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JFP 4/21: Admin ignored Pentagon advice Libya war would fail
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 21 April 2011 - 7:37pm
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April 21, 2011
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*Action: Barbara Boxer: Ending the Endless War
California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced former Senator Feingold's bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan - a timetable with an end date. Senators Durbin, Harkin, Gillibrand, and Brown have already signed on as co-sponsors. A real deadline for US withdrawal would facilitate meaningful peace talks. More visible Senate criticism of the endless war can move the White House. Urge your Senator to co-sponsor.
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1) The White House wanted the Pentagon to come up with a low-cost regime-change plan for Libya, David Wood reports for the Huffington Post. But the military kept insisting that no such option existed. A real regime-change operation, some officers argued, requires "boots on the ground." That was a cost the White House, given rising domestic pressure to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, was unwilling to consider. The Pentagon became furious that White House officials didn't "seem to understand what military force can and cannot do," a senior US official said.
"The problem with both Afghanistan and Libya is that the administration sees U.S. interests as real but limited, and wants a military option whose scale and cost is limited," said Stephen Biddle, a senior defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations who has been involved as an adviser to both the White House and the Pentagon.
Any president will want to explore doing something limited "to avoid being criticized if they don't do something," said CFR's Biddle. But in many of these conflicts, the locals at war will have vital interests and fight brutally for their survival, as Gaddafi and his loyalists are doing in Libya. "That inevitably puts the military in the awkward position of having to explain the difficulty of succeeding with limited force for a goal that for us is limited but for the locals is existential," Biddle explained.
2) Disapproval of Barack Obama's handling of the situation in Libya has grown sharply in the past month, ABC News reports. The poll divides Americans into three groups: 40% oppose U.S. military participation; 32% support U.S. involvement, but say the aim should be to remove Gadhafi from power; the third and smallest group, 22%, supports the current [stated -JFP] policy. Support for allied air strikes on Libya - whatever their aim - does not translate into support for an increased U.S. role. Even among people who favor ousting Gadhafi as a goal, a relatively small group, 24 percent, says the level of U.S. military involvement in Libya should be increased. Support for an increased U.S. role is lower still, 9 percent, among those who favor the current [stated] mission. In both groups, sizable majorities say U.S. involvement should be kept about the same as it is now.
3) British doctors are speaking up about the crackdown on doctors in Bahrain, The Independent reports. John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: "These reports of harassment of medical staff in the ongoing unrest in Bahrain, including surgeons trained in the UK, are deeply disturbing. The protection and care of people wounded in conflict is a basic right guaranteed by the Geneva Convention and one that every doctor or medical institution should be free to fulfil." Michael Wilks, vice-president of the British Medical Association, said: "The Geneva Convention and international medical ethical standards are absolutely clear – punishing doctors because they are perceived to be treating patients of whom the regime disapproves is completely unacceptable."
4) Pentagon officials continued their silence on Tuesday about allegations against Greg Mortenson concerning the accuracy of his books and the management of his charity, the New York Times reports. But Col. Christopher Kolenda said that Mortenson's work had been vital to the US war effort in Afghanistan. By 2009, Mortenson had become an unofficial adviser to the US military in Afghanistan, the Times says.
5) The US is building $15 billion aircraft carriers that could be sunk with Chinese missiles that cost $10 million, Time Magazine reports. As a result, the Navy's $15 billion aircraft carriers could be useless in any future conflict over Taiwan. Aircraft carriers are increasingly obsolete platforms of war, Time says. Yet the Navy continues to churn them out as if it were still 1942.
While the U.S.'s military spending has jumped from $1,500 per capita in 1998 to $2,700 in 2008, its NATO allies have been spending $500 per person over the same span, Time says. As long as the U.S. is overspending on its defense, it lets its allies skimp on theirs and instead pour the savings into infrastructure, education and health care. So even as U.S. taxpayers fret about their health care costs, their tax dollars are paying for a military that is subsidizing the health care of their European allies.
$1 trillion in cuts would still leave the Pentagon fatter than it was before 9/11, Time notes.
6) Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is running for the Republican presidential nomination on a platform that calls for withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq, a position that's anathema to the party's ruling class, The Hill reports. He also supports abortion rights and favors legalizing marijuana.
