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JFP 5/21: NYT goes Judy Miller on Syria; Rand: Iran nukes no big whoop
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 21 May 2013 - 11:14am
Just Foreign Policy News, May 21, 2013
NYT goes Judy Miller in Syria; Rand: Iran Nukes No Big Whoop
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
* Action: Urge NYT Public Editor to Probe Times Coverage of Syria Chemical Arms Claim
Join Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting in urging the New York Times' Public Editor to investigate whether the paper showed appropriate skepticism in reporting on government officials' claims the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, a purported justification for war.
Palestine in Israeli School Books: A Review
At "Education Review," Just Foreign Policy reviews "Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education," by Israeli scholar and human rights activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan.
Video: Robert Greenwald: the War on Whistleblowers
Puts the AP scandal in context. Watch trailer, get DVD or download on iTunes.
1) A report by the Pentagon-linked Rand Corporation.says a nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a fundamental threat to the US and its regional allies, Inter Press Service reports. The report by Rand's Alireza Nader says the acquisition by Iran of nuclear weapons would above all be intended to deter an attack by hostile powers, including Israel and the US, rather than for aggressive purposes.
IPS notes that others in foreign policy circles close to the Administration have been making similar "we could live with it" noises. Some neo-conservative commentators have expressed alarm these reports are "trial balloons" designed to set the stage for Obama's abandonment of the prevention strategy in favor of containment, albeit by another name.
2) For the Geneva II conference on Syria to have the best chance of enacting a cease-fire and beginning a transition, Iran needs to be there, argues Al-Monitor in an editorial. It should be a no-brainer to have all parties to a conflict represented at a peace conference. There is no "transition" in Syria absent a cease-fire, and no cease-fire without Iran.
3) A 100-day-old hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected terrorists has agitated international human rights advocates anew, prompting fresh calls worldwide for closure of the detention center, the Los Angeles Times reports. The European Parliament, the UN human rights commissioner, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S.-allied governments with citizens stuck in indefinite detention have stepped up criticism of conditions they see as driving desperate captives to starve themselves.
Most of the 166 men still imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in southern Cuba are Yemenis, the LAT notes. Of the 86 prisoners approved by a presidential task force four years ago for transfer out of Gitmo, 59 are Yemenis - and their new government wants them back. "There can be no genuine discussion of living up to the president's promise to close the prison until he squarely addresses the Yemeni dimension of the problem," said an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights.
4) U.S. military officials told the Senate that the war authorization that Congress passed after 9/11 will be needed for at least 10 to 20 more years, and can be used to put the US military on the ground anywhere, from Syria to the Congo to Boston, the Huffington Post reports. "This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I've been to since I've been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution today," Sen. Angus King said.
5) The Justice Department's actions in investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009 were even more extreme than in the recent scandal involving AP's phone records, argues a Washington Post report. They used security badge access records to track the reporter's comings and goings from the State Department. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter's personal e-mails.
In the previous case, the reporter is a direct target of the investigation, alleged to have broken the law, "at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator." It remains an open question whether it's ever illegal, given the First Amendment's protection of press freedom, for a reporter to solicit information, the Post says. No reporter has been prosecuted for doing so.
6) When the 19-year-old Israeli war resister Noam Gur attends weekly demonstrations against the occupation of Palestine, the soldiers who suppress the protestors are people she went to high school with, writes Sarah Lazare for Yes Magazine. The army makes it nearly impossible to get a discharge based on conscientious objector status, and many resisters escape conscription only by claiming mental unfitness, often after serving multiple prison sentences. In addition to those who publicly resist, an unknown number engage in "gray resistance," quietly applying for discharges on mental, physical, and religious grounds.
