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JFP 11/23: Chavez calls for UN troops to quit Haiti
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 23 November 2010 - 10:04pm
Just Foreign Policy News
November 23, 2010
Stan Greenberg: Afghanistan War Likely Cause of Primary Challenge
Officials are trying to make voters forget the Administration promised to start drawing down troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 by "pivoting" to the "aspirational goal" that "most" U.S. "combat troops" will be withdrawn by 2014. The Administration still says it will withdraw some troops in July 2011, but press reports suggest that the Administration may try to make this a "symbolic" withdrawal, not the "serious drawdown" involving "a whole lot of people" voters were led to expect. But it may not be so easy to sweep the President's July 2011 promise into the dustbin of history: Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg suggests that continued escalation is likely to draw a primary challenge.
*Action: Host a "South of the Border" Screening Party
Bolivian President Evo Morales criticizes US involvement in coups in Latin America, but the AP claims there was "no clear evidence" of US involvement in the coup in Venezuela (#6 below.)
But in Oliver Stone's documentary South of the Border, "clear evidence" is presented.
On December 10, host a house party to watch South of the Border, and tune in to a live webcast with Just Foreign Policy President Mark Weisbrot, who co-wrote the script.
*Action: Urge Obama to Keep 2011 Drawdown Promise
Vice-President Biden and Speaker Pelosi said in July 2011 there would be a "serious drawdown" (Pelosi) involving "a whole lot of people" (Biden.) Urge President Obama to keep his promise with a serious and significant drawdown in July 2011.
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1) Venezuelan President Chavez demanded the withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Haiti, Inside Costa Rica reports. "How long would the military occupation continue in Haiti behind the shield of the UN?" Chavez wrote.
2) Let Haiti Live, The Louisiana Justice Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research called for this weekend's presidential and legislative elections in Haiti to be postponed due to the cholera epidemic, AFP reports. Alex Main of CEPR said the elections were already "highly problematic" even before the cholera epidemic. "Haiti's electoral authority - the CEP - suffers from a lack of credibility; legitimate parties have been excluded from participating in the legislative elections," Main said. "Very few effective measures have been taken" to ensure that Haiti's over 1.3 million displaced people would have access to the polls. "As a result of these problems, there was already a high probability that voter turnout would be very low and that the elections would be widely seen as illegitimate," Main said.
3) US and Afghan officials now say a man they were negotiating with, thinking he was a top Taliban commander, turned out to be an impostor, the New York Times reports. Senior US officials, including Gen. Petraeus, had said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the US -led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war.
4) An IMF paper says Ireland should lower unemployment compensation and cut its minimum wage, Yahoo News reports. The paper was written by the head of the IMF team currently negotiating conditions on an IMF loan to the Irish government.
5) Bolivian President Morales accused the US of undermining democratic government in Latin America, at a conference at which Defense Secretary Gates was present, the Los Angeles Times reports. Morales asserted that Bolivia would not participate in training exercises with the U.S. military, which he described as a threat to democracy.
6) President Morales told Secretary Gates that Latin American nations will pick their own friends and business partners, including Iran, regardless of U.S. opinion, AP reports. Morales also alleged U.S. involvement in coup attempts or political upheaval in Venezuela in 2002, Honduras in 2009 and Ecuador in 2010. "The empire of the United States won," in Honduras, Morales said. "The people of the Americas in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, we won," Morales continued. "We are three to one with the United States. Let's see what the future brings." U.S. officials have repeatedly denied involvement in all of those cases and "critics of the US have produced no clear evidence," AP says, which in the case of Venezuela, for example, is not true: see
http://southoftheborderdoc.com/declassified/ - JFP.]
7) Earlier this month President Obama condemned the bogus elections in Burma, notes Dan Beeton of CEPR in the Los Angeles Times. But the US is silent on the bogus elections in Haiti. Beeton notes the parallels to the US criticism of the Burma election: the electoral commission is overtly partisan; a key party was arbitrarily excluded; the party's leader was prevented from rallying the party's supporters. A key difference: the elections in Haiti are being paid for by the US.
