
As of now, the UN plans to contribute just 1 percent of the cost of Haiti's anti-cholera program. That is not enough, Ivers writes. Meanwhile, the UN's stabilization mission in Haiti is budgeted for $648 million this year - a sum that could more than finance the entire cholera elimination initiative for two years.
6) Increased assertiveness by the Afghan government is reshaping US military action in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. A recent Afghan ban could block the use of Special Operations forces, which the Times says are fast becoming the coalition's sole source of offensive ground troops as conventional US and allied units are shifting into an advisory role. It may well be that "our only decision is whether we want to go along with the Afghan decisions," a senior American officer said, "or if we want to leave."
7) Writing in The Nation, Roane Carey reviews several recent films on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, including the two that were nominated for Academy Awards. Dror Moreh, director of The Gatekeepers, which interviews former heads of the Shin Bet, says he was inspired by The Fog of War, Errol Morris's 2003 portrait of Robert McNamara. A key theme of The Gatekeepers is the irresponsibility of Israel's politicians, who have failed to seek a political agreement to end to the occupation.
1) Former hostages seize Argo publicity, call for diplomacy with Iran
Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, Monday, February 25, 2013 - 5:46 PM
Two top officials who were held hostage in Tehran in 1979 called Monday for expanded diplomatic outreach to the Iranian government.
The 2012 Academy Award for Best Picture was awarded Sunday evening to the film Argo, which focused on the plight of six Americans who escaped as the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by supporters of the Iranian revolution and sought refuge in the Canadian ambassador's residence. Fifty-two of their State Department colleagues did not escape the embassy and were held hostage by the Iranian revolutionaries for 444 days. Two of those hostages spoke at an event on Capitol Hill Monday and urged the Obama administration to do more to engage Iran.
"The moment before I stepped into that beautiful Algerian airplane that would carry me, Ambassador Limbert, and 51 of our colleagues home to freedom, I said to the senior Iranian hostage taker who was standing on the ramp of Iran's Mehrabad Airport, 'I look forward to the day when your country and mine can again have a normal, diplomatic relationship,'" said Bruce Laingen, who was the chargé d'affaires, then the senior U.S. diplomat in Tehran, when the hostage crisis erupted. "I could not have imagined that more than 32 years later, our countries would still be locked in a hostile cycle of confrontation."
"Only sustained, robust, and comprehensive diplomacy based on the premise of mutual compromise can break this cycle, which threatens to enflame the region," Laingen said. "And until we have an established channel for communication between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic on the many interests we share, our countries will continue to teeter on the brink of war."
No one should have any illusions about the cruelty and brutality of the Iranian regime, but diplomacy involves dealing with your enemies, Laingen said. He noted that President Jimmy Carter's military attempt to rescue the hostages in Tehran ended in deadly failure while only negotiations and diplomacy resulted in freedom for him and his fellow victims.
The movie Argo has reinforced negative views of the Iranian revolution in the minds of Americans, and Iranians are still clinging to their negative views of the United States, which date back to American support of the shah, Laingen said. But both sides need to set aside their grievances and take new steps now, especially at Tuesday's nuclear talks in Kazakhstan, he said.
"This wall of mistrust cannot be torn down in a day. It won't be torn down during the talks, when the United States and Iran meet with the other P5+1 delegations in Kazakhstan. My fear is that by the end of the talks tomorrow, there may even be an even higher wall unless both sides are willing to make real compromises," Laingen said.
John Limbert, who was political officer in Tehran in 1979 and later became the first deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran under the Obama administration, said Monday that Americans fail to understand the U.S. role in creating anti-Americanism in Iran and therefore America's responsibility to strive to repair long-held bilateral animosity.
"Argo highlights the negative attitudes that the two countries have held toward each other for decades. Its brief introduction attempts to provide historical context behind the embassy takeover, but the film does not convey the prevailing Iranian sense of grievance -- real or imagined -- that led to the 1979 attack, and to the emotional response in the streets of Tehran," Limbert said. "More than three decades later, the same atmosphere of suspicion, mistrust, and festering wounds dominates Iranian-American relations."
The two sides have never addressed their basic historical resentment and therefore the P5+1 talks have little chance of achieving a real breakthrough, Limbert said. He argued that the Obama administration has not made any real, substantive offers that would allow Iran to compromise on its nuclear program while saving face.
