Just Foreign Policy News
April 20, 2010
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Urge Congress to End the War in Afghanistan
Urge your representatives to support the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill for a timetable for military withdrawal.
If we can get 100 co-sponsors in the House in the next few weeks, we may able to get a vote on a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental.
Current co-sponsors in the House: Capuano; Conyers; DeFazio; Delahunt; Duncan; Farr; Harman; Hirono; Johnson, Timothy; Jones, Walter; Kucinich; Lee, Barbara; Lujan, Ben Ray; Moran, James; Nadler, Jerrold; Pingree, Chellie; Schrader, Kurt; Serrano, Jose; Slaughter, Louise; Welch; Woolsey.
Current co-sponsors in the Senate: none. [!]
Peace Action: Talk with Rep. McGovern about ending the war in Afghanistan
You’re invited to talk with Rep. Jim McGovern, Wednesday, April 21, 8:00 – 9:00 PM Eastern.
Highlights of the House Afghanistan Debate
1) 94 percent of Kandaharis interviewed last December prefer negotiating with the Taliban to military confrontation, Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service. Ninety-one percent supported the convening of a "Loya Jirga", or "grand assembly" of leaders as a way of ending the conflict. Interviewers conducted the survey only in areas which were not under Taliban control. An unclassified report on the survey was published in March by Glevum Associates, a "strategic communications" company under contract for the Human Terrain Systems program in Afghanistan. All this undermines the U.S. claim that the Kandahar offensive will be supported by locals, Porter notes.
2) Defense Secretary Gates warned in a memo to White House officials that the US does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, the New York Times reports. The NYT says that many government and outside analysts consider it likely Iran would choose to assemble components needed for a nuclear weapon without actually building one, while remaining a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
3) Gates and other Administration officials pushed back against the NYT report, the Washington Post reports. Gates said the NYT article "mischaracterized [the memo’s] purpose and content" when it suggested Gates has despaired that the administration lacked a strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
4) Admiral Mullen said military options existed to try to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but that diplomatic efforts were the best way forward now, Reuters reports. Mullen suggested that accepting that Iran would achieve a "nuclear weapons capability," as some advocate, would have unintended consequences. [Some interpreted Mullen’s remarks as establishing an equivalence between the "unintended consequences" of accepting an Iranian "nuclear weapons capability" and the "unintended consequences" of a U.S. military attack on Iran – which equivalence might actually be a step forward for U.S. policy – JFP.]
5) Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security said three Italian aid workers who were freed on Sunday after being arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill a provincial governor are not guilty, Reuters reports. [Earlier, some Afghan officials claimed that the Italians had "confessed" to a role in the alleged plot – JFP.]
6) In a letter to the Washington Post, ACLU director Anthony Romero faults the Post for endorsing "a program of targeted killing under which the executive branch has unilateral authority to hunt and kill individuals … anywhere in the world." The program is unlawful, Romero writes. The U.S. program is clearly not limited to imminent threats. We have seen the government detain men as "terrorists," only to discover the evidence was weak, wrong or nonexistent; this should lead us to reject a program that would invest executive officials with the authority to effectively impose death sentences on U.S. citizens and others far from any battlefield without charge or trial, Romero writes.
7) Nonviolent activists in Gaza protesting the Israeli-imposed "buffer zone" are attempting to replicate the West Bank village of Bil’in’s success in drawing international attention to their plight, reports Ashley Bates from Gaza. People of all political stripes are welcome at the demonstrations, which now occur five days per week at border areas across Gaza. Every demonstrator must not bring weapons and must commit to non-violence.
8) Senators say $6 billion has been spent training Afghan police since 2002 while achieving essentially nothing, ProPublica reports. "It’s obvious that Afghanistan is not going to be able to afford what we’re building for them," Senator McCaskill said.
9) An Iraqi court ordered a partial recount of votes in last month’s national election, the New York Times reports. The recount could affect the determination of which party received a plurality, and therefore, according to some interpretations of Iraqi law, which party gets the first chance to try to form a government.
