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JFP 4/1: Will Congress stop funding death squads in Honduras?
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 1 April 2013 - 4:21pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 1, 2013
Will Congress stop funding death squads in Honduras?
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
**Action: Tell Kerry: No Aid to Honduran Death Squads
Tell Secretary of State John Kerry to end all U.S. aid to all units of the Honduran National Police, whose leader has been linked to death squads, as required by U.S. law.
Video: Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighbourhood
Just Vision's story of a Palestinian boy growing up inside the struggle of Palestinians to save their homes in East Jerusalem just won a Peabody Award. You can watch it for free online.
Yemen Policy Initiative: increased reliance on drones undermines US interests
This letter is signed by the former US Ambassador to Yemen, among others.
Conn Hallinan: Syria: Chess Match Turned Free-for-All
The Syrian civil war has become a proxy war between Turkey, the oil monarchies, the U.S., Britain and France on one side and Iran, Iraq, Russia and China on the other. But on the Western side, there is a lot of backstabbing and double-crossing going on.
Sam Knight: Syrian Dissidents' Peace Plan Met By Doubt in DC
Representatives from a group of Syrian opposition activists pushing a political resolution to that country's civil war visited Washington. They say that the stepping down of the president should not be a precondition to the start of negotiations. But the US is said to be skeptical of any negotiations that involve Assad.
"Out of Sight, Out of Mind"
Graphic representation of US drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004.
1) The Obama administration is coming under fire for its role in arming and funding murderous Honduran police, in violation of US law, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. Under the Leahy Law, named after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the US government is not allowed to fund foreign military units who have committed gross human rights violations with impunity. The director general of Honduras' national police force, Juan Carlos Bonilla, has been investigated in connection with death squad killings; and members of the US Congress have been complaining about it since Bonilla was appointed last May. Thanks to some excellent investigative reporting by the Associated Press – showing that all police units are, in fact, under Bonilla's command – it has become clear that the US is illegally funding the Honduran police.
2) Defenders of the current drone strike program argue against a strawman argument, writes Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic. They pretend that the only two alternatives are to continue the drone strike policy exactly as it exists today or to ground the drones entirely. But those aren't the only two alternatives, Friedersdorf notes. We could, for example, have a drone strike policy that's public and complies with international law.
3) ACLU chief lobbyist Chris Anders says no one seems to know when President Obama will fulfill his promise to engage Congress and the public on the controversial use of U.S. drone attacks to kill terror suspects, PBS Newshour reports. "I was just in a meeting yesterday with a couple of key congressional staff who've asked the White House if they have a proposal, if they have anything they want to engage on and they got nothing back in response," Anders said.
During the confirmation process for CIA director Brennan, documents certifying the legality of strikes on Americans on foreign soil were shown to members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees. But Anders says there are six more legal memos that claim perhaps even broader authority to attack non-Americans outside the U.S. that the administration has not shared. "What Congress needs to see are the other six legal opinions because if they saw [them] they would have a much better idea of the breadth of the legal authority the president is claiming to use drones and other lethal force away from the battlefield," Anders said. "It's telling that there isn't a single country in the entire world that agrees with the U.S's claims of authority to use lethal force away from the battlefield….My guess is if the rest of the legal opinions dealing with non-citizens were publicly disclosed we would find that they're even farther afield from where the law is and ... that is why they haven't been disclosed."
4) An Afghan teenager fatally stabbed a US soldier in eastern Afghanistan, as the U.S. death toll rose sharply in March, AP reports. Just one U.S. service member was killed in February - a five-year monthly low - but the US death toll climbed to at least 14 last month.
5) Secretary of Defense Hagel may have to reduce the size of the armed forces and reduce or reject more weapons programs, the New York Times reports. Hagel is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week that will differ in tone and substance from the dire warnings about budget cuts heard before his arrival, the Times says. The message is that while the leadership hopes to dampen the impact of across-the-board spending cuts, there is a new Pentagon reality, and everyone must deal with it.
