JFP News 8/28: Why are we bombing clinics?
Just Foreign Policy News
August 28, 2009
State Department Recommends Aid Cutoff to Honduras Coup Regime
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1) Not one of the other South American presidents supports Colombia's decision to allow the U.S. access to its military bases, writes Adriaan Alsema for Colombia Reports. President Correa of Ecuador expressed fears U.S. military support for Colombia could increase Colombia's aggressiveness towards neighbors. Paraguay and Chile reiterated their respect for Colombia's self determination, but said they were not convinced the bases would not be used to violate the sovereignty of other countries in South America.
2) Complaints of fraud in the Afghan election are increasing on all sides, the Washington Post reports. One election observer said he was beaten and jailed for protesting efforts to block people from voting for President Karzai. Another election monitor said her fellow staff members voted at least 100 times for Abdullah and forced other residents to make the same choice.
3) Admiral Mullen slammed U.S. efforts at "strategic communication" in the Muslim world, saying U.S. actions are more important than words, the New York Times reports.
4) U.S. officials denied U.S. troops were violating Philippine laws by engaging in combat against Muslim militants in the Philippines, AP reports. A retired Philippine navy lieutenant testified at a congressional hearing U.S. troops were embedded with Filipino units in combat situations in violation of the Philippine Constitution, which bars foreign troops from fighting in the country. The group Bayan and former Senate President Salonga have asked the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision to uphold the Visiting Forces Agreement. They say the agreement infringes on Philippine sovereignty and violates a constitutional prohibition of foreign military bases.
5) Why are we bombing clinics in Afghanistan?, asks Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman. He notes that bombing a clinic or hospital is a de facto war crime, even if wounded militants have sought shelter there. "If the Taliban used the clinic as a shelter to fire from, they've committed a serious violation," Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director said. "But if they were using the clinic for health care, NATO forces had no business firing on the clinic, even if they had cleared out civilians from the facility."
6) Brazil wants legal guarantees from the U.S. concerning its use of bases in Colombia, Reuters reports.
7) Dominican President Leonel Fernandez says Honduras could be suspended from the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a way of pressuring for President Zelaya's reinstatement, AP reportrs. Fernandez said the Honduran presidential crisis might be resolved in a few weeks if Honduras were suspended from CAFTA
8) Analysts and officials say Iran's internal political turmoil could prevent the nation from making any swift move to ratchet up its nuclear program, giving President Obama and Western allies more time to grapple with the issue, Borzou Daragahi reports for the Los Angeles Times. Most Iran watchers agree Iran will not only be unable to respond positively to the Obama administration's offer of talks, but also is in too much political disarray to make the major decisions necessary to build a nuclear weapon.
9) Former President Carter and Archbishop Tutu visited the Apartheid Wall on the land of the West Bank village of Bil'in, the Palestine News Agency reports. Carter said Israeli settlements must be removed from Palestinian land.
10) The Supreme Court of Argentina declared unconstitutional the arrest of five youths for possession of a few marijuana cigarettes, the New York Times reports. The court decision paves the way for the government of President Fernández to submit a law to Argentina's Congress similar to the law approved in Mexico last week, ending prosecutions of people for carrying small amounts of illicit drugs.
1) Colombia stands isolated at UNASUR meeting
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Friday, 28 August 2009 12:23
Despite the fact that countries like Paraguay and Chile said to respect Colombia's right to make its own decisions, not one of the South American presidents - speaking at the UNASUR summit in Argentina - supports Colombia's decision to allow the U.S. access to its military bases.
Colombia's fiercest opponents at the summit, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, rejected Colombia's plan vociferously.
Venezuelan President Chavez, who said he had had access to a U.S. military document wherein Colombia was designated as a transport hub in case of U.S. military intervention in South America, demanded talks with Obama to talk about this supposed intervention strategy.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, an ally of Chavez, rejected any U.S. military presence in South America. "For the sake of the sovereignty of our people I ask Unasur and its Presidents to sign a document that tells our leaders not to accept any military base of the United States or any foreign country."
Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador accused Colombia of terrorizing its neighbors and had expressed earlier he fears U.S. military support for Colombia could increase the latter's aggressiveness towards neighbors.
"Ecuador and the other neighbors are victims of the Colombian problem, we have not caused it,"Correa said. "Drug trafficking is the trafficking of narcotics, it is not the countries who are not acting in my interest or who do not sympathize with me, but [Colombia] accused Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, even Fidel Castro of being drug traffickers, so later they will call us drug traffickers and bomb us in the name of this fight," the Ecuadorean Head of State said. "The problem is how you define drug trafficking, because some times it is not the trafficking, but those I don't like or are against my interests or the governments I wish to discredit," Correa continued.
Brazil [Lula] reminded Uribe of what he said before. "If these bases have existed since 1952 already and still they haven't solved the problem, it seems to me we should reconsider and think what other things we can do together to solve the problems."
Both Paraguay and Chile reiterated their respect for Colombia's self determination, but said they were not convinced the bases would not be used to violate the sovereignty of other countries in South America.
Even Peru, whose conservative government so far had expressed the least criticism of Colombia's plans, showed concern and reservation. "If they are going to construct a base to have invisible C-17 bombers that can overfly South America without being detected or if they are going to construct radars in Colombia that make them able to listen to what we are talking about through telephones here in Bariloche, I would be very tempted to reject that they do this," President Alan Garcia said.
2) Accusations Of Vote Fraud Multiply In Afghanistan
Complaints on All Sides Threaten to Discredit Result, Hinder U.S. Policy
Joshua Partlow and Pamela Constable, Washington Post, Friday, August 28, 2009
Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan - One week after Afghanistan's presidential election, with the winner still undeclared, increasing accusations of fraud and voter coercion threaten to undermine the validity of the results, deepen dangerous regional divisions and hamper the Obama administration's goals in this volatile country.
With U.S. popular support for the war in Afghanistan wavering, an election viewed as illegitimate by many Afghans would be a major setback for President Obama, who has increased U.S. military and economic efforts in a conflict central to his foreign policy. Officials worry that a Kabul government tainted by allegations of election-stealing or destabilized by a potentially violent backlash could derail U.S. efforts to beat back a resurgent Taliban and build Afghan security forces.
In interviews here in the capital of Balkh province in northern Afghanistan, the governor, election officials and residents described incidents of ballot-box stuffing and voter intimidation, particularly by election monitors. The many allegations of fraud add to the chorus of doubts from candidates and observers in other parts of the country about the fairness of the election process.
In a jailhouse interview, election monitor Abdul Hakim Ghafurzai, bruised and bloodied and slumped in his cell, said he knows how it feels to challenge election fraud in Afghanistan. "I am in pain," said Ghafurzai, who alleged he was beaten and arrested after complaining that police outside this northern city shut down polling places because people were voting for President Hamid Karzai.
Election observers have described northern Afghanistan as a place where the election proceeded relatively peacefully, with as many as half of registered voters going to the polls - far more than in some Taliban strongholds in the south. But interviews with those monitoring the election here and looking into allegations of irregularities painted a bleaker portrait that implicated the followers of both Karzai and Abdullah.
"I was a witness to fraud, and I couldn't do anything to stop it," said a female election monitor at a voting site in Barga village, in this province, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She said her fellow staff members voted at least 100 times for Abdullah and forced other residents to make the same choice. "I was really upset. The voting system was not good. People didn't have the right to choose," she said.
3) Message To Muslim World Gets A Critique
Thom Shanker, New York Times, August 28, 2009
Washington - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has written a searing critique of government efforts at "strategic communication" with the Muslim world, saying that no amount of public relations will establish credibility if American behavior overseas is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting.
