JFP 4/5: US govt lies about civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed
Just Foreign Policy News
April 5, 2010
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Wikileaks video shows US officials lied about killing of journalists in Iraq
WikiLeaks has released a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad, including two Reuters news staff. Since "the incident was investigated and the U.S. military concluded that the actions of the soldiers were in accordance with the law of armed conflict and its own 'Rules of Engagement,'" this is highly relevant to the question of whether the U.S. military should be believed when it claims it is acting to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Urge Congress to Talk About the Human Cost of War
In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to be asked to approve $33 billion more for war and occupation in Afghanistan. Urge your representatives in Congress to use this opportunity to shine a spotlight on the human cost of continuing war and occupation.
Call Congress the Week of April 12 Against the War in Afghanistan
Groups are collaborating in generating calls to Congress against the war, urging: opposition to the war supplemental, support for a military withdrawal timetable, support for a public exit strategy and support for peace negotiations. Spread the word.
IJDH: Aid Groups Can Do Better in Haiti
With video and a petition, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti reaches out to the big aid groups, urging them to do better. [The link in Friday's news did not work for some people; this should work for all - JFP.]
Highlights of the Afghanistan Debate
1) After initially denying involvement in the deaths of three Afghan women during a Special Operations night raid in February, the US military command in Kabul admitted Sunday its forces had killed the women during the raid, the New York Times reports. In a statement soon after the raid, NATO had claimed that its raiding party had stumbled upon the "bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed" and hidden in a room in the house. But the Times of London reported Sunday that Afghan investigators determined that US forces not only killed the women but had also "dug bullets out of their victims' bodies" and then "washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened." A NATO official said the Afghan-led investigation team alerted US and NATO commanders that the inquiry had found signs of evidence tampering. Special Operations attacks are blamed for a large proportion of the civilian deaths caused by NATO forces.
2) Many analysts say there are no good options for the U.S. to punish Afghan President Karzai for his criticism of the U.S. without potentially damaging Western interests, the New York Times reports. At a meeting with Afghan parliamentarians Saturday, Karzai stepped up his anti-Western statements, according to a Parliament member who attended. "If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban," Karzai reportedly said. Analysts suggest the US has three options: threaten to withdraw troops or actually withdraw them; use diplomacy, which so far has had little result; and find ways to expand citizen participation in the government, which now has hardly any elected positions at the provincial and district levels. Greater power sharing faces structural obstacles. Under the Constitution [which the U.S. helped put in place and which U.S. officials keep insisting can't be amended - JFP] provincial governors, local judges, district governors and most other offices are appointive rather than elective.
3) Some officials see President Karzai's recent "anti-Western" remarks as a rehearsed, intentional move away from the US, the Washington Post reports. Karzai urged Obama, apparently without success, to publicly support Karzai's plans for a "peace jirga," the planned meeting of tribal elders and political leaders to discuss reconciliation with insurgents, said a senior Afghan official.
4) Okinawa Gov. Nakaima conveyed anew to Japanese Defense Minister Kitazawa his opposition to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, saying this would be "difficult" to realize amid growing calls from local residents to relocate the base someplace else, Kyodo News reports. "People of Okinawa strongly wish (that the base) be transferred out of the prefecture, and their movement has been gaining momentum," Nakaima told reporters. The governor also told Kitazawa it would be difficult to pursue an idea currently being studied by the government to build a heliport and fill in a shallows to accommodate Futenma's operations in the prefecture.
5) Recent moves towards greater democracy in Pakistan have elicited little praise in the United States, notes Juan Cole on his blog. Cole suggests that this is because the U.S. can claim little credit for them, and indeed has obstructed them.
6) German troops fired on Afghan soldiers Friday, killing six, the New York Times reports. The German military said the Afghan soldiers were in civilian cars, but the Afghan Defense Ministry and the governor of Kunduz said that the soldiers were riding in military vehicles and that they were on their way to give logistical support to their Afghan comrades who had been fighting alongside the Germans.
7) A Gaza border official says Israel has allowed a commercial shipment of shoes and clothes into the blockaded Palestinian territory for the first time since 2007, AP reports. The official said 10 truckloads of shoes and clothes entered Gaza Sunday. He said many of the goods were damaged after more than two years in storage.