7) Palestinians officials say they have done all the legal work necessary to join 63 U.N. agencies, conventions and treaties but haven't applied yet mainly to give the latest U.S. peace effort a chance to succeed, AP reports. Secretary of State Kerry convinced the Arab world earlier this month to help promote a revival of peace talks by sweetening its deal of universal recognition for Israel if it pulls out of most of conquered territory in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with possible agreed land swaps. But Kerry has struggled to gain any public concession from Israel, which was accused last week of taking steps last week to legalize four unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank, AP says.
9) The long history of US support for Guatemala's military, which began with a coup engineered by the CIA in 1954, went unacknowledged during the genocide trial and conviction of the man most closely identified with the Guatemalan military's brutality, former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the New York Times reports. For some in Guatemala, the virtual invisibility of the American role in the trial was disturbing. "Who trained them?" asked Raquel Zelaya, a former peace negotiator for the government.
1) Nuclear Iran Unlikely to Tilt Regional Power Balance – Report
Jim Lobe and Joe Hitchon, Inter Press Service, May 18 2013
Washington – A nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a fundamental threat to the United States and its regional allies like Israel and the Gulf Arab monarchies, according to a new report released here Friday by the Rand Corporation.
Entitled "Iran After the Bomb: How Would a Nuclear-Armed Tehran Behave?", the report asserts that the acquisition by Tehran of nuclear weapons would above all be intended to deter an attack by hostile powers, presumably including Israel and the United States, rather than for aggressive purposes.
And while its acquisition may indeed lead to greater tension between Iran and its Sunni-led neighbours, the 50-page report concludes that Tehran would be unlikely to use nuclear weapons against other Muslim countries. Nor would it be able to halt its diminishing influence in the region resulting from the Arab Spring and its support for the Syrian government, according to the author, Alireza Nader.
"Iran's development of nuclear weapons will enhance its ability to deter an external attack, but it will not enable it to change the Middle East's geopolitical order in its own favour," Nader, an international policy analyst at RAND, told IPS. "The Islamic Republic's challenge to the region is constrained by its declining popularity, a weak economy, and a limited conventional military capability. An Iran with nukes will still be a declining power."
The report reaches several conclusions all of which generally portray Iran as a rational actor in its international relations.
While Nader calls it a "revisionist state" that tries to undermine what it sees as a U.S.-dominated order in the Middle East, his report stresses that "it does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations."
Further, the report identifies the Islamic Republic's military doctrine as defensive in nature. This posture is presumably a result of the volatile and unstable region in which it exists and is exacerbated by its status as a Shi'a and Persian-majority nation in a Sunni and Arab-majority region.
Iran is also scarred by its traumatic eight-year war with Iraq in which as many as one million Iranians lost their lives.
The new report comes amidst a growing controversy here over whether a nuclear-armed Iran could itself be successfully "contained" by the U.S. and its allies and deterred both from pursuing a more aggressive policy in the region and actually using nuclear weapons against its foes.
Iran itself has vehemently denied it intends to build a weapon, and the U.S. intelligence community has reported consistently over the last six years that Tehran's leadership has not yet decided to do so, although the increasing sophistication and infrastructure of its nuclear programme will make it possible to build one more quickly if such a decision is made.
Official U.S. policy, as enunciated repeatedly by top officials, including President Barack Obama, is to "prevent" Iran from obtaining a weapon, even by military means if ongoing diplomatic efforts and "crippling" economic sanctions fail to persuade Iran to substantially curb its nuclear programme.
A nuclear-armed Iran, in the administration's view – which is held even more fervently by the U.S. Congress where the Israel lobby exerts its greatest influence – represents an "existential threat" to the Jewish state. [It's a shame that the usually progressive IPS follows the hackneyed journalistic practice of referring to Israel as "the Jewish state" - many progressive Jews find that characterization offensive - JFP.]
In addition, according to the administration, Iran's acquisition of a weapon would likely embolden it and its allies – notably Lebanon's Hezbollah – to pursue more aggressive actions against their foes and could well set off a regional "cascade effect" in which other powers, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, would feel obliged to launch nuclear-weapons programmes of their own.
