Just Foreign Policy News
February 16, 2010
Team America Kills Kids in Marja
Five Afghan children were killed by a U.S. rocket in Marjah. "Civilian casualties are inevitable," said U.S. officials before launching their weekend military assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, and in this case, they were telling the truth.
Urge President Obama and Congress to comply with their obligation to protect civilians under the laws of war.
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1) At least nineteen civilians have been killed so far in the US/NATO offensive in Marjah, Democracy Now reports. DN interviewed Wall Street Journal reporter Anand Gopal, who says the assault in Marjah is perceived as a "show of force" by coalition forces that will change little. Gopal says it’s very difficult for reporters to get to Marjah; almost all the reporters who are there are embedded reporters, so they’re only seeing one side of the story; and we won’t know for some time if there are many more cases of civilian deaths.
2) The Italian medical NGO "Emergency" charged that dozens of seriously injured civilian victims of the Marjah offensive were unable to be transferred to hospitals due to military blockades impeding vehicles transporting injured victims. At least six victims died because their evacuation was hindered, Emergency said. Emergency called for a humanitarian route to be opened in order to guarantee assistance to the wounded.
3) Twelve Afghan civilians died Sunday after two U.S. rockets mistakenly hit a house, "a loss of life that is likely to seriously undermine the operation and the American-led mission in the country," McClatchy reported. [Even today’s press carried conflicting accounts of whether the building was hit accidentally or on purpose, with the WSJ citing McChrystal that the building was hit on purpose but that it wasn’t known that civilians were there, and the LAT citing NATO that a US rocket hit the building by mistake – JFP.] The large number of deaths in a single incident calls into question the approach to the operation to take Marjah town, and provides easy propaganda points to the Taliban enemy, McClatchy says.
4) A NATO airstrike killed five civilians in Kandahar, the Guardian reported.
5) US officials’ claims that the US missile strike in Marja [NYT spelling – JFP] that killed at least 11 civilians on Sunday hit the intended target did not match accounts from Marines and other witnesses on the ground, Dexter Filkins [embedded with US forces – JFP] reports for the New York Times. The Marine company commander said that he and his men were startled by the missile strike, of which they had no prior warning.
6) Congressman Brian Baird said the US should break Israel’s blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies to UN aid agencies by sea, AP reports. Baird urged Mideast envoy to visit Gaza to get a firsthand look at the destruction caused by Israeli’s military offensive last year.
7) The Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured by Pakistani intelligence in Karachi, the New York Times reports. The participation of Pakistan’s spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan’s leaders, the Times says. Western and Afghan officials have described Mullah Baradar as one of the Taliban’s most approachable leaders, and the one most ready to negotiate with the Afghan government. Mediators who have worked to resolve kidnappings and other serious issues have often approached the Taliban leadership through him.
8) Iraq’s election commission announced that most of the 515 candidates disqualified from next month’s parliamentary elections would remain off the ballot, the New York Times reports. The decision left US and other foreign diplomats fearing that the elections would not be viewed as entirely legitimate.
9) Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem face eviction as a long legal battle nears its end in the Israeli courts, the Washington Post reports. The evictions have drawn protests from the Obama administration, the UN and others, all arguing that any change in the status quo of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods undermines prospects for a peace deal.
10) Israel began rerouting part of its West Bank barrier near Bilin, Reuters reports. An Israeli official said the rerouting was in response to a High Court petition filed against the project in 2007 by Palestinian landowners whose land was seized for the project.
11) Israel’s former top general said Israel may lack the military means for successful strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, Reuters reports.
12) The Lebanese army said its troops used anti-aircraft fire Sunday to force Israeli warplanes out of Lebanese airspace, AP reports. Israeli warplanes frequently fly over Lebanese territory.
13) A report by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law calls on the U.S. government to give Colombian authorities access to extradited drug lords for their own criminal investigations of atrocities against trade unionists and other civilians. Defendants in U.S. custody include the top commanders of Colombia’s most powerful paramilitary group, which morphed into a powerful drug-trafficking network that massacred, forcibly disappeared, and tortured thousands of civilians.
