Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The presidential election and drone strikes: Five Questions

Not much has been said about the issue of drone attacks during the presidential election campaign. Robert Naiman suggests that there are five important questions that journalists should ask about the issue.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy. Among his other many pursuits he writes on U.S. foreign policy for the Huffington Post. Given that there has been little discussion of U.S. drone policy during the presidential campaign, Naiman along with others urged Bob Schieffer , who was moderator of the third and last debate between Obama and Romney, on foreign policy, to ask a question about drones. He did.
Schieffer asked the question only of Mitt Romney! He asked only Romney what his position on the use of drones is on the grounds that people already know what Obama's position is. Romney replied:
" Well I believe we should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world. And it's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that and entirely, and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology, and believe that we should continue to use it, to continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends."
One can see from this answer that Romney is in basic agreement with Obama on drones. In the election campaign, the two want to emphasize their differences, and hence they will not even bring the issue up.
To ask only Romney about the issue is strange. After all, Obama seems proud of his policy and considers it a success even though there are many criticisms. Schieffer could even have asked a critical question but I suppose that would be going beyond the pale.
However, Naiman and others have considered that even bringing up the topic was a step forward. In the Guardian, Mark Weisbrot said: "It was a victory just to have drones mentioned." Perhaps it is a big leap forward over Big Bird.
On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said:
What we are doing with drones is remarkable. The fact that ... over George W. Bush's eight years when a lot of people brought up a bunch of legitimate questions about international law--my God, those lines have been completely eradicated in a drone policy that says that, if you're between 17 and 30, and you're within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up. And that's exactly what's happening.
The defense of these attacks as protecting civilians in the U.S. shows how completely bizarre the discourse has become. There is no direct and immediate threat to anyone in the U.S. by most of those who are targeted. At most they are a threat to U.S. troops and those who might support them in Afghanistan. The way to avoid that problem would be to withdraw the troops as many in the U.S. want.
Naiman suggests it would be informative and useful if high-profile journalists ask some detailed questions about drone policy and engage in genuine critical discussion of the issues. I doubt that this is likely to happen, certainly not before the election in any event. Here are the five questions Naiman wants asked.
The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan recently said that the U.S. has an official count of the number of civilians it believes to have been killed since 2008 by drone strikes in Pakistan but the number is classified. What is the number? Why is it classified?
Researchers have reported U.S. secondary or follow-up attacks that target rescuers after drone strikes. Legal experts say these attacks are war crimes. The U.S. ambassador to Pakistan denies such strikes. What is the truth?
U.S. officials say that the Pakistani military secretly support the strikes. However, the Pakistan parliament has several times passed motions demanding the strikes stop. Is the U.S. violating international law and Pakistani sovereignty by the drone strikes when they are not approved by the Pakistani parliament?
U.S. officials claim the strikes are narrowly targeted on high level terror suspects. However, the U.S. also is said to use "signature strikes" based on suspicious activity. How is this consistent with narrow targeting? I think the answer to this is that it isn't but that officials do not care.
John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism adviser, says that civilian deaths are exceedingly rare. However, data collected by a number of sources show otherwise, and that at least 15-30% of deaths are civilians. If the collateral damage is this high is the U.S. violating the principle of proportionality?
Those are all good questions but I would not expect the questions even to be addressed in the near future if ever. Certainly, they are unlikely to be answered before the election.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More U.S. drone attacks in Yemen, 3 suspected militants reported killed

Three suspected Al Qaeda militants were killed in a U.S. drone attack in the south-eastern province of Maareb. The mostly desert area has been a refuge for militants driven from their strongholds by a recent offensive.
Al Qaeda and other militants had taken over almost entire provinces in the south of Yemen but an offensive by Yemeni forces advised and supported by U.S.advisers drove them out. However, they still mount effective attacks upon the government and security forces. The U.S. has continued to mount many drone attacks in Yemen.
Last Thursday (October 18), a drone strike killed nine people in a farmhouse in Abyan province. One of those killed was described as a local AQAP leader.
After former president Saleh gave up power in a deal that granted immunity from prosecution to him, his family, and associates, his vice-president Mansour Hadi was elected president unopposed. He was supported by the U.S. Hadi has been praised by the U.S. ambassador to Yemen as being more effective in battling militants than his predecessor. Hadi has been quoted as saying that he approves every drone attack.
The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, claims that as many as 56 civilians have been killed by drones this year alone. Reports on the strikes usually identify the victims as suspected militants. Sometimes when a high value target is killed, this will be mentioned.
On September 10, the Yemeni Ministry of Defense website announced that Said al-Shehri, the second in command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was killed during a Yemeni army operation in the remote province of Hadramout. Other sources said he was killed by a U.S. drone. Shehri is a Saudi who had been at Guantanamo. On Sept.16, Saudi officials said they could not confirm al-Shehri's death.
Now al-Shehri has released an audio tape denying he was killed. The media adviser to Yemen's prime minister said that the tape seemed authentic. It is not uncommon for high value targets to have almost as many lives as cats. On the tape al-Shehri says:
"The news that was reported about my killing in the Arabian Peninsula is a rumor to cover up the killing of the innocent, unarmed Muslims in Yemen, who were killed by American drones in the east and west."
After being released from Guantanamo, al-Shehri was returned to Saudi Arabia where he took part in a rehabilitation program. Armed with these credentials, he was able to become second in command of AQAP.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Retired BC zoologist leaves Omar Khadr $700 in his will

