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JFP 9/30: President Correa denounces "coup attempt" in Ecuador
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 30 September 2010 - 4:30pm
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September 30, 2010
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1) Ecuador's President Correa denounced a "coup attempt" after mass protests by members of the security forces, the BBC reports. On Wednesday, Congress passed a law ending bonuses and other benefits for civil servants, including the military. On Thursday morning, members of the armed forces and police angry at the cuts occupied set up road blocks across Ecuador to demand they be abandoned by the government. The head of Armed Forces Joint Command said troops remained loyal. "We live in a state which is governed by laws, and we are subordinate to the highest authority which is the president of the republic," he said.
2) The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to endorse the report of a U.N. fact-finding panel that accused Israeli commandos of summarily executing six passengers on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, among them a U.S. citizen who was shot in the face, the Washington Post reports. The US, the only country to vote against Wednesday's action, criticized the panel's findings as unbalanced. "From the evidence of passengers and analysis supplied by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, six of the deceased were the victims of summary executions," said the panel's chair, Karl Hudson-Phillips, a former judge with the International Criminal Court.
3) Pakistan closed the most important border crossing for trucks supplying NATO-led troops in Afghanistan on Thursday in apparent retaliation for an attack by NATO helicopters on a Pakistani security post, the New York Times reports. The Pakistani interior minister indicated that NATO strikes in Pakistan were being taken extremely seriously. "We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," he said Thursday.
4) Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes are testifying before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that the cost of lifetime care and benefits over the next 40 years for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan would be between $589 billion and $934 billion, the Washington Times reports. Rep. Filner said he is working on legislation he hopes to introduce early next year to create a trust fund in which cash would be allowed to accrue annually to meet growing future costs. He said he is concerned that funding for veterans' care would decline as the memory of the wars fade over time. Donald Overton of advocacy group Veterans of Modern Warfare noted that the peak years of the cost of benefits for World War II veterans were in the 1980s.
5) In an op-ed in the San Francsico Chronicle, Rep. Barbara Lee calls for repeal of the 2001 "Authorization for the Use of Military Force," arguing it has been used as a blank check for war anywhere, and says she has introduced legislation to do so.
6) A central figure in an Afghanistan war-crimes case talked about killing a family while he served in Iraq, according to a sworn statement from a fellow soldier, the Seattle Times reports. The Washington Post, citing Army investigative reports, said Wednesday that the Army would re-examine the killing of the family in Iraq.
7) Hundreds of people demonstrated in Minneapolis and Chicago against FBI raids on the homes of anti-war and solidarity activists, Al Jazeera reports. "Either it is a fishing expedition, as there is not enough evidence to indict anyone; or it is an attempt to suppress political activity," law professor Bernardine Dohrn said.
8) A video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the US, the New York Times reports. The Pakistani military said the video was faked. But current and former US officials and former Pakistani officials said the video appeared genuine. Senator Leahy said if the video was found to be authentic, U.S. law requiring a cutoff of U.S. funds to units found to have committed gross violations of human rights could be applied. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in June that 282 extrajudicial killings by the army had taken place in the Swat region in the past year.
9) Venezuela's National Electoral Council said Tuesday that electoral districts were defined according to a standard legal method that was not designed to benefit any particular party, Venezuelanalysis reports. CNE director Socorro Hernández noted that while the pro-government PSUV received at least 40% of the votes in the states of Zulia, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta, and Táchira, the opposition won a total of 27 seats in those states compared to seven for the PSUV.
1) Ecuador's President Correa denounces 'coup attempt'
BBC, 30 September 2010, 14:42 ET
Ecuador's president has denounced a "coup attempt" after mass protests by members of the security forces against his government's austerity programme. After being forced to flee a rally at a barracks in Quito, Rafael Correa said "the opposition and sections of the armed forces and police" were to blame. Mr Correa said they would have to kill him first to achieve their goals.
On Wednesday, Congress passed a law ending bonuses and other benefits for civil servants, including the military. But members of Mr Correa's left-wing party have threatened to block proposals to shrink the bureaucracy, prompting him to consider disbanding Congress and ruling by decree until new elections. Such a move would have to be approved by the Constitutional Court.
On Thursday morning, members of the armed forces and police angry at the austerity measures occupied several barracks and set up road blocks across Ecuador to demand they be abandoned by the government. Television stations showed images of police setting tyres on fire in the streets of Quito, Guayaquil and other cities.
