JFP 4/18: Three Cups of Fabrication? False Pretense for Libya War?

Just Foreign Policy News
April 18, 2011

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

On 8th Day of Hunger Strike, Bahraini Activist Zainab Alkhawaja Urges U.S. to Press for Family's Release

http://www.democracynow.org/2011/4/18/on_8th_day_of_hunger_strike

Al Jazeera Video: Israeli troops filmed attacking Palestinian prisoners

An Israeli television channel has aired footage of Israel's "Control and Restraint unit," or Masada, attacking Palestinian prisoners.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz89CHSWoPU

LATimes: Libyan Rebel's Story Shows Links To Taliban, Al Qaeda, NATO

Rebel leaders are sensitive to criticism by some in the West that Al Qaeda "fellow travelers" are deeply involved in the fight against Kadafi. But there are many unanswered questions about Libya's anti-Kadafi forces, with at least 20 former Islamic militant leaders in battlefield roles, the LAT says. In a new state, will they be tempted by a once-in-a-lifetime chance to overpower Libya with a conservative Islamist vision?
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-libya-qaeda-20110417,0,6153551.story

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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) A CBS investigation has raised serious questions about how best-selling author Greg Mortenson's foundation has spent millions of dollars given in donations for building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic stories in his books such as "Three Cups of Tea" are fabrications, CBS reports. The president of the American Institute of Philanthropy says the Central Asia Institute's financial statements show a troublesome intermingling of Mortenson's personal business interests with the charity's public purpose, and that contributors are being misled.

2) President Obama's statement that US military operations in Libya must continue as long as Qaddafi remains in power directly contradicts his March 28 speech to the American people explaining US involvement in the war, writes Glenn Greenwald in Salon. To claim that "regime change" is subsumed under the goal of "protecting civilians" is to define that objective so broadly as to render it meaningless and, independently, is to violate Obama's explicit decree at the start that regime change would not be the military goal. It also blithely dismisses the UN Security Council resolution, which did not authorize regime change.

3) Evidence is now in that President Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya, writes Alan Kuperman in the Boston Globe. Human Rights Watch data on Misurata shows that the Libyan government is not deliberately massacring civilians. The actual prospect in Benghazi was the final defeat of the rebels. To avoid this fate, they desperately concocted an impending genocide to rally international support for "humanitarian" intervention that would save their rebellion. The Western military intervention has actually perpetuated civil war and humanitarian suffering, Kuperman writes.

4) An American academic says it is "unbelievable" that State Department former Japan desk chief Kevin Maher recently denied his reported disparaging remarks about the people of Okinawa, over which he was dismissed from his post last month, Kyodo News reports. David Vine, an assistant professor at American University in Washington, told Kyodo News his own notes back up his students' account of Maher's remarks. Maher came under fire in March when a written account compiled by some students was taken up by news media, saying that he called the people of Okinawa "lazy" and "masters of manipulation and extortion" during a lecture in December. But in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Maher said the students' report made of an off-the-record briefing has "no credibility" and is a "fabrication," Kyodo News says. [Vine has written elsewhere that according to his recollection, neither Maher nor any other State Department ever indicated at the time that the meeting was "off the record" - JFP.]

Libya
5) The Obama administration has begun seeking a country that might be willing to provide shelter to Qaddafi if he were forced out of Libya, even as intelligence reports suggest no rebel leader has emerged as a credible successor, the New York Times reports.

Afghanistan
6) Some observers are hailing a meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani and Afghan President Karzai on Afghan peace talks as a breakthrough because of the strength of the public Pakistani political commitment, the New York Times reports. "Once we build trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, that is the most important thing," said Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a member of the Afghan peace council who was the Taliban representative to the UN. "Then negotiating with Taliban is very easy."

Bahrain
7) Bahrain backed down Friday from its threat to disband the country's main opposition party after unusually strong criticism from the US, the Los Angeles Times reports. One day after the Bahraini Justice Ministry said it would shut down two Shiite Muslim political parties, including the moderate Wefaq, the state-run news agency said the government would not act until it had finished investigations of the two groups.

8) It doesn't take much to get arrested in Bahrain these days, as the country operates under a reign of terror, Time Magazine reports. People can be taken into custody for speaking out against the King, carrying a Bahraini flag, or being Shia.

Syria
9) According to WikiLeaks cables, the State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel, the Washington Post reports. It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010, the Post says.