10) Iraqi officials say hundreds of Sunni men disappeared for months into a secret prison under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Maliki, where many were routinely tortured until the country’s Human Rights Ministry gained access to the facility, the Los Angeles Times reports. Maliki vowed to shut down the prison and ordered the arrest of the officers working there after Human Rights Minister Wijdan Salim presented him with a report this month.
11) Colombia has been unable to significantly alleviate the misery that helps fuel a 46-year-old conflict and the drug trafficking behind it, the Washington Post reports. Colombia has received $7.3 billion in U.S. aid since 2000; economic output more than doubled since 2002; foreign investment is the fourth-highest in Latin America. But Colombia is the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between rich and poor has increased in recent years; more than 60 percent of rural Colombians remain poor.
1) Ninety-Four Percent of Kandaharis Want Peace Talks, Not War
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, April 18
Washington – An opinion survey of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province funded by the U.S. Army has revealed that 94 percent of respondents support negotiating with the Taliban over military confrontation with the insurgent group and 85 percent regard the Taliban as "our Afghan brothers".
The survey, conducted by a private U.S. contractor last December, covered Kandahar City and other districts in the province into which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is planning to introduce more troops in the biggest operation of the entire war. Those districts include Arghandab, Zhari, rural Kandahar and Panjwayi. Afghan interviewers conducted the survey only in areas which were not under Taliban control.
The decisive rejection of the use of foreign troops against the Taliban by the population in Kandahar casts further doubt on the fundamental premise of the Kandahar campaign, scheduled to begin in June, that the population and tribal elders in those districts would welcome a U.S.-NATO troop presence to expel the Taliban. That assumption was dealt a serious blow at a meeting on Apr. 4 at which tribal elders from all over Kandahar told President Hamid Karzai they were not happy with the planned military operation.
An unclassified report on the opinion survey was published in March by Glevum Associates, a Washington-based "strategic communications" company under contract for the Human Terrain Systems programme in Afghanistan. A link to the report was first provided by the website Danger Room which reported the survey Apr. 16.
Ninety-one percent of the respondents supported the convening of a "Loya Jirga", or "grand assembly" of leaders as a way of ending the conflict, with 54 percent "strongly" supporting it, and 37 percent "somewhat" supporting it. That figure appears to reflect support for President Karzai’s proposal for a "peace Jirga" in which the Taliban would be invited to participate.
The degree to which the population in the districts where McChrystal plans to send troops rejects military confrontation and believes in a peaceful negotiated settlement is suggested by a revealing vignette recounted by Time magazine’s Joe Klein in the Apr. 15 issue.
Klein accompanied U.S. Army Captain Jeremiah Ellis when he visited a 17-year-old boy in Zhari district whose house Ellis wanted to use an observation post. When Ellis asked the boy how he thought the war would end, he answered, "Whenever you guys get out from here, things will get better. The elders will sit down with the Taliban, and the Taliban will lay down their arms."
The Kandahar offensive seems likely to dramatise the contrast between the U.S. insistence on a military approach to the Taliban control of large parts of southern Afghanistan and the overwhelming preference of the Pashtun population for initiating peace negotiations with the Taliban as Karzai has proposed.
Ironically, highlighting that contradiction in the coming months could encourage President Barack Obama to support Karzai’s effort to begin negotiations with the Taliban now rather than waiting until mid-2011, as the U.S. military has been advocating since last December.
Obama told a meeting of his "war cabinet" last month that it might be time to start negotiations with the Taliban, but Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have opposed any move toward negotiations until Gen. McChrystal is able to demonstrate clear success in weakening the Taliban.
The Taliban ruling council has taken advantage of the recent evidence of contradictions between Pashtuns in Kandahar and the U.S. military over the Kandahar offensive by signaling in an interview with The Sunday Times of London that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is prepared to engage in "sincere and honest" talks.