1) Civilian Casualties Mount During US Offensive in Afghanistan
Anand Gopal/Amy Goodman, Democracy Now, February 16, 2010
In Afghanistan, thousands of US and NATO forces have entered the fourth day of a major offensive in Marjah in southern Helmand province. At least nineteen civilians have been killed so far, including six children who died when a missile struck their house on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, the Italian NGO Emergency says that dozens of seriously injured civilians are being prevented from reaching hospitals in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, due to military blockades. We speak to Wall Street Journal reporter Anand Gopal in Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: In Afghanistan, thousands of US and NATO forces have entered the fourth day of a major offensive in southern Helmand province. The assault, which is billed as an attempt to remove the Taliban from the city of Marjah, is one of the largest military offensives of the eight-year war. At least nineteen civilians have been killed so far, including six children who died when a missile struck their house on the outskirts of the city.
Meanwhile, the Italian NGO Emergency says dozens of seriously injured civilians are being prevented from reaching hospitals in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, due to military blockades. Emergency said six victims died because their evacuation was hindered and denounced what it called "severe war crimes" by Allied forces.
While US and NATO troops were reportedly targeted with heavy gunfire, sniper fire and improvised explosive devices today, the military claims most of Marjah is under their control. Many members of the Taliban are believed to have fled into Pakistan after the US warned the attack on Marjah was imminent. Many residents have also fled to nearby towns. A spokesman for the governor of Helmand said nearly a thousand displaced families had arrived in Lashkar Gah.
We go now to Afghanistan to speak with Wall Street Journal reporter Anand Gopal. He joins us on the line from Kabul.
[…] AMY GOODMAN: And what about this charge of the Italian medical aid group Emergency, who said that residents who were trying to leave were stopped by blockades, by US-NATO forces, and those-some of those that died died as a result of not being able to get out?
ANAND GOPAL: Yeah, we think that these people that the NGO is referring to were one of the twelve people that were killed in a rocket attack a couple of days ago. This was an errant rocket that hit a house, killing everybody inside, including a number of children. And then, many locals in the area, both in Marjah and in other parts of the province, have complained that the military forces haven’t let them to move around. Military says that’s because insurgents are leaving the area and fleeing to Pakistan, so they’ve put an almost complete halt on a lot of the movement there.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is the response around Afghanistan in places like where you are right now, in Kabul, to this assault on Marjah?
ANAND GOPAL: Well, you know, it’s interesting, because Marjah isn’t a particularly strategic place or even a place that holds any really strategic value. It’s a very tiny town in the Helmand province. The official estimate is around 80,000, but I think a lot of Afghans and I also think that’s a huge overestimate. And so, it’s more seen as a show of force by the coalition forces, something they can offer their home audiences of how they’ve gone into a village and retaken some Taliban. But beyond that, nothing will really change on the ground, regardless of what happens in Marjah. And that’s sort of what’s informing the reaction around the country, where people are seeing this more as business as usual and not of, you know, being [inaudible] to the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Anand Gopal, the latest news on the Taliban leader who the US and NATO forces say has been captured, though the Taliban are refusing to admit this, the top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan, and his significance?
ANAND GOPAL: Well, Mullah Baradar, he’s the day-to-day leader of the Taliban. Mullah Omar, who’s the supreme leader, is in hiding and has very little contact with the rest of the movement. So Mullah Baradar is the person who’s actually in charge of the day-to-day activities of the movement. So, if it’s true that he actually has been captured, then it’s pretty significant a development. He would be the highest-ranking Taliban member ever captured by US or Pakistani forces.
And he’s somebody who had a lot of influence over the movement, but he’s also somebody who is seen, by some circles, as one of the more moderate elements of the Taliban. He is behind a Taliban rule book, for example, that had come out a couple years ago, which asked Taliban fighters to try to limit civilian casualties from happening. So it’s an interesting question whether his capture could actually help coalition forces’ efforts or in fact do the opposite and actually pave the way for an even more extreme leader to come and take his place.
[…] But the difficult thing in understanding what’s happening there [in Marjah] is that we know at least twelve people were killed, but it’s very difficult for reporters to get to Marjah. Almost all the reporters who are there are the embedded reporters, so they’re only seeing one side of the story. And we won’t know for some time yet if these are the only cases or if there are many more.
2) Nobel Peace and Criminals of War
Emergency (Italian medical NGO in Afghanistan), February 14th
Since yesterday, the Surgical Centre run by the Italian Ngo EMERGENCY in Lashkar-gah, in southern Afghanistan, has been anticipating the arrival of victims of the bombings carried out by anglo-american forces, that for two days now have been targeting the village of Marjah, located about 50 km southwest of the capital of Helmand province.
