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JFP 4/15: Fri. actions to save Social Security & cut Pentagon; drone lies exposed
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 15 April 2013 - 6:47pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 15, 2013
Fri. actions to save Social Security & cut Pentagon; drone lies exposed
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
On Friday, Help MoveOn Kill Chained CPI and Cut the Pentagon Instead
On Friday, MoveOn is calling for actions at Congressional offices to stop the President's proposal to cut Social Security and veterans' benefits by using the "chained CPI" to cut the cost-of-living adjustment. This is a historic opportunity to push back on the 1%'s idea that Social Security and veterans' benefits should be cut to protect the Pentagon budget from cuts. Sign our petition, share our blog, help organize a petition delivery action at a Congressional office near you; write to Congress if you haven't already.
Our petition: Cut Social Security & Veterans' Benefits? Cut the Pentagon Instead!
Blog: On Friday, Kill the #ChainedCPI Cut to Social Security & Veterans' Benefits
Organize an action: Host an Emergency mobilization to protect Social Security
Write to Congress, urging them to cut the Pentagon budget instead of Social Security and veterans' benefits
Durbin hearing on drone strikes postponed to April 23
The hearing, originally scheduled for April 16, is now scheduled for April 23, 10AM ET.
If you have a Senator on the subcommittee - Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Texas, South Carolina, Texas, or Utah - please
1) urge your Senator to publicly call in the hearing for a Congressional subpoena of the drone strike memos if the Administration won't hand them over;
2) urge your Senator to ask questions in the hearing such as:
- about the scale of civilian casualties and why government information about this is classified;
- whether the Administration is lowballing civilian deaths by automatically classifying "military age males" as "militants" when they are killed by US drone strikes;
- whether the US is conducting "secondary strikes" and whether this constitutes a war crime;
- what percentage of those killed have been "suspected terrorist leaders" and what this means for claims that the program is narrowly targeted on "suspected terrorist leaders."
We will be sending an alert to people in the aforementioned states who have taken action in the past.
The members of the subcommittee are listed here:
1) Classified intelligence reports show that contrary to claims it has deployed drone strikes only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified "other" militants in Pakistan's tribal area, Jonathan Landay reports for McClatchy. The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn't on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn't exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as "other militants" and "foreign fighters."
The documents also show that drone operators weren't always certain who they were killing despite the administration's guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA's targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been "exceedingly rare," Landay reports. At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were "assessed" as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Landay notes that the CIA-targeted Haqqani network wasn't on the U.S. list of international terrorist groups at the time of the strikes covered by the U.S. intelligence reports, and it isn't known to ever have been directly implicated in a plot against the U.S. homeland.
2) The Obama administration has not been honest about who the CIA has been targeting with drones in Pakistan, writes Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations in Foreign Policy, responding to Landay's report. Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides -- that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland -- is false. As the Obama administration unveils its promised and overdue targeted-killing reforms over the next few months, citizens, policymakers, and the media should keep in mind this disconnect between who the US claimed it was killing and who it was actually killing, Zenko writes.
Zenko notes that some of the drone strikes that Landay describes, such as a May 22, 2007 attack requested by Pakistan's intelligence service to support Pakistani troops in combat, do not appear in the databases maintained by the New America Foundation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, or Long Wars Journal.
3) A group of U.S. lawmakers is proposing to intensify the economic pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear program by drafting the harshest penalties to date, Bloomberg reports. The draft measure, which is expected to be finalized and introduced this month, would require Iran to move toward "a free and democratically elected government" before Iranian government-controlled entities could be removed from the U.S. sanctions list. Some policy specialists warn that making the election of a new Iranian regime the objective of some of the sanctions might backfire.
Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat who was chief of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s, said a statement by the Clinton administration that regime change was an aim of sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime prompted Iraq to stop cooperating with UN inspectors. Senators involved in drafting or consulting on the legislation include Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and John Cornyn of Texas; and Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. [Some have likened this bill to the "Iraq Liberation Act" passed by Congress during the Clinton Administration which laid the groundwork for Bush's invasion of Iraq - JFP.]