8) The Pan American Health Organization announced it is increasing its planning to treat 400,000 cholera cases within the next year, up from a previous estimate of 270,000 over several years as a result of the outbreak in Haiti, CNN reports.
9) Israel's parliament passed a bill that could complicate peace efforts with the Palestinians and Syria by making it very difficult for any government to make territorial withdrawals, AP reports. The bill requires a two-thirds Knesset majority to cede land in east Jerusalem to the Palestinians or in the Golan Heights to Syria. Failing that, either withdrawal would become subject to a referendum. Palestinians condemned the bill. "Ending the occupation of our land is not and cannot be dependent on any sort of referendum," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
10) Pakistani officials said the recent US tilt towards India had added to their reluctance to meet US demands for military operations in North Waziristan, the Daily Telegraph reports. Officials now say they are unlikely to be ready to move into North Waziristan within the next four to six months.
11) Hundreds of Sunni men have been taken into custody in mass raids, often with no warrants, the Washington Post reports. Sunni leaders and relatives of imprisoned men say some have been released bearing signs of torture. Although Sunnis account for the vast majority of inmates, Kurds and Shiites also have reportedly been subjected to abuse while in custody. Sunni leaders were unable to get firm promises about reforms in detainee treatment as part of the government formation deal.
1) Hugo Chavez Demands End of Military Intervention in Haiti.
Inside Costa Rica, November 22, 2010
Caracas - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday demanded the withdrawal of foreign soldiers from Haiti, where a cholera epidemic has worsened the humanitarian crisis.
"How long would the military occupation continue in Haiti behind the shield of the UN? With what moral authority can the Haitian people be asked to cease their protests against foreign troops?
Haiti does not want to be Puerto Rico, a yankee neocolony, but that does not matter in the least to the United Nations or the Organization of American States," Chavez wrote in his Sunday column, Las Lineas de Chavez (Chavez' Lines).
According to the statesman, the world cannot remain impassive in face of the Haitian situation. That tragedy continues to strike hearts, said Chavez, who lamented the death of over 1,000 people from cholera, in the nation devastated by a January earthquake.
The president reaffirmed Caracas' support to Haiti in that space. "Venezuela will continue providing all aid and support necessary to the Haitian people. We will also speak out to increase efforts in solidarity within UNASUR and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America," Chavez stated.
2) Rights groups call for Haiti polls to be postponed
AFP, November 23, 2010
Washington - US and Haitian human rights groups put out a joint call Tuesday for this weekend's presidential and legislative elections in Haiti to be postponed due to raging cholera epidemic.
"Cholera is a game changer in the most fundamental sense. It is an immediate and critical crisis that requires all hands on deck in response," said Melinda Miles of the Let Haiti Live group. "It is not for us to predict when the crisis will level off, setting the stage for credible elections to be held. What we can say, definitively, is that now is not that time, and no elections held in the midst of the current exploding cholera crisis can be considered credible."
The organizations said they had been monitoring the situation on the ground to help with the elections but had decided the polls could not go ahead credibly in the current conditions. "In light of the current epidemic of cholera and the inadequate response on the ground from the UN and the large NGO's, the group deems it impossible for Haiti to hold elections that would meet even the most minimal standards of fairness and credibility at this time," they said in a statement.
The groups, Let Haiti Live, The Louisiana Justice Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research have dispatched a delegation to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas to monitor proceedings. "While in Haiti the delegation will monitor the human rights and political situation surrounding the elections, including police and UN response to protests, possible voter boycotts, voter access and participation levels, the cholera epidemic and how it is affecting Haitians; and the status of overall relief efforts," the group said.
Alex Main, a policy analyst from the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, said the elections were already "highly problematic" even before the cholera epidemic, which has now claimed more than 1,400 lives. "Haiti's electoral authority - the CEP - suffers from a lack of credibility; legitimate parties have been excluded from participating in the legislative elections," Main said. "Very few effective measures have been taken to ensure that Haiti's over 1.3 million displaced people would have access to the polls.
"As a result of these problems, there was already a high probability that voter turnout would be very low and that the elections would be widely seen as illegitimate," he said. "Now, with an uncontrollable and fatal epidemic further complicating the lives of Haitians, it is patently obvious that the elections should be postponed and measures should be taken to correct the current flaws in the electoral process."
3) Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor
Dexter Filkins and Carlotta Gall, New York Times, November 22, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan - For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement.
But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all. In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little. "It's not him," said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. "And we gave him a lot of money."
American officials confirmed Monday that they had given up hope that the Afghan was Mr. Mansour, or even a member of the Taliban leadership.
NATO and Afghan officials said they held three meetings with the man, who traveled from in Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have taken refuge. The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.
The episode underscores the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders search for ways to bring the nine-year-old American-led war to an end. The leaders of the Taliban are believed to be hiding in Pakistan, possibly with the assistance of the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid.
Many in the Taliban leadership, which is largely made up of barely literate clerics from the countryside, had not been seen in person by American, NATO or Afghan officials.
American officials say they were skeptical from the start about the identity of the man who claimed to be Mullah Mansour - who by some accounts is the second-ranking official in the Taliban, behind only the founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Serious doubts arose after the third meeting with Afghan officials, held in the southern city of Kandahar. A man who had known Mr. Mansour years ago told Afghan officials that the man at the table did not resemble him. "He said he didn't recognize him," said an Afghan leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Western diplomat said the Afghan man was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks - and to help persuade him to return.
As recently as last month, American and Afghan officials held high hopes for the talks. Senior American officials, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the talks indicated that Taliban leaders, whose rank-and-file fighters are under extraordinary pressure from the American-led offensive, were at least willing to discuss an end to the war.
The American officials said they and officials of other NATO governments were helping to facilitate the discussions, by providing air transport and securing roadways for Taliban leaders coming from Pakistan.
Publicly, the Taliban leadership is sticking to the line that there are no talks at all. In a recent message to his followers, Mullah Omar denied that there were any talks unfolding at any level.
"The cunning enemy which has occupied our country, is trying, on the one hand, to expand its military operations on the basis of its double-standard policy and, on the other hand, wants to throw dust into the eyes of the people by spreading the rumors of negotiation," his message said.
Despite such statements, some senior leaders of the Taliban did show a willingness to talk peace with representatives of the Afghan government as recently as January.
At that time, Abdul Ghani Baradar, then the deputy commander of the Taliban, was arrested in a joint C.I.A.-ISI raid in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Although officials from both countries hailed the arrest as a hallmark of American-Pakistani cooperation, Pakistani officials have since indicated that they orchestrated Mr. Baradar's arrest because he was engaging in peace discussions without the ISI's permission. Afghan leaders have confirmed this account.
4) IMF urges Ireland to cut jobless pay, minimum wage
Yahoo News, Tuesday, November 23 10:33 am
Ireland should gradually lower unemployment benefits and cut the level of its minimum wage in order to boost employment, the International Monetary Fund said in a paper released on Monday.
The paper, approved by Ajai Chopra, the IMF's mission chief negotiating terms of a joint rescue package with the EU in Dublin, said Ireland should introduce stricter job search requirements, give more resources to unemployment agencies to promote job search assistance, and review the level of minimum wage to make it consistent with a general fall in wages.
5) Bolivia Leader Rebukes U.S. In Front Of Robert Gates
At a defense conference, Evo Morales speaks of plots and conspiracies originating in Washington. Defense Secretary Gates shows no noticeable reaction.
David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2010
Santa Cruz, Bolivia - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Monday accused the United States of undermining democratic government in Latin America in a speech about purported plots and conspiracies originating in Washington, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates listened only a few feet away.
Gates showed no noticeable reaction as Morales opened a conference of defense ministers with a rambling, hourlong address that condemned the U.S. military, several former American ambassadors to Bolivia, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the International Monetary Fund and two members of the U.S. Congress.
All of them, Morales said, are or have been engaged in secret plans to overthrow the government in Bolivia or its Latin American neighbors. He provided few details and no evidence, though he said there were documents showing a former U.S. envoy to Bolivia had conspired with Morales' opponents to overthrow him.
"There have always been coups, but there are never any coups in the United States because there is no embassy of the United States in the United States," Morales said.
[This is a version of a saying that has been commonplace in Latin America for at least 25 years - JFP.]
