JFP 3/29: Afghans Still Being Shot at US Checkpoints

Just Foreign Policy News
March 29, 2010

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) US and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, the New York Times reports. "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," said Gen. McChrystal. Such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from McChrystal intended to reduce them. The persistence of the shootings has led to growing resentment among Afghans angry at the impunity with which the troops operate - a friction that has turned villages firmly against the occupation, the Times says.

2) The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year, AP reports. Injuries have more than tripled.

3) US officials acknowledge that US aid to Afghanistan is part of Afghanistan's corruption problems and that some Department of Defense money is flowing to Afghan insurgents through security subcontracting, the Washington Post reports. The problem extends beyond military supply transport to Afghan-provided security for reconstruction and other U.S.-funded projects, according to the audit chief for the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. "If you go to the U.S. Embassy, to USAID, to the Army Corps [of Engineers] and ask if they can assure that their money is not going to the Taliban, they'd be hard-pressed to say," he said. Congressional investigators alleged "willful blindness" on the part of the U.S. military which "likes having its trucks showing up and doesn't want to get into the details of how they got there."

4) The current fight between the Obama Administration and the Israeli government over Israeli building in Jerusalem is really over the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as over differing perceptions of the Palestinians' capacity for self-rule, writes Ethan Bronner in a news analysis for the New York Times. The Obama administration considers establishing a Palestinian state central to other regional goals; it also believes that the Palestinians are ready to run a country. The longer the dispute goes on, the more isolated Israel becomes, because much of the world disagrees with it, Bronner writes.

5) Mexican law enforcement officials said that former soldiers who formed the Zetas, a criminal organization that works as assassins for one of the drug cartels fighting in Juárez, were trained by the U.S., including at the School of the Americas, the El Paso Times reports. Given that history, some question whether more U.S. training for Mexican soldiers and police will be helpful. U.S. say this time the U.S. would vet the Mexican soldiers to be trained.

6) The Haitian government and international aid officials have given up on the idea of relocating Haitians to new camps ahead of floods, Jonathan Katz reports for AP. Instead, they will be sent back "home" or otherwise dispersed, with US-funded teams removing debris. Only a small number, as a last resort, may be moved to relocation camps.

Haiti
7) Danny Glover, chair of TransAfrica Forum, says it doesn't make sense that two and half months after the earthquake, Haitians still haven't received tents, writes Mark Weisbrot in a column distributed by McClatchy-Tribune. 400,000 tents would cost $40 million, less than 2% of the aid flow into Haiti, Weisbrot notes.

Japan
8) Japan's foreign minister presented the US with alternatives for the relocation of the Futenma base, AFP reports. The Pentagon said it was reviewing the ideas. The Social Democratic Party, a member of the government coalition, has denounced the alternatives as it seeks a complete removal of Futenma from Okinawa.

Afghanistan
9) No-one at the CIA has been held responsible, legally or administratively, for the death of Gul Rahman at a CIA prison in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was left overnight, half-naked in near-freezing temperatures, AP reports. Several former senior CIA officials have questioned the Kabul station chief's career advancement after Rahman died, noting that the CIA's Baghdad station chief was demoted after the death of an Iraqi at Abu Ghraib in 2003.

Israel/Palestine
10) Israeli troops and tanks left Gaza Saturday after the bloodiest clash in Gaza in 14 months killed two soldiers and a Palestinian, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, the Arab League signaled a major review in strategy. "We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure," Secretary-General Amr Moussa said. "It's time to face Israel. We have to have alternative plans because the situation has reached a turning point."

11) Palestinian officials said Israel will allow a shipment of clothes and shoes to be delivered to Palestinians in Gaza for the first time in its three-year blockade, Reuters reports. They said the first 10 truckloads would be arriving via the Israeli-controlled Gaza border point on Thursday. Gaza merchants said 10 truckloads would not fill their stocks and demanded Israel release goods long held in its sea ports.

