JFP 4/22: Drone strike hearing Tue 4pm ET; Cut the Pentagon actions Thu noon
Just Foreign Policy News, April 22, 2013
Drone strike hearing Tue 4pm ET; Cut the Pentagon actions Thu noon
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Drone strike policy hearing, Tuesday, April 23
April 23, 4pm ET. (Note time change, was originally 10AM ET.)
Here is the official hearing notice and witness list, with link to the webcast:
Yemeni youth activist Farea al-Muslimi, who recently wrote an op-ed in Al-Monitor about a drone strike in his home village (#10 below), will be one of the witnesses.
If you're in the DC area and able to attend - a full house would help demonstrate public interest - the hearing is in Hart 216.
If you live in Illinois, Minnesota, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Texas, South Carolina, Texas, or Utah, you have a Senator on the subcommittee.
Here is the alert we sent to folks with Senators on the subcommittee:
Congressional Drone Hearing: Four Questions and a Subpoena
The members of the subcommittee are listed here:
MoveOn Save Social Security and Cut the Pentagon Actions, 4/25
MoveOn is calling for petition delivery 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 point out that while President Obama's proposed budget cuts Social Security, it largely protects the bloated 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!
36,000 have signed.
Our blog: April 25: A Historic Day to Cut the Bloated Pentagon Budget
Check if there's already an action organized near you:
If not, set up a petition delivery action:
let us know you signed one up: firstname.lastname@example.org
Write to Congress, urging them to cut the Pentagon budget instead of Social Security and veterans' benefits
1) The House Judiciary Committee says it postponed its meeting to authorize the issuance of a subpoena to the Department of Justice for documents pertaining to the legal justification of drone strikes on alleged terrorists overseas, after DOJ agreed to provide the requested documents to the committee. Once arrangements are made for viewing the documents, the Committee will cancel the meeting to authorize the subpoena, its statement says. [The statement notes that some - but not all -of these documents have been provided to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee, so it will be striking to see whether House Judiciary will stop pushing when it gets what the other committees got, or whether it will keep pushing.]
2) In the wake of recent earthquakes in Iran, American relief NGOs say that, even with the general license for humanitarian services, there are no banking channels to send money into Iran, writes Jamal Abdi for NIAC. Even if an NGO has people on the ground, there is no mechanism to send their teams the donations they are raising for relief efforts.
Banks that NIAC contacted after the 2012 quake said even with the Obama Administration's waiver, they would not process transactions intended for Iran for fear of violating sanctions, Abdi writes. NGOs who wanted to help were forced to cash their donation checks and pack that cash--sometimes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars--into suitcases, book a ticket to Iran, and fly the donations directly into the country.
While there is a general license now in place that technically allows medicine to be donated or sold to Iranians, there are no banks willing to process those transactions. There are a number of pragmatic proposals to fix this that are finally starting to be debated by policymakers. These include proposals offered in reports issued by the Wilson Center, the Atlantic Council, and an eminent group of former senior U.S. officials. One approach would be to issue a general license to allow for transactions with Iranian banks that are exclusively limited to food, medicine, and other humanitarian purposes. This would include transactions with the banks that have been designated under sanctions against Iran's nuclear program.
3) Secretary of State Kerry warned Congress against forcing the Obama administration's hand in dealing with Iran's nuclear program by imposing more sanctions now, The Hill reports. Kerry urged his successor as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hawkish Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), not to pursue further sanctions for now, as the US and five other nations negotiate with Iran. "I think you need to leave us the window to try to work the diplomatic channel," Kerry said.
4) Americans for Peace Now welcomed amendments made by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to temper a problematic Iran-war resolution. The amendments to Senate Resolution 65 were adopted at an SFRC "mark-up." APN welcomed both the mark-up of the resolution -- similar resolutions are often brought directly to the Senate floor for a vote, without any committee consideration - and the changes made to the measure, which attempted to narrow the scope of language saying that the U.S. should support Israel if Israel attacks Iran in "self-defense."