Egypt
10) Former president Hosni Mubarak's political party was ordered disbanded Saturday by an Egyptian court, the Washington Post reports.

Colombia
11) Human rights groups and U.S. and Colombian labor unions continue to oppose the trade pact with Colombia, saying Colombia has not done enough to halt anti-unionist violence, AP reports. "Words are one thing, reality another," said Tarsicio Mora, president of Colombia's CUT labor federation, one of two main union groups in Colombia. "The constitution here says life is a fundamental right, yet we keep getting killed."

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Questions over Greg Mortenson's stories
He has written inspiring best sellers, including "Three Cups of Tea," but are the stories all true?
CBS News, April 15, 2011
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/15/60minutes/main20054397.shtml

Greg Mortenson is a former mountain climber, best-selling author, humanitarian, and philanthropist. His non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute (CAI), is dedicated to promoting education, especially for girls, in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and according to its web site, has established more than 140 schools there.

President Obama donated $100,000 to the group from the proceeds of his Nobel Prize. Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea, has sold more than four million copies and is required reading for U.S. servicemen bound for Afghanistan.

But last fall, we began investigating complaints from former donors, board members, staffers, and charity watchdogs about Mortenson and the way he is running his non-profit organization. And we found there are serious questions about how millions of dollars have been spent, whether Mortenson is personally benefiting, and whether some of the most dramatic and inspiring stories in his books are even true.
[...]
It's a powerful and heart-warming tale that has motivated millions of people to buy his book and contribute nearly $60 million to his charity.

Jon Krakauer: It's a beautiful story, and it's a lie.

Jon Krakauer is also a best-selling author and mountaineer, who wrote Into Thin Air and Into The Wild. He was one of Mortenson's earliest backers, donating $75,000 to his non-profit organization.

But after a few years, Krakauer says he withdrew his support over concerns that the charity was being mismanaged, and he later learned that the Korphe tale that launched Mortenson into prominence was simply not true.

Steve Kroft: Did he stumble into this village weak in a weakened state?

Krakauer: Absolutely not.

Kroft: Nobody helped him out. And nursed him back to health.

Krakauer: Absolutely not. I have spoken to one of his companions, a close friend, who hiked out from K2 with him and this companion said Greg never heard of Korphe till a year later.

Strangely enough, Krakauer's version of events is backed up by Greg Mortensen himself, in his earliest telling of the story. In an article he wrote for the newsletter of The American Himalayan Foundation after his descent from K2, Mortenson makes no mention of his experience in Korphe, although he did write that he hoped to build a school in another village called Khane.

We managed to track down the two porters who accompanied Mortenson, and spoke to them in Pakistan's remote Hushe Valley. They also told us that Mortenson did not stumble into Korphe lost and alone, and that he didn't go to Korphe at all until nearly a year later on another visit.

Kroft: He did build a school in Korphe.

Krakauer: He did. ...and it's a good thing. But if you go back and read the first few chapters of that book, you realize, "I'm being taken for a ride here."

It's not a solitary example. Upon close examination, some of the most touching and harrowing tales in Mortenson's books appear to have been either greatly exaggerated or made up out of whole cloth.

Mortenson (in an interview): One of the most compelling experiences I had was in July of '96...I went to the area to find a place to build a school. And what happened is, I got kidnapped by the Taliban for eight days.

The kidnapping story was featured in Three Cups of Tea, and referred to in his follow-up best seller, Stones Into Schools, with a 1996 photograph of his alleged captors.

We managed to locate four men who were there when the photo was taken - two of them actually appear in the picture. All of them insist they are not Taliban and that Greg Mortenson was not kidnapped. They also gave us another photo of the group with Mortenson holding the AK-47.

One of the men, Mansur Khan Mahsud, is the research director of a respected think tank in Islamabad and has produced scholarly articles published in the U.S.

Until recently, he had no idea that he had been shown as a kidnapper in a best-selling book.

We spoke with Mahsud via Skype. He told us he and the other people in the photograph were Mortenson's protectors in Waziristan - not his abductors.

Kroft: The story, as Mr. Mortenson tells it, is that he was held for eight days, and won you over by asking for a Koran and promising to build schools in the area. Is that true?

Mahsud: This is totally false, and he is lying. He was not kidnapped.

Kroft: Who are these people that are also in the picture?