In a meeting in an unidentified Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan reported Sunday, two Taliban officials told the newspaper that Omar’s aims were now limited to the return of sharia (Islamic law), the expulsion of foreigners and the restoration of security. It was the first major signal of interest in negotiations since the arrest of Mullah Omar’s second in command, Mullah Baradar, in late January.
The report of the Glevum survey revealed that more people in Kandahar regard checkpoints maintained by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) and ANA and ANP vehicles as the biggest threat to their security while traveling than identified either Taliban roadside bombs or Taliban checkpoints as the main threat.
Fifty-eight percent of the respondents in the survey said the biggest threat to their security while traveling were the ANA and ANP checkpoints on the road, and 56 percent said ANA/ANP vehicles were the biggest threat. Only 44 percent identified roadside bombs as the biggest threat – the same percentage of respondents who regard convoys of the International Security Assistance Force ‘ the NATO command under Gen. McChrystal – as the primary threat to their security. Only 37 percent of the respondents regarded Taliban checkpoints as the main threat to their security.
In Kandahar City, the main target of the coming U.S. military offensive in Kandahar, the gap between perceptions of threats to travel security from government forces and from the Taliban is even wider.
Sixty-five percent of the respondents in Kandahar City said they regard ANA/ANP checkpoints as the main threat to their security, whereas roadside bombs are the main problem for 42 percent of the respondents.
The survey supports the U.S. military’s suspicion that the transgressions of local officials of the Afghan government, who are linked mainly to President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the Kandahar province council and the main warlord in the province, have pushed the population into the arms of the Taliban.
An overwhelming 84 percent of the respondents agreed that corruption is the main cause of the conflict, and two-thirds agreed that government corruption "makes us look elsewhere". That language used in the questionnaire was obviously intended to allow respondents to hint that they were supporting the Taliban insurgents in response to the corruption, without saying so explicitly.
More than half the respondents (53 percent) endorsed the statement that the Taliban are "incorruptible".
"Corruption" is a term that is often understood to include not only demands for payments for services and passage through checkpoints but violence by police against innocent civilians. The form of government corruption that has been exploited most successfully by the Taliban in Kandahar is the threat to destroy opium crops if the farmers do not pay a large bribe. The survey did not ask any questions about opium growing and Afghan attitudes toward the government and the Taliban, although that was one of the key questions that Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the head of intelligence for Gen. McChrystal, had sought clarification of.
2) Gates Says U.S. Lacks a Policy to Thwart Iran
David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, New York Times, April 17, 2010
Washington – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.
Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.
Officials familiar with the memo’s contents would describe only portions dealing with strategy and policy, and not sections that apparently dealt with secret operations against Iran, or how to deal with Persian Gulf allies.
One senior official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the memo, described the document as "a wake-up call." But White House officials dispute that view, insisting that for 15 months they had been conducting detailed planning for many possible outcomes regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: "On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies – we do."
But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon – fuel, designs and detonators – but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.
In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a "virtual" nuclear weapons state.
3) Gates Says Memo On Iran Was Not Sounding Alarm
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Monday, April 19, 2010; A02
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged Sunday that in January he sent a memo to the White House outlining the "next steps in our defense planning process" for Iran. But, in a statement issued by his press secretary, Gates said that a New York Times article that revealed the existence of the memo "mischaracterized its purpose and content" when it suggested Gates has despaired that the administration lacked a strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran has refused to abide by international demands to halt enriching uranium, saying it is not developing a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration initially tried to engage Iran but has now spent months pressing for a new round of U.N. Security Council sanctions on the Islamic republic. "The memo was not intended as a ‘wake up call’ or received as such by the President’s national security team," Gates said. "Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process."
The White House had also pushed back hard against the story when it was posted on the Times Web site Saturday night. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said: "It is absolutely false that any memo touched off a reassessment of our options. The administration has been planning for all contingencies regarding Iran for many months."
Various other officials, while acknowledging privately that Gates has sent some sort of memo on Iran, declined to discuss its content but suggested it was not an earth-shattering moment in the administration’s Iran discussions.
