JFP 8/14: Argentina's Iran accusation based on MEK; Congress can declassify on its own

Just Foreign Policy News, August 14, 2013
Argentina's Iran accusation based on MEK; Congress can declassify on its own

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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Petition: Fix the Espionage Act to Protect Whistleblowers & Journalists
Amend or repeal the Espionage Act of 1917 so that journalists and government whistle-blowers who share information of public interest with journalists can't be charged with "aiding the enemy."
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/fix-espionage-act-to?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

Summary:
U.S./Top News

1) Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman based his 2006 warrant for the arrest of top Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994 on the claims of representatives of the armed Iranian opposition group MEK, Gareth Porter reported for Inter Press Service. The central piece of evidence cited in Nisman's arrest warrant against senior Iranian leaders is an alleged Aug. 14, 1993 meeting of top Iranian leaders at which Nisman claims the official decision was made to go ahead with the planning of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association. But the document, recently available in English for the first time, shows that his only sources for the claim were representatives of the MEK.

The record of MEK officials over the years has been one of putting out one communiqué after another that contained information about alleged covert Iranian work on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, nearly all of which turned out to be false when they were investigated by the IAEA, Porter notes. The only significant exception to the MEK's overall record of false information on the Iranian nuclear program was its discovery of Iran's Natanz enrichment facility and its Arak heavy water facility in August 2002. Contrary to the MEK claims that it got the information on Natanz from sources in the Iranian government, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported, a "senior IAEA official" told him in 2004 that Israeli intelligence had passed their satellite intelligence on Natanz to the MEK.

2) The Senate Intelligence Committee has the power to move directly to declassify information if it determines it is in the public interest to do so, McClatchy reports. But in forty years, it has never used this power. Critics, including former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, a former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, say Congress has been far too deferential to the president in letting him control the classification system.

3) New York Times reporter James Risen may go to jail for refusing to testify in the criminal trial of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling, who has been indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for leaking classified information to Risen for publication in his book, State of War, notes Lindsey Bever at the Guardian. "I've been an investigative reporter for a long time, and almost always, the government says that ['you can't publish that because of the national security risk'] when you write a story," Risen says. "And then they can never back it up. They say that about everything. And it's like the boy who cried wolf. It's getting old."

4) Time and again, the NSA has pushed past the limits that lawmakers thought they had imposed to prevent it from invading basic privacy, writes the New York Times in an editorial. The NSA copies virtually all overseas messages that Americans send or receive, then scans them to see if they contain any references to people or subjects the agency thinks might have a link to terrorists. That could well include communications between family members expressing fears of a terrorist attack, messages between editors and reporters, lawyers and clients, the Times notes. This clearly shreds a common-sense understanding of the Fourth Amendment, the Times says.

5) There are legal limits on who is properly viewed as a combatant and when war is an appropriate response to a threat, writes Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch in the Washington Post. Nearly 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, with U.S. involvement in the civil war in Afghanistan winding down, it is time to apply those limits to the global "war" against al-Qaeda and its armed affiliates.

An armed conflict requires a certain level of hostilities - judged by factors such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the use of military weaponry; the number of participants in the fighting; and the casualties and displacement caused, Roth notes. It also requires the antagonists to possess armed forces under a command structure with the capacity to sustain military operations. The al-Qaeda threat to the U.S., while still real, no longer meets those standards. That the U.S. continues to deploy military force against al-Qaeda is not enough to qualify that effort as an armed conflict, because if it were, a government could justify the summary killing of "combatants" simply by using its armed forces to do so.

Admitting that the contest with al-Qaeda is no longer a war does not mean that the U.S. is defenseless or even that lethal force is forbidden, Roth says. In the absence of war, U.S. conduct is governed by international human rights law, which favors arrest and prosecution but still permits lethal force, if necessary, to stop an imminent threat to life. In his May speech, Obama said the U.S. is already abiding by this standard beyond the Afghan theater. "[O]ur preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute," he explained, and "we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat." Those are the standards for policing, not war. The next logical step is to declare the war against al-Qaeda over.