4) The Pentagon's top budget official said the Defense Department underestimated the cost of the Afghanistan war in fiscal 2013 by as much as $10 billion, and lacking clarity on the number of troops that will remain in the country next year, DOD will not submit a fiscal 2014 budget request for the war to Congress until next month, Foreign Policy reports. Pentagon documents show DOD requesting $88 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations account. But the documents caution the request is "a placeholder pending submission of a final OCO request." The new request assumes "for pricing only" that the 34,000 troops President Obama said he would withdraw from Afghanistan next year will not be pulled until the end of fiscal 2014, a year from September.
5) Starting last fall, Iran appears to have run out of basic surgical supplies, owing to sanctions designed to limit the country's nuclear program, writes Marc Herman in the Pacific Standard. Reports from inside Iran claim shortages of anesthetics have threatened closures of operating rooms.
Though it's legal to sell medicine to Iran, the sales must pass through a byzantine process of currency transfers and third-party banking, to avoid doing business with Iranian financial institutions—most of which are sanctioned. The result is a massive disincentive to do business, according to a report by Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council.
Siamak Namazi, who wrote a report on the medical shortage problem for the Woodrow Wilson Center, says the shortages could be avoided by pre-approving payments from Iranian banks to specific drug manufacturers. "Pfizer doesn't make nuclear parts. Just identify these 50 or 60 companies and let them get paid by any bank," he argued.
6) The New York Times published an op-ed by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, one of the prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo. He has been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months, never been charged with any crime, never received a trial. He says he has been force-fed and tied to a bed for 26 hours.
7) 61 years after Japan's return to sovereignty, residents of Henoko in Okinawa are preparing to protest a new U.S. military base, NBC News reports. "The people of Okinawa prefecture are greatly dissatisfied," Okinawa's governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, said in October in Washington. "People have been requesting to relocate the bases for 15 or 16 years … but it's not happening."
8) Nicolás Maduro's defeat of challenger Henrique Capriles for the presidency of Venezuela was a vote of confidence in the success of the government in raising living standards, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. Polling data showed a close correlation between support for Maduro and Venezuelans' contact with the misiones, or social programs, established by Chávez, that provided everything from healthcare and subsidised food to college education. There were major improvements in Venezuelans' living standards during the Chávez years. After the government got control over the national oil industry, poverty was reduced by half and extreme poverty by about 70%. Real income per person grew by about 2.5% annually from 2004 to 2012, and inequality fell sharply. Unemployment was 8% in 2012, as opposed to 14.5% when Chávez took office. These numbers are not in dispute among economists or other experts, nor among international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF or UN. But they are rarely reported in the major western media.
1) Obama's drone war kills 'others,' not just al Qaida leaders
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers, April 10, 2013
Washington -- Contrary to assurances it has deployed U.S. drones only against known senior leaders of al Qaida and allied groups, the Obama administration has targeted and killed hundreds of suspected lower-level Afghan, Pakistani and unidentified "other" militants in scores of strikes in Pakistan's rugged tribal area, classified U.S. intelligence reports show.
The administration has said that strikes by the CIA's missile-firing Predator and Reaper drones are authorized only against "specific senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces" involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks who are plotting "imminent" violent attacks on Americans.
"It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative," President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. "It has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States."
Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn't adhere to those standards.
The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn't on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn't exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as "other militants" and "foreign fighters."
Micah Zenko, an expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, a bipartisan foreign policy think tank, who closely follows the target killing program, said McClatchy's findings indicate that the administration is "misleading the public about the scope of who can legitimately be targeted."
The documents also show that drone operators weren't always certain who they were killing despite the administration's guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA's targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been "exceedingly rare."
McClatchy's review is the first independent evaluation of internal U.S. intelligence accounting of drone attacks since the Bush administration launched America's secret aerial warfare on Oct. 7, 2001, the day a missile-carrying Predator took off for Afghanistan from an airfield in Pakistan on the first operational flight of an armed U.S. drone.
The analysis takes on additional significance because of the domestic and international debate over the legality of drone strikes in Pakistan amid reports that the administration is planning to broaden its use of targeted killings in Afghanistan and North Africa.