Mexico
12) President Calderon told CNN that powerful groups in the US appear to be blocking efforts to stem the flow of assault weapons fueling Mexico's drug war, Reuters reports. Mexico says 90 percent of the weapons used by drug gangs are bought in the US, often legally. Mexican officials want to see Congress reinstate a ban on the sale of assault weapons that expired in 2004. The US has started to increase searches of southbound vehicles on its border with Mexico for guns and money heading to Mexican cartels.

Colombia
13) U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Brownfield told the Colombian newspaper El Espectador he sees "great opportunities for the FTA in the coming months" now that health care reform is passed. Colombia Reports published an English transcript of the interview. Brownfield also said the US had reduced the budget and size of personnel focused on drug eradication programs, and is increasing our support for alternative development programs. "I must say to the critics that they were right, and because of that we, are changing our strategy," Brownfield said.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints
Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, March 26, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/27/world/asia/27afghan.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul. "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. His comments came during a recent videoconference to answer questions from troops in the field about civilian casualties.

Though fewer in number than deaths from airstrikes and Special Forces operations, such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from General McChrystal seeking to reduce the killing of innocents. The persistence of deadly convoy and checkpoint shootings has led to growing resentment among Afghans fearful of Western troops and angry at what they see as the impunity with which the troops operate - a friction that has turned villages firmly against the occupation.

Failure to reduce checkpoint and convoy shootings, known in the military as "escalation of force" episodes, has emerged as a major frustration for military commanders who believe that civilian casualties deeply undermine the American and NATO campaign in Afghanistan.

Many of the detainees at the military prison at Bagram Air Base joined the insurgency after the shootings of people they knew, said the senior NATO enlisted man in Afghanistan, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall. "There are stories after stories about how these people are turned into insurgents," Sergeant Major Hall told troops during the videoconference. "Every time there is an escalation of force we are finding that innocents are being killed."

One such case was the death of Mohammed Yonus, a 36-year-old imam and a respected religious authority, who was killed two months ago in eastern Kabul while commuting to a madrasa where he taught 150 students. A passing military convoy raked his car with bullets, ripping open his chest as his two sons sat in the car. The shooting inflamed residents and turned his neighborhood against the occupation, elders there say.

"The people are tired of all these cruel actions by the foreigners, and we can't suffer it anymore," said Naqibullah Samim, a village elder from Hodkail, where Mr. Yonus lived. "The people do not have any other choice, they will rise against the government and fight them and the foreigners. There are a lot of cases of killing of innocent people."

After assuming command last summer, General McChrystal moved to reduce the killing of civilians through directives that, according to United Nations human rights researchers, have led to a 28 percent reduction in such casualties last year by American, NATO and Afghan forces. The biggest impact was reducing deaths from aerial attacks, which fell by more than a third in 2009, the United Nations found.

More recently, General McChrystal moved to bring nearly all Special Operations forces in Afghanistan under his control. NATO officials said concern about civilian casualties caused by these forces was partly behind the decision, along with the need to better coordinate units and ensure that local commanders were aware of what was happening.
[...]
Shootings from convoys and checkpoints involving American, NATO and Afghan forces accounted for 36 civilian deaths last year, down from 41 in 2008, according to the United Nations. With at least 30 Afghans killed since last June in 95 such shootings, according to military statistics, the rate shows no signs of abating.

And those numbers do not include shooting deaths caused by convoys guarded by private security contractors. Some tallies have put the total number of escalation of force deaths far higher. A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Zemary Bashary, said private security contractors sometimes killed civilians during escalation of force episodes, but he said he did not know the number of instances.
[...]

2) US troop deaths double in Afghanistan
Sebastian Abbot, Associated Press, Sat Mar 27, 7:49 pm ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100327/ap_on_re_as/as_afghanistan_war_deaths

Kabul - The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year as Washington has added tens of thousands of additional soldiers to reverse the Taliban's momentum. Those deaths have been accompanied by a dramatic spike in the number of wounded, with injuries more than tripling in the first two months of the year and trending in the same direction based on the latest available data for March.

