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JFP 12/23: Conyers, 30 Reps: Petraeus Must Testify on Afghan Review
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 23 December 2010 - 5:36pm
Just Foreign Policy News
December 23, 2010
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1) Rep. Conyers and 30 other Members sent a letter to President Obama asking that General Petraeus be made available to testify before the House early in the 112th Congress on conditions in Afghanistan. "It is absolutely critical that there are oversight hearings on the War in Afghanistan, which include General Petraeus, early in the 112th Congress," said Conyers. " Fighting in Afghanistan this year has resulted in more troop deaths, more civilian deaths, and an ever-expanding $2 billion a week financial commitment… It is difficult to argue that this constitutes progress."
2) WikiLeaks says it will publish hundreds of "sensitive" US diplomatic cables on Israel, AFP reports. "Sensitive and classified documents" on Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon and January's assassination in Dubai of Hamas militant Mahmud al-Mabhuh would be released, Julian Assange told Al-Jazeera.
3) The ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Library Association and other groups have published an open letter to public officials opposing further government efforts to limit free speech in the wake of the WikiLeaks disclosures. The groups note that under Supreme Court rulings, publishers have a First Amendment right to print truthful political information free of prior restraint; publishers are protected by the First Amendment against liability for publishing truthful political information that is lawfully obtained, even if the original disclosure of that information to the publisher was unlawful; and Internet users have a First Amendment right to receive information.
4) Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson has sharply criticized mandatory sentences for the possession of marijuana, Raw Story reports. "We're locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they've got 10 years with mandatory sentences," Robertson said. "…I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot... it's costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals."
5) Provincial officials in northern Afghanistan said a NATO helicopter opened fire on a convoy of cars heading to an event hosted by the head of a local council Thursday, killing a police officer and the brother of a lawmaker, AP reports. Faryab governor Abdul Haq Shafaq, who was a guest at the event and helped evacuate the wounded from the NATO attack, expressed anger and called for an investigation by the attorney general. Earlier this week, a clash between NATO forces and insurgents left five civilians dead in Helmand, prompting criticism from the provincial government.
6) Human Rights Watch called for the US and UK to stop supporting Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion if there is no visible effort to reform it, AP reports. The US and UK have trained the Bangladeshi force as part of a counterterrorism strategy since at least 2008, according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The Rapid Action Battalion was responsible for more than 1,000 extra-judicial slayings in the preceding five years, a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch alleged.
7) Memos from the US embassy in Jakarta released by WikiLeaks show that US diplomats hold Indonesia responsible for "chronic underdevelopment" and for causing instability in West Papua, Al Jazeera reports. Foreign journalists are banned by the Indonesian government from travelling to Papua.
8) A senior Israeli army officer says as long as Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip, another war is "only a question of time," the BBC reports. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also warned that tensions were escalating, and that any Israeli attack on Gaza would only lead to further bloodshed. "Military solutions such as these won't achieve anything and will only complicate the situation," Erekat said. Hamas is not thought to have been behind the increased rocket fire from Gaza this week, to which Israel retaliated with air strikes. But Israel has said it will increase attacks on Hamas facilities even if the movement is not directly responsible. The UN has said at least 62 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli action in Gaza this year. One Thai farm worker has been killed by rockets fired from Gaza into Israel.
9) Afghan Government officials expressed alarm about what they described as Iran's unexplained ban on fuel exports to Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. The governor of Nimroz Province said Iranian authorities had started halting tankers bound for Afghanistan about 10 days ago. The effect is driving up fuel prices just as winter is setting in. The restriction may reflect Iran's own energy problems, caused in part by Western sanctions, the Times says, or it could represent an effort to retaliate against the US for the sanctions.
1) Conyers, Members Send Letter Calling For Petraeus To Testify on Afghan War Early Next Year
Office of Rep. John Conyers, Dec. 23, 2010
Washington, D.C.- Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) today sent a letter, along with 30 other Members of Congress, to President Obama asking that General David Petraeus be made available to testify before the House of Representatives early in the 112th Congress on the status of conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee, has also called for General Petraeus' testimony on the War in Afghanistan.
"It is absolutely critical that there are oversight hearings on the War in Afghanistan, which include General Petraeus, early in the 112th Congress," said Conyers. "The Administration has stated its views on the war in its December strategy review. Now it is time for Members of Congress to conduct hearings and review conditions on ground so that they may draw their own conclusions."
"In my view, the numbers simply don't add up. Fighting in Afghanistan this year has resulted in more troop deaths, more civilian deaths, and an ever-expanding $2 billion a week financial commitment to a country that has an annual gross domestic product of $27 billion. It is difficult to argue that this constitutes progress."
