Sunday, May 31, 2009

6 dead in battle between Hamas, Palestinian police

This is from Philstar.

It seems that Abbas is not interested in any unity deal with Hamas but rather with extending his influence with the US by acting as a good cop and reigning in militants and helping out Israel defeat Hamas. This will certainly weaken the Palestinians' power. Being disunited gives Israel the upper hand.

6 dead in battle between Hamas, Palestinian police
QALQILIYA (AP) – Top Hamas fugitives lobbed grenades and fired automatic weapons Sunday to push back Palestinian security forces storming their hideout, leaving six dead in the bloodiest clash since the Palestinian president launched a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank two years ago.
Two top Hamas militants — on the run from Israel for years — were among those killed, along with an unarmed Hamas supporter and three Palestinian policemen.
After the hours-long battle, hundreds of spent bullet casings, puddles of blood and tear gas canisters were visible at the hideout, a two-story building in the northern West Bank town of Qalqiliya. Parts of the walls were burned down.
The Islamic militant Hamas immediately hurled angry accusations at the Western-backed president, Mahmoud Abbas, accusing him of betraying Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation and threatening revenge. Relations have been sour since Hamas seized Gaza by force two years ago, leaving Abbas only in control of the West Bank.
The arrest raid underscored Abbas' determination to rein in militants as part of his obligations under the US-backed "road map" peace plan.
The shootout came just three days after Abbas met at the White House with President Barack Obama and renewed a pledge to honor these commitments. The US has been training Abbas' elite forces to help him affirm his control of the West Bank and prepare for eventual statehood.
Despite Hamas' threats of reprisals, it was not immediately clear whether it would change its tactic of lying low in the West Bank while it weathers Abbas' crackdown. Since Hamas' Gaza takeover, Abbas' security forces have detained hundreds of Hamas supporters in the West Bank and closed the group's institutions and charities.
The Qalqiliya clash began late Saturday when Palestinian troops surrounded a hideout of Mohammed Samman, a leader of Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, and his assistant, Mohammed Yassin. Both had been on Israel's wanted list for six years, Palestinian security officials said.
Initially, about two dozen officers stormed the house, breaking down the door, said a policeman who had participated in the raid, but spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The Hamas men lobbed a grenade and opened automatic fire, killing three officers and wounding two critically, he said. Other officers fled, then brought in reinforcements.
The ensuing battle lasted until midmorning Sunday. Police say they found bombs, suicide belts and bullets in their search of the house.
Qalqiliya, which elected a Hamas mayor several years ago, was tense Monday. Women gathered near the scene heaped insults on policemen. Sporadic gunfire erupted in other areas of town, and police said the shots came from Hamas loyalists targeting officers, though there were no reports of injuries.
Security officials seized the bodies of the Hamas militants, fearing a public burial would turn into angry protests against the Palestinian Authority. Muslim tradition demands the dead should be buried quickly.
Hamas officials in the West Bank said that some 40 loyalists of the group had been arrested in Qalqiliya in the past week as part of the search for the top two fugitives.
In Gaza, Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, threatened "tough and harsh reprisal."
Ehab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, said Abbas' security forces have betrayed those fighting Israeli occupation.
But Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said going after militants is key to one day setting up a Palestinian state. "To build our country and our state, we need to have one authority, one gun, one law," he said.
Hamas opposes Abbas' policy of trying to negotiate a peace deal with Israel. In recent months, Abbas and Hamas have tried to reach a unity deal, but talks have run aground over Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence, a precondition for joining a coalition with Abbas supporters.
Last year, 26 Palestinians were killed during Fatah and Hamas attempts to crack down on their rivals, said the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

Iraq's Kurdish oil: Kurdistan goes glug glug

This is from the economist.

Strange most mainstream media are saying nothing about this. Note that the famous Iraq oil law that was once an important benchmark has completely faded from mainstream radar even though the law is still languishing in the Baghdad parliament for about three years!
Kurdistan has made an end run around the central govt. having its own oil law and in effect sharing with the central govt. on its own terms. It remains to be seen if the central government is able to do anything about all this except for the sort of rhetorical rants cited in this article.
Given the new foreign investments in Kurdistan no doubt there will be western support for any attempts to limit Kurdistan autonomy. Even Turkey is on board it would seem!

Iraq's Kurdish oil
Kurdistan goes glug glug
May 28th 2009 ERBILFrom The Economist print edition
The federal government is letting Iraq’s Kurds export from their new oilfields
ON JUNE 1st a man in a hard hat in the blazing sun will ritually turn a switch to let oil flow through a pipeline. In oil-rich Iraq that should not warrant comment. But this operation, at the Tawke oilfield near Iraq’s northern frontier with Turkey, will be beamed live to a giant screen in a new conference centre in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s self-ruling Kurdistan region. Hundreds of leading Kurds will cheer as they watch pictures of oil being offloaded from tankers at an export facility at Khurmala, south-west of Erbil, from which it will be pumped to Baiji and into the same northbound pipeline (see map).
The reason for the excitement is that the crude is being extracted from the first newly developed oilfield to have come on stream since the Americans invaded Iraq in 2003—indeed, the first to have come on stream anywhere in Iraq for 30-odd years. It is also the first instance of exploration leading to extraction and export by private companies in Iraq since oil was nationalised in 1972. Iraq’s Kurds, who have signed a string of controversial production-sharing agreements (PSAs) with private companies, are proud that the oil is flowing anew from fields that they control.
The oil ready for export comes from two fields. One is at Tawke, developed by DNO International, a small Norwegian firm. The other is at Taq-Taq, where Addax Petroleum, listed in London and Toronto, runs a joint venture with Turkey’s Genel Enerji, which also has a stake in the Tawke show. Ashti Hawrami, the Iraqi Kurds’ natural-resources minister, praises the Turkish companies involved. Relations between Turkey’s government and the Iraqi Kurdish regional one are plainly improving.
The Tawke field will start by pumping 60,000 barrels a day (b/d). A new pipeline will carry the crude from the wells east of Zakho to join the main northern pipeline on the Iraqi side of the Turkish border. Meanwhile 40,000 b/d will be trucked from the Taq-Taq site to Khurmala. The crude from both fields will flow through Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Mr Hawrami says the new fields should produce 450,000 b/d by 2011 and 1m b/d by the end of 2012. That would represent 42% of Iraq’s production, if output from the rest of the country stays the same.
The operations at Taq-Taq and Tawke are run under PSAs whereby private companies get 10-20% of the profit. The rest goes to the federal government in Baghdad before being distributed across the rest of Iraq. But Iraq’s oil ministry and its trade unions dislike PSAs. A long row between the Kurds and the authorities in Baghdad over rules for the north has yet to be resolved. Baghdad wants to approve all oil deals. The Kurds say the federal constitution lets them run—and profit from—their own oil industry, though they accept that revenue should somehow be shared. The Kurds’ parliament passed a hydrocarbons law in 2007. But a new national oil law has been stalled in the federal parliament in Baghdad for at least three years.
The Kurds say they have shown up the decrepitude of Iraq’s oil establishment. Despite billions of dollars of investment since 2003, production is still just over 2m b/d, about what it was when Saddam Hussein was toppled. The federal oil minister, Hussein al-Shahristani, loathes the Kurds’ success and has tried to stop them running their own oil industry, declaring all deals (now at least 20) signed by them to be illegal. He has also threatened to blacklist any oil company that does business up north from applying for licences down south.
But the global recession may be helping the Kurds. The fall in the oil price has played havoc with the central budget. Iraq needs cash quickly. That, presumably, is why the federal government was forced to let the Kurds export oil off their own bat.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Iraq election delayed complicating US pullout timetable

The US forces are supposed to stay so that there will be security for the elections. However, the US forces are there and security is getting worse which is why the elections are postponed. This is all very convenient. It keeps the Maliki government in power and the US forces in Iraq. The American public however may begin to catch on after while and this could cause political troubles for Obama. However, most Americans probably have other matters on their mind at present!
I wonder if the referendum on the status of forces agreement is also postponed. That was supposed to be this summer. No doubt it would be convenient to postpone that as well.

- News From - -
Iraq Election Delayed, Complicating US Pullout Timetable
Posted By Jason Ditz
The Iraqi government has announced today that the national parliamentary elections, which were supposed to be held later this year, will be pushed back until January 30, 2010. Others had fought to push the elections back even further, as much as a year, citing the growing violence and the economic turmoil facing the nation.
The delay may push the selection of the next Iraqi prime minister until mid 2010, imperiling the Obama Administration’s plans to remove significant portions of the American military force from the nation by August 31, 2010.
President Obama had previously agreed to leave the bulk of America’s soldiers in the nation until after the national election. Top US commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno said that the pullout from Iraq was predicated on the ability of Iraq to conduct “legitimate, credible elections,” and that the military should remain for at least 60 days after to ensure that the losers of the elections didn’t resort to violence. Such a plan would seem to leave the already pared-back pullout scheme woefully optimistic, and the election delay may provide yet another excuse to keep the war going indefinitely.
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Copyright © 2009 News From All rights reserved.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Abu Ghraib abuse photos "show rape"

This is from the Telegraph (UK)

It will be interesting to see if FOX news or CNN cover this issue to any extent. Obama is adopting Bush administration tactics in trying to block unpleasant information from the public domain. The people responsible for these abuses no doubt have not been charged with anything.

Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape'
Photographs of alleged prisoner abuse which Barack Obama is attempting to censor include images of apparent rape and sexual abuse, it has emerged.

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent and Paul Cruickshank Last Updated: 8:21AM BST 28 May 2009

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.
Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.
Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.
Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.
The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.
Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.
“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.
“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”
In April, Mr Obama’s administration said the photographs would be released and it would be “pointless to appeal” against a court judgment in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
But after lobbying from senior military figures, Mr Obama changed his mind saying they could put the safety of troops at risk.
Earlier this month, he said: “The most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to inflame anti-American public opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.”
It was thought the images were similar to those leaked five years ago, which showed naked and bloody prisoners being intimidated by dogs, dragged around on a leash, piled into a human pyramid and hooded and attached to wires.
Mr Obama seemed to reinforce that view by adding: “I want to emphasise that these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib.”
The latest photographs relate to 400 cases of alleged abuse between 2001 and 2005 in Abu Ghraib and six other prisons. Mr Obama said the individuals involved had been “identified, and appropriate actions” taken.
Maj Gen Taguba’s internal inquiry into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, included sworn statements by 13 detainees, which, he said in the report, he found “credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses.”
Among the graphic statements, which were later released under US freedom of information laws, is that of Kasim Mehaddi Hilas in which he says: “I saw [name of a translator] ******* a kid, his age would be about 15 to 18 years. The kid was hurting very bad and they covered all the doors with sheets. Then when I heard screaming I climbed the door because on top it wasn’t covered and I saw [name] who was wearing the military uniform, putting his **** in the little kid’s ***…. and the female soldier was taking pictures.”
The translator was an American Egyptian who is now the subject of a civil court case in the US.
Three detainees, including the alleged victim, refer to the use of a phosphorescent tube in the sexual abuse and another to the use of wire, while the victim also refers to part of a policeman’s “stick” all of which were apparently photographed.

Pentagon: US Ready to Keep Troops in Iraq for another 10 years.

Of course Iraq may have something to say about this. There is supposed to be a refendum this summer on the status of forces agreement as I recall. Strange there is no word about this in the press. Also, the Iraq election is being delayed and this will cause problems with even the present rate of pullout. Adding to the turmoil is the blowback from the awakening councils some of whom are now in conflict with the Shiite government. There may very well be a renewed Sunni insurgency. Finally there is still conflict in the Kurdish border regions between Arabs and Kurds both vying for control of certain areas rich in oil.

- News From - -
Pentagon: US Ready to Keep Troops in Iraq For Another 10 Years
Posted By Jason Ditz On May 26, 2009
While US officials have continued to insist that the timetable for removing troops from Iraq remains in place, a growing trend of violence and a delay to Iraq’s national parliamentary elections has led to considerable speculation that the US won’t ultimately abide by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) deadline to have troops out of the nation by the end of 2011.
That speculation seemed well-founded today, when Army Chief of Staff General George Casey said that the world “remains dangerous and unpredictable” and that his planning envisions leaving combat troops in Iraq for another decade “to fight extremism and terrorism.”
Gen. Casey’s planning was focused on troop rotations, and he emphasized that he wasn’t responsible for making decisions about policy, but that he believed the US would need to be ready for “sustained” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which he saw a similar timeline.
During the campaign President Obama promised to have all troops out of Iraq within 16 months, though he abandoned that policy just days after taking office. His current policy is to declare an end to “combat” in August 2010, but to keep troops in the nation engaged in combat operations for an indefinite period past that. He has insisted that he still intends to abide by the SOFA deadline, however.
Copyright © 2009 News From All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Clinton: "No Exceptions" to Israel Settlement Freeze

This is from

This sets the stage for a confrontation between US and Israel. The Israel lobby will bring out the troops to argue the Israeli case. It remains to be seen what the US will do if anything about the fact that Israel is going ahead regardless of US opposition. There is also the issue of a two state solution. Israel refuses so far to admit this as a goal as well. Just as Bush was stymied in trying to obtain a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict it seems that Obama is even less likely to be successful unless the situation changes drastically.

Clinton: ‘No Exceptions’ to Israel Settlement Freeze
Secretary of State Says Obama was "Very Clear" With Netanyahu
by Jason Ditz, May 27, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that President Obama was “very clear” in last week’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States wants Israel to halt all expansion to its West Bank settlements, and would make no exceptions for “natural growth.”
The statement sets the stage for a battle with the Israeli government over the question, as Netanyahu has insisted that his government will continue to expand the current settlements, citing “natural growth.”The Israeli government had offered a “compromise” yesterday, in which they would agree to continue dismantling the illegal outposts in the West Bank (which they had been doing to begin with) in return for a US promise to stop objecting publicly to the expansion of the other settlements.
The expansion of the settlements would be problematic for the Obama Administration as it presses for an “independent, democratic and contiguous Palestinian state.” The plan would involve territory swaps with the Israeli settlements, though Netanyahu has already rejected a cornerstone of the proposal: returning East Jerusalem to Palestinian control.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Showdown looming over Israeli Settlements

Netanyahu is between a rock and a hard place. He may want to accomodate US demands but then he would face so much opposition at home that his very government might be in danger of falling. He would rather accomodate his own constitutency to some extent even at the cost of US ire. The Israel lobby is very powerful in the US and if Obama punished Israel to any extent there would be a huge outcry from the lobby, in the press, and in the blogosphere. Obama is unlikely to get anywhere in the mideast peace process given the present situation in Israel. The media has gone silent on what is happening between Hamas and Fatah.

- Original - -
Showdown Looming Over Israeli Settlements
Posted By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler On May 25, 2009 @ 9:00 pm In Uncategorized
JERUSALEM - A showdown over Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is looming between Israel and the United States barely a week after the encounter at the White House between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that the May 18 encounter was no friendly getting-to-know-you meeting between a new president and a new prime minister of the Middle East’s most enduring alliance.
IPS has learned from sources in Netanyahu’s Washington entourage that following the White House meeting, the Israeli PM confided his "unease" to wealthy U.S. conservative supporters about the direction in which the Obama administration is headed.
Since his return home, the Israeli leader has been putting on a brave face, sometimes even bordering on bravado. He was, however, clearly shaken. Not so much from any dramatically new specific policy moves that were laid out by the U.S. – what resonates with Netanyahu is what President Obama had to say about halting settlements and what that portends for the U.S. Middle East policy-in-the-making.
The concern expressed itself again at Sunday’s weekly meeting of the Israeli government. Netanyahu opened the meeting by sharing with his colleagues the Obama demand for a total freeze on all settlement activity, including no new homes in existing settlements to accommodate what Israel calls "natural population growth."
Netanyahu dug in his heels, although he tried to couch the impending set-to in a mild manner. No new settlements would be built, he told his cabinet colleagues, but settlement expansion should go on, for all the U.S. objections: "Not to address the question of natural growth is simply not fair," the prime minister said.
A close Netanyahu political ally, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, added: "There is one thing to which we just cannot agree – that the government agenda will look like a witch-hunt against the settlers and the drying up of the settlements."
And Defense Minister Ehud Barak lined up behind Netanyahu: "It’s not conceivable that anyone seriously intends that a family with two children who have bought a small apartment will be told that an order has come from the U.S. that they may not add two extra rooms when the family grows – that’s illogical," Barak said.
The Israeli position is most unlikely to satisfy the U.S. Netanyahu seems fully aware that this could be just the beginning of a major row with Washington. He thus appears to be preparing to parry the comprehensive U.S. "no" on settlements by backing the intention of the Israeli defense establishment finally to move on so-called illegal settlements (small outposts that were established on the fringes of government-approved settlements in order to expand Israeli control over Palestinian territory).
The day Netanyahu came back, the army pulled down one such wildcat settlement, but within hours the settlers had rebuilt the outpost. Now, though, the Defense Ministry confirms that a comprehensive plan is being drawn up to dismantle 23 mini-settlements created since 2001 without government approval.
Israeli Public Radio quoted sources in the prime minister’s office as confirming that Netanyahu would "stand firm behind" Defense Minister Ehud Barak if he concludes that a showdown with the "illegal" settlers is required. This, even at the risk of an improbable showdown with his own nationalist coalition: "We are first and foremost obliged to respect the law," Netanyahu insisted at Sunday’s cabinet meeting.
Obama urged the ending of settlement building in order to lay the ground for a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said there is no point in meeting Netanyahu unless he stops settlement construction and agrees to open talks on Palestinian independence.
Over the years, successive Israeli governments have sanctioned 121 settlements, with the settlers themselves putting up an additional 100 or so small outposts since the early 1990s. The overall settler population is around 280,000.
It’s becoming clear that the approach of the administration is now widely accepted in the U.S. Congress, traditionally a stronghold of support for Israel.
A five-person congressional delegation from the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia said after meeting Israeli officials in Jerusalem on Sunday that they were "skeptical" about the Netanyahu government’s ability to help the U.S. move the peace process with the Palestinians forward. The committee voiced specific concern about Israel’s insistence on "natural growth" in existing settlements.
The heat that Netanyahu took during his tête-à-tête with Obama has clearly left its mark. He’s even going so far as to try to build on an informal agreement reached on settlement construction between his predecessor Ehud Olmert and the Bush administration prior to the 2007 Annapolis conference at which the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinians mapped out possible directions on how to proceed toward peace.
"The understandings Olmert reached, especially on the right to ‘natural growth,’ contain clauses that can certainly form a basis for understandings with the Obama administration," said one official in the prime minister’s office.
"Is there still a need for clarification?" asked a critic of Netanyahu, former government minister and peace activist Yossi Sarid. In his newspaper column "Peace Diplomacy," Sarid asked rhetorically, "Though he pretends not to understand, have the disputes not been clarified to Benjamin Netanyahu’s satisfaction? From all roofs in Washington – the White House, the State Department, and Congress – birds sing out U.S. policy. The diplomatic picture could not be clearer. We don’t really need a detailed peace plan, because it’s already here on the table."
Sarid continues: "It’s not simply an American plan, but a global plan acceptable to everyone but this Israeli government. Netanyahu alone continues his rearguard battle, dragging on and on this epic Israeli tragedy. Only one issue remains unclear – can Obama succeed where his predecessors have failed? Can he stand his ground where American power has faltered for decades?"
(Inter Press Service)
Article printed from Original:
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Copyright © 2009 Original. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama orders update to Iran attack plan.