6) Eventual costs - including veterans' health care and benefits - to U.S. taxpayers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will run between four and six trillion dollars, according to a new report from Harvard's Linda Bilmes, writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service. The report, as well as another put out by Brown University that estimated the total war costs at three trillion dollars, are likely to bolster the deficit hawks against the defense hawks, Lobe writes.
7) The top Swedish prosecutor pursuing charges against Julian Assange has abruptly left the case and one of Assange's accusers has sacked her lawyer, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. The paper noted that Swedish Supreme Court judge Stefan Lindskog is due to give a lecture in Australia on the WikiLeaks case. Greg Barns, a barrister spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said it was a fundamental legal principle that judges do not speak publicly on matters that are likely to come before the courts or are yet to be decided. "That a Swedish supreme court judge thinks this is acceptable tends to confirm the fears people have about the impartiality and robustness of the Swedish judicial system. It gives great currency to the belief that Mr Assange's case in Sweden has been heavily politicized." The US government has confirmed that its grand jury criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and Assange is continuing, the paper notes.
8) The landmark decision by the Indian Supreme Court in Delhi to uphold India's Patents Act in the face of the seven-year challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is a major victory for patients' access to affordable medicines in developing countries, MSF/Doctors Without Borders said.
9) A bill moving in the Senate that makes war with Iran more likely reveals that Congress may not have learned the lessons of Iraq, write Rebecca Griffin and Kelly Campbell in The Oregonian. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted against war in Iraq, has joined 76 senators in co-sponsoring a bill that would put the Senate on record urging military, diplomatic and economic support if Israel were to decide to attack Iran. This bill is the most egregious in a string of congressional actions that could form the building blocks for a war that could make Iraq look like a walk in the park.
10) A NATO helicopter has reportedly killed two children during an attack on Taliban fighters, the Guardian reports. A Reuters reporter saw the bodies of two children, whom local people said had been killed in the air strike. Last month President Karzai forbade Afghan forces from calling for NATO air support and NATO from striking "in Afghan homes or villages" after an air strike that killed 10 civilians.
11) Afghan villagers told AP they have fled their homes due to relentless US drone strikes in the area, AP reports. "They are evil things that fly so high you don't see them but all the time you hear them," one refugee said. "Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts."
1) Will Congress act to stop US support for Honduras' death squad regime?
Will Congress act to stop US support for Honduras' death squad regime?
In Honduras, Reagan-era atrocities are back as the Obama administration funds a state implicated in murdering opponents
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Saturday 30 March 2013 08.00 EDT
The video (warning: contains graphic images of lethal violence), caught randomly on a warehouse security camera, is chilling.
Five young men walk down a quiet street in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. A big black SUV pulls up, followed by a second vehicle. Two masked men with bullet-proof vests jump out of the lead car, with AK-47s raised. The two youths closest to the vehicles see that they have no chance of running, so they freeze and put their hands in the air. The other three break into a sprint, with bullets chasing after them from the assassins' guns. Miraculously, they escape, with one injured – but the two who surrendered are forced to lie face down on the ground. The two students, who were brothers 18- and 20-years-old, are murdered with a burst of bullets, in full view of the camera. Less than 40 seconds after their arrival, the assassins are driving away, never to be found.
The high level of professional training and modus operandi of the assassins have led many observers to conclude that this was a government operation. The video was posted by the newspaper El Heraldo last month; the murder took place in November of last year. There have been no arrests.
Now, the Obama administration is coming under fire for its role in arming and funding murderous Honduran police, in violation of US law. Under the Leahy Law, named after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the US government is not allowed to fund foreign military units who have commit gross human rights violations with impunity. The director general of Honduras' national police force, Juan Carlos Bonilla, has been investigated in connection with death squad killings; and members of the US Congress have been complaining about it since Bonilla was appointed last May. Thanks to some excellent investigative reporting by the Associated Press in the last couple of weeks – showing that all police units are, in fact, under Bonilla's command – it has become clear that the US is illegally funding the Honduran police.
So, now we'll see if "rule of law" or "separation of powers" means very much in a country that likes to lecture "less developed" nations about these principles.