7) Sending Western military advisers to Libya is the latest in a series of signs of trouble for the NATO campaign, which has seemed to fizzle since operational command was transferred to NATO, the New York Times reports. The current political debate, a senior NATO ambassador said, is not about whether the Libya war will end in negotiations, but the nature and context of the talks. Some countries would like to begin negotiations with Colonel Qaddafi before he leaves power, with the clear aim that he must leave. But others, particularly the rebels, say that negotiations can begin only after the colonel and his sons are safely out of the country.
Tomas Valasek, a defense expert at the Center for European Reform said the problem is that both Colonel Qaddafi and the NATO-supported opposition think that time is on their side. "It may take everyone longer to realize that this is as far as military force takes us. But unless we want a divided Libya, we need to sit down and negotiate."
8) A former leader of the MKO/MEK who escaped from Camp Ashraf says some residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq are being held there against their will, Radio Free Europe reports. Using the telephone, mobile phone, Internet, and even listening to radio is forbidden in the organization, he said. He also said getting married is banned in Camp Ashraf.
9) A coalition of environmental advocates has launched a letter writing campaign directed at government officials who intervened in a dispute between Renco Group and its Doe Run Peru subsidiary and the government of Peru, including Rep. Donald Payne, the Sunlight Foundation reports. Environmental advocates say Doe Run is abusing the trade agreement between the US and Peru to dodge its responsibility for environmental contamination.
10) AFP reported that the OAS expressed concern over the terrorizing of Colombia's population by criminal groups comprised of formerly demobilized paramilitaries, according to Colombia Reports. An NGO report from March suggested these criminal groups have a presence in nearly a third of Colombia. Justice and Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras has admitted that as a result of this vast presence, the groups could threaten upcoming October elections.
11) Bolivia has accepted financial aid from the US to monitor efforts to eradicate illicit coca crops, the Guardian reports. But there was no way DEA agents would return to Bolivia, the government said.
1) Obama White House, Pentagon At Odds Over Libya Policy
David Wood, Huffington Post, April 20, 2011
[Wood has been a staff correspondent for Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Newhouse News Service and The Baltimore Sun. He covers military issues, foreign affairs and combat operations, and has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting.]
The White House wanted the Pentagon to come up with a low-cost regime-change plan for Libya. Ideally, this strategy would have toppled Col. Muammar Gaddafi without bogging the U.S. down in another inconclusive foreign adventure. And by no means could the plan have included young American infantrymen advancing under fire across the sand.
The military kept insisting that no such option existed. A real regime-change operation, some officers argued, requires "boots on the ground." That was a cost the White House, given rising domestic pressure to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, was unwilling to consider.
In long meetings and email exchanges, arguments over strategic details often led to more serious disagreements, the official told The Huffington Post. The White House thought the Pentagon was disrespecting the president by refusing to propose a politically acceptable action plan, while the Pentagon became furious that White House officials didn't "seem to understand what military force can and cannot do," the [senior U.S. official] said.
"The problem with both Afghanistan and Libya is that the administration sees U.S. interests as real but limited, and wants a military option whose scale and cost is limited," said Stephen Biddle, a senior defense analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) who has been involved in these exchanges as an adviser to both the White House and the Pentagon.
"The military doesn't see a limited option that will actually secure U.S. interests -- that option doesn't exist -- and so frustration sets in," he said.
Ahead lie more ambiguous conflicts where the United States has real but limited interests.
Any president will want to explore doing something limited "to avoid being criticized if they don't do something," said CFR's Biddle. But in many of these conflicts, the locals at war will have vital interests and fight brutally for their survival, as Gaddafi and his loyalists are doing in Libya.
"That inevitably puts the military in the awkward position of having to explain the difficulty of succeeding with limited force for a goal that for us is limited but for the locals is existential," Biddle explained.
2) Obama and Libya War: Criticism Grows in Poll
Gary Langer, ABC News, April 20, 2011
Disapproval of Barack Obama's handling of the situation in Libya has grown sharply in the past month, with the president facing criticism from Americans who oppose U.S. military involvement – but also from some of those who say the mission's aim is too limited.
Fifty-six percent support the U.S. military involvement overall, but many fewer, 42 percent, approve of Obama's handling of the situation. While his approval has held nearly steady, disapproval has grown by 15 points in the past month, with fewer undecided.