Israel's having the right to attack Iran translated means that the U.S. has assured them that nothing drastic will happen if they do. There is no right of Israel to attack Iran unless you believe in the tooth fairy and an expanded right for a preventive attack. On that ground Iran has every right to attack Israel since Israel (and the U.S.) have often threatened attacks upon Iran.
Interesting that Gates just recently warned against any attack but now is dutifully updating plans for an attack for Obama.

- News From - -
Obama Orders Update to Iran Attack Plan
Posted By Jason Ditz
On NBC’s Today Show this morning, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that President Obama has ordered him to update the plans for a US attack on Iran, plans which were last updating during the Bush Administration. Gates says the plans are “refreshed” and insists that “all options are on the table” with respect to the potential attack.
It was only a month ago that Secretary Gates was warning vigorously against the potential attack, saying that it would create a “disastrous backlash” against the United States to hit Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. The Obama Administration has insisted it is intending to pursue the matter diplomatically with Iran, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said the administration doesn’t expect diplomacy to work, and the effort seems to be primarily to rally international support for more measures against Iran.
The US has also been sending secret missions to Israel in recent days, reportedly to caution them against launching any surprise military attacks against Iran of their own. It was unclear how successful the warnings were: Prime Minister Netanyahu said he remained confident that the US would respect Israel’s right to attack Iran.
It is unclear whether Gates’ revelation portends a serious potential for an imminent US attack on Iran, or whether the move is more international posturing. Still, it seems unlikely the news will be greeted warmly in Iran, which is in the middle of an election campaign in which potential US talks are a major issue.
Copyright © 2009 News From All rights reserved.

Iran: They May Not Want the Bomb: Zakaria

This is a breath of fresh air from a mainstream media figure such as Zakaria who has his own program on CNN; also, the article is from Newsweek hardly an organ of non-mainstream opinions. Perhaps this is a dastardly plot by liberals who are soft on terrorists and for accomodation with evil extremist Islam to infect the general populace with false ideas!
Zakaria notes the ways in which Iran actually has helped the US in Afghanistan. Now that the Shiite majority is firmly entrenched in Iraq, Iran probably sees no need to continue needling the US there. Iran already won the war! Perhaps if the US wants to improve relations with Iran it might release the Iranians it is still holding after in effect kidnapping them from a facility used as a consular office! Iran after all released a US journalist but after a trial. There has been no trial ever for those Iranians held by the US. But of course this is not worth a mention since it is an action by the good guy!

Iran: They May Not Want The BombAnd other unexpected truths.By Fareed ZakariaMay 24, 2009 "Newsweek" -- Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What's the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were "un-Islamic." The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that "developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam." Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini's statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes.Following a civilian nuclear strategy has big benefits. The country would remain within international law, simply asserting its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a position that has much support across the world. That would make comprehensive sanctions against Iran impossible. And if Tehran's aim is to expand its regional influence, it doesn't need a bomb to do so. Simply having a clear "breakout" capacity—the ability to weaponize within a few months—would allow it to operate with much greater latitude and impunity in the Middle East and Central Asia.Iranians aren't suicidal. In an interview last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as "a messianic, apocalyptic cult." In fact, Iran has tended to behave in a shrewd, calculating manner, advancing its interests when possible, retreating when necessary. The Iranians allied with the United States and against the Taliban in 2001, assisting in the creation of the Karzai government. They worked against the United States in Iraq, where they feared the creation of a pro-U.S. puppet on their border. Earlier this year, during the Gaza war, Israel warned Hizbullah not to launch rockets against it, and there is much evidence that Iran played a role in reining in their proxies. Iran's ruling elite is obsessed with gathering wealth and maintaining power. The argument made by those—including many Israelis for coercive sanctions against Iran is that many in the regime have been squirreling away money into bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland for their children and grandchildren. These are not actions associated with people who believe that the world is going to end soon.One of Netanyahu's advisers said of Iran, "Think Amalek." The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In 1 Samuel 15, God says, "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." Now, were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic.Iran isn't a dictatorship. It is certainly not a democracy. The regime jails opponents, closes down magazines and tolerates few challenges to its authority. But neither is it a monolithic dictatorship. It might be best described as an oligarchy, with considerable debate and dissent within the elites. Even the so-called Supreme Leader has a constituency, the Assembly of Experts, who selected him and whom he has to keep happy. Ahmadinejad is widely seen as the "mad mullah" who runs the country, but he is not the unquestioned chief executive and is actually a thorn in the side of the clerical establishment. He is a layman with no family connections to major ayatollahs—which makes him a rare figure in the ruling class. He was not initially the favored candidate of the Supreme Leader in the 2005 election. Even now the mullahs clearly dislike him, and he, in turn, does things deliberately designed to undermine their authority. Iran might be ready to deal. We can't know if a deal is possible since we've never tried to negotiate one, not directly. While the regime appears united in its belief that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear program—a position with broad popular support—some leaders seem sensitive to the costs of the current approach. It is conceivable that these "moderates" would appreciate the potential benefits of limiting their nuclear program, including trade, technology and recognition by the United States. The Iranians insist they must be able to enrich uranium on their own soil. One proposal is for this to take place in Iran but only under the control of an international consortium. It's not a perfect solution because the Iranians could—if they were very creative and dedicated—cheat. But neither is it perfect from the Iranian point of view because it would effectively mean a permanent inspections regime in their country. But both sides might get enough of what they consider crucial for it to work. Why not try this before launching the next Mideast war

Monday, May 25, 2009

Tom Engelhardt: Six Ways the Af-Pak war is expanding.