Jack Hallam, an 84 year old retired zoologist, has left Khadr $700 dollars to help pay for his education and because he thought that Khadr had been treated badly both by the U.S. and Canadian government.
Hallam told the Canadian Press:
"I think the young man has been treated abominably.His story just moved me. He was tortured, he was kept in solitary confinement, he had light deprivation."
Hallam said that he had been in contact with Khadr's tutor from Alberta who had helped Khadr while he was imprisoned in Guantanamo. In a plea bargain, Khadr pleaded guilty in October 2010 before a military tribunal to five war crimes including murder in violation of the rules of war. In return, he was sentenced to 8 years but was allowed to return to Canada to serve out the remainder of his sentence. Canada did less than nothing for Khadr while he was in Guantanamo, unlike other countries such as the UK who tried to get their citizens in Guantanamo repatriated.
The Khadr family is very unpopular in Canada since they are all associated with Al Qaeda. Abdurahman Khadr, who was also at Guantanamo Bay, worked as a CIA spy for some time. An older brother, Abduallah, who returned to Canada in 2005, was arrested at the request of the U.S. He was kept jailed for five years while an extradition request was reviewed. However, in 2010 the Ontario Supreme Court ordered his release citing "shocking and unjustifiable" human rights violations. Stephen Harper and the Conservative government probably gained politically by their strong endorsement of letting the U.S. legal process take its course.
American military lawyers began educating Khadr in November of 2008. John Norris, one of Khadr's Canadian lawyers said:
"His American military defence lawyers deserve tremendous credit. And one of them, who I think had visited Canada once or twice, had to learn Canadian geography so he could sit down with Omar and teach him Canadian geography."
The aim was to provide courses equivalent to high school. He is currently about half way through a program of Canadian geography and history. He has been helped by a tutor in Edmonton. Norris said of Khadr's educational goals:
"He has said in the past that he's very interested in some kind of a medical career, a paramedic or something of that nature, and he remains committed to that idea. But I think as he continues to learn and is exposed to different things he may get other ideas."
Norris said of Canada's role :
"There was an abysmal failure on Canada's part to come to his aid and to defend him as a child, which obviously he was and which Canada, on many different fronts, was obliged to do.Instead of doing that, they really threw up their hands and said, `We're going to let the American process run its course.
On the American side, they threw him into a place where no one belongs, an utterly illegal and illegitimate detention facility. But Omar particularly did not belong there because of the clear international consensus that children should not be prosecuted with anything in connection with a war or a war crime."
Khadr was fifteen at the time of his capture. However as Norris mentions neither the U.S. nor Canada took any note of their obligations to Khadr as a child soldier.
The murder charge against Khadr was possible only under the weird legal doctrines that the U.S. uses. Khadr was in a firefight and the compound he was in had been bombed and he himself badly wounded. He threw the grenade after the U.S..attackers moved in after the bombing--assuming he did throw the grenade since another person was alive at the time. The other person who was alive was shot dead but Khadr was spared, as an intelligence officer thought he might have useful intelligence.
If Khadr had belonged to a regular armed forces unit of a recognized state he would not be charged with murder. Killing enemy soldiers when they attack or even before they attack is what you do in warfare.
However, Khadr is an unlawful combatant and so if he kills his attacker this is murder. A much meatier discussion of the issue can be found here. The conflict between jihadists and regular armed forces is not only asymmetrical warfare, there are also asymmetrical legal rights. The U.S. and other armed forces have the right to kill them but the jihadists are unlawful combatants and have no rights to attack their military foes. If they kill any it is murder. This could be called legal asinine asymmetry.
Many legal theorists have pointed out that CIA agents and contractors who operate drone programs are unlawful combatants and hence are murderers committing crimes in violation of the laws of war, just like Khadr. Here is a sample of the asinine asymmetrical legal reasoning clearly set out in a Washington Post article. .
Every day, CIA agents and CIA contractors arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Pakistani tribal areas, to search out and kill Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.
So when will these murderers be brought to court to be punished for their murders?

Iran agrees to one-on-one talks with U.S. according to report

According to U.S. officials, Iran and the U.S. have agreed to one-on-one negotiations. The talks on Iran's nuclear program will take place immediately after the U.S. election the officials told the New York Times.
The Iranian officials claim that the talks should take place only after the elections since they want to know which president they will be dealing with.
Just a few hours after the article appeared on the New York Times website, the Obama administration denied the report. Many regard the Times as at times acting as a conduit for information the White House wants released to the public. However, on this report, National Security Council Spokesperson said: ”It’s not true that the United States and Iran have agreed to one-on-one talks or any meeting after the American elections."
If the Times report is true, the agreement must have been reached after secret exchanges between American and Iranian officials. Ahmadinejad has been pressing for a negotiated solution to the crisis, as indicated in the interview in the appended video. Romney has taken an even more hard line stance on Iran than Obama. If Romney wins, it is not at all clear there would be any talks.
Earlier talks have failed. I think that the U.S. would prefer regime change in Iran rather than a negotiated solution with the present government. At one time, Iran finally agreed to halt 20 per cent enrichment in return for foreign-made fuel rods, after Brazil and Turkey entered talks, but then the Obama administration rejected the proposal and moved on to use sanctions against Iran.
The Iranian side has been subject to constant threats of attack, crippling sanctions, sabotage, and assassinations of scientists. As Harvard professor Stephen Walt notes, the Iranian leadership “has good grounds for viewing Obama as inherently untrustworthy.” Former CIA analyst, Paul Pillar, puts the matter more bluntly. He maintains that the main Western interest is regime change in Iran.
The Times article may be designed to picture Obama as nearing a deal with Iran. He simply needs another term to complete the task. However, Republicans could jump on the announcement and picture Iran as pulling the wool over Obama's eyes to buy time so that it can further advance towards being able to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran wants to tie the nuclear talks with other issues according to the Times article. However the administration wants the talks to be on the nuclear issue alone. The prospects of talks are a problem for Romney as well. If he opposes talks, he could be accused of taking the U.S. towards another war at a time when probably most Americans consider that problems on the domestic front should be of first concern, not costly foreign wars.
Iran is probably anxious for a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue and the easing of sanctions, The Iranian economy is suffering as a result of sanctions and the currency is reaching new lows. The situation is bad enough to cause public protests against the regime.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