The disconnect relates to the mission; the poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that among Americans who support U.S. military participation, most say it should be aimed at ousting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, not just protecting civilians.
In effect, the poll divides Americans into three groups:
Forty percent of Americans oppose U.S. military participation; in this group, just 27 percent approve of Obama's handling of the situation, while 65 percent disapprove.
An additional 32 percent support U.S. involvement, but say the aim should be to remove Gadhafi from power, not only to protect civilians. Obama gets a higher approval rating for handling Libya in this group, but hardly a robust one – 49 percent.
The third and smallest group, 22 percent, supports the current policy – military involvement limited to protecting civilians. In this group Obama's approval rating for handling the situation grows to 61 percent.
Support for allied air strikes on Libya – whatever their aim – does not translate into support for an increased U.S. role in those strikes. Even among people who favor ousting Gadhafi as a goal, a relatively small group, 24 percent, says the level of U.S. military involvement in Libya should be increased.
Support for an increased U.S. role is lower still, 9 percent, among those who favor the current mission, protecting civilians. In both groups, sizable majorities say U.S. involvement should be kept about the same as it is now.
3) Bahrain's secret terror
Desperate emails speak of 'genocide' as doctors who have treated injured protesters are rounded up
Jeremy Laurance, The Independent, Thursday, 21 April 2011
The intimidation and detention of doctors treating dying and injured pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain is revealed today in a series of chilling emails obtained by The Independent.
At least 32 doctors, including surgeons, physicians, paediatricians and obstetricians, have been arrested and detained by Bahrain's police in the last month in a campaign of intimidation that runs directly counter to the Geneva Convention guaranteeing medical care to people wounded in conflict. Doctors around the world have expressed their shock and outrage.
One doctor, an intensive care specialist, was held after she was photographed weeping over a dead protester. Another was arrested in the theatre room while operating on a patient.
Many of the doctors, aged from 33 to 65, have been "disappeared" – held incommunicado or at undisclosed locations. Their families do not know where they are. Nurses, paramedics and ambulance staff have also been detained.
Emails between a Bahraini surgeon and a British colleague, seen by The Independent, describe in vivid detail the threat facing medical staff as they struggle to treat victims of the violence. They provide a glimpse of the terror and exhaustion suffered by the doctors and medical staff.
Bahraini government forces backed by Saudi Arabian troops have cracked down hard on demonstrators since the unrest began on 15 February – and the harshness of their response has now been extended to those treating the injured.
The author of the emails, a senior surgeon at the Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain's main civil hospital, was taken in for questioning at the headquarters of the interior ministry in Manama. He never re-emerged. No reason has been given for his arrest, nor has there been any news of his condition.
In a series of emails, passed on in the hope of drawing attention to the plight of he and his colleagues, the surgeon describes appalling scenes at Salmaniya hospital, with staff being threatened and detained in increasing numbers for treating injured democracy protesters.
"Interrogation committees question me about our role in treating the injured protesters, who are considered now criminal for protesting against the government," he said, shortly before being detained. "We said we were there to treat patients and have nothing to do with politics.
"I don't have good feeling about things going on in Bahrain. So many of our consultant surgeon and physician colleagues been arrested at pre-dawn raids and disappear."
On 17 February, at the start of the demonstrations, he wrote: "It has been a long day in the theatre with massively injured patients equivalent to a massacre. Things are still volatile and [I] hope there will be no more death."
By mid-March the situation had deteriorated rapidly: "Right now I am in the hospital exhausted and overwhelm by number of youth lethally injured casualty, it's genocide to our people and our hospital doctor and nurses are targeted for helping patients by pro government militia, so many doctors and nurses been physically attached for just attending injured one. ambulances smashed or targeted by military.
"I well leave know, marshal law imposed just few hours ago. I am grateful for what [name cut] taught me, it make it possible for me to help and save allot over the last days."
There followed a long silence before he wrote again: "Three weeks of hell. The military took control of the Salmaniya Hospital, doctors, nurses, paramedics and patients treated as suspects by soldiers and policemen. Daily interrogation and detention to some of our colleges." He added: "Very much intimidated and frighten."
The surgeon's British colleague said yesterday: "My friend is a very nice, very hardworking surgeon and totally apolitical. He was taken in for interrogation and hasn't been seen since.
