Just Foreign Policy News
February 25, 2010
Rachel Corrie Gets Her Day in Court
On March 10, in the Israeli city of Haifa, American peace activist Rachel Corrie will get her day in court. Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, are bringing suit against the Israeli defence ministry for Rachel’s killing by an Israeli military bulldozer in Gaza in March 2003.
Urge the NYT Public Editor to Investigate the "Kill More Civilians" op-ed
The New York Times has revealed that the author of the "mystery op-ed" denouncing the U.S. military for "overemphasis on civilian protection" in Afghanistan is employed by Booz Allen, a major Pentagon contractor. Urge New York Times’ Public Editor Clark Hoyt to investigate why this op-ed was published and why the Times did not inform readers of the author’s employment by those who stand to benefit financially from the indiscriminate use of U.S. airpower.
Support the work of Just Foreign Policy:
1) The Afghan human rights commission reported that 28 civilians had been killed so far in NATO’s offensive on Marja, AP reports. The commission based its numbers on witness reports. NATO has confirmed at least 16 civilian deaths.
2) Nearly 4,000 families have fled Marjah to nearby Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, the Los Angeles Times reports, estimating that this is about 24,000 people, nearly one-third of the town’s population. Many fled with only scant possessions, hoping the fighting would end quickly [as Western officials predicted – JFP.] For agricultural families, the great majority of the town’s residents, each passing day is a countdown to ruin.
3) A night-time raid in eastern Afghanistan in December in which eight schoolboys from one family were killed was carried out on the basis of faulty intelligence and should never have been authorised, the Times of London reports. At the time, NATO claimed the victims were involved in making and smuggling improvised explosive devices. But Western sources close to the case now agree that the victims were all aged 12 to 18 and were not involved in insurgent activity. Exactly who carried out the raid is unclear, the Times says. Mohammed Afzal, Narang’s district police chief, insisted that US special forces were involved.
4) Latin America took a historic step forward with the creation of a new regional organisation of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries from which the US and Canada were excluded, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. The increasing independence of Latin America has been one of the most important geopolitical changes over the last decade, affecting not only the region but the rest of the world as well. For example, Brazil has publicly supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium and opposed further sanctions against the country. The Obama administration’s continuation of Bush’s policies in the region undoubtedly helped spur the creation of this new organisation. The collapse of the IMF’s creditors’ cartel in the region has also eliminated the most important avenue of Washington’s influence.
5) Brazil’s President Lula denounced the UN’s failure to act on Argentina’s sovereignty dispute with Britain over the Malvinas/Falklands and blamed Britain’s permanent seat on the Security Council, Mercopress reports. Lula called again for the admission of more permanent members to the Security Council, including Brazil. 33 Latin American and Caribbean presidents condemned British drilling for oil off the islands.
6) Over $1 billion a year is leaving Afghanistan, mostly to Dubai, the Washington Post reports. The volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid. The DEA is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from the opium trade. The Post estimates that the amount of cash that left Afghanistan in 2009 may have far exceeded the country’s annual tax and other domestic revenue.
7) India and Pakistan took a "first step" toward rebuilding confidence after a meeting between high-level diplomats included discussions on terrorism, the Mumbai attacks, the disputed border region of Kashmir and competing water claims, the New York Times reports. In 2007, Indian Prime Minister Singh and former President Musharraf of Pakistan came close to an agreement on Kashmir during secret back-channel talks, but that deal was suspended when Musharraf lost power, the Times says.
8) Reporters Without Borders said Concern about political pressures on Colombian journalists as elections approach is heightened by revelations that presidential aides and intelligence officials took part in illegal spying directed at news professionals, EFE reports. Given that background, RSF said, it is fair to wonder "whether the decision by the owners of the (Colombian news-)weekly Cambio to fire its directors … and scale back its activities was due solely to economic imperatives." Besides reporting on the illegal wiretaps, Cambio exposed the criminal links of the former public prosecutor in Medellin, and "the negotiations between Washington and Bogota for the installation of seven U.S. military bases in Colombia," RSF said.
1) Afghanistan: Report On Civilian Deaths
Associated Press, February 24, 2010
The Afghan human rights commission reported Wednesday that 28 civilians had been killed so far in NATO’s offensive on the Taliban stronghold of Marja, and it urged pro-government forces to take greater care in distinguishing between noncombatants and militants. The commission based its numbers on witness reports. NATO has confirmed at least 16 civilian deaths.