U.S. officials have warned that casualties are likely to rise even further as the Pentagon completes its deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and sets its sights on the Taliban's home base of Kandahar province, where a major operation is expected in the coming months.
[...]
In total, 57 U.S. troops were killed here during the first two months of 2010 compared with 28 in January and February of last year, an increase of more than 100 percent, according to Pentagon figures compiled by The Associated Press. At least 20 American service members have been killed so far in March, an average of about 0.8 per day, compared to 13, or 0.4 per day, a year ago.
[...]
The number of U.S. troops wounded in Afghanistan and three smaller theaters where there isn't much battlefield activity rose from 85 in the first two months of 2009 to 381 this year, an increase of almost 350 percent. A total of 50 U.S. troops were wounded last March, an average of 1.6 per day. In comparison, 44 were injured during just the first six days of March this year, an average of 7.3 per day.
[...]

3) Afghan Corruption: How To Follow The Money?
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Monday, March 29, 2010; A01
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/28/AR2010032802971.html

Hamed Wardak, the soft-spoken Georgetown University-educated son of an Afghan cabinet minister, has a Defense Department contract worth up to $360 million to transport U.S. military goods through some of the most insecure territory in Afghanistan. But his company has no trucks. Instead, Wardak sits atop a murky pyramid of Afghan subcontractors who provide the vehicles and safeguard their passage. U.S. military officials say they are satisfied with the results, but they concede that they have little knowledge or control over where the money ends up.

According to senior Obama administration officials, some of it may be going to the Taliban, as part of a protection racket in which insurgents and local warlords are paid to allow the trucks unimpeded passage, often sending their own vehicles to accompany the convoys through their areas of control.

The essential question, said an American executive whose company does significant work in Afghanistan, is "whether you'd rather pay $1,000" for Afghans to safely deliver a truck, even if part of the money goes to the insurgents, or pay 10 times that much for security provided by the U.S. military or contractors.
[...]
The likelihood that U.S. money is finding its way to the enemy as well as lining officials' pockets - charges that Wardak says could be true for other transport contractors but not for his company - is "one of the many very important things that came to light" during last fall's White House strategy review, an administration official said.

The problem extends beyond military supply transport to Afghan-provided security for reconstruction and other U.S.-funded projects, according to John Brummet, audit chief for the congressionally mandated special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, known as SIGAR. "If you go to the U.S. Embassy, to USAID, to the Army Corps [of Engineers] and ask if they can assure that their money is not going to the Taliban, they'd be hard-pressed to say," he said.

Prime contractors such as Wardak's NCL Holdings, Brummet said, "say that subs take care of their security," but U.S. officials "do not have visibility on who is providing it." According to SIGAR chief investigator Ray Dinunzio, "there is no database in the U.S. government" that provides reliable subcontractor information.

The U.S.-led coalition command in Afghanistan does not dispute that assessment. Although there is "rigorous" oversight of prime contracts, the command said in a statement, "the relationships between contractors and their subcontractors, as well as between subcontractors and others in their operational communities, are not entirely transparent."

Both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the issue in congressional testimony explaining Obama's new strategy. Clinton called "siphoning off contractual money from the international community . . . a major source of funding for the Taliban." Corruption, she said, "frankly . . . is not all an Afghan problem."

Although security for trucks carrying U.S. military supplies around Afghanistan is considered a particularly lucrative source of extortion, the administration has not investigated it or even estimated its scope, according to several officials involved in Afghanistan policy, none of whom was authorized to discuss the issue on the record.

Congressional investigators who have opened a probe into the Defense Department's $2.16 billion Host Nation Trucking (HNT) contract described what one called "willful blindness" on the part of a U.S. military that "likes having its trucks showing up and doesn't want to get into the details of how they got there."
[...]
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-Mass.), chairman of the national security subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, opened an investigation that month into what he said were "serious allegations . . . that private security providers for U.S. transportation contractors in Afghanistan are regularly paying local warlords and the Taliban for security." Tierney said many of the allegations were first raised in a November report by the Nation magazine. It described an entrenched system of protection payoffs and the close connections most Afghan contractors have to senior government officials.
[...]
"It's a long-standing business practice within Afghanistan to use your control of the security environment in order to extort payment from those who want to operate within your space, whether it's construction of a cellphone tower, a dam, or running trucks," said the House investigator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the examination is ongoing.