UN requests plan for military intervention in Mali

The U.N. Security Council has approved a motion that provides regional groups 45 days to draw up specific plans for military intervention designed to oust rebels in northern Mali
The northern region of Mali, sometimes called Azawad, is now occupied and governed by militant Islamists who are linked by many to Al Qaeda. The region was lost by the central government after a coup by U.S. trained Captain Sanogo in March of this year. Ironically, the coup was defended on the grounds that the central government had not ousted rebels in the area. The resolution was unanimous, no doubt because of the association of the rebels with Al Qaeda.
The leader of the coup stepped down in May and transferred power to a civilian government but the coup leaders still have considerable influence in the new government. Originally, much of the north was captured by Tuareg rebels who proclaimed an independent Azawad. However, no country recognized Azawad and shortly thereafter, the Tuareg were ousted in turn by radical Islamists.
The Security Council also urged the transitional government and the rebel groups to find a peaceful solution, even while African nations are being asked to prepare detailed recommendations for deployment of an international force within Mali. Mali had agreed to stationing of troops earlier, as reported in Digital Journal. The recommendations are to include the number of forces needed and the estimated cost.
The radical Islamists in northern Mali are imposing a strict version of Sharia law in areas they control. There are many reports of human rights violations. Some historic religious artifacts have been destroyed in Timbuktu. Women found to be pregnant and unmarried are subject to severe punishments.
There are reports that children are also being bought to serve as soldiers with the families being paid as much as $600. More than half the population in Mali live on just over a dollar a day. The Islamists also ban drinking, smoking, watching sports on television, and listening to music.
The UN has been calling for detailed intervention plans for six months already. Even after the details are submitted, a second resolution will be needed to authorize the deployment. The rebels will have plenty of time to consolidate their positions and prepare their defenses.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Attack in Benghazi hurts CIA Libya operations

The attack on a consular office and "safe house" in Libya has set back CIA operations in eastern Libya. About a dozen CIA operatives were among personnel evacuated from Benghazi.
CIA agents were stationed in Benghazi to engage in surveillance of militant groups. One American official said:
"It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss. We got our eyes poked out.”
Among the militant groups targeted by the CIA are Ansar al-Sharia, whom some have blamed for the attack, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Although there was public anger against militants after the Benghazi attack, there are still entrenched militant groups in the region. They are obviously aware of U.S. intelligence operations in the region.
Frederic Wehrey, a policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said:
“The region’s deeply entrenched Salafi community is undergoing significant upheaval, with debate raging between a current that is amenable to political integration and a more militant strand that opposes democracy,”
The CIA and U.S. contractors are helping track shoulder-fired missiles, and Libyan chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as training Libya's new intelligence services. Obviously, Libyan and U.S. intelligence operatives will have close connections.
The CIA operations in Benghazi began within months of the beginning of the Libyan rebellion in February 2011. The former prime minister of Libya, Mustafa Abushagur, was surprised at the number of U.S. operatives who appeared at Benghazi airport to be evacuated. He said he learned about some of the operations only after the attack. So even the former head of the Libyan government, has no idea what the U.S. is doing. Abushagur, who was recently sacked by the Libyan parliament, said
:“We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key."
He, himself, is a U.S. trained engineer who lived in the U.S. for years.
The militant attacks were not only on the consular compound but also on a so-called safe house about a half-mile away that had four buildings in a compound. This compound was supposed to be secret. No doubt CIA agents operated out of it as well. The N.Y. Times agreed to withhold details of these operations at the request of the U.S. government, as disclosing the information could harm sensitive government activities and put U.S. personnel at risk. However, it is clear that the U.S. is very much involved in Libya. The militants know this and they will paint the Libyan government as a puppet of the U.S. Should the U.S. try to act unilaterally to attack those it thinks responsible for the Benghazi attacks, this would just confirm the militant narrative.
A U.S. review board is to investigate the attacks. The F.B.I. sent its own investigators from New York but they apparently are having difficulty because of the security situation. Some analysts believe that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb may have been involved in the attack, as communications were intercepted between the attackers and members of the group. Representative Mike Rogers, head of the House Intelligence Committee said that there was:
“a high degree of probability that it is an Al Qaeda or Al Qaeda-affiliated group that had a very specific target in mind, and that was to attack the consulate and cause as much harm, chaos and death as possible.”
Reuters provides different details about the so-called safe house. Reuters describes the house as a secret CIA base and identified as such by Libya. The post was described as 1.2 miles from the consular mission. Two special forces troops were killed at this base when it was also attacked by militants.