5) Israeli officials said a new U.S. arms deal still left them without the "bunker-buster" weapons they would need if they decided to attack Iran's deepest and best-protected nuclear sites, the New York Times reports. The Obama administration has been reluctant to even discuss selling such capability to the Israelis, the Times says. The US and Israeli governments still disagree on what the "red line" for conflict with Iran should be, the Times notes, with the Israeli government insisting that the "red line" should be stockpiling the amount of medium-enriched uranium which, if further enriched and weaponized, could produce a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. insisting that the red line should be an observed move or intent towards producing a nuclear weapon.
6) The US military says nearly half the war-on-terror captives at Guantánamo were considered hunger strikers Saturday, and more than 10 percent of all detainees were being tube fed, Carol Rosenberg reports for McClatchy. Hunger strike figures have been steadily climbing since U.S. troops raided a communal medium-security compound at the prison camps a week ago, and placed about 65 captives under single-cell lockdown, Rosenberg says.
7) Britain has blocked efforts by oil major Royal Dutch Shell to settle a $2.3 billion debt it owes Iran by paying in kind with grains or pharmaceuticals, Reuters reports. Shell has been trying for months to find a way to work around international sanctions that prevent it paying in currency for crude it bought from the National Iranian Oil Company before a European Union embargo on Iran that started last July. Industry sources said the British government was reluctant to provide relief for the Iranian economy when Western powers are using sanctions to apply financial pressure on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear program, Reuters says.
[This is a very damning report, given that the official story is that medicine and food are being hit as an unintended consequence of the sanctions, not as a goal. But in this article, blocking food imports is a goal, not an unintended side-effect. This report suggests that the US and friends are deliberately violating international humanitarian law, which requires that trade in food and medicine be exempt from sanctions - JFP.]
8) President Karzai is determined to curb CIA operations in Afghanistan after the death of a US agent and 10 Afghan children in a battle he believes was fought by an illegal militia working for the CIA, the Guardian reports. Karzai's spokesman said the CIA controlled large commando-like units, some of whom operated under the nominal stamp of the Afghan government's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, but were not actually under its control. One of these groups was involved in a battle with insurgents in eastern Kunar province in early April that left several Afghan children dead, he said.
9) Even leading pro-Israel members of Congress are outraged by an AIPAC proposal led by Senator Barbara Boxer which would allow Israel to participate in a visa exchange program by waiving the requirement that Israel not discriminate against Arab-Americans, JTA reports. Congressional staffers say Israel is unlikely to get such an exemption, which U.S. lawmakers view as an attempt to bar Arab Americans from freely entering Israel, JTA says.
10) In an op-ed for Al-Monitor, Yemeni youth activist Farea al-Muslimi writes about a U.S. drone strike in his home village. Al-Muslimi says it would have been easy to arrest the apparent target of the strike, that the drone strike terrorized people in the village, and that the drone strike policy is politically undermining Yemenis who oppose Al Qaeda. Al-Muslimi is testifying in the Senate drone strike hearing on Tuesday.
1) DOJ Agrees to Give House Judiciary Committee Legal Docs After Subpoena Notice
Press Release, House Judiciary Committee, April 17, 2013
Washington, D.C. – The House Judiciary Committee has postponed its meeting to authorize the issuance of a subpoena to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for documents pertaining to the legal justification of drone strikes on alleged terrorists overseas, including drone strikes against U.S. citizens. Only after the House Judiciary Committee noticed a subpoena did DOJ agree to provide the requested documents to the Committee. Once arrangements are made for viewing the documents, the Committee will cancel the meeting to authorize the subpoena. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) released the statement below following DOJ's decision to provide the Committee the legal documents.
Chairman Goodlatte: "I am pleased the Justice Department has finally agreed to hand over legal documents it relied on to justify the Obama Administration's policy regarding the targeted killing of alleged terrorists overseas, including drone strikes against Americans. It's unfortunate that it took a subpoena notice for the Department to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee is charged with oversight over the Justice Department and U.S. Constitution and it is imperative that we explore the issues raised by the Administration's policy."
