JFP 1/15: US Grants Temporary Protected Status to Haitians
Just Foreign Policy News
January 15, 2010
Help Haiti? Let Haitians Stay and Cancel Haiti's Debt
The Obama Administration has granted Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S. Now it should move to cancel Haiti's external debt.
"Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson on Bill Moyers Journal Friday
"Friday, Janaury 15, 2010 at 9PM on PBS
(check local listings: http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/about/airdates.html)
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1) The Obama administration says it will allow Haitians already in the U.S. illegally to remain because of this week's catastrophic earthquake, AP reports. Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano granted the temporary protected status on Friday.
2) Jubilee USA Network "reacted with dismay" to today that the IMF is planning to offer a $100 million loan to Haiti. "Loans for disaster relief are totally inappropriate," Jubilee said. Jubilee called on the administration to support grants rather than loans and cancel Haiti's remaining debt.
3) In an editorial today, the Washington Post upbraided the Obama Administration for failing to approve Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the US (which the Obama Administration has now done.) The Post also called for the Administration to press the IMF to cancel Haiti's external debt.
4) The US has reached an agreement with Cuba to send medical evacuation flights with victims from the Haiti earthquake through restricted Cuban airspace, reducing the flight time to Miami by 90 minutes, the New York Times reports.
5) A Quinnipiac poll from Jan. 5-11 suggests that the Christmas Day bombing attempt has caused Americans to take a tougher attitude toward national security, the New York Times reports. The poll reported that support for the war in Afghanistan is up, at 59 - 35 percent, compared to 51 - 41 percent in a Quinnipiac survey conducted Dec. 23.
6) Latvia has set a world-historical record by losing more than 24% of its economy in just two years, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. But advisor to the governor of the Latvia's central bank said the government would continue its "pro-cyclical" fiscal policy - that is, its policy of cutting government spending to deliberately make the economic contraction more severe. The IMF is going along with this policy, because Western European governments have demanded it, in order to protect debt repayments to their banks. The U.S. has given the IMF $108 billion in support of this policy.
7) Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled former president of Haiti, announced his intention today to return to his quake-devastated homeland, the Guardian reports. Aristide, who has been based in South Africa since he was ousted in a 2004 coup, said he wanted to help rebuild his country in the wake of Tuesday's disaster. Haitian protesters have periodically called for Aristide's return.
8) President Obama's decision to boost U.S. aid to Yemen to fight al Qaida risks tying the U.S. more closely to an autocratic ruler whose repression of economic and political grievances is strengthening the terrorists and pushing his impoverished nation toward breakup, writes Jonathan Landay for McClatchy News. The State Department's latest human rights report cited allegations that Yemeni President Saleh's regime tortures and assassinates suspected opponents, operates secret prisons and muzzles independent media. Several experts said that Yemen security forces that have received U.S. training to fight al Qaida have been deployed against the southern secessionists and northern Shiite Muslim rebels and used brutal tactics. "The United States is increasingly shifting support to the Saleh regime at a time at which it is increasingly losing (popular) support," said April Alley, an expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "A popular view within Yemen is that the U.S. is supporting an increasingly unpopular regime and buttressing autocracy." Some experts also said that Obama doesn't have a strategy to address the non-security ills - like illiteracy, unemployment, malnutrition and disease - that are helping transform Yemen into the kind of "failed state" in which al Qaida thrives.
9) Taliban fighters who lay down their arms will be offered money from an international trust fund under a plan being drawn up by British government officials, the Guardian reports. The move reflects a growing realisation in London, Washington and throughout NATO that the conflict cannot be "won" in any military sense and that some kind of accommodation with the Taliban insurgency is inevitable, the Guardian says.
10) Iraq's electoral commission barred about 500 candidates from running in parliamentary elections in March, among them an influential Sunni Muslim politician, in a decision that could stoke sectarian tensions here and deprive the vote of crucial legitimacy, the New York Times reports. The decision could produce another election reinforcing Sunni disenfranchisement.
