Thursday, April 30, 2015

Greece shuffles negotiating team with Varoufakis moving to the sidelines

Feisty Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has reportedly been relegated to the sidelines in negotiations with EU and IMF creditors for a deal that would release more funds from the bailout loan.
Varoufakis was unable to strike a deal at a recent meeting of the Eurogroup of finance ministers in Riga, Latvia. There was considerable criticism of his performance by some ministers. However, Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, voiced support for Varoufakis and said that he would supervise a new team negotiating with the institutions responsible for the loan. At the same time, Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, another economist more acceptable to creditors, and soft-spoken, has been appointed coordinator of the group. A Reuters' article suggests this move pushes Varoufakis to the sidelines.
An article in the New York Times also suggests that although Varoufakis remains the leader of the negotiating team, that Tsakalotos would co-ordinate the day-to-day discussions of the group. Giorgos Houliarakis will lead the discussions at the technical level. He had already been involved in negotiations. Both Tsakalotos and Houliarakis are said to be closer to Tsipras than Varoufakis.
These moves are seen as an attempt by Tsipras to lessen tensions with creditors and create an atmosphere more conducive to a deal. There was even an interview with the new Greek president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, with the German news source Spiegel Online who assured creditors that there was no possibility of a Grexit and who promised that loans would be paid back. However, other leaders including Varoufakis have also promised this continually. In spite of the fact that he is not from Syriza, the ruling coalition, but the conservative Nea Dimokratia party, his criticism of the austerity provisions of the loan echoed those of the ruling party. The international law professor supported Syriza objections to the creditors' criticism of minimum wages and other labour rights, noting that Germany guaranteed its citizens a minimum standard of living:"Some of the measures imposed on us go beyond EU law. We want to be equal members of Europe.We are not asking for anything more than for the Greek people to enjoy what Germany's Constitutional Court considers as an established social right for the German people."He also claimed that parts of the austerity program demanded measures that would stunt Greece's growth , making it even more difficult to pay its debt. According to a Guardian article insiders say that Varoufakis still has a lot of say in negotiations.
The new team appears to be using the same narrative as the old team and Varoufakis. So far the creditors have not been willing to yield at all to any anti-austerity demands. Cosmetic changes of this sort and a change in tone are hardly likely to produce a deal. Perhaps it is the other side that needs a change in tone and in players. While Varoufakis has been abrasive, the other side is adamant that it will continue to impose austerity conditions that it must know the Greek government cannot accept. So unyielding have the creditors been, that analysts are beginning to speculate that the aim is to destroy the Syriza government and produce regime change or alternatively force Greece out of the eurozone.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tripoli government totally rejects UN draft proposal for unity government