Background: Although some of these documents had been provided to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Obama Administration refused to provide them to the House Judiciary Committee, which is charged with oversight of the Justice Department and the U.S. Constitution. In early February, a bipartisan group of top lawmakers from the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the Committee be granted the opportunity to review all Justice Department documents pertaining to the legal justification of drone strikes on Americans overseas. Last week, Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers renewed this request in a letter to President Obama and warned him that if arrangements for viewing the legal documents were not made by Thursday, April 11, the Committee would have no choice but to move forward with issuance of subpoenas for the documents.
2) Time for Humanitarian Fix to Iran Sanctions
Jamal Abdi, National Iranian American Council, Friday, April 19, 2013
In the past week, Iran has been struck by two earthquakes that have killed dozens of people and leveled hundreds of homes. And because of the political standoff with Iran's government, Americans--including Iranian Americans with family in the affected regions--are largely unable to provide any help.
Such natural disasters are nothing new for Iran. Just last year, quakes hit the northern region of Tabriz and killed hundreds. In 2003, a massive earthquake shook the region of Bam and killed over 26,000 people, making it one of the worst natural disasters of the last century. And many fear that, if an earthquake hits the densely populated capital of Tehran, the toll could be far worse.
In the cases of Tabriz and Bam, the U.S. took efforts to attempt to ensure that sanctions did not interfere with relief efforts. Both President Bush and President Obama issued general licenses to temporarily waive sanctions that prevent American relief organizations from providing humanitarian services to Iranians.
In the aftermath of these most recent earthquakes, relief organizations are still waiting to hear from President Obama whether a waiver will be issued to allow them to provide assistance. But as time goes by, it is clear that--with what has now become a near total embargo in place against Iran--the process of putting temporary bandaids on the sanctions every time there is a natural disaster is not sustainable. Moreover, sanctions are not jus interfering with relief efforts, they are causing a daily humanitarian impact by restricting the sale of life-saving medicines to Iran. This is a critical and totally preventable humanitarian problem that requires a permanent fix.
When the earthquake struck Bam in 2003, the U.S. license that was issued was not perfect. It only lasted for a total of twelve months, meaning that as soon as it expired, the American NGOs working to rebuild had to pack up and leave their recovery efforts behind, some only halfway done. But groups were still able throughout that process to find ways to send money and supplies into the country and to enable Americans to support those efforts.
However, when the earthquake struck Tabriz nearly a decade later in 2012, the problems created by sanctions were far worse. That is because the sanctions have been broadened considerably in the ensuing years and have now made it nearly impossible to conduct any international banking transactions involving Iran.
As a result, American relief NGOs have told me, even with the general license for humanitarian services, there are no banking channels to send money into Iran. That means that even if an NGO has people on the ground, there is no mechanism to send their teams the donations they are raising for relief efforts. Banks that NIAC contacted after the 2012 quake told us that even with the Obama Administration's waiver, they would not process transactions intended for Iran for fear of violating sanctions.
Instead, NGOs who wanted to help were forced to cash their donation checks and pack that cash--sometimes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars--into suitcases, book a ticket to Iran, and fly the donations directly into the country.
This is no way for relief efforts to work. At the same time, it illustrates the central problem for why on a daily basis life saving humanitarian goods are not being sent or sold to Iran.
While there is a general license now in place that technically allows medicine to be donated or sold to Iranians, there are no banks willing to process those transactions. If pharmaceutical companies were charities that were willing to donate their products, this wouldn't be a problem. They could just pack the drugs into suitcases and fly them into the country for donation. But without a way for these companies to sell their goods and get paid, they have pulled out completely from Iran, leaving a vacuum for life saving medicines for which there are no non-Western providers.
So how can we fix this?
There are a number of pragmatic proposals that are finally starting to be debated by policymakers. These include proposals offered in reports issued by the Wilson Center, the Atlantic Council, and an eminent group of former senior U.S. officials.