"He and his colleagues have had a dreadful time. They have been proper doctors treating whoever turned up. His detention is appalling. Doctors are supposed to treat patients whoever they are, not locked up because they are caring for supposed dissidents."
John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: "These reports of harassment of medical staff in the ongoing unrest in Bahrain, including surgeons trained in the UK, are deeply disturbing. The protection and care of people wounded in conflict is a basic right guaranteed by the Geneva Convention and one that every doctor or medical institution should be free to fulfil."
Michael Wilks, vice-president of the British Medical Association and a former chair of the ethics committee, said: "The Geneva Convention and international medical ethical standards are absolutely clear – punishing doctors because they are perceived to be treating patients of whom the regime disapproves is completely unacceptable."
4) Pentagon Is Quiet on 'Three Cups of Tea' Questions
Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, April 20, 2011, 9:13 AM
Pentagon officials continued their silence on Tuesday about allegations against Greg Mortenson, the co-author of the best-selling "Three Cups of Tea," after a fellow best-selling author and mountaineer, Jon Krakauer, released an article on byliner.com raising his own questions about the accuracy of Mr. Mortenson's book and the management of his charity.
But Col. Christopher D. Kolenda, one of the United States military officials who first reached out to Mr. Mortenson because of the book's inspirational lessons about girls' education in Central Asia, said that Mr. Mortenson's work had been vital to the American war effort in Afghanistan.
Colonel Kolenda, who read "Three Cups of Tea" in late 2007 when his wife sent it to him while he was commanding 700 American soldiers in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, was so taken with a central lesson in the book – reaching out to the local residents – that he contacted Mr. Mortenson. By June 2008, Mr. Mortenson's Central Asia Institute had built a school near Colonel Kolenda's base, in Kunar Province, close to the border with Pakistan. Although CBS and Mr. Krakauer said that some of Mr. Mortenson's schools were empty, or did not even exist, Colonel Kolenda said that the school near his base, at least as of 2010, had students and was operating.
By 2009, Mr. Mortenson had become an unofficial adviser to the United States military in Afghanistan. That summer, Colonel Kolenda has recalled, Mr. Mortenson was in meetings in Kabul with him, village elders and at times Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then President Obama's top commander in the country.
5) How to Save a Trillion Dollars
Mark Thompson, Time Magazine, Thursday, Apr. 14, 2011
On a damp, gray morning in late February, Navy admirals, U.S. Congress members and top officials of the nation's biggest shipyard gathered in Norfolk, Va., to watch a computerized torch carve bevels into a slab of steel as thick as your fist.
The occasion: the ceremonial cutting of the first piece of a $15 billion aircraft carrier slated to weigh anchor in 2020. That ship - still unnamed - will follow the just-as-costly Gerald R. Ford, now 20% built and due to set sail in 2015.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China is putting the final touches on a new class of DF-21 missiles expressly designed to sink the Ford and its sister ship as well as their 5,000-person crews. China's missiles, which will likely cost about $10 million each, could keep the Navy's carriers so far away from Taiwan that the short-range aircraft they bear would be useless in any conflict over the tiny island's fate.
Aircraft carriers, born in the years before World War II, are increasingly obsolete platforms of war. They feature expensive manned aircraft in an age when budgets are being squeezed and less expensive drones are taking over. While the U.S. and its allies flew hundreds of attack missions against targets in coastal Libya last month, cruise missiles delivered much of the punch, and U.S. carriers were notable only for their absence. Yet the Navy, backed by the Pentagon and Congress, continues to churn them out as if it were still 1942.
"It's just tradition, the industrial base and some other old and musty arguments" that keep the shipyards building them, says Thomas Barnett, a former Pentagon deep thinker and now chief strategist at Wikistrat, a geopolitical-analysis firm. "We should scale back our carrier design to something much cheaper and simpler. Think of mother ships launching waves of cheap drones - that would actually be more frightening and intimidating." Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last year of "the growing antiship capabilities of adversaries" before asking what in Navy circles had long been the unaskable question. "Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?"
Across Washington, all sorts of people are starting to ask the unthinkable questions about long-sacred military budgets. Can the U.S. really afford more than 500 bases at home and around the world? Do the Air Force, Navy and Marines really need $400 billion in new jet fighters when their fleets of F-15s, F-16s and F-18s will give them vast air superiority for years to come? Does the Navy need 50 attack submarines when America's main enemy hides in caves? Does the Army still need 80,000 troops in Europe 66 years after the defeat of Adolf Hitler?