The U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy covered most – although not all – of the drone strikes in 2006-2008 and 2010-2011. In that later period, Obama oversaw a surge in drone operations against suspected Islamist sanctuaries on Pakistan's side of the border that coincided with his buildup of 33,000 additional U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. Several documents listed casualty estimates as well as the identities of targeted groups.
McClatchy's review found that:
– At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were "assessed" as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.
Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as "foreign fighters" and "other militants."
During the same period, the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan, the main sanctuary for militant groups in Pakistan's tribal areas.
– At other times, the CIA killed people who only were suspected, associated with, or who probably belonged to militant groups.
To date, the Obama administration has not disclosed the secret legal opinions and the detailed procedures buttressing drone killings, and it has never acknowledged the use of so-called "signature strikes," in which unidentified individuals are killed after surveillance shows behavior the U.S. government associates with terrorists, such as visiting compounds linked to al Qaida leaders or carrying weapons. Nor has it disclosed an explicit list of al Qaida's "associated forces" beyond the Afghan Taliban.
The documents McClatchy has reviewed do not reflect the entirety of the killings associated with U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, which independent reports estimate at between 1,990 and 3,581.
But the classified reports provide a view into how drone strikes were carried out during the most intense periods of drone warfare in Pakistan's remote tribal area bordering Afghanistan. Specifically, the documents reveal estimates of deaths and injuries; locations of militant bases and compounds; the identities of some of those targeted or killed; the movements of targets from village to village or compound to compound; and, to a limited degree, the rationale for unleashing missiles.
The documents also reveal a breadth of targeting that is complicated by the culture in the restive region of Pakistan where militants and ordinary tribesmen dress the same, and carrying a weapon is part of the centuries-old tradition of the Pashtun ethnic group.
The Haqqani network, for example, cooperates closely with al Qaida for philosophical and tactical reasons, and it is blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks against civilians and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. But the Haqqani network wasn't on the U.S. list of international terrorist groups at the time of the strikes covered by the U.S. intelligence reports, and it isn't known to ever have been directly implicated in a plot against the U.S. homeland.
Other groups the documents said were targeted have parochial objectives: the Pakistani Taliban seeks to topple the Islamabad government; Lashkar i Jhangvi, or Army of Jhangvi, are outlawed Sunni Muslim terrorists who've slaughtered scores of Pakistan's minority Shiites and were blamed for a series of attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including a 2006 bombing against the U.S. consulate in Karachi that killed a U.S. diplomat. Both groups are close to al Qaida, but neither is known to have initiated attacks on the U.S. homeland.
"I have never seen nor am I aware of any rules of engagement that have been made public that govern the conduct of drone operations in Pakistan, or the identification of individuals and groups other than al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban," said Christopher Swift, a national security law expert who teaches national security affairs at Georgetown University and closely follows the targeted killing issue. "We are doing this on a case-by-case, ad hoc basis, rather than a systematic or strategic basis."
The administration has declined to reveal other details of the program, such as the intelligence used to select targets and how much evidence is required for an individual to be placed on a CIA "kill list." The administration also hasn't even acknowledged the existence of so-called signature strikes, let alone discussed the legal and procedural foundations of the attacks.
Leaders of the Senate and House intelligence committees say they maintain robust oversight over the program. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., disclosed in a Feb. 13 statement that the panel is notified "with key details . . . shortly after" every drone strike. It also reviews videos of strikes and considers "their effectiveness as a counterterrorism tool, verifying the care taken to avoid deaths to non-combatants and understanding the intelligence collection and analysis that underpins these operations."
But until last month, Obama had rebuffed lawmakers' repeated requests to see all of the classified Justice Department legal opinions on the program, giving them access to only two dealing with the president's powers to order targeted killings. It then allowed the Senate committee access to all opinions pertaining to the killing of U.S. citizens to clear the way for the panel's March 7 confirmation of John Brennan, the former White House counterterrorism chief and the key architect of the targeted killings program, as the new CIA director. But it continues to deny access to other opinions on the grounds that they are privileged legal advice to the president.
Some legal scholars and human rights organizations, however, dispute the program's legality.
Obama, they think, is misinterpreting international law, including the laws of war, which they say apply only to the uniformed military, not the civilian CIA, and to traditional battlefields like those in Afghanistan, not to Pakistan's tribal area, even though it may be a sanctuary for al Qaida and other violent groups. They argue that Obama also is strengthening his executive powers with an excessively broad application of the September 2001 use-of-force resolution.