But a growing number of critics of the prevention strategy – particularly that part of it that would resort to military action against Iran – argue that a nuclear Iran will not be nearly as dangerous as the reigning orthodoxy assumes.
A year ago, for example, Paul Pillar, a veteran CIA analyst who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, published a lengthy essay in 'The Washington Monthly', "We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran: Fears of a Bomb in Tehran's Hands Are Overhyped, and a War to Prevent It Would Be a Disaster."
More recently, Colin Kahl, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) who also served as the Pentagon's top Middle East policy adviser for much of Obama's first term, published two reports – the first questioning the "cascade effect" in the region, and the second, published earlier this week and entitled "If All Else Fails: The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran," outlining a detailed "containment strategy" - including extending Washington's nuclear umbrella over states that feel threatened by a nuclear Iran - the U.S. could follow to deter Tehran's use of a nuclear bomb or its transfer to non-state actors, like Hezbollah, and persuade regional states not to develop their own nuclear arms capabilities.
In addition, Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst at the Brookings Institution whose 2002 book, "The Threatening Storm" helped persuade many liberals and Democrats to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, will publish a new book, "Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy", that is also expected to argue for a containment strategy if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon.
Because both Brookings and CNAS are regarded as close to the administration, some neo-conservative commentators have expressed alarm that these reports are "trial balloons" designed to set the stage for Obama's abandonment of the prevention strategy in favour of containment, albeit by another name.
It is likely that Nader's study – coming as it does from RAND, a think tank with historically close ties to the Pentagon – will be seen in a similar light.
2) Iran Key to Success of Geneva II Talks on Syria
Al-Monitor , 5/20/13
For the Geneva II conference on Syria to have the best chance of enacting a cease-fire and beginning a transition, Iran needs to be there.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on May 15 in Sweden for further consultations toward convening the conference, the purpose of which, according to Kerry, is "to implement a peaceful resolution based on Geneva I, which recognizes the need for a transition government with full executive authority by mutual consent."
Lavrov said in a TV interview on May 16: "One must not exclude a country like Iran from this process because of geopolitical preferences. It is a very important external player. But there is no agreement on this yet."
Iran's inclusion in the conference is not yet a done deal from the perspective of Washington and its allies, as Barbara Slavin reported last week.
It should be a no-brainer to have all parties to a conflict represented at a peace conference. There is no "transition" in Syria absent a cease-fire, and no cease-fire without Iran, which provides the military and intelligence lifeline to the Assad regime.
Iran is unlikely to agree to a deal where its interests and influence are not recognized in Syria. The likely result of Iran's exclusion from Geneva II would be Tehran digging in on behalf of the Syrian regime, thereby doing its best to assure the conference will end with no result but more violence.
In the absence of diplomacy and dialogue it is hard to envision an absence of conflict. Geneva II, for now, is the best hope to prevent further killing and escalation in Syria. The conflict will not end by weapons and training to Syrian opposition forces - a sure-fire recipe for prolonging and expanding the war and destroying what remains of the Syrian state. The non-jihadist Syrian opposition forces that are backed by the United States stand little chance against Assad's hard-core forces backed by the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah cadres, unless the United States is considering an intervention well beyond what is being discussed.
Those who make this case should recognize the real-world consequences of both well-intentioned interventionists and the long-standing reluctance to engage in full-scale diplomacy with Iran, even with the stakes this high. It is beyond time to play out every diplomatic thread to end a war which, according to the United Nations, has cost more than 70,000 Syrian lives, more than 4 million internally displaced people, 6.8 million needing a form of humanitarian assistance and 1.5 million-plus Syrians registered as refugees.
3) Hunger strike, Yemeni dilemma could spur Guantanamo closure plans
Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, May 17, 2013
A 100-day-old hunger strike at the Guantanamo Bay prison for suspected terrorists has agitated international human rights advocates anew, prompting fresh calls worldwide for closure of the detention center that President Obama vowed to shutter more than three years ago.