"I think there is less here than meets the eye," a senior administration official said Sunday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "We do have a strategy that emerges from the Nuclear Posture Review and will be seen at the review conference" of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in May. "We will strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and expect countries to abide by their obligations."
Still, the story had received wide attention online and on television, and the administration apparently believed Gates had to address the issue. "There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries that the United States is properly and energetically focused on this question and prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests," Gates said. Obama’s opponent in the 2008 presidential race, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), seized on news of the memo to charge that the administration lacks "a coherent policy" on Iran.
4) Pentagon’s Mullen: diplomacy first in options on Iran
Adam Entous, Reuters, Sunday, April 18, 2010; 3:21 PM
New York – The nation’s top military officer said on Sunday that military options existed to try to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but that diplomatic efforts were the best way forward now. "We in the Pentagon, we plan for contingencies all the time and certainly there are options which exist" for dealing with the Iran nuclear threat militarily, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a forum at Columbia University in New York.
He said that his "worry about Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability" is that other states in the region will seek nuclear arms of their own. "There are those that say, ‘Come on, Mullen, get over that. They’re going to get it. Let’s deal with it,’" Mullen said.
"Well, dealing with it has unintended consequences that I don’t think we’ve all thought through. I worry that other countries in the region will then seek to, actually, I know they will, seek nuclear weapons as well. That spiral headed in that direction is a very bad outcome."
But he added: "I worry, on the other hand, about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences of that."
"The diplomatic, the engagement piece, the sanctions piece, all those things, from my perspective, need to be addressed to possibly have Iran change its mind about where it’s headed."
5) Afghanistan says Italian aid workers not guilty
Jonathon Burch, Reuters, Sunday, April 18, 2010; 11:46 AM
Kabul – Three Italian aid workers who were freed on Sunday after being arrested in Afghanistan on suspicion of plotting to kill a provincial governor are not guilty, the country’s intelligence agency said.
In a statement released to the media on Sunday, the National Directorate of Security said its investigation showed the three Italians were "not guilty" and "had been handed over to the Italian authorities."
6) The U.S. does not have an indiscriminate power to kill
Anthony D. Romero, letter to the Washington Post, Monday, April 19, 2010; A14
[Romero is executive director of the ACLU – JFP.]
The Post endorses a program of targeted killing under which the executive branch has unilateral authority to hunt and kill individuals – including U.S. citizens – anywhere in the world ["In defense of drones," editorial, April 13].
The program is unlawful. Lethal force may be used outside armed-conflict zones only when there is an imminent threat of deadly attack – and, even then, only if nonlethal means such as arrest are truly not feasible. The program you endorse – under which names are added to a kill list after a secret bureaucratic process and remain there for months – is clearly not limited to imminent threats and is far more sweeping than the law allows.
Over the past eight years, we have seen the government over and over again detain men as "terrorists," only to discover later that the evidence was weak, wrong or nonexistent. This experience should lead us to reject out of hand a program that would invest executive officials with the authority to effectively impose death sentences on U.S. citizens and others far from any battlefield without charge or trial.
7) Nonviolence in Gaza
The Leader of Gaza’s New Wave of Bil’in-Inspired Demonstrations
Ashley Bates, Dispatches from Gaza, April 6, 2010
In August of last year, I observed the weekly protest in Bi’lin, a West Bank village where the security fence under construction by Israel separates farmers from their land. As they had every Friday for more than three years, Palestinians, left-wing Israelis and international activists marched towards the fence. Kids at the front of the group threw stones at the Israeli tanks, who replied with tear gas, skunk canons and rubber bullets. It was a sobering and unpleasant experience, but I never feared for my life.
Bil’in is one of the few places in the Palestinian territories where protesters have won victories in the Israeli courts. In September of 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court decided that the wall created "undue hardship" in Bil’in and must be rerouted. The IDF began carrying out the court’s demands last month, but declared Bil’in a "closed military zone" and forbad internationals from entering Bil’in on Fridays.