Israel/Palestine
6) In a new affront to the Palestinians on the eve of resumed peace talks, the Israeli Interior Ministry's final approval of nearly 900 new apartments in a contested part of Jerusalem has been officially published, the New York Times reports. It was the second move by Israel since Sunday to advance housing construction in areas that the Palestinian side wants for a future state. "Israel continues illegal construction in settlements throughout the occupied West Bank in all the major settlement blocs and has attempted to justify this by saying they intend to keep all those settlement blocks in any agreement anyway," said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development. "If Israel has already decided what the map is going to look like, what is the point of negotiating over territory?"

Iran
7) More than 50 prominent political prisoners in Iran have written to President Obama, asking him to end "crippling" sanctions and seize "the last chance" for dialogue with Iran, the Guardian reports. In a letter published by the Guardian, leading opposition figures urged Obama to take the opportunity created by the election of Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's new and moderate president, to seek detente between the two countries. The signatories were also critical of the US sanctions on Iran, which they said had had "devastating effects" on the lives of ordinary people.

Bahrain
8) Tagi al-Maidan's arrest and detention in a night-time raid, and his allegations of torture by Bahrain's security forces, is similar to those of some other Shi'ite Bahraini youths whom local and international rights groups say have been arbitrarily arrested and jailed since 2011, Reuters reports. But it differs in one crucial respect: Maidan is a U.S. citizen. His family and a U.S. based advocacy group that supports human rights in Bahrain say Washington has done little to help him.

Yemen
9) President Obama has promised increased transparency around drones, but when asked about recent drone strikes strikes on Friday, Obama wouldn’t even confirm U.S. involvement, writes Cora Currier in ProPublica. The military is also following that line, refusing to release details about what happens when civilians are harmed in these strikes, including if and how families of innocent victims are compensated. In response to a FOIA request, Central Command told ProPublica it has 33 pages related to condolence payments in Yemen – but it won’t release any of them, or detail what they are. A Pentagon spokesman said they haven’t made condolence payments in Yemen. But CIA director John Brennan said during his confirmation process in February that the U.S. does offer condolence payments to the families of civilians killed in U.S. strikes. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has long given out condolence payments.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) Indictment of Iran for '94 Terror Bombing Relied on MEK
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Aug 7 2013
http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/08/indictment-of-iran-for-94-terror-bombing-relied-on-mek/

Washington - Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman based his 2006 warrant for the arrest of top Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 on the claims of representatives of the armed Iranian opposition Mujahedin E Khalq (MEK), the full text of the document reveals.

The central piece of evidence cited in Nisman's original 900-page arrest warrant against seven senior Iranian leaders is an alleged Aug. 14, 1993 meeting of top Iranian leaders, including both Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and then president Hashemi Rafsanjani, at which Nisman claims the official decision was made to go ahead with the planning of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA).

But the document, recently available in English for the first time, shows that his only sources for the claim were representatives of the MEK or People's Mujahideen of Iran. The MEK has an unsavoury history of terrorist bombings against civilian targets in Iran, as well as of serving as an Iraq-based mercenary army for Saddam Hussein's forces during the Iran-Iraq War.

The organization was removed from the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups last year after a campaign by prominent former U.S. officials who had gotten large payments from pro-MEK groups and individuals to call for its "delisting".

Nisman's rambling and repetitious report cites statements by four members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which is the political arm of the MEK, as the sources for the charge that Iran decided on the AMIA bombing in August 1993.

The primary source is Reza Zakeri Kouchaksaraee, president of the Security and Intelligence Committee of the NCRI. The report quotes Kouchaksaraee as testifying to an Argentine Oral Court in 2003, "The decision was made by the Supreme National Security Council at a meeting that was held on 14 August, 1993. This meeting lasted only two hours from 4:30 to 6:30 pm."

Nisman also quotes Hadi Roshanravani, a member of the International Affairs Committee of the NCRI, who claimed to know the same exact starting time of the meeting – 4:30 pm – but gave the date as Aug. 12, 1993 rather than Aug. 14.