Numbers alone tell much of the story: we are now spending 50% more (even excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) than we did on 9/11. We are spending more on the military than we did during the Cold War, when U.S. and NATO troops stared across Germany's Fulda Gap at a real super-power foe with real tanks and thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at U.S. cities. In fact, the U.S. spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.
And yet we feel less secure. We've waged war nonstop for nearly a decade in Afghanistan - at a cost of nearly a half-trillion dollars - against a foe with no army, no navy and no air force. Back home, we are more hunkered down and buttoned up than ever as political figures (and eager defense contractors) have sounded a theme of constant vigilance against terrorists who have successfully struck only once. Partly as a consequence, we are an increasingly muscle-bound nation: we send $1 billion destroyers, with crews of 300 each, to handle five Somali pirates in a fiberglass skiff.
While the U.S.'s military spending has jumped from $1,500 per capita in 1998 to $2,700 in 2008, its NATO allies have been spending $500 per person over the same span. As long as the U.S. is overspending on its defense, it lets its allies skimp on theirs and instead pour the savings into infrastructure, education and health care. So even as U.S. taxpayers fret about their health care costs, their tax dollars are paying for a military that is subsidizing the health care of their European allies.
But $1 trillion in cuts wouldn't really be as drastic as it sounds - or as the military's no-surrender defenders insist. Such a trim would still leave the Pentagon fatter than it was before 9/11. Besides, there are vast depots of weapons that are ready for the surplus pile. The number of aircraft carriers could be cut from 11 to eight, and perhaps all could be scuttled in favor of Barnett's drone carriers. The annual purchase of two $3 billion attack submarines to maintain a 48-sub fleet as far as the periscope can see also could be scaled back. The $383 billion F-35 program really isn't required when U.S. warplanes remain the world's best and can be retooled with new engines and electronics to keep them that way. Reagan-era missile defenses and the nuclear arsenal are largely Cold War relics with little relevance today. Altogether, Congress could save close to $500 billion by smartly scaling back procurement over the next decade.
Better cloaked but just as ripe for reduction are dozens of specialized military agencies and outposts, most of which date from the Cold War and are no longer as key to our defense as they once were. The U.S. now has 17 intelligence agencies - from the well-known CIA to the well-hidden National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - generating so much "intelligence" that much of it can't even be reviewed. Each service has its own intelligence shop, plus a Defense Intelligence Agency to handle anything that might fall through the cracks. Scaling back collection and analysis to what's vital - as opposed to what is possible - could cut military intelligence budgets by more than $100 billion in the next 10 years, according to an estimate from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
Such cuts would still leave the U.S. military as the world's most potent. It would remain the lone force with global reach, given its logistical, communications and intelligence dominance. It would still be the only power able to send warships, warplanes and missiles virtually anywhere in the world at any time. A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that if they had to choose, citizens were far more willing to cut defense (55%) than Medicare (21%) or Social Security (13%).
6) Known for stance on pot, former NM Gov. Johnson readies presidential bid
Christian Heinze, The Hill, 04/20/11 06:43 AM ET
[Gary Johnson is] running for the Republican presidential nomination on a platform that calls for withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq - a position that's anathema to the party's ruling class. He also supports abortion rights and, most controversially, favors legalizing marijuana.
Johnson hasn't formally announced his 2012 intentions - he's scheduled to do so Thursday on the steps of the New Hampshire State Capitol in Concord - but he's gotten a lot of media attention, mainly because of his stance on pot.
Last year, he teamed up with singer Melissa Etheridge and actor Danny Glover for a Hollywood rally in favor of Proposition 19 - an initiative that would have legalized marijuana in California.
He also spoke at Cannabis Revival 2010, joined comedy duo Cheech and Chong at a gala for the Marijuana Policy Project and admitted to smoking medicinal marijuana for three years.
Johnson was in a near-fatal paragliding accident in 2005, in which he broke his back and some of his ribs along with blowing out his knees. He used marijuana for pain control from 2005 to 2008.
"It is what it is," he said of his stance on the issue. "From the context of 'The Emperor Wears No Clothes,' I'm the only politician that's saying the emperor is wearing no clothes. That's not such a bad deal."