"The U.S. 'two-track' policy of engagement and pressure has -- in reality -- only one track: multi-lateral and unilateral sanctions, that whatever their stated intention and real effects, are allowing the Iranian government to claim credit for defying an international bully," Limbert said. "The Obama administration has not offered (and perhaps feels it cannot offer) far-reaching sanctions relief in exchange for verifiable Iranian concessions on its nuclear program."
The United States should propose talks with Iran on a host of issues besides the nuclear program, if nuclear negotiations are not proving useful, Limbert said.
"If the nuclear issue may be just too politically difficult, then sustained negotiations on other issues -- still starting small -- will be the most effective way to start the countries on a new path of diplomatic engagement after three futile decades of trading insults, threats, and empty slogans," he said. "To move forward, we must stop holding all questions hostage to agreement on the nuclear issue. Such an approach guarantees failure... After all, if we and the Iranians could never agree on anything, Ambassador Laingen and I would still be in Tehran."
2) Iran and Six Nations Agree to Continue Nuclear Talks NY Times February 27, 2013
Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 27, 2013
Almaty, Kazakhstan - Two days of talks between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear program ended on Wednesday with specific agreement for further meetings in March and April over a proposal that would sharply constrain Iran's stockpile of the most dangerous enriched uranium in return for a modest lifting of some sanctions.
But the six powers dropped their demand that Iran shut down its enrichment plant at Fordo, built deep into a mountain, instead insisting that Iran suspend enrichment work there and agree to unspecified conditions that would make it hard to quickly resume enrichment there. The six also agreed, in another apparent softening, that Iran could produce and keep a small amount of 20 percent enriched uranium for use in a reactor to produce medical isotopes.
The two sides agreed that technical experts would meet to discuss the proposal on March 18 and 19 in Istanbul, while the negotiations at this higher political level will resume, again in Almaty, on April 5 and 6.
The chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called this meeting positive, asserting that the six powers, representing the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, had offered a revised proposal that was "more realistic" and "closer to the Iranian position." Mr. Jalili, whose news conference was notably short of the aggressive rhetoric he has used in the past, called the meeting "a turning point."
But senior Western diplomats were less enthusiastic, saying that Iran had not in fact responded to the proposal of the six and that real bargaining had not yet begun. A senior American official described the meeting as "useful" - refusing to call it positive - and emphasized that it was "concrete results" that counted, not atmospherics.
The senior American official said that as a first step toward confidence-building and reducing the urgency around the issue, the six were demanding that Iran "significantly restrict" its accumulation of uranium enriched to 20 percent - which can quickly be turned into bomb-grade material - and limit its production to what is needed for fuel for the small Tehran Research Reactor to make medical isotopes.
Iran must also "suspend enrichment at Fordo," a plant deep inside a mountain and very difficult to attack from the air, and accept conditions that "constrain the ability to quickly resume enrichment there," the official said. Third, Iran must allow more regular and thorough access to monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that it keeps its promises and cannot suddenly "break out" quickly to create a nuclear warhead, so that there is "early warning of any attempt to rapidly or secretly abandon agreed limits and produce weapons-grade uranium," the official said.
In return, the official said, the six would suspend some sanctions, but not those involving oil or financial transactions, which are the harshest, and would promise not to vote new sanctions through the United Nations Security Council or the European Union.
"What matters are concrete results on the most urgent issues, on 20 percent enrichment and on Fordo," the official said, which are "the most destabilizing and urgent elements of Iran's nuclear program."
The proposal is a slightly softer modification of the proposal the six made eight months ago in Moscow. There it was described as "stop, shut, ship" - demanding that Iran stop enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, shut the Fordo facility and ship abroad its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to be turned into nuclear fuel.
The new offer demands the suspension of enrichment to 20 percent, the suspension of work at Fordo with unspecified conditions to make it difficult to renew enrichment there, and the ability of Iran to produce and keep a small amount of 20 percent enriched uranium for medical isotopes.
The official denied that there was any "softening of our position," citing further constraints on Iran, but conceded that Iran was being offered some more sanctions relief in response to its concerns and in an effort "to gain traction for these talks."
Diplomats had said that this week's meeting would be a low-level success if it produced a specific agreement to meet again soon so that there would be an element of momentum to the negotiations. The talks have been intermittent since beginning in October 2009, when the United States had its only bilateral meeting with Iran.
3) No Obama or Bibi, but AIPAC conf. still looking to make noise
Ron Kampeas, JTA, February 26, 2013
Washington – Next week's annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington may be as notable for what -- and who -- is missing as what's planned.