2) Afghans displaced by Marja offensive fret in a cold limbo
At least 24,000 people have fled since the assault on the Taliban began. Each passing day is a countdown to ruin for farm families.
Laura King, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan – In wind-whipped tents, makeshift shelters and overcrowded family compounds, Afghans who fled the battleground town of Marja are asking themselves and one another: When will it be safe to go home?
Since the start this month of a massive assault by U.S. Marines and British and Afghan troops on the southern Afghan town, nearly 4,000 families have sought shelter in nearby Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. By the calculation generally used by aid agencies – six people per family, though many are far larger – that would add up to at least 24,000 people, nearly one-third of the town’s population.
The figure takes into account only those who have officially registered as displaced; thousands of others are thought to be undocumented. Many fled with only scant possessions, hoping the fighting that erupted Feb. 13 would end quickly. "People want to find a way to go back," said Ghulam Farooq Noorzai, who heads of the directorate of displaced people in Helmand province. "They left everything behind: homes, livestock, farms."
The Western military says residents are beginning to trickle home, which it counts as a vote of confidence in the government’s pledge to establish rule of law and restore long-vanished public services in the town, which was for years a Taliban haven.
But many of the Marja refugees are hesitating, fearful of roadside bombs, Taliban stragglers and continuing battles between insurgents and coalition troops. "People were very hopeful at first; they thought the offensive would take a few days," said Mohammed Anwar, whose 15-member clan is sharing a cold, cramped house in Lashkar Gah with four other displaced families. "But there is no hope of going back until one side or the other is in complete control."
The clashes have steadily diminished, though firefights still flare and tracts of the town remain minefields. On Wednesday, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization reported fewer engagements with insurgents over the previous 24 hours. But commanders have said that clearing operations could take another month.
For agricultural families, the great majority of the town’s residents, each passing day is a countdown to ruin. Worry beads click as farmers envision their crops dying, livestock scattered or starving, irrigation ditches choked with debris.
Still, many believe their decision to flee may have saved their lives. NATO says 16 civilians have been killed in the offensive, but the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission on Wednesday put the civilian death toll at 28, of whom 13 were children. At least 70 people have been hurt, the group said.
Although most of the displaced have access to food and at least rudimentary shelter, the privations are beginning to grate. Kinship dictates that a family must take in fleeing relatives without question. But many people in rural Helmand already live at the subsistence level, so host families and their guests alike face growing hardship.
"Most people find relatives who can at least give them one room to share, but it’s hard for both families," said Mohammad Hussain Haider, who fled Marja with his wife and five children. "It’s winter, and people ran away without warm clothing and other necessary things."
3) Nato Admits That Deaths Of 8 Boys Were A Mistake
Jerome Starkey, Times of London, February 25, 2010
Kabul – A night-time raid in eastern Afghanistan in which eight schoolboys from one family were killed was carried out on the basis of faulty intelligence and should never have been authorised, a Times investigation has found.
Ten children and teenagers died when troops stormed a remote mountain compound near the border with Pakistan in December.
At the time, Nato claimed that the assault force was targeting a "known insurgent group responsible for a series of violent attacks". Officials said that the victims were involved in making and smuggling improvised explosive devices. But Western sources close to the case now agree that the victims were all aged 12 to 18 and were not involved in insurgent activity.
Nato sources say that the raid should never have been authorised. "Knowing what we know now, it would probably not have been a justifiable attack," an official in Kabul told The Times. "We don’t now believe that we busted a major ring."
When reports of the raid first surfaced eight weeks ago, The Times contacted the police chief in Kunar province and then the boys’ head-master and uncle, Rahman Jan Ehsas.
Two men whose children and other relatives were killed agreed to come to Kabul to describe the incident. They provided pictures of their dead sons, a sketched map of the compound and copies of the compensation claim forms signed by local officials detailing their sons’ names, relatives and positions at school. Their story was supported by Western military sources.
Farooq Abdul Ajan, who lost two sons, two brothers, three nephews and a cousin in the raid, said that the soldiers had had no idea whom they were killing. Afghan investigators, local officials and MPs from the province all maintain that the boys were innocent.