The European Parliament, the United Nations' human rights commissioner, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and U.S.-allied governments with citizens stuck in indefinite detention have stepped up criticism of conditions they see as driving desperate captives to starve themselves.
In spite of obstacles thrown up by Congress and defenders of the offshore anti-terrorism operations, changing politics in the Islamic world may give Obama a new chance to make good on his overdue promise.
Most of the 166 men still imprisoned at the U.S. naval base in southern Cuba are Yemenis - at least 88, by the Yemeni government's count, plus a few Saudis of Yemeni descent. Of the 86 prisoners approved by a presidential task force four years ago for transfer out of Gitmo, 59 are Yemenis - and their new government wants them back.
U.S.-Yemeni relations were far more contentious in the early days of the Guantanamo operations, when then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh turned a blind eye to radical Islamic forces as they set up the group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen's hinterlands to plot terrorist strikes and train militants.
Now, after Saleh's U.S.-engineered departure and the emergence of a more collaborative leadership under President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, Yemeni officials have been lobbying Washington to return their countrymen from Guantanamo.
"Was Saleh flip-flopping? Yes," a Yemeni government official conceded privately to The Times. "But the political will [to cooperate with the United States] is there now."
With so much of the Gitmo population hailing from Yemen, any sizable repatriation would go far toward emptying out the maligned offshore prison and could provide important momentum for its closure.
As his first official act as president in January 2009, Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo within a year and the review of each detainee's case to determine whether to prosecute, repatriate or continue to detain the prisoner indefinitely if there were concerns the captive would pose a security risk if freed.
Transfer of cleared Yemeni prisoners was just about to get underway when Nigerian underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009. That prompted the Obama administration to impose a moratorium on the transfers because the Nigerian had been trained and inspired by militants in Yemen.
Family members of Yemeni prisoners have been staging demonstrations in recent weeks, demanding return of relatives they fear could die in the hunger strike, which began Feb. 6 in protest of alleged mishandling of the Koran by U.S. soldiers searching their cells. On Thursday, a spokesman for the joint task force operating the prison said 102 detainees were now taking part in the strike and 30 were being force-fed through tubes.
Lawyers for the prisoners, who have been under virtual lockdown for most of the last three months, say their clients' refusal of food is their sole means of drawing world attention to unjust detention - in many cases for more than 10 years.
The moratorium on Yemeni transfers is "a self-inflicted injury" by the Obama administration on the image and efficacy of U.S. justice, said Omar Farah, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights in Washington who represents four Yemeni detainees.
"There's no other way to look at it than as a crude form of collective punishment" in halting the repatriation of all Yemeni prisoners because of an attempted terrorist strike by someone else, Farah said. "There can be no genuine discussion of living up to the president's promise to close the prison until he squarely addresses the Yemeni dimension of the problem," Farah said.
Transferring the dozens of Yemenis already deemed of little or no threat is the appropriate first step back onto the path of closing Guantanamo, said Laura Pitter, an attorney and counter-terrorism advisor with Human Rights Watch.
Rights advocates point to the Yemeni government's creation of a human rights committee and plans to help returning prisoners reintegrate in their homeland as evidence that the leadership there is working diligently to assuage U.S. fears of militant recidivism - or of unjustly detained Yemenis seeking revenge for their treatment.
Obama initiated a new push to close Guantanamo this month when he lashed out at its costs and the international scorn it continues to heap on the United States. He has been encouraged by some congressional and government leaders to take action to end the hunger strike before it adds detainee deaths to the global outrage. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged Obama late last month to reconsider the blocked Yemeni transfers. And Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. indicated at a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday that the fate of the Yemenis was being reviewed.
Hadi, the Yemeni president, was in Washington last fall to lobby for the return of his imprisoned countrymen, and other officials in Sana have been meeting with U.S. counterparts to press for an end to the moratorium, said Mohammed Albasha, spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington. "I have said from the first," Albasha said, "that if you solve the Yemeni issue, you solve Guantanamo."