Roshanravani also claimed to know the precise agenda of the meeting. The NCRI official said that three subjects were discussed: "The progress and assessment of the Palestinian Council; the strategy of exporting fundamentalism throughout the world; and the future of Iraq." Roshanravani said "the idea for an attack in Argentina" had been discussed "during the dialogue on the second point".

The NCRI/MEK was claiming that the Rafsanjani government had decided on a terrorist bombing of a Jewish community centre in Argentina as part of a policy of "exporting fundamentalism throughout the world".

But that MEK propaganda line about the Iranian regime was contradicted by the U.S. intelligence assessment at the time. In its National Intelligence Estimate 34-91 on Iranian foreign policy, completed on Oct. 17, 1991, U.S. intelligence concluded that Rafsanjani had been "gradually turning away from the revolutionary excesses of the past decade…toward more conventional behavior" since taking over as president in 1989.

Ali Reza Ahmadi and Hamid Reza Eshagi, identified as "defectors" who were affiliated with NCRI, offered further corroboration of the testimony by the leading NCRI officials. Ahmadi was said by Nisman to have worked as an Iranian foreign service officer from 1981 to 1985. Eshagi is not otherwise identified.

Nisman quotes Ahmadi and Eshagi, who made only joint statements, as saying, "It was during a meeting held at 4:30 pm in August 1993 that the Supreme National Security Council decided to carry out activities in Argentina."

Nisman does not cite any non-MEK source as claiming such a meeting took place. He cites court testimony by Abolghassem Mesbahi, a "defector" who had not worked for the Iranian intelligence agency since 1985, according to his own account, but only to the effect that the Iranian government made the decision on AMIA sometime in 1993. Mesbahi offered no evidence to support the claim.

Nisman repeatedly cites the same four NCRI members to document the alleged participation of each of the seven senior Iranians for whom he requested arrest warrants. A review of the entire document shows that Kouchaksaraee is cited by Nisman 29 times, Roshanravani 16 times and Ahmadi and Eshagi 16 times, always together making the same statement for a total of 61 references to their testimony.

Nisman cited no evidence or reason to believe that any of the MEK members were in a position to have known about such a high-level Iranian meeting. Although MEK propaganda has long claimed access to secrets, their information has been at best from low-level functionaries in the regime.

In using the testimony of the most violent opponents of the Iranian regime to accuse the most senior Iranian officials of having decided on the AMIA terrorist bombing, Nisman sought to deny the obvious political aim of all MEK information output of building support in the United States and Europe for the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

"The fact that the individuals are opponents of the Iranian regime does not detract in the least from the significance of their statements," Nisman declared.

In an effort to lend the group's testimony credibility, Nisman described their statements as being made "with honesty and rigor in a manner that respects nuances and details while still maintaining a sense of the larger picture".

The MEK witnesses, Nisman wrote, could be trusted as "completely truthful".

The record of MEK officials over the years, however, has been one of putting out one communiqué after another that contained information about alleged covert Iranian work on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, nearly all of which turned out to be false when they were investigated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The only significant exception to the MEK's overall record of false information on the Iranian nuclear programme was its discovery of Iran's Natanz enrichment facility and its Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

But even in that case, the MEK official who announced the Natanz discovery, U.S. representative Alireza Jafarzadeh, incorrectly identified it as a "fuel fabrication facility" rather than as an enrichment facility. He also said it was near completion, although it was actually several months from having the equipment necessary to begin enrichment.

Contrary to the MEK claims that it got the information on Natanz from sources in the Iranian government, moreover, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh reported, a "senior IAEA official" told him in 2004 that Israeli intelligence had passed their satellite intelligence on Natanz to the MEK.

An adviser to Reza Pahlavi, the heir to the Shah, later told journalist Connie Bruck that the information about Natanz had come from "a friendly government", which had provided it to both the Pahlavi organization and the MEK.

Nisman has long been treated in pro-Israel, anti-Iran political circles as the authoritative source on the AMIA bombing case and the broader subject of Iran and terrorism. Last May, Nisman issued a new 500-page report accusing Iran of creating terrorist networks in the Western hemisphere that builds on his indictment of Iran for the 1994 bombing.