His argument is that the U.S. spends far too much on its war on marijuana - both in terms of real and human capital - to justify continued prohibition. Johnson urges Republicans to apply a simple cost-benefit analysis to the issue.
"Half of what we're spending on law enforcement, the courts and prison is drug-related, and to what end?" he says.
7) War In Libya Could Drag On, Military Analysts Say
Steven Erlanger, New York Times, April 20, 2011
Paris - France and Italy said Wednesday that they would join Britain in sending liaison officers to support the rebel army in Libya, in what military analysts said was a sign that there would be no quick and easy end to the war in Libya.
The dispatching of the liaison officers - probably fewer than 40 of them, and carefully not designated as military trainers - is a sign also, they said, that only a combination of military pressure from the sky, economic pressure on the government and a better-organized and coordinated rebel force will finally convince Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi that he has no option but to quit.
"Some countries thought the Libya operation could be over quickly," said a senior NATO ambassador. "But no military commander thinks so."
Sending advisers to Libya is the latest in a series of signs of trouble for the NATO campaign, which began in earnest with a stinging, American-led attack but has seemed to fizzle since operational command was transferred to NATO on March 31. After that, a rebel offensive was smashed by Colonel Qaddafi's forces, which sent the rebels reeling toward the eastern city of Ajdabiya.
To some extent, the problems in NATO can be traced to changes since the end of the cold war. With the end of the Soviet threat and its expansion to global missions outside Europe, NATO has become less an alliance than a coalition of like-minded nations, analysts say.
"As soon as NATO went out of area it stopped being an alliance," said François Heisbourg, a defense expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. "In area, it is an unlimited liability partnership. But now with a global scope, everything must be negotiated, and it's all à la carte. That's the post-cold-war world."
Tomas Valasek, a defense expert at the London-based Center for European Reform, compared NATO to an American political party, "a coalition of countries with broadly the same interests, but with different views."
It was inevitable after the cold war, he said, that NATO countries would focus on different threats: terrorism and Afghanistan for some, like the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands; Russia, for the Central Europeans. "As for the rest," he said, "I don't even know why they stay in NATO."
The current political debate, the senior NATO ambassador said, is not about whether the Libya war will end in negotiations, but the nature and context of the talks. Some countries would like to begin negotiations with Colonel Qaddafi before he leaves power, with the clear aim that he must leave. But others, particularly the rebels, say that negotiations can begin only after the colonel and his sons are safely out of the country.
For now, Mr. Valasek said, the problem is that both Colonel Qaddafi and the NATO-supported opposition think that time is on their side. "It may take everyone longer to realize that this is as far as military force takes us. But unless we want a divided Libya, we need to sit down and negotiate."
8) Camp Ashraf Escapee Says MKO Bans Marriage, Radio, Internet
Golnaz Esfandiari, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 21, 2011
On April 19, Defense Ministry spokesman Muhammad al-Askari reportedly told a press conference in Baghdad that "three leaders of the People's Mujahedin of Iran managed to escape Camp Ashraf." He named them as "senior leader Maryam Sinjari, leader Abdul Latif Shardouri [Abdollatif Shadvari], and leader Ibrat Kikhai."
I interviewed Shadvari last week. He told me he escaped from Camp Ashraf two months ago and turned himself in to Iraqi forces. He also said some of the other residents of the camp were being held there against their will.
Former MKO members have described the group as a cult that promotes celibacy and martyrdom, takes away members' children, and uses psychological methods to pressure members and force them to remain obedient and follow orders.
The MKO has rejected the claims and accuses former members of being tools of Tehran.
Shadvari, who spoke to me from Baghdad where he said he's staying at a hotel, said he joined the MKO when he was 15 years old. Here's some of our conversation:
Persian Letters: Can you tell me something about yourself and describe how you came to join the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization?
Abdollatif Shadvari: My name is Abdollatif Shadvari, I'm from Baluchistan. I've been with this organization for 25 years. I joined the MKO from Pakistan and through a friend who has been martyred.
I haven't had any contact with my family during the [past] 25 years because there was no possibility of contacting them. My family thought I was dead. Using the telephone, mobile phone, Internet, and even listening to radio is forbidden in the organization.