For the first time in at least seven years, neither the U.S. president nor the Israeli prime minister will attend. In addition, for the second year in a row, no mention of the Palestinians, negative or positive, appears on the conference's legislative agenda.
Instead, the agenda will focus on the Congress enacting legislation that would designate Israel a "major strategic ally" of the United States -- a relationship not enjoyed by any other nation -- and on facilitating a U.S. green light should Israel decide to strike Iran. Should the measures being considered by the Senate and the House of Representatives pass, it would constitute the most explicit congressional sanction for military action against Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
Despite the absences, AIPAC expects 13,000 activists, including 2,000 students, to attend the conference -- a number commensurate with last year's record-breaker. AIPAC officials say the number is more remarkable in 2013 because it's not an election year.
The AIPAC official interviewed by JTA said that part of what motivates the push to name Israel a major strategic ally is an appeal to maintain defense assistance funding, averaging more than $3 billion annually, at a time when both parties are seeking ways to drastically cut spending.
Separately, a nonbinding resolution that would call on the president to support Israel "if it is compelled to act against the Iranian nuclear threat" will be introduced in the Senate. The House will consider legislation that would authorize the president to sanction any entity that trades with Iran.
Missing also, however, from the AIPAC legislative agenda is any effort to limit U.S. funding of the Palestinian Authority. AIPAC had pushed such efforts in December, after the U.N. General Assembly vote in which the Palestinians gained boosted recognition as a non-member state, but they fell by the wayside in part because of mixed signals from the Israeli government.
The conference runs March 3-5, ending with the annual AIPAC lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill next Tuesday.
4) U.S. moves toward providing direct aid to Syrian rebels
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, February 26
The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide rebels there with equipment such as body armor and armored vehicles, and possibly military training, and could send humanitarian assistance directly to Syria's opposition political coalition, according to U.S. and European officials.
The administration has not provided direct aid to the military or political side of the opposition throughout the two-year-old conflict, and U.S. officials remain opposed to providing weapons to the rebels.
Elements of the proposed policy, which officials cautioned have not yet been finalized, are being discussed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry in meetings this week and next with allies in Europe and the Middle East as part of a coordinated effort to end the bloody stalemate, which has claimed about 70,000 lives.
Western officials have also acknowledged that the opposition coalition is unlikely to quickly develop a governing infrastructure or attract significant support from fence-sitting Syrian minorities and Assad supporters.
The Obama administration, citing legal restrictions on direct funding of the opposition, has funneled $385 million in humanitarian aid through international institutions and nongovernmental organizations, most of which operate under Syrian government supervision.
On the military side, the administration has established direct contact with rebel leaders but has limited aid to communications equipment delivered indirectly. A push last summer to arm the rebels, backed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, was rejected by the White House in favor of continued efforts to build the political opposition.
While anti-government fighters have made significant gains against Assad's military, concern has grown that militants linked to al-Qaeda have begun to dominate the opposition force. Early this year, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries directly arming the opposition fighters increased weapons shipments to secular and moderate Islamist rebel factions after consultations with Washington.
A senior Arab official in the region said those armaments, including antitank weapons and recoilless rifles, have begun flowing into Syria.
Britain and France have pushed to lift a European Union arms embargo on Syria. At a meeting in Brussels last week, political representatives of some of the E.U.'s 27 members refused to lift the year-long embargo entirely when it expires this Friday. Instead, they renewed it for three months and agreed to reconsider it in May.
More important, according to several European officials, the E.U. inserted a clause that allows member countries "to provide greater non-lethal support and technical assistance for the protection of civilians."
Although a number of countries opposed the change, it was favored by Britain, France, Germany and Italy, according to a European official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss rapidly evolving policies.
"Under the old E.U. setup, we couldn't do anything," a senior European official said. The new rule will allow "things that don't of themselves kill people," including night-vision equipment, armored vehicles and military training.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Kerry and Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, spent the bulk of their meeting discussing Syria. Lavrov met in Moscow on Monday with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, who said the Assad government is willing to talk with opponents while continuing its fight "against terrorism."
Opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib deflected a Russian offer to visit Moscow amid disagreements within the coalition.
Lavrov called his meeting with Kerry "constructive" and told reporters that they agreed to do everything in their power "to create the best conditions to facilitate the soonest possible start of a dialogue between the government and the opposition," Reuters reported.