8) An Egyptian official says police have released the owner of a publishing house which printed copies of a book that called for political change and praised Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the U.N. nuclear agency. Ahmed Mahanna was released Sunday, a day after his home and business were raided.
9) A Colombian government official says about 2000 bodies are buried in a mass grave discovered last year outside a Colombian army base, reports Dan Kovalik on the Huffington Post. Some Colombian human rights groups suspect that the bodies were civilian victims of the military, which could double the death toll of the "false positives" scandal.
1) U.S. Admits Role in Killing of Afghan Women
Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, April 5, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
The admission immediately raised questions about what really happened during the Feb. 12 operation - and what falsehoods followed - including a new report that Special Operations forces dug bullets out of the bodies of the women to hide the nature of their deaths.
A NATO official also said Sunday that an Afghan-led team of investigators had found signs of evidence tampering at the scene, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed. On Monday, however, a senior NATO official denied that any tampering had occurred.
The disclosure could not come at a worse moment for the American military: NATO officials are struggling to contain fallout from a series of tirades against the foreign military presence by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has also railed against the killing of civilians by Western forces.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has tried hard, and with some success, to reduce civilian casualties through new rules that include restricting night raids and also bringing Special Operations forces under tighter control. But botched Special Operations attacks - which are blamed for a large proportion of the civilian deaths caused by NATO forces - continue to infuriate Afghans and create support for the Taliban.
NATO military officials had already admitted killing two innocent civilians - a district prosecutor and a local police chief - during the raid, on a home near Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan. The two men were shot to death when they came out of their home, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate.
Three women also died that night at the same home: One was a pregnant mother of 10 and another was a pregnant mother of six. NATO military officials had suggested that the women were actually stabbed to death - or had died by some other means - hours before the raid, an explanation that implied that family members or others at the home might have killed them.
Survivors of the raid called that explanation a cover-up and insisted that American forces killed the women. Relatives and family friends said the bloody raid followed a party in honor of the birth of a grandson of the owner of the house.
On Sunday night the American-led military command in Kabul issued a statement admitting that "international forces" were responsible for the deaths of the women. Officials have previously stated that American Special Operations forces and Afghan forces conducted the operation.
The admission was an abrupt about-face. In a statement soon after the raid, NATO had claimed that its raiding party had stumbled upon the "bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed" and hidden in a room in the house. Military officials had also said later that the bodies showed signs of puncture and slashing wounds from a knife, and that the women appeared to have been killed several hours before the raid.
And in what could be a scandalous turn to the investigation, The Times of London reported Sunday night that Afghan investigators also determined that American forces not only killed the women but had also "dug bullets out of their victims' bodies in the bloody aftermath" and then "washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened."
In an interview, a NATO official said the Afghan-led investigation team alerted American and NATO commanders that the inquiry had found signs of evidence tampering. A briefing was given by investigators to General McChrystal and other military officials in late March.
"There was evidence of tampering at the scene, walls being washed, bullets dug out of holes in the wall," the NATO official said, adding that investigators "couldn't find bullets from the wounds in the body."
NATO officials have also rejected allegations that the killings were covered up. But it was not immediately clear on Sunday night how troops who shot the women and later examined their bodies would not have recognized that it was their bullets that killed them.
2) Karzai Steps Up Attacks On NATO, Boxing In The West
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 4, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - As President Hamid Karzai made more antagonistic statements over the weekend toward the NATO countries fighting on behalf of his government, the West was taking stock of just how little maneuvering room it has.
There are no good options on the horizon, many analysts say, for reining in Mr. Karzai or for penalizing him, without potentially damaging Western interests. The reluctant conclusion of diplomats and Afghan analysts is that for now, they are stuck with him.
Many fear the relationship is only likely to become worse, as Mr. Karzai draws closer to allies like Iran and China, whose interests are often at odds with those of the West, and sounds sympathetic enough to the Taliban that he could spur their efforts, helping their recruitment and further destabilizing the country.
"The political situation is continuing to deteriorate; Karzai is flailing around," said a Western diplomat in Kabul with long experience in the region. "At the moment we are propping up an unstable political structure, and I haven't seen any remotely plausible plan for building consensus."