In a speech to soldiers from Quito's main regiment, President Correa said: "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough.
"If you want to seize the barracks, if you want to leave citizens undefended, if you want to betray the mission of the police force, go ahead. But this government will do what has to be done. This president will not take a step back."
However, Mr Correa was forced to flee the barracks wearing a gas mask shortly afterwards when tear gas was fired by the protesters. The president was later treated for the effects of the gas at a police hospital, from where he told local media that he had been "attacked". "They threw tear gas at us. One exploded near my face. It stunned me and my wife for a few seconds, probably minutes," he said. "It is a coup attempt led by the opposition and certain sections of the armed forces and the police," he said. "Whatever happens to me I want to express my love for my family and my homeland."
Meanwhile, about 300 air force personnel and soldiers took control of the runway at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, causing flights to be grounded. The protesters carried signs demanding the government give more respect to the military over benefits, witnesses told the Reuters news agency. The US embassy said Guayaquil's airport was also closed.
Despite the unrest, the head of Armed Forces Joint Command, Gen Luis Ernesto Gonzalez Villarreal, said the troops remained loyal. "We live in a state which is governed by laws, and we are subordinate to the highest authority which is the president of the republic," he said. "We will take whatever appropriate action the government decides on."
2) U.N. council endorses report accusing Israel of executions aboard aid flotilla
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 9:52 PM
United Nations - The U.N. Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to endorse the report of a U.N. fact-finding mission that accused Israeli commandos of summarily executing six passengers on a Turkish aid flotilla last May, among them a 19-year old Turkish-American dual citizen who was shot five times, including once in the face.
Upon its release last week, the 56-page report was immediately dismissed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office as "biased" and "distorted." Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon characterized the report in a radio interview as "a big lie."
The United States, the only country to vote against Wednesday's action, criticized the panel's findings as unbalanced. But a U.S. official said that Washington has asked Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into the killing of the Turkish-American, Furgan Dogan, and to share the findings with the U.S. government.
The Human Rights Council established the fact-finding mission on June 2 to investigate violations of international law as a result of an Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship. The commandos, who were attacked and beaten while rappelling onto the ship's deck, killed nine passengers as they seized control.
Wednesday's resolution, introduced by members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, was adopted by a vote of 30 members in the 47-nation council. Fifteen countries abstained, including all of the council's European members. One member didn't show up.
The fact-finding mission is run by a panel of three specialists: Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, a former judge with the International Criminal Court; Sir Desmond de Silva, a former chief prosecutor of the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone war crimes court; and Shanthi Dairaim, a member of the U.N. Development Program's gender equality task force. The panel's chairman, Hudson-Phillips, acknowledged in a statement Tuesday that the original mandate handed to the panel indicated "a certain bias." He said the panel rewrote the terms to "conform to absolute impartiality."
"From the evidence of passengers and analysis supplied by a forensic pathologist and ballistic expert, six of the deceased were the victims of summary executions," he said in the statement. "One deceased person had what is called a soft baton charge, called a bean bag, normally used for crowd control from a distance, lodged in his brain. The mission found that this was a discharge into the brain from very close range . . . suggestive of an execution type killing."
The panel report also cited forensic analysis indicating that Dogan was shot five times, including once in the face while he was lying on his back. "All of the entry wounds were on the back of his body except for the face wound, which entered the right of his nose," the report concluded. "According to forensic analysis, tattooing around the wound in his face indicates that the shot was delivered at point-blank range."
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. received Dogan's autopsy report from the Turkish government in July, "and we have raised the circumstances of his death multiple times with the Israeli government."
3) Pakistan Halts NATO Route to Afghanistan in Response to Attack
Ismail Khan and Jane Perlez, New York Times, September 30, 2010
Peshawar, Pakistan - Pakistan closed the most important border crossing for trucks supplying NATO-led coalition troops in Afghanistan on Thursday in apparent retaliation for an attack by coalition helicopters on a Pakistani security post hours earlier.
That attack, itself, however, appeared to be an act of self-defense from NATO troops who fired on armed insurgents who were attempting to strike a coalition base, according to a statement issued on Thursday by the International Security Assistance Force.
The series of apparent retaliations culminating in the rare closure of the border signaled a worsening in the military relationship between Pakistan and the United States just three months before the Obama administration takes stock of progress in Afghanistan.
Trucks and oil tankers were stopped at the border post of Torkham, just north of Peshawar, and it was unclear when the post, one of two land crossings, would reopen, a Pakistani security official said.