4) Obama War Powers Under 2001 Law 'Astoundingly Disturbing,' Senators Say
Michael McAulif, Huffington Post, 05/17/2013 9:51 am EDT
Washington - The war authorization that Congress passed after 9/11 will be needed for at least 10 to 20 more years, and can be used to put the United States military on the ground anywhere, from Syria to the Congo to Boston, military officials argued Thursday.
The revelations came during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee and surprised even experts in America's use of force stemming from the terrorist attacks in 2001.
"This is the most astounding and most astoundingly disturbing hearing that I've been to since I've been here. You guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution today," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told four senior U.S. military officials who testified about the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and what it allows the White House to do.
King and others were stunned by answers to specific questions about where President Barack Obama could use force under the key provision of the AUMF - a 60-word paragraph that targeted those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
"I learned more in this hearing about the scope of the AUMF than in all of my study in the last four or five years," said Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith, who was called by the committee to offer independent comments on the issue. "I thought I knew what the application [of the AUMF] meant, but I'm less confident now," he added later.
Concerns emerged largely from questions by senators who approve of an aggressive strategy to combat terrorism, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who asked if the AUMF gave Obama the authority to put "boots on the ground" in Yemen or the Congo.
Robert Taylor, the acting general counsel for the Department of Defense said yes, as long as the purpose was targeting a group associated with al Qaeda that intended to harm the United States or its coalition partners.
"Would you agree with me, the battlefield is anywhere the enemy chooses to make it?" asked Graham.
"Yes sir, from Boston to FATA [Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas]," answered Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense who oversees special operations.
Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) later raised the specter of the AUMF being used to intervene in Syria, where the group Al Nusra, believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, is active. Al Nusra has not been linked to 9/11.
Sheehan said yes, if defense officials determined the group was becoming a threat. The same criteria applied to other groups, even if they were locally focused and operating in other nations. Taylor confirmed that AUMF also would cover individuals, even those who had not been born by 9/11, if, as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked, they someday were to "become associated with a group that associates with Al Qaeda."
When asked about an expiration date for the war authorization, Sheehan said it would be when al Qaeda had been consigned to the "ash heap of history." "I think it's at least 10 to 20 years."
While none of the senators suggested dialing back efforts to stop terrorists, they were clearly disturbed at the power being asserted by the military.
"I'm just a little old lawyer from Brunswick, Maine, but I don't see how you can possibly read this to be in comport with the Constitution," King said, arguing that the defense officials' interpretation of the AUMF makes the war power of Congress "a nullity." "Under your reading, we've granted unbelievable powers to the president and it's a very dangerous precedent."
Kaine found the suggestion that the AUMF could be used to go into Syria especially disturbing. "The testimony I hear today suggests the administration believes that they would have the authority to do that," Kaine said. "But I don't want us to walk out of the room leaving an impression that members of Congress also share the understanding that that would be acceptable."
The DOD officials repeatedly defended the authority they've claimed, noting that al Qaeda is not a traditional enemy, and that it shifts locations and changes its tactics. The broad interpretation of the AUMF, they argued, gives them the flexibility to deal with the changing threat in a lawful, effective manner.
But even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who generally agrees with Graham in pursuing a vigorous war on terror, said the AUMF has been stretched past the breaking point.
"This authority ... has grown way out of proportion and is no longer applicable to the conditions that prevailed, that motivated the United States Congress to pass the authorization for the use of military force that we did in 2001," McCain said.
"For you to come here and say we don't need to change it or revise or update it, I think is, well, disturbing," McCain said, noting that the AUMF also is used to justify things like drone strikes that were never contemplated by Congress. "I don't blame you because basically you've got carte blanche as to what you are doing around the world."
5) A rare peek into a Justice Department leak probe
Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, May 19
When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.
They used security badge access records to track the reporter's comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter's personal e-mails.