[Text of letter at link. The letter was signed by the following 31 Reps: John Conyers, Jr.; Tammy Baldwin; Michael Capuano; Yvette Clarke; Steve Cohen; Donna Edwards; Keith Ellison; Bob Filner; Marcia Fudge; John Garamendi; Alan Grayson; Raul Grijalva; Michael Honda; Sheila Jackson-Lee; John Lewis; Hank Johnson; Carolyn Kilpatrick; Dennis Kucinich; Barbara Lee; Ed Markey; Jim McGovern; Gwen Moore; Richard Neal; John Olver; Chellie Pingree; Mike Quigley; Fortney "Pete" Stark; Paul Tonko; Niki Tsongas; Maxine Waters; Lynn Woolsey - JFP.]
2) WikiLeaks to publish 'sensitive' Israel cables
AFP, Thu Dec 23, 9:28 am ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101223/wl_mideast_afp/usdiplomacywikileaksisraelassange_20101223142805
Dubai - WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has said his whistleblowing website plans to publish hundreds of "sensitive" US diplomatic cables on Israel, Al-Jazeera television reported on Thursday. "Sensitive and classified documents" on Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon and January's assassination in Dubai of Hamas militant Mahmud al-Mabhuh would be released, Assange told Al-Jazeera in an interview.
Assange said WikiLeaks had 3,700 US documents on Israel, including 2,700 originating from the Jewish state, but denied the website had any agreement in place to spare the country of leaks. "We do not have any secret deals with any country," he said according to an Arabic translation of remarks he made in English which were posted on Al-Jazeera's website. "We do not have any direct or indirect contacts with the Israelis," Assange is quoted as saying, adding no more than two percent of available documents on Israel have been released so far.
Some of Israel's neighbours, most notably Turkey, have expressed unease at the lack of leaks the whistleblowing website has released on the Jewish state.
3) An Open Letter to U.S. Government Officials Regarding Free Expression in the Wake of the Wikileaks Controversy
ACLU et al, December 22, 2010
Dear Public Officials:
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from legal and free speech experts about the possible application of the Espionage Act to the recent publication of secret documents by the whistle-blower website Wikileaks, as well as to traditional media outlets, Internet companies, and others who have also distributed and reported on that information. All seven witnesses cautioned against attempts to suppress free speech and criticized the overwhelming secrecy that permeates the United States government. We write to echo these concerns and applaud those who have spoken out against attempts to censor the Internet. We urge caution against any legislation that could weaken the principles of free expression vital to a democratic society or hamper online freedoms.
Unfortunately, some government officials have already attacked newspapers' rights to report on the releases by Wikileaks. Other government actors have made official and unofficial statements casting doubt on the right of government employees and others to download, read, or even discuss documents published by Wikileaks or news reporting based on those documents. Others have rashly proposed legislation that could limit the free speech of legitimate news reporting agencies well beyond Wikileaks.
These actions have created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among the general public, leading them to question their rights with regard to the documents posted by
Wikileaks. As you continue to discuss these critically important issues, we urge you to do so in a way that respects the constitutional rights of publishers and the public that have been recognized by the Supreme Court. Specifically:
- Publishers have a First Amendment right to print truthful political information free of prior restraint, as established in New York Times v. United States.
- Publishers are strongly protected by the First Amendment against liability for publishing truthful political information that is lawfully obtained, even if the original disclosure of that information to the publisher was unlawful, under Bartnicki v. Vopper.
- Internet users have a First Amendment right to receive information, as repeatedly endorsed by a series of Supreme Court cases, including Stanley v. Georgia.
[Full letter at link. Signers included: American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; American Civil Liberties Union; American Library Association; Association of Research Libraries; Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Center for Constitutional Rights; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Government Accountability Project - JFP.]
4) Shock: Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson favors marijuana legalization
Robertson a welcome addition to drug reform circles, former narc tells Raw Story
Stephen C. Webster, Raw Story, Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010
Count this among the 10 things nobody ever expected to see in their lifetimes: 700 Club founder Pat Robertson, one of the cornerstone figures of America's Christian right movement, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Calling it getting "smart" on crime, Robertson aired a clip on a recent episode of his 700 Club television show that advocated the viewpoint of drug law reformers who run prison outreach ministries.
"It got to be a big deal in campaigns: 'He's tough on crime,' and 'lock 'em up!'" the Christian Coalition founder said. "That's the way these guys ran and, uh, they got elected. But, that wasn't the answer."