But Nisman's readiness to base the crucial accusation against Iran in the AMIA case solely on MEK sources and his denial of their obvious unreliability highlights the fact that he has been playing a political role on behalf of certain powerful interests rather than uncovering the facts.

2) Senate intelligence panel could seek to declassify documents; it just doesn't
Ali Watkins, McClatchy, August 12, 2013 10:22:13 PM
Monday, August 12, 2013
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/12/199122/senate-intelligence-panel-could.html

Washington - Outspoken members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have said frequently that they wanted to warn the public about the National Security Agency's sweeping collection of telephone records but the program's highly classified nature prevented them from making public reference to the programs.

That, however, is not the full story. Buried in the pages of Senate Resolution 400, which established the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1976, is a provision that allows them to try. Across those nearly 40 years, it's never been used.

The committee's failure to make use of the provision even once, critics say, underscores a problem with congressional oversight: Congress has proved unwilling to openly question the intelligence agencies' claims that something must remain secret.

"Clearly, there are some secrets that the government should protect. So it's serious business," said former Democratic U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who co-chaired the government's investigation of 9/11. "But . . . Congress has been, I think, far too deferential to the president in letting him control the classification system."

The irony of that deference has been on display for the past two months as Congress debates whether the NSA's collection of domestic telephone metadata goes beyond what Congress intended when it passed the USA Patriot Act in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: The debate became possible only because a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, who now faces criminal charges, leaked a secret order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court authorizing the program.

Intelligence Committee member and NSA critic Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., acknowledged the importance of Snowden's leak in a speech two weeks ago in which he credited the former contractor with opening a conversation that the senator himself had failed to start for two years.

But Wyden's admission also provided evidence of the inadequacies of the Intelligence Committee's efforts to oversee such controversial programs, critics say.

Steven Aftergood, the director of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, calls the committee's failure to take the initiative to declassify records "frustrating and disappointing." "It is an authority that Congress could exercise and take responsibility for," he said. But he said it wasn't part of what he called "their conscious tool kit."
[...]
Senators foresaw the likelihood of a conflict between the intelligence agencies and the legislative branch. The legislation that established the committee called for it to "provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States."

As a part of this oversight, Section 8 of the resolution lays out a process by which a member of the Intelligence Committee may seek the declassification of information that he or she thinks is of public interest, even if the executive branch labels the material top secret.

"The select committee may, subject to the provisions of this section, disclose publicly any information in the possession of such committee after a determination by such committee that the public interest would be served by such disclosure," the section reads.

The process begins with a committee vote. If a majority of members vote to declassify, and the executive branch continues to resist, the issue is taken to the Senate floor. The chamber can do one of three things: Approve the disclosure, disapprove the disclosure or allow the Intelligence Committee to make the decision.

Many of Capitol Hill's Nixon-era heavy hitters backed the resolution, including a young senator from Delaware who now sits on the executive end of the intelligence debate: Joe Biden. When Biden's office was asked via email whether the vice president would still support the Intelligence Committee's ability to declassify information, it declined to comment.

The panel's lack of muscle with intelligence agencies isn't limited to the NSA collection program. Last year, the committee approved a 6,000-page investigation into the CIA's so-called harsh interrogation program, which included waterboarding, secret prisons and allegations of torture.

The report cost $40 million and had taken years to complete. The committee's current chair, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has called it the committee's most comprehensive and important oversight to date. Yet despite being completed last December, not a single page of the report has been released.

The CIA has disputed the report's findings, and internal committee disagreements have kept it largely in the dark. Feinstein's office said discussions were ongoing, but it gave no further details on where the declassification effort stands.

"If the Intelligence Committee cannot release its most important oversight piece, that calls into question the existence of the committee. What is it for, if it cannot provide the public with its most important report?" Aftergood said. "It's all but unthinkable."

Feinstein and other supporters of releasing the report could invoke Section 8 in an attempt to declassify portions of it. It's unclear whether there will be an attempt to do so.
[...]
Some experts said that even though the provision hadn't been invoked, it served a purpose as a negotiating chip when committee members were pressing the executive branch over the release of material.