Over the past three months, the subcommittee has examined hundreds of documents and interviewed numerous Defense Department and Afghan officials, as well as Western expatriates working as program managers for the HNT firms who have become their primary sources. "We have found nothing that would change that original core narrative" of widespread protection payments, the investigator said.

The subcommittee plans a publicly released report and possibly hearings. Its tentative conclusions, the investigator said, do not definitively point to the Defense Department and HNT prime contractors as direct participants in the scheme. But whistleblowers who have met with investigators, he said, spoke up only after failing to get the attention of both.

There is a difference, the investigator said, between not knowing, "and then having people come and tell you it's happening, and still saying 'I don't know.' "
[...]

4) Rift Exposes Split in Views on Mideast
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, March 28, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/29/world/middleeast/29mideast.html

Jerusalem - When Israel announced new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem at the start of a visit this month by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing and expressed regret at the embarrassment. Mr. Biden accepted his explanation, and the two sides seemed prepared to move on.

Since then, though, that event has remained lodged at the center of American-Israeli relations. How it got there, and why it remains, sheds light on the growing divide between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. The current discord, ostensibly over Jerusalem housing, is really over the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as over differing perceptions of the Palestinians' capacity for self-rule.

While Mr. Biden seemed satisfied with the Israeli explanation, others were clearly not. Among them was Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League. A week earlier, he reluctantly announced his organization's approval of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, had requested the support, feeling unable to renew talks without pan-Arab cover. Arab foreign ministers in Cairo offered a tepid go-ahead despite their skepticism about Israel's intentions.

After the plans for more Jerusalem housing were announced, however, Mr. Moussa called Mr. Abbas to say the talks should not proceed. Mr. Abbas called Washington to describe his predicament, which produced a phone call from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Mr. Netanyahu, demanding steps to keep the indirect talks alive. The sequence of calls was described by an American advocate for Israel and confirmed by a senior Palestinian leader.
[...]
But two main issues are keeping American-Israeli tensions on the front burner: disagreement on the effects of what happens in Jerusalem on the rest of the Middle East, and the strength of the Palestinian leadership.

The Obama administration considers establishing a Palestinian state central to other regional goals; it also believes that the Palestinians, led by Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are ready to run a country. The Netanyahu government disagrees on both counts. It thinks the issue of Palestinian statehood has little effect on broader American concerns and is also dubious about the ability of the Palestinians to create an entity that can resist a radical takeover.
[...]
Lt. Gen. Keith W. Dayton, who heads an effort to train Palestinian security forces in the West Bank, likes to tell a story about his work in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003. He was leading a team sent to find illegal weapons but discovered something else in the barracks of the Republican Guard: On many walls he saw drawings of Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem. Strangling its dome was a serpent with the word "Israel" on it. General Dayton said he was amazed to see such fervor for the issue so many hundreds of miles away. He realized then, he said, the significance of the Israeli-Arab dispute beyond its borders.

Since arriving here, he has championed Palestinian security skills. Where Israeli generals say the forces are doing fine work but could not keep down violence without Israeli actions, General Dayton gives the Palestinians far more credit and wants the Israelis to cut back on their incursions.

This highlights the other significant disagreement between the two governments: the readiness and reliability of the Palestinian leadership of Mr. Abbas and Mr. Fayyad. Obama administration officials say they believe that the Palestinian leadership is the best in history, focused on nonviolence, institution building and prosperity. Israelis are skeptical.
[...]
It remains unclear how the Americans and Israelis will settle their dispute. But the longer the dispute goes on, the more isolated Israel becomes, because much of the world disagrees with it. As Michael Young wrote in The Daily Star newspaper of Lebanon, "More countries than ever before see Israel as the problem." He added that the "hardening perception is that Israel's irresponsible settlement expansion plan is destroying all prospects for a mutually satisfactory accord with the Palestinians, and that the ensuing instability will harm everyone."