The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.
At a time when President Obama's administration is under renewed scrutiny for an unprecedented number of leak investigations, the Kim case provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of one such probe.
Court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist - and raise the question of how often journalists have been investigated as closely as Rosen was in 2010. The case also raises new concerns among critics of government secrecy about the possible stifling effect of these investigations on a critical element of press freedom: the exchange of information between reporters and their sources.
"Search warrants like these have a severe chilling effect on the free flow of important information to the public," said First Amendment lawyer Charles Tobin, who has represented the Associated Press, but not in the current case. "That's a very dangerous road to go down."
Obama last week defended the Justice Department's handling of the investigation involving the AP, which is focused on who leaked information to the news organization about a foiled plot involving the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen. AP executives and First Amendment watchdogs have criticized the Justice Department in part for the broad scope of the phone records it secretly subpoenaed from AP offices in Washington, Hartford, Conn., and New York.
"The latest events show an expansion of this law enforcement technique," said attorney Abbe Lowell, who is defending Kim on federal charges filed in 2010 that he disclosed national defense information. A trial is possible as soon as 2014. "Individual reporters or small time periods have turned into 20 [telephone] lines and months of records with no obvious attempt to be targeted or narrow."
The Obama administration has pursued more such cases than all previous administrations combined, including one against a former CIA official charged with leaking U.S. intelligence on Iran and another against a former FBI contract linguist who pleaded guilty to leaking to a blogger.
The Kim case began in June 2009, when Rosen reported that U.S. intelligence officials were warning that North Korea was likely to respond to United Nations sanctions with more nuclear tests. The CIA had learned the information, Rosen wrote, from sources inside North Korea.
The court documents don't name Rosen, but his identity was confirmed by several officials, and he is the author of the article at the center of the investigation. Rosen and a spokeswoman for Fox News did not return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Reyes wrote that there was evidence Rosen had broken the law, "at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator." That fact distinguishes his case from the probe of the AP, in which the news organization is not the likely target.
However, it remains an open question whether it's ever illegal, given the First Amendment's protection of press freedom, for a reporter to solicit information. No reporter, including Rosen, has been prosecuted for doing so.
6) Nerds, Jocks & Conscientious Objectors: The Hidden World of Israel's High School War Resisters
High school's tough enough without having to face prison time for refusing to serve an occupation you know is wrong.
Sarah Lazare, Yes Magazine, May 16, 2013
When the 19-year-old Israeli war resister Noam Gur attends weekly demonstrations against the occupation of Palestine, the soldiers who suppress the protestors—with tear gas, stun grenades, and occasionally live fire—aren't just strangers in uniform. Among them are her former high school classmates, who have been conscripted into the Israeli army.
Gur was supposed to serve, too, but instead joined the shministim. This is a Hebrew term meaning high school students in their senior year, who face conscription into the army. But the word is also used to refer to students who publicly refuse conscription on ethical grounds.
"All my friends from high school are in the army," Gur explains. "Now I see them at demos. It is really weird and complicated."
With a shrug of her shoulders, Gur describes the process that led to her refusal of conscription. "I found out that what they taught me in school was different from this reality. I went to the West Bank to protests and saw the occupation. I started to realize I didn't want to serve."
Gur, who has cropped hair and a shy smile, was supposed to be a soldier before she was out of her teens, like most Israeli youth. But instead she served 20 days in prison for refusing orders. Now an anti-occupation activist who supports other young people questioning military service, she is one of many young Israelis who are saying no to the army. They are part of growing number of Israeli movements working to end the occupation from the inside.
To understand what it takes to become a shministi—the singular form of shiministim—it's important to understand the powerful grip of the Israeli military on society. Israel's occupation of Palestine and aggressive stance toward many of its neighbors requires a highly militarized society. The country devotes almost one fifth of its national budget to military spending, 18 percent of which is paid for by the United States. Israel's military spending as a percentage of GDP is one of the highest in the world, and it boasts a larger military than any of its neighbors. The country maintains a stash of nuclear weapons and is the world's eighth largest arms exporter.
