Just Foreign Policy News
June 7, 2010
Live Virtual Brown Bag with Stephen Kinzer
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Al Jazeera Video: Israel Takes The Rachel Corrie
Israel blocks cement shipment from entering Gaza
Israel refused to allow 500 tons of cement transported by the Rachel Corrie into Gaza.
Tristan Anderson comes home
After more than a year in a Tel Aviv hospital, activist and photo-journalist Tristan Anderson has returned to California. Tristan was critically injured when he was shot in the head at close range with a high-velocity tear gas canister at the Israeli Separation Wall on March 13, 2009, while taking photos following a demonstration against the apartheid wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin.
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1) Israel has become a "strategic liability" for the U.S., suggests Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cordesman adds the attack on the Turkish ship to a series of "major strategic blunders," by Israel. [Cordesman and CSIS are impeccably "hyper-centrist," so this is a good sign – JFP.]
2) Not only is the U.S. funding both sides in the Afghan civil war, but US and Afghan investigators suspect that some US security contractors are faking and staging attacks to drum up business, the New York Times reports. "It would be my expectation that people might create their own demand," said the commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan.
3) Writing in the Washington Post, Turkey’s ambassador to the US says Israel should apologize, agree to an international investigation, and lift the siege of Gaza. The Turkish public is stunned, in part, because Turkey has been a strong ally of Israel.
4) Two Lebanese organizations announced Saturday they plan to send an aid vessel of their own to Gaza as early as next weekend, Ynet reports. A representative of Reporters without Borders said "the ship will leave the Beirut coast on the weekend with 50 journalists and 25 European activists, including several European parliament members."
5) The German-Jewish organization Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East is preparing a Jewish flotilla to Gaza, Ynetnews reports. "We intend to leave around July," a member of the group said. The activists are frightened, she said, but not by Hamas. "Jews have been to Gaza in the past, and they were treated in a friendly manner," Kate Leitrer said. Edith Lutz, a German Jewish member of the organization, said she took part in the Free Gaza flotilla two years ago, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told her that Hamas has nothing against Jews or Israel, only against the occupation.
6) Amnesty International said a US cruise missile carrying cluster bombs was behind a December attack in Yemen that killed 55 people, most of them civilians, AFP reports. A local official had said 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed "indiscriminately."
7) The US has asked Israel to investigate an incident in which an Israeli-American woman from Maryland lost an eye after Israeli forces shot her with a tear gas canister during a protest in Jerusalem, AP reports. Emily Henochowicz’s mother demanded a "full and transparent investigation from the Israeli government," as well as an apology. Sarit Michaeli, of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, said police and soldiers often fire tear gas canisters directly at people.
8) More than 6,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, Haaretz reports.
9) Turkey’s Chief Rabbi slammed Israel over the raid, Ynetnews reports. The rabbi praised Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who he said was making a clear distinction between the State of Israel and the Jews of his country and ensuring their safety.
10) Egyptian authorities said the Rafah border crossing to Gaza would remain open indefinitely, amid a storm of international criticism of the blockade, Haaretz reports. Egypt opened its Rafah crossing last week to allow aid convoys into the strip. A security source in Egypt said a partial lifting of the blockade was in sight. But the source said this would not solve problems such as a lack of infrastructure in Gaza.
11) Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline, the London Sunday Times reported. Some of the cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in the Israeli arsenal. "The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran," said a navy officer.
12) Afghan President Karzai ordered a review of all cases of suspected insurgents in jails in Afghanistan and called for the release of those being held without sufficient evidence, Retuers reports. The declaration is being viewed as Karzai’s first step toward implementing one of several recommendations made at a peace conference last week aimed at bringing an end to the war. While it was not immediately clear whether the Afghan government would review detainees held at U.S. prisons and other foreign military bases in the country, NATO’s top civilian spokesman said they would cooperate with the government. Last week the first four Afghan detainees at U.S. Bagram prison appeared before an Afghan judge. The detainees were given defense lawyers for the first time and were read their charges by an Afghan prosecutor. Previously, prisoners at Bagram did not have lawyers or trials.
1) Israel as a Strategic Liability?
Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Jun 2, 2010
America’s ties to Israel are not based primarily on U.S. strategic interests. At the best of times, an Israeli government that pursues the path to peace provides some intelligence, some minor advances in military technology, and a potential source of stabilizing military power that could help Arab states like Jordan. Even then, however, any actual Israeli military intervention in an Arab state could prove as destabilizing as beneficial.
[…] At the same time, the depth of America’s moral commitment does not justify or excuse actions by an Israeli government that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset. It does not mean that the United States should extend support to an Israeli government when that government fails to credibly pursue peace with its neighbors. It does not mean that the United States has the slightest interest in supporting Israeli settlements in the West Bank, or that the United States should take a hard-line position on Jerusalem that would effectively make it a Jewish rather than a mixed city. It does not mean that the United States should be passive when Israel makes a series of major strategic blunders-such as persisting in the strategic bombing of Lebanon during the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, escalating its attack on Gaza long after it had achieved its key objectives, embarrassing the U.S. president by announcing the expansion of Israeli building programs in east Jerusalem at a critical moment in U.S. efforts to put Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, or sending commandos to seize a Turkish ship in a horribly mismanaged effort to halt the "peace flotilla" going to Gaza.
It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews. This does not mean taking a single action that undercuts Israeli security, but it does mean realizing that Israel should show enough discretion to reflect the fact that it is a tertiary U.S. strategic interest in a complex and demanding world.
Israel’s government should act on the understanding that the long-term nature of the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship will depend on Israel clearly and actively seeking peace with the Palestinians – the kind of peace that is in Israel’s own strategic interests. Israelis should understand that the United States opposes expansion and retention of its settlements and its efforts to push Palestinians out of greater Jerusalem. Israeli governments should plan Israeli military actions that make it clear that Israel will use force only to the level actually required, that carefully consider humanitarian issues from the start, and that have a clear post-combat plan of action to limit the political and strategic impact of its use of force. And Israel should not conduct a high-risk attack on Iran in the face of the clear U.S. "red light" from both the Bush and Obama administrations. Israel should be sensitive to the fact that its actions directly affect U.S. strategic interests in the Arab and Muslim worlds, and it must be as sensitive to U.S. strategic concerns as the United States is to those of Israel.
The United States does not need unnecessary problems in one of the most troubled parts of the world, particularly when Israeli actions take a form that does not serve Israel’s own strategic interests. This Israeli government in particular needs to realize that as strong as U.S.-Israel ties may be, it is time to return to the kind of strategic realism exemplified by leaders like Yitzhak Rabin. No aspect of what happened this week off the coast of Gaza can be blamed on Israeli commandos or the Israel Defense Forces. Israel’s prime minister and defense minister had full warning about the situation, and they knew the flotilla was deliberately designed as a political provocation to capture the attention of the world’s media in the most negative way possible. They personally are responsible for what happened, and they need to show far more care and pragmatism in the future.
2) Afghan Guards Face an Inquiry Over Ties to Insurgents
Convoy Guards in Afghanistan Face an Inquiry
Dexter Filkins, New York Times, June 6, 2010
Maidan Shahr, Afghanistan – For months, reports have abounded here that the Afghan mercenaries who escort American and other NATO convoys through the badlands have been bribing Taliban insurgents to let them pass. Then came a series of events last month that suggested all-out collusion with the insurgents.
After a pair of bloody confrontations with Afghan civilians, two of the biggest private security companies – Watan Risk Management and Compass Security – were banned from escorting NATO convoys on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar.
The ban took effect on May 14. At 10:30 a.m. that day, a NATO supply convoy rolling through the area came under attack. An Afghan driver and a soldier were killed, and a truck was overturned and burned. Within two weeks, with more than 1,000 trucks sitting stalled on the highway, the Afghan government granted Watan and Compass permission to resume.
Watan’s president, Rashid Popal, strongly denied any suggestion that his men either colluded with insurgents or orchestrated attacks to emphasize the need for their services. Executives with Compass Security did not respond to questions.
But the episode, and others like it, has raised the suspicions of investigators here and in Washington, who are trying to track the tens of millions in taxpayer dollars paid to private security companies to move supplies to American and other NATO bases.
Although the investigation is not complete, the officials suspect that at least some of these security companies – many of which have ties to top Afghan officials – are using American money to bribe the Taliban. The officials suspect that the security companies may also engage in fake fighting to increase the sense of risk on the roads, and that they may sometimes stage attacks against competitors.