Nato’s statement, issued four days after the event, said that troops were attacked "from several buildings" as they entered the village. Yesterday it said that "ultimately, we did determine this to be a civilian casualty incident".
Anger is growing over civilian casualties. General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander, has warned that Nato risks "strategic defeat" by causing civilian deaths. The Independent Human Rights Commission said that more than 63 civilians had died in the past two weeks, including 27 killed when US special forces ordered an airstrike on a convoy of minibuses in the central Daikundi province.
[…] Exactly who carried out the Narang raid is unclear. Colonel Gross said that US forces were present but did not lead the operation. Nato insists that the troops were not part of the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf). US forces based in Kunar denied any knowledge of the raid.
Senior Western officers have hinted that the "trigger pullers" were Afghan; the Afghan Defence Ministry said its troops were not involved. Mohammed Afzal, Narang’s district police chief, insisted that US special forces were involved. Assadullah Wafa, who led an Afghan investigation into the incident, said that relatives would get $2,000 compensation for each person killed.
4) Latin America’s path to independence
With the creation of a new regional organisation, Latin America is emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Thursday 25 February 2010 19.10 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/feb/25/latin-america-independence
Latin America took another historic step forward this week with the creation of a new regional organisation of 32 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The United States and Canada were excluded.
The increasing independence of Latin America has been one of the most important geopolitical changes over the last decade, affecting not only the region but the rest of the world as well. For example, Brazil has publicly supported Iran’s right to enrich uranium and opposed further sanctions against the country. Latin America, once under the control of the United States, is increasingly emerging as a power bloc with its own interests and agenda.
The Obama administration’s continuation of former President Bush’s policies in the region undoubtedly helped spur the creation of this new organisation, provisionally named the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. Most importantly, the Obama team’s ambivalence toward the military coup that overthrew the democratic government of President Mel Zelaya in Honduras last summer provoked deep resentment and distrust throughout the region.
[…] The differences underlying the need for a new organisation were clear in the statements and declarations that took place in the Unity Summit, held in Cancun from 22-23 February. The summit issued a strong statement backing Argentina in its dispute with the UK over the Malvinas (as they are called in Argentina) or Falklands Islands. The dispute, which dates back to the 19th century and led to a war in 1982, has become more prominent lately as the UK has unilaterally decided to explore for oil offshore the islands. President Lula da Silva of Brazil called for the United Nations to take a more active role in resolving the dispute. And the summit condemned the US embargo against Cuba.
These and other measures would be difficult or impossible to pass in the OAS. Furthermore, the OAS has long been manipulated by the United States, as from 2000 when it was used to help build support for the coup that overthrew Haiti’s elected president. And most recently, the US and Canada blocked the OAS from taking stronger measures against the Honduran dictatorship last year.
Meanwhile, in Washington foreign policy circles, it is getting increasingly more difficult to maintain the worn-out fiction that the US’s differences with the region are a legacy of President Bush’s "lack of involvement," or to blame a few leftist trouble-makers like Bolivia, Nicaragua, and of course the dreaded Venezuela. It seems to have gone unnoticed that Brazil has taken the same positions as Venezuela and Bolivia on Iran and other foreign policy issues, and has strongly supported Chávez. Perhaps the leadership of Mexico – a rightwing government that was one of the Bush administration’s few allies in the region – in establishing this new organisation will stimulate some rethinking.
There are structural reasons for this process of increasing independence to continue, even if – and this is not on the horizon – a new government in Washington were to someday move away from its cold war redux approach to the region. The US has become increasingly less important as a trading partner for the region, especially since the recent recession as our trade deficit has shrunk. The region also increasingly has other sources of investment capital. The collapse of the IMF’s creditors’ cartel in the region has also eliminated the most important avenue of Washington’s influence.
The new organisation is sorely needed. The Honduran coup was a threat to democracy in the entire region, as it encouraged other rightwing militaries and their allies to think that they might drag Latin America back to the days when the local elite, with Washington’s help, could overturn the will of the electorate. An organisation without the US and Canada will be more capable of defending democracy, as well as economic and social progress in the region when it is under attack. It will also have a positive influence in helping to create a more multipolar world internationally.
5) Brazil’s Lula da Silva blasts UN Security Council and Britain
Brazilian president Lula da Silva condemned on Tuesday the United Nations Organization (UN) and its Security Council for not recognizing Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.