Mahsud: Some are my cousin. Some are our friends from our village.

Kroft: Well, why do you think Mr. Mortenson would write this?

Mahsud: To sell his book.

Another place where no one has done much checking is into the financial records of Mortenson's non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute, which builds and funds the schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is located in Bozeman, Mont., where Mortenson lives.

Mortenson says the charity took in $23 million in contributions last year - some it from thousands of school children who emptied their piggy banks to help its "Pennies for Peace" program, and some of it from large fundraisers.

(CBS News) Kroft: This organization's been around for 14 years. How many audited financial statements has it issued?

Daniel Borochoff: One. (LAUGH)

Kroft: One.

Borochoff: It's amazing that they could get away with that.

Daniel Borochoff is president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, which has been examining and rating charitable organizations for the last two decades. He says the Central Asia Institute's financial statements show a lack of transparency, and a troublesome intermingling of Mortenson's personal business interests with the charity's public purpose.
[...]
Kroft: Do you think contributors are being misled?

Borochoff: I think so.

And so does Jon Krakauer, who says it's been going on for a long time.
Krakauer: In 2002, his board treasurer quit, resigned, along with the board president and two other board members and said, "You should stop giving money to Greg."

Kroft: Did he say why?

Krakauer: He said, in so many words, that Greg uses Central Asia Institute as his private ATM machine. That there's no accounting. He has no receipts.

Over the years, a half a dozen staffers and board members have resigned over similar concerns, especially about money Mortenson has sent overseas to build schools.

Krakauer: Nobody is overseeing what goes on. He doesn't know how many schools he's built. Nobody knows how much these schools cost.

The IRS tax return Central Asia Institute filed last year included a list of 141 schools that it claimed to have built or supported in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Over the past six months, we visited or looked into nearly 30 of them. Some were performing well, but roughly half were empty, built by somebody else, or not receiving support at all. Some were being used to store spinach, or hay for livestock; others had not received any money from Mortenson's charity in years.

The principal of one school told us that the institute had built six classrooms poorly several years ago and since then provided not a single rupee. In Afghanistan, we could find no evidence that six of the schools even existed, most of them in war-torn Kunar Province.
[...]

2) Mission transformation in Libya
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Friday, Apr 15, 2011
http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/04/15/libya/index.html

Barack Obama, March 28, 2011, explaining America's involvement in the war in Libya:

"Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake."

Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, joint Op-Ed, yesterday:

The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes

Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.

Whatever one thinks about this "limited humanitarian intervention" on the merits, this is not the mission that Obama cited when justifying America's involvement. It's the opposite: "broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake" v. "so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations." To claim that "regime change" is subsumed under the goal of "protecting civilians" is to define that objective so broadly as to render it meaningless and, independently, is to violate Obama's explicit decree at the start that regime change would not be the military goal. Finally, note the blithe dismissal of the very limited U.N. Resolution that initially justified all this: it does not provide for regime change in Libya by force, acknowledged the three leaders, but that, in essence, is what we're going to do anyway (continue "operations" until he's gone).
[...]

3) False pretense for war in Libya?
Alan J. Kuperman, Boston Globe, April 14, 2011
http://articles.boston.com/2011-04-14/bostonglobe/29418371_1_rebel-stronghold-civilians-rebel-positions


[Kuperman, professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, is author of "The Limits of Humanitarian Intervention" and co-editor of "Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention."]

Evidence is now in that President Barack Obama grossly exaggerated the humanitarian threat to justify military action in Libya. The president claimed that intervention was necessary to prevent a "bloodbath" in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city and last rebel stronghold.

But Human Rights Watch has released data on Misurata, the next-biggest city in Libya and scene of protracted fighting, revealing that Moammar Khadafy is not deliberately massacring civilians but rather narrowly targeting the armed rebels who fight against his government.

Misurata's population is roughly 400,000. In nearly two months of war, only 257 people - including combatants - have died there. Of the 949 wounded, only 22 - less than 3 percent - are women. If Khadafy were indiscriminately targeting civilians, women would comprise about half the casualties.

Obama insisted that prospects were grim without intervention. "If we waited one more day, Benghazi … could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world." Thus, the president concluded, "preventing genocide" justified US military action.

But intervention did not prevent genocide, because no such bloodbath was in the offing. To the contrary, by emboldening rebellion, US interference has prolonged Libya's civil war and the resultant suffering of innocents.