The suspicions raise fundamental questions about the conduct of operations here, since the convoys, and the supplies they deliver, are the lifeblood of the war effort.
"We’re funding both sides of the war," a NATO official in Kabul said. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was incomplete, said he believed millions of dollars were making their way to the Taliban.
The investigation is complicated by, among other things, the fact that some of the private security companies are owned by relatives of President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan officials. Mr. Popal, for instance, is a cousin of Mr. Karzai, and Western officials say that Watan Risk Management’s largest shareholder is Mr. Karzai’s brother Qayum.
The principal goal of the American-led campaign here is to prepare an Afghan state and army to fight the Taliban themselves. The possibility of collusion between the Taliban and Afghan officials suggests that, rather than fighting each another, the two Afghan sides may often cooperate under the noses of their wealthy benefactors.
"People think the insurgency and the government are separate, and that is just not always the case," another NATO official in Kabul said. "What we are finding is that they are often bound up together."
The security companies, which appear to operate under little supervision, have sometimes wreaked havoc on Afghan civilians. Some of the private security companies have been known to attack villages on routes where convoys have come under fire, Western officials here say.
[…] Investigators say they are having a hard time putting a dollar figure on the amount the Taliban may be receiving, in part because the trucking companies are not required to report what they pay for security. Trucking contractors pay security companies, which sometimes award subcontractors to other companies, which sometimes do the same. "I can’t tell you about the sub to the sub to the sub," the senior NATO official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
As a result, much about the relationships between the security companies and the Taliban is shrouded in mystery. Afghan and NATO officials say that anecdotal evidence suggests that in order to keep their trucks moving – and to keep up their business – some companies may sometimes pay Taliban fighters not to attack, to sometimes mount attacks on competitors, or, as is suspected in the case in Maidan Shahr, to attack NATO forces.
"It would be my expectation that people might create their own demand," said Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan.
3) Israel owes Turkey an apology for flotilla attack
Namik Tan, Washington Post, Saturday, June 5, 2010; A13
[Tan is Turkey’s ambassador to the United States.]
On May 31, we awoke to tragic news from international waters in the eastern Mediterranean. As we now know well, instead of the day ending with the delivery of humanitarian aid to ease the desperate lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, it began with the killing by Israel Defense Forces of nine peace activists and the wounding of about 30, all civilians.
The Free Gaza flotilla was not an initiative by the Turkish government. It was an international aid convoy made up of nationals of 32 countries taking food, toys, medical equipment and similar aid to the people of Gaza, who have been deprived of these basic commodities for years. Among the ships’ 600 activists were Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, European lawmakers, journalists, business leaders and an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor – hardly targets who could pose a threat to Israel’s well-trained commandos.
[…] Because the attack took place in international waters, 72 miles off Israel’s coast, it was illegal. Indeed, this was the first such attack against civilian Turkish citizens by a foreign military force in our republic’s 87-year history.
That flouting of international law, the loss of life and the inexplicable and protracted detention of the ships’ passengers only partially explain why the Turkish public, along with the international community, is so stunned and angry and why the Turkish government immediately withdrew its ambassador to Israel and canceled joint military exercises with that country.
The other reason is that Israel has been Turkey’s friend and partner since we became the first Muslim-majority nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, which was shortly after its founding. This was not an attack by a sworn enemy but by a friend with which Turkey has worked long and hard to develop constructive strategic and economic collaboration. (I recently served as Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, where I took part in those collaborations and where I still have a great many friends.)
[…] Israel can start by bringing an end to its blockade on Gaza; by ending its inappropriate and disproportionate police actions toward the Palestinian civilians of that land; and by allowing a prompt, independent, impartial, credible and transparent international investigation into the incident. Moreover, Israel owes an apology to the Turkish nation.
The United States should encourage Israel to become a genuine partner for peace in the Middle East.
4) Another aid vessel to arrive from Lebanon
Free Palestine Movement, Reporters without Borders say plan to send ship carrying dozens of activists, European MPs to Gaza as early as next weekend
Roee Nahmias, Israel News, 06.06.10
The Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ship and the Irish-owned Rachel Corrie ship are not alone: Two non-governmental Lebanese organizations announced Saturday that they plan to send an aid vessel of their own to the Gaza Strip as early as next weekend.