After the last round of talks in Morocco, Bernardino Leon, UN special envoy to Libya, said the two sides are close to an agreement. The two sides are to return to Libya for consultations, and then this week resume talks to finalize the deal.
Last week the UN group was also to arrange talks with the two military forces associated with the two sides, Libya Dawn on the Tripoli government side, and the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar on the Tobruk side. Nothing was announced during the week, nor was there any word on reactions to the proposals from the two rival governments.
I have been sceptical of the whole dialogue process for some time. The EU and U.S. insist they favour a political solution and a ceasefire, yet they have done nothing to stop Khalifa Haftar from going ahead with an offensive against the Tripoli government and even bombing the Mitiga airport in Tripoli not once but three times before different stages of the talks. Haftar did all this in spite of warnings by the UN that those interfering in the peace process could be subject to sanctions. The UN says there can only be a political solution to the conflict in Libya but that is not Haftar's position:He would not agree to any ceasefire with armed groups, he said.
"Then the military solution is a must because it is decisive ... when we are forced to, when we see our homeland torn apart as it is happening now, between militias and terrorists, we resort to a military solution. We are betting on the military solution," Haftar said.
How does the UN expect to negotiate a ceasefire when one party claims that they will not agree to a ceasefire with the other side, the Libya Dawn militia? Why is there no criticism of Haftar for claiming the exact opposite of the UN position and who is following through by continuing military action? Where is the condemnation from the west of a Libyan government busy bombing and fighting against its own people? Of course Haftar claims he is fighting terrorists, the same narrative as Gadaffi used when he fought rebels. Haftar is fighting terrorists such as the Islamic State but so is the rival Libya Dawn militia. Haftar simply lumps all his opponents together as terrorists, as does Assad in Syria, and el-Sisi in Egypt, the latter a staunch supporter of Haftar.
The Libya Herald, a source often supportive of the Tobruk government, reports the Tripoli-based government, the General National Congress(GNC), had rejected the latest UN draft agreement as "unbalanced." The full article is available only to subscribers. However, a pro-Tripoli source the Libya Observer on Facebook has more detail as to the reasons for the rejection.
The GNC, in a statement, rejected altogether the UN proposal: "The draft solution is a big blow to the dialogue efforts and would make the previous Morocco dialogue rounds absurd, therefore, it needs to be withdrawn and replaced with another one." The statement went on to urge that the UN stand at equal distance from both sides and claimed the draft proposal presented by UN envoy Bernardino Leon did not include an inclusive and balanced solution to the political problems at issue.
Fathi Bashagha, an elected member of the Tobruk parliament who has boycotted the meetings of the parliament(HoR), claimed that the draft proposal only served the interests of the Tobruk parliament and neglected the interests of the other negotiating party. The GNC deputy speaker and member of the dialogue team,Saleh Al-Makhzoom, clarified the issue: "Bernardino Leon's proposal states that the dissolved House of Representative is the sole legislative authority, which is very serious that brings us to the zero point. The proposal aims to extend the mandate of the HoR and empower Khalifa Haftar."Each side has always regarded the other as illegitimate and have never met face to face. I have always been surprised at reports that imply that the GNC group had agreed that the HoR, that is the House of Representatives elected last June was the sole legitimate legislative body. On November 6 last year the Libyan Supreme Court ruled the June election was unconstitutional and that the Tobruk parliament should be resolved. This is the legal ground for the Tripoli government claim that it is the legitimate government. Libya Observer often refers to the Tobruk, internationally-recognized government as the "dissolved parliament" and itself as the "salvation government." Al-Makhzoon insisted that it was not seeking sole legitimacy for itself but a more balanced political solution and that the GNC would continue to participate in the dialogue despite its rejection of the draft. There appears no discussion of what is happening in the mainstream press and UNSMIL has not yet issued a press release updating the situation.

Obama's drone wars continue with no end in sight

In spite of the fact that recently President Obama announced that a drone strike in Pakistan killed two innocent hostages being held by Al Qaeda, there is no sign of the drone program ending any time soon or that it will even be altered.
Last Thursday, Obama said he took full responsibility for drone strikes that killed two Al Qaeda hostages in Pakistan. The strikes killed an American, Warren Weinstein,and Giovani Lo Porto, an Italian, along with two American Al Qaeda members. Weinstein was a 73-year-old economic advisor, and Lo Porto a 39-year-old aid worker. Obama gave few details of the operation but officials said that it took place in January after hundreds of hours of surveillance. If there was so much surveillance, how is it that there was so little intelligence about who was with the Al Qaeda operatives?
As Jeremy Scahill points out, the public only finds out about mishaps when journalists investigate. He claims there is very little transparency as to who the intended targets of the strikes were or what the aftermath is like. There appears to be renewed interest in drone attacks once a foreign citizen, especially an American, is a victim, but when civilians of the country targeted are victims there is often only limited press attention usually accompanied by US authorities denying reports of any civilians being killed. Everyone killed is almost always described as a suspected terrorist. While many anti-war and civil rights organizations have criticized the drone program, except for Pakistan, few countries, particularly U.S. allies, have criticized the program.
The UN, however, has been critical a number of times, including reports claiming the strikes were against international law and some of the practices, such as returning to an attacked site or attacking a funeral, being "war crimes." But as Professor Philip Alston, the former special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, points out this has not resulted in much criticism of the program by countries:‘Instead, most states are remaining relatively silent in the face of the evolution of US policies that are entirely inconsistent with international law and deeply problematic from a human rights and international law perspective.’
There is oversight of the program but it is limited. About once every month staff members of the intelligence committees of Congress go to CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia to watch videos of drone attacks. At the headquarters they get to view selected videos and selected intelligence reports supporting strikes. No doubt the intelligence presented and the videos seen are carefully vetted by the CIA before being presented to the staff. This macabre ritual is then presented as evidence that the drone program is rigorously reviewed.
A key official in developing the "targeted killing" drone operations was Michael D'Andrea. Earlier, D'Andrea was head of operations during the development of the CIA detention and interrogation program. In spite of the backlash against rendition and black sites, D'Andrea became head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center where he was a chief architect of the targeted killing operations. Just last month however, D'Andrea was shifted to another position. It is not clear why.
D'Andrea was a strong and persuasive advocate of the drone program and gained supporters in both parties for the program. In particular he gained the support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who was chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee until January when Republicans took control of the Senate. CIA officials assured her that the program results in hardly any civilian deaths, but different sources come up with wildly different figures on civilian casualties:
Organizations that track drone strikes, like the New America Foundation, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Long War Journal, estimate that drones have killed some 4,000 people, about 500 of them civilians. But these numbers, based on news accounts and some on-the-ground interviews, are considered very rough.Feinstein gave a much lower figure in 2013: "The figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits,”These figures have been shown to be far too low by many investigations. Even though the CIA drone program and the program to capture and question Al Qaeda suspects were run by many of the same CIA agents, the drone program continues to have wide support while the other program was severely criticized and rejected. In March 2013 a Gallup poll showed 65 percent of Americans favoured drone strikes against foreign terrorists in foreign countries. There was much less support if the targets were American citizens. Given the degree of U.S. public support for the drone attacks, there is little incentive to criticize the program as a means of garnering votes.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Obama lashes out at critics of TPP trade deal