This is from

This article not only gives information about how the Af-Pak was is expanding under Obama but also has more info about Stanley McChrystal and shows his connection to the worst Bush hawks and neo-cons. The two party system in the U.S. is absolutely useless as far as producing much in the way of change but then that is how it is designed to work. Change occurs mostly at the level of rhetoric especially in foreign policy although Obama has opened up a little re Cuba and it is just possible that he might abandon the missile defence system and he also has spoken out against torture and some day he may even close Guantanamo but will still adopt Bush lite military tribunals and may also introduce indefinite detention without trial. One step forward two steps back.
An interesting aspect of this article is the discussion of the role of Zalmay Khalilzad in the new Afghan govt. assuming Karzai wins. Originally the US groomed him for the job as president but having decided that he could not be elected they are now going to force Karzai to appoint him as a sort of chief of staff to actually run the government. Perhaps this is possible but it would leave Karzai totally without credibility or power. Karzai might not worry too much about the first once he is elected but he probably will not be willing to give up all power! Original - -
Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding
Posted By Tom Engelhardt
Yes, Stanley McChrystal is the general from the dark side (and proud of it). So the recent sacking of Afghan commander Gen. David McKiernan after less than a year in the field and McChrystal’s appointment as the man to run the Afghan War seem to signal that the Obama administration is going for broke. It’s heading straight into what, in the Vietnam era, was known as “the big muddy.”
Gen. McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which, among other things, ran what Seymour Hersh has described as an “executive assassination wing” out of then-vice president Cheney’s office. (Cheney just returned the favor by giving the newly appointed general a ringing endorsement: “I think you’d be hard put to find anyone better than Stan McChrystal.”)
McChrystal gained a certain renown when then-president Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.
In the Bush years, McChrystal was reputedly extremely close to then-secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. The super-secret force he commanded was, in fact, part of Rumsfeld’s effort to seize control of, and Pentagonize, the covert, on-the-ground activities that were once the purview of the CIA.
Behind McChrystal lies a string of targeted executions that may run into the hundreds, as well as accusations of torture and abuse by troops under his command (and a role in the cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Army Ranger and former National Football League player Pat Tillman). The general has reportedly long thought of Afghanistan and Pakistan as a single battlefield, which means that he was a premature adherent to the idea of an Af-Pak – that is, expanded – war. While in Afghanistan in 2008, the New York Times reported, he was a “key advocate … of a plan, ultimately approved by President George W. Bush, to use American commandos to strike at Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.” This end-of-term Bush program provoked such anger and blowback in Pakistan that it was reportedly halted after two cross-border raids, one of which killed civilians.
All of this offers more than a hint of the sort of “new thinking and new approaches” – to use Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ words – that the Obama administration expects Gen. McChrystal to bring to the devolving Af-Pak battlefield. He is, in a sense, both a legacy figure from the worst days of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era and the first-born child of Obama-era Washington’s growing desperation and hysteria over the wars it inherited.
And here’s the good news: We luv the guy. Just luv him to death.
We loved him back in 2006, when Bush first outed him and Newsweek reporters Michael Hirsh and John Barry dubbed him “a rising star” in the Army and one of the “Jedi Knights who are fighting in what Cheney calls ‘the shadows.’”
It’s no different today in what’s left of the mainstream news analysis business. In that mix of sports lingo, Hollywood-ese, and just plain hyperbole that makes armchair war strategizing just so darn much fun, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, for instance, claimed that CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, who picked McChrystal as his man in Afghanistan, is “assembling an all-star team” and that McChrystal himself is “a rising superstar who, like Petraeus, has helped reinvent the U.S. Army.” Is that all?
When it came to pure, instant hagiography, however, the prize went to Elisabeth Bumiller and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, who wrote a front-pager, “A General Steps from the Shadows,” that painted a picture of McChrystal as a mutant cross between Superman and a saint.
Among other things, it described the general as “an ascetic who… usually eats just one meal a day, in the evening, to avoid sluggishness. He is known for operating on a few hours’ sleep and for running to and from work while listening to audio books on an iPod. … [He has] an encyclopedic, even obsessive, knowledge about the lives of terrorists. … [He is] a warrior-scholar, comfortable with diplomats, politicians…” and so on. The quotes Bumiller and Mazzetti dug up from others were no less spectacular: “He’s got all the Special Ops attributes, plus an intellect.” “If you asked me the first thing that comes to mind about General McChrystal … I think of no body fat.”
From the gush of good cheer about his appointment, you might almost conclude that the general was not human at all, but an advanced android (a good one, of course!) and the “elite” world (of murder and abuse) he emerged from an unbearably sexy one.
Above all, as we’re told here and elsewhere, what’s so good about the new appointment is that Gen. McChrystal is “more aggressive” than his stick-in-the-mud predecessor. He will, as Bumiller and Thom Shanker report in another piece, bring “a more aggressive and innovative approach to a worsening seven-year war.” The general, we’re assured, likes operations without body fat, but with plenty of punch. And though no one quite says this, given his closeness to Rumsfeld and possibly Cheney, both desperately eager to “take the gloves off” on a planetary scale, his mentality is undoubtedly a global-war-on-terror one, which translates into no respect for boundaries, restraints, or the sovereignty of others. After all, as journalist Gareth Porter pointed out recently in a thoughtful Asia Times portrait of the new Afghan War commander, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld granted the parent of JSOC, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), “the authority to carry out actions unilaterally anywhere on the globe.”
Think of McChrystal’s appointment, then, as a decision in Washington to dispatch the bull directly to the china shop with the most meager of hopes that the results won’t be smashed Afghans and Pakistanis. The Post’s Ignatius even compares McChrystal’s boss Petraeus and Obama’s special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, to “two headstrong bulls in a small paddock.” He then concludes his paean to all of them with this passage – far more ominous than he means it to be:
“Obama knows the immense difficulty of trying to fix a broken Afghanistan and make it a functioning, modern country. But with his two bulls, Petraeus and Holbrooke, he’s marching his presidency into the ‘graveyard of empires’ anyway.”
McChrystal is evidently the third bull, the one slated to start knocking over the tombstones.
An Expanding Af-Pak War
Of course, there are now so many bulls in this particular china shop that smashing is increasingly the name of the game. At this point, the early moves of the Obama administration, when combined with the momentum of the situation it inherited, have resulted in the expansion of the Af-Pak War in at least six areas, which only presage further expansion in the months to come:
1. Expanding Troop Commitment: In February, President Obama ordered a “surge” of 17,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, increasing U.S. forces there by 50 percent. (Then-commander McKiernan had called for 30,000 new troops.) In March, another 4,000 American military advisers and trainers were promised. The first of the surge troops, reportedly ill-equipped, are already arriving. In March, it was announced that this troop surge would be accompanied by a “civilian surge” of diplomats, advisers, and the like; in April, it was reported that, because the requisite diplomats and advisers couldn’t be found, the civilian surge would actually be made up largely of military personnel.
In preparation for this influx, there has been massive base and outpost building in the southern parts of that country, including the construction of 443-acre Camp Leatherneck in that region’s “desert of death.” When finished, it will support up to 8,000 U.S. troops, and a raft of helicopters and planes. Its airfield, which is under construction, has been described as the “largest such project in the world in a combat setting.”
2. Expanding CIA Drone War: The CIA is running an escalating secret drone war in the skies over the Pakistani borderlands with Afghanistan, a “targeted” assassination program of the sort that McChrystal specialized in while in Iraq. Since last September, more than three dozen drone attacks – the Los Angeles Times put the number at 55 – have been launched, as opposed to 10 in 2006-2007. The program has reportedly taken out a number of mid-level al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but also caused significant civilian casualties, destabilized the Pashtun border areas of Pakistan, and fostered support for the Islamic guerrillas in those regions. As Noah Shachtman wrote recently at his Danger Room Web site:
“According to the American press, a pair of missiles from the unmanned aircraft killed ‘at least 25 militants.’ In the local media, the dead were simply described as ‘29 tribesmen present there.’ That simple difference in description underlies a serious problem in the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. To Americans, the drones over Pakistan are terrorist-killers. In Pakistan, the robotic planes are wiping out neighbors.”
David Kilcullen, a key adviser to Petraeus during the Iraq “surge” months, and counterinsurgency expert Andrew McDonald Exum recently called for a moratorium on these attacks on the New York Times op-ed page. (”Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent – hardly ‘precision.’”) As it happens, however, the Obama administration is deeply committed to its drone war. As CIA Director Leon Panetta put the matter, “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.”
3. Expanding Air Force Drone War: The U.S. Air Force now seems to be getting into the act as well. There are conflicting reports about just what it is trying to do, but it has evidently brought its own set of Predator and Reaper drones into play in Pakistani skies, in conjunction, it seems, with a somewhat reluctant Pakistani military. Though the outlines of this program are foggy at best, this nonetheless represents an expansion of the war.
4. Expanding Political Interference: Quite a different kind of escalation is also underway. Washington is evidently attempting to insert yet another figure from the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era into the Afghan mix. Not so long ago, Zalmay Khalilzad, the neocon former American viceroy in Kabul and then Baghdad, was considering making a run for the Afghan presidency against Hamid Karzai, the leader the Obama administration is desperate to ditch. In March, reports – hotly denied by Holbrooke and others – broke in the British press of a U.S./British plan to “undermine President Karzai of Afghanistan by forcing him to install a powerful chief of staff to run the government.” Karzai, so the rumors went, would be reduced to “figurehead” status, while a “chief executive with prime ministerial-style powers” not provided for in the Afghan constitution would essentially take over the running of the weak and corrupt government.
This week, Helene Cooper reported on the front page of the New York Times that Khalilzad would be that man. He “could assume a powerful, unelected position inside the Afghan government under a plan he is discussing with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, according to senior American and Afghan officials.” He would then be “the chief executive officer of Afghanistan.”
Cooper’s report is filled with official denials that these negotiations involve Washington in any way. Yet if they succeed, an American citizen, a former U.S. ambassador to the UN as well as to Kabul, would end up functionally atop the Karzai government just as the Obama administration is eagerly pursuing a stepped-up war against the Taliban.
Why officials in Washington imagine that Afghans might actually accept such a figure is the mystery of the moment. It’s best to think of this plan as the kinder, gentler, soft-power version of the Kennedy administration’s 1963 decision to sign off on the coup that led to the assassination of South Vietnamese autocrat Ngo Dinh Diem. Then, too, top Washington officials were distressed that a puppet who seemed to be losing support was, like Karzai, also acting in an increasingly independent manner when it came to playing his appointed role in an American drama. That assassination, by the way, only increased instability in South Vietnam, leading to a succession of weak military regimes and paving the way for a further unraveling there. This American expansion of the war would likely have similar consequences.
5. Expanding War in Pakistan: Meanwhile, in Pakistan itself, mayhem has ensued, again in significant part thanks to Washington, whose disastrous Afghan war and escalating drone attacks have helped to destabilize the Pashtun regions of the country. Now, the Pakistani military – pushed and threatened by Washington (with the loss of military aid, among other things) – has smashed full force into the districts of Buner and Swat, which had, in recent months, been largely taken over by the Islamic fundamentalist guerrillas we call “the Pakistani Taliban.”
It’s been a massive show of force by a military configured for smash-mouth war with India, not urban or village warfare with lightly armed guerrillas. The Pakistani military has loosed its jets, helicopter gunships, and artillery on the region (even as the CIA drone strikes continue), killing unknown numbers of civilians and, far more significantly, causing a massive exodus of the local population. In some areas, well more than half the population has fled Taliban depredations and indiscriminate fire from the military. Those that remain in besieged towns and cities, often without electricity, with the dead in the streets, and fast disappearing supplies of food, are clearly in trouble.
With nearly 1.5 million Pakistanis turned into refugees just since the latest offensive began, UN officials are suggesting that this could be the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Talk about the destabilization of a country.
In the long run, this may only increase the anger of Pashtuns in the tribal areas of Pakistan at both the Americans and the Pakistani military and government. The rise of Pashtun nationalism and a fight for an “Islamic Pashtunistan” would prove a dangerous development indeed. This latest offensive is what Washington thought it wanted, but undoubtedly the old saw, “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true,” applies. Already a panicky Washington is planning to rush $110 million in refugee assistance to the country.
6. Expanding Civilian Death Toll and Blowback: As Taliban attacks in Afghanistan rise and that loose guerrilla force (more like a coalition of various Islamist, tribal, warlord, and criminal groups) spreads into new areas, the American air war in Afghanistan continues to take a heavy toll on Afghan civilians, while manufacturing ever more enemies as well as deep resentment and protest in that country. The latest such incident, possibly the worst since the Taliban was defeated in 2001, involves the deaths of up to 147 Afghans in the Bala Baluk district of Farah province, according to accounts that have come out of the villages attacked. Up to 95 of the dead were under 18, one Afghan lawmaker involved in investigating the incident claims, and up to 65 of them women or girls. These deaths came after Americans were called into an escalating fight between the Taliban and Afghan police and military units, and in turn, called in devastating air strikes by two U.S. jets and a B-1 bomber (which, villagers claim, hit them after the Taliban fighters had left).
Despite American pledges to own up to and apologize more quickly for civilian deaths, the post-carnage events followed a predictable stonewalling pattern, including a begrudging step-by-step retreat in the face of independent claims and reports. The Americans first denied that anything much had happened; then claimed that they had killed mainly Taliban “militants”; then that the Taliban had themselves used grenades to kill most of the civilians (a charge later partially withdrawn as “thinly sourced”); and finally, that the numbers of Afghan dead were “extremely over-exaggerated,” and that the urge for payment from the Afghan government might be partially responsible.
An investigation, as always, was launched that never seems to end, while the Americans wait for the story to fade from view. As of this moment, while still awaiting the results of a “very exhaustive” investigation, American spokesmen nonetheless claim that only 20-30 civilians died along with up to 65 Taliban insurgents. In these years, however, the record tells us that, when weighing the stories offered by surviving villagers and those of American officials, believe the villagers. Put more bluntly, in such situations, we lie, they die.
Two things make this “incident” at Bala Baluk more striking. First of all, according to Jerome Starkey of the British Independent, another Rumsfeld creation, the U.S. Marines Corps Special Operations Command (MarSOC), the Marines’ version of JSOC, was centrally involved, as it had been in two other major civilian slaughters, one near Jalalabad in 2007 (committed by a MarSOC unit that dubbed itself “Taskforce Violence”), the second in 2008 at the village of Azizabad in Herat province. McChrystal’s appointment, reports Starkey, has “prompted speculation that [similar] commando counterinsurgency missions will increase in the battle to beat the Taliban.”
Second, back in Washington, National Security Adviser James Jones and head of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, fretting about civilian casualties in Afghanistan and faced with President Karzai’s repeated pleas to cease air attacks on Afghan villages, nonetheless refused to consider the possibility. Both, in fact, used the same image. As Jones told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “Well, I think he understands that… we have to have the full complement of… our offensive military power when we need it. … We can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back….”
In a world in which the U.S. is the military equivalent of the multi-armed Hindu god Shiva, this is one of the truly strange, if long-lasting, American images. It was, for instance, used by President George H. W. Bush on the eve of the first Gulf War. “No hands,” he said, “are going to be tied behind backs. This is not a Vietnam.”
Forgetting the levels of firepower loosed in Vietnam, the image itself is abidingly odd. After all, in everyday speech, the challenge “I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back” is a bravado offer of voluntary restraint and an implicit admission that fighting any other way would make one a bully. So hidden in the image, both when the elder Bush used it and today, is a most un-American acceptance of the United States as a bully nation, about to be restrained by no one, least of all itself.
Apologize or stonewall, one thing remains certain: the air war will continue and so civilians will continue to die. The idea that the U.S. might actually be better off with one “hand” tied behind its back is now so alien to us as to be beyond serious consideration.
The Pressure of an Expanding War
President Obama has opted for a down-and-dirty war strategy in search of some at least minimalist form of success. For this, McChrystal is the poster boy. Former Afghan commander Gen. McKiernan believed that, “as a NATO commander, my mandate stops at the [Afghan] border. So unless there is a clear case of self-protection to fire across the border, we don’t consider any operations across the border in the tribal areas.”
That the “responsibilities” of U.S. generals fighting the Afghan War “ended at the border with Pakistan,” Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt of the Times report, is now considered part of an “old mindset.” McChrystal represents those “fresh eyes” that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talked about in the press conference announcing the general’s appointment. As Mazzetti and Schmitt point out, “Among [McChrystal's] last projects as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command was to better coordinate Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency efforts on both sides of the porous border.”
For those old enough to remember, we’ve been here before. Administrations that start down a path of expansion in such a war find themselves strangely locked in – psychically, if nothing else – if things don’t work out as expected and the situation continues to deteriorate. In Vietnam, the result was escalation without end. President Obama and his foreign policy team now seem locked into an expanding war. Despite the fact that the application of force has not only failed for years, but actually fed that expansion, they also seem to be locked into a policy of applying ever greater force, with the goal of, as the Post’s Ignatius puts it, cracking the “Taliban coalition” and bringing elements of it to the bargaining table.
So keep an eye out for whatever goes wrong, as it most certainly will, and then for the pressures on Washington to respond with further expansions of what is already “Obama’s war.” With McChrystal in charge in Afghanistan, for instance, it seems reasonable to assume that the urge to sanction new special forces raids into Pakistan will grow. After all, frustration in Washington is already building, for however much the Pakistani military may be taking on the Taliban in Swat or Buner, don’t expect its military or civilian leaders to be terribly interested in what happens near the Afghan border.
As Tony Karon of the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog puts the matter: “The current military campaign is designed to enforce a limit on the Taliban’s reach within Pakistan, confining it to the movement’s heartland.” And that heartland is the Afghan border region. For one thing, the Pakistani military (and the country’s intelligence services, which essentially brought the Taliban into being long ago) are focused on India. They want a Pashtun ally across the border, Taliban or otherwise, where they fear the Indians are making inroads.
So the frustration of a war in which the enemy has no borders and we do is bound to rise along with the fighting, long predicted to intensify this year. We now have a more aggressive “team” in place. Soon enough, if the fighting in the Afghan south and along the Pakistani border doesn’t go as planned, pressure for the president to send in those other 10,000 troops Gen. McKiernan asked for may rise as well, as could pressure to apply more air power, more drone power, more of almost anything. And yet, as former CIA station chief in Kabul, Graham Fuller, wrote recently, in the region “crises have only grown worse under the U.S. military footprint.”
And what if, as the war continues its slow arc of expansion, the “Washington coalition” is the one that cracks first? What then?
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
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Insurgents still remain in major SWAT towns.