Morales rose to prominence as a leader of a loose confederation of coca leaf growers and unions opposed to a U.S. effort to limit coca production. As president he has expelled the American ambassador and the DEA, which once oversaw a large counter-narcotics effort in Bolivia, moves that have made him wildly popular among rural workers.
Most of the senior military officers and defense officials in the audience listened quietly to Morales' remarks. But a small contingent of his supporters broke into applause twice, including when he asserted that Bolivia would not participate in training exercises with the U.S. military, which he described as a threat to democracy. "Of course Bolivia doesn't participate anymore and it won't participate anymore and go against democracy," Morales said to cheers from the rear of the room.
Morales may have been trying to tamp down a controversy caused by his defense minister, Ruben Saavedra, who was quoted in the local news media in recent days as saying that Bolivia was seeking better cooperation with the Pentagon. Saavedra later said he meant only that Bolivia wanted assistance maintaining its fleet of U.S. military aircraft.
When he was asked by a local reporter whether Washington had a problem with Bolivia receiving civilian nuclear power assistance from Iran, a country the U.S. has sought to isolate, Gates responded that Bolivia is a sovereign nation that can have relations with any country it chooses.
"I think that Bolivia needs to be mindful of the number of United Nations Security Council resolutions that have been passed with respect to Iran's behavior," Gates said, "but many countries have relationships with Iran and that's purely up to the Bolivian government."
But Morales also earned cheers from his backers when he implied that Washington was trying to dictate his country's foreign relations. "Bolivia under my government will have an alliance with anyone in the world," he said. "We have the right."
6) Bolivian leader lectures Gates about US behavior
Carlos Valdez, Frank Bajak, and John Rice, AP, November 22, 2010
Santa Cruz, Bolivia - Bolivian President Evo Morales had a blunt message for the visiting U.S. Pentagon chief on Monday: Latin American nations will pick their own friends and business partners, including Iran, regardless of U.S. opinion.
The colorful leftist leader delivered an hourlong welcome to delegates at a regional defense conference that included U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Morales never mentioned Gates by name. But most of the speech, and all of the applause lines, were clearly directed at the Pentagon chief and former head of the CIA.
Bolivia is more democratic and representative than the United States, Morales said, and democracy would improve in the entire region if the United States stopped interfering. Bolivia receives $70 million in U.S. aid annually, much of it for popular nutrition and health programs.
He mentioned the spread of Iranian and Russian business and other ties in Latin America, and said it is not the U.S. place to complain. "Bolivia under my government will have an agreement, an alliance, to anyone in the world," Morales said. "Nobody will forbid us," he said to applause.
Morales has allied Bolivia with Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, and drawn criticism from the U.S. for the Tehran ties.
Last month Bolivia said it is interested in buying Iranian-made airplanes and helicopters for military training and transportation. Bolivia also wants to team up with Iran to build a nuclear power plant and establish a joint development bank. Venezuela is teaming with Russia on a civilian nuclear plant.
Morales ticked off a history of attempted coups, alleged election- and vote-tampering, military meddling and vague conspiracies involving the United States. Some of it is based in truth, although the U.S. denies that a former ambassador tried to engineer a coup against Morales in 2008, as he alleged Monday.
Morales kicked out the then-U.S. ambassador in 2008, and the two nations have not normalized diplomatic relations since. Morales also expelled the U.S. DEA on suspicion of espionage.
Morales also alleged U.S. involvement in coup attempts or political upheaval in Venezuela in 2002, Honduras in 2009 and Ecuador in 2010. "The empire of the United States won," in Honduras, Morales said, a reference to the allegations of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya that the U.S. was behind his ouster."The people of the Americas in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, we won," Morales continued. "We are three to one with the United States. Let's see what the future brings."
U.S. officials have repeatedly denied involvement in all of those cases and critics of the United States have produced no clear evidence.
7) Haiti doesn't deserve a pass
The U.S. condemned the elections in Burma; we should be holding Haiti to the same standards.
Dan Beeton, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2010
[Beeton works with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He is a former board member of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.]