11) 31 Colombian soldiers accused of the forced disappearance and murder of 11 young men under the pretense of fighting terrorism have been released from prison on the grounds that they were not formally indicted within 90 days of their arrest, Inter Press Service reports. The mothers of the young men told reporters they would take the case to the International Criminal Court, arguing that the soldiers' release clearly indicated that no justice was possible in Colombia. Many of the mothers of the victims of extrajudicial killings have received threats.
1) Haitians in country illegally can stay
Suzanne Gamboa, Associated Press, Friday, January 15, 2010; 5:16 PM
Washington - The Obama administration says it will allow Haitians already in the U.S. illegally to remain because of this week's catastrophic earthquake. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano granted the temporary protected status on Friday.
The protection is only available to Haitians already in the country as of last Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Napolitano temporarily halted deportations of Haitians, even those already in detention.
Temporary protected status is granted to foreigners who may not be able to return safely to their country because of a natural disaster, armed conflict or other reasons.
2) Debt for Disaster? Jubilee USA Dismayed by IMF Proposal for $100 Million Loan to Haiti
Network Urges Obama Administration to Support Massive Grants, Expanded Debt Relief
Jubilee USA Network, January 15, 2010
Washington, DC - Jubilee USA Network, an alliance of more than 75 religious denominations, human rights groups, and development agencies, welcomed the Obama administration's commitment to provide $100 million in immediate support for Haiti, but called on the administration to support additional grants and cancel Haiti's remaining debt.
The Network also reacted with dismay to news today that the IMF is planning to offer a $100 million loan to Haiti through its Extended Credit Facility (formerly the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility).
"Haiti desperately needs money delivered quickly, but the last thing Haiti needs right now is more debt. Loans for disaster relief are totally inappropriate. The international community cannot possibly expect Haiti to pay back a loan for emergency relief in the wake of this disaster," said Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA.
Jubilee USA called on the Obama administration to take three specific steps as part of its comprehensive response to the Haiti earthquake: (1) Provide massive assistance for relief and reconstruction in the form of grants, not loans; (2) Cancel the rest of Haiti's debt; and (3) Provide Temporary Protective Status to Haitians living in the US.
3) Averting chaos in Haiti
Editorial, Washington Post, Friday, January 15, 2010; A24
President Obama, flanked by an array of top administration officials, struck the right chords of empathy and urgency Thursday in announcing the first thrust of a major U.S. effort to address the unspeakable devastation in Haiti. But the president's moves to mobilize American civilian and military resources contained some notable and inexplicable omissions. Fortunately, he also promised that "much, much more help is on the way."
In addition to emergency life-saving equipment and relief materials, Haitian families, many of whose livelihoods will have been destroyed by the quake, will need money. More than 1 million Haitians, about a third of all adults, currently receive cash from relatives living abroad, most of them in the United States; those funds account for between a fifth and a third of Haiti's gross domestic product. Yet the Obama administration has balked at helping tens of thousands of Haitians currently here illegally by granting them temporary legal status, which would enable them to get work permits. This despite U.S. law that specifically allows the government to extend "temporary protected status" to undocumented immigrants if natural disasters or wars in their home countries make it impractical to deport them. Haitians should have received this benefit after four devastating storms struck the island in the space of four weeks in the fall of 2008. Other undocumented immigrant groups - from Nicaragua, Honduras, Sudan and elsewhere - have received temporary legal status; Mr. Obama should immediately extend it to Haitians so they can help their quake-stricken relatives at home.
There's more the president can do, including pressing the International Monetary Fund and other international institutions and creditor nations to forgive $641 million in debt owed by Haiti.
4) Cuba Allows American Flyovers From Haiti
Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, January 14, 2010, 11:37 PM
The United States has struck an agreement with the Cuban government to send medical evacuation flights with victims from the Haiti earthquake through restricted Cuban airspace, an official said, reducing the flight time to Miami by 90 minutes.
Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said an agreement was reached with the Cuban military for evacuation flights from the United States Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay to pass through the airspace over Cuba on their way to Florida.
5) Security Concerns Highlighted In New Poll
Katharine Q. Seeleye, New York Times, January 14, 2010, 11:55 AM
The Christmas Day bombing attempt has caused Americans to take a tougher attitude toward national security, according to a new poll conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
More than three out of four respondents say it is very likely (35 percent) or somewhat likely (43 percent) that in the near future there will be a terrorist attack in the United States with a large number of casualties.
Support for the war in Afghanistan is up, at 59 - 35 percent, compared to 51 - 41 percent in a Quinnipiac survey conducted Dec. 23.
And Americans overwhelmingly now support (86 - 11 percent) new airport security measures even if they mean longer delays in air travel.
The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 1,767 registered voters from Jan. 5-11, after a Nigerian tried to blow himself up on an international flight on Christmas. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.
That failed attempt has had extensive repercussions within the American psyche about how to approach national security.
"The failed Christmas Day attempt to blow up a flight into Detroit has the American people security conscious," said Peter Brown, of Quinnipiac.
"They are more supportive of the Afghan war; they think the government is worrying too much about civil liberties and not enough about security, and they overwhelmingly favor the use of body scanners on air travelers," he said.
On questions that involve decisions made by the Obama administration, there was a noticeable partisan split. Only 12 percent of Republicans and 24 percent of independents, for example, want Guantanamo closed compared to 51 percent of Democrats. Similarly, 20 percent of Republicans and 31 percent of independents want terrorists tried in civilian courts, compared to 50 percent of Democrats.
6) Latvia shows the damage that rightwing economic policies can do - with help from the European Union and the IMF
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Friday 15 January 2010 08.00 GMT
Riga, Latvia - The signs of recession are more noticeable to those who live here in Riga, capital of Latvia - restaurants and coffee shops have lost most of their customers, and construction has practically ground to a halt. Emigration has soared.
Latvia has set a world-historical record by losing more than 24% of its economy in just two years. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that 2010 will be another bad year, with GDP shrinking by another 4%. The Fund forecasts a fall of 30% from peak to bottom, which would surpass the US's economic decline during the 1929-1933 downturn of the Great Depression.
Yet Uldis Rutkaste, an economist who is deputy head of the monetary policy department and advisor to the governor of the Latvia's central bank, told an audience of several hundred people in Riga on Wednesday that the government would continue with its "pro-cyclical fiscal policy." The word "pro-cyclical," which he used, refers to a policy that would be expected to reinforce the downward trend of the economy. This would continue, he said, until wages had fallen further.
It is difficult to imagine a government official in the US, western Europe, or indeed most countries of the world making an argument like this in public. But these are "true believers," and they will stay the course so long as their citizens are willing to accept the punishment.
What is the reasoning behind dong the opposite of what most governments in the world are doing - stimulating their economies with counter-cyclical policies in order to speed recovery from the global recession? And in a country that has suffered the steepest recession in the world?
The logic goes like this: Latvia has a fixed exchange rate, with the currency pegged to the euro, and the government does not want this to change. If this nominal rate of exchange stays fixed (at 70 euro cents for one Lat), then the only way to lower the value of the currency internationally is to do so in "real terms." This means pushing wages and prices down. In other words, Latvian production can become more internationally competitive by lowering prices and wages internally, while keeping the currency's international exchange rate fixed.
While this is theoretically possible, it is extremely difficult in practice - and even if it were to "succeed," the disease is cured by killing the patient. Unemployment in Latvia has passed 22%, and despite its world record decline in GDP, the real exchange rate, as noted recently by the IMF, has barely moved.
An overvalued exchange rate hurts a country's exports by making them more expensive, and encourages imports by making them artificially cheap.