The best evidence that Khadafy did not plan genocide in Benghazi is that he did not perpetrate it in the other cities he had recaptured either fully or partially - including Zawiya, Misurata, and Ajdabiya, which together have a population greater than Benghazi.

Libyan forces did kill hundreds as they regained control of cities. Collateral damage is inevitable in counter-insurgency. And strict laws of war may have been exceeded.

But Khadafy's acts were a far cry from Rwanda, Darfur, Congo, Bosnia, and other killing fields. Libya's air force, prior to imposition of a UN-authorized no-fly zone, targeted rebel positions, not civilian concentrations. Despite ubiquitous cellphones equipped with cameras and video, there is no graphic evidence of deliberate massacre. Images abound of victims killed or wounded in crossfire - each one a tragedy - but that is urban warfare, not genocide.

Nor did Khadafy ever threaten civilian massacre in Benghazi, as Obama alleged. The "no mercy" warning, of March 17, targeted rebels only, as reported by The New York Times, which noted that Libya's leader promised amnesty for those "who throw their weapons away." Khadafy even offered the rebels an escape route and open border to Egypt, to avoid a fight "to the bitter end."

If bloodbath was unlikely, how did this notion propel US intervention? The actual prospect in Benghazi was the final defeat of the rebels. To avoid this fate, they desperately concocted an impending genocide to rally international support for "humanitarian" intervention that would save their rebellion.

On March 15, Reuters quoted a Libyan opposition leader in Geneva claiming that if Khadafy attacked Benghazi, there would be "a real bloodbath, a massacre like we saw in Rwanda." Four days later, US military aircraft started bombing. By the time Obama claimed that intervention had prevented a bloodbath, The New York Times already had reported that "the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda" against Khadafy and were "making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior."

It is hard to know whether the White House was duped by the rebels or conspired with them to pursue regime-change on bogus humanitarian grounds. In either case, intervention quickly exceeded the UN mandate of civilian protection by bombing Libyan forces in retreat or based in bastions of Khadafy support, such as Sirte, where they threatened no civilians.

The net result is uncertain. Intervention stopped Khadafy's forces from capturing Benghazi, saving some lives. But it intensified his crackdown in western Libya to consolidate territory quickly. It also emboldened the rebels to resume their attacks, briefly recapturing cities along the eastern and central coast, such as Ajdabiya, Brega, and Ras Lanuf, until they outran supply lines and retreated.

Each time those cities change hands, they are shelled by both sides - killing, wounding, and displacing innocents. On March 31, NATO formally warned the rebels to stop attacking civilians. It is poignant to recall that if not for intervention, the war almost surely would have ended last month.

In his speech explaining the military action in Libya, Obama embraced the noble principle of the responsibility to protect - which some quickly dubbed the Obama Doctrine - calling for intervention when possible to prevent genocide. Libya reveals how this approach, implemented reflexively, may backfire by encouraging rebels to provoke and exaggerate atrocities, to entice intervention that ultimately perpetuates civil war and humanitarian suffering.

4) Maher's denial of Okinawa remarks 'unbelievable,' says U.S. academic
Kyodo News, Monday 18th April, 06:25 AM JST
http://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/mahers-denial-of-okinawa-remarks-unbelievable-says-u-s-academic

Tokyo - An American academic says it is "unbelievable" that U.S. State Department former Japan desk chief Kevin Maher recently denied his reported disparaging remarks about the people of Okinawa, over which he was dismissed from his post last month.

David Vine, an assistant professor at American University in Washington, told Kyodo News that his own notes back up his students' account that Maher did make controversial comments.

Maher came under fire in March when a written account compiled by some students was taken up by news media, saying that he called the people of Okinawa "lazy" and "masters of manipulation and extortion" during a lecture in December.

But in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Maher denied making any controversial comments. He said the students' report made of an off-the-record briefing has "no credibility" and is a "fabrication."

Vine said, through telephone and e-mail communication, "I took detailed and copious notes during the presentation made by Mr. Maher, and I can confirm the accuracy and substance of the students' report as well as the specific language that has been attributed to Mr. Maher."

Vine was the one who took the group of students to the December lecture at the State Department and heard Maher's briefing together with his students.

Citing his notes, Vine quoted Maher as saying that the Japanese people as a whole have an "extortionist culture," and that the "Okinawans…are masters at this."