The tensions between the West and Mr. Karzai flared up publicly last Thursday, when Mr. Karzai accused the West and the United Nations of perpetrating fraud in the August presidential election and described the Western military coalition as coming close to being seen as invaders who would give the insurgency legitimacy as "a national resistance."
Despite a conciliatory phone call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday, his comments over the weekend only expanded the discord.
On Saturday, Mr. Karzai met with about 60 members of Parliament, mostly his supporters, and berated them for having rejected his proposed new election law. Among other things, the proposal would have given him the power to appoint all the members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, who are currently appointed by the United Nations, the Afghan Supreme Court and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. The Electoral Complaints Commission, which reviews allegations of voting fraud and irregularities, documented the fraud that deprived Mr. Karzai of an outright victory in the presidential election.
At the meeting, Mr. Karzai stepped up his anti-Western statements, according to a Parliament member who attended but spoke on condition of anonymity. "If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban," Mr. Karzai said, according to the Parliament member.
Interviews with diplomats, Afghan analysts and ordinary Afghans suggest that the United States and other Western countries have three options: threaten to withdraw troops or actually withdraw them; use diplomacy, which so far has had little result; and find ways to expand citizen participation in the government, which now has hardly any elected positions at the provincial and district levels.
Threatening to withdraw, which Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the "nuclear deterrent" option, would put the United States and other Western countries in the position of potentially having to make good on the promise, risking their strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. Few experts think the country would remain peaceful without a significant foreign force here. Moreover, withdrawal could open the way for the country to again become a terrorist haven.
Greater power sharing, while promising, faces structural obstacles. Under the Constitution, provincial governors, local judges, district governors and most other offices are appointive rather than elective. In some areas, Afghan and American programs have begun to involve communities in local budgeting, but progress is slow and it would probably take several years to expand it to higher levels of government.
3) Karzai's Defiant Stance Concerns U.S., Afghan Officials
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Monday, April 5, 2010; A06
Kabul - President Obama's visit to Kabul last week, intended in part to forge a closer working relationship with President Hamid Karzai, has helped produce the opposite: an angry Afghan leader now attacking the West for what he perceives as an effort to manipulate him and weaken his rule.
Karzai's relationship with his U.S. backers in the past week has taken a sharp turn for the worse after his two anti-Western speeches in three days, remarks that some officials see as a rehearsed, intentional move away from the United States.
In remarks to parliament members Saturday, Karzai said that if foreign interference in his government continues, the Taliban would become a legitimate resistance - one that he might even join, according to lawmakers present.
Obama's visit was far from the only aggravation for Karzai in a partnership that has simmered with mistrust since the Afghan leader narrowly won reelection last year. But it helped propel him to his new antagonistic stance, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.
Karzai wanted Obama to publicly praise his plans for a "peace jirga," the planned meeting of tribal elders and political leaders to discuss reconciliation with insurgents, said the senior Afghan official, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly. Karzai also wanted support for his views on how to reform the electoral law ahead of parliamentary elections in September.
Karzai's first speech on Thursday harshly criticized foreigners and the United Nations for conspiring to weaken his government and accused foreign embassies of orchestrating the voting fraud. This caused a diplomatic uproar that was quelled only during Karzai's phone call to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton the next day, in which he expressed his commitment to their partnership.
But the next day, Karzai told a gathering of lawmakers that foreign interference fuels the insurgency. One lawmaker said Karzai made the point that if he is compelled to obey foreigners, "I'll join the Taliban."
"I know he's cooperating with the U.S., but he just wants to give us a wrong perception. He's trying to prove himself as a hero, a nationalist," the lawmaker said.
4) Gov. Nakaima Again Says No Futenma Relocation Within Okinawa
Kyodo News, Saturday, April 3, 2010
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima conveyed anew Friday to Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa his opposition to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture, saying this would be "difficult" to realize amid growing calls from local residents to relocate the base someplace else.
"People of Okinawa strongly wish (that the base) be transferred out of the prefecture, and their movement has been gaining momentum," Nakaima told reporters after meeting with Kitazawa at a Tokyo hotel. "I told the minister there is a difference in the mood between Tokyo and Okinawa."