But in this case, the direct effect of the overvalued exchange rate on trade is the lesser part of the problem. The bigger problem is that the government's commitment to the peg makes it extremely difficult or impossible to adopt the policies that would get the economy out of recession. This includes fiscal policy, as noted above: as part of its agreement for a loan from the IMF, the government has agreed to budget cuts and tax hikes amounting to 6.5% of GDP in 2010. As the IMF acknowledges, this will further weaken the economy in 2010.
Then there is monetary policy - in the US the Federal Reserve has cut short-term interest rates to zero and expanded money creation in response to the recession. The Latvian central bank is restricted in using expansionary monetary policy because of fears that this could undermine confidence in the currency peg. This leaves the Latvian government in the unfortunate situation that the three major economic policy tools available to counteract a recession: fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policy - are either heavily restricted or working against them (pro-cyclical).
It makes no sense to continue to shrink the Latvian economy, with no end in sight to the recession, simply to maintain the pegged exchange rate. Argentina tried this from 1998-2001, also suffering its worst recession ever and pushing 42% of its households into poverty. After the devaluation, the economy contracted for just one more quarter and then began a remarkable recovery, growing more than 60% in the ensuing six years.
By contrast, the IMF projections for Latvia - under assumptions that are looking increasingly over-optimistic - show the economy in 2014 still smaller than it was in 2006. And to make things even worse, these projections show a public debt of 90% of GDP in 2014 - far beyond the 60% limit required by the EU for the country to join the euro. This has been one of the Latvian government's main goals, and justifications, for maintaining the peg and putting the country through hell - but this exit strategy looks increasingly unlikely.
The IMF has long had a double standard when it comes to macroeconomic policy: for the rich countries it is generally Keynesian, advocating the kinds of counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policies that the US has adopted during the current recession. Yet for the low-and-middle income countries it has often pushed the opposite policies.
But to be fair, the IMF does not appear to be the driving force behind these decisions - rather it is the European governments, who are putting up most of the loan money for Latvia. In this case the Fund is going along with the EU, even though it appears that its economists can see that these policies are wrong. Of course the Latvian government has also been a strong advocate of keeping the peg but there is a limit to the punishment that Latvians will accept. And of course the EU will not give loans for policies that it finds objectionable. So EU governments are playing a pivotal role here.
These governments have an enormous conflict of interest in this case. Their banks, including those of Austria, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France - have hundreds of billions worth of euro-denominated loans to the countries of central and eastern Europe. A devaluation in Latvia could trigger a similar result in Lithuania, Estonia and Bulgaria, and increase defaults on the bad loans that these banks made during bubble years throughout the region. It is most likely for this reason that Europe increased its pledges to the IMF by $175bn last year, with $108bn also coming from the US congress and $100bn from Japan. While they are squeezing Latvia dry right now, and the IMF is pressuring other countries to cut spending, they will have hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on hand to bail out European banks if the need arises.
This part of the story is familiar even to Americans who have watched as our largest financial institutions have received top priority from the government - and indeed are doing quite well right now - while millions lose their homes and their jobs. But Latvia is an extreme case, partly because the macro-economic policy is so far to the right, and exhibiting a 19th century level of brutality. The World Bank has complained about the pension cuts that disproportionately hurt Latvia's poor, and the long-term damage to the educational system from the mandated budget cuts in that area.
There really is no excuse for this to continue.
7) Haiti's exiled former president vows to return
Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he is ready to help rebuild Haiti in wake of earthquake
David Smith, Guardian, Friday 15 January 2010 11.47 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/15/haiti-exiled-former-president-aristide
Johannesburg - A tearful Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled former president of Haiti, announced his intention today to return to his quake-devastated homeland.
Aristide, who has been based in South Africa since he was ousted in a 2004 rebellion, said he wanted to help rebuild his country in the wake of Tuesday's disaster, thought to have killed tens of thousands.
"We feel deeply and profoundly that we should be there, in Haiti, with them, trying our best to prevent death," Aristide told a press conference at an airport hotel in Johannesburg, standing alongside his wife, Mildred. He said friends were ready to give him a plane to return with emergency supplies.