These approaches attempt to address the central issue of enabling banking channels for humanitarian goods to be sold to Iran. One approach would be to issue a general license to allow for transactions with Iranian banks that are exclusively limited to food, medicine, and other humanitarian purposes. This would include transactions with the banks that have been designated under sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. Some might bristle at the notion of allowing these sanctioned banks to handle transactions despite their blacklisting, but doing so would enable medicine and humanitarian relief to flow and would also divert currency from objectionable activities.
Unfortunately, even as pragmatic solutions are debated, the politics threaten to get in the way. There is a notion that any easing of sanctions, even if it is to lift pressure on Iran's people and focus it squarely against the regime, is a sign of weakness. Some seem to believe that if the U.S. in any way acknowledges that sanctions have been even partially to blame for the medicine shortages and humanitarian problems in Iran, this somehow removes the onus from the Iranian government.
However, the opposite is true--if the U.S. takes action to ensure sanctions are not part of the problem, it will put the onus squarely on the Iranian government. By ignoring the problem, and allowing the empirical evidence to mount that sanctions are indeed helping to deprive Iranians of life saving medicines and humanitarian relief, we are only providing Iran's government with ammo to claim that the West is to blame for the Iranian people's ills and punish the Iranian people who should otherwise be on our side. And, we further legitimize the assessment that these sanctions are a repeat of the Iraq sanctions that fell apart after killing hundreds of thousands and which ultimately led to war.
3) Kerry warns Congress against Iran sanctions, The Hill, April 18, 2013
Julian Pecquet, The Hill, 04/18/13 11:10 AM ET
Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday warned Congress against forcing the Obama administration's hand in dealing with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program.
Kerry urged his successor as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hawkish Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), not to pursue further sanctions for now, as the United States and five other nations negotiate with Iran.
Menendez said the Senate is considering legislation to limit Iran's access to its foreign currency reserves to create a "tipping point" in the country's response to outside pressure; House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced a new sanctions bill in February.
"We still want a diplomatic resolution to this as our first choice. But if the Iranians, who know what they have to do, are not willing to come to the table, the clock will ultimately run out," Kerry said at a committee hearing. "We're not there yet. We don't need to spin this up at this point in time.
"I think the president will be very clear with you when and if we need to do that. But for the moment, I think you need to leave us the window to try to work the diplomatic channel."
Menendez said that window was "increasingly closing."
"We hope you'll be open to some of the initiatives that we may be considering," he said.
Kerry said the administration was "open," but "I would really like to work with you on the timing."
4) APN Welcomes Changes to Problematic Iran-War Senate Resolution
Ori Nir, Americans for Peace Now, April 16, 2013 4:10 PM
Americans for Peace Now (APN) welcomes amendments made by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) to temper a problematic Iran-war resolution. The amendments to Senate Resolution 65 were adopted today at an SFRC "mark-up" meeting on Capitol Hill.
APN welcomes both the mark-up of the resolution -- similar resolutions are often brought directly to the Senate floor for a vote, without any committee consideration - and the changes made to the measure.
If passed in its original form, the resolution could have become a "backdoor to war" with Iran, giving a green light for Israeli military action against Iran, which would almost certainly compel the U.S. to join the fight.
APN last month asked its activists to contact their senators and urge them to demand a serious deliberation process, including committee consideration during which concerns about S. Res. 65 could be addressed through amendments. This afternoon, SFRC met to deal with S. Res. 65. During the mark-up, the SFRC amended S. Res. 65 to close the "back door to war" possibility.
The new language still articulates support for Israel if it takes military action in self-defense against Iran, but qualifies this support in several important ways:
* It refers to "legitimate" self-defense, making clear that the U.S. will judge what is and is not genuinely an act of self-defense.
* It explicitly narrows the scope of what would qualify as a legitimate act of self-defense to one taken against "Iran's nuclear weapons program," as opposed to any Iranian targets.
* It makes clear that support for Israel in such a case must be in accordance with U.S. law, including constitutional requirements for Congressional authorization of use of force before committing the U.S. to any military action.