Vine added that Maher said Okinawans are using "guilt" felt by the Japanese government for burdening Okinawa with the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan to get money from Tokyo.

Maher resigned from the department on April 6.

Libya
5) U.S. And Allies Seek A Refuge For Qaddafi
David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 16, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/world/africa/17rebels.html

Washington - The Obama administration has begun seeking a country, most likely in Africa, that might be willing to provide shelter to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi if he were forced out of Libya, even as a new wave of intelligence reports suggest that no rebel leader has emerged as a credible successor to the Libyan dictator.

The intense search for a country to accept Colonel Qaddafi has been conducted quietly by the United States and its allies, even though the Libyan leader has shown defiance in recent days, declaring that he has no intention of yielding to demands that he leave his country, and intensifying his bombardment of the rebel city of Misurata.

The effort is complicated by the likelihood that he would be indicted for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, and atrocities inside Libya.

One possibility, according to three administration officials, is to find a country that is not a signatory to the treaty that requires countries to turn over anyone under indictment for trial by the court, perhaps giving Colonel Qaddafi an incentive to abandon his stronghold in Tripoli.

The move by the United States to find a haven for Colonel Qaddafi may help explain how the White House is trying to enforce President Obama's declaration that the Libyan leader must leave the country but without violating Mr. Obama's refusal to put troops on the ground.

The United Nations Security Council has authorized military strikes to protect the Libyan population, but not to oust the leadership. But Mr. Obama and the leaders of Britain and France, among others, have declared that to be their goals, apart from the military campaign.

"We learned some lessons from Iraq, and one of the biggest is that Libyans have to be responsible for regime change, not us," one senior administration official said on Saturday. "What we're simply trying to do is find some peaceful way to organize an exit, if the opportunity arises."

About half of the countries in Africa have not signed or ratified the Rome Statute, which requires nations to abide by commands from the international court. (The United States has also not ratified the statute, because of concerns about the potential indictment of its soldiers or intelligence agents.) Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, suggested late last month that several African countries could offer Colonel Qaddafi a haven, but he did not identify them.

Even though Colonel Qaddafi has had close business dealings with the leaders of countries like Chad, Mali and Zimbabwe, and there have been pro-Qaddafi rallies elsewhere recently across the continent, it was unclear which, if any, nations were emerging as likely candidates to take in Colonel Qaddafi. The African Union has been quietly sounding out potential hosts, but those negotiations have been closely guarded.

As the drama over Colonel Qaddafi's future has intensified, new details are emerging of the monthlong NATO bombing campaign, which, in the minds of many world leaders, has expanded into a campaign to press the Libyan military and Colonel Qaddafi's aides to turn against him. [This is an unnecessarily coy assertion: that the ouster of Qaddafi was the White House goal for the military operation was reported by the New York Times the same day the President told the nation that it wasn't. See: "Contrary to the President, Removal of Gaddafi Is the Military Objective," http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/obama-libya-speech_b_841985.html - JFP.]

Afghanistan
6) Afghan And Pakistani Leaders Meet In Peace Bid
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 16, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/world/asia/17kabul.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - Much of Pakistan's civilian and military leadership flew here Saturday for a meeting with Afghanistan's president to discuss efforts to forge peace with the Taliban. Although leaders from the two countries have met before to discuss a peace deal, the gathering Saturday was unprecedented because of the number of high-level Pakistani officials in attendance.

The delegation was led by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. He was accompanied by the chief of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan's pre-eminent spy agency, as well as the country's interior and defense ministers and top foreign policy officials.

The main accomplishment of the visit, which lasted about five hours, was an agreement to set up a joint commission for promoting reconciliation that is expected to be led by Mr. Gilani and President Hamid Karzai. "A war in Afghanistan can destabilize Pakistan and vice versa," said Mr. Gilani, "so we need a common strategy."

Perhaps the most important aspect of the meeting, however, was a shift in tone between the leaders of the neighboring countries that seemed to signal a real effort at a rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many analysts consider cooperation between the two countries critical to the success of any peace negotiations with the insurgents, some of whom have had long-standing ties with Pakistani intelligence.

Mr. Gilani's comments throughout a news conference were consistently positive. "We are firmly supporting the strategy of reconciliation and we are with our brother Afghanistan," he said.