Haiti is scheduled to hold elections on Nov. 28, and nothing - neither the cholera outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people nor the fact that more than 1 million earthquake survivors remain homeless - seems likely to convince the Haitian government or its international backers that the vote should be postponed. It should be. Why? The electoral process is rigged. Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems happy to go along with the charade.
Earlier this month President Obama rightly condemned the bogus elections in Burma (renamed Myanmar by the military regime). He said: "The unfair electoral laws and overtly partisan Election Commission [controlled by the military regime] ensured that Burma's leading pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, was silenced and sidelined." And NLD party leader Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest and prevented from appearing in public.
Now that a similarly flawed process is about to be repeated much closer to home, the Obama administration should be equally adamant in condemning it.
In Haiti, as in Burma, several parties, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas, are being kept off the ballot in an overtly anti-democratic move. Fanmi Lavalas has won every election it has participated in, and authorities seem determined to prevent that from happening again. In Haiti, as in Burma, a council handpicked and controlled by the government is overseeing the electoral process. And in Haiti, as in Burma, the popular party's leader is kept from rallying supporters.
While Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest, Jean-Bertrand Aristide is prevented from returning from exile in South Africa because the Haitian government refuses to grant him a new passport. Haitian police have fired live ammunition at pro-democracy crowds, just as demonstrations in Burma have been violently repressed. Shamefully, in Haiti, U.N. troops have provided support for this police repression, when not attacking crowds and journalists directly. Just as members of the NLD in Burma have been persecuted, thousands of Lavalas supporters were killed after the 2004 overthrow of the elected president, Aristide, in a coup strongly supported by the U.S. government.
Whereas Obama administration officials cited exclusion of key political parties in the elections as a major concern in Burma, the U.S. is providing at least $13 million in support for Haiti's elections. Even condemnation of the flawed process from 45 members of Congress in an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, from Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a report and from the nongovernmental organization community has not budged the administration from its expressed support.
"These are decisions for the government of Haiti to make. We're not going to second-guess any one decision," State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said in October when questioned about the controversy.
The dangers of U.S. support for an anti-democratic process in Haiti, and likely support for the illegitimate government that would result, are serious. Frustrations among a majority of Haitians are already high, due to such factors as lack of progress after the earthquake in relocating displaced persons to suitable shelter, providing adequate sanitation or even in removing rubble. Billions of dollars in pledged aid money have yet to trickle in, even as the cholera epidemic sweeps across the country.
Observers have long warned of likely mass protests and unrest as the post-quake situation worsened. Taking away the possibility of free and fair elections will kill hope for many people for whom hope is already scarce.
If the Obama administration wants to stand on the side of democracy and human rights in Haiti, as it did in Burma, it should support the call of Haitian political parties and groups to postpone the elections until all parties are allowed to run and all eligible voters are guaranteed a vote. Since the cholera outbreak could inhibit the latter, that should be an important consideration as well. Continued support for sham elections, however, would add to a long list of U.S. injustices against one of our closest neighbor states.
8) Health organization hikes cholera outbreak planning to 400,000
CNN, November 23, 2010
The Pan American Health Organization announced Tuesday it is increasing its planning to treat 400,000 cholera cases within the next year, up from a previous estimate of 270,000 over several years as a result of the outbreak in Haiti, an official said Tuesday.
"We need to plan for up to half of those cases occurring in the next three months because of the explosive nature of this epidemic," the organization's deputy director, Dr. Jon Kim Andrus, told reporters in Washington.
"We need more of everything," he said. "More training for staff in Haiti, more doctors, more nurses, more treatment centers, more medications, more toilets, more clean water."
Since last month, when the outbreak began, PAHO - the regional office of the World Health Organization - has distributed enough supplies to treat about 80,000 cases, he said.
8) Israeli referendum bill could hinder peace moves
Josef Federman and Dan Perry, Associated Press, Monday, November 22, 2010; 5:25 PM
Jerusalem - Israel's parliament passed a bill Monday that could complicate peace efforts with the Palestinians and Syria by making it very difficult for any government to make territorial withdrawals.
The bill requires a two-thirds Knesset majority to cede land in east Jerusalem to the Palestinians or in the Golan Heights to Syria. Failing that, either withdrawal would become subject to a referendum, and polls show winning public approval would be an uphill battle.