Friday, October 12, 2012

IMF lowers global growth outlook

In its World Economic Outlook, the IMF claims that the global economic slowdown is getting worse. The organization also cut growth forecasts for the second time since last April.
The IMF report was issued ahead of its twice-yearly meeting. The meeting will be held in Tokyo later in the week. The IMF also warned that if the U.S. and Europe did not remedy their economic ills, this would prolong the slump. The U.S.will certainly not act until after the November election when the government will need to face the fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff in the U.S. and the European debt crisis were flagged by the IMF as key issues that will impact the global economy.
Global growth, the report said, is too weak to bring down unemployment. What momentum exists comes mainly from central banks. No doubt this news will be greeted with great scepticism by U.S. Republicans, who blame Obama for high unemployment, and claim that the government cannot promote growth, only the private sector.
The report says:
"A key issue is whether the global economy is just hitting another bout of turbulence in what was always expected to be a slow and bumpy recovery or whether the current slowdown has a more lasting component.The answer depends on whether European and U.S. policymakers deal proactively with their major short-term economic challenges."
The U.S. Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, said that reforms in Europe "could take years to bear fruit". These reforms negatively impact pension benefits, wages, and the power of working people, and in the short term cause recessions. In the longer term, investors hope conditions emerge that are favorable for profitable investment again as labor costs are lowered and people's expectations are lowered as well.
Geithner told a meeting of business leaders:
"In these periods of time, where people were very worried about the risk of collapse in Europe, you saw an impact on financial markets and confidence that was very, very substantial. Europe still has a very hard road ahead of them."
Last week, Jim Flaherty, the Canadian Finance MInister had also warned that the European debt crisis was "a clear and present danger.
The IMF lowered its estimate of global growth for 2012 from 3.5% in July to 3.3% now. This will mark the slowest rate of growth since 2009 when the world was just beginning to recover from the financial crisis. The prediction for next year was also lowered from 3.9% in July to 3.6%.
U.S. growth was predicted to be slighly more than 2% both this year and next a much better performance than the euro area that was predicted to contract by .4% this year and grow only .2% next year.
The prospects for emerging markets are still relatively positive, although some are predicted to grow more slowly than predicted earlier. Estimates for India and Brazil are lowered considerably. Expectations were also cut for Chinese growth in 2012 and 2013. But chief IMF economist Olivier Blanchard warned about being overly pessimistic. He did not expect a hard landing in China, India, or Brazil, merely slowing growth. The future of the global economy remains murky, Beyond the fiscal cliff there seem to be other factors working against the expansion of global capital.
In China, Japanese businesses are feeling the effect of a strong nationalist reaction against Japanese claims to a few islands. In the U.S. congressional panels are raising security issues against Chinese telecom companies. These are all new factors that will impact international trade negatively. When times are tough, nationalist fervour is often the reaction and politicians take advantage of the situation to harvest votes.

Kuwait ruler Emir Sheik Al-Sabah dissolves parliament

Emir Sheik Al-Sabah, the ruler of Kuwait, issuued a decree dissolving the 2009 National Assembly for the second time in less than four months. The assembly was dissolved in December 2011, after protests and allegations of corruption against some members.
Corruption charges were leveled against at least 13 members of the 50 seat assembly. The protests also led to the resignation of the former prime minister and the appointment of the present premier Sheik Jaber Al-Sabah.
General elections were held on February 2 this year. The opposition scored a big victory winning 35 seats and control of the assembly led by Islamist factions. Conveniently, the Constitutional Court on June 20 nullified the polls and dissolved the Assembly on the grounds that the decree that dissolved the 2009 Assembly and asked for a new vote was flawed. The court also revived the 2009 Assembly which was dominated by pro-government members.
The revived Assembly failed to meet because both the opposition and the pro-government MP's boycotted meetings. The latter, sensed that the government was going to dissolve the Assembly and call new elections. The Assembly had been invited to convene on July 31 and August 7. Opposition groups were pressing for a quick dissolution, so elections could take place.
The government took its time. It is worried that new elections will again see the opposition win a majority in the Assembly. The government did not issue a decree yet setting out the date of new elections. Elections must be held within two months.
The opposition is concerned that the government will issue another decree amending the electoral constitutency law so the opposition will not win a majority. The opposition is demanding that the election be held under existing law. The existing law was confirmed by the Constitution Court on September 25. The opposition fears that no date for the election was given in order to give the government time to change the electoral laws before the election.
Kuwait has had numerous political crises since 2006. From 2006 until the present the government has resigned nine times. Should the present government try to amend the electoral laws to deprive the opposition of a majority, there is bound to be trouble in the oil-rich state, that is a close ally of the U.S.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Libyan city of Bani Walid under seige