5) No Bunker-Buster Bomb in Israel's U.S. Arms Deal
Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 22, 2013
Tel Aviv – American and Israeli defense officials welcomed a new arms sale agreement on Monday as a major step toward increasing Israel's military strength, but Israeli officials said it still left them without the weapons they would need if they decided to attack Iran's deepest and best-protected nuclear sites.
The mixed message came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Yaalon, reaffirmed their commitment to stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, while sidestepping a continuing disagreement between the two countries about how close to allow Iran to get toward such a goal.
In public, Mr. Hagel again said that Israel had the right to decide by itself how to defend the country, and both officials said military action should be a last resort. But a close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that "the fundamental difference of views on how much risk we can take with Iran is re-emerging."
The new weapons sale package includes aircraft for midair refueling and missiles that can cripple an adversary's air defense system. Both would be critical for Israel if it were to decide on a unilateral attack on Iran.
But what the Israelis wanted most was a weapons system that is missing from the package: a giant bunker-busting bomb designed to penetrate earth and reinforced concrete to destroy deeply buried sites. According to both American and Israeli analysts, it is the only weapon that would have a chance of destroying the Iranian nuclear fuel enrichment center at Fordow, which is buried more than 200 feet under a mountain outside the holy city of Qum.
The weapon, called a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, weighs about 30,000 pounds — so much that Israel does not have any aircraft capable of carrying it. To do so, they would need a B-2 bomber, the stealth aircraft that the United States flew nonstop recently from Missouri to the Korean Peninsula to underscore to North Korea that it could reach their nuclear sites.
The Obama administration has been reluctant to even discuss selling such capability to the Israelis.
The debate is about more than just equipment. Israel's position has been that Iran cannot be allowed to build up too large a stockpile of medium-enriched uranium that could allow it to then race for a bomb. When Mr. Netanyahu addressed the United Nations in New York last September, he drew a red line across a cartoon picture of a bomb, which aides later said indicated that Iran would not be allowed to amass enough medium-enriched uranium to get enough fuel to make a single weapon.
But most of Iran's production of that uranium is occurring inside the mountain at Fordow. So far, Iran has stayed just below Mr. Netanyahu's red line, converting some of the fuel to a metallic form that can be used in a nuclear reactor – but that would take a bit more time to convert back to bomb fuel. To the United States, this has offered up more time for a diplomatic solution. To many Israeli officials, it is a ploy, designed to buy time as Iran installs a new generation of centrifuges that could speed its production.
6) Nearly half Guantanamo now on hunger strike
Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy, Sun, Apr. 21, 2013
Nearly half the war-on-terror captives at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were considered hunger strikers Saturday, and more than 10 percent of all detainees were being tube fed, according to the military.
Army Lt. Col. Samuel House released the hunger strike figure — 77 of the 166 captives considered hunger strikers, 17 being force-fed via tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach — in an email Saturday morning from the remote base a day after reporters left the island.
The hunger strike figure rose by 14 prisoners overnight. The military reported the hunger-strike figure at 63 on Friday.
A total of five captives were hospitalized Saturday, said House, deputy prison camps spokesman. None of the hospitalized captives "have any life-threatening conditions," he added.
Hunger strike figures have been steadily climbing since U.S. troops raided a communal medium-security compound at the prison camps a week ago, and placed about 65 captives under single-cell lockdown. Weeks before the detainees had covered up most of the prison's surveillance cameras and kept themselves largely out of view of their U.S. Army guards, the military said, stirring fears that some were planning to commit suicide.
7) UK blocks Shell paying Iran oil debt in food, medicine
Richard Mably, Reuters, April 22, 8:44am EDT
London - Britain has blocked efforts by oil major Royal Dutch Shell to settle a $2.3 billion debt it owes Iran by paying in kind with grains or pharmaceuticals, industry sources said.
Shell has been trying for months to find a way to work around international sanctions that prevent it paying in currency for crude it bought from the National Iranian Oil Company before a European Union embargo on Iran that started last July.