The administration's definition of "imminent threat" also is in dispute. The Justice Department's leaked white paper argues the United States should be able "to act in self-defense in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack." Legal scholars counter that the administration is using an exaggerated definition of imminence that doesn't exist in international law.
"I'm thankful that my doctors don't use their (the administration's) definition of imminence when looking at imminent death. A head cold could be enough to pull the plug on you," said Morris Davis, a Howard University Law School professor and former Air Force lawyer who served as chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay terrorism trials.
The administration asserts that drones are used to hit specific individuals only after their names are added to a "list of active terrorists," following a process of "extraordinary care and thoughtfulness" that confirms their identities as members of al Qaida or "associated forces" and weighs the strategic value of killing each one.
Yet the U.S. intelligence reports show that 43 out of the 95 strikes recorded in reports for the year ending in September 2011 were launched against groups other than al Qaida. Prominent among them were the Haqqani network and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan.
The Haqqani network is an Afghan Taliban-allied organization that operates in eastern Afghanistan and whose leaders are based in Pakistan's adjacent North Waziristan tribal agency. The United States accuses the group of staging some of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Kabul, including on the Indian and U.S. embassies, killing civilians, and attacking U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. But the Obama administration didn't officially designate the network as a terrorist group until September 2012.
The U.S. intelligence documents also describe a lack of precision when it comes to identifying targets.
Consider one attack on Feb. 18, 2010.
Information, according to one U.S. intelligence account, indicated that Badruddin Haqqani, the then-No. 2 leader of the Haqqani network, would be at a relative's funeral that day in North Waziristan. Watching the video feed from a drone high above the mourners, CIA operators in the United States identified a man they believed could be Badruddin Haqqani from the deference and numerous greetings he received. The man also supervised a private family viewing of the body.
Yet despite a targeting process that the administration says meets "the highest possible standards," it wasn't Badruddin Haqqani who died when one of the drone's missiles ripped apart the target's car after he'd left the funeral.
It was his younger brother, Mohammad.
Friends later told reporters that Mohammad Haqqani was a religious student in his 20s uninvolved in terrorism; the U.S. intelligence report called him an active member – but not a leader – of the Haqqani network. At least one other unidentified occupant of his vehicle perished, according to the report.
2) An Inconvenient Truth
Finally, proof that the United States has lied in the drone wars.
Micah Zenko, Foreign Policy, April 10, 2013
It turns out that the Obama administration has not been honest about who the CIA has been targeting with drones in Pakistan. Jonathan Landay, national security reporter at McClatchy Newspapers, has provided the first analysis of drone-strike victims that is based upon internal, top-secret U.S. intelligence reports. It is the most important reporting on U.S. drone strikes to date because Landay, using U.S. government assessments, plainly demonstrates that the claim repeatedly made by President Obama and his senior aides -- that targeted killings are limited only to officials, members, and affiliates of al Qaeda who pose an imminent threat of attack on the U.S. homeland -- is false.
Senior officials and agencies have emphasized this point over and over because it is essential to the legal foundations on which the strikes are ultimately based: the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and the U.N. Charter's right to self-defense. A Department of Justice white paper said that the United States can target a "senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Attorney General Eric Holder said the administration targets "specific senior operational leaders of al-Qaeda and associated forces," and Harold Koh, the senior State Department legal adviser dubbed them "high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks." Obama said during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012: "These strikes have been in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and going after al-Qaeda suspects." Finally, Obama claimed in September: "Our goal has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America."
As the Obama administration unveils its promised and overdue targeted-killing reforms over the next few months, citizens, policymakers, and the media should keep in mind this disconnect between who the United States claimed it was killing and who it was actually killing.
This scope of targeting complicates the Obama administration's claim that only those al Qaeda members who are an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland can be killed. In reality, starting in the summer of 2008, when President Bush first authorized signature strikes in Pakistan, the vast majority of drone-strike victims were from groups focused on establishing some form of Sharia law, attacking Pakistani security forces, and destabilizing Afghanistan by supporting the Taliban and attacking U.S. servicemembers. The United States essentially replicated the Vietnam War strategy of bombing the Vietcong's safe haven in Cambodia. In addition, the CIA was engaging in "side payment strikes" against the Pakistani Taliban to eliminate threats on Islamabad's behalf. This was not a secret to anyone following the CIA's drone program.