In a press conference in Beirut, the Free Palestine Movement and Reporters without Borders organization announced that the ship, which will be carrying humanitarian aid, will include passengers interested in expressing their solidarity, as well as journalists. They said they believed they would be able to "break the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip."
Yasser Kashlak, chairman of the Free Palestine Movement, called on "anyone who sees himself as a freeman to take part in this marine journey, which will leave the Lebanon coast this coming week."
A representative of the Reporters without Borders organization said that "the ship will leave the Beirut coast on the weekend with 50 journalists and 25 European activists, including several European parliament members." He stressed that this sail will not be "the end of it".
[…] Another protest was held in Dublin, the home port of the Rachel Corrie ship, where hundreds of people gathered in the city center. The marched towards the Irish Foreign Ministry and expressed their protest over the Irish government’s official call to the ship to obey the Navy’s orders and refrain from reaching Gaza.
5) Jewish flotilla to break Gaza siege
German Jewish group prepares flotilla to protest Israel’s blockade on Gaza. ‘Activists frightened, but not by Hamas,’ member of organization says
Aviel Magnezi, Ynetnews, 06.06.10
The German-Jewish organization Jewish Voice for Peace in the Middle East is preparing a Jewish flotilla to the Gaza Strip. "We intend to leave around July," a member of the organization, Kate Leitrer, said to Ynet. "We have one small craft so far, in which there will be between 12 and 16 people, mostly Jews."
Leitrer, herself Jewish, said there was great interest in joining. "Getting another boat means more expenses, and we’re discussing this possibility," she said. "Because of limited space, there will be school equipment, candy, and mainly musical equipment, and there’ll be musicians aboard who’ll teach the children of Gaza. They need to see that Jews are not what how they are drawn in their eyes."
[…] The activists are frightened, she said, but not by Hamas. "Jews have been to Gaza in the past, and they were treated in a friendly manner," Leitrer continued. "We have also talked with them recently, and they are very keen for us to come. We are frightened by what happened on the Marmara, but if you are committed to do good things, you have to act. People were also killed in the fight against fascism."
[…] Edith Lutz, a German Jewish member of the organization, said to Ynet the vessel is already anchored in Mediterranean waters, and that the organization had received many requests from Jews and non-Jews to take part in the flotilla. "We began in Germany," she said, "but many have called us from England, Sweden and the US. There may also be another boat accompanying us, mainly carrying reporters."
Lutz explained that the Jewish flotilla aims to convey a message: Lift the siege. "Our vessel can open a window between Israel and Gaza residents," she said. "Two years ago I took part in the Free Gaza flotilla and wore a Magen David (Star of David), and the kids said, ‘Look, she’s Jewish,’ and they all accepted me very well. When we met (Hamas leader) Ismail Haniyeh and they told him about me, he turned to me and said they have nothing against Jews or Israel, only against the occupation."
6) US used cluster bombs on Yemen civilians: Amnesty
AFP, Mon Jun 7, 12:19 pm ET
London – A US cruise missile carrying cluster bombs was behind a December attack in Yemen that killed 55 people, most of them civilians, Amnesty International (AI) said on Monday.
The London-based rights group released photographs that it said showed the remains of a US-made Tomahawk missile and unexploded cluster bombs that were apparently used in the December 17, 2009 attack on the rural community of Al-Maajala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province.
"Amnesty International is gravely concerned by evidence that cluster munitions appear to have been used in Yemen," said Mike Lewis, the group’s arms control researcher. "Cluster munitions have indiscriminate effects and unexploded bomblets threaten lives and livelihoods for years afterwards," he said.
[…] Yemen’s defence ministry had claimed responsibility for the attack without mentioning a US role, saying between 24 and 30 militants had been killed at an alleged Al-Qaeda training camp.
But a local official said 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed "indiscriminately."
AI said a Yemeni parliamentary committee reported in February that in addition to 14 alleged Al-Qaeda militants, 41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children, were killed in the attack. "The fact that so many of the victims were actually women and children indicates that the attack was in fact grossly irresponsible, particularly given the likely use of cluster munitions," Luther said.
AI said photographs it had obtained showed damaged remains of the BGM-109D Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile.