The critique by the chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, comes as the United States is widely believed to be losing ground in the war of ideas against extremist Islamist ideology. The issue is particularly relevant as the Obama administration orders fresh efforts to counter militant propaganda, part of its broader strategy to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate," Admiral Mullen wrote in the critique, an essay to be published Friday by Joint Force Quarterly, an official military journal.
"I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all," he wrote. "They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don't follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are."
While President Obama has sought to differentiate himself from his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the eyes of the Muslim world - including through a widely praised speech in Egypt on June 4 - the perception of America as an arrogant oppressor has not changed noticeably, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where United States forces remain engaged in war, and in Pakistan, where American-launched missiles aimed at militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda have killed civilians.
4) US Denies Troops Involved In Combat In Philippines
Hrvoje Hranjski, Associated Press, Friday, August 28, 2009 12:43 AM
Manila, Philippines - U.S. officials on Friday denied American troops were violating Philippine laws by engaging in combat against Muslim militants, saying they were only training Filipino soldiers and their mission was temporary.
Allegations that U.S. troops in the southern Philippines are building permanent structures and joining the fight against al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf militants have roiled nationalist and left-wing forces opposed to the American presence.
A retired Philippine navy lieutenant, Nancy Gadian, testified at a congressional hearing Thursday that U.S. troops were embedded with Filipino units in combat situations in violation of the Philippine Constitution, which bars foreign troops from fighting in the country.
"U.S. forces are not involved in combat operations," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson said in a statement Friday. She said American troops were on temporary deployment at the invitation of the Philippine military and government.
Several hundred U.S. troops have been stationed in several southern posts since 2002, training Filipino counterparts and sharing intelligence in their fight against the Abu Sayyaf, blamed for kidnappings, beheadings of hostages and bomb attacks that have victimized Filipinos and Americans.
Gadian was a planning officer for an annual U.S.-Philippine military exercise and was facing an investigation for alleged embezzlement when she accused her superiors of pocketing money. She later accused U.S. troops of violating Philippine laws.
The left-wing group Bayan, which has led anti-U.S. protests, and former Senate President Jovito Salonga have asked the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision to uphold the Visiting Forces Agreement, which governs the conduct of U.S. troops. They say the agreement infringes on Philippine sovereignty and violates a constitutional prohibition of foreign military bases.
5) Why are we bombing clinics?
The wrong way to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan
Mehdi Hasan, New Statesman, 28 August 2009
Counter-insurgency experts also wax lyrical about the need to win hearts and minds, but I wonder how we'll pull that off while coalition forces continue to bomb civilian targets and destroy Afghanistan's already crumbling infrastructure. Here is a report from yesterday's Toronto Globe and Mail of how US and Afghan forces, backed by a US Apache helicopter, targeted a medical clinic in the Paktika Province for attack:
"U.S. and Afghan forces attacked a clinic in eastern Afghanistan after a wounded Taliban commander sought treatment, and a U.S. helicopter gunship fired on the medical centre after militants put up resistance, officials said Thursday.
Reports of the militant death toll from Wednesday's firefight varied widely. The spokesman for the governor of Paktika province said 12 militants died, while police said two were killed. The U.S. military did not report any deaths. It wasn't clear why the tolls differed."
A US military statement claimed that the medical centre "was cleared of civilians" but, whether or not that statement turns out to be true (and countless other such statements have later turned out not to be worth the paper they were written on), this misses the point. To bomb a clinic or hospital is a de facto war crime, even if wounded militants have sought shelter there - in such a scenario, the clinic or hospital does not lose "its protected status", to quote the absurd formulation of words employed by a NATO spokesperson.
Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi agrees with me:
"If the Taliban used the clinic as a shelter to fire from, they've committed a serious violation," said Zarifi. "But if they were using the clinic for health care, NATO forces had no business firing on the clinic, even if they had cleared out civilians from the facility. The bottom line in this incident is that another clinic in Afghanistan is now not working - a tragedy for a country that already suffers from horrifically low rates of access to health care. Whether the Taliban or NATO or both have violated the laws of war, it is Afghan civilians who pay the price."