He said Russia wants the opposition to name representatives for talks with the government, and he blamed "extremists" in the coalition for stopping progress toward negotiations.
5) A Chance to Right a Wrong in Haiti
Louise C. Ivers, New York Times, February 22, 2013
[Ivers, a senior health and policy adviser at Partners In Health and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, has been leading cholera treatment and prevention activities in Haiti.]
Boston - On Thursday, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, rejected a legal claim for compensation filed in 2011 on behalf of cholera victims in Haiti. Through a spokesperson, Mr. Ban said the claims, brought by a nongovernmental organization, were "not receivable" because of the United Nations' diplomatic immunity.
Regardless of the merits of this argument, the United Nations has a moral, if not legal, obligation to help solve a crisis it inadvertently helped start. The evidence shows that the United Nations was largely, though not wholly, responsible for an outbreak of cholera that has subsequently killed some 8,000 Haitians and sickened 646,000 more since October 2010. The United Nations has not acknowledged its culpability.
Now, as the cholera epidemic appears to worsen, Mr. Ban and the United Nations have an opportunity to save thousands of lives, restore good will - and, yes, fulfill the mandate that brought the organization to Haiti in the first place: stabilizing a fragile country. The United Nations should immediately increase its financial support for the Haitian government's efforts to control the epidemic. While that may not satisfy everyone, it will go at least some way toward compensating the people of Haiti for the unintentional introduction of the bacteria that caused the epidemic.
Before October 2010, cholera - a diarrheal illness caused by consuming water or food contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae - had never been reported in the country. In the epidemic's first year, the striking loss of life attracted international media attention. Even in its third year, the outbreak continues to sicken thousands.
There were 11,220 cases nationwide during the month of December - significantly more than the 8,205 cases seen during December 2011. Our clinic in St. Marc treated more people with the infection last month than in the previous eight months combined.
That soldiers at the United Nations camp were responsible for introducing the bacteria seems apparent. After local and national protests and an Associated Press investigation, Mr. Ban empaneled a group of international experts to determine the disease's source. Their report stated that evidence "overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the source of the Haiti cholera outbreak was due to contamination of the Meye Tributary of the Artibonite River with a pathogenic strain of current South Asian type Vibrio cholerae as a result of human activity." The strain was not indigenous to Haiti.
The report also found that sanitation conditions at the United Nations camp were not sufficient to prevent contamination of the local waterway with human waste. Investigators found that the potential existed for feces to enter the tributary from a drainage canal in the camp and from the open septic disposal pit that was used to handle the waste.
But all of this is background to the urgent matter at hand. The United Nations recently started a 10-year initiative to eliminate cholera in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, based on a plan that was developed with multiple partners, including the governments of both countries. It is a collaborative and comprehensive approach that aims to eliminate transmission of the disease with substantial investments in water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as through prevention and treatment.
On Feb. 27, Haiti's minister of health will introduce one important component of this plan - an initiative to expand access to cholera vaccination.
If the United Nations were to finance this initiative, along with the rest of the government's anti-cholera program, it could have a significant and immediate impact on stemming this epidemic. As of now, however, the United Nations plans to contribute just 1 percent of the cost. That is not enough.
Meanwhile, the organization's stabilization mission in Haiti is budgeted for $648 million this year - a sum that could more than finance the entire cholera elimination initiative for two years.
It's time for the United Nations to rethink what true stabilization could be: preventing people from dying of a grueling, painful - and wholly preventable - disease is a good start.
6) Talk of Inquiry, but Not Much Is Sure After Afghan Ban on U.S. Troops
Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, February 25, 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan - A day after President Hamid Karzai ordered elite American forces out of a strategic province near the capital, very little was clear other than his increasing assertiveness in dictating the Western military role in Afghanistan.
Interviews with numerous Afghan and American officials on Monday were striking mostly for their similarity: everyone seemed confused, scrambling to confirm details of the events that led the Afghan government to issue the ban and demand Western cooperation in investigating accusations.
Officials and residents from the province, Maidan Wardak, had filed repeated complaints with Mr. Karzai's government that Afghans working with American forces had been involved in the abuse, disappearance and deaths of villagers.
But officials from neither country could be sure which American forces would be covered by the ban, which is set to take place in two weeks in one of the most critical battleground provinces against the Taliban. None could offer any clarity about who was suspected of the alleged killings and abuses. Nor could any Afghan or American official say what military units the attackers might have worked with - or if they were tied to a military force.