Residents of the city of Bani Walid have been surrounded the past week by government forces. The siege is part of an attempt to arrest those responsible for killing the man who is credited with capturing Gadaffi.
Bani Walid residents are suffering from lack of food, drugs, and other supplies. The residents are calling on the UN for help. Amnesty International has asked Libyan authorities to avoid force if possible and also to allow medical supplies and other vital supplies into the city. On October 4th, local doctors claim that a group of armed men stopped three vehicles carrying medical supplies, personnel, and oxygen from entering Bani Walid. The armed group had set up a checkpoint about 80 kilometers from the city.
Libya's ruling General National Congress approved the use of force to arrest those suspected of killing Omran Shaaban, who is credited with capturing Gadaffi. Dr. Abdul-hamid Alshandoli, a member of Bani Walid's social council said:“Right now, the armed forces are attacking our city at the eastern boundary between us and Misrata city,." The government called for some prisoners held in the city to be handed over to the government. The ten day deadline to do so has passed with no action as yet.
The chief of staff of the Libyan army called on residents to hand over the requested individuals or face a military assault. Amnesty International has reported that hundreds of Bani Walid residents have already been arrested by armed militias. The organization complains that those arrested continue to be detained without any charges being laid. Amnesty also claims that many have been tortured and otherwise ill treated.
In spite of army threats, large numbers of Bani Walid residents have turned out in the city to protest the army demands. Alshandoli said:
“Many armed groups came to main entrance of Bani Walid and they asked the people to get out of the city. We have decided not to go because we want to defend our rights, our homes, and our families."
Bani Walid was one of the last cities to fall under the control of anti-Gaddafi forces last year.
The city has been at odds with the new government for some time and its residents have also often been arrested and detained in poor conditiions for being Gadaffi loyalists. There is almost no chance that the UN or any western countries will intervene to try to negotiate a peaceful end to the standoff.

Kuwait parliament dissolved by Emir

Emir Sheik Al-Sabah, the ruler of Kuwait, issuued a decree dissolving the 2009 National Assembly for the second time in less than four months. The assembly was dissolved in December 2011, after protests and allegations of corruption against some members.
Corruption charges were leveled against at least 13 members of the 50 seat assembly. The protests also led to the resignation of the former prime minister and the appointment of the present premier Sheik Jaber Al-Sabah.
General elections were held on February 2 this year. The opposition scored a big victory winning 35 seats and control of the assembly led by Islamist factions. Conveniently, the Constitutional Court on June 20 nullified the polls and dissolved the Assembly on the grounds that the decree that dissolved the 2009 Assembly and asked for a new vote was flawed. The court also revived the 2009 Assembly which was dominated by pro-government members.
The revived Assembly failed to meet because both the opposition and the pro-government MP's boycotted meetings. The latter, sensed that the government was going to dissolve the Assembly and call new elections. The Assembly had been invited to convene on July 31 and August 7. Opposition groups were pressing for a quick dissolution, so elections could take place.
The government took its time. It is worried that new elections will again see the opposition win a majority in the Assembly. The government did not issue a decree yet setting out the date of new elections. Elections must be held within two months.
The opposition is concerned that the government will issue another decree amending the electoral constitutency law so the opposition will not win a majority. The opposition is demanding that the election be held under existing law. The existing law was confirmed by the Constitution Court on September 25. The opposition fears that no date for the election was given in order to give the government time to change the electoral laws before the election.
Kuwait has had numerous political crises since 2006. From 2006 until the present the government has resigned nine times. Should the present government try to amend the electoral laws to deprive the opposition of a majority, there is bound to be trouble in the oil-rich state, that is a close ally of the United States.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How presidential debates are rigged to exclude third party candidates

There are two other candidates running for president who run in enough states that they could theoretically be elected president. Neither of these two candidates can take part in the presidential debates. Why?
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian party is on the ballot in a total of 48 states. Dr Jill Stein, the nominee of the Green party, is running in 39 states. Since both could win one would think that they should be able to debate the issues with Romney and Obama.
But these debates are not run according to rules set out by the government. The rules are set by a non-profit organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). This group was created by the Democratic and Republican parties in 1987 as a bipartisan effort. An effort it would seem, to help keep presidential candidates other than those for the two main parties out of debates. At a 1987 press conference announcing the commission's creation, Republican Frank Fahrenkopf said that the commission was not likely to include third-party candidates in debates. Paul G. Kirk, then Democratic national chairman, said he personally believed they should be excluded from the debates. The rules were rigged to ensure the two parties kept the debates open only to their own nominees.
The present co-chairmen of the CPD represent each party. Frank Fahrenkopf is a former chair of the Republican National Committee. Michael D. McCurry the other co-chair was Bill Clinton's press secretary. The rules require that to take part in the debates presidential candidate must have received the support of at least 15% of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations.
However, without access to regular television, or to the debates, or to the huge sums of money necessary to obtain public awareness of a candidate, this level of support is difficult if not impossible to obtain. That is probably the whole idea!
The debates have the following sponsors:Anheuser-Busch, The Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Sheldon S. Cohen, Crowell & Moring, the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), The Kovler Fund and Southwest Airlines. Three former sponsors, the YWCA, Philips Electronics and BBH New York have withdrawn over the third party nominee access issue.
On Sept 21st of this year, the Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson filed an anti-trust suit against the CPD, the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee in the District of Columbia Circuit Court. The suit cites the Sherman Act and claims being excluded from the debates is a "restraint of trade" denying competition. For example, it prevents competition to potentially receive the presidential $400,000 annual salary. In a country that always emphasizes how important free choice is, it is a bit strange that free choice must be between the two chosen by the two main parties and no one else.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/334203#ixzz28QowGOMx