Landay also writes that "the reports estimated there was a single civilian casualty, an individual killed in an April 22, 2011, strike in North Waziristan." This should finally demolish John Brennan's claim in June 2011 that "For the past year there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop." As I noted previously, either Brennan did not receive the information in these top-secret documents (an implausible notion given his central role in managing the targeted killings program), or he was being dishonest.
It is important to note that the claim of a single civilian casualty is based on the CIA's interpretation that any military-age males who are behaving suspiciously can be lawfully targeted. No U.S. government official has ever openly acknowledged the practice of such "signature strikes" because it is so clearly at odds with the bedrock principle of distinction required for using force within the laws of armed conflict. According to the documents reviewed by Landay, even the U.S. intelligence community does not necessarily know who it has killed; it is forced to use fuzzy categories like "other militants" and "foreign fighters."
Some of the drone strikes that Landay describes, such as a May 22, 2007 attack requested by Pakistan's intelligence service to support Pakistani troops in combat, do not appear in the databases maintained by the New America Foundation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, or Long Wars Journal. This should strengthen the concerns of many analysts about the accuracy of reporting from Pakistan's tribal areas. It also suggests that there may be a few additional targeted killing efforts of which we know nothing.
This lack of understanding further reinforces the need for a comprehensive official history of U.S. targeted killings in non-battlefield settings, comparable in scope and transparency to the government reports about other controversial counterterrorism policies. Some policymakers will question why we should care about what the United States was doing two years ago, which in Washington is considered ancient and irrelevant. Yet, for all of the historical accounts and professed concerns over the CIA's detention and extraordinary rendition program, which involved "136 known victims," it is time for an accounting of the CIA's drone strikes, which have killed between 3,000 and 4,000 people in Pakistan and Yemen.
3) U.S. Senators Seeking Tougher Economic Sanctions on Iran
Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Bloomberg, Apr 9, 2013
A group of U.S. lawmakers is proposing to intensify the economic pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear program by drafting the harshest penalties to date on a nation whose income from oil exports has been cut in half by sanctions since 2011.
A draft Senate bill, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News from a congressional office, would penalize foreign countries that do business with any Iranian entity controlled by the government. It also would bar Iran from using earnings from oil exports to purchase anything other than food and medicine.
The draft measure, which is expected to be finalized and introduced this month, also would require the Islamic Republic to release political prisoners, respect the rights of women and minorities and move toward "a free and democratically elected government" before Iranian government-controlled entities could be removed from the U.S. sanctions list.
An Iranian official, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who heads parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, said in an interview with the Arabic-language Al Alam news channel this week that that his country has the option to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires safeguards that include allowing United Nations inspectors access to Iran's nuclear sites.
Some policy specialists warn that making the election of a new Iranian regime the objective of some of the sanctions might backfire.
In an article in Foreign Affairs last October, Rolf Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat who was chief of the United Nations' weapons inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s, said a statement by U.S. President Bill Clinton's administration that regime change was an aim of sanctions on Saddam Hussein's regime prompted Iraq to stop cooperating with UN inspectors.
Trita Parsi, who has advised the UN Security Council and the U.S. Congress on sanctions, said the penalties so far have "induced Iranian escalation rather than flexibility" because Iran's leaders don't think halting nuclear research would bring sanctions relief.
Senators involved in drafting or consulting on the legislation include Republicans Mark Kirk of Illinois, Susan Collins of Maine and John Cornyn of Texas; and Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees also have been consulted, according to Senate aides.
4) Pentagon underestimates Afghanistan by $10 billion, holds war request until May
Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy, Wednesday, April 10, 2013
The Defense Department underestimated the cost of the Afghanistan war in fiscal 2013 by as much as $10 billion, the Pentagon's top budget official said on Wednesday, and lacking clarity on the number of troops that will remain in the country next year, DOD will not submit a fiscal 2014 budget request for the war to Congress until next month.