"It's always negotiated, and it goes back and forth. So this is one of the tools available to the Congress in negotiating for a release of information," said Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington, a nongovernmental civil liberties advocacy group.

But she agrees with those who say the Senate Intelligence Committee hasn't asserted its authority to make information public.

"The question for the Intelligence Committee is whether or not in their discussions with the executive branch they make sure that the executive branch is aware of the power that they have to declassify themselves. That's what should happen, and that's what was missing in the last decade," she said.

It may be missing because some current Intelligence Committee members aren't fully aware of the power. Asked about the authority, Wyden confessed that he didn't know the provision existed.

His Intelligence Committee colleague Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also said he wasn't aware of it.

3) James Risen's risk of prison means journalism is being criminalized
That a New York Times national security reporter may be jailed for refusing to name a source is a total affront to press freedom
Lindsey Bever, Guardian, Saturday 10 August 2013
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/10/james-risen-prison-journalism-criminalised

Committing an act of journalism could soon become an imprisonable offence.

New York Times reporter James Risen has been ordered to testify in the criminal trial of former Central Intelligence Agency official Jeffrey Sterling, who has been indicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 – for leaking classified information to Risen for publication in his book, State of War. Last month, the US court of appeals for the fourth circuit in Richmond, Virginia, ruled that Risen could not claim a reporter's privilege under the first amendment to win exemption from being compelled to testify.

In effect, the court has ruled that the journalist must reveal his source. That sets a dangerous precedent now applicable in Maryland and Virginia, home to the NSA and CIA – the very states in which national security journalism matters most. If a reporter cannot guarantee confidentiality to an important source willing to provide information that may be of vital public interest, the job of journalism itself has been criminalized. If a reporter like Risen refuses to co-operate and name names, he himself may face time behind bars.

Indeed, like a dedicated few before him, Risen has vowed to go to prison rather than break his vow of confidentiality in the courtroom. Although there will almost certainly be an appeal, the court's ruling is a potentially devastating blow to investigative journalism. Given its significance, it is shocking how little publicity the Risen/Sterling case has yet received from major media outlets with a direct interest in its outcome.

The Obama administration's war on whistleblowers coupled with the court's ruling against watchdog reporters highlight the federal government's efforts to curb the flow of information from both ends. No one disputes that at times journalists have a duty of care when entrusted with secret information with possible national security implications, but Risen is critical of how government officials will use this argument cynically to delay or suppress a story. He said recently:

"I've been an investigative reporter for a long time, and almost always, the government says that ['you can't publish that because of the national security risk'] when you write a story. And then they can never back it up. They say that about everything. And it's like the boy who cried wolf. It's getting old."
[...]

4) Breaking Through Limits on Spying
Editorial, New York Times, August 8, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/opinion/breaking-through-limits-on-spying.html

Apparently no espionage tool that Congress gives the National Security Agency is big enough or intrusive enough to satisfy the agency's inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans. Time and again, the N.S.A. has pushed past the limits that lawmakers thought they had imposed to prevent it from invading basic privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution.

It was bad enough in 2008 when Congress allowed the agency to spy without a warrant on e-mails and text messages between Americans and foreign targets of an investigation. That already strained the Fourth Amendment's protections against illegal searches, but lawmakers decided it was justified as part of a terror investigation.

It turns out, as Charlie Savage revealed in The Times on Thursday, that the N.S.A. went far beyond those boundaries. Instead, it copies virtually all overseas messages that Americans send or receive, then scans them to see if they contain any references to people or subjects the agency thinks might have a link to terrorists.

That could very well include innocent communications between family members expressing fears of a terror attack. Or messages between an editor and a reporter who is covering international security issues. Or the privileged conversation between a lawyer and a client who is being investigated.

Data collection on this scale goes far beyond what Congress authorized, and it clearly shreds a common-sense understanding of the Fourth Amendment. It's as if the government were telling its citizens not to even talk about security issues in private messages or else they will come to the attention of the nation's spies. "By injecting the N.S.A. into virtually every crossborder interaction, the U.S. government will forever alter what has always been an open exchange of ideas," said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Obama administration officials justified this unwarranted expansion of surveillance powers with the usual hairsplitting arguments over semantics. It's not "bulk collection" of messages if the messages aren't stored, they said (even if every message is analyzed by supercomputers as it is sent). It's legitimate to search through conversations "about" a target, even if the target isn't part of the conversation. Naturally, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved these half-baked assertions with a secret opinion.