This is from

No doubt in some instances the Taliban will simply disappear into the general population or more likely leave some to fight and others to blend in with the populace to emerge at a later date. No doubt also that the Pakistani forces will kill many civilians as this article notes. In many cases the forces may mistake ordinary civilians for Taliban.

Despite Offensive, Insurgents Remain a Presence in Major Swat Towns
Posted By Jason Ditz The Pakistani military has claimed some major gains in the ongoing Swat Valley offensive, notably today capturing a tent on top of a desolate mountain. Yet reports are suggesting that even as the troops slowly move deeper into the valley, the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants remain entrenched in its major towns, blending easily with the local populace.
You cannot distinguish between a Talib and a normal citizen,” Major General Sajjad Ali admitted, which is perhaps ominous inasmuch as the military claims to have killed over a thousand of the former and has not commented at all on the civilian toll, even when they have directly attacked fleeing civilians along the valley’s northern mountains.
Commanders are now saying that gaining control over the region will take months, even as President Asif Ali Zardari intends to expand the fight into a significant portion of the country’s northern frontier. While most of Pakistan’s attacks have involved reports of commanders killed, locals report that none of the top leaders of the insurgency have been killed yet.
Swat’s largest city, Mingora, has remained under TTP control for weeks, though military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas says the military is surrounding it and will be launching an operation against it soon.
Copyright © 2009 News From All rights reserved.

Some Philippine Armed Forces Personnel giving themselves bonuses for Military Exercises with US?

This is from the Tribune (Manila)

While the AFP is mounting a probe without the whistle-blower one wonders what positive evidence will come forward given that the woman who made the charge fears for her safety if she testifies. No doubt others who might testify have the same fears.