During these 25 years I was under a lot of pressure and I decided to hand myself over to Iraqi forces. I did that two months ago and now I'm at a hotel. I've been in touch with the Red Cross and also with the Iraqi government. I hope to go to another country.
Persian Letters: Do you know which country you might go to? What will be your situation once you get there?
Shadvari: I'm supposed to discuss it with the Red Cross and the United Nations. The issue is, as [MKO leader Massoud] Rajavi has said many times, whoever wants to escape from Ashraf will be punished with death and execution. Not only me, but many of my friends who are now in Ashraf don't have the possibility to leave the camp. Escape is the only way.
Escaping from there requires two or three months of preparation. I thought a lot about it and planned it so I could finally escape. [MKO leaders] always tell us: "You can't enter any [other] country. Ashraf is the only place you have."
Persian Letters: Are you saying that some people are held in Ashraf against their will? They're forced to stay there?
Shadvari: Yes, many are under pressure. They're worried about their future; they don't know what will be with them. I call on the Red Cross and international organizations to talk with each of the camp residents individually. This issue must be solved and the bloodshed must be stopped.
Persian Letters: Why do you think the MKO wants to keep people in Camp Ashraf? Why don't they let those who don't want to be there go?
Shadvari: It's obvious. If people [leave Ashraf], the organization will fall apart, there won't be any Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization anymore.
Persian Letters: Are you married?
Shadvari: No. I was 15 when I joined the organization. Now I'm 40.
Persian Letters: Why didn't you get married? Was it your choice?
Shadvari: Getting married is banned in Camp Ashraf. Not only getting married, but talking to women is banned.
9) In response to Renco lobbying, activists mount their own campaign
Keenan Steiner, Sunlight Foundation, Apr 06 2011
A coalition of environmental advocates has launched a letter writing campaign directed at government officials who intervened in a dispute between Renco Group and its Doe Run Peru subsidiary and the government of Peru. The campaign came after the Sunlight Foundation reported that Renco had hired eight former government officials in less than three months to lobby on its behalf.
Two members of Congress, House Financial Services chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J., wrote letters to executive branch officials summarizing Renco Group's position in the dispute with Lima. The letters request that the U.S. government consider measures to aid the company.
Payne had his letter, which was signed by other members of Congress, published in the Congressional Record, but without the names of his co-signers. The congressman's chief of staff, LaVerne Alexander, has not supplied a copy of the letter despite repeated requests. Neither Alexander nor a spokesman for Bachus, who sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in January, responded to a request to comment for this story.
Activists have targeted Renco Group in the complex dispute, which involves an inactive metal smelter in the town of La Oroya, Peru, which the Blacksmith Institute labeled one of the ten most polluted places on earth in 2006.
The Renco Group acquired the smelter, which had been in operation since 1922, in 1997 from the Peruvian government; as part of the privatization deal, both sides agreed to take steps to clean up La Oroya. In 2009, the company suspended operations at the site, blaming the slowdown in the world economy. In July 2010, the government of Peru revoked the company's operating license.
Doe Run Peru is currently in bankruptcy proceedings in Peru, where creditors will decide whether to liquidate or restructure it within weeks, according to Business News Americas.
In its filing for arbitration in December, Doe Run Peru claimed that if its assets were expropriated, the government of Peru would be violating the U.S.-Peru free trade agreement by breaking investment agreements. The claim also stated that Peru has not fulfilled its environmental cleanup responsibilities and has not granted the company adequate extensions in time to complete its own environmental projects. The Peruvian government recently fined Doe Run Peru about $2.5 million for failing to meet some of its environmental obligations.
To press its case in Washington, the Renco Group hired five different lobbying firms in a span of less than three months; eight former government officials represent the company, including a former chief of staff of Payne's.
Activists have sought to mount their own campaign to counter Renco's efforts. Alexa Smith, who works with the hunger campaign of the Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., estimated that hundreds of letters have been sent, mostly to Secretaries Clinton and Geithner.
The coordinator of the environmental coalition, called Friends of La Oroya, is a St. Louis-based Presbyterian Rev. Elinor Stock, has been advocating for the health of people in La Oroya for almost a decade.
"Doe Run is not the victim here. The people [of La Oroya] are the most vulnerable," she said. "Doe Run is using clauses in the free trade treaties to justify the non-compliance and continued procrastination of their environmental responsibilities," she added.