The governor also told Kitazawa it would be difficult to pursue an idea currently being studied by the government to build a heliport and fill in a shallows to accommodate Futenma's operations in the prefecture.
5) Pakistan Moves Further Toward Democracy; Could become a Role Model for Other Muslim states
Juan Cole, Informed Comment, Saturday, April 3, 2010
The Pakistani government on Friday tabled a proposed 18th amendment to the constitution, which if enacted will be an enormous advance toward democratization in the country.
But US hawks and Neoconservatives are not celebrating this epochal bill in Pakistan. I ask myself why.
I think it is because Neoconservatism and the arguments of all those who favor democratization at the barrel of a gun are fundamentally Orientalist in character. In some ways they go back to Karl Marx, who in his journalism on India argued that the capitalist British Empire was necessary to shake Indian villages out of their millennia-long sluggishness, from which they could never escape on their own.
During the past 3 years, the Pakistani public has demonstrated repeatedly and on a large scale in favor of the rule of law and the reinstatement of the Supreme Court justices dismissed by dictator Gen. Musharraf. Mind you, they are making a case for civil law and the civil supreme court, not for sharia or Islamic law. They voted in the center-left Pakistan People's Party in February 2008, and the return to parliamentary rule ultimately, in August 2008, allowed the political parties to unite to toss out of office Gen. Musharraf, who had had himself declared a civilian 'president' and was in danger of being impeached for alleged corruption.
That is, the Pakistani public has conducted a 'color revolution' of its own, in the teeth of opposition or skittishness in Washington, and managed to overturn a military dictatorship that had been backed to the hilt by Bush-Cheney, restoring parliamentary governance.
This bill will take that process even further. The president will lose the power, so abused in the 1990s, to dismiss the prime minister at will. Presidents will not be able to prorogue or cancel parliament. They won't be able to unilaterally appoint the Chief of Staff. The legislative reforms in Pakistan will also give more autonomy to the provinces within the Pakistani federal system. The long-suffering Pashtun people (unfairly branded as all 'Taliban' by some observers) will finally get a provincial name recognizing them, as Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan recognize their majority ethnicities.
But none of these achievements is being praised by the right of center US press or the liberal imperialists.
That is because the United States did not spur these developments. The Pakistani public (including humble street crowds) did it themselves, and if anything the US was nervous about losing its favorite military dictator and terrified that democracy would bring instability or provide an opening for the Taliban to take over the country.
6) 6 Afghans Die As Their Unit Is Hit In Error By Germans
Alissa J. Rubin and Sangar Rahimi, New York Times, April 3, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - A contingent of Afghan reinforcements delivering supplies to a German military base was mistakenly fired on by German troops, and six Afghan soldiers were killed, officials said Saturday.
The friendly fire killings on Friday were the second deadly setback for allied troops in a bloody day in Kunduz Province, in northeastern Afghanistan. Three German soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack earlier in the day.
The German military said that the Afghan soldiers were in civilian cars, but the Afghan Defense Ministry and the governor of Kunduz said that the soldiers were riding in military vehicles and that they were on their way to give logistical support to their Afghan comrades who had been fighting alongside the Germans.
7) Israel allows commercial goods into blockaded Gaza
Associated Press, Monday, April 5, 2010; 5:06 AM
Gaza City, Gaza Strip - A Gaza border official says Israel has allowed a commercial shipment of shoes and clothes into the blockaded Palestinian territory for the first time since 2007.
Raed Fattouh says 10 truckloads of shoes and clothes entered the Hamas-run strip Sunday. He says many of the goods were damaged after more than two years in storage.
It was the first non-humanitarian shipment of such items, though an Israeli army spokesman says Israel allows such items into Gaza occasionally as part of U.N.-coordinated aid shipments.
Gaza has been under a strict Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized control of the area in 2007. There are shortages of many basic goods and merchants rely on smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border.