AFP to press probe of Balikatan fund mess even without Gadian
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will proceed with its investigation of the alleged misuse of the funds intended for use in the RP-US Balikatan exercises held two years ago in the country even without the issue’s whistle-blower, Navy Lt. Senior Grade Nancy Gadian, a military official said yesterday.
Speaking at the Balitaan sa Tinapayan forum held in Sampaloc, Manila, AFP spokesman, Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. said the investigation will focus on studying the records of the Commission on Audit in 2007 which had made an audit of the use of the funds to determine if there was indeed irregularity in their disbursement.
“We will be revisiting our records. It would be better if Lt. S/G Gadian would show up (at the hearing) and formalize her complaint and name names on who actually committed the misuse of the funds. But she has to substantiate (her claims) with evidence,” Brawner said.
He explained that the annual joint exercises between the Philippines and the United States is aimed at strengthening the capabilities of the two militaries.
A fund in the amount of P42 million was set aside for the Balikatan exercises in 2007.
Brawner, though, said the AFP’s next move regarding the alleged misuse of the 2007 Balikatan funds would depend on Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro.
Earlier, Gadian’s family asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of amparo, to compel the AFP to stop its harassment of the resigned Navy officer.
Gadian’s sister, Nedina Gadian-Diamante, said she filed a motion for the issuance of a writ of amparo after reportedly receiving a text message saying that a shoot-to-kill order had already been issued out against her sister.
The military, however, has denied issuing a shoot-to-kill order against Gadian, who went on an indefinite absence without official leave before spilling the beans on the alleged misuse of the funds for the joint RP-US Balikatan exercises two years ago by ranking Armed Forces officials.
Gadian said the “anomaly” ran from lower-ranked officials from the Western Mindanao Command up to the AFP’s hierarchy. She said they pocketed portions of the joint military exercises’ P42-million fund in 2007.
Asked to identify who sent the text message talking about the shoot-to-kill order, Diamante refused to give a name but said the sender was a “concerned citizen.”
An earlier report said Diamante’s source was someone from the Philippine National Police.
At the same time, Brawner said despite her having filed a resignation from military service, Gadian remains an officer of the AFP as she still has to go through a required process before her resignation is declared final. PNA

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Israel won't yield to U.S. demands, won't halt settlement construction.

This is from Haaretz.

One could probably add that the U.S. probably will not do anything about this. Israel and Iran are quite similar both could care less about international opinion. However, Israel could be brought to heel if the U.S. had the gumption to cut off aid particularly military aid to Israel. This is about as likely as that the president of Iran will erect a Holocaust monument! No word these days about what if anything is going on between Hamas and Fatah. A while ago it seemed that the two might try to reconcile. This would certainly strengthen the Palestinians.

'Israel won't yield to U.S. demands, won't halt settlement construction'
By Haaertz Service
Tags: Israel news, Netanyahu

Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon spoke to Channel 2 on Saturday about the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, held earlier this week, saying that Israel's government will not allow the U.S. to dictate its policy, and that "settlement construction will not be halted." "Settlements are not the reason that the peace process is failing, they were never an obstacle, not at any stage," Ya'alon told Channel 2 News. "Even when Israel pulled out of [Palestinian] territory, the terror continued. Even when we uprooted [Jewish] communities, we got 'Hamastan.' That is why I propose that we think about it - not in slogans and not with decrees." According to Ayalon, "we will not halt the construction in the settlements within the framework of natural growth. There are people here who are living their lives, raising children. Housing is required ? it wasn't housing that has prevented peace."
In reference to the illegal West Bank outposts, which Israel has vowed to evacuate and has begun to do so, Ya'alon stressed that "the government will not permit illegal settlement, as we've proven with our actions this week." Some believe that the evacuation of the outpost of Maoz Esther on Thursday morning, which came a day after Defense Ministry sources told Haaretz that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak had agreed on a plan to evacuate illegal outposts in the West Bank, was carried out in accordance with U.S. pressure. However, Barak denied any correlation between the Netanyahu-Obama meeting on Monday, and the evacuation. Ya'alon also addressed reports that the U.S. had upped its demands and was trying to dictate Israel's next moves in the negotiations with the Palestinians. "What the U.S. is asking is not a demand, we'll see whether their declaration become actual demands," he said. "[U.S. envoy to the Middle East George] Mitchell will come, and we'll talk to him. I suggest that Israel and the U.S. don't set a timetable. We won't let them threaten us," Ya'alon added. "From the banks of the Potomac in Washington it is not always clear what the real situation here is," Ya'alon concluded. "This is where Israel must step in and help her ally understand the situation." Ya'alon also criticized Israel, saying that "the Israeli discourse paints us as hostile, the problem is within us."

Ivan Eland: Blowing Smoke on Gitmo

It would be nice if the mainstream media published more critical and analytical material such as this but it remains for struggling outlets such as to do so. They are having a fund drive right at the moment. THis post comes from their site. Original - -
Blowing Smoke on Gitmo
Posted By Ivan Eland On May 22, 2009 @ 9:00 pm
Unfortunately, politicians claim they don’t read opinion polls, while scrutinizing them even more closely than options for their next junket. This has been most evident recently in the civil liberties arena. On the same day he was inaugurated, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that would close Guantanamo prison in Cuba – a largely symbolic and overrated act to show his break with flagrant Bush administration abuses of civil liberties.
But Obama is not the only person in the Washington public relations circus who is perpetrating demagoguery on the issue. The Republicans, and now the Democrats, in Congress are fearmongering over the possibility that some of the Guantanamo inmates may come to the United States. In both cases, the politicians read the opinion polls and acted accordingly.
One might say that this is laudable behavior in a democracy and that the politicians are just reflecting what the people want. However, in the United States, we have never had direct democracy. We have a system of indirect democracy in which periodic elections are held to elect governmental representatives who are supposed to lead. One of the strengths of representative government is the realization that each citizen doesn’t have the time, energy, or knowledge to be an expert on every issue. Of course, over time, if politicians get far off the track in too many instances on what the people regard as important and correct, they can be voted out in those elections. But in general, the public will give politicians some leeway on such matters. For example, Ronald Reagan was and Barack Obama has been more popular with the public than their stands on the issues. The same is true with popular congressional leaders who take principled stands – for example, Ron Paul.
After the travesty of the Bush abuses of civil liberties, we need bipartisan courage to reverse the damage instead of empty symbolism or the stoking of irrational public fears.
First, although Obama has pledged to close Guantanamo, the act would be only symbolic if he retains all of the abuses that have gone on there. Torture and mistreatment happened at other U.S. prisons around the world, and Leon Panetta, Obama’s CIA director, has not ruled out allowing the CIA to use torture in extraordinary circumstances. In addition, Obama has refused to release photos of past prisoner abuse because he deemed them to be devoid of new illuminative value and claimed, without hard evidence, that U.S. troops overseas would be endangered by their release. But in a republic, should the government deny citizens the right to see what it has done – even if it is grisly or shameful?
Obama is retaining military commissions, which he vehemently criticized during the presidential campaign for their lack of due legal process. Despite his pledge to limit hearsay evidence and ban evidence obtained through torture, the tribunals are still kangaroo courts that do not meet constitutional standards of due process. Also, before he became president, Obama was one of many congressional Democrats in Congress to wail about warrantless wiretapping on people in the United States, only to eventually strengthen the law that allows such unconstitutional spying.
Despite all of the hubbub about the possibility of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the United States, most scary are Obama’s recent musings about changing laws to allow preventive detention. When a president can yank people off the streets merely because he alleges that they are "dangerous," throw them in jail, and hold them indefinitely without charge, we are on the road to dictatorship. Although Bush violated such habeas corpus rights, which have been one of the cornerstones of the rule of law in both Britain and the United States for centuries, Obama is talking about enshrining the violations into permanency. All of this shows that Obama is not restoring the republic, but has adopted a policy of Bush Lite, which retains some of the unneeded and un-American Bush policies. (I do not accuse people of "un-American" activities lightly, but this erosion of unique American freedoms does seem to fit the bill.)
And what of Congress? Democrats now control it and should be keeping Obama honest in rolling back the horrendous Bush practices. Instead, Republicans are squealing about having Guantanamo’s terrorists in our midst, and the scared Democrats are caving in to them. Yet American prisons seem to have been able to hold the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 without being attacked or having them escape. The same has been true for domestic terrorists, such as snipers John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo and Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols of Oklahoma City bombing fame. The town of Hardin, Mont., with a vacant correctional facility, didn’t think it that dangerous to hold Gitmo detainees and has offered to take them. Moreover, if U.S. prisons are off-limits to terrorists, where will any of those convicted be held?
Members of Congress also point to the 14 percent of released Guantanamo inmates who have allegedly gone back to terrorism. Most of the U.S. government’s allegations of the released prisoners’ supposed transgressions are either secret or vague – such as associating or training with terrorists.
Moreover, if the U.S. prison system had a recidivism rate of only 14 percent, correctional and law enforcement officials would be jumping for joy. Recidivism in this system can be as much as 68 percent three years after release. Undoubtedly, this low rate is not because Guantanamo has had fabulous rehabilitation programs for terrorists, but probably indicates that people who weren’t guilty of anything were swept off the battlefield in Afghanistan because of the rewards offered to snitches in a dirt-poor country. The likelihood that innocent people were jailed indefinitely also illustrates why preventive detention is bad and genuine legal due process is so vital.
Finally, the arrogance of the U.S. Congress is unbelievable. It expects foreign countries to bail the United States out from its self-made civil liberties quagmire. The U.S. preventively detained people indefinitely without legal due process, proposed to try them in kangaroo military tribunals, and tortured them. Now the United States wants other nations to take released Guantanamo prisoners or ones who need to remain incarcerated.
Instead, let me suggest a "radical" solution to the entire civil liberties quagmire. Why don’t we treat alleged terrorists as criminals rather than warriors (as they should have been handled from the start), charge them if possible with a punishable offense, and try them in U.S. civilian courts. If the evidence is not good enough to do so or it was obtained by torture, then we need to bite the bullet as a society and free them. In the worst case, if they commit another terrorist act, it would be bad, but not more horrible than trashing the constitutional freedoms that are the bedrock of the American republic.
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Israel finally supplies maps of cluster bomb sites

While this is a positive development, it also shows that Israel must not feel threatened at all in revealing the extent and nature of its use of cluster bombs. As the article notes most countries ban their use. Israel used them mostly just a few days before the war ended. It seems a gratuitous hateful act that has caused continual misery for many and was roundly condemned by many rights groups but of course the US remains a defender of cluster bombs.