The bill - which passed by a 65-33 majority - will have little impact in the short term, since neither deal seems imminent. But it reflects growing jitters by hard-liners in parliament - especially over U.S. efforts to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's own position seems influenced by his need to appease his voter base while preventing the collapse of the peace process - which would anger the Israeli center, alienate America and risk new violence. On Monday, he voted along with the hard-liners.
The Palestinian government in the West Bank, which refuses to negotiate without a freeze on new Jewish construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, condemned the bill.
"With the passage of this bill, the Israeli leadership, yet again, is making a mockery of international law," said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "Ending the occupation of our land is not and cannot be dependent on any sort of referendum."
9) Pakistan hits back at American support for India by stopping al-Qaeda offensive
Pakistan has indefinitely delayed an offensive against insurgents along the Afghan border in protest at American backing for India to win a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, military officials said.
Rob Crilly, Daily Telegraph, 7:07PM GMT 22 Nov 2010
Islamabad -Washington has been pressing Pakistan to clear out al-Qaeda and Taliban groups from safe havens in North Waziristan, from where insurgents can attack Nato forces in Afghanistan.
Relations between the US and Pakistan have soured in recent weeks with a series of diplomatic wrangles over cross-border raids by US forces, drone strikes and President Obama's focus on India.
Pakistan has also rejected an American request to allow drone strikes around the city of Quetta, thought to be home to the Afghan Taliban's senior leadership.
"The main reason is that they would need about three divisions to be successful, and there would be political and terrorist attacks to deal with," said a military official. "How many more problems can Pakistan cope with?
"On top of that, Obama's recent trip to India is rather unhelpful and has dampened any enthusiasm there might have been."
The government in Islamabad is already anxious at its nuclear-armed rival's growing role in Afghanistan and fears its enemy is trying to gain a foothold along its western border.
General Hamid Gul, former director of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, said: "This tilt to India has been very heavily felt here."
Officials now say they are unlikely to be ready to move into North Waziristan within the next four to six months.
10) Many Sunnis see Iraqi justice system as Shiite cudgel
Ernesto Londono, Washington Post, Monday, November 22, 2010; 8:45 PM
Baghdad - The soldiers yanked Arkan Subhi Ahmed al-Habshi out of bed shortly before dawn, screaming and striking him with their guns, a scene that has become routine in Sunni districts of Baghdad.
His family's futile attempts to navigate the criminal justice system into which he disappeared after his detention in July fit a pattern that has left Sunnis across the country feeling bereft and indignant. "There is no evidence against him," said his wife, Besma Ali, 22. "This government wants to take revenge on the people."
Habshi is among the countless Sunni men ensnarled in Iraq's backlogged and corruption-plagued court system. In a country that is slowly coming to terms with a vicious sectarian war, their treatment has become among the most combustible flash points.
As the U.S. military's oversight of Iraq's increasingly powerful security forces declines, Sunni leaders charge that the Shiite-dominated government is using them to marginalize the once-empowered minority.
Segments of the security forces no longer carry out sectarian cleansing, as they did at the war's peak in 2007. But in the wake of high-profile attacks across the city in recent months, hundreds of Sunni men have been taken into custody in mass raids, often with no warrants.
Sunni leaders and relatives of imprisoned men say some have been released bearing signs of torture and have told harrowing tales of violent interrogations in police stations.
Others, like Habshi, have vanished inside the byzantine Iraqi criminal justice system, leaving relatives vulnerable to a cottage industry of corrupt people who present themselves as court system interlocutors. They take bribes for a range of services that include disclosing the location of individual inmates, expediting cases and arranging phone calls.
Although Sunnis account for the vast majority of inmates, Kurds and Shiites also have reportedly been subjected to abuse while in custody. The Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq routinely detains people without charges, and human rights organizations have accused its security forces of roughing up inmates. Members of Shiite militias also have alleged prison abuse, but their political allies have often been successful in negotiating their release.
The reappointment of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, this month has raised concerns among Sunnis that abuses will continue unchecked because Sunni leaders were unable to get firm promises about reforms in detainee treatment as part of the government formation deal.
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