6) Brazil wants US legal guarantees over Colombia bases plan
Brazilian FM Amorim said that Colombia must address the worries of neighbouring states.
Reuters, Thursday, 27 August 2009
Latin American heavyweight Brazil voiced its concern on Thursday over a Colombian plan to give the United States more access to its military bases and said it hoped a regional meeting on Friday could resolve the issue.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Thursday that Colombia must address the worries of neighbouring states.
"Of course Brazil respects the sovereign right of Colombia to sign international accords that it judges are relevant to ensuring order in its territory," Amorim told a conference of France's ambassadors in Paris. "But even so, the presence of foreign bases in South America awakens sensibilities of a political and even psychological nature that should be taken into account," he said.
Any such arrangement needed legal guarantees on the use of foreign personnel and equipment, he said.
7) DomRep leader urges CAFTA suspension for Honduras
Associated Press, 2009-08-27 08:35 AM
Dominican President Leonel Fernandez says Honduras could be suspended from the Central American Free Trade Agreement as a way of pressuring President Manuel Zelaya's return to power.
The Dominican leader made the comments Wednesday at a news conference during a regional conference.
Fernandez said the Honduran presidential crisis might be resolved in a few weeks if Honduras were suspended from CAFTA - a pact among Central American nations, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. that lowers tariffs and trade barriers.
8) Nuclear Drive A Casualty Of Iran's Turmoil
Experts say Tehran is unlikely to speed up its program, giving the U.S. and its allies more time to work with.
Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2009
Beirut - Iran's political crisis could prevent the nation from making any swift move to ratchet up its nuclear program, said analysts and officials, giving President Obama and Western allies more time to grapple with the issue.
Although Iranian scientists have continued to enrich low-grade uranium during the nation's political crisis, news agencies have reported that Tehran has not taken steps to increase its processing capacity during the last quarter. Experts say that may have more to do with technical quirks than political decisions.
For now, most Iran watchers agree that Tehran will not only be unable to respond positively to the Obama administration's offer of talks, but also is in too much political disarray to make the major decisions necessary to build a nuclear weapon. Such steps would include further enriching its uranium supply to weapons grade, or constructing controversial new facilities for speeding up the process.
"The nuclear dossier has been stalled and is in a stagnant position, with no back or forth moves," said Ahmad Shirzad, an Iranian nuclear scientist and political analyst. "The recent events in Iran put all important decision-making in limbo. The postelection events have not completely unfolded, and Mr. Ahmadinejad has not come to a conclusion what to do."
Iran's 20-year foray into nuclear technology has long benefited from a broad consensus among the nation's political elites, or at least acquiescence by foes of the program. Important institutions such as the Expediency Council, led by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; the presidency; the Supreme National Security Council and parliament, along with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have played a role in the program's creation and sustenance.
Conservative Ahmadinejad likes to take credit for Iran's recent nuclear progress. But Tehran actually relaunched its dormant program under the 1980s premiership of his primary rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and the first breakthroughs on enrichment came during the presidency of Ahmadinejad's reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami.
9) Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu Visit the Apartheid Wall in Bil'in
Palestine News Agency - WAFA, August 27, 2009
Ramallah - Former US president Jimmy Carter, Mrs. Carter and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa visited the site of the Apartheid Wall on the land of the West Bank village of Bil'in near Ramallah.
The Carters and Archbishop Tutu came to Bil'in together with their colleagues from The "Elders" delegation, former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland, former Irish president and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, Indian human rights activist Ela Bhatt, and renowned businessmen Richard Branson and Jeff Skoll.
Former president Carter pointed to the land on the other side of the wall where the colony of Modi'in Illit is being built: "This is not Israel; this is Palestine and settlements must be removed from Palestinian land so that justice will be restored in the area."