Mr. Karzai responded in kind. "The prime minister's statement was a fundamental departure from our meetings in the past," said Mr. Karzai. "This was a statement that reflected a thought process, a planned activity and an analysis of the situation in both countries and reflected Pakistan's desires towards stability and to work with Afghanistan."

The talks Saturday included members of the Afghan High Peace Council, a group set up by Mr. Karzai to promote reconciliation.

The meetings came as the United States and other Western governments, aware of ebbing support for the war in their own countries, are increasingly interested in pursuing a political track to ending the nearly decade-long conflict.

Efforts so far to begin peace negotiations with the Taliban have been halting at best. It is not yet clear if Taliban leaders are united in wanting such talks or whether they would even be free to pursue them while sheltering in Pakistan, which in the past wanted to use the Taliban insurgency for its own strategic purposes - among them keeping India from gaining more influence in Afghanistan.

Complicating matters further is that the Taliban's own relationship with Pakistan has become fraught, with the ties between at least some of the Taliban leaders and the Pakistanis no longer so close, according to former Taliban. Many Taliban leaders want to be free to go home to Afghanistan and reconcile but remain unwillingly tethered to Pakistan, the former Taliban say.

And while the United States has signaled it might drop certain preconditions for talks, bringing all of Afghanistan's neighbors and other interested parties together has proved difficult.

Afghanistan's politicians often point fingers at Pakistan, saying that it knowingly harbors the insurgent leaders who are destabilizing Afghanistan, and that Pakistan's intelligence services have long manipulated the Taliban to Afghanistan's detriment. However, the meetings Saturday seemed to open the possibility for an improved relationship.

Afghan officials knowledgeable about Saturday's discussions say they are not sure why Pakistan chose this moment to make such strong overtures. They suggested dramatically different theories, a sign of how opaque relations are between the various stakeholders in Afghanistan's future. The Pakistani government, they said, could be eager to bypass the United States, with whom its relationship has worsened in the past several months. Alternately, they said that Pakistan may be under pressure from the United States to help facilitate a peace deal.

The visit appeared as well to be an effort by Pakistan to quell suggestions from the international community that it might thwart Afghanistan's efforts to reconcile with the Taliban. In the past, the Pakistanis have not been shy about reminding Western countries and Afghanistan that there cannot be a deal without their support, but that did not appear to be their message on Saturday.
[...]
It was the public show of support for Afghanistan that was the most encouraging, said Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a member of the Afghan peace council who was the Taliban representative to the United Nations when the group ran the country. "Once we build trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, that is the most important thing," he said. "Then negotiating with Taliban is very easy."
[...]

Bahrain
7) Bahrain Backs Away From Ban On Two Shiite Political Groups
A day after the Justice Ministry drew U.S. criticism for saying it would shut down the Wefaq party and another group, the government says no action will be taken until an investigation is completed.
Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2011
http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-fg-us-bahrain-20110416,0,4471384.story

Washington - Bahrain backed down Friday from its threat to disband the country's main opposition party after unusually strong criticism from the United States that the strategic Persian Gulf nation was closing the door to promised political reforms.

One day after the Bahraini Justice Ministry said it would shut down two Shiite Muslim political parties, including the moderate Wefaq, the state-run news agency said the government would not act until it had finished investigations of the two groups.

Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid ibn Ahmed Khalifa also said on Twitter that the official statement from the Justice Ministry had been "incorrect" and that "all societies, including Al Wefaq, are encouraged to participate in elections and serve the people through parliament."

The Obama administration, a strong ally of the Bahraini government, had defended the parties as "legitimate political societies" and had urged reversal of the decision. U.S. officials also spoke privately with senior Bahraini officials and dispatched the chief U.S. diplomat for the region, assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, to Manama, the capital.

A U.S. official said late Friday that Bahrain's intentions remain somewhat murky because of the conflicting signals.

The Obama administration has come under growing criticism from human rights groups in the Middle East for not doing more to try to halt Bahrain's crackdown on the opposition.

In recent weeks, Bahrain's government has jailed hundreds of people arrested in overnight raids, curbed media criticism and fired government employees accused of taking part in protests. At least three people have died in detention, and human rights activists have posted video clips that they allege provide evidence of torture.

The Obama administration has been measured in its criticism, however.
[...]
Mansoor Jamri, who was forced out of his job as editor in chief of the independent Al Wasat newspaper, called the U.S. policy "perplexing."