The Pakistani interior minister, Rehman Malik, indicated that NATO strikes in Pakistan were being taken extremely seriously. "We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies," he said Thursday.
"ISAF and Pakistani forces are reviewing the operational reporting to verify the exact location of the two engagements and the facts in this case, and we will work together to fully investigate this incident," read the statement from the International Security Assistance Force.
The episode on Thursday followed two attacks in a week by coalition helicopters in Pakistan that had fueled anger over the growing use of drone strikes.
American commanders in Afghanistan, fearful that Pakistan could choke off vital supplies, have been seeking alternate routes through the Central Asia but with little success.
A NATO helicopter attacked a border post at Mandati Kandaw, a town close to the capital of Parachinar in the Kurram area of Pakistan's tribal region, at 5 a.m. on Thursday, the official said. Three paramilitary soldiers of the Frontier Corps were killed, and three others injured, he said. Another border post at Kharlachi in the Kurram region was struck a few hours later, the official added. The two posts are about 15 miles apart and border Paktia Province in Afghanistan.
The incident occurred as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, was in Islamabad for a previously scheduled visit. He was expected to meet the head of the Pakistani military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, later on Thursday, American officials said.
4) War Veterans' Care To Cost $1.3 Trillion
New entitlement an unfunded liability; will eclipse Social Security
Shaun Waterman, The Washington Times, Wednesday, September 29, 2010, 6:52 p.m.
The expense of caring for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is an unfunded budget liability for U.S. taxpayers that in years to come will rival the cost of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, lawmakers will be told Thursday.
The House Veterans' Affairs Committee will hear new estimates of the cost of lifetime medical care and benefits for returning troops disabled by their service - a total of more than $1.3 trillion.
"It's somewhere between Medicare and Social Security in terms of its potential impact" on the budget, said Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat and committee chairman. "This is another entitlement that we have committed ourselves to that is going to break the bank unless we deal with these issues as soon as possible," he told reporters.
The committee will hear testimony from two economists, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University, and Mr. Filner will unveil a plan to establish a trust fund to build up cash reserves to help meet the future costs of veterans' care.
Ms. Bilmes said Wednesday that, with more than a half-million claims for disability benefits already filed by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan - and close to 600,000 being treated in Veterans Affairs medical facilities - the cost of lifetime care and benefits over the next 40 years would be between $589 billion and $934 billion, "depending on the duration and the intensity of the wars."
The broad range of the figures, she said, reflects uncertainty about the numbers of troops who would be deployed in years to come. The Congressional Budget Office estimates, which she and Mr. Stiglitz used, provide for the deployment of 30,000 to 65,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020.
Based on the historic experience of Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War, where increasing numbers of veterans have sought treatment or benefits for service-related ailments as years pass, "these costs are going to mount significantly over time," said Donald Overton, executive director of advocacy group Veterans of Modern Warfare.
He said the cost of disability benefits from the Gulf War, which lasted six weeks in 1991, is $4.5 billion a year and rising - and is unlikely to peak for many years. The peak years of the cost of benefits for World War II veterans, for instance, were in the 1980s.
In broader terms, Ms. Bilmes said, 2009 Treasury statements make allowance for an overall liability of $1.3 trillion for disability and burial benefits for all veterans - a sum that does not include the costs of medical care.
That figure "is quite possibility an underestimate," added Mr. Stiglitz. He noted that the higher survival rates of wounded warriors and the larger proportion of veterans diagnosed with mental health disorders in the current conflicts likely would make the costs higher than in previous wars.
Whatever the exact cost turns out to be, "there's no mechanism just now for meeting that liability," said Ms. Bilmes.
Mr. Filner said he is working on legislation that he hopes to introduce early next year to create a trust fund in which cash would be allowed to accrue annually to meet growing future costs.
He said he is concerned that funding for veterans' care would decline as the memory of the wars fade over time. "The cost … keeps going up even when the war is way over, so you need to keep building up a trust fund to deal with those issues," he said.
5) Time to repeal Congress' blank check on wars
Rep. Barbara Lee, San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, September 30, 2010
Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress passed a joint resolution broadly authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against those involved in attacking our nation and to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States. I was the only member of Congress who voted against the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" because I knew some would use it as a blank check to wage war anywhere around the world. It is safe to say that if we knew at the time what the next decade would bring, I would not have been alone.