2) Let's Make Drone Strikes Safe, Legal, and Rare
It would be easy to replace our current killing program with a slightly altered one with sufficient protections for innocent civilians, American citizens, and rule of law.
Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic, Mar 27 2013, 8:00 AM ET
Plenty of pundits on the left and right still support targeted killing, as do voters, military brass, think-tank fellows, and Congressional majorities. It is nevertheless worth giving the issue another look, because the Obama Administration's apologists seldom acknowledge the strongest arguments against our particular drone policy. Their rhetoric, however effective, depends on a subtle, sometimes unconscious evasion. It's surprisingly easy for an interested observer to be led astray.
Can you spot the problem in the following arguments? Joshua Foust acknowledges that unmanned aerial vehicles sometimes terrorize and kill innocents, but asks, "Is there a better alternative to drone strikes for counterterrorism in northwest Pakistan?" He concludes that, in the short run, there simply isn't. "The targets of drone strikes in Pakistan sponsor insurgents in the region that kill U.S. soldiers and destabilize the Pakistani state," he writes. "They cannot simply be left alone to continue such violent attacks."
Says David Frum, defending the extrajudicial killing of American citizens, "The practical alternative to drones isn't jury trials. It's leaving U.S. passport carrying terrorists alone unharmed to execute their plans." Max Boot in Commentary agrees that citizens are fair game. "Given the need to continue these drone strikes," he argues, "it would be silly and self-destructive to grant certain al-Qaeda figures immunity just because they happen to have American citizenship."
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed defending drones, international law professor Michael W. Lewis writes that there are "four obvious options" for dealing with Taliban or Al Qaeda in tribal areas of Pakistan: accept their presence, send the Pakistani military to attack them, send in American ground troops, or his preference, which is armed drones. "Any alternative use of force against Taliban or Al Qaeda forces would be likely to cause many more civilian casualties," he concludes.
Implicit in each argument is a false choice. The authors all write here as if America must persist with our drone policy as it is or else forever ground our fleet. They're arguing against the proposition that there should be no drones at all. None treat seriously the alternative that the vast majority of drone critics advocate: a reformed drone program that operates legally, morally, and prudently. In 2009, President Obama criticized his predecessor for establishing "an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism" that was neither effective nor sustainable -- a framework that "failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions, and that failed to use our values as a compass." Going forward, he said, America's war against Al Qaeda must proceed "with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability."
Most drone critics demand no more than that Obama live up to the standards he articulated. They aren't against keeping armed drones in our arsenal; they're against giving them to the CIA, an opaque intelligence agency that is prone to abusing the power to kill in secret and has no obligation to follow the rules of engagement that constrain the U.S. military.
They aren't against killing Al Qaeda members with Hellfire missiles; they're against a process for identifying Al Qaeda terrorists or "associated forces" that equates being accused with being guilty.
They aren't against killing American citizens who join the enemy; they're against the extrajudicial killing of Americans merely accused of doing so, especially when conducted in secret, far from any battlefield, with no evidence or defense presented, and no mechanism for accountability if a mistake is made.
They aren't against rules permitting certain enemies to be targeted and killed; they're against secret rules written by compromised political appointees and withheld from the crucible of public discourse.
In short, most drone critics aren't opposed to armed, unmanned aerial vehicles in general, but to specific features of the targeted-killing program that make it imprudent and immoral. Precisely because it is so difficult to argue that armed drones are always indefensible, Obama defenders often speak out as if against that straw man. As a result, fewer Americans grapple with the more persuasive argument that Obama's specific drone campaign is indefensible, for a much more legally, morally, and prudentially sound drone program could replace it. That's the tragedy and travesty of this whole picture -- many of the problems with the U.S. drone program could be mitigated through straightforward reforms. And those reforms ought to be imposed by Congress, not adopted in secret by an executive branch that has the prerogative to reverse itself in secret or grant itself exceptions.
There are so many reforms from which to choose.