The budget blunder, combined with sequestration's mandated cuts and the fact that Congress has not passed an FY13 appropriations bill, posed yet another challenge for defense officials crafting the FY14 Defense Department spending request, which was released on Wednesday. "I can't believe how many things we're trying to do right now," Comptroller Robert Hale said.
Pentagon documents show DOD requesting $88 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, formerly known as the Global War on Terror. But the documents caution the request is "a placeholder pending submission of a final OCO request."
"Here there's a simple story about fiscal '14 OCO budget: We don't have one yet," Hale said.
The new request assumes "for pricing only" that the 34,000 troops President Obama said he would withdraw from Afghanistan next year will not be pulled until the end of fiscal 2014, a year from September.
5) Why Is Iran Running Out of Medicine?
Despite a medical loophole, U.S. sanctions designed to limit the country's nuclear program are crippling hospitals.
Marc Herman, Pacific Standard, April 12, 2013
Earlier this week, an earthquake in southern Iran knocked down at least 800 houses, killed dozens, and injured 900. Lax building codes meant the cement structures crumbled fast, trapping people inside. Some of the victims were taken to hospitals in nearby Bushehr, also home to the country's lone nuclear reactor.
That's where the problems really start—nukes and injury. Earthquakes tend to break bones, and bad breaks require surgery. Starting last fall, however, Iran appears to have run out of basic surgical supplies, owing to sanctions designed to limit the country's nuclear program. Despite a "humanitarian assistance" loophole built into the sanctions, reports from inside Iran, some in English and some in Farsi, claim shortages of anesthetics have threatened closures of operating rooms.
Why? In theory, American-led sanctions against Iran were structured to avoid the mistakes of a similar sanctions program carried out on Iraq in the 1990s. The humanitarian loophole in those previous sanctions—the infamous "oil for food" program—didn't work, and after nearly a decade of failed squeezing, the Iraq sanctions only ended with the onset of war.
The Iran situation hasn't gotten that bad. "Iran is a relatively wealthy country, and things have not gotten to the stage in Iran that they got to in Iraq in the '90s," said Barbara Slavin, who co-wrote a report on the sanctions published last week by the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan think tank which opposes the current policy.
Slavin argues the medical loophole is a failure. Though it's legal to sell medicine to Iran, the sales must pass through a byzantine process of currency transfers and third-party banking, to avoid doing business with Iranian financial institutions—most of which are sanctioned. The result is a massive disincentive to do business, her report argues. Pharmaceutical companies, turned off by the risk, simply turn their attention to less demanding markets. "A Western company that wants to sell medicine to Iran has no legal assurance of being paid," Slavin said.
Quoting a Reuters investigation, the Atlantic Council document claims that "U.S. shipments of medicine and pharmaceutical products dropped almost 45 percent from January through August" of last year, despite the U.S. Treasury issuing new rules, at the same time, to allow medical sales.
The Atlantic Council statistic reflects direct shipments of medicine from the US to Iran. Such "port-to-port" sales represent a minority of Iran's overall drug imports.
A study released in February by the Woodrow Wilson Center estimated Iran's medical imports to have decreased about 30 percent overall under the sanctions. The Wilson estimate includes indirect drug imports - medicine produced in offshore factories or routed through distribution hubs abroad. If true, the sanctions blocked between $200 million and $300 million in hard currency from reaching Iran via pharmaceutical sales.
But also blocked the amount of medicine that money buys.
"Treasury is at war with itself," Slavin argued. The U.S. Treasury office in charge of the sanctions, called the Office of Foreign Assets Control, has to allow sales of valuable, typically high-end drugs. (Iran can make its own aspirin, but doesn't have the scale or technology for, say, cancer treatments.) At the same time, the office has to fight to keep dollars out of the hands of the Iranian government. It's not an easy dual role. "The focus is to squeeze the Iranian economy, and the humanitarian focus is secondary," she said.
"I would refer them to high school economics. You're talking about an unsubstitutable good," said Siamak Namazi, who wrote the report on the medical shortage problem for the Woodrow Wilson Center published in February, as the expanded sanctions took effect. An Iranian-American business consultant based in Dubai, he was in Washington to attend a conference.