Our staff has been notified that dozens of seriously injured civilian victims are unable to be transferred to hospitals due to military blockades which are impeding vehicles transporting injured victims. As of this morning, six victims died because their evacuation was hindered. Among the few who were able to reach the EMERGENCY Surgical Centre was a 7 year old boy with a bullet wound to the chest and who immediately underwent surgery.
EMERGENCY denounces these severe war crimes perpetrated by the international coalition of forces led by the United States, and calls for a humanitarian route be opened in order to guarantee immediate assistance to the wounded.
[…] Afghanistan: From Lashkar-gah
Said Rahman arrived at Emergency’s hospital in Lashkar-gah on February 14th.
A bullet had shot him in the middle of his chest, early in the morning, while he was in his garden.
He wasn’t patrolling the area, he wasn’t fighting, he wasn’t pointing at anybody.
Said Rahman didn’t even see where the bullet was coming from, this bullet that is still in his body and that smashed into his right lung.
He only felt a strong burning sensation and then the pain made him faint.
They took him up to Lashkar-gah, quite unstable but with his brand-new teddy bear, a present from democracy.
He looked as if he had a hump, for all the blood that had gathered on his back.
He was operated immediately, they put him two thoracic drains, almost bigger than him.
Because he’s seven years old. Seven.
This is one of the "great military operations", the greatest.
– Matteo, medical coordinator, Lashkar-gah
3) Errant Rockets Kill 12 Civilians in Afghan Offensive
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers, Sun, Feb. 14, 2010
Kabul – Twelve Afghan civilians died Sunday after two U.S. rockets mistakenly hit a house during the much-trumpeted offensive to clear the last Taliban stronghold in Helmand province, a loss of life that is likely to seriously undermine the operation and the American-led mission in the country.
The use of the rockets has been suspended pending a "thorough review" of the incident, the joint military command said in a statement.
An Afghan soldier and an unidentified member of the NATO force were injured in the firefight that preceded the rocket attack. No details on injuries among the civilians were released.
After managing to avoid civilian casualties on the first day of the operation, which was declared a success, Sunday _ Day Two _ brought disaster. A Marine unit embedded with Afghan soldiers, which came under sustained fire from two directions, called in heavy munitions known as a Himars, which are rockets fired from a truck. The rockets landed some 300 yards off target in the Nad Ali district.
"We deeply regret this tragic loss of life," said Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. general who leads international forces in Afghanistan. "The current operation in Central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It’s regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost."
McChrystal also apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for what he called the "unfortunate incident."
The new U.S. strategy for quelling the insurgency and stabilizing Afghanistan calls for minimizing civilian casualties and minimizing the use of force. The large number of deaths in a single incident calls into question the approach to the operation to take Marjah town, and provides easy propaganda points to the Taliban enemy.
4) Five civilians killed in Nato rocket attack in Afghanistan
Incident follows death of 12 civilians after stray Nato rockets were fired in Helmand yesterday
James Meikle, Declan Walsh and Stephen Bates, Guardian, Monday 15 February 2010 20.00 GMT
A Nato airstrike against suspected insurgents has killed five civilians in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan today. A Nato statement said a joint patrol of Nato and Afghan troops saw individuals digging along a path in the Zhari district of Kandahar province today and mistakenly concluded that they were planting an improvised explosive device. Two civilians were also wounded in the strike.
[…] Earlier today, the head of Britain’s armed forces admitted that the killing of 12 Afghan civilians yesterday was "a very serious setback" to military operations against the Taliban.
5) Half Of Town’s Taliban Flee Or Are Killed, Allies Say
Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 16, 2010
Nad Ali, Afghanistan – As heavy fighting in the insurgent stronghold of Marja carried into its third day, the number of Taliban fighters in the area has dropped by about half, American and Afghan commanders said Monday.
[…] There were conflicting accounts of a missile strike that killed at least 11 civilians on Sunday. American officials said they had in fact hit the target they intended, a description that did not match accounts from Marines and other witnesses on the ground.
NATO officials said Monday that eight Afghan civilians were killed and three wounded in four separate episodes, three of them inside the area where the Marja operation was unfolding. Three civilians were killed in Marja: one in cross-fire during a gun battle and two others who were shot when they did not heed warnings from NATO and Afghan forces to keep their distance.