"We're locking up people that have taken a couple puffs of marijuana and next thing you know they've got 10 years with mandatory sentences," Robertson continued. "These judges just say, they throw up their hands and say nothing we can do with these mandatory sentences. We've got to take a look at what we're considering crimes and that's one of 'em.
"I'm ... I'm not exactly for the use of drugs, don't get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana, criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of pot, that kinda thing it's just, it's costing us a fortune and it's ruining young people. Young people go into prisons, they go in as youths and come out as hardened criminals. That's not a good thing."
In this instance, even though he clearly expressed support for the reform of US marijuana laws, a spokesman for religious television station CBN walked back Robertson's comments, telling Raw Story on Thursday morning the Christian Coalition founder "did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana."
"He was advocating that our government revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals," CBN spokesman Chris Roslan wrote. "He was also pointing out that these mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available. Dr. Robertson's comments followed a CBN News story about a group of conservatives who have proven that faith-based rehabilitation for criminals has resulted in lower repeat offenders and saved the government millions of dollars. Dr. Robertson unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs."
5) NATO strike on local convoy kills 2, say officials
Amir Shah, Associated Press, Thursday, December 23, 2010
Kabul - A NATO helicopter opened fire on a convoy of cars heading to an event hosted by the head of a local council Thursday, killing a police officer and the brother of a lawmaker, provincial officials in northern Afghanistan said.
The chief of police, the governor and the head of the provincial council of Faryab province all said the helicopter strafed one car in the convoy, killing a policeman and Mohammad Aminuddin, the brother of former parliament member Sarajuddin Mozafari.
Police chief Khalil Andarabi said two policemen and a civilian were also wounded in the strike.
NATO said it was investigating "the inadvertent death of two individuals and the wounding of two others" in an operation it had conducted in Faryab in an attempt to intercept suspected insurgents.
The issue of civilians killed during operations is particularly troubling for NATO and the Afghan government, and the international coalition says it is careful to avoid such casualties. Earlier this week, a clash between NATO forces and insurgents left five civilians dead in Helmand, prompting criticism from the provincial government.
The strike in Faryab occurred on the main road about three miles (five kilometers) outside the provincial capital, Maimana, as a convoy of cars headed to a lunch hosted by the head of a local council, according to Faryab governor Abdul Haq Shafaq and the other officials involved.
Shafaq, who had been among the guests, said he had just driven by the area when he heard the helicopter firing and turned back. "I myself helped with the body and the injured," Shafaq told The Associated Press. He said three helicopters had been flying over the convoy, and one of them then landed and evacuated two of the injured.
Shafaq said more than 20 cars had been in the convoy. "We are so angry about this," Shafaq said, describing the dead as innocents. He called for an investigation into the incident by the attorney general.
6) US, UK Urged to Stop Training of Bangladeshi Force
Julhas Alam, Associated Press, Thursday, December 23, 2010
Dhaka, Bangladesh - The United States and Britain should immediately stop supporting a Bangladeshi anti-crime force blamed for killing hundreds of suspects without trial if there is no visible effort to reform it, a rights group said Thursday.
The Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB, was responsible for more than 1,000 extra-judicial slayings in the preceding five years, a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch alleged.
The United Kingdom and United States have trained the Bangladeshi force as part of a counterterrorism strategy since at least 2008, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables say.
Britain trained RAB members on human rights issues, investigative interviewing techniques and other skills, according to a cable written by U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty in May 2009. The U.S. provided only human rights training in adherence to a U.S. law that made further assistance illegal because of the battalion's past human rights violations, a cable he wrote in August 2008 said. The cables were released by WikiLeaks and published on the Guardian website.
The United States and Britain favor bolstering the RAB to strengthen counterterrorism operations in Bangladesh, and Moriarty wrote that it was the "enforcement organization best positioned to one day become a Bangladeshi" FBI.
According to the cables, foreign diplomats in Dhaka believe that the battalion is enjoying a wide range of public support because of deteriorating law and order in Bangladesh.
But a nation cannot ensure law and order by being complicit in violating the very laws it should protect, Meenakshi Ganguly, the rights group's South Asia director, told The Associated Press in an e-mail. "Criminals should be arrested, prosecuted and punished, not randomly picked up and killed in an effort to put an end to the activities for which they are suspected," Gunguly said.
Human Rights Watch said this is the time for the countries to pressure Bangladesh to reform the force. "The UK and the U.S. should stop their cooperation unless there are immediate and visible efforts to reform RAB, and hold those responsible for human rights violations to account," she said.