Meanwhile, children are prepared for compulsory service from an early age by constant military presence in educational settings, including "teacher soldiers" in some schools. Walking through Israeli cities and towns, one encounters streets filled with soldiers carrying M4 and M16 rifles, many of them in plain clothes. "There is always a military background here," Gur says.
While the Israeli army is preeminent in society, it is not invincible. Public draft resistance began in 1970, when a handful of students penned an open letter to then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, in which they explained their refusal to serve in territories seized and occupied in the 1967 war. In 1982, a group of army reservists refused to serve in the Lebanon War, founding the group Yesh Gvul, whose name means "there is a limit." The movement of letter-writing and refusal by high school seniors grew during the early 2000s, prompting the military to crack down and sentence each of the five shministim from the class of 2002 to two years in prison.
By 2008, when almost 100 people signed public letters resisting conscription, prison terms for shministim had become standard. The army makes it nearly impossible to get a discharge based on conscientious objector status, and many shministim escape conscription only by claiming mental unfitness, often after serving multiple prison sentences. The 19-year-old shministi Nathan Blanc is currently serving his eighth consecutive prison term for refusing army service in protest of second-class rights for Palestinians.
In addition to those who publicly resist, an unknown number engage in "gray resistance," quietly applying for discharges on mental, physical, and religious grounds. As of 2008, about half of all potential conscripts did not enlist due to various exemptions, according to Israeli army officials.
Sahar Vardi, a shministi from the class of 2008, wants to encourage this type of resistance. She is a member of the Israeli feminist demilitarization group New Profile, which offers consultation and support to youth questioning military service. The organization reaches 2,000 people who are seeking to resist military service each year, she says.
7) Official: Palestinians holding off on UN agency membership, mainly to give US effort a chance
Associated Press, Monday, May 20, 5:35 PM
United Nations - The Palestinians have done all the legal work necessary to join 63 U.N. agencies, conventions and treaties but haven't applied yet mainly to give the latest U.S. peace effort a chance to succeed, the chief Palestinian negotiator said Monday.
Saeb Erekat said Monday that Palestinians have done "everything" to enable President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to succeed, and "there is a good opportunity now."
The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in November to upgrade the Palestinians from a U.N. observer to a nonmember observer state, a move vehemently opposed by the U.S. and Israel. Recognition as a state gives the Palestinians the right to apply for membership in U.N. and other organizations, including the International Criminal Court.
Erekat said the Palestinians have now completed the "instruments of accession" to join 63 U.N. specialized agencies, conventions and treaties, but they haven't been submitted because "mainly we wanted to give Obama and Kerry "a chance" along with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the European Union and others to achieve a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 Mideast war.
Kerry convinced the Arab world earlier this month to help promote a revival of peace talks by sweetening its deal of universal recognition for the Jewish state if it pulls out of most of conquered territory in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with possible agreed land swaps. But he has struggled to gain any public concession from Israel, which was accused last week of taking steps last week to legalize four unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank.
"We are exerting every possible effort to see that Mr. Kerry succeeds," Erekat said. "No one benefits more (from) the success of secretary Kerry than Palestinians and no one loses more (from) his failure than Palestinians."
But he said Israel must stop settlement building which is an obligation under a 1995 interim agreement and the 2003 roadmap to a Palestinian state - not a condition for resuming peace negotiations. "Israel must make the choice - settlements or peace," Erekat told a meeting of the U.N. Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
The issue of Jewish settlements has been at the heart of the current 4 1/2-year impasse in peace talks.
Peace talks broke down in late 2008 and have remained frozen since then. The Palestinians have refused to resume talks while Israel continues to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas where they hope to establish an independent state. Israel captured both areas in the 1967 Mideast war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says talks should resume without any preconditions - and a halt to settlement building is a precondition.