Film on Bin Laden attack to be released two days before presidential election

Just two days before the presidential election, a film on the death of Bin Laden will be aired on the National Geographic Channel. The film is being released by a company whose co-chairman raised more than $100,000 for the Obama Victory Fund.
The film is called "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden". The National Geographic Channel plans to air a video of the film on November 4th just two days before the election on November 6. The channel claims the date is to promote the start of the fall season and has nothing to do with politics. Nevertheless, this is a happy coincidence for Obama.
Harvey Weinstein, co-chair of The Weinstein Co. and Voltage Pictures, that produced the film also just happens to be an avid fan and supporter of Barack Obama. Back in early August, Weinstein held a fund-raising dinner at his Westport, Connecticut home that hosted 50 people at a cost of $35,800 per head.
The president has constantly hyped the successful raid by Navy Seal Special Forces that killed Bin Laden. The channel president, Howard T. Owens, said that the channel was not political. The channel also asserted that the film is meant simply to give a historical account of the events not to take a political stance. However, even a historical account can have the effect of supporting the president at a key time.
Another film on the same events "Zero Dark Thirty" by Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal is also scheduled to be released at the end of the year. Weinstein wanted to release his movie first.
"Seal Team Six" has been vetted by experts that include a recently retired Navy Seal and also a Bin Laden historian. A channel news release said:"While some aspects of the characterizations have been dramatized for creative reasons, the core story is an accurate portrayal of an event that ended the longest manhunt in American history."
The "Zero Dark Thirty" film was originally scheduled for release shortly before the Nov. 6 election but it was postponed by Sony Pictures until Dec. 19. Republican, Peter King, had accused the Obama administration of unprecedented and possibly dangerous collaboration with the filmmaker. No doubt there will be an outcry from Obama critics about the timing of the release of "Seal Team Six".

Thursday, October 4, 2012

September auto sales in U.S. surge

In the U.S., auto sales were higher than they have been in four and a half years. Sales were calculated at 14.94 million vehicles on an annualized basis. Analysts had estimated the rate at 14.5 million. This is the highest rate since March 2008
Analysts expected a rise of less than 9% in U.S. sales but the actual increase was 13%. Cheap financing helped fuel the increase in sales. Almost a third of Toyota purchasers took advantage of no interest loans to finance their purchases.
Analyst Jesse Toprak said:
"The money is so cheap now... Higher resale values and cheap money has been enabling automakers to offer some of the most attractive leasing programs we've seen in years."
Interest rates on a 4 year new car loan were around 3.19% in September 2012 compared to 4.29% in September 2012 according to Bankrate.com.
Consumers delayed purchasing big ticket items during the recession. Average age of vehicles being driven rose to record highs. Now, as consumers need to replace their old vehicles and the economy begins to recover, auto sales are improving.
As fuel prices rise and consumers are less affluent, sales of smaller cars have surged. GM claimed that sales of its small and compact cars almost doubled in September. While Ford saw its sales virtually flat, its small car sales rose about 73%. Don Johnson, the Chevrolet sales chief, says that there is a definite trend toward purchasing cars over trucks.
Toyota had the largest increase in sales in September up a whopping 41.5%. from last September. Honda also saw a big rise of 31%. Of the U.S. big three, Chrysler did the best with a 12% increase. Chrysler, is now a subsidiary of the Italian car maker Fiat. Sales of the Fiat brand jumped 50% in September. The small efficient cars may be gaining a U.S. customer base. GM followed with a 1.5% gain but Ford sales were almost flat over a year earlier. Volkswagen also did well with a 34.4% increase. Nissan suffered a slight decline in sales.
No doubt, as fuel prices remain high, sales of small and more fuel efficient vehicles will increase as cash-strapped consumers are forced to replace their aging vehicles.

Pro-NATO liberal coalition in Libya excluded from cabinet positions in new government

The Libyan Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur has nominated his cabinet for approval by the national congress. The nominees exclude members from the pro-NATO liberal coalition National Forces Alliance which won the most seats in a recent election
Abushagur was elected prime minister by the Libyan congress on September 12, narrowly beating his main opponent. Abushagur has many connections with the U.S. having lived there for several decades. He had a distinguished academic career as an engineering professor, and has launched businesses as well. He helped establish a branch of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Dubai.
Abushagur's cabinet choices indicate he is attempting to achieve some type of geographical balance. Libya is notorious for regional rivalries that often threaten to tear the country apart.
His transitional government will take over from an interim administration in which he was deputy prime minister and which was appointed last November. The Abushaqur government will run the day to day affairs of Libya. The national congress, elected in July, will pass new laws but is also charged with helping to draft a new constitution that will be voted on in a referendum next year.
The lack of NFA representation in the cabinet is somewhat less surprising given the electoral system in Libya. Of the 200 seats available only 80 are available to political parties with the other 120 represented by independent candidates. Under Gadaffi, parties were banned on the ground they created disunity in the country. While the NFA won nearly half of the 80 seats for parties, the independents are regarded as more friendly on the whole to religious blocs. As a result, Abushagur has selected several cabinet members associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Only one woman was named to the cabinet, as minister of social affairs.
The NFA had been led by the prime minister of the earlier transitional government Mahmoud Jibril. He had demanded at least nine of 20 available cabinet posts but ended up with none even though his group is part of the coalition government, at least nominally. Hamuda Siala, NFA spokesman, said that the coalition would still support Abushagar's cabinet choices if the group aims to improve security, and boost development. Given Abushagar's background he probably will try his best to ensure a certain degree of liberalization and also promote conditions for foreign investment. At the same time, he has to be aware of and negotiate the complex competing forces within Libyan politics.
Perhaps Abushagar is reluctant to share power with the NFA since it was led by Mahmoud Jibril his opponent in the election for prime minister. Abushagar won that election 96 to 94. However, it might have been wiser to at given the group at least token representation in cabinet. Abushagar may be asking for more conflict with the group.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

U.S. Special Forces gathering data that could be used to target militants suspected of Benghazi attack