Namazi argues the shortages could be avoided by pre-approving payments from Iranian banks to specific drug manufacturers. "Pfizer doesn't make nuclear parts. Just identify these 50 or 60 companies and let them get paid by any bank," he argued. Citing U.S. trade statistics in the Wilson Center report, he noted that U.S. agricultural sales to Iran did rise last year, but that the uptick represented just a fraction of Iranian food imports. He found $89 million of Iran's total purchases of grain had come from the U.S.—out of a total Iranian import of a billion dollars. Nine percent. In theory, a specialized pill is a lot harder to replace than nine percent of a loaf of bread.
The real obstacle is that grain isn't medicine, he said. Unlike wheat, you can't just buy patented drugs anywhere. Before the sanctions took effect, Iranian companies already had relationships with American and European drugmakers, which involved drugs from those companies getting approval from Iran's equivalent of the FDA. "Unless that drug is registered in your country, that molecule, you need to approve it," said Namazi. "If you're waiting for a certain drug from Roche or Pfizer, and they say no, approving the generic brand could take two years."
"The banks are terrified of the Americans," said Namazi. "U.S. law says that none of these blacklisted Iranian banks should be in the chain anywhere. The Iranian central bank is blacklisted."
Treasury claims 24 Iranian banks are blacklisted—a list that includes virtually all of the country's major financial institutions and, indeed, the Iranian central bank. Penalties for dealing with those banks are stiff. Under U.S. and European sanctions, an illegal transaction with Iran, even if the transaction involves humanitarian aid, could result in being banned from the enormous American or E.U. markets. "So the banker says, 'You have a one-million, 10-million, 30-million-dollar sale you want to clear, and I can be fined a billion dollars for it. Sorry.'"
The final hurdle to getting medicine into Iran appears to be a simple salesman's quandary—the buyer's lack of credit. Because banks can't do deals in direct ways with Iran, it's extremely risky for a pharmaceutical company to extend credit there. But pharmaceutical deals are huge, and almost always conducted on delayed payment.
"Novartis and Pfizer used to give their distributors something like 20 to 50 million [dollars] in credit," said Namazi. "From the day you needed the medicine to the day it was in the pharmacy was three weeks. If you needed it fast, DHL would get it to you the next day."
Instead, Iran's entire national health system has to operate on a cash-and-carry deal. And DHL no longer services Iran, he said.
6) Gitmo Is Killing Me
Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, New York Times, April 14, 2013
[Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay since 2002, told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call.]
Guantánamo Bay, Cuba - One man here weighs just 77 pounds. Another, 98. Last thing I knew, I weighed 132, but that was a month ago.
I've been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.
I've been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.
I could have been home years ago - no one seriously thinks I am a threat - but still I am here. Years ago the military said I was a "guard" for Osama bin Laden, but this was nonsense, like something out of the American movies I used to watch. They don't even seem to believe it anymore. But they don't seem to care how long I sit here, either.
When I was at home in Yemen, in 2000, a childhood friend told me that in Afghanistan I could do better than the $50 a month I earned in a factory, and support my family. I'd never really traveled, and knew nothing about Afghanistan, but I gave it a try.
I was wrong to trust him. There was no work. I wanted to leave, but had no money to fly home. After the American invasion in 2001, I fled to Pakistan like everyone else. The Pakistanis arrested me when I asked to see someone from the Yemeni Embassy. I was then sent to Kandahar, and put on the first plane to Gitmo.
Last month, on March 15, I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary. I was not even permitted to pray.
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can't describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn't. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
I am still being force-fed. Two times a day they tie me to a chair in my cell. My arms, legs and head are strapped down. I never know when they will come. Sometimes they come during the night, as late as 11 p.m., when I'm sleeping.
There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren't enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.
It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the "food" spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.
When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.
The only reason I am still here is that President Obama refuses to send any detainees back to Yemen. This makes no sense. I am a human being, not a passport, and I deserve to be treated like one.
I do not want to die here, but until President Obama and Yemen's president do something, that is what I risk every day.
Where is my government? I will submit to any "security measures" they want in order to go home, even though they are totally unnecessary.
I will agree to whatever it takes in order to be free. I am now 35. All I want is to see my family again and to start a family of my own.