Today I observed a Bil’in-inspired demonstration the buffer zone near Beit Lahiya-but instead of skunk canons and tear gas, Israeli troops immediately fired live ammunition to disperse the 100 or so Palestinians and ISM activists. No one was injured and the gunfire was aimed at the ground, but it was a terrifying experience. Protests like this have happened every week for the past two months and are attracting a growing number of participants from across Gaza.
I shared lunch with the organizer of the protests, Saber Al-Zaaneen, his wife and three young children. Mr. Zaaneen, a self-declared "left-winger" chose a gigantic picture of Che Guevara as the central decoration in his living room. (Most Gazans chose a picture of Yasser Arafat or Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the quadriplegic founder of Hamas.) He said he admired Guevara for "starting an international revolution against oppression."
[…] In July of 2008, Apache helicopters dropped fliers (see picture) warning Palestinians that they were not permitted to go within 300 meters of the border. Mr. Zaaneen knew that Israeli soldiers had shot at people and destroyed farms and houses within one kilometer of the border. Feeling that Israel would continue encroaching unless Palestinians resisted, he began organizing non-violent direct actions in the buffer zones, such as accompanying farmers as they tended their fields and searching for bodies of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops and left to rot.
During and after the Gaza War, Mr. Zaaneen dropped his plans for larger-scale demonstrations. However, he was inspired by developments in Bil’in. "I wanted to experiment with that strategy in Gaza," he said. "The strength of these demonstrations is that they attract international activists and journalists to see what’s really happening."
On January 9 of this year, a new flier arrived from the Apache helicopters telling Palestinians not to go within 800 meters of the border. This reenergized Mr. Zaaneen because he "wanted to send a message to Israel that this is Palestinian land and the farmers are not leaving. They bring money only from working the soil." He visited universities and community organizations, and ultimately rallied a broad base of support. The transportation expenses and equipment are funded by private individuals; he receives no money from Fateh or Hamas.
People of all political stripes are welcome at his demonstrations, which now occur five days per week at border areas across Gaza. He calls his organization the Local Initiative Against the Buffer Zone. Every demonstrator must not bring weapons and must commit to non-violence. "I don’t resist because I want to die," he said. "I resist because I want freedom, land, education, opportunities, no occupation. This is the message of our movement. We want the whole world to know why the Palestinian people resist."
8) Senators Call for Changes to Troubled, Costly Afghan Police Training Program
Ryan Knutson, ProPublica, April 15, 2010
State and Defense department officials took a tongue-lashing today, trying to explain to a Senate subcommittee how the government has poured $6 billion since 2002 into building an effective Afghan police force with disastrous results.
ProPublica and Newsweek examined the problems with police training in Afghanistan in a story published last month. The program, managed under a contract with DynCorp International, has faced challenges on every front, from recruitment to inadequate training periods to corruption to poor officer retention.
"Everything that could go wrong here, has gone wrong," Gordon S. Heddell, the inspector general of the Department of Defense, acknowledged to an ad hoc subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Heddell’s office, along with the State Department’s Inspector General, completed a six-month audit in January of the program that found significant lapses.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the subcommittee chair, and others on the panel were less interested in rehashing the program’s well-known shortcomings and more interested in hearing about solutions. "What you laid out was a problem we knew in 2001," said Sen. Edward Kaufman, D-Del., in response to comments from Heddell. "What are the two or three things you can spend $6 billion on and not end up with essentially nothing?"
[…] Even if the program makes headway, some senators questioned whether it would be sustainable without a massive ongoing commitment from U.S. taxpayers. The Afghan police and army are slated to receive $11.6 billion to fund their operations for 2011, with just over half going to the police, Sedney said. McCaskill pointed out that’s only $2 billion less than the entire country’s Gross Domestic Product.
"It’s obvious that Afghanistan is not going to be able to afford what we’re building for them," she said. The U.S. has made a "billion-dollar commitment for years to come."