5) Some Question US Training Of Mexican Forces
Ramon Bracamontes, El Paso Times, 03/28/2010
http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_14771795

El Paso - In the mid-1990s, the United States began training Mexico's soldiers in hopes of stopping the flow of drugs through Mexico and ending corruption. Some of those trained by U.S. forces formed the Zetas, a criminal organization that works as assassins for one of the drug cartels fighting in Juárez, Mexican law enforcement officials said.

Today, the United States is again trying to help Mexico with its drug-cartel problem, and part of the solution could include training Mexico's military and law enforcement officers. Money for training Mexican soldiers is in the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative that was approved by Congress in 2008. The second phase of the initiative, which is being formed right now, will also include money for training Mexican soldiers and police, according to two public-policy groups that monitor U.S.-Mexico relations.

Given the history of the program, some question the effectiveness of that policy.
"You can train someone, but that still doesn't affect their morals," said Richard Newton, a former federal customs agent in El Paso, now a member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which favors legalization of some drugs. "I don't care how good the training is. The problem is that these people can be bribed and they may go to work for the cartels."

Others agree, and as a prime example of training gone wrong, they point to the Zetas. The group was founded by Mexican army deserters, including officers trained by the United States at the military School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. The Zetas, according to the Chihuahua attorney general's office, are thought to be behind some of the brutal killings in Juárez, which have surpassed 4,700 in two years.

An international human- rights organization that monitors the former U.S. military School of the Americas, which is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, says that training foreign soldiers has worked against the United States in the past, so it may in the future. The human-rights group is called School of the Americas Watch, and its mission is to stop the training of international soldiers and law enforcement at the former School of the Americas.

U.S. officials counter by saying that this time they would be doing more than just training soldiers. According to the latest proposals of phase two of the Merida Initiative, the United States would vet the Mexican soldiers who are to be trained. Previously, in the 1990s, the Mexican army chose those who came to the United States to train.

"I think both the U.S. and Mexican governments are starting to see the limitations of military-police solutions to the problems of drug trafficking and related crime and violence," said Howard Campbell, a University of Texas at El Paso professor who specializes in Mexican cartel research. "Training new officers better might help, though it has not done much good in the past. But perhaps what is needed more, as many analysts now realize, is greater attention and money to improve the Mexican judicial system, more oversight and control of cops and the military."
[...]

6) Haiti Backs Off Plans For Relocation Camps
Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press, Sun, Mar. 28, 2010
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/world_us/89343547.html

Port-au-Prince, Haiti - Aid officials say they have finally figured out where to put hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in a cataclysmic earthquake: right back where they came from. Dreams of vast relocation camps have largely evaporated due to a lack of available land. And nobody wants to leave people living in the streets under makeshift tents of plastic and bed sheets with the official May 1 start of the rainy season looming.

So Haitians such as Marie Carmel Etienne are moving back home, helped by a team funded by the U.S. Defense Department that has promised to remove the debris of shattered buildings in one Port-au-Prince neighborhood if people will dump it in the street in front of their lots.
[...]
About 1.3 million people lost their homes in the Jan. 12 quake; hundreds of thousands are on the capital's streets, hillsides, and dangerous riverbeds with at most a tarp or flimsy wood between them and the sky.

The new plan - now accepted by major international groups including U.N. agencies and the U.S. Agency for International Development - looks like this: Those who can will be encouraged to return to homes that engineers have deemed safe. Those who can't will be given help removing debris so they can return to their own neighborhoods.

Others will try to find host families for the time being. Aid groups will try to improve existing camps for those with nowhere else to go.

Only a small number, as a last resort, may be moved to relocation camps.

The International Organization of Migration estimates that 245,000 individuals are at high risk of flooding or mudslides in the makeshift camps where they now live, though a just-completed U.S. military survey said fewer than 37,000 need to be moved urgently.

Haitian and foreign officials initially proposed huge relocation camps, but that idea has largely fizzled after weeks of fruitless wrangling with private landowners and due to fears they could become new, permanent slums.