The sources said the British government was reluctant to provide relief for the Iranian economy when Western powers are using sanctions to apply financial pressure on Tehran to dismantle its nuclear programme.
"The view is that doesn't make sense to smooth the way for a payment that helps Iran when government is trying to press Iran to negotiate," said an industry source.
Food and medicine are among the humanitarian goods not barred by U.S. and European sanctions but, isolated from international banking, Iran has been forced to pay a premium for grain imports.
Washington has tried to restrict countries like China, India, South Korea and Japan that still buy Iranian oil to paying for shipments by the barter of approved goods - including food and medicine.
U.S. sanctions state that funds used to pay for oil must remain in a bank account in the purchasing country and can be used only for non-sanctioned, bilateral trade between that country and Iran. Any bank that repatriates the money or transfers it to a third country faces a U.S. sanction risk.
Nevertheless, said the industry sources, it appears the British government would rather Iran be obliged to spend foreign reserves or use oil revenues to barter for essential imports than benefit from shipments of humanitarian goods paid for by Shell debt.
8) Hamid Karzai seeks to curb CIA operations in Afghanistan
President believes battle in which 10 children and a US agent died was fought by illegal militia working for spy agency
Emma Graham-Harrison, Guardian, Friday 19 April 2013 05.19 EDT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/19/hamid-karzai-curb-cia-afghanistan-operations
Kabul - President Hamid Karzai is determined to curb CIA operations in Afghanistan after the death of a US agent and 10 Afghan children in a battle he believes was fought by an illegal militia working for the US spy agency.
The campaign sets the Afghan leader up for another heated showdown with the US government, and will reignite questions about the CIA's extensive but highly secretive operations in the country.
Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said the CIA controlled large commando-like units, some of whom operated under the nominal stamp of the Afghan government's intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS), but were not actually under its control.
"Some of them are said to be working with the NDS, but they are not armed by the NDS, not paid by the NDS, and not sent to operations by the NDS. Sometimes they only inform the NDS minutes before the operation," Faizi said. "They are conducting operations without informing local authorities and when something goes wrong it is called a joint operation."
One of these groups was involved in a battle with insurgents in a remote corner of eastern Kunar province in early April that left several Afghan children dead, Faizi said. Karzai has fired the provincial head of intelligence in connection with the incident.
The US citizen who died during the battle was advising the Afghan intelligence service, and the airstrike that killed the children is believed to have been called in after he was fatally injured.
The US embassy declined to comment on CIA issues, but sources with knowledge of the battle said he was an agent, and his name has not been released, usually an indication of intelligence work.
Bob Woodward in his 2010 book Obama's Wars described a 3,000-strong Afghan militia working for the CIA, and Faizi said the Afghan government had little information about the teams. "There is a lack of clarity about their numbers and movement," he said when asked how many men the CIA had on their payroll, or where these large teams might be based.
Woodward said the unofficial commando units were known as counter-terrorism pursuit teams, and described them as "a paid, trained and functioning tool of the CIA", authorised by President George W Bush.
They were sent on operations to kill or capture insurgent leaders, but also went into lawless areas to try to pacify them and win support for the Afghan government and its foreign backers. Woodward said the units even conducted cross-border raids into Pakistan.
In the wake of the Kunar battle, Karzai has also ordered his security officials to step up implementation of a presidential decree issued in late February abolishing "parallel structures". Faizi said this order was aimed primarily at dismantling CIA-controlled teams.
"The use of these parallel structures run by the CIA and US special forces is an issue of concern for the Afghan people and the Afghan government," he said.
For Karzai the move is another step towards reasserting Afghan sovereignty, part of a long campaign waged against US forces and their allies. He has already won control of the main US-run prison in the country, and ended unilateral night raids on insurgent hideouts that coalition commanders once described as critical to the war.
9) In U.S. fight over visa waiver exemption for Israel, both sides cite discrimination
Ron Kampeas, JTA, April 11, 2013
Washington – A legislative effort led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to enable Israelis to enter the United States without visas may be stymied by the government – Israel's government.