Wednesday, February 24th 2010 – 06:15 UTC http://en.mercopress.com/2010/02/24/brazil-s-lula-da-silva-blasts-us-security-council-and-britain
Lula da Silva was making a speech at the Unity Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean, which ended Tuesday. "Our attitude is one of solidarity with Argentina," said the Brazilian president adding the question: "What is the geographical, political and economic explanation for England to be in the Malvinas?"
"What is the explanation for the United Nations never having that decision? It is not possible that Argentina is not the owner while England is, despite being 14,000 km away."
For the Brazilian leader the reason this happens is the fact that Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council. He used the occasion to once again call for the admission of more members to the council, increasing its representativeness. Brazil wants to be one of the new members. "Is it possible that Britain can do everything and while others can do nothing?" Lula da Silva went on. "We need to start pushing so that the UN Secretary reopens this debate." UN Security Council members respect international rulings "only when they are functional to their own interests", he emphasized.
The 33 presidents present in Cancun, including Lula da Silva, signed a document supporting the Argentine position, recognizing Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Falklands and condemning the current oil drilling round by British companies.
Argentina has upped the pressure on the UK in the dispute over the South Atlantic islands by decreeing that all maritime navigation in Argentine territorial waters, or between Argentina and the Islands, must receive prior authorization. This occurs just as Desire Petroleum begun to drill for oil in the north Falkland basin. The decree is expected to make any such exploration activities and logistics more expensive and difficult.
6) An Afghan Exodus, Of Bank Notes
Officials puzzle over millions of dollars leaving Afghanistan by plane for Dubai
Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, Thursday, February 25, 2010; A10
Kabul – A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan – often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport – as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money’s origin.
The cash, estimated to total well over $1 billion a year, flows mostly to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their families and funds, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. So long as departing cash is declared at the airport here, its transfer is legal.
But at a time when the United States and its allies are spending billions of dollars to prop up the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, the volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, for its part, is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. And officials in neighboring Pakistan think that at least some of the cash leaving Kabul has been smuggled overland from Pakistan.
"All this money magically appears from nowhere," said a U.S. official who monitors Afghanistan’s growing role as a hub for cash transfers to Dubai, which has six flights a day to and from Kabul.
Meanwhile, the United States is stepping up efforts to stop money flow in the other direction – into Afghanistan and Pakistan in support of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Senior Treasury Department officials visited Kabul this month to discuss the cash flows and other issues relating to this country’s infant, often chaotic financial sector.
Tracking Afghan exchanges has long been made difficult by the widespread use of traditional money-moving outfits, known as "hawalas," which keep few records. The Afghan central bank, supported by U.S. Treasury advisers, is trying to get a grip on them by licensing their operations.
In the meantime, the money continues to flow. Cash declaration forms filed at Kabul International Airport and reviewed by The Washington Post show that Afghan passengers took more than $180 million to Dubai during a two-month period starting in July. If that rate held for the entire year, the amount of cash that left Afghanistan in 2009 would have far exceeded the country’s annual tax and other domestic revenue of about $875 million.
[…] Cash also can be moved easily through a VIP section at the airport, from which Afghan officials generally leave without being searched. American officials said that they have repeatedly raised the issue of special treatment for VIPs at the Kabul airport with the Afghan government but that they have made no headway.
[…] The high volume of cash passing through Kabul’s airport first came to light last summer when British company Global Strategies Group, which has an airport security contract, started filing reports on the money transfers at the request of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, the domestic intelligence agency. The country’s notoriously corrupt police force, however, complained about this arrangement, and Global stopped its reporting in September, according to someone familiar with the matter.
[…] Efforts to figure out just how much money is leaving Afghanistan and why have been hampered by a lack of cooperation from Dubai, complained Afghan and U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Dubai’s financial problems, said a U.S. official, had left the emirate eager for foreign cash, and "they don’t seem to care where it comes from."
7) In ‘First Step,’ India and Pakistan Resume Talks
Jim Yardley, New York Times, February 25, 2010
New Delhi – India and Pakistan took a "first step" toward rebuilding confidence on Thursday after a wide-ranging meeting between high-level diplomats of both countries that included discussions on terrorism, the Mumbai attacks, the disputed border region of Kashmir and competing water claims.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao of India described the meeting with her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir, as a useful discussion, saying it would be premature to restart broader bilateral discussions but adding that the two sides had agreed to keep talking informally.