If Kerry succeeds, Erekat said, the Palestinians will achieve their independence and freedom peacefully, but if he fails "we are going deeper into the evil apartheid that exists in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."
8) Trial on Guatemalan Civil War Carnage Leaves Out U.S. Role
Elisabeth Malkin, New York Times, May 16, 2013
Mexico City - In 1999, President Bill Clinton went to Guatemala and apologized. Just two weeks earlier, a United Nations truth commission found Guatemalan security forces responsible for more than 90 percent of the human rights violations committed during the country's long civil war.
Mr. Clinton's apology was an admission that the Guatemalan military had not acted alone. American support for Guatemalan security forces that had engaged in "violent and widespread repression," the president said, "was wrong."
But that long history of United States support for Guatemala's military, which began with a coup engineered by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1954, went unacknowledged during the genocide trial and conviction of the man most closely identified with the war's brutality, the former dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt.
During a month of testimony before the three-judge panel that found General Ríos Montt guilty last Friday, the prosecution never raised the issue of American military backing in the army's war against leftist guerrillas. The 86-year-old former dictator barely mentioned the United States when he argued in his own defense that he had no operational command over the troops that massacred and terrorized the Maya-Ixil population during his rule in 1982 and 1983.
"This was a trial about Guatemala, about the structure of the country, about racism," said Kate Doyle, a Guatemala expert at the National Security Archive in Washington, an independent research organization that seeks the release of classified government documents.
Adrián Zapata, a former guerrilla who is now a professor of social sciences at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, said that to prove a genocide charge, "it was not pertinent to point out the international context or the external actors."
But Washington's cold war alliance with General Ríos Montt three decades ago was not forgotten in the giant vaulted courtroom, where the current American ambassador, Arnold A. Chacon, sat as a spectator in a show of support for the trial.
"Part of the burden of that historical responsibility was that the United States tried to use Guatemala as a bulwark against Communism," Ms. Doyle said. "The U.S. played a very powerful and direct role in the life of this institution, the army, that went on to commit genocide."
Back in 1983, Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for human rights under President Ronald Reagan, once suggested that General Ríos Montt's rule had "brought considerable progress" on human rights.
Mr. Abrams was defending the Reagan administration's request to lift a five-year embargo on military aid to Guatemala. Brushing off concern from human rights groups about the rising scale of the massacres in Mayan villages, Mr. Abrams declared that "the amount of killing of innocent civilians is being reduced step by step." Speaking on "The MacNeil-Lehrer Report," he argued, "We think that kind of progress needs to be rewarded and encouraged."
After the 1954 coup deposed the reformist President Jacobo Arbenz, the United States supported a series of military dictators, particularly after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959.
But an emphasis on human rights by President Jimmy Carter's administration led to the cutoff of military aid in 1977. Even though after 1981 the Reagan administration became intensely involved in supporting El Salvador's government against leftist guerrillas, and contra rebels against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, the Guatemalan government was so brutal that Washington kept it at arm's length for a time.
When General Ríos Montt was installed in a coup in March 1982, Reagan administration officials were eager to embrace him as an ally. Embassy officials trekked up to the scene of massacres and reported back the army's line that the guerrillas were doing the killing, according to documents uncovered by Ms. Doyle.
Over the next two years, about $15 million in spare parts and vehicles from the United States reached the Guatemalan military, said Prof. Michael E. Allison, a political scientist at the University of Scranton who studies Central America. More aid came from American allies like Israel, Taiwan, Argentina and Chile. In the 1990s, the American government revealed that the C.I.A. had been paying top military officers throughout the period.
"It was like a monster that we created over which we had little leverage," Professor Allison said.
For some in Guatemala, the virtual invisibility of the American role in the trial was disturbing. "Who trained them?" asked Raquel Zelaya, a former peace negotiator for the government who now runs a research institute, referring to American support for the military. The trial seemed to be removed from all historical context, she said.
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