In the nine years since Congress passed this authorization, the United States has waged two wars at a cost of more than $1 trillion. Afghanistan has now become the longest war in our history - longer than World War II or the Vietnam war. Estimates for the total direct and indirect costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by their end range from $5 trillion to $7 trillion with more than 5,700 Americans having given their lives in these conflicts. As we watch an increasing number of lives lost abroad and jobs lost at home, it is clear we cannot accept a policy of open-ended war without accepting a less prosperous, less secure country for ourselves and future generations. Every additional dollar invested in war is a dollar we take away from much-needed investments in health care, education, infrastructure and clean energy that will preserve and create high-quality jobs, as well as ensure America's future competitiveness.
Unfortunately, my prediction that the broad 2001 authorization would open a Pandora's box has come true - and not just in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Correcting mistakes begins with accepting them. So I have introduced bipartisan legislation for Congress to sunset and repeal the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force" over a six-month period.
This legislation is not a referendum on any one U.S. operation, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. The repeal of the act is about Congress restoring its constitutional prerogative in determining and defining the commitments of our country while at war. Anything less does a disservice to our military service members, our nation, and our democracy.
6) Army to investigate claims about man portrayed as ringleader in Afghan war-crimes case
Hal Bernton, Seattle Times, Thursday, September 30, 2010
Staff. Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, a central figure in the Afghanistan war-crimes case against Western Washington-based soldiers, talked about killing a family while he served in Iraq, according to a sworn statement from a fellow soldier obtained by The Seattle Times.
When Gibbs arrived in Afghanistan, he began talking to other soldiers about "getting away with some of these things," according to Spc. Jeremy Morlock, 22, a soldier who is accused of helping Gibbs murder three civilians in Afghanistan.
Morlock told Army investigators that Gibbs told some platoon members he had developed a plan to kill Iraqis driving in a car, and looked for a chance to carry it out.
The opportunity arrived while he was crossing a road carrying a Squad Automatic Weapon, a powerful machine gun, according to Morlock.
Gibbs told the soldiers he "turned around and sprayed down the vehicle" that carried the family and covered up the slayings by telling his commanders the car had failed to stop, according to Morlock's statement.
The Washington Post, citing Army investigative reports, said Wednesday that the Army would re-examine the killing of the family in Iraq.
7) FBI Targets US Palestine Activists
Searches, subpoenas, but no charges for anti-war activists 'providing support to terrorists' in Colombia and Palestine.
Chris Arsenault, Al Jazeera, 29 Sep 2010 15:48 GMT http://english.aljazeera.net/focus/2010/09/201092993840748931.html
Tracy Molm sometimes has a hard time paying rent, so it came as a surprise when American security forces banged on her door at 7am one morning, and searched her apartment under suspicions she provided material support to a terrorist organisation.
Warrants indicate that investigators believe Molm and at least seven other activists from the Minnesota anti-war committee and other groups provided material support to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), groups the US considers terrorist organisations.
"My assumption is that material support means money and guns, but they [police] wouldn't explain anything," Molm told Al Jazeera. "I think the real thing is that they are trying to intimidate those of us who are standing in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Colombia."
Activists from Minneapolis and Chicago have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury investigation in October, after coordinated police raids on September 24.
Despite the searches and seizures of computers, cheque books, mobile phones, documents and photographs, Molm and other activists have not been charged with committing a crime.
More than 200 people demonstrated in Minneapolis on Monday, denouncing the raid, according to the Minnesota Daily, while at least 100 rallied in Chicago on Tuesday to support the anti-war activists. More demonstrations are planned in other American cities and activists expect the numbers to increase drastically, as they only had three days to plan the first round of protests.
Bernardine Dohrn, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, thinks the police are trying to do one of two things. "Either it is a fishing expedition, as there is not enough evidence to indict [formally charge] anyone; or it is an attempt to suppress political activity. Neither are good news," she said.
As a legal scholar, Dohrn worries about the vague nature of national security laws instituted after the September 11, 2001 attacks on US targets. "If you write articles, is that material support [for terrorists]? If you contribute resources for computers or healthcare clinics in occupied territories, or territories resisting government control, is that material support?"
She says grand jury investigations, the legal manoeuvre activists are facing, represent a way to "circumvent other constitutional protections." People who appear before a grand jury "cannot bring in a lawyer. It is the prosecutor, you [the person being investigated] and a group of grand jurors … in short it is a coercive method to get information."