9) Iraqi Court Sets Partial Recount In Tight Election
Steven Lee Myers and Tim Arango, New York Times, April 19, 2010
Baghdad – An Iraqi court on Monday ordered a partial recount of votes in last month’s national election, deepening the political turmoil that many here feared could turn violent when the United States begins to withdraw most of its combat troops this summer.
The ruling was a victory for Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who is struggling to make the case for remaining in office for a second term, even though the electoral bloc he led came in second place.
[…] While the recount is limited, so far, to the province that includes Baghdad, it could upend the narrow two-seat national victory of the largely secular coalition led by a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi.
The region accounts for more than one-fifth of the 12 million Iraqis who voted in March and 70 of the 325 lawmakers who will serve in the new Parliament, meaning that any significant change in the count could prove decisive.
Mr. Maliki, whose coalition won 89 seats, compared with 91 for Mr. Allawi’s, filed a series of legal challenges that led to the court’s ruling, complaining that the results announced nearly a month ago did not reflect the true will of the people.
[…] A change in the number of seats could decide who has the first crack at being chosen when the Parliament finally meets. Acting on an inquiry from Mr. Maliki, Iraq’s highest court ruled last month that the largest coalition in the newest Parliament had the right to form the government, not necessarily the one that won the most seats on its own.
The recount is expected to take at least a week, according to the country’s election commission. Officials said it was still considering more complaints of ballot irregularities and could order recounts in other regions as well.
The election commission, as well as United Nations officials, had previously said there was no procedure for conducting a manual recount. In calling for one, Mr. Maliki’s bloc cited irregularities like improperly signed voting forms and altered tally sheets that party officials complained affected 750,000 votes.
The court’s ruling raised the expectations of other parties with grievances, including the Kurdish alliance, which appealed to the court to review votes in two divided northern provinces, Nineveh and Kirkuk. "It is an easy process and not as complicated as the electoral commission made it out to be," said Jaafar Ibrahim Eninky, an alliance leader.
10) Secret prison revealed in Baghdad
Forces under the office of Prime Minister Maliki held hundreds of Sunni men at the facility. The U.S. fears that the news will stoke instability.
Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2010
Baghdad – Hundreds of Sunni men disappeared for months into a secret Baghdad prison under the jurisdiction of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s military office, where many were routinely tortured until the country’s Human Rights Ministry gained access to the facility, Iraqi officials say.
The men were detained by the Iraqi army in October in sweeps targeting Sunni groups in Nineveh province, a stronghold of the group Al Qaeda in Iraq and other militants in the north. The provincial governor alleged at the time that ordinary citizens had been detained as well, often without a warrant.
Worried that courts would order the detainees’ release, security forces obtained a court order and transferred them to Baghdad, where they were held in isolation. Human rights officials learned of the facility in March from family members searching for missing relatives.
Revelation of the secret prison could worsen tensions at a highly sensitive moment in Iraq. As U.S. troops are withdrawing, Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, and other political officials are negotiating the formation of a new government. Including minority Sunni Arabs is considered by many to be key to preventing a return of widespread sectarian violence. Already there has been an increase in attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni extremist group.
The alleged brutal treatment of prisoners at the facility raised concerns that the country could drift back to its authoritarian past.
Commanders initially resisted efforts to inspect the prison but relented and allowed visits by two teams of inspectors, including Human Rights Minister Wijdan Salim. Inspectors said they found that the 431 prisoners had been subjected to appalling conditions and quoted prisoners as saying that one of them, a former colonel in President Saddam Hussein’s army, had died in January as a result of torture.
"More than 100 were tortured. There were a lot of marks on their bodies," said an Iraqi official familiar with the inspections. "They beat people, they used electricity. They suffocated them with plastic bags, and different methods."
An internal U.S. Embassy report quotes Salim as saying that prisoners had told her they were handcuffed for three to four hours at a time in stress positions or sodomized. "One prisoner told her that he had been raped on a daily basis, another showed her his undergarments, which were entirely bloodstained," the memo reads.