The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command is gathering information that could be used to kill or capture militants thought to be involved in the recent Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans.
The top-secret JSOC or Joint Special Operations Command is busy gathering information on militants who are suspected to be behind the attacks on the U.S. consular office in Benghazi, according to senior U.S. counter-terrorism officials. The officials described the process as preparing the "target packages". This would be the first step that would set the stage for orders from President Obama and top advisers to carry out any action against those thought to be responsible for the attack in Benghazi.
President Obama has vowed that he would bring the killers of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans to justice. As in the case of Osama bin Laden, this may mean simply killing them through a raid by Special Forces, or perhaps through drone attacks. U.S. drones are operating throughout eastern Libya in areas where suspects militants are operating. Obama could operate together with Libyan authorities in order to show that Libya is a sovereign country. In Pakistan, the attack that killed Bin Laden was done without Pakistani knowledge in order to ensure Bin Laden was not warned of the attack. There may be the same concerns about secrecy in Libya.
U.S. officials say that Special Operations planners are increasingly active in tracking suspect members of the Ansar al-Shariah group as well as other militants including those thought to have ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The U.S. officials say that Libyan authorities identified several suspected attackers based upon eyewitness accounts, video, and photographs at the scene. One U.S. official, who had been briefed on the plans, said:
"They are putting together information on where these individuals live, who their family members and their associates are, and their entire pattern of life."
Drones constantly monitor suspects in order to update and refine data. Rick Nelson, a former Special Operations planner, who is now aat the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said:
"You need to be constantly updating and refining the information on the top targets so that when you get approval, you're absolutely ready to take action."
The decision to act would be made by Obama after meetings with top advisers headed by John Brennan. The U.S. is working closely with the Libyan authorities who are in turn cooperating with the F.B.I.'s investigation into the attacks. An F.B.I. team recently arrived in Tripoli.
The U.S. takes the position that it can target anyone aligned with a terrorist group. If the attack on Bin Laden is any precedent this is supposedly legal even though the U.S. does not have authorization from the country in which the attack takes place.
U.S. officials report that U.S. spy agencies intercepted electronic communications from some Ansar al-Shariah fighters who bragged about the attack to a militant from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb. Details of this and other intercepts have been reported in the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast.
I am astonished that all this information is being released or rather leaked by anonymous officials. A key article on these operations of the JSOC comes from the New York Times., a newspaper that often is a mouth piece for the U.S. government. Perhaps the public is being prepared for a surprise to boost Obama's ratings just before the November election. However, it may just be intended to show that Obama is hard at work trying to bring terrorists to justice or just to show how transparent this administration is in telling the public what is going on!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Georgian president admits electoral defeat

Georgia's pro-western president Mikheil Saakashvili conceded defeat to a coalition led by businessman and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, according to a government spokesperson.
Sergei Kapanadze the deputy foreign minister, said Saakashvili promised that his United National Movement would work with the Gerogian Dream alliance which has won a majority in the 150 member Georgian legislature,
Lorne Cramer, president of the International Republican Institute, a U.S.-funded institute in support of democracy, said that the election commission could be relied upon. Politics is quite polarized in Georgia and some worry that not everyone will remain calm upon hearing the results.
Saakashvili was brought into power nine years ago in the Rose Revolution. Constitutional changes will give more power to parliament and less to the president when Saakashvili's term ends in 2013.
Thomas de Waal, a Georgia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said:
"The prime minister will be chosen by parliament, which thus hands important powers to whichever political force obtains a majority in parliament in the ... elections,"
While Saakashvili has been praised and supported in the U.S. and Europe for his economic reforms, critics say that reform is superficial and that the president and his associates have too much control over the system. The opposition complained that they were often harassed and denied access to media during the campaign. Capitalizing on Ivanishvili's wealth, the president called him "the big money guy" who wants to "buy the whole system". Saakashvili also claimed that Russia was behind his candidacy and said:
"We know what Russian money is all about. How it was made, what kind of methods were used, and certainly it is a source of concern."
Ivanishvili did make his money in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union but left Russia when Putin came to power. He is Georgia's richest person with an estimated fortune of about $6.4 billion. Ivanishvili claims to have sold all his Russian assets. He also claims that Russia did not want him in power and in fact wanted him destroyed.
A shocking video of abuse of prisoners in a Georgia prison helped tilt the electoral balance toward the opposition in the last days of the campaign. The opposition claimed that the video just showed the oppressive system run by the Saakashvili government.
This election will mark the first peaceful transition of power since independence in 1991. However, Saakashvili will remain as executive president until 2013. This may result in considerable conflict. When official results confirm his coalition's victory Ivanishvili hopes to be approved as prime minister by parliament.
Ivanishvili said a balanced budget would be his first priority as prime minister. During the election campaign he had promised to tackle poverty and corruption. While Ivanishvili denies any ties to Russia, he is expected to try to improve relations between Russia and Georgia and be somewhat less western-oriented. Both Ivanishvili and Saakashvili have called for people to be calm and accept the results of the election.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Assad may have helped French spies ambush Gadaffi