The hitch is Israel's inability or unwillingness to fully reciprocate, something required for visa-free travel to the United States. Israel, citing security concerns, insists on the right to refuse entry to some U.S. citizens.
AIPAC is pushing for an exemption for Israel from this rule. But congressional staffers say Israel is unlikely to get such an exemption, which U.S. lawmakers view as an attempt to bar Arab Americans from freely entering Israel.
"It's stunning that you would give a green light to another country to violate the civil liberties of Americans traveling abroad," said a staffer for one leading pro-Israel lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The exemption AIPAC is pushing for appears in the Senate version of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, one of the key issues for which AIPAC urged supporters to lobby after its policy conference last month.
The language in that bill, proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), requires that the Homeland Security secretary grant Israel visa waiver status after certifying with the secretary of state that Israel "has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens."
House staffers say that lawmakers, pro-Israel leaders among them, have raised objections to the clause, "without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel," because it appears to validate what they see as Israel's tendency to turn away Arab Americans without giving a reason.
None of the other 37 countries currently in the visa-free program has such a caveat written into law.
Israel's government has made clear that it likely would not join the visa waiver program without such language in the law, JTA has learned. Israeli officials told JTA that U.S. citizens already are free to travel to Israel, and that there is no need for holders of American passports to obtain a tourist visa before traveling.
But there have been numerous reports in recent years that Israel routinely turns away or makes difficult the entry of Americans with Muslim and Arab names, often without explaining why. The State Department, in its Israel travel advisory, warns that "U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin" may be denied "entry or exit without explanation."
James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, which has lobbied against the Senate language, said passage of such a law would codify discriminatory treatment.
"It is ratifying Israel's position of creating two classes of citizen," said Zogby, who said he has been subject to long waits when entering Israel.
One recent case that made headlines was that of Nour Joudah, a Palestinian American who was teaching at the Friends School in Ramallah. Joudah, who had traveled to Jordan for Christmas, was denied reentry to Israel although she had a one-year multiple entry visa, and despite the fact that the Israeli Embassy in Washington had advocated for her reentry.
The House version of the same bill, initiated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), stops short of an exemption, asking only for reports from the secretary of state on what steps Israel has taken to comply with inclusion in the visa waiver program.
The exemption language in the Senate version is borrowed from a separate stand-alone House bill initiated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), called the Visa Waiver for Israel Act.
It's not clear whether the Senate language or the House language will prevail as the bills progress through committees and then into conference.
10) My Village Was Attacked
Farea al-Muslimi, Al-Monitor, April 18.
[Al-Muslimi is a Yemeni youth activist, writer and free-lancer. His writings have appeared in Al-Monitor, The National, Foreign Policy, Assafir and many other regional and international media outlets. He tweets at @AlMuslimi.]
If you live in Yemen, the golden rule is to expect anything any time. That, however, does not include expecting your hometown village — one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Yemen — to be bombed. The peacefulness of such a place makes you believe that no one has ever heard of it, let alone that it is bombed by a US drone strike at night.
That, however, is the reason that I received many messages from villagers on my two cell phones last night. They informed and asked me about a strike that had just taken place, and targeted a man named Hammed al-Masea Meftah, also known as Hammed al-Radmi — a name I wasn't familiar with as I have been away from the village over the last few years and have only returned for short visits once a year.
I was stunned by both the news of the drones and the fact that someone in Wessab, the Yemeni capital of misery with its beautiful mountains no one from outside remembers, had connections with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The last time high-level governmental officials visited the village was in 2003, when the governor of the province attended an election rally and engaged in electoral fraud to help the ruling party candidate win.
The strike was the first in over three months and the first in the entire Dhammar province, which Wessab is part of. In the past, I had celebrated this respite, but it seems that the unwise US policy of drone strikes in Yemen has resumed, and in my village this time.