There is bipartisan support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership(TPP) free trade involving 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region but many US liberals, environmentalists, and unions are against the deal.
In a recent speech, Obama went as far as to compare his left critics' arguments to conspiracy theories about the "death panels" raised by some on the right about Obamacare. He claimed that his critics did not know what they were talking about. Obama is hoping to get "fast track" authority which would prevent Congress from amending the treaty with only the ability to pass or vote down the final result. Critics argue that the TPP would benefit corporations and also foreign countries at the expense of US workers. Certainly, capital would be the main beneficiary of the deal. As with earlier deals that are part of globalization they result in capital moving to areas where conditions are most favorable to it. This deal is also meant to give US multinationals an advantage over China since China is not part of the deal.
The TTP has been in the process of negotiation for a decade now. In spite of Obama's claim that the text of the deal has been available for some time, critics have long complained about the secrecy surrounding negotiations. It has been leakage of the documents including leaks through Wikileaks that critics have discovered details of what is being negotiated. Obama may be referring to general summaries that have been released:General outlines and summaries of the agreement have been provided by those conducting negotiations, but the full text of the agreement has been kept secret. However, some portions of the full agreement have been leaked to the public.
In spite of the opposition of many in the Democratic base of environmentalists, unions, and liberals, Obama presented a narrative about helping the working class: “When people say that this trade deal is bad for working families, they don’t know what they’re talking about. So I take that personally. My entire presidency has been about helping working families. Some of these folks are friends of mine. I love them to death. But in the same way that when I was arguing for health care reform I asked people to look at the facts – somebody comes up with a slogan like ‘death panel,’ doesn’t mean it’s true. Look at the facts. The same thing is true on this. Look at the facts. Don’t just throw a bunch of stuff out there and see if it sticks,”Obama even said there was nothing secret about the deal in spite of the fact that much of what is known about it comes from illegally leaked documents.
Becky Bond, of CREDO Action, claimed with others that Obama's remarks were beneath the presidency noting . “It’s ironic that he claims critics of the TPP ‘don’t know what they’re talking about’ when it’s his administration that is refusing to release the text of his secret trade agreement to the public or even to members of Congress,” Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America's Future said: “The president is frustrated. He’s losing the argument and he’s crosswise with his supporters and it’s unfortunate that he’s basically calling people names.It’s not smart politics to insult the people who have been your supporters, and especially with something like death panels. Most of the people who are fighting Obama’s trade policy are the people who were fighting back against the right-wingers who called his health plan ‘death panels."
The White House just keeps to its own line that the TPP is the most progressive trade deal in history and includes strict labor and environmental protects. It does not mention the laws in particular countries which went beyond those strict regulations would face challenges as being illegitimate barriers to trade. The White House spokesperson went on to praise Obama's impeccable progressive credentials. After all, he promised to close Guantanamo and has a marvelous health care plan including an individual mandate first thought up by the Heritage Institute a right-wing think tank. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson crowed: “The president has rightly built up significant credibility with progressives all across the country. And he feels confident in making the case to them and to the rest of the American people that the kind of agreement that he seeks is clearly in the best interest of American businesses, American workers and American middle class families,The president isn’t doing this because he enjoys the support of the Chamber of Commerce, he’s doing this because he has earned the support of middle class families across the country. And he’s earned that support by using the power of the presidency to go and fight for them." Notice the emphasis upon middle class families a theme that will no doubt continue throughout the Democratic election campaign.
Hillary Clinton has said little on the issue, but earlier she had high praise for Obama's proposed trade agreements including the TPP. and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Spokesperson for the White House Eric Schultz said that he had seen no distance between Clinton's position and that of the Obama administration. Even if Clinton does decide that the political winds in the Democratic Party demand criticism of the bill, this will be for purely political purposes. As a candidate for the presidency in 2008 Barack Obama criticized NAFTA and insisted he would renegotiate it if elected. At the same time, his aides met with Canadian authorities to assure them that his rhetoric was "more reflective of political maneuvering than policy." Elizabeth Warren responded to Obama's criticism with a letter pointing out how wrong Obama was in description of the deal and his critics. She noted that the details of the deal were classified and called upon him to declassify them noting that the Obama administration was more secretive on this trade deal than the Bush administration had been on his deals. But then who does Warren support for president but Hillary Clinton. No matter what happens within the two parties both supported, lobbied, and to a considerable extent funded by giant corporations, government of the people, for the corporations, by the corporations is likely to continue for the foreseeable future in the US. Elizabeth Warren's interview illustrates some of the facts that guarantee this.