The U.S. military, not the CIA, could administer all drone strikes. Team Obama could make public and allow debate on the legal theory it uses to determine when drone strikes are lawfully permitted, rather than keeping it from most of Congress and the American people. The law could codify rules that implicitly value the lives of innocent foreigners and aim to avoid blowback could govern when and where drone strikes are permitted. Congress and the judiciary could review lethal strikes to ensure the rules are being followed. The administration could given an honest accounting of civilians killed, in place of Team Obama's indefensible practice of counting all dead males of military age as militants. The government could factor blowback into the cost of every drone strike at the highest levels, rather than permitting the CIA to conduct strikes in Pakistan without presidential approval. Before an American citizen is individually targeted as a member of Al Qaeda, as opposed to being shot at while appearing opposite U.S. troops on a traditional battlefield, he or she could be afforded the due process guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
Put simply, drone warfare would be made safe, rare, and legal.
Various critics of Obama's drone campaign have called for reforms like that. Too often, Obama apologists respond by presenting a false choice: Embrace the status quo or let terrorists go.
3) ACLU, Congress Await Obama's Next Action on Overseas Drone Strikes
Kwame Holman, PBS Newshour, March 29, 2013 at 11:10 AM EDT
As the American Civil Liberties Union's chief Washington lobbyist, Chris Anders spends a lot of time with members of Congress and their staffs. But he says no one seems to know when President Barack Obama will fulfill his promise to engage Congress and the public on the controversial use of U.S. drone attacks to kill terror suspects.
"I was just in a meeting yesterday with a couple of key congressional staff who've asked the White House if they have a proposal, if they have anything they want to engage on and they got nothing back in response," Anders said by phone Thursday as he rode in a taxi to a Capitol Hill meeting.
"The administration has not given Congress any guidance on what [it's] looking for other than a promise that the president would be providing a longer explanation of the targeted killing program and explaining it to the country," said Anders.
In October 2012 on The Daily Show, Mr. Obama said of the U.S. drone strike program, "we've got to ... put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president's reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we're making."
During the confirmation process for new CIA director John Brennan, documents certifying the legality of strikes on Americans on foreign soil were shown to members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
But Anders says there are six more legal memos that claim perhaps even broader authority to attack non-Americans outside the U.S. that the administration has not shared. The ACLU has sued the government to get them.
"What Congress needs to see are the other six legal opinions because if they saw [them] they would have a much better idea of the breadth of the legal authority the president is claiming to use drones and other lethal force away from the battlefield," Anders said.
"It's telling that there isn't a single country in the entire world that agrees with the U.S's claims of authority to use lethal force away from the battlefield. So the U.S. is on its own. My guess is if the rest of the legal opinions dealing with non-citizens were publicly disclosed we would find that they're even farther afield from where the law is and ... that is why they haven't been disclosed."
In recent weeks, supporters of President Obama, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and former Clinton administration official John Podesta, have urged the president to involve Congress and open up about the drone program and its justifications.
Meanwhile, fresh polls show the drone strikes are increasingly unpopular with the public, potentially cutting into Mr. Obama's political strength in coming policy battles with Congress.
4) Afghan teenager fatally stabs American soldier as March US death toll spikes in Afghanistan
Associated Press, Updated: Monday, April 1, 12:39 PM
Kabul, Afghanistan - An Afghan teenager fatally stabbed an American soldier in the neck as he played with children in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Monday, as the U.S. death toll rose sharply last month with an uptick in fighting due to warmer weather.
Last week's calculated attack shows that international troops still face a myriad of dangers even though they are increasingly taking a back seat in operations with Afghan forces ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Just one U.S. service member was killed in February - a five-year monthly low - but the American death toll climbed to at least 14 last month.
Overall, the number of Americans and other foreign forces killed in Afghanistan has fallen as their role shifts more toward training and advising government troops instead of fighting.
But a series of so-called insider attacks on foreign troops by Afghan forces of insurgents disguised as them has threatened to undermine the trust needed to help President Hamid Karzai's government take the lead in securing the country after more than 11 years at war.