In the absence of answers, American and NATO officials agreed to form a joint commission with the Afghan government to investigate. Still, a senior NATO spokesman, Brig. Gen. Günter Katz of Germany, said at a news conference on Monday that a previous inquiry could not confirm abuses by Western forces or Afghans working with them in Maidan Wardak. "So far, we could not find evidence that would support these allegations," General Katz said. The ban did, however, drastically reinforce that Mr. Karzai has become the dominant voice in establishing how the final stages of the Western military involvement in his country will be conducted. And in the past year, he has appeared increasingly willing to curtail unilaterally the coalition's role on issues of most concern to him: special operations missions, detentions and airstrikes.
If anything, Mr. Karzai has set the pace of transition over the past year. He has repeatedly demanded and won greater Afghan control of the war effort, occasionally taking his confrontations with American officials public.
The result has been a substantive reshaping of the American role here. The United States ceded control of its main prison on a shortened schedule, gave the Afghan authorities oversight of night commando raids on Afghan homes and sharply curtailed the use of airstrikes.
People close to Mr. Karzai described the ban on elite forces in Maidan Wardak as a consistent expression of unease with how the war effort has developed under the coalition, and of his desire to fix what he sees as a faltering campaign that has helped fuel the war here, not end it.
The ban also reflected the Karzai administration's limited patience for the use of Special Operations forces, whose aggressive tactics previously resulted in abuses, and attempted cover-ups. But Afghan officials cited as even more troubling American Special Operations units' use of Afghan proxy forces that are not under the government's control. Afghan civilians and local officials have complained that some irregular forces have looked little different from Taliban fighters or bandits and behaved little differently.
According to Afghan officials, villagers say the abuses in Maidan Wardak, including the beheading of a veterinary student, were committed by Afghan irregulars who worked with elite American forces.
Some Afghan officials say that they have photos and video of the suspects, and that they are not from any known irregular forces, like the Afghan Local Police, a defense militia created and trained by coalition Special Forces.
Rather, some Afghan officials believe the suspects are part of a force whose existence has been kept secret by the Americans.
Therein lies a major point of confusion: officials at the coalition and a separate American command, United States Forces-Afghanistan, which operates many of the Special Operations units in the country, say they do not run any secret militias. "My total honest answer: We have no idea what they're talking about," a senior American officer said.
One possibility that would match the descriptions of attackers offered by local Afghan officials and, at the same time, exclude American military forces would be that the suspects were working with the Central Intelligence Agency, whose operatives run militias in a number of provinces. A spokesman for the C.I.A. refused to comment on the issue.
One senior Afghan official said it was possible: Afghans, he said, make no distinction between military-type outfits. Americans with weapons, high-end gear and facial hair were "all special forces. It's a phrase that catches all."
American commanders are scrambling to plan for the next few months without knowing whether they will again be able to use Special Operations forces in a province that is seen as crucial to the defense of Kabul.
With conventional American and allied units shifting into an advisory role, the elite forces are fast becoming the coalition's sole source of offensive ground troops.
The Obama administration's plans for a presence here after the NATO mission ends in 2014 also calls for Special Operations to play a large role hunting down remnants of Al Qaeda.
But that decision may not be up to Washington, the senior American officer said Monday. It may well be that "our only decision is whether we want to go along with the Afghan decisions," the officer said, "or if we want to leave."
7) A Night at the Oscars for Israel-Palestine
Roane Carey, The Nation, February 20, 2013 http://www.thenation.com/article/173013/night-oscars-israel-palestine
Dror Moreh's film The Gatekeepers-one of five nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary feature category-is a brilliant, deeply disturbing portrait of the post-1967 Israeli occupation. This year's strong field of nominees also includes 5 Broken Cameras, another film about the occupation, directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat with Israeli Guy Davidi.
It's hard to imagine two more stylistically and thematically distinct films. Burnat's is a highly personal account of the struggle of his West Bank village, Bil'in, against Israel's separation wall, and the accompanying army and settler destruction of its olive groves. Burnat interweaves scenes of domestic life with those of Bil'in's weekly protests; the fact that five of his cameras were broken by the army in the course of filming is a testament both to his seemingly continuous engagement and the army's habitually violent response to unarmed protest. 5 Broken Cameras is a moving and artfully constructed diary of family and community resistance.