The situation is desperate now. All of the detainees here are suffering deeply. At least 40 people here are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.
And there is no end in sight to our imprisonment. Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made.
I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.
7) In Okinawa, the war isn't over: Protests aimed at new US base
Arata Yamamoto and John Newland, NBC News, April 13
Tokyo -- As Japan prepares to celebrate the 61st anniversary of the nation's return to sovereignty and the end of U.S. occupation after World War II, one community is getting ready to protest.
The Pentagon plans to put a new Marine Corps air base in the seaside village of Henoko, Okinawa, in 2022, and many residents aren't happy about it.
"We would like the United States to take back with them as many of these bases as they can," said Ikuo Nishikawa, a hardware store owner and native of Henoko.
The Pentagon says 38,000 U.S. forces live in Japan, most of them in Okinawa, making up the largest American presence in the increasingly tense Pacific Rim. In addition to the 38,000 on shore, there are 11,000 service members based on ships, 5,000 civilian Defense Department workers and 43,000 family members.
Although Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier this month announced a plan to eventually return more than 2,500 acres of land to Okinawans, the last thing some islanders want to see is another base -- even though it would replace an existing one that is near the heart of a bigger city and thus considered a hazard.
Okinawa's governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, has no qualms about stating his opinion on the matter. "The people of Okinawa prefecture are greatly dissatisfied," he said during an October panel discussion in Washington. "People have been requesting to relocate the bases for 15 or 16 years … but it's not happening."
8) Nicolás Maduro is Venezuela's vote for Chávismo
Hugo Chávez's economic policies were successful but a close vote means the new president cannot become complacent
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, April 15
After a short but bitterly fought, insult-laden campaign, Chávista standard-bearer Nicolás Maduro defeated challenger Henrique Capriles, thus assuring continuity in Venezuela after the death of the former president, Hugo Chávez, last month. But the election was much closer than the polls predicted: a margin of just 1.6%, or about 275,000 votes.
Capriles is demanding an audit of 100% of all votes; Maduro has apparently agreed. But the audit is unlikely to change the outcome. Unlike in the United States, where in a close election we really don't know who won, the Venezuelan system is very secure. Since there are two records of every vote (machine and paper ballot), it is nearly impossible to rig the machines and stuff the ballot boxes to match. Jimmy Carter called Venezuela's electoral system "the best in the world."
Polling data published by Reuters at the end of the campaign showed a close correlation between support for Maduro and Venezuelans' contact with the misiones, or social programmes, established by Chávez, that provided everything from healthcare and subsidised food to college education. Capriles, who mostly attacked Maduro for not being Chávez, pledged to maintain and expand the misiones. But this was not sufficient to win over enough of the swing voters who, while numerous enough to determine the outcome, probably did not believe that a scion of Venezuela's wealthy elite who hailed from a rightwing party (Primero Justicia, or Justice First) would keep that promise.
Of course, it was not just the success of the misiones that won Chávismo another seven years of the presidency. There were major improvements in Venezuelans' living standards during the Chávez years. After the government got control over the national oil industry, poverty was reduced by half and extreme poverty by about 70%. Real income per person grew by about 2.5% annually from 2004 to 2012, and inequality fell sharply. Unemployment was 8% in 2012, as opposed to 14.5% when Chávez took office.
These numbers are not in dispute among economists or other experts, nor among international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF or UN. But they are rarely reported in the major western media.
But the new government does face serious challenges, and the closeness of this election should be a wake-up call. It needs to fix the exchange rate system and bring down inflation, and resolve the problem of shortages – these three problems are closely related. Hopefully, it will resist the temptation to lower inflation and reduce imports by shrinking the economy – it is important to maintain aggregate demand, growth and employment, and the country very much needs more public investment in infrastructure. The economy has been growing for nearly three years now, after a downturn brought on by the world recession that ended in mid-2010; and until the last quarter of last year this accelerating growth was accompanied by falling inflation. It should be possible to return to this scenario with the right policies.
Maduro also pledged to bring down Venezuela's high violent crime rate, and some efforts have already begun. Governance and administration are the country's major weaknesses. It remains to be seen if the new government can meet these challenges.
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