[…] Maliki vowed to shut down the prison and ordered the arrest of the officers working there after Salim presented him with a report this month. Since then, 75 detainees have been freed and an additional 275 transferred to regular jails, Iraqi officials said. Maliki said in an interview that he had been unaware of the abuses. He said the prisoners had been sent to Baghdad because of concerns about corruption in Mosul. "The prime minister cannot be responsible for all the behavior of his soldiers and staff," said Salim, praising Maliki’s willingness to root out abuses. Salim, a Chaldean Christian, ran for parliament in last month’s elections on Maliki’s Shiite-dominated list.
[…] But Maliki’s critics say the network of special military units with their own investigative judges and interrogators are a threat to Iraq’s fragile democracy. They question how Maliki could not have known what was going on at the facility, and say that regardless, he is responsible for what happened there.
11) Despite billions in U.S. aid, Colombia struggles to reduce poverty
Juan Forero, Washington Post, Monday, April 19, 2010; A09
Algarrobo, Colombia – Eight years after President Álvaro Uribe took office and began harnessing billions in U.S. aid dollars to pummel Marxist guerrillas, Colombia is safer for this country’s 45 million people and for the foreign investors who have flocked here.
But stubbornly high levels of poverty expose a harsh reality: Despite better security and strong economic growth, Colombia has been unable to significantly alleviate the misery that helps fuel a 46-year-old conflict and the drug trafficking behind it.
What social scientists here call lackluster results in fighting poverty have become a campaign issue ahead of May elections, in which Colombian voters will elect a president to succeed Uribe, Washington’s closest ally on the continent. Unless a 43 percent poverty rate can be steadily reduced, experts on the conflict contend, Colombia could regress even as the United States continues to provide military assistance.
"There is not only significant poverty, but some of the poverty is stunning in its extreme," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who has traveled extensively in Colombia since 2001. "It really is at the root of so much of the unrest that occurs."
That poverty, and Colombia’s big gap between rich and poor, is particularly evident in towns along the Caribbean coast, such as this community of dirt roads and forlorn farms. Here in Algarrobo (population 12,000), a wealthy and influential family, the Dávilas, received $1 million in grants through an Agriculture Ministry program that provided tens of millions of dollars to affluent farmers nationwide. Critics here say it made no difference that the Davilas own one of the most productive and lucrative oil-producing palm groves for miles.
The subsistence farmers in the surrounding countryside, meanwhile, have remained desperately poor, among the millions of rural Colombians left behind even as Latin America has grown richer in the last decade’s commodities boom. Those farmers, scratching out a living in a stretch of northern savannah that fired the imagination of the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel García Márquez, said they received nothing from the state. "To the contrary, they charged me taxes," said Beatriz Mesa, 44, who recently gave up farming.
The disclosures about subsidies to the Davilas and other families, first revealed by Cambio magazine in October, have touched off a sometimes-bitter debate over whether the Uribe administration has governed for the rich or for the poor. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether wealthy landowners defrauded the subsidy program.
To its supporters in Washington, and to investors the world over, the Colombian government touts its success in delivering blows to a guerrilla movement that once seemed invincible, an effort carried out with $7.3 billion in U.S. aid since 2000. The economy has since flourished, more than doubling output since 2002, when Uribe took office. Foreign investment in Colombia is the fourth-highest in Latin America.
The other Colombia is one of rising inequality, the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between rich and poor has increased in recent years, according to a report by the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America. The percentage of Colombians who are indigent also rose, from 20.2 percent in 2007 to nearly 23 percent in 2008, nearly double the region’s average.
The guerrilla conflict, meanwhile, has uprooted 5 million people in 25 years and has helped ensure that more than 60 percent of rural Colombians remain poor, according to Ricardo Bonilla, an expert on poverty at Bogota’s National University.
The number of Colombians in poverty did fall from 51 percent in 2002 to nearly 43 percent in 2008, according to the Economic Commission, but the contrast with big Latin neighbors is sharp. In Brazil, more than 32 million have joined the middle class since 2003, and in Peru poverty fell from 55 percent in 2002 to 36.2 percent six years later.
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