The disclosure of this practice makes it more urgent than ever that Congress clamp down on what is unquestionably the bulk collection of American communications and restrict it to clear targets of an investigation. Despite President Obama's claim this week that "there is no spying on Americans," the evidence shows that such spying is greater than the public ever knew.

5) The war against al-Qaeda is over
Kenneth Roth, Washington Post, August 2
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-war-against-al-qaeda-is-over/2013/08/02/3887af74-f975-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html

[Roth is executive director of Human Rights Watch.]

What stops the U.S. government from declaring war on a person it perceives as a security threat and summarily attacking and killing him? The fact that doing so would violate the target's right to life and fundamental due process, you might say. But in war, killing an enemy's combatants is permitted. So can the United States declare war and designate as a combatant such perceived threats as a drug kingpin in New York, a Mafia don in Chicago or even Julian Assange or Edward Snowden?

More than moral revulsion militates against such abuse of war powers. There are also legal limits on who is properly viewed as a combatant and when war is an appropriate response to a threat. Those limits are rarely discussed, but nearly 12 years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, with U.S. involvement in the traditional civil war in Afghanistan winding down, it is time to apply those limits to the global "war" against al-Qaeda and its armed affiliates.

President Obama recognized the problem in his May 23 speech at the National Defense University. He warned that "a perpetual war . . . will prove self-defeating, and alter [the United States] in troubling ways." Quoting James Madison, Obama warned: " 'No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.' "

But the president did not take the next step of declaring an end to the war with al-Qaeda or even explaining how citizens will know when it is over. International law provides guidance. The standard for when a legally recognized "armed conflict" exists between a state and an armed group appears in the protocols and official commentary to the Geneva Conventions and has been fleshed out by various international tribunals. An armed conflict requires a certain level of hostilities - judged by factors such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the use of military weaponry; the number of participants in the fighting; and the casualties and displacement caused. It also requires the antagonists to possess armed forces under a command structure with the capacity to sustain military operations.

The al-Qaeda threat to the United States, while still real, no longer meets those standards. At most, al-Qaeda these days can mount sporadic, isolated attacks, carried out by autonomous or loosely affiliated cells. Some attacks may cause considerable loss of life, but they are nothing like the military operations that define an armed conflict under international law.

Obama himself has said that the core of al-Qaeda - the original enterprise now based, if anywhere, in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan - has been "decimated." Its affiliates, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, are more robust armed groups but have limited capacity to pro­ject their violence beyond their regions.

These affiliates are significant actors in Yemen and northern Africa, but it is far from clear that they pose a threat to the United States greater than, for example, Mexican drug cartels or international ­organized-crime networks - organizations for which few would characterize U.S. containment efforts as "war." That the United States continues to deploy military force against al-Qaeda is not enough to qualify that effort as an armed conflict, because if it were, a government could justify the summary killing of "combatants" simply by using its armed forces to do so.

Admitting that the contest with al-Qaeda is no longer a war does not mean that the United States is defenseless or even that lethal force is forbidden. In the absence of war, U.S. conduct is governed by international human rights law, which favors arrest and prosecution but still permits lethal force, if necessary, to stop an imminent threat to life.

In his May speech, Obama said that the United States is already abiding by this standard beyond the Afghan theater. "[O]ur preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute," he explained, and "we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat."

Those are the standards for policing, not war. So why not take the next logical step and declare the war against al-Qaeda over? Yes, there may be a price to pay. Obama's political opponents will holler and score points after the next, inevitable terrorist attack. But the cost of using war rhetoric to shunt aside appropriate limits on lethal force is even higher. Plenty of governments are eager for excuses to summarily kill their enemies, however tenuously defined - even those living in the United States. The U.S. government has also committed abuses in the name of fighting terrorism. The Obama administration should rethink its overly elastic definition of war on al-Qaeda and call an end to it.