"This type of missile, launched from a warship or submarine, is designed to carry a payload of 166 cluster sub-munitions (bomblets) which each explode into over 200 sharp steel fragments that can cause injuries up to 150 metres (about 500 feet) away," an AI statement said. "An incendiary material inside the bomblet also spreads fragments of burning zirconium designed to set fire to nearby flammable objects," it said.
The Yemen parliamentary committee had said when it visited the site that "all the homes and their contents were burnt and all that was left were traces of furniture," AI said.
AI said it had requested information about the attack from the Pentagon, but had not yet received a response.
7) US wants Israeli inquiry after protester loses eye
Diaa Hadid, Associated Press, Mon Jun 7, 12:47 pm ET http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100607/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_israel_us_activist_3
Jerusalem – The United States has asked Israel to investigate the incident in which an American woman lost an eye after Israeli forces shot her with a tear gas canister during a pro-Palestinian protest in Jerusalem, a U.S. embassy spokesman said Monday.
Emily Henochowicz, a 21-year-old visual arts student from Potomac, Md., and a dual Israeli-American citizen, was struck in the face by a canister fired by a policeman during a violent demonstration on May 31 against Israel’s deadly naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists. Nine activists were killed in the raid on the same day.
"We have talked to the Israelis about getting the details on the situation as soon as possible," said U.S. embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer.
Henochowicz’s family also demanded action. "We demand a full and transparent investigation from the Israeli government. Certainly, we want an apology," Henochowicz’s mother Shelley Kreitman, 54, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "She’s a beautiful young girl and she’s been maimed for life."
[…] Henochowicz, an artist whose chief icon on her Internet blog is a large eyeball, returned to the U.S. over the weekend and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Her lawyer, Michael Sfard said he filed a complaint demanding a criminal investigation of the incident.
Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist who took part in the same protest, said Henochowicz was hit as a few Palestinian youths hurled rocks at a checkpoint in northern Jerusalem.
Footage captured by a Russian television channel posted onto YouTube shows the young woman walking with a Turkish flag – in solidarity with the many Turkish activists who tried to sail to Gaza. She is seen several yards (meters) away from rock-throwing youths, falls down and is dragged away, bleeding profusely.
Israeli police spokesman Moshe Fintzy said an initial investigation said the tear gas was fired "according to procedures and there was no deviation from those procedures."
A report in the Israeli daily Haaretz said a police investigation indicated that the tear gas canister bounced off a wall and exploded close to Henochowicz’s face. They quoted an official as saying that police did not aim at the woman.
But Sarit Michaeli, of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, said police and soldiers often fire tear gas canisters directly at people – a practice she called "illegal and dangerous."
8) Leftist and rightist Israelis clash at Gaza flotilla protest in Tel Aviv
Smoke grenade hurled at left wing protesters from unknown source; demonstrators carry banners saying ‘the government is drowning us all.’
Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, 20:45 05.06.10
Leftist and rightist demonstrators clashed Saturday night in Tel Aviv as more than 6,000 Israelis gathered to protest the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship earlier this week, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.
The protest was originally planned by to mark the anniversary of the Six Day War which broke out 43 years ago today. Among the organizers were left wing parties Meretz, Hadash and Peace Now organization. The demonstrators carried banners saying "The government is drowning us all," "We must stride for peace," and "A right wing government = clear and immediate danger to state security."
9) Turkey’s chief rabbi: Navy raid a provocation
Rabbi Isak Haleva says no hostility against Jewish community on Turkey’s streets, accuses Israel of ‘acting inappropriately’ against Gaza-bound flotilla
Kobi Nahshoni, Ynetnews, 06.02.10
Turkey’s Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva slammed Israel on Tuesday over the deadly results of the Navy raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, accusing the Jewish state of engaging in an unnecessary provocation and inappropriate behavior.
The rabbi praised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who he said was making a clear distinction between the State of Israel and the Jews of his country and ensuring their safety.
"Israel’s security comes first, but it must act more cautiously and do things wisely," Haleva told haredi radio station "Kol Harama", noting that "Israel must act in an appropriate manner."