[…] Few analysts had expected any breakthroughs from the meeting, which had been framed as a small step in restarting diplomacy between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
India broke off the formal "composite dialogue" after the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which left at least 163 people dead. For months, India refused to resume dialogue on the ground that Pakistan was not aggressively pursuing those responsible for the attacks and had done too little to confront domestic terrorist groups that focus on India.
In her comments, Ms. Rao said she restated Indian concerns about terrorist groups operating inside Pakistan, presenting three dossiers of new information related to the Mumbai attacks. She also prodded Pakistan to take action against Hafiz Saeed, the leader of an Islamic charity closely linked to the banned militant group, Lakshar-e-Taiba, which has been accused of orchestrating the Mumbai assault.
At his own news conference, Mr. Bashir said Pakistan was aggressively prosecuting several individuals implicated in the attacks, but that a Pakistan court had found insufficient evidence against Mr. Saeed. He added, "Hafiz Saeed does not speak for the people of Pakistan." Mr. Bashir expressed exasperation with Indian depictions of Pakistan as an "epicenter" for breeding terrorism, describing his country instead as a victim of terrorist groups.
He said that 5,366 Pakistani civilians have died in terror attacks since 2008, adding that Pakistan has cooperated in recent American antiterrorism efforts. "We don’t like to be sermoned on the issue of terrorism," he told reporters. "We are doing our very best. Please understand. Please look at this thing in a more objective manner."
For his part, Mr. Bashir concurred that terrorism was a major issue between the nations. But he described the longstanding territorial disputes in Kashmir as the "core issue" and also said that he presented documentation outlining Pakistani concerns over water rights.
The meeting on Thursday represented a political gamble for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, who has searched for a way to bring the two countries back to the negotiating table, despite stiff political resistance at home. Analysts say Mr. Singh pushed forward the meeting partly because of the judgment that not talking had failed to bring any progress or results.
In 2007, Mr. Singh and former President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan came close to an agreement on Kashmir during secret back-channel talks, but that deal was suspended when Mr. Musharraf lost power.
8) Group Denounces Pressure on Colombian Journalists
EFE, February 23, 2010
Paris – Concern about political pressures on Colombian journalists as elections approach is heightened by revelations that presidential aides and intelligence officials took part in illegal spying directed at judges, opposition politicians and news professionals, Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday.
Given that background, Paris-based RSF said, it is fair to wonder "whether the decision by the owners of the (Colombian news-)weekly Cambio to fire its directors … and scale back its activities was due solely to economic imperatives," as the publishers said.
Besides reporting on the illegal wiretaps, Cambio exposed the criminal links of the former public prosecutor in Medellin, home town of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and "the negotiations between Washington and Bogota for the installation of seven U.S. military bases in Colombia," RSF said in a statement.
RSF spoke out a day after a former chief of Colombia’s DAS spy agency testified at his trial that he passed along illegally gathered intelligence to the president’s office.
The press freedom watchdog said the revelations "are likely to have a major impact on the presidential elections" set for May 30, in which Uribe may seek a third four-year term.
Cambio’s publisher, Casa Editorial El Tiempo, whose majority shareholder is Spain’s Grupo Planeta, announced Feb. 3 that the magazine will become a monthly publication with a focus on soft news, entertainment and tourism.
CEET President Luis Fernando Santos said after the announcement was made that the drastic overhaul was due to financial losses, but the decision sparked suspicion and criticism.
"Those of us who work in the media know the reasons weren’t just economic and that the closing down of Cambio had to do more with the toes they stepped on with their journalistic investigations and their denunciations than with the lack of a (viable) model," Maria Jimena Duzan, a columnist for Colombia’s No. 1 newsweekly Semana, said.
"The other people who must be pleased with the shuttering of Cambio are the Spanish owners of El Tiempo. It’s clear that they don’t want their media outlets scurrying around like rodents looking for scandals under the rocks at a time when they’re looking to become the licensee of the third (Colombian national television) channel," Duzan added.
She was referring to the fact that Planeta is to be one of the bidders for the channel in an upcoming public auction.
Just Foreign Policy
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.