Only in the last few days - more than two months after the government proposed the camps - have the first 200 families begun to move to the first transitional site on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Haiti
7) Haiti Relief Effort Needs Immediate Ramp-Up to Avoid Another Disaster
Mark Weisbrot, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, March 25, 2010
http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/haiti-relief-effort-needs-immediate-ramp-up-to-avoid-another-disaster/
[...]
Most urgently, the current relief effort has to be ramped up immediately to help the 1.3 million homeless Haitians before thousands are killed by rains or the hurricane season. A relatively brief rain on March 19 brought images of Haitians struggling through mud in squalid camps to try and keep from being overwhelmed by flooding.

The rainy season is just beginning and it will get much worse, especially for some 200,000 homeless in 29 camps that could get washed away when the rains get heavy.

Danny Glover is an actor and chair of the board of the TransAfrica Forum. Both he and TransAfrica have worked to help Haiti for many years. "It doesn't make sense that they can't even get people tents two and a half months after the earthquake," he told me in Washington. Indeed it does not: The needed tents cost about $100 apiece; even if we double the government's request for 200,000 tents, the cost is $40 million, not even two percent of the public and private donations coming from the U.S. and other countries.

Congress needs to turn up the heat by immediately announcing that it will fulfill its oversight role, complete with hearings and a report on how U.S. dollars - taxpayer and private donations - have been spent in Haiti. This would give some incentive to the larger organizations and U.S. government contractors to help save thousands of Haitian before they are killed by rains or the hurricane season (which begins in June).
[...]

Japan
8) Japan presents US with alternatives in base dispute
AFP, March 29, 2010
http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/afp/100329/usa/us_japan_diplomacy_military_3

Washington - Japan's foreign minister on Monday presented the United States with alternatives for a military base, hoping to resolve a row that has been a growing thorn in relations between the allies. Japan's left-leaning government is hoping to gauge the US reaction to revising a 2006 agreement on the Futenma air base, which lies in a crowded area of the southern island of Okinawa and is opposed by many residents.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada held a closed-door meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates before heading to the White House to confer with James Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser. Okada later Monday was to hold more extensive talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton near Ottawa, where foreign ministers of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations are meeting.

The Pentagon said it was reviewing the ideas about Futenma, which Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government first shared last week with the US ambassador in Tokyo, John Roos. "Last week the government of Japan did share its current thinking with regards to the Futenma issue, which will be carefully considered," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "We respect Japan's request to explore alternatives," Whitman said. "We'll conduct these discussions through diplomatic channels."

Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Kazuo Kodama said that the talks were aimed at seeing US reviews before Hatoyama comes up with a "concrete alternative" by the end of May. "We of course must reach an understanding with the United States, but my government must also reach an understanding with the people of Okinawa and its coalition partners," Kodama said.

The Social Democratic Party, a staunchly pacifist partner in Hatoyama's coalition, has already denounced the alternatives as it seeks a complete removal of Futenma from Okinawa.
[...]

Afghanistan
9) Cautionary tale from CIA prison
Adam Goldman and Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, Sun Mar 28, 6:08 pm ET
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100328/ap_on_go_ot/us_cia_salt_pit

Washington - More than seven years ago, a suspected Afghan militant was brought to a dimly lit CIA compound northeast of the airport in Kabul. The CIA called it the Salt Pit. Inmates knew it as the dark prison. Inside a chilly cell, the man was shackled and left half-naked. He was found dead, exposed to the cold, in the early hours of Nov. 20, 2002.

The Salt Pit death was the only fatality known to have occurred inside the secret prison network the CIA operated abroad after the Sept. 11 attacks. The death had strong repercussions inside the CIA. It helped lead to a review that uncovered abuses in detention and interrogation procedures, and forced the agency to change those procedures.

Little has emerged about the Afghan's death, which the Justice Department is investigating. The Associated Press has learned the dead man's name, as well as new details about his capture in Pakistan and his Afghan imprisonment.

The man was Gul Rahman (gool RAHK'-mahn), a suspected militant captured on Oct. 29, 2002, a U.S. official familiar with the case confirmed. The official said Rahman was taken during an operation against Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, an insurgent group headed by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (gool-boo-DEEN' hek-mat-YAR') and allied with al-Qaida.