The Gatekeepers, on the other hand, tells the story of occupation from the standpoint of its leading enforcers, six former heads of the General Security Service, or Shin Bet. The film is remarkable for its historical breadth and revelations from those who have run one of the country's most secretive agencies. Never before have this many Shin Bet heads spoken on the record. From Avraham Shalom, who led the service from 1980 to 1986, to Yuval Diskin (2005–11), these men are intellectually impressive and sometimes eloquent, though at times they display a chilling ruthlessness. Moreh says he was inspired by The Fog of War, Errol Morris's 2003 portrait of Robert McNamara, and the influence is evident. Moreh's interviews are framed by creepy re-enactments of intelligence operations, multiple computer screens, repeated surveillance shots of assassination targets. The underlying mood, heightened by a doom-laden soundtrack and computerized simulations, is one of foreboding, conveying the sense of an impersonal, machinelike bureaucracy at work. Yaakov Peri (1988–94), who headed the Shin Bet at the height of the first intifada, says it is "a well-oiled system. It's well organized and effective."
Yet that mood stands in contrast to the thoughtfulness, fallibility and frequent self-criticism of the interview subjects. It was precisely that post-retirement soul-searching that inspired Moreh to make this film: as he was working on a documentary about Ariel Sharon, he learned that one of the reasons Sharon, a key architect of the settlement project, decided to withdraw settlers from Gaza was the unprecedented 2003 public protest by four of these former Shin Bet heads, who denounced his government's single-minded focus on repression during the second intifada. As Ami Ayalon (1996–2000) put it at the time, "We are taking very sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will not be a democracy or a home for the Jewish people."
A key theme of The Gatekeepers is the irresponsibility of Israel's politicians, who have avoided hard decisions and have abetted the most dangerous elements in society. As Shalom puts it, any talk of a political solution to the occupation disappeared soon after it began, to be replaced only by a tactical focus on fighting terror. "No Israeli prime minister," he says, "took the Palestinians into consideration." Peri observes that every Israeli government either accepted or came to accept the settlements. This gave extremists the feeling they were "becoming the masters" and could do whatever they wanted. A particularly egregious case was that of the Jewish Underground, which plotted in the 1980s to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Islam's third-holiest site, in the hope of triggering Armageddon and the coming of the Messiah. The Shin Bet foiled the plot at an advanced stage and the conspirators were duly tried and sentenced to prison, but because they had connections to powerful leaders in the cabinet and Knesset, they were released early. Several Shin Bet directors deplore the far right's incitement against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin preceding his 1995 assassination. Moreh himself, echoing the criticism of Carmi Gillon (1994–96) in the film, denounced Israel's current prime minister in a February CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, saying, "Benjamin Netanyahu took his big share in that."
Avraham Shalom presents the most striking contrasts. The oldest of the six, he looks, in his suspenders and checked shirt, like a harmless old grandfather, chuckling frequently at his own jokes. Yet Diskin says he was an uncompromising bully. And when asked about the scandal that ended his career-the Bus 300 incident of 1984, in which Palestinian hijackers who were captured unharmed were murdered by the Shin Bet on his orders-Shalom is at first evasive, then admits it was "a lynching," then bristles defensively, insisting that "with terrorism there are no morals. Find morals in terrorists first."
Near the end of the film, though, Shalom registers one of the strongest criticisms of Israel, saying, "We've become cruel…to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population." Even more astounding, he likens the Israeli occupation to that of the Nazis (making a careful exception for the Holocaust itself). His fierce condemnations are echoed by the others; Ayalon refers to the "banality of evil" in warning against the speeded-up "conveyor belt" of assassinations, when "200, 300 people die because of the idea of 'targeted assassinations.'" All these Shin Bet heads seem to have become humbled, both by what they have done (Diskin, reflecting on the assassination of terrorists, says, "What's unnatural is the power you have" to "take their lives in an instant") and by what Israel has become: Gillon says, "We are making the lives of millions unbearable."
One of the most important lessons imparted by The Gatekeepers is that no matter how well trained the Shin Bet's agents, no matter how ruthlessly these guardians carry out their tasks, without wise leadership by politicians, their mission may be fruitless in the long run. As Avi Dichter (2000–05) observes, "You can't make peace using military means." Ayalon closes the film with a prophetic warning: "The tragedy of Israel's public security debate is that we don't realize that we face a frustrating situation in which we win every battle, but we lose the war."
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