The attack that killed Sgt. Michael Cable, 26, of Philpot, Ky., last Wednesday occurred after the soldiers had secured an area for a meeting of U.S. and Afghan officials in a province near the volatile border with Pakistan.
But one of two senior U.S. officials who confirmed that Cable had been stabbed by a young man said the assailant was not believed to have been in uniform so it was not being classified as an insider attack.
5) Hagel Warns of Big Squeeze at the Pentagon
Thom Shanker, New York Times, March 31, 2013
Mr. Hagel did not hide the quiet storm that is gathering, one that will test his empathy with the enlisted ranks as he begins to make tough calls over coming weeks about further shrinking the Pentagon after more than a decade of war and free spending.
Even more, as President Obama - who has placed some of the military's long-favored weapons programs in his sights - continues to negotiate with Congress over a spending and revenue deal, Pentagon officials acknowledge they are bracing for a protracted period in which they may have to manage even larger budget reductions than anticipated.
"There will be changes, some significant changes," Mr. Hagel warned at a news conference last week. "There's no way around it."
Senior military commanders know the meaning of those words from Mr. Hagel: the former soldier may have to fire more soldiers and reduce or reject more weapons programs.
Mr. Hagel is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week that will differ in tone and substance from the dire warnings about budget cuts heard before his arrival. The message is that while the leadership hopes to dampen the impact of across-the-board spending cuts, there is a new Pentagon reality, and everyone must deal with it. Mr. Hagel, whose acceptance of the need to shrink the Pentagon is in step with Mr. Obama's self-declared strategy to avoid large overseas land wars, will start to outline a rethinking of military policy to fit smaller budgets.
Already, Mr. Hagel directed Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, to conduct a sweeping "Strategic Choices and Management Review" due by the end of May.
6) Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Will Cost U.S. 4-6 Trillion Dollars: Report
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Mar 30 2013
Washington - Costs to U.S. taxpayers of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will run between four and six trillion dollars, making them the most expensive conflicts in U.S. history, according to a new report by a prominent Harvard University researcher.
While Washington has already spent close to two trillion dollars in direct costs related to its military campaigns in the two countries, that total "represents only a fraction of the total war costs", according to the report by former Bill Clinton administration official Linda Bilmes.
"The single largest accrued liability of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the cost of providing medical care and disability benefits to war veterans," she wrote in the 21-page report, 'The Financial Legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan: How Wartime Spending Decisions Will Constrain Future National Security Budgets'.
Bilmes, who since 2008 has co-authored a number of analyses on war costs with the World Bank's former chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, noted that more than half of the more than 1.5 million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 9/11 have received medical treatment at veterans' hospitals and have been granted benefits for the rest of their lives. More than 253,000 troops have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Additional costs include the replacement and repair of equipment - which wears out at an estimated six times the peace-time rate - and the accumulation of interest on money borrowed by the Treasury to finance the wars since the nearly two trillion dollars in war costs were not subject to the normal budgetary process.
So far, Washington has paid some 260 billion dollars in interest charged on war-related borrowing, but the "potential interest cost of the U.S. war debt reaches into the trillions," according to the report.
"One of the most significant challenges to future U.S. national security policy will not originate from any external threat," she wrote. "Rather it is simply coping with the legacy of the conflicts we have already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The report comes at a key moment, as Republicans in Congress appear increasingly split between defence hawks on the one hand, who want to maintain or increase Pentagon spending and have been pushing for a more aggressive U.S. role in the Syrian civil war, among other hotspots, and deficit hawks, on the other, who believe the country can ill afford bigger military budgets, let alone new foreign military adventures, especially in the Middle East.
But this report – as well as another put out by Brown University on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion that estimated the total war costs at three trillion dollars – are likely to bolster the deficit hawks among Republicans, as well as foreign-policy realists most closely identified with the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and most Democrats, including President Barack Obama and his closest aides.
That most war-related costs are actually incurred after the wars are themselves concluded is not unusual in U.S. history, according to a recent investigation by the Associated Press (AP).
After researching federal records, it reported last week that compensation for World War II veterans and their families only reached a high in 1991 – 46 years after the war ended.