Also Monday, five civilians were killed and two were wounded in an airstrike in Zhari, a district in neighboring Kandahar Province. A patrol of Afghan and NATO forces spotted a group of residents digging a ditch on the roadside, and they mistook them for insurgents planting a bomb. They called in an airstrike.
The heavy civilian toll highlighted the stressful and confusing nature of the fighting, especially in Marja, and of the difficulties inherent in conducting military operations in a guerrilla war, where insurgents can hide easily among the population.
[…] The missile strike in Marja on Sunday remained shrouded in mystery, despite attempts to clarify what had happened.
An American rocket fired into a mud-walled compound during a firefight killed at least 11 people. After the strike, the American military said the rocket had struck the wrong house and apologized for the civilian loss of life.
On Monday, however, American officers said that the rocket, fired from miles away, had in fact hit the compound it was intended to hit. American Marines were taking fire from that compound, officers said, so the compound was attacked. They did not realize that there were civilians inside. "The rocket hit the house that we wanted it to hit," an American officer said at a briefing the briefing with General McChrystal and Mr. Wardak. "We didn’t know there were civilians there."
But that explanation did not square with accounts from Marines on the ground. The Marine company commander said that he and his men were startled by the missile strike, of which they had no prior warning. Earlier in the day, the company commander said, he had requested a rocket to be launched at a building next to the one that was eventually hit, from which the Marines were taking small-arms fire. The permission was denied, he said.
6) Congressman says US should break Gaza blockade
Associated Press, Monday, February 15, 2010; 12:58 AM
Gaza City, Gaza Strip – The United States should break Israel’s blockade of Gaza and deliver badly needed supplies by sea, a U.S. congressman told Gaza students. Rep. Brian Baird, a Democrat from Washington state, also urged President Barack Obama’s Mideast envoy to visit the Hamas-ruled territory to get a firsthand look at the destruction caused by Israeli’s military offensive last year.
[…] Israel and Egypt have restricted access to Gaza since Hamas’ victory in parliament elections in 2006 and tightened the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel allows humanitarian supplies and food into Gaza, but has kept out cement and other building supplies needed for reconstruction. Israel argues such materials could be diverted by Hamas for military use.
Baird, who has announced his retirement from Congress, told a group of Gaza students Sunday evening that the U.S. should not condone the blockade. "We ought to bring roll-on, roll-off ships and roll them right to the beach and bring the relief supplies in, in our version of the Berlin airlift," he said, adding that the supplies could be delivered to U.N. aid agencies.
7) Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander
Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 16, 2010
Washington – The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.
The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.
[…] Details of the raid remain murky, but officials said that it had been carried out by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and that C.I.A. operatives had accompanied the Pakistanis.
[…] The participation of Pakistan’s spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan’s leaders, who have been ambivalent about American efforts to crush the Taliban. Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan – as they have quietly done for years – without endangering themselves. Indeed, American officials have speculated that Pakistani security officials could have picked up Mullah Baradar long ago.
The officials said that Pakistan was leading the interrogation of Mullah Baradar, but that Americans were also involved. The conditions of the questioning are unclear. In its first week in office, the Obama administration banned harsh interrogations like waterboarding by Americans, but the Pakistanis have long been known to subject prisoners to brutal questioning.
[…] Western and Afghan officials familiar with the workings of the Taliban’s leadership have described Mullah Baradar as one of the Taliban’s most approachable leaders, and the one most ready to negotiate with the Afghan government. Mediators who have worked to resolve kidnappings and other serious issues have often approached the Taliban leadership through him.
8) Candidates To Stay Off Ballot In Iraq
Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, February 14, 2010
Baghdad – Iraq’s election commission announced on Saturday that most of the 515 candidates disqualified from next month’s parliamentary elections would in fact remain off the ballot because of accusations that they retained links to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.
The announcement came after a month of political turmoil, threats, an appeals court reversal and backroom negotiations among the country’s political leaders and its chief justice that prompted complaints of political interference in what is supposed to be an independent judiciary.
The decision left Iraq where it was when the issue unexpectedly surfaced in January: with Sunni candidates fuming about injustice and American and other foreign diplomats fearing that the elections would not be viewed as entirely legitimate.
"It has become clear to Iraqis that this political campaign is a fake," one of those barred, Saleh al-Mutlaq, said ahead of the announcement in an interview on Arabiya, a private television station based in the United Arab Emirates. "The international community should not recognize any government that emerges from it."