Israel/Palestine
6) On Eve of Talks, More Israeli Housing Approved
Isabel Kershner and Rick Gladstone, New York Times, August 13, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/14/world/middleeast/israel-intercepts-rocket-headed-for-resort-city.html

Jerusalem - In a new affront to the Palestinians on the eve of resumed peace talks, the Israeli Interior Ministry's final approval of nearly 900 new apartments in a contested part of Jerusalem has been officially published, Israeli news media reported Tuesday. It was the second move by Israel since Sunday to advance housing construction in areas that the Palestinian side wants for a future state.

The new apartments, in an area known as Gilo, had been approved by an Interior Ministry panel in December and later endorsed with some revisions by the full ministry. Official approval was published on Monday as required under Israeli law. That news came as the Palestinians were still reacting to the announcement on Sunday by the Israeli government of new construction tenders for other parts of Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

An official at the Interior Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about the issue, characterized the publication of the final approval of the Gilo units as a formality. "This was just a procedure," the official said. In addition, the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration must still evaluate construction tenders for the Gilo housing, and groundbreaking could be months or more into the future.

But the timing of the news inflamed Palestinian passions as peace talks are set to resume on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

Arrangements for those talks have been a preoccupation of Secretary of State John Kerry, who has sought to persuade the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that continued Israeli housing development in areas occupied by Israel after the 1967 war should not be a deal breaker.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Mr. Abbas, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying the Israeli housing expansion news in areas occupied or annexed by Israel "threatens to make talks fail even before they've started." Other critics said the housing expansion reflected what they regarded as Israeli intransigence on a fundamental issue.

"Israel continues illegal construction in settlements throughout the occupied West Bank in all the major settlement blocs and has attempted to justify this by saying they intend to keep all those settlement blocks in any agreement anyway," said Yousef Munayyer, executive director of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development, a Palestinian advocacy group in Washington. "If Israel has already decided what the map is going to look like, what is the point of negotiating over territory?"
[...]

Iran
7) Iran's political prisoners plead with Obama to end 'crippling' US sanctions
Leading Iranian opposition figures urge US president to seize opportunity of moderate Hassan Rouhani's election
Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Guardian, Thursday 8 August 2013 10.47 EDT
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/08/iran-political-prisoners-obama-end-sanctions

More than 50 prominent political prisoners in Iran have written to Barack Obama, asking him to end "crippling" sanctions and seize "the last chance" for dialogue with Tehran.

In a letter published by the Guardian, leading opposition figures, who with only a few exceptions are currently behind bars in some of the Islamic republic's most notorious prisons, urged Obama to take the opportunity created by the election of Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's new and moderate president, to seek detente between the two countries.

The signatories were also critical of the US sanctions on Iran, which they said had had "devastating effects" on the lives of ordinary people.

"We believe the time has come for our two countries to turn a page and start a new era of mutual understanding," reads the letter, which is signed by 55 former officials, activists, journalists and dissidents.

Hopes of a rapprochement have increased in recent days as both countries sent positive signals after Rouhani's inauguration on Sunday. The White House issued a statement that said Tehran would find "a willing partner in the United States" should it choose to engage. Rouhani said in his first press conference that his government would be open to direct talks with the US should Washington show goodwill and engage in "practical steps".

Rouhani said the contrast between the White House statement and the new sanctions bill passed by the House of Representatives showed inconsistency between US words and actions in its stance on Iran. Rouhani attacked the US sanctions, saying there were designed to pressure ordinary people.

In their letter, the political prisoners made clear that they agreed with Rouhani on sanctions, even though they are in most cases serving lengthy prison terms for criticising the government he represents.

"All Iranian people, including the families of political prisoners and especially the low income groups, are suffering under the burden of rampant inflation and shortages of medical supplies and other basic necessities of life," the letter reads.
[...]