8) Egypt police release publisher of book
Hadeel al-Shalchi, Associated Press, Sunday, April 4, 2010; 2:09 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/04/AR2010040401950.html
Cairo - An Egyptian official says police have released the owner of a publishing house which printed copies of a book that called for political change and praised the former head of the U.N. nuclear agency. Ahmed Mahanna, owner of Dawin publishing, was released Sunday, a day after his home and business were raided. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
Mahanna published the book, "ElBaradei and the Dream of a Green Revolution," which places hope for political change on Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Since returning this year, ElBaradei has spoken forcefully for constitutional changes to make Egypt's elections freer and fairer.
9) U.S. and Colombia Cover Up Atrocities Through Mass Graves
Dan Kovalik, Huffington Post, April 1, 2010 09:22 AM
The biggest human rights scandal in years is developing in Colombia, though you wouldn't notice it from the total lack of media coverage here. The largest mass grave unearthed in Colombia was discovered by accident last year just outside a Colombian Army base in La Macarena, a rural municipality located in the Department of Meta just south of Bogota. The grave was discovered when children drank from a nearby stream and started to become seriously ill. These illnesses were traced to runoff from what was discovered to be a mass grave - a grave marked only with small flags showing the dates (between 2002 and 2009) on which the bodies were buried.
According to a February 10, 2010 letter issued by Alexandra Valencia Molina, Director of the regional office of Colombia's own Procuraduria General de la Nacion - a government agency tasked to investigate government corruption - approximately 2,000 bodies are buried in this grave. The Colombian Army has admitted responsibility for the grave, claiming to have killed and buried alleged guerillas there. However, the bodies in the grave have yet to be identified. Instead, against all protocol for handling the remains of anyone killed by the military, especially those of guerillas, the bodies contained in the mass grave were buried there secretly without the requisite process of having the Colombian government certify that the deceased were indeed the armed combatants the Army claims.
And, given the current "false positive" scandal which has enveloped the government of President Alvaro Uribe and his Defense Minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is now running to succeed Uribe as President, the Colombian Army's claim about the mass grave is especially suspect. This scandal revolves around the Colombian military, most recently under the direction of Juan Manuel Santos, knowingly murdering civilians in cold blood and then dressing them up to look like armed guerillas in order to justify more aid from the United States. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pilay, this practice has been so "systematic and widespread" as to amount to a "crime against humanity." And sadly, when Ms. Pilay made this statement, she literally did not know the half of it.
To date, not factoring in the mass grave, it has been confirmed by Colombian government sources that 2,000 civilians have fallen victim to the "false positive" scheme since President Uribe took office in 2002. If, as suspected by Colombian human rights groups, such as the "Comision de Derechos Humanos del Bajo Ariari" and the "Colectivo Orlando Fals Borda," the mass grave in La Macarena contains 2,000 more civilian victims of this scheme, then this would bring the total of those victimized by the "false positive" scandal to at least 4,000 -much worse than originally believed.
That this grave was discovered just outside a Colombian military base overseen by U.S. military advisers - the U.S. having around 600 military advisers in that country - is especially troubling, and raises serious questions about the U.S.'s own conduct in that country. In addition, this calls into even greater question the propriety of President Obama's agreement with President Alvaro Uribe last summer to grant the U.S. access to 7 military bases in that country.
The Colombian government and military are scrambling to contain this most recent scandal, and possibly through violence. Thus, on March 15, 2010, Jhonny Hurtado, a former union leader and President of the Human Rights Committee of La Cantina, and an individual who was key in revealing the truth about this mass grave, was assassinated as soldiers from Colombia's 7th Mobile Brigade patrolled the area. Just prior to his murder, Jhonny Hurtado told a delegation of British MPs visiting Colombia that he believed the mass grave at La Macarena contained the bodies of innocent people who had been "disappeared."
The discovery of this mass grave by sheer accident raises the prospect that there are more yet to be found. Certainly, it is the consensus of human rights groups in Colombia that this is only be the tip of the iceberg. In any case, the discovery of this grave, on top of the large magnitude of the "false positive" scandal already known, justifies a serious rethinking of U.S. policy toward Colombia - a policy pursuant to which the U.S. has sent over $7 billion of military aid to Colombia since 2000 and still counting. This policy, which President Obama is only deepening, has continued the U.S.'s long-standing practice of giving the most military aid to the worst human rights abusers. The time is way overdue for this practice to end.
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