Tears streaming down his face, Aristide continued: "We cannot wait to be with our sisters and brothers in Haiti. We share the anguish of all Haitians in the diaspora who are desperate to reach family and loved ones.
"As far as we are concerned we are ready to leave today, tomorrow, at any time to join the people of Haiti, to share in their suffering, help rebuild the country, moving from misery to poverty with dignity."
Aristide's wife stood with her eyes downcast, twisting a handkerchief. Both dabbed their eyes as they left after the brief statement.
A South African foreign affairs ministry official, Saul Kgomotso Molobi, said Aristide would not take questions because "the situation is difficult and unbearable for the family". He added that South Africa knew of no plans for Aristide to return to Haiti.
Aristide was a priest in the Haitian slum of La Saline before becoming the country's first elected president in 1990. He was ousted in a military coup the following year, then restored to power by US troops in 1994.
After stepping down, he was re-elected in 2000 but ousted again in a bloody 2004 rebellion.
Haitian protesters have periodically called for Aristide's return over the years. In speeches relayed to supporters in Haiti from South Africa, he has hinted at going back, but said he merely wants to be a teacher.
8) Obama Aid to Yemen Could Risk Backlash in Arab World
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers, Thu, Jan. 14, 2010
Washington - President Barack Obama's decision to boost U.S. aid to Yemen to help the small Arabian Peninsula country fight al Qaida risks tying the U.S. more closely to an autocratic ruler whose repression of economic and political grievances is strengthening the terrorists and pushing his impoverished nation toward breakup.
"Any association with the (Yemeni) regime will only confirm al Qaida's narrative, which is that America is only interested in maintaining corrupt and despotic rulers and is not interested in the fate of Arabs and Muslims," warned Bernard Haykel, a Princeton University professor.
The State Department's latest international human rights report cited allegations that Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime tortures and assassinates suspected opponents, operates secret prisons and muzzles independent media.
Security forces run by Saleh's close relatives and reportedly advised by former officers of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard are accused of using "excessive force" against a four-year-old Shiite Muslim rebellion in north Yemen, uprooting thousands of civilians.
In the once independent south, meanwhile, a crackdown on what had been a peaceful movement against alleged political and economic marginalization has ignited demands for secession and violence.
A major risk for Obama, experts said, is that Yemenis, Saudis and others will be drawn in greater numbers to join al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the network's Yemen-based franchise, to fight the unpopular Saleh or stage attacks on his U.S. benefactor.
Stepping up U.S. security aid to Saleh "can actually play into the hands of al Qaida," warned Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who's been warning for years about a growing terrorist threat from Yemen.
Obama announced his decision to "strengthen our partnership" with Saleh after the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by a 23-year-old Nigerian man alleged to have been trained and dispatched by al Qaida.
U.S. officials said they expect this year's U.S. development and security assistance to Yemen to increase by more than $10 million to $63 million, more than three times greater than in 2008.
The sum, however, doesn't include U.S. funds for training and equipping Yemen's counterterrorism and border security forces. In a letter delivered this month to Saleh by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Obama pledged to double last year's $70 million in such aid.
In a letter implicitly aimed at Saleh and the U.S., 156 senior Yemeni clerics warned Thursday that they'd declare a religious war, or jihad, if foreign powers intervened directly or established foreign bases in Yemen, or if civilians were killed, as they've been in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"If there is any insistence from any foreign party or aggression or invasion against the country . . . then Islam considers jihad a duty," said the letter, which was read at a mosque in the capital, Sanaa. The signatories included Sheikh Abdul-Majid al-Zindani, who once was close to Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. military and the CIA, which work with Saleh's security services, are expected to redouble intelligence-sharing and operational support for Yemen's effort to eradicate al Qaida, forged by the network's Yemeni and Saudi branches a year ago.