Bahrain
8) In Bahrain, a U.S. prisoner's dilemma
Yara Bayoumy, Reuters, August 12, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/special-report-bahrain-u-prisoners-dilemma-100411048.html

Dubai - Amina al-Maidan was asleep in her family's apartment in the Gulf state of Bahrain last October when masked policemen arrived at about 2 a.m. searching for her son, Tagi.

"They didn't show me any papers or arrest warrants," said Maidan, a Shi'ite Muslim who lives in the village of Sanabis. "They didn't know what he was wanted for. It all happened so fast. I was thinking is this real or not. Am I dreaming?"

The police woke Tagi al-Maidan with a kick. "Get up! Come with us!" one officer shouted.

The young man was blindfolded, cuffed and driven to an undisclosed location where, he says, he was ordered to stand on one leg for four hours. He says he was beaten repeatedly as threats were made to rape his mother and sisters until he confessed, falsely he says, to attending a memorial for a dead protester and throwing a stone at a burning police vehicle.

His alleged crimes, according to the government, include damaging a police car and attempted murder during a disturbance related to Shi'ite demands for change in Bahrain, a country long ruled by its Sunni Muslim minority. If convicted, he could face 15 years in jail.

Bahrain denies allegations of torture in the incident. Still, Maidan's case is similar to those of some other Shi'ite Bahraini youths whom local and international rights groups say have been arbitrarily arrested and jailed since 2011 for alleged offences against Bahrain's security forces. But it differs in one crucial respect: Maidan is an American national.
[...]
Hundreds of people have been seized this year during night-time raids, according to Human Rights Watch; they include activists "who have made credible allegations of torture that are consistent with previous instances of documented torture," said Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch.
[...]
In jail since October, Maidan answered questions posed to him by Reuters through his family and a family friend, who delivered a transcript of his answers. He denies the charges against him; and he, his family and a U.S. based advocacy group that supports human rights in Bahrain say Washington has done little to help him.
[...]

Yemen
9) Does the U.S. Pay Families When Drones Kill Innocent Yemenis?
Cora Currier, ProPublica, Aug. 12, 2013
http://www.propublica.org/article/does-the-u.s.-pay-families-when-drones-kill-innocent-yemenis

There have been nine drone strikes reported in Yemen in the past two weeks – an uptick apparently connected to the Al Qaeda threat that shut down U.S. embassies across the Middle East and Africa. As many as six civilian deaths have also been reported.

President Obama has promised increased transparency around drones, but when asked about the strikes on Friday, Obama wouldn’t even confirm U.S. involvement. “I will not have a discussion about operational issues,” he said.

The military is also following that line, refusing to release details about what happens when civilians are harmed in these strikes, including if and how families of innocent victims are compensated.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, U.S. Central Command told ProPublica it has 33 pages somehow related to condolence payments in Yemen – but it won’t release any of them, or detail what they are.
[...]
There’s no way to know what the military is withholding. A Pentagon spokesman told us they haven’t actually made condolence payments in Yemen. But CIA director John Brennan said during his confirmation process in February that the U.S. does offer condolence payments to the families of civilians killed in U.S. strikes. (Both the military and CIA fly drones over Yemen.)

In May, the White House released new guidelines for targeted killing, saying that there must be a “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.” But the administration has said little about how civilian deaths are assessed or handled when they do occur. It has refused to address the U.S. role in almost any particular death – including that of a 10-year-old boy, killed a few weeks after Obama’s promise of increased transparency.

Outside reporting on drone strike deaths is spotty and often conflicted. On Sunday, a Yemeni activist and journalist named three civilians who had been injured, “just hanging arnd n thir neighborhood.” Another recent strike killed up to five “militants,” according to Reuters and other news agencies. But Yemenis reported on Twitter that a child was also killed. (The White House declined to comment to ProPublica on the recent strikes or on condolence payments.)

In Afghanistan, the U.S. has long given out condolence payments, which military leaders have come to see as a key part of the battle for hearts and minds. What might seem like a callous exercise – assigning a dollar amount to a human life – is also embraced by many humanitarian groups. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, for example, sees it as a way to help families financially and as “a gesture of respect.” In fiscal year 2012, condolence payments in Afghanistan totaled nearly a million dollars.
[...]

------

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just 'Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews



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