It also reported that, almost exactly 40 years after the last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam, the government is still paying veterans and their families or survivors more than 22 billion dollars a year in war-related claims, and that that figure is on the rise, as the beneficiary population ages. Similarly, payments to Gulf War veterans are also increasing.
The much-greater costs to be incurred by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are explained by, among other factors, much higher survival rates among wounded soldiers, more generous benefits for veterans, new categories of beneficiaries, more expensive medical treatments, and increases in both pay and benefits for troops in order to gain more recruits for the all-volunteer army.
7) Assange prosecutor quits while accuser sacks lawyer
Philip Dorling, Sydney Morning Herald, March 28, 2013
The top Swedish prosecutor pursuing sexual assault charges against Julian Assange has abruptly left the case and one of Mr Assange's accusers has sacked her lawyer.
The turmoil in the Swedish Prosecution Authority's effort to extradite Mr Assange comes as another leading Swedish judge prepares to deliver an unprecedented public lecture in Australia next week on the WikiLeaks publisher's case.
Fairfax Media has obtained Swedish court documents that reveal high-profile Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye has unexpectedly left the handling Mr Assange's case, effective from Wednesday, and has been replaced by a more junior prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren. The reasons for the change have not yet been disclosed.
One of Mr Assange's two accusers, political activist Anna Ardin, also applied to the Swedish courts on February 28 to replace her controversial lawyer Claes Borgstrom. Ms Ardin complained that she found Mr Borgstrom spent much more time talking to the media than to her, referred her inquiries to his secretary or assistant, and that she had lost faith in him as her legal representative.
News of changes in the Swedish prosecution of Mr Assange comes shortly before Swedish Supreme Court judge Stefan Lindskog delivers a keynote lecture on "the Assange affair, and freedom of speech, from the Swedish perspective" at the University of Adelaide next Wednesday.
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Mr Assange condemned Judge Lindskog's planned discussion of his case. "If an Australian High Court judge came out and spoke on a case the court expected or was likely to judge, it would be regarded as absolutely outrageous," he said.
Greg Barns, a barrister spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said it was a fundamental legal principle that judges do not speak publicly on matters that are likely to come before the courts or are yet to be decided. "That a Swedish supreme court judge thinks this is acceptable tends to confirm the fears people have about the impartiality and robustness of the Swedish judicial system. It gives great currency to the belief that Mr Assange's case in Sweden has been heavily politicised."
"Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus should be taking this matter up with his Swedish counterpart as a matter of urgency," Mr Barns said.
Meanwhile the United States government has confirmed that its grand jury criminal investigation of WikiLeaks and Mr Assange is continuing.
A US Justice Department spokesman for federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia has confirmed this week that a criminal investigation into WikiLeaks "remains ongoing" some three years after the transparency website first published classified US diplomatic reports and video of a helicopter gunship attack in Iraq.
Official confirmation of a continuing criminal probe came in response to inquiries from independent US journalist Alexa O'Brien about statements made in pre-trial hearings in the prosecution of Private Manning that the Justice Department is still investigating the "founders, owners, or managers of WikiLeaks".
Australian diplomats in Washington have tracked the WikiLeaks investigation closely. One classified diplomatic cable from the Australian embassy in Washington in November 2012, released to Fairfax Media under freedom-of-information laws, explicitly refers to "the district court of the Eastern District of Virginia, where the WikiLeaks grand jury has been convened". Earlier Australian embassy reports, also released under freedom of information, quoted senior Justice Department officials describing the WikiLeaks probe as "unprecedented both in its scale and nature"'.
8) Indian Supreme Court Delivers Verdict in Novartis Case
MSF/Doctors Without Borders, 1 April 2013
Decision safeguards access to affordable medicines and prevents abusive patenting of medicines
New Delhi/Geneva – The landmark decision by the Indian Supreme Court in Delhi to uphold India's Patents Act in the face of the seven-year challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is a major victory for patients' access to affordable medicines in developing countries, the international medical humanitarian organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) stated today.