Until March 14, when the Saudis signaled their determination to maintain the status quo by sending in troops to quell protests, "the United States was enthusiastic about encouraging reforms within the current political system. Since then, they seem to have kept their heads in the sand," said Jamri, who is under investigation by the government on allegations of preparing false reports.
[...]

8) Bahrain: Is a U.S. Ally Torturing Its People?
Karen Leigh, Time Magazine, Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011
http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2065198,00.html?xid=thepage_newsletter

On March 17, Ibrahim Shareef, the head of the anti-government activist movement Waad, was snatched from his home at gunpoint by what his family describes as Bahraini security forces. Thrown into a waiting sport utility vehicle, he was driven off into the night. Today he's still missing, whereabouts unknown.
[...]
"I very much fear there will be more death because there is no transparency in all this," says Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. "We're not seeing where they're being held, or their names, and it's these kinds of conditions that make for torture and brutality and death."

It doesn't take much to get arrested in Bahrain these days, as the country operates under a reign of terror. People can be taken into custody for any number of reasons: speaking out against the King or vague association with activist groups (offenses can include carrying a Bahraini flag, deemed a symbol of the anti-government movement). They are routinely hauled out of their cars at police checkpoints after being identified as Shi'a. Once jailed, they reportedly face interrogators bent on getting them to incriminate themselves, even for nonviolent political association. The regime is taking extreme measures to extinguish any flicker of rebellion. "The hard line faction of the ruling family is [eliminating] any and all forms of political dissent," says Stork. "There are still raids into villages every night. It's punishment, creating a state of fear, so that no one will stick out their head and raise their voice."

In Manama, those who have been arrested at gunpoint and let go tell of being bound by their hands and feet with cables tied so tight blood circulation is cut off; they described being gagged and blindfolded for days. According to HRW, the regime has, in the past, used electro-shock devices. These include cattle prods and stun guns, which immobilize victims' bodies and leave visible marks.

Once the torture ends, jailhouse conditions are still brutal. One leading activist spent six months in prison, in a cell he described as being "not much wider" than a bath towel. He was allowed so little contact with the outside world that towards the end of his imprisonment, the family was unsure if he was still alive. Briefly released, he was re-arrested last month, now one of the 460 missing.

Syria
9) U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by WikiLeaks show
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, Sunday, April 17, 11:01 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-secretly-backed-syrian-opposition-groups-cables-released-by-wikileaks-show/2011/04/14/AF1p9hwD_story.html

The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables.

The London-based satellite channel, Barada TV, began broadcasting in April 2009 but has ramped up operations to cover the mass protests in Syria as part of a long-standing campaign to overthrow the country's autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad. Human rights groups say scores of people have been killed by Assad's security forces since the demonstrations began March 18; Syria has blamed the violence on "armed gangs."

Barada TV is closely affiliated with the Movement for Justice and Development, a London-based network of Syrian exiles. Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million to the group since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria. The channel is named after the Barada River, which courses through the heart of Damascus, the Syrian capital.

The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush after he effectively froze political ties with Damascus in 2005. The financial backing has continued under President Obama, even as his administration sought to rebuild relations with Assad. In January, the White House posted an ambassador to Damascus for the first time in six years.

The cables, provided by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks, show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs. Some embassy officials suggested that the State Department reconsider its involvement, arguing that it could put the Obama administration's rapprochement with Damascus at risk.

Syrian authorities "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change," read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time. "A reassessment of current U.S.-sponsored programming that supports anti-[government] factions, both inside and outside Syria, may prove productive," the cable said.

It is unclear whether the State Department is still funding Syrian opposition groups, but the cables indicate money was set aside at least through September 2010. While some of that money has also supported programs and dissidents inside Syria, The Washington Post is withholding certain names and program details at the request of the State Department, which said disclosure could endanger the recipients' personal safety.

Syria, a police state, has been ruled by Assad since 2000, when he took power after his father's death. Although the White House has condemned the killing of protesters in Syria, it has not explicitly called for his ouster.
[...]

Egypt
10) Egyptian Court Tells Mubarak's Party To Disband
Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Saturday, April 16, 9:11 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/egyptian-court-disbands-mubaraks-party/2011/04/16/AFvMUqoD_story.html

Cairo - Former president Hosni Mubarak's political party was ordered disbanded Saturday by an Egyptian court, in a concession to protesters who have increasingly questioned whether the revolution that toppled Mubarak more than two months ago brought about major change.