Rahman's identity also was confirmed by a former U.S. official familiar with the case, as well as by several other former and current officials. A reference to Rahman's death also turned up in a recently declassified government document.

The CIA's program of waterboarding and other harsh treatment of suspected terrorists has been debated since it ended in 2006. The Salt Pit case stands as a cautionary tale about the unfettered use of such practices. The Obama administration shut the CIA's prisons last year.

It remains uncertain whether any intelligence officers have been punished as a result of the Afghan's death, raising questions about the CIA's accountability in the case. The CIA's then-station chief in Afghanistan was promoted after Rahman's death, and the officer who ran the prison went on to other assignments, including one overseas, several former intelligence officials said.
[...]
When the inspector general's report on the Salt Pit death emerged, it focused on decisions made by two CIA officials: an inexperienced officer who had just taken his first overseas assignment to run the prison and the Kabul station chief, who managed CIA activities in Afghanistan. Their identities remain classified. The report found that the Salt Pit officer displayed poor judgment in leaving the detainee in the cold. But it also indicated the officer made repeated requests to superiors for guidance that were largely ignored, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials.

That raised concerns about both the responsibility of the station chief and the CIA's management in Langley. Similar concerns about CIA management were later aired in the inspector general's review of the CIA's secret interrogation program.
[...]
The unresolved questions about Rahman's death have led to new scrutiny by the Obama administration. A Justice Department criminal inquiry, led by prosecutor John Durham, is aimed at whether CIA operatives crossed the line in a small number of cases including the Salt Pit death.

But several former senior CIA officials questioned the Kabul station chief's career advancement inside the agency after Rahman died. Now a senior officer, the man was promoted at least three times since leaving Afghanistan in 2003, former officials said. In contrast, the former officials said, the CIA's Baghdad station chief was demoted in rank after the death of an Iraqi at the Abu Ghraib military-run prison in November 2003. "What you see across the board, there is no standard that is applied uniformly," said one former CIA officer, Charles Faddis, who recently published "Beyond Repair," a critical assessment of the agency.

Israel/Palestine
10) Israelis quit Gaza after worst clash in over a year
Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, Saturday, March 27, 2010; 11:35 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/27/AR2010032700344.html

Gaza - Israeli troops and tanks left the Gaza Strip on Saturday, witnesses said, after the bloodiest clash in the Hamas-ruled enclave in 14 months killed two soldiers and a Palestinian. The violence underscored the deadlock in U.S.-mediated contacts between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose peacemaking bids have been sapped by Hamas hostility along with continued Israeli settlement construction on occupied land.
[...]
The Arab League, which had given its blessing to indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, signaled a major review in strategy. "We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure," League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told Arab leaders gathered in the Libyan town of Sirte. "It's time to face Israel. We have to have alternative plans because the situation has reached a turning point," he said.

The impasse has triggered sporadic rocket attacks this month from Gaza which drew Israeli airstrikes. On Friday, Palestinians ambushed soldiers who, the army said, had crossed the border to dismantle a mine. Two infantrymen were killed and two wounded.

The clashes, in which the army said it believed it had killed two gunmen, was the fiercest since the three-week Gaza war of early 2009. Some 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and 13 Israelis, mainly troops, died in that conflict. Islamist Hamas spurns the Jewish state but has largely held fire since the war. It said its men took part in Friday's fighting, but only in order to repel the Israeli incursion.
[...]
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who during a visit to the region this month urged Israel to lift a Gaza embargo tightened after Hamas took over in 2007, also voiced concern. "I reiterate my appeals ... for maximum restraint and an end to all violence, in particular at this critical time when we are engaged in efforts to revive peace talks," he said in Sirte, on the sidelines of the Arab League summit.
[...]