10) Egypt authorities: Gaza border to stay open indefinitely
Biden: U.S. working with Egypt to ease plight in Gaza; VP meets Mubarak in Sharm week after saying Washington backed Israel’s right to board Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Avi Issacharoff and Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz, 18:02 07.06.10
Egyptian authorities said Monday that the Rafah border crossing to the Gaza Strip would remain open indefinitely, amid a storm of international criticism of Israel’s blockade of the enclave.
Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Monday that he was working closely with Egypt on new ways of dealing with the problems facing the Palestinians in Gaza as a result of the blockade.
[…] Egypt, the only country apart from Israel to border Gaza, opened its Rafah crossing last week to allow aid convoys into the coastal strip.
Cairo has only allowed limited crossing of the border since the Islamist group Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, sparking criticism from some in the Arab public that it is assisting Israel.
[…] A security source in Egypt, who declined to be identified, said Israel was under pressure from the international community to find an alternative policy to its blockade on Gaza and said a partial lifting of the blockade was in sight.
"Israel must review its policies amid pressure from the international community regarding its blockade on Gaza. There will be a partial lifting of the blockade," the source said.
"The Palestinian people will no longer complain of shortages of humanitarian aid or shortages of water, oil, medicine, electricity or fuel," the source said, adding this would still not solve problems such as a lack of infrastructure in Gaza.
11) Israel stations nuclear missile subs off Iran
Uzi Mahnaimi, Sunday Times, May 30, 2010
Tel Aviv – Three German-built Israeli submarines equipped with nuclear cruise missiles are to be deployed in the Gulf near the Iranian coastline.
The first has been sent in response to Israeli fears that ballistic missiles developed by Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, a political and military organisation in Lebanon, could hit sites in Israel, including air bases and missile launchers.
[…] Some of the cruise missiles are equipped with the most advanced nuclear warheads in the Israeli arsenal.
The deployment is designed to act as a deterrent, gather intelligence and potentially to land Mossad agents. "We’re a solid base for collecting sensitive information, as we can stay for a long time in one place," said a flotilla officer.
The submarines could be used if Iran continues its programme to produce a nuclear bomb. "The 1,500km range of the submarines’ cruise missiles can reach any target in Iran," said a navy officer.
12) Karzai Orders Review of Taliban Detentions
Jonathon Burch, Reuters, Sun Jun 6, 10:13 am ET
Kabul – Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered a review of all cases of suspected insurgents in jails in Afghanistan and called for the release of those being held without sufficient evidence.
The declaration, issued in the form of a presidential decree, is being viewed as Karzai’s first step toward implementing one of several recommendations made at a peace conference last week aimed at bringing an end to a war now almost nine years old.
More than 1,500 Afghan tribal and religious elders gathered last week in a three-day traditional "jirga," or tribal council, in Kabul, where they agreed to open negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups in a bid to bring peace.
The jirga also called on the Afghan government and foreign troops in the country "as a gesture of goodwill," to free those prisoners being held "on inaccurate information or [un]substantiated allegations."
Hundreds of suspected insurgents have been lingering in Afghan jails across the country since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001 and hundreds more are being held at U.S. military prisons in Afghanistan, including the main U.S. jail at Bagram.
On Sunday, Karzai ordered the creation of a delegation, headed by the justice minister, to investigate those detainees being held in prisons in the "capital and in the provinces," his palace said in a statement. "The delegation will study prisoners’ cases and will release those detainees where there is a lack of evidence against them," Karzai’s palace said.
While it was not immediately clear whether the delegation would review detainees held at U.S. prisons and other foreign military bases in the country, NATO’s top civilian spokesman in Afghanistan said they would cooperate with the government.
"NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) stands ready to work with the government in turning these recommendations into implemented peace plans," said spokesman Tony White, referring to the jirga recommendations. "All aspects of this are in line with what NATO and ISAF want," he added at news conference in Kabul.
The issue of Afghan prisoners being held in U.S. and foreign jails in Afghanistan has caused friction between Karzai and his Western backers and the president had previously called for an end to foreign detentions on Afghan soil.
In a sign the United States was changing its approach to detentions in Afghanistan, however, last week the first four Afghan detainees at the main U.S. prison in Bagram north of Kabul, appeared before an Afghan judge. The detainees were given defense lawyers for the first time and were read their charges by an Afghan prosecutor. Previously, prisoners at Bagram did not have lawyers or trials.
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