Israel Finally Supplies Maps of Cluster Bomb Sites
Nearly Three Years After War, Data Finally Provided
by Jason Ditz, May 12, 2009

Nearly three years after the end of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, the Israeli military is finally providing the United Nations with maps and technical data regarding locations which were attacked with cluster munitions. The data has been requested essentially since the war ended.
The Israeli barrage of clusterb bombs was launched chiefly in the final 72 hours of the war and many were fired in between the agreement to and implementation of the ceasefire. The UN mine disposal agency estimated that up to a million of the bomblets remained unexploded in the Lebanese countryside after the war, and over 320 people have been killed or injured by the munitions since the ceasefire.
Israel’s use of the munitions in populated areas was roundly condemned by human rights groups, as was the United States for expediting the shipment of bombs to Israel so they could be used in the waning hours of the war. International outrage over the toll in Lebanon was perhaps the driving force behind the growing movement to ban the bombs entirely. Only a handful of countries have refused to sign the ban, including Israel and the US.

Greenwald G.: Facts and Myths about Obama's preventive detention proposal

This is an excellent fact filled and argument rich article on Obama's proposal to introduce preventive detention legislation. As Greenwald in effect notes this proposal gives powers to Obama that when Bush used them brought a chorus of criticism from liberals. Far from restoring the United States to international credibility on human rights Obama is making a few gestures on the issue of torture while expanding drone attacks, making MacChrystal an expert in black ops the top man in Afghanistan, and now suggesting what is in effect abolishing habeas corpus for some persons.

Glenn Greenwald
Friday May 22, 2009 09:23 EDT
Facts and myths about Obama's preventive detention proposal
[Updated below - Update II (Interview with ACLU) - Update III - Update IV - Update V - Update VI]
In the wake of Obama's speech yesterday, there are vast numbers of new converts who now support indefinite "preventive detention." It thus seems constructive to have as dispassionate and fact-based discussion as possible of the implications of "preventive detention" and Obama's related detention proposals (military commissions). I'll have a podcast discussion on this topic a little bit later today with the ACLU's Ben Wizner, which I'll add below, but until then, here are some facts and other points worth noting:

(1) What does "preventive detention" allow?
It's important to be clear about what "preventive detention" authorizes. It does not merely allow the U.S. Government to imprison people alleged to have committed Terrorist acts yet who are unable to be convicted in a civilian court proceeding. That class is merely a subset, perhaps a small subset, of who the Government can detain. Far more significant, "preventive detention" allows indefinite imprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally "dangerous" by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they "expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden" or "otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans"). That's what "preventive" means: imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be "combatants."
Once known, the details of the proposal could -- and likely will -- make this even more extreme by extending the "preventive detention" power beyond a handful of Guantanamo detainees to anyone, anywhere in the world, alleged to be a "combatant." After all, once you accept the rationale on which this proposal is based -- namely, that the U.S. Government must, in order to keep us safe, preventively detain "dangerous" people even when they can't prove they violated any laws -- there's no coherent reason whatsoever to limit that power to people already at Guantanamo, as opposed to indefinitely imprisoning with no trials all allegedly "dangerous" combatants, whether located in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Western countries and even the U.S.
(2) Are defenders of Obama's proposals being consistent?
During the Bush years, it was common for Democrats to try to convince conservatives to oppose Bush's executive power expansions by asking them: "Do you really want these powers to be exercised by Hillary Clinton or some liberal President?"
Following that logic, for any Democrat/progressive/liberal/Obama supporter who wants to defend Obama's proposal of "preventive detention," shouldn't you first ask yourself three simple questions:
(a) what would I have said if George Bush and Dick Cheney advocated a law vesting them with the power to preventively imprison people indefinitely and with no charges?;
(b) when Bush and Cheney did preventively imprison large numbers of people, was I in favor of that or did I oppose it, and when right-wing groups such as Heritage Foundation were alone in urging a preventive detention law in 2004, did I support them?; and
(c) even if I'm comfortable with Obama having this new power because I trust him not to abuse it, am I comfortable with future Presidents -- including Republicans -- having the power of indefinite "preventive detention"?

(3) Questions for defenders of Obama's proposal:
There are many claims being made by defenders of Obama's proposals which seem quite contradictory and/or without any apparent basis, and I've been searching for a defender of those proposals to address these questions:
Bush supporters have long claimed -- and many Obama supporters are now insisting as well -- that there are hard-core terrorists who cannot be convicted in our civilian courts. For anyone making that claim, what is the basis for believing that? In the Bush era, the Government has repeatedly been able to convict alleged Al Qaeda and Taliban members in civilian courts, including several (Ali al-Marri, Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh) who were tortured and others (Zacharais Moussaoui, Padilla) where evidence against them was obtained by extreme coercion. What convinced you to believe that genuine terrorists can't be convicted in our justice system?
For those asserting that there are dangerous people who have not yet been given any trial and who Obama can't possibly release, how do you know they are "dangerous" if they haven't been tried? Is the Government's accusation enough for you to assume it's true?
Above all: for those justifying Obama's use of military commissions by arguing that some terrorists can't be convicted in civilian courts because the evidence against them is "tainted" because it was obtained by Bush's torture, Obama himself claimed just yesterday that his military commissions also won't allow such evidence ("We will no longer permit the use of evidence -- as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods"). How does our civilian court's refusal to consider evidence obtained by torture demonstrate the need for Obama's military commissions if, as Obama himself claims, Obama's military commissions also won't consider evidence obtained by torture?
Finally, don't virtually all progressives and Democrats argue that torture produces unreliable evidence? If it's really true (as Obama defenders claim) that the evidence we have against these detainees was obtained by torture and is therefore inadmissible in real courts, do you really think such unreliable evidence -- evidence we obtained by torture -- should be the basis for concluding that someone is so "dangerous" that they belong in prison indefinitely with no trial? If you don't trust evidence obtained by torture, why do you trust it to justify holding someone forever, with no trial, as "dangerous"?

(4) Do other countries have indefinite preventive detention?
Obama yesterday suggested that other countries have turned to "preventive detention" and that his proposal therefore isn't radical ("other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we"). Is that true?
In June of last year, there was a tumultuous political debate in Britain that sheds ample light on this question. In the era of IRA bombings, the British Parliament passed a law allowing the Government to preventively detain terrorist suspects for 14 days -- and then either have to charge them or release them. In 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair -- citing the London subway attacks and the need to "intervene early before a terrorist cell has the opportunity to achieve its goals" -- wanted to increase the preventive detention period to 90 days, but MPs from his own party and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly opposed this, and ultimately increased it only to 28 days.
In June of last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought an expansion of this preventive detention authority to 42 days -- a mere two weeks more. Reacting to that extremely modest increase, a major political rebellion erupted, with large numbers of Brown's own Labour Party joining with Tories to vehemently oppose it as a major threat to liberty. Ultimately, Brown's 42-day scheme barely passed the House of Commons. As former Prime Minister John Major put it in opposing the expansion to 42 days:
It is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.
By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that are indefinite -- meaning without any end, potentially permanent. There's no time limit on the "preventive detention." Compare that power to the proposal that caused such a political storm in Britain and what these other governments are empowered to do. The suggestion that indefinite preventive detention without charges is some sort of common or traditional scheme is clearly false.

(5) Is this comparable to traditional POW detentions?
When Bush supporters used to justify Bush/Cheney detention policies by arguing that it's normal for "Prisoners of War" to be held without trials, that argument was deeply misleading. And it's no less misleading when made now by Obama supporters. That comparison is patently inappropriate for two reasons: (a) the circumstances of the apprehension, and (b) the fact that, by all accounts, this "war" will not be over for decades, if ever, which means -- unlike for traditional POWs, who are released once the war is over -- these prisoners are going to be in a cage not for a few years, but for decades, if not life.
Traditional "POWs" are ones picked up during an actual military battle, on a real battlefield, wearing a uniform, while engaged in fighting. The potential for error and abuse in deciding who was a "combatant" was thus minimal. By contrast, many of the people we accuse in the "war on terror" of being "combatants" aren't anywhere near a "battlefield," aren't part of any army, aren't wearing any uniforms, etc. Instead, many of them are picked up from their homes, at work, off the streets. In most cases, then, we thus have little more than the say-so of the U.S. Government that they are guilty, which is why actual judicial proceedings before imprisoning them is so much more vital than in the standard POW situation.
Anyone who doubts that should just look at how many Guantanamo detainees were accused of being "the worst of the worst" yet ended up being released because they did absolutely nothing wrong. Can anyone point to any traditional POW situation where so many people were falsely accused and where the risk of false accusations was so high? For obvious reasons, this is not and has never been a traditional POW detention scheme.
During the Bush era, that was a standard argument among Democrats, so why should that change now? Here is what Anne-Marie Slaughter -- now Obama's Director of Policy Planning for the State Department -- said about Bush's "POW" comparison on Fox News on November 21, 2001:
Military commissions have been around since the Revolutionary War. But they've always been used to try spies that we find behind enemy lines. It's normally a situation, you're on the battlefield, you find an enemy spy behind your lines. You can't ship them to national court, so you provide a kind of rough battlefield justice in a commission. You give them the best process you can, and then you execute the sentence on the spot, which generally means executing the defendant.
That's not this situation. It's not remotely like it.
As for duration, the U.S. government has repeatedly said that this "war" is so different from standard wars because it will last for decades, if not generations. Obama himself yesterday said that "unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can't count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end" and that we'll still be fighting this "war" "a year from now, five years from now, and -- in all probability -- 10 years from now." No rational person can compare POW detentions of a finite and usually short (2-5 years) duration to decades or life in a cage. That's why, yesterday, Law Professor Diane Marie Amann, in The New York Times, said this:
[Obama] signaled a plan by which [Guantanamo detainees] — and perhaps other detainees yet to be arrested? — could remain in custody forever without charge. There is no precedent in the American legal tradition for this kind of preventive detention. That is not quite right: precedents do exist, among them the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Japanese internment of the 1940s, but they are widely seen as low points in America’s history under the Constitution.
There are many things that can be said about indefinitely imprisoning people with no charges who were not captured on any battlefield, but the claim that this is some sort of standard or well-established practice in American history is patently false.