"This is a huge relief for the millions of patients and doctors in developing countries who depend on affordable medicines from India, and for treatment providers like MSF," said Dr Unni Karunakara, MSF International President. "The Supreme Court's decision now makes patents on the medicines that we desperately need less likely. This marks the strongest possible signal to Novartis and other multinational pharmaceutical companies that they should stop seeking to attack the Indian patent law."
India began granting patents on medicines to comply with international trade rules, but designed its law with safeguards – including a clause known as Section 3(d) -that prevent companies from abusing the patent system. Section 3(d) prevents companies from gaining patents on modifications to existing drugs, in order to ever extend monopolies.
Novartis first took the Indian government to court in 2006 over its 2005 Patents Act because it wanted a more extensive granting of patent protection for its products than offered by Indian law. In a first case before the High Court in Chennai, Novartis claimed that the Act did not meet rules set down by the World Trade Organization and was in violation of the Indian constitution. Novartis lost this case in 2007, but launched a subsequent appeal before the Supreme Court in a bid to weaken the interpretation of the law and empty it of substance. All of Novartis's claims have been rejected by the Supreme Court today.
"Novartis's attacks on 3(d), one the elements of India's patent law that protect public health, have failed," said Leena Menghaney, India Manager for MSF's Access Campaign. "Patent offices in India should consider this a clear signal that the law should be strictly applied, and frivolous patent applications should be rejected."
Although Novartis's repeated legal attacks on 3(d) were aiming to ensure even more patents were granted in India including on existing medicines, the company has raised concerns about the implications of the decision on the larger question of financing of medical innovation.
"At the moment medical innovation is financed through high drug prices backed up by patent monopolies, at the expense of patients and governments in developing countries who cannot afford those prices," said Dr Karunakara. "Instead of seeking to abuse the patent system by bending the rules and claiming ever longer patent protection on older medicines, the pharmaceutical industry should focus on real innovation, and governments should develop a framework that allows for medicines to be developed in a way that also allows for affordable access. This is a dialogue that needs to happen. We invite Novartis to be a part of the solution, instead of being part of the problem."
9) Congress is making it easier to go to war with Iran
Rebecca Griffin and Kelly Campbell, The Oregonian, March 27, 2013
[Griffin is political director of Peace Action West. She traveled to Iran in May 2009 with a people-to-people diplomacy delegation. Campbell is executive director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility.]
Last week marked one decade since the invasion of Iraq, a time for sober reflection. Do we understand the folly of wars of choice, or could we make the same mistake? A bill moving in the Senate that makes war with Iran more likely reveals that Congress may not have learned the lessons of Iraq.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted against war in Iraq, has joined 76 senators in co-sponsoring a bill that would put the Senate on record urging military, diplomatic and economic support if Israel were to decide to attack Iran. (As of this writing, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., has not co-sponsored the bill.) This bill is the most egregious in a string of congressional actions that could form the building blocks for a war that could make Iraq look like a walk in the park.
History teaches us that the run-up to war is often not one dramatic event, but a slow burn that suddenly turns into a blazing fire. History is now repeating itself on Capitol Hill.
Congress has already quietly lowered the threshold for war with Iran. Last year, the House and Senate voted to move the red line for military action to Iran's achieving an ill-defined nuclear capability as opposed to the administration's stated line of an actual weapon. That bill did not define "nuclear capability," vague terminology that could apply to any number of countries with nuclear energy programs.
The bill before the Senate this year endorses a potential future military attack, an unusual step for Congress. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a lead sponsor of the bill with Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., made chilling comments about the legislation to Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post: On his Iran resolutions, Graham favors a step-by-step approach. You have to build a case, he explained: First, you rule out containment, then pledge support to Israel, and if that doesn't work, tell President Obama: Mr. President, here's authorization.
Some supporters argue that the nonbinding nature of the language should assuage any concern. Would their outlook be so sanguine if the government of Iran pledged support for an attack on the United States? A statement from the Senate has power, and senators know it.