Several experts, however, said that security forces that have received U.S. training to fight al Qaida have been deployed against the southern secessionists and northern Shiite Muslim rebels and used brutal tactics.
The U.S. already had intensified its cooperation with Saleh against al Qaida before the failed Christmas Day attack, with two U.S. airstrikes hitting al Qaida training bases earlier in December, and Yemen has since stepped up raids against the group.
It remains unclear, however, how Obama plans to balance closer ties with the regime against the risk of fueling anti-American sentiments, which experts said al Qaida already is exploiting to recruit new fighters and forge ties with tribes opposed to Saleh.
"The United States is increasingly shifting support to the Saleh regime at a time at which it is increasingly losing (popular) support," said April Alley, an expert at the National Defense University in Washington. "A popular view within Yemen is that the U.S. is supporting an increasingly unpopular regime and buttressing autocracy."
Some experts also said that Obama doesn't have a strategy to address the non-security ills that are helping transform Yemen into the kind of "failed state" in which al Qaida thrives.
It's the poorest Arab country, and the regime is rife with corruption. Saudi Arabia provides the regime with some $2 billion in annual aid, but much of the money allegedly goes into official pockets.
Illiteracy, unemployment, malnutrition and disease are rampant among its 23 million people, more than half of whom are under age 20; the oil that's provided 75 percent of the government's revenues is running out; and Yemen may become the world's first country to exhaust its fresh water supplies.
9) UK Plans 'Trust Fund' To Woo Taliban Fighters
UK plans 'trust fund' to woo Taliban fighters
Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian, Thursday 14 January 2010 19.32 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/14/taliban-trust-fund-british-government
Taliban fighters who lay down their arms will be offered money from an international trust fund under a plan being drawn up by British government officials, it emerged today.
For months, British and US diplomats and intelligence officers have been approaching Taliban commanders considered "reconcilable". However, their approaches have been unco-ordinated and often sabotaged by mutual suspicion. In particular, the US and the Karzai government have been suspicious of British attempts to persuade Taliban fighters and other groups to abandon the insurgency.
British officials are now proposing that a co-ordinated international initiative, described by some as a kind of trust fund, should be set up as a key objective of the London conference on Afghanistan on 28 January. The move reflects a growing realisation in London, Washington and throughout Nato that the conflict cannot be "won" in any military sense and that some kind of accommodation with the Taliban insurgency is inevitable.
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, told MPs yesterday he hoped the London conference would agree to what he called a "reintegration programme" to help the Kabul government offer a way out of violence for Afghans who had joined the Taliban but were not committed to its ideology and could be encouraged to return to civilian life.
10) Iraqi Commission Bars Nearly 500 Candidates
Anthony Shadid, New York Times, January 15, 2010
Baghdad - Iraq's independent electoral commission on Thursday barred about 500 candidates from running in parliamentary elections in March, among them an influential Sunni Muslim politician, in a decision that could stoke sectarian tensions here and deprive the vote of crucial legitimacy in the eyes of part of the electorate.
The decision could undermine what many viewed as a key accomplishment of the political process here: agreement by nearly all Iraqi factions to take part in the vote, unlike previous elections that were boycotted out of fear of insurgent violence or in protest of American involvement.
Among those barred were the defense minister, Abdul-Kader Jassem al-Obeidi, and Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni who is the head of the National Dialogue Front.
Mr. Mutlaq's group, in alliance with Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister, had emerged as a leading force in predominantly Sunni provinces, which were underrepresented in the last parliamentary vote, in 2005. Depending on how many seats they secured in Parliament, the alliance could have had a say in choosing Iraq's new prime minister.
The absence of Mr. Mutlaq and other Sunni candidates could produce a situation that American officials here have long feared: another election reinforcing Sunni disenfranchisement, and just as the United States military begins its withdrawal of tens of thousands of combat troops.
Critics have derided the deliberations on barring candidates as lacking transparency, and even rivals of the disqualified politicians have suggested that the move could undermine an election that many see as a milestone in Iraqi politics.
Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, said the commission made the decision after receiving a list from a government commission that vets candidates for ties to former President Saddam Hussein's outlawed Baath Party, Arabic-language television stations reported. He said 499 candidates had been disqualified.
The barred candidates, who were among about 6,500 running in the election in March, have three days to appeal to a federal court.
Even before the decision was handed down, politicians from across the spectrum had urged a reconsideration of the ban, and many of Mr. Mutlaq's rivals spoke in his support. Several called for a compromise, and the commission itself was thought to be under pressure from the United Nations, the United States and Iraqi officials to wait for a compromise before acting.
"This is a process of severe intimidation and threats," Mr. Allawi said, according to The Associated Press. "It's clear that they want to get rid of their opponents."
11) Soldiers Accused of Extrajudicial Killings Freed
Helda Martínez, Inter Press Service, Jan 13
Soacha, Colombia - Over the last two weeks, 31 Colombian soldiers accused of the forced disappearance and murder of 11 young men from the poor Bogotá suburb of Soacha have been released from prison on the grounds that they were not formally indicted within 90 days of their arrest, as established by Colombian law.
Of the 42 members of the Colombian army implicated in what is known here as the "Soacha case", 18 were released between Dec. 30 and Jan. 7, six on Tuesday Jan. 12 and seven more on Wednesday Jan. 13.
They are facing charges of luring a number of young men from Soacha in August and September 2008 with false job promises, murdering them and presenting them as guerrillas killed in combat (euphemistically referred to as "false positives").
The scandal, which broke out in late 2008, led to the removal of three generals and 24 other officers and noncommissioned officers, as well as the resignation of then army chief General Mario Montoya, regarded as one of the promoters of the so-called "body count" system, which uses incentives like weekend passes, cash bonuses, promotions and trips abroad to reward soldiers and officers for "results" in the counterinsurgency effort.
A total of 1,900 "false positive" cases are awaiting investigation by the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General's Office.
Soacha and the neighbouring suburb of Ciudad Bolívar, which are located to the south of the Colombian capital, have absorbed a large number of the over three million people displaced by the armed conflict that has raged for over four decades between government security forces and rightwing paramilitary militias on one hand and leftist guerrillas on the other.
The victims targeted in the army's extrajudicial killings - who numbered in the thousands, according to human rights groups - were generally young men from poor districts like Soacha who received attractive job offers from recruiters.
But in the case of the 11 men from Soacha, their bodies showed up in morgues or mass graves hundreds of km from Bogotá just a few days after they left or went missing from their homes. And although they were wearing civilian clothes when they set out for their supposed new jobs, their bodies were found dressed in FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrilla fatigues.
The first rumours of what had happened to them reached their families through an employee of the government's national forensic service.
The newspapers then picked up the story, which bloomed into a full-blown international scandal.
The mothers of the young men, who have come together to fight for justice, told reporters Monday that they would take the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), arguing that the soldiers' release clearly indicated that no justice was possible in Colombia.
Many of the mothers of the victims of extrajudicial killings have received threats, as a result of their speaking out and their efforts to obtain justice. And as their representatives told the media, they are even more worried now that a number of the soldiers implicated in the murders have been set free.
But it is not only the mothers of the victims who live in fear in Soacha. A local university student who spoke to IPS on condition of anonymity said he was afraid.
"The situation here is really difficult. It's impossible for us to protect ourselves. I get home from the university at 11:00 PM. And the pamphlets that they distribute in the streets and leave under our doors warn that no homosexuals, prostitutes, druggies or thieves can be on the streets after 10:00 PM.
"I'm none of those things, but I could become a target just for talking to you," he said outside of the building where Tuesday's hearing was held. "That's why I - and many others - believe that instead of squandering so much money on the war, they should focus more on educating everyone," he added.
Because the case is in the international spotlight, and as a result of remarks by high government officials, the released soldiers have been confined to barracks pending future legal proceedings.
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