The ruling was the capstone to an extraordinary week that also saw the detention and interrogation of Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, over their financial dealings and the killings of protesters in January and February. The trio's detention had been another key demand of the tens of thousands of protesters who turned out in Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier this month, outraged that the Mubarak family was apparently living comfortably in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, albeit under orders to stay in Egypt.

Gamal and Alaa Mubarak were taken to Tora Prison on the outskirts of Cairo last week. Hosni Mubarak has been moved to a military hospital near the capital, according to the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper, and a government spokesman said in a statement that he will be moved to a prison once his health improves.

The National Democratic Party (NDP), which was founded in 1978 by Anwar Sadat, Mubarak's predecessor, has dominated Egyptian political life for more than 30 years, and the burned-out shell of its headquarters still towers between the Nile and Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. Earlier this week, Talaat Sadat, the former president's nephew, was appointed head of the party.

Critics, including many of the protesters who led the movement to topple Mubarak, had said that the party has no place in a new Egypt.

Until the Supreme Administrative Court's ruling Saturday, the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood had been the two most potent organized political forces in the country. The ruling also requires the party's "money, headquarters and buildings to be seized and handed over to the government," a statement on the cabinet's Facebook page said.
[...]

Colombia
11) US, Colombia revive trade pact despite skepticism from labor, rights activists in both nations
Associated Press, Sunday, April 17, 12:14 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/us-colombia-revive-trade-pact-despite-skepticism-from-labor-rights-activists-in-both-nations/2011/04/17/AF3NEYuD_story.html

Bogota, Colombia - Labor activist Francisco Antonio Abello helped lead a strike last year that won raises and health insurance for 185 workers at an oil palm plantation on the Caribbean coast.

Four months later, two gunmen confronted Abello, 55, on the plantation as he was working his irrigation pump and shot him three times, said Jose Borja, president of the Sintrainagro farmworkers union's chapter in the region.

"No one has been arrested in the killing," Borja said, adding that no one knows exactly who might be responsible. "Things are bad here. Lots of armed groups."

The perils Colombian labor activists face have taken center stage now that U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to push for congressional approval of a long-stalled free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia.

Colombia remained the most dangerous country in the world last year for labor activists, though the 52 union organizers killed represented an improvement from a decade ago, when nearly 200 labor leaders were killed annually.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, 48 of the 101 union activists killed globally in 2009 were Colombian, with Guatemala following at 16, Honduras with 12 and Mexico at six.
[...]
Human rights groups and U.S. and Colombian labor unions continue to oppose the trade pact, however, saying Colombia has not done enough to halt anti-unionist violence. They consider unrealistic a 10-point "action plan" for protecting Colombian labor activists that Obama announced on April 7 and that Colombia is supposed to implement by June 15.
[...]
Union and human rights activists express serious doubts about the action plan being anything more than a pretext for getting the trade pact ratified in the U.S. Senate. "Words are one thing, reality another," said Tarsicio Mora, president of Colombia's CUT labor federation, one of two main union groups in this Andean nation. "The constitution here says life is a fundamental right, yet we keep getting killed."

The plan drew similar skepticism from Jose Miguel Vivanco, Washington-based Americas division director for Human Rights Watch. "If this comes to be, the medicine could be worse than the illness," he said.

Vivanco expressed particular concern about the plan's demand that Colombia's chief prosecutor accelerate investigations into cases of union member killings that have shown progress and temporarily close less-advanced probes. "I think the more adequate solution is to increase the number of prosecutors and not close cases," Vivanco said.

He and other critics said many of the plan's requirements, while laudable, would be very difficult to achieve by June 15. They include a reform of Colombia's penal code, which requires a legislative vote, to punish threats or acts against fundamental labor and human rights beginning with collective bargaining.
[...]
U.S. organized labor was incensed with Obama for negotiating the action plan with Colombia without consulting them.

United Steelworkers senior attorney Daniel Kovalik called that an "act of disrespect" by Obama, and noted that at least six Colombian labor leaders have been killed so far this year.

According to the steelworkers union, Colombia has one of the lowest unionization rates in the world, with 70,000 people - in a work force of 20 million - allowed collective bargaining rights and 3.5 percent of workers belonging to unions.
[...]

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


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