Congress' escalating steps create a troubling pattern. Military leaders have been clear that an attack on Iran would be a disaster. Escalating confrontation is the likely result, along with a compelling motivation for the Iranian regime to develop a nuclear weapon -- a decision U.S. intelligence argues Iran has yet to make.
Facing this reality, we doubt the Obama administration wants war with Iran. But we fear that Congress' ramping up of pressure and undermining diplomacy will box out other options.
The United States and its partners are making tentative progress in negotiations with Iran, but continued progress requires at least a modicum of trust, which is hard to come by given the long history of tensions. A pledge of support for military action on Iran by Congress blows that trust-building out of the water.
The Iranian people and their government often question the intentions of the United States, and their skepticism feels justified when our government speaks with two voices. Congress should abandon the misguided notion of serving as the administration's bad cop.
What will these 77 senators think when they look back at this bill in 10 years? The best-case scenario will be a pointless exercise in chest-beating that did little to resolve tensions with Iran. The worst-case scenario is a step that laid the groundwork for another disastrous war. Congress, including Sens. Merkley and Wyden, needs to put the brakes on this counterproductive legislation.
10) Nato air strike 'kills two children' in south-eastern Afghanistan
Nato helicopter fire reportedly kills two children along with nine suspected Ta liban fighters near the town of Ghazni
Guardian, Saturday 30 March 2013 09.53 EDT
A Nato helicopter has reportedly killed two children during an attack on Taliban fighters. The helicopter opened fire as it supported Afghan soldiers near the town of Ghazni in south-east Afghanistan, despite president Hamid Karzai forbidding troops to call for foreign air support.
Afghan police had been patrolling in Ghazni when they came under attack by insurgents, Nato spokesman Major Adam Wojack said.
"International Security Assistance Forces [ISAF] supported the Afghan unit in contact by engaging the insurgent forces with helicopter-delivered direct fire," he said, adding that ISAF was investigating reports of civilian casualties.
Nine Taliban fighters were killed and eight civilians were wounded, according to senior Afghan police detective Colonel Mohammad Hussain.
A Reuters reporter saw the bodies of two children, whom local people said had been killed in the air strike.
Last month Karzai forbade Afghan forces from calling for Nato air support and Nato from striking "in Afghan homes or villages" after an air strike that killed 10 civilians.
11) Afghan Villagers Flee Their Homes, Blame US Drones
Kathy Gannon, AP, Mar. 28 2:18 AM EDT
Khalis Family Village, Afghanistan -- Barely able to walk even with a cane, Ghulam Rasool says he padlocked his front door, handed over the keys and his three cows to a neighbor and fled his mountain home in the middle of the night to escape relentless airstrikes from U.S. drones targeting militants in this remote corner of Afghanistan.
Rasool and other Afghan villagers have their own name for Predator drones. They call them benghai, which in the Pashto language means the "buzzing of flies." When they explain the noise, they scrunch their faces and try to make a sound that resembles an army of flies.
"They are evil things that fly so high you don't see them but all the time you hear them," said Rasool, whose body is stooped and shrunken with age and his voice barely louder than a whisper. "Night and day we hear this sound and then the bombardment starts."
The U.S. military is increasingly relying on drone strikes inside Afghanistan, where the number of weapons fired from unmanned aerial aircraft soared from 294 in 2011 to 506 last year. With international combat forces set to withdraw by the end of next year, such attacks are now used more for targeted killings and less for supporting ground troops.
It's unclear whether Predator drone strikes will continue after 2014 in Afghanistan, where the government has complained bitterly about civilian casualties. The strikes sometimes accidentally kill civilians while forcing others to abandon their hometowns in fear, feeding widespread anti-American sentiment.
The Associated Press – in a rare on-the-ground look unaccompanied by military or security – visited two Afghan villages in Nangarhar province near the border with Pakistan to talk to residents who reported that they had been affected by drone strikes.
In one village, Afghans disputed NATO's contention that five men killed in a particular drone strike were militants. In the other, a school that was leveled in a nighttime airstrike targeting Taliban fighters hiding inside has yet to be rebuilt.
"These foreigners started the problem," Rasool said of international troops. "They have their own country. They should leave."
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