11) Israel to allow clothes, shoes into blockaded Gaza
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, writing by Douglas Hamilton; editing by Philippa Fletcher
Reuters, Monday, March 29, 2010; 9:14 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/29/AR2010032900904.html

Gaza - Israel will allow a shipment of clothes and shoes to be delivered to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for the first time in its almost three-year-old tight blockade of the enclave, Palestinian officials said on Monday. They said the first 10 truckloads would be arriving via the Israeli-controlled Gaza border point on Thursday.

Israel is under international pressure to relax its blockade, which the United Nations says punishes Gaza's 1.5 million people over their leaders - the Islamist group Hamas, who are pledged to Israel's destruction. [A spectacuarly misleading characterization of Hamas, whose leaders have publicly and repeatedly stated their willingness to accept a two-state solution on the 1967 borders. It seems likely that this characterization is due to a Reuters editor, rather than the reporter - JFP.]

Israel prohibits shipments of cement and steel to Gaza on the grounds that Hamas could use them for military purposes. Its long list of controlled goods also includes items that critics say have no apparent military value, such as children's crayons and books.

Gaza has been getting most of its consumer goods via tunnels from neighboring Egypt operated by smugglers who add on hefty surcharges. Gaza merchants said 10 truckloads would not fill their stocks and demanded that Israel release goods long held in its sea ports.
[...]

Mexico
12) US Lobbies a Hurdle in Mexico Drug War: Calderon
Paul Simao, Reuters, Sunday, March 28, 2010; 12:02 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/28/AR2010032800843.html

Washington - Powerful groups in the United States appear to be blocking efforts to stem the flow of assault weapons fueling Mexico's drug war, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

Calderon, who has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and police to fight drug cartels, told Fareed Zakaria's "GPS" program on CNN that there was resistance in Washington to Mexico's demands that sales of such weapons be stopped.

"They (U.S. officials) say that they are facing strong opposition and there is powerful lobbies in the Congress in order to change that situation," Calderon said in a pre-taped interview in Mexico City.

The Mexican leader added that solving the cross-border gun trafficking problem was critical to his bid to crack down on the drug-related violence that has killed 4,600 people in the past two years.

Mexico says 90 percent of the weapons used by drug gangs are bought in the United States, often legally. Mexican officials also want to see the U.S. Congress reinstate a ban on the sale of assault weapons that expired in 2004.

U.S. gun rights groups generally oppose such a restriction.
[...]
Washington has started to increase searches of southbound vehicles on its border with Mexico for guns and money heading to Mexican cartels.

Colombia
13) Ambassador claims changing US strategy in Colombia
Brett Borkan, Colombia Reports, Friday, 26 March 2010 07:33
http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/8879-ambassador-claims-changing-us-strategy-in-colombia.html

In an interview with Colombian newspaper El Espectador on Thursday, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield talked about his country's military base agreement with Colombia, the pending Free Trade Agreement, the recent State Department report on human rights, the false positives scandal, the drug war, and the extradition of narco traffickers.
[...]
EE: If Colombia is the main ally of the U.S. in the region, then why hasn't the Free Trade Agreement passed, or is Washington supporting more social issues in Colombia?

WB: U.S. support for Colombia under Plan Colombia has not been reduced much during the last two cycles. In 2008, there was a reduction in the budget for the fight against drugs, but an increase in more than 50% in the support for economic, social, and institutional development. Two important things have occured reciently in Washington: the passing of health care reform, which was a priority of President Obama since his first day in office, and the launching of initiative to boost U.S. exports, which is prioritized in six countries, one of them being Colombia. After this, I see great opportunities for the FTA in the coming months.

EE: If the model in the drug war has been demonstrated to be insufficient, why do you insist on the strategy of prohibition (in the U.S.)?

WB: It's a good question to ask in five or six years. Our strategy has been continuously adjusted in the last three years. Since my arrival to Colombia over a two and a half years ago, we have reduced the budget and size of personnel focused on drug eradication programs, and are increasing our support for alternative development programs. I must say to the critics that they were right, and because of that we, are changing our strategy.

EE: Does this new strategy have to do with the budget reduction in Plan Colombia?

WB: Yes, it reflects this reality. In 2007, our support for Plan Colombia was something around $547 million. This year it is $541 million.
[...]

-
Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

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.


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