(6) Is it "due process" when the Government can guarantee it always wins?
If you really think about the argument Obama made yesterday -- when he described the five categories of detainees and the procedures to which each will be subjected -- it becomes manifest just how profound a violation of Western conceptions of justice this is. What Obama is saying is this: we'll give real trials only to those detainees we know in advance we will convict. For those we don't think we can convict in a real court, we'll get convictions in the military commissions I'm creating. For those we can't convict even in my military commissions, we'll just imprison them anyway with no charges ("preventively detain" them).
Giving trials to people only when you know for sure, in advance, that you'll get convictions is not due process. Those are called "show trials." In a healthy system of justice, the Government gives everyone it wants to imprison a trial and then imprisons only those whom it can convict. The process is constant (trials), and the outcome varies (convictions or acquittals).
Obama is saying the opposite: in his scheme, it is the outcome that is constant (everyone ends up imprisoned), while the process varies and is determined by the Government (trials for some; military commissions for others; indefinite detention for the rest). The Government picks and chooses which process you get in order to ensure that it always wins. A more warped "system of justice" is hard to imagine.

(7) Can we "be safe" by locking up all the Terrorists with no charges?
Obama stressed yesterday that the "preventive detention" system should be created only through an act of Congress with "a process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified." That's certainly better than what Bush did: namely, preventively detain people with no oversight and no Congressional authorization -- in violation of the law. But as we learned with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Protect America Act of 2007, the mere fact that Congress approves of a radical policy may mean that it is no longer lawless but it doesn't make it justified. As Professor Amann put it: "no amount of procedures can justify deprivations that, because of their very nature violate the Constitution’s core guarantee of liberty." Dan Froomkin said that no matter how many procedures are created, that's "a dangerously extreme policy proposal."
Regarding Obama's "process" justification -- and regarding Obama's primary argument that we need to preventively detain allegedly dangerous people in order to keep us safe -- Digby said it best:
We are still in a "war" against a method of violence, which means there is no possible end and which means that the government can capture and imprison anyone they determine to be "the enemy" forever. The only thing that will change is where the prisoners are held and few little procedural tweaks to make it less capricious. (It's nice that some sort of official committee will meet once in a while to decide if the war is over or if the prisoner is finally too old to still be a "danger to Americans.")
There seems to be some misunderstanding about Guantanamo. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads is that it is nothing more than a symbol, which can be dealt with simply by closing the prison. That's just not true. Guantanamo is a symbol, true, but it's a symbol of a lawless, unconstitutional detention and interrogation system. Changing the venue doesn't solve the problem.
I know it's a mess, but the fact is that this isn't really that difficult, except in the usual beltway kabuki political sense. There are literally tens of thousands of potential terrorists all over the world who could theoretically harm America. We cannot protect ourselves from that possibility by keeping the handful we have in custody locked up forever, whether in Guantanamo or some Super Max prison in the US. It's patently absurd to obsess over these guys like it makes us even the slightest bit safer to have them under indefinite lock and key so they "can't kill Americans."
The mere fact that we are doing this makes us less safe because the complete lack of faith we show in our constitution and our justice systems is what fuels the idea that this country is weak and easily terrified. There is no such thing as a terrorist suspect who is too dangerous to be set free. They are a dime a dozen, they are all over the world and for every one we lock up there will be three to take his place. There is not some finite number of terrorists we can kill or capture and then the "war" will be over and the babies will always be safe. This whole concept is nonsensical.
As I said yesterday, there were some positive aspects to Obama's speech. His resolve to close Guantanamo in the face of all the fear-mongering, like his release of the OLC memos, is commendable. But the fact that a Democratic President who ran on a platform of restoring America's standing and returning to our core principles is now advocating the creation of a new system of indefinite preventive detention -- something that is now sure to become a standard view of Democratic politicians and hordes of Obama supporters -- is by far the most consequential event yet in the formation of Obama's civil liberties policies.

UPDATE: Here's what White House Counsel Greg Craig told The New Yorker's Jane Mayer in February:
"It’s possible but hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law," Craig said. "Our presumption is that there is no need to create a whole new system. Our system is very capable."
"The first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law" is how Obama's own White House Counsel described him. Technically speaking, that is a form of change, but probably not the type that many Obama voters expected.

UPDATE II: Ben Wizner of the ACLU's National Security Project is the lead lawyer in the Jeppesen case, which resulted in the recent rejection by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Bush/Obama state secrets argument, and also co-wrote (along with the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer) a superb article in Salon in December making the case against preventive detention. I spoke with him this morning for roughly 20 minutes regarding the detention policies proposed by Obama in yesterday's speech. It can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below. A transcript will be posted shortly.

UPDATE III: Rachel Maddow was superb last night -- truly superb -- on the topic of Obama's preventive detention proposal:

UPDATE IV: The New Yorker's Amy Davidson compares Obama's detention proposal to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II (as did Professor Amann, quoted above). Hilzoy, of The Washington Monthly, writes: "If we don't have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we don't have enough evidence to hold them. Period" and "the power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power." Salon's Joan Walsh quotes the Center for Constitutional Rights' Vincent Warren as saying: "They’re creating, essentially, an American Gulag." The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch says of Obama's proposal: "What he's proposing is against one of this country's core principles" and "this is why people need to keep the pressure on Obama -- even those inclined to view his presidency favorably."

UPDATE V: The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder -- who is as close to the Obama White House as any journalist around -- makes an important point about Obama that I really wish more of his supporters would appreciate:
[Obama] was blunt [in his meeting with civil libertiarians]; the [military commissions] are a fait accompli, so the civil libertarians can either help Congress and the White House figure out the best way to protect the rights of the accused within the framework of that decision, or they can remain on the outside, as agitators. That's not meant to be pejorative; whereas the White House does not give a scintilla of attention to its right-wing critics, it does read, and will read, everything Glenn Greenwald writes. Obama, according to an administration official, finds this outside pressure healthy and useful.
Ambinder doesn't mean me personally or exclusively; he means people who are criticizing Obama not in order to harm him politically, but in order to pressure him to do better. It's not just the right, but the duty, of citizens to pressure and criticize political leaders when they adopt policies that one finds objectionable or destructive. Criticism of this sort is a vital check on political leaders -- a key way to impose accountability -- and Obama himself has said as much many times before.
It has nothing to do with personalities or allegiances. It doesn't matter if one "likes" or "trusts" Obama or thinks he's a good or bad person. That's all irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether one thinks that the actions he's undertaking are helpful or harmful. If they're harmful, one should criticize them. Where, as here, they're very harmful and dangerous, one should criticize them loudly. Obama himself, according to Ambinder, "finds this outside pressure healthy and useful." And it is. It's not only healthy and useful but absolutely vital.

UPDATE VI: Bearing in mind what Obama repeatedly pledged to do while running, this headline from The New York Times this morning is rather extraordinary:

As Greg Craig put it: "hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law."
-- Glenn Greenwald
Currently in Glenn Greenwald's Blog
Facts and myths about Obama's preventive detention proposal
Is a system of indefinite detention with no charges a standard or radical idea?
Friday, May 22, 2009 16:23 EDT
U.S. Congress to finally stand up against torture?
Obama's proposed agreement with the UAE is in jeopardy because of their tolerance of torture and lawlessness.
Friday, May 22, 2009 12:23 EDT
Obama's civil liberties speech
As usual, Obama effectively defended various ideals while advocating policies that contradict them
Thursday, May 21, 2009 17:22 EDT
Hailing the leader as a War President and the powers that go with it
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Thursday, May 21, 2009 16:22 EDT
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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. I am the author of two New York Times Bestselling books: "How Would a Patriot Act?" (May, 2006), a critique of the Bush administration's use of executive power, and "A Tragic Legacy" (June, 2007), which examines the Bush legacy. My most recent book, "Great American Hypocrites", examines the manipulative electoral tactics used by the GOP and propagated by the establishment press, and was released in April, 2008, by Random House/Crown.

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