The New York-based group said continued violation of human rights by the battalion will only harm Bangladesh's law enforcement capacity. "Does Bangladesh really want a force that can easily run amok because it is protected by the state from being prosecuted for human rights violations?" she asked.
7) Leaks show Indonesia military abuse
Memos revealed by WikiLeaks show US diplomats aware of extensive corruption and rights violations in West Papua.
Yasmine Ryan, Al Jazeera, 23 Dec 2010
The US government's decision to renew military ties with Indonesia was made in spite of serious concerns expressed by its diplomats about the Indonesian military's activities in the province of West Papua.
Memos from the US embassy in Jakarta leaked to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks show that US diplomats hold Jakarta responsible for "chronic underdevelopment" and for causing instability in West Papua. WikiLeaks released the cables to the Australian newspaper The Age.
Corruption is rife in the Indonesian army, the US officials acknowledge repeatedly in the documents. They describe the military as being a virtually autonomous government entity in West Papua and are strongly dubious of the Indonesian authorities' assertion of "justice" in the province.
Earlier in the year, the US lifted a 12-year ban on ties with Indonesia's elite military forces. Contact was resumed with the Kopassus unit, a decision the US state department said was based on an improvement in its human rights record.
When the news of renewed military co-operation was announced, activists warned of the potentially "dangerous" consequences for the Papuan people.
Yet Barack Obama, the US president, went ahead with a state visit to Indonesia in November, deepening security ties by formalising the "comprehensive partnership" between Indonesia and the US.
His visit followed the admission in October by Indonesian authorities that the men who filmed themselves torturing a West Papuan man were indeed Indonesian soldiers.
The US cut ties with the military unit under what is known as the Leahy law.
The legislation, approved in 1997, banned US training for foreign military units accused of human rights violations. It can only be waived if the Secretary of State certifies that the foreign authorities take "effective measures" against those suspected of abuses.
Yet underneath the public show of confidence, the leaked cables reveal US diplomats were consistently highlighting human rights abuses in the disputed territory.
Foreign journalists are banned by the Indonesian government from travelling to Papua.
8) New Gaza war 'only a question of time'
BBC, 23 December 2010
A senior Israeli army officer has told the BBC that as long as Hamas remains in control of the Gaza Strip, another war is "only a question of time".
He said the Palestinian Islamist group had re-armed so much since the Israeli offensive two years ago that it was now in a stronger position militarily. There has been an increase in rocket fire coming from Gaza in the past week.
Speaking to the BBC's Jon Donnison on Wednesday, another senior Israeli army officer from the Gaza division said: "As long as Hamas remains in power, it is only a question of time before there is another conflict."
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also warned that tensions were escalating in the region, and that any Israeli attack on Gaza would only lead to further bloodshed. "Military solutions such as these won't achieve anything and will only complicate the situation," Mr Erekat said.
Hamas is not thought to have been behind the increased rocket fire from Gaza this week, to which Israel retaliated with air strikes. However, Israel has said it will increase attacks on Hamas facilities even if the movement is not directly responsible.
The UN has said at least 62 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli action in Gaza so far this year. Over the same period, one Thai farm worker has been killed by rockets fired from the coastal territory into Israel.
Two years ago, a 22-day clash between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Gaza left an estimated 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
9) Iran Stops Fuel Delivery, Afghanistan Says, And Prices Are Rising
Michael Kamber and Taimoor Shah, New York Times, December 22, 2010
Kabul - Government officials expressed alarm on Wednesday about what they described as Iran's unexplained ban on fuel exports to Afghanistan, asserting that at least 1,400 loaded tankers were parked on Iran's side of three border crossings.
Abdul Karim Barahwe, the governor of Nimroz Province in western Afghanistan, said the Iranian authorities had started halting tankers bound for Afghanistan about 10 days ago. The effect is driving up fuel prices just as winter is setting in.
"We really don't know the exact cause of the ban; Iran doesn't officially say the cause of the ban," he said. Now, he said, both the Interior and Commerce Ministries, as well as President Hamid Karzai's office, "are trying to sort out this problem with Iran."
The governor said that tankers full of fuel were backed up at the border crossings of Nimroz, Farah and Islam Qala.
There has been no word in Iran about a ban on Afghanistan-bound fuel. The restriction may reflect Iran's own energy problems, caused in part by Western sanctions on the country over its nuclear program, as well as a sharp increase in Iranian fuel prices caused by a government phase-out of subsidies that began this month. Or it could represent an effort to retaliate against the United States for the sanctions, even though the fuel is not supposed to be supporting the American war effort.
Afghanistan is landlocked and relies heavily on fuel brought in by truck from Iran, Pakistan and the former Soviet republics.
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