Mr. Mutlaq, a member of Parliament since 2006, held the No. 2 spot on the ballot of Iraqiya, a secular coalition of Sunnis and Shiites that has emerged as a strong rival of the election bloc led by Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The No. 3 candidate on the Iraqiya list, Dhafir al-Ani, was also barred from running.
[…] "We have seen an almost total reversal of the position of the special appeals court within less than one week, suggesting that considerable political pressure has been brought to bear on its members as they tried to navigate the utter legal chaos that is the Iraqi de-Baathification process," Reider Visser of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs wrote on historiae.org, a blog that follows Iraqi politics.
In the end, the appeals court reversed the disqualification of only 26 candidates, according to the chairman of Iraq’s election commission, Faraj al-Haidari. Another 145 were rejected. The rest of the initial 515 did not appeal or were replaced by their parties with other candidates. "As far as we know," Mr. Haidari said, the court’s decision "is final."
[…] The Baath Party dominated Mr. Hussein’s government for decades as the Communist Party once dominated the Soviet Union, with membership required for government jobs and the most advanced education.
Mr. Mutlaq, for example, was an agronomist and a member of the Baath Party until he was expelled in 1977. Mr. Ani, a former political science professor at Baghdad University who has served in Parliament for nearly four years, complained in a telephone interview that he still did not know what evidence the commission cited to justify his disqualification as a Baathist.
9) In East Jerusalem, a defining battle over Palestinian ownership in Sheikh Jarrah
Howard Schneider, Washington Post, Sunday, February 14, 2010; A19
Jerusalem – The small Palestinian community in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem began as an experiment by the United Nations after Israel was created in 1948 – an effort to keep 28 families out of refugee camps by providing them with homes of their own. But the promised property titles were never delivered, and more than a half-century later, with the original dwellings expanded into multi-family, multi-generational compounds, the residents face eviction as a long legal battle nears its end in the Israeli courts.
The fight is in many ways a defining one in the debate over Jerusalem, as Palestinians try to hold on to Arab neighborhoods to establish a future capital and Israel asserts its jurisdiction over the entire city – including Arab areas it captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a step not recognized by the international community.
The dispute in Sheikh Jarrah is ostensibly over ownership. Two Jewish groups say they owned the land there before Israel was created and have succeeded in forcing the removal of some Palestinian families for nonpayment of rent. But the larger stakes are well understood as Jewish residents move into the emptied apartments of the small but centrally located Arab neighborhood.
[…] The evictions in Sheikh Jarrah have drawn protests from the Obama administration, the United Nations and others, all arguing that any change in the status quo of Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods undermines prospects for a peace deal.
On a citywide scale, the stakes do not seem so momentous, involving just a few acres of land and a few dozen families. Jerusalem’s Arab population as a percentage of the city’s total is about 35 percent and climbing – in seeming contradiction to charges that Israeli policies are "Judaizing" the city.
Some of the most populous Arab neighborhoods, however, are far from the areas around Jerusalem’s Old City that Palestinians regard as the anchor of their presence.
The current municipal boundaries, greatly expanded by Israel’s annexation of land after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, extend almost to Ramallah in the north and Bethlehem in the south, hubs of Palestinian life in the occupied West Bank. Those borders include thousands of homes hived off behind the West Bank barrier that Israel erected in recent years, accessible only through a military checkpoint.
10) Israel moves West Bank barrier at flashpoint village
Ismael Khader, Reuters, Friday, February 12, 2010; 11:31 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/12/AR2010021202059.html
Bilin, West Bank – Israel began rerouting part of its West Bank barrier near a flashpoint Palestinian village on Friday after a top court heard residents’ complaints over land seizures for the controversial project.
While Israeli surveyors prepared the new fence outside Bilin, Palestinians and foreign sympathizers demonstrated nearby, vowing not to abandon their fight against a barrier condemned internationally for taking in occupied territory.
An Israeli official said the Bilin work was the culmination of a process begun with a High Court petition filed against the project in 2007 by local Palestinian landowners.
11) Israel general doubts power to hit Iran atom sites
Dan Williams, Reuters, Saturday, February 13, 2010; 2:34 PM
Jerusalem – Israel may lack the military means for successful preemptive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, its former top general said on Saturday.