Desmond Tutu encouraged the Palestinian activists: " Just as a simple man named Ghandi led the successful non-violent struggle in India and simple people such as Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela led the struggle for civil rights in the United States, simple people here in Bil'in are leading a non-violent struggle that will bring them their freedom. The South Africa experience proves that injustice can be dismantled."
The Palestinian village of Bil'in has become an international symbol of the Palestinian popular struggle. For almost 5 years, its residents have been continuously struggling against the de facto annexation of more then 50% of their farmlands and the construction of the apartheid wall on it. In a celebrated decision, the Israeli Supreme court ruled on the 4 September 2007 that the current route of the wall in Bil'in was illegal and needs to be dismantled; the ruling however has not been implemented.
10) Latin America Weighs Less Punitive Path to Curb Drug Use
Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times, August 27, 2009
Brasília - The Supreme Court of Argentina opened a path this week to decriminalizing the private consumption of illicit drugs, becoming the latest Latin American country to reject punitive policies toward drug use.
The unanimous decision by the Argentine court on Tuesday, which declared unconstitutional the arrest of five youths for possession of a few marijuana cigarettes in 2006, came just days after Mexico's Congress voted to end the practice of prosecuting people found to be carrying small amounts of illicit drugs, including marijuana.
Brazil, which has some of the stiffest sentences in the region for drug traffickers, essentially decriminalized drug consumption in 2006 when it eliminated prison sentences for users in favor of treatment and community service.
The new laws and court decisions in the region reflect an urgent desire to reject decades of American prescriptions for distinctly Latin American challenges. Countries in the region are seeking to counteract prison overcrowding, a rise in organized crime and rampant drug violence affecting all levels of society, but in particular the poor and the young.
In February, a commission led by three former Latin American presidents issued a scathing report that condemned Washington's "war on drugs" as a failure and urged the region to adopt drug policies found in some European countries that focus more on treatment than punishment.
Latin America is a source of much of the cocaine and marijuana that is distributed throughout North America and Europe. Latin American leaders are struggling with the need to crack down on violent drug traffickers while also trying to stem consumption. Punishing users in Latin America has led to overcrowded prisons and has done little, if anything, to curb overall consumption.
In Mexico, meanwhile, the laws against drug use contributed to another problem by fueling corruption among the police. The change in the law takes the discretion of whether to jail drug users away from police officers, who frequently collected bribes by threatening people with arrest.
The need to resolve the inherent contradictions led to the formation of the commission on drug use and democracy that issued its report in February. The commission, a 17-member group of journalists, academics and others, including three former presidents - César Gaviria of Colombia, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil - condemned the American-led "war on drugs" of the past three decades as a "failed war." It urged countries to reject the "U.S. prohibitionist policies."
The commission found that drug consumption continued to rise in Latin America while it was stabilizing in North America and Europe. The policy in parts of the European Union of treating drug use as a health problem and focusing on treatment, the report said, "has proved more humane and efficient," although it said more needed to be done to curb demand in the main drug-consuming countries.
Ms. Malinowska-Sempruch said she believed that it was no coincidence that the Mexican legislature voted for a measure last week that was similar to one passed less than two years ago, but was rejected by the president at the time, Vicente Fox, under pressure from the United States. She said she believed that Latin American countries had been carefully watching the Obama administration and took some early support for the concept of a needle exchange for drug addicts as "a much needed signal for those of us throughout the world who think that drug use is a public health matter."
"The administration has left more space for people in Latin America to do what has been under discussion there for some time now," she said.
Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based group working to end the war on drugs, said the "prohibitionist approach" to drug control had "wreaked havoc throughout the region, generating crime, violence and corruption on a scale that far exceeds what the United States experienced during alcohol prohibition in the 1920s."
The Argentine court decision will pave the way for the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to submit a law to Argentina's Congress that is expected to be similar to the law Mexico's legislature voted on last week. Mrs. Kirchner has said she favors a less punitive approach to drug use.
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