8) Video Hints At Executions By Pakistanis
Jane Perlez, New York Times, September 29, 2010
Islamabad, Pakistan - An Internet video showing men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes has heightened concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the United States, American officials said.
The authenticity of the five-and-a-half-minute video, which shows the killing of the six men - some of whom appear to be teenagers, blindfolded, with their hands bound behind their backs - has not been formally verified by the American government. The Pakistani military said it was faked by militants.
But American officials, who did not want to be identified because of the explosive nature of the video, said it appeared to be credible, as did retired American military officers and intelligence analysts who have viewed it. After viewing the graphic video on Wednesday, an administration official said: "There are things you can fake, and things you can't fake. You can't fake this."
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, who was in Islamabad on Wednesday on a previously scheduled visit, was expected to raise the subject of the video with the chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the head of the Pakistani spy agency, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, American officials said.
The video adds to reports under review at the State Department and the Pentagon that Pakistani Army units have summarily executed prisoners and civilians in areas where they have opened offensives against the Taliban, administration officials said.
The video appears to have been taken in the Swat Valley, where the Pakistani military opened a campaign last year to push back Taliban insurgents. The effort was widely praised by American officials and financed in large part by the United States.
The reports could have serious implications for relations between the militaries. American law requires that the United States cut off financing to units of foreign militaries that are found to have committed gross violations of human rights.
But never has that law been applied to so strategic a partner as Pakistan, whose military has received more than $10 billion in American support since 2001 for its cooperation in fighting militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda based inside the country.
The State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, called the images "horrifying." He said the American ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, had raised the issue with the Pakistani government and was awaiting a response. "We are determined to investigate it," he said.
The question of extrajudicial killings is particularly sensitive for Pentagon officials, who have tried in visits to Pakistan and through increased financing to improve their often-tense relationship with the Pakistani Army.
But growing word of such incidents in recent months has led to an internal debate at the State Department and the Pentagon over whether the reports are credible enough to warrant cutting off funds to Pakistani Army units, American officials said.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and sponsor of the law that would require withholding money, said Wednesday that anyone who had seen the video would "be shocked." If the video was found to be authentic, the law could be imposed, he said.
The State Department briefed members of the Senate about the issue this summer, and was set to do so again next month, an indication of the rising concern on Capitol Hill, according to one Congressional staff member.
The episode in the video may be just the most glaring to surface. The Pakistani military is believed to have detained as many as 3,000 people in makeshift prisons in the region of its operations. Reluctant to turn them over to Pakistan's undependable courts or to grant them amnesty, the problem of what to do with the detainees has grown pressing.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in June that 282 extrajudicial killings by the army had taken place in the Swat region in the past year.
9) CNE: Venezuelan Electoral Districts Drawn by Standard Method, Not Partisan Politics.
James Suggett, Venezuelanalysis.com, Sep 29th 2010
Mérida, September 28th 2010 - In response to accusations by the opposition that the electoral districts were gerrymandered to favor the governing party in Sunday's National Assembly elections, Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE) said on Tuesday that the districts were defined according to a standard legal method that was not designed to benefit any particular party.
Opposition leaders have accused the government of drawing electoral districts in a way that over-represents rural areas, which are strongholds of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), and under-represents major urban centers where supporters of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) are concentrated.
While a final vote tally for Sunday's elections is not available, unofficial estimates indicate that the PSUV and the MUD were virtually tied in terms of total votes received, while the PSUV won 98 seats in the National Assembly and the MUD won 65.
In an interview with Telesur on Tuesday, CNE director Socorro Hernández said the discrepancy between the total votes and the number of seats won by each party occurred by chance. "The districts were not changed in favor of anyone. They are in accordance with the Electoral Processes Law," Hernández said in a televised interview on Tuesday.
According to Venezuela's electoral system, some National Assembly seats are contested nominally, meaning individual candidates compete and the one who receives the most votes wins. Other seats are contested by political parties which are granted candidates proportional to the amount of votes they receive. In Sunday's elections, 110 representatives were elected nominally and 52 were elected by political party. The final three go to elected indigenous legislators.
Hernández acknowledged that this system has the potential for a degree of disproportional representation, and she said both the PSUV and the MUD had benefitted from this in Sunday's election. She pointed out that the PSUV received at least 40% of the votes in the states of Zulia, Anzoátegui, Nueva Esparta, and Táchira, but the opposition won a total of 27 seats in those states compared to seven for the PSUV.
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