While endorsing international efforts to pressure Tehran into curbing sensitive nuclear technologies, Israel has hinted it could resort to force. But some analysts say Israeli jets would be stymied by the distance to Iran and by its defenses. Asked in a television interview about Israeli leaders’ vows to "take care" of the perceived threat, ex-general Dan Halutz, who stepped down as armed forces chief in 2007, said: "We are taking upon ourselves a task that is bigger than us."
"I think that the State of Israel should not take it upon itself to be the flag-bearer of the entire Western world in the face of the Iranian threat," Halutz, whose previous military post was as air force commander, told Channel Two. "I’m not some passer-by … I’ve filled a few positions that give me a different level of information to the average person," he said without elaborating.
12) Lebanese troops open fire on Israeli warplanes
Associated Press, Sunday, February 14, 2010; 2:05 PM
Beirut – Lebanese troops opened fire Sunday on four Israeli warplanes that flew into Lebanese airspace, the army said.
Israeli warplanes frequently fly over Lebanese territory in what Israel says are reconnaissance missions. The overflights have been a constant source of friction between the two countries. Sunday’s incident comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East following some of the sharpest exchanges in years between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Last week, Syria’s foreign minister accused Israel of "spreading an atmosphere of war" in the region after Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that the stalled peace process with Syria could result in an all-out regional war.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that its troops used anti-aircraft fire Sunday to force the Israeli warplanes out of Lebanese airspace. The army said the planes were in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley in central Lebanon.
13) New report calls on US to cooperate with Colombian probes of mass atrocities, corruption
International Human Rights Law Clinic, UC Berkeley School of Law, February 16, 2010
Berkeley, CA – Colombian drug lords extradited to the United States must be held accountable for their role in the mass atrocities that have devastated their country, according to a new report, Truth behind Bars: Colombian Paramilitary Leaders in U.S. Custody. The report, by the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley School of Law, calls on the U.S. government to give Colombian authorities access to these extradited drug lords for their own criminal investigations. By supporting Colombia’s human rights probes, the U.S. may help bring an end to that country’s cycle of violence, according to the report.
The defendants in U.S. custody include the top commanders of Colombia’s most powerful paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), formed decades ago to fight left-wing guerrillas. The group morphed into a powerful drug-trafficking network that massacred, forcibly disappeared, and tortured thousands of civilians, according to Colombian law enforcement. The U.S. has extradited 30 AUC members on drug-related charges.
As part of their efforts to seize control of land and drug routes, extradited paramilitary leaders allegedly targeted trade unionists and other civilians whom they perceived as threats. Before extradition, the AUC leaders had begun to disclose information about these and other crimes as part of a Colombian demobilization program. It offered legal leniency and public benefits to any paramilitary member in exchange for an agreement to disarm, forfeit assets, and confess. The leaders’ testimony soon revealed not only details about mass atrocities, but also of political corruption, rigged elections, and collusion with elected and military officials.
The disclosures led to criminal investigations of high-level politicians. However, since the U.S. extraditions, the paramilitary leaders’ cooperation with Colombian investigators has effectively stopped.
"U.S. policymakers have a moral and legal responsibility to cooperate with Colombian law enforcement to solve these horrific crimes," said Roxanna Altholz, associate director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic. "The paramilitary leaders in U.S. custody are seeking agreements with the Department of Justice in order to lower their sentences," she said. "It is up to U.S. government prosecutors and courts to incentivize them to talk about the murders, kidnappings, and disappearances committed in Colombia."
The plea agreements that are publicly available between the Department of Justice and extradited defendants do not contain incentives for them to cooperate with Colombian law enforcement or to reveal the details of their human rights crimes. Frustrated by blocked investigations, Colombia’s Supreme Court has halted future extraditions of demobilized paramilitaries to the United States, undermining U.S. counternarcotics efforts.
[…] Truth Behind Bars recommends that the U.S. reform its policies and practices regarding criminal prosecutions of extradited Colombian paramilitaries by taking the following steps:
– Create an effective procedure for judicial cooperation with Colombia. Provide timely, consistent, and reliable access by Colombian prosecutors, judges, and victims to extradited paramilitary commanders. Share information obtained by U.S. law enforcement from extradited paramilitaries.
– Incentivize extradited paramilitary leaders to disclose details about all their crimes and reveal the identities of their accomplices in the Colombian military, government, and national and foreign businesses. Condition sentence reductions or other benefits achieved through plea-bargaining on effective cooperation.
– Initiate investigations for torture committed by paramilitary leaders in U.S. custody.
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