According to an article in a British newspaper the Syrian government offered French spies operating in Sirte, Gadaffi's satellite telephone number. This aided them in trapping Gadaffi by alerting Libyan militia as to where they could ambush his convoy.
Rami El Obeidi, a former senior intelligence officer in Tripoli, said:
"In exchange for this information, Assad had obtained a promise of a grace period from the French and less political pressure on the regime – which is what happened,"
International attention was shifting from the situation in Libya to that in Syria and Assad hoped that by helping the French, pressure would be removed from his regime. Assad should have known better. It worked for a short while only. For years Assad had acted as a destination for terror suspects who were rendered to notorious Syrian prisons for interrogation and torture. He always obediently provided guarantees that the suspects would not be tortured so U.S. authorities would not be complicit in sending anyone to be tortured. He was not rewarded for that either. In time the French along with the rest of western countries would turn against Assad as he crushed dissent within Syria. Now Islamic terrorists are allied with the west in attempting to overthrow Assad. If Assad is eventually overthrown do not expect gratitude from the jihadists.
Nicolas Sarkozy the former president of France was one of the first and most avid supporters of western intervention in Libya. France also played a leading role in the UN-approved NATO mission to bomb Libya, supposedly to protect civilians.
Mahmoud Jibril, who was prime minister under the Libyan transitional government, confirmed that a foreign "agent" was involved in the operation that ultimately killed Gadaffi. However, Jibril did not identify the nationality of the agent. An Italian newspaper quoted western diplomats in Tripoli who claimed that if a foreign agent were involved it was almost certainly a French agent.
This revelation could be embarrassing for NATO. NATO has always claimed that it did not target individuals. However on several occasions NATO bombed sites where Gadaffi might have been staying.
The official story of Gadaffi's death is that an RAF surveillance plane spotted a large convoy of vehicles leaving Sirte on October 20th last year. NATO warplanes bombed the convoy supposedly unaware that Gadaffi was traveling in it. Militia members found Gadaffi in a drainpipe and he was killed by one of his captors. As is often the case the official story is not likely true. The French spy had told the militia where Gadaffi's convoy could be ambushed. According to Mr El Obeidi:
"French intelligence played a direct tole in the death of Gaddafi, including his killing.They gave directions that he was to be apprehended, but they didn't care if he was bloodied or beaten up as long as he was delivered alive."
Of course it turns out he was not delivered alive.
French intelligence officers were able to pinpoint Gadaffi's location when he made a call to a loyalist and a Palestinian militant leader in Syria. Obeidi said although both Turkish and British intelligence officers were informed of the ambush it was an exclusively French operation.
Gadaffi was double-crossed by the French as well. He had been on good terms with Sarkozy even donating considerable amounts to Sarkozy's election campaign. He had threatened to reveal details of these donations when Sarkozy no longer supported him. Western diplomats said according to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera
:“Sarkozy had every reason to want to get rid of the colonel as quickly as possible."
That mission has been long accomplished. What remains is for France to negotiate new and better contracts for Libyan oil.

Bahrain court upholds conviction of nine medics

Nine medics who were arrested last year during pro-democracy protests have lost their final appeal and now face time in jail. The nine are part of a group of 20 convicted by a military court in 2011, a conviction upheld by a civilian tribunal in June.
Dr. Ali al-Ekry, formerly the senior doctor at Sallmaniya Medical Complex in Bahrain, was given the longest sentence. five years. He was convicted of "possession and concealment" of weapons and also "illegal assembly".
In speaking to Al Jazeera about the decision al-Ekry noted that it is still unclear if the doctors will be sent to prison immediately. The medics' trial has been roundly criticized internationally and the government may be reluctant to implement the verdict. Dr. al-Ekry had formerly been regarded as a hero in Bahrain for his volunteer work helping those in Gaza during the Israeli incursion into the strip. However, helping injured protesters in Bahrain and supporting the protests, made him a criminal.
The Bahrain government set up a commission into the protests against the regime. The report released this spring of the Independent Commission of Inquiry contained more than two dozen recommendations for the government and was sharply critical of the government. Although the government claims it has implemented 90% of the recommendations, critics claim that the true figure is around 10%.
Eight other doctors were also sentenced along with al-Ekry.. Terms ranged from one month to three years. Though the nine medics were free on bail for a year, they faced a travel ban.
Last June nine doctors and nurses had their original verdicts overturned by an appeals court. Those medics included Rula al-Saffar who is the head of the Bahrain nursing society. Originally, she was sentenced to 15 years! That court also dismissed charges that the doctors "occupied" the hospital and had weapons. However, a government spokesperson claimed that medics "took over" the ground floor of the hospital a claim supported by the Independent Commission.
While the government claims that the medics did not provide enough medical attention to patients, and denied some expatriates health care, the commission's report was not nearly as critical. The report noted that they found only one example of a patient who alleged not receiving medical care and found that the situation was chaotic so that access to the facility was often difficult.
The government did not mention that the medics were also tortured in custody according to the Independent Commission. Rights groups have argued that all of the convictions should be overturned. Some of the evidence provided to the commission seems to have been manufactured.
Pakistani witness said he heard two doctors discussing a plan to hold Asian workers as hostages in the hospital. When asked how he could understand the conversation, the Pakistani said that the doctors were speaking Urdu. Neither doctor speaks or understands Urdu.
As the appended video shows there still is the need for improvement in the human rights situation in Bahrain. In spite of this the U.S. has resumed arms shipments to Bahrain. Bahrain is headquarters for the U.S. fifth fleet. Although King Khalifa has introduced some democratic reforms the country is still run by the royal family for the most part.
The government blames the protests on Iran, since Iran supports the demands for reform made by the Shia majority in Bahrain. The ruling family and the government are composed primarily of minority Sunnis. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to help put down the protests and maintain security.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from t.co, its URL-shortening system....