Rev. Stock's concern for La Oroya hit close to home. In the early 2000s, at about the time when her church began working with a network of Peruvian groups over contamination in La Oroya, Doe Run Peru was then a subsidiary of Renco-owned Doe Run Resources, which operated a lead-producing plant in Herculaneum, Mo. Lead levels in the air were so dangerously high that residents around the plant were relocated. The company agreed to pay $65 million last year to address the situation.
10) Colombian citizens continue to be victims of demobilized AUC: OAS
Edward Fox, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 20 April 2011 14:41
The Organization of American States (OAS) expressed on Wednesday their concern over the terrorizing of Colombia's population by criminal groups comprised of formerly demobilized paramilitaries, AFP reported Wednesday.
During a meeting which saw the submission of a quarterly report by the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process (MAPP/OEA), OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza acknowledged the disappearance of the paramilitary group the AUC as "a political reality," but highlighted that the OAS is "concerned that the civilian population is still caught in the dynamics imposed by criminal groups post-demobilization."
Based on the most recent MAPP/OEA report, violence against and displacement of rural populations is said to be highest in Antioquia, Choco, Nariño and Corodba. "It remains imperative to strengthen the economic and community reintegration of villages," that are still faced with these challenges, Insulza added.
The demobilization process of the AUC, carried out from 2003-2006 under the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe, is now widely considered to have failed due to the rearming of several paramilitary fighters after the process or the lack of entrance into it in the first place by large numbers.
In February U.S. cables from 2006, leaked through the website WikiLeaks, highlighted significant failures in the Justice and Peace Law (JPL), the culmination of the demobilization process that was supposed to see all fighters hand over arms and confess to their crimes in exchange for judicial benefits.
Primary among these failures was the government's lack of offering to low and mid-level fighters of the same benefits being offered to top AUC leaders. Many of these subsequently went on to join neo-paramilitary organizations such as "Aguilas Negras," "Los Urabeños," and ERPAC.
An NGO report from March this year suggested that these criminal groups have a presence in nearly a third of Colombia. Justice and Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras has admitted that as a result of this vast presence, the groups could threaten upcoming October elections.
11) Bolivia accepts financial aid offer from US to monitor coca eradication
President Evo Morales rules out return of US agents, but says he will accept $250,000 from Washington for satellite monitoring
Rory Carroll, Guardian, Wednesday 20 April 2011 19.23 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/20/bolivia-financial-aid-us-coca
Bolivia has relaxed its hostility to US involvement in Latin America by accepting help to combat the country's growing drug trafficking problem.
President Evo Morales, an outspoken critic of Washington "imperialism", has accepted financial aid to monitor efforts to eradicate coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine. The government accepted the $250,000 offer following setbacks to its counter-narcotics program which prompted calls for a return of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Morales, an Aymara Indian and former coca grower, expelled around 30 DEA agents in 2008, claiming they were plotting against his socialist revolution. The president allowed coca cultivation to expand, arguing the Andean leaf had multiple legitimate uses. As a coca farmer in the 1980s he had been beaten by Bolivian police who tried to enforce the DEA's campaign against the crop. However, he pledged "zero tolerance" for cocaine, a chemical derivative of coca, and said Bolivia could crack down on traffickers without US help.
The effort to rehabilitate coca, considered sacred by the Incas, gained widespread international support but Bolivia's law-enforcement institutions have struggled against well-funded drug gangs. Authorities said they seized 28 tonnes of cocaine last year, more than neighbouring Peru, but the US and UN said drug trafficking was spiking.
In February the government was embarrassed when three senior police officers and the former commander of the counter-narcotics force, Rene Sanabria, were arrested on suspicion of smuggling cocaine to the US. Around 40 other Bolivian officials and agents are facing trafficking charges.
Morales has ruled out the DEA's return but this week the vice-minister of social defence, Felipe Cáceres, said the government would accept $250,000 from Washington for satellite monitoring of manual eradication of illicit coca crops.
The deal, expected to be signed this week, was part of a joint initiative with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Brazil, which will contribute $100,000 to the satellite tracking.
The minister stressed that US agents would not be returning. The deal was limited to logistical support and economic assistance and would help make Bolivia's anti-drug efforts more transparent and quantifiable. "In no way would north American personnel" be involved in interdiction and eradication, he said.
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