We used to think that drone strikes were a localized problem, with villages far from the Yemeni capital being spared. This is no longer the case. It seems no part of Yemen is safe from US drones. In an area like Wessab, there is nothing easier than capturing a man like al-Radmi. Two police officers would have been more than capable of arresting him.
As I learned later from friends and relatives, the man returned to Wessab with strangers in 2011. As soon as he did, locals went to the security headquarters in the area to report their suspicions about him. The security chiefs said that he was an ordinary man, and that there was no problem with him or even a single report about him. More so, he was close to local authorities and enjoyed strong connections with the security chiefs, who granted him legitimacy and power over the ordinary village men who were mostly weak and poor farmers.
Al-Radmi was killed, along with four others in his car. While DC policymakers will add this operation to their success stories by using the old narrative of comparing the number of dead to the number of targets in order to evaluate success, the reality is much worse than it seems.
But even beyond that, was it really necessary to conduct an operation that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, while two soldiers could have captured the target? Locals who didn't know al-Radmi had AQAP affiliations are now angry that they were in close proximity to this man and could have been killed with him. Had they known he was a target, they would not have even allowed him to stay in the village in the first place.
More importantly, people like al-Dhafer Ali Muhammed who used to see al-Ramdi at the security and local government headquarters on a daily basis ask why not capture him and find out who is behind him? More importantly, he questions the fact that the government helped him grow such influence over the last few years and gave him their blessings.
In an area like Wessab, where schools are small and there are almost no good medical centres and asphalt roads, and where poverty is abundant but crime has almost been nonexistent over the last few years, effective counterterrorism comes not from the air but rather by building a hospital to decrease the number of women's deaths that occur every day due to lack of medication. In other words, simply by having a decent government that provides for citizens rather than making coalitions with terrorists
I have many friends and family in Wessab who I regularly visit. This is now less of an option. Drones hover over the roads leading to my village and many others in Yemen. They make you look at the sky from left to right to make sure that you are safe.
If law isn't practiced a few minutes away from the police station, how can people there trust justice and the government any longer?
If al-Radmi was a target, an arrest would have been simple. He was not some elusive figure, hiding far from the reach of the central authority. He lived a few hours from Sanaa and less than a kilometer away from government headquarters. Apparently, he was in the company of a government official at the time of the strike, having come from an area where they solved social problems together. Rather, what the drones have done is terrifying a village with thousands of the most modern people in Yemen.
At such times, it is tempting to conclude that the US has no interest in a measured response to terrorism. It is difficult not to think it doesn't matter to them whether they terrorize (and radicalize) entire populations as they check another name off their "kill list." It is also unclear what my own government's role in this slaying was — whether Yemeni officials knew in advance and stood by silently or whether they were racing to share responsibility for the killing to cover for the US. Both are problematic.
Drones have a tremendous psychological effect on those living in their shadows.
Villagers say drones hovered over Wessab for three days before they struck. The ominous buzz of the drones terrorizes communities. Where will they strike? Will I be next? These are the questions youngsters now grow up asking.
The "collateral damage" of drones cannot just be measured in corpses. Drones are traumatizing a generation and further alienating Yemenis from any cooperation with the West, or even with the Yemeni central government.
Today, the vast majority of Yemenis do not support AQAP. Enough senseless killings, though I very much doubt that this will change. I also fear it is not a good idea for me to go back to the village, as in the past the villagers have associated me with the US as someone who believes in the American values and moved out of the village via generous American scholarships.
Whoever pressed that button thousands of miles away killed my longstanding counterterrorism efforts. All the US public diplomacy of me being America's informal ambassador to an area that US officials cannot even locate on a map are now lost in this wreckage. Worse still, they made al-Radmi look like a hero.
The US continues to play with fire in Yemen by being inconsiderate and ineffective in its counterterrorism policies. With such behavior as its headline, it digs a grave for people like al-Radmi and more graves for any future peace in Yemen and the American values.
As the US continues to hold workshops to educate Yemenis in the capital on the rule of law — through its right hand USAID — it is killing them outside the law through its left hand, the drones strikes.
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