No updates yet on dialogue between rival military forces in Libya

There has been a continual three ring circus of peace talks and dialogue, sponsored by the UN, among three sets of Libyan groups, the most significant being those involving Libya's two rival governments.
On the 19th of April, the UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, announced that the two rivals were close to reaching agreement saying at the end of talks in Morocco: "I can tell you that we have now a draft which looks like something very close to a final agreement, Eighty percent of the text in this draft is, let me put it this way, is something that the parties can agree."The factions were to return to Libya for consultations and return to Morocco this coming week to finalize the agreement. There has been no reporting that I can find at all on the reactions of the rival governments. Complete silence.
Leon finally noted that the agreement would mean nothing without the agreement of the respective military and militia groups associated with the rival governments. Of course, the Islamic State will not be part of this process since it rejects and is in clashes with both governments. Other jihadist groups, such as Ansar al-Sharia, may not be part of the process either. Leon said on April 19th that preparations were under way for armed groups to hold direct talks. Complete silence during the week when the preparations were to made. None of the statements from the United Nations Support Mission in Libya make any reference to these talks. The latest report continues the long string of items condemning the violence in Libya. The UN Support Mission in Libya's(UNSMIL) warnings about violence are toothless and Khalifa Haftar, commander of the forces of the internationally-recognized Tobruk government, regularly ignores them with complete impunity. The most recent UNSMIL report condemns the attack on the Spanish Embassy in Tripoli probably by Islamic State jihadists. At the end, the press release says:UNSMIL urges the Libyans to press ahead with their efforts to reach a political agreement to restore peace and stability, as well as strengthen the State institutions to combat terrorism.This is the UN's last word on the Libyan situation at least on their official website. Notice the weird phrase " the State institutions". They can't say what state or both states since neither of the two rival governments recognize the other. They have never even talked directly together yet.There are often examples of this linguistic deformation of the English language to make a phrase acceptable to both sides to be found in UN reports on Libya. The phrase will be interpreted differently by each government. For the Tobruk government it means getting more arms and pursuing the fight against the militia of the rival Tripoli government as well as the Islamic State.
Khalifa Haftar, CIA-linked commander of the Tobruk government forces, said that he would not object to an operation in LIbya like that being carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Of course this would involve bombing his own people a horrible happening when done by Gadaffi to put down a rebellion but it would be OK for Haftar who after all is fighting Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood with the firm support of Egyptian president el-Sisi. He is still intent on retaking Tripoli even as the UN talks have demanded a cease fire and negotiation of a unity government. While the UN claims that only a political solution is possible in the situation, Haftar claims there can be a military solution through his efforts. He criticized the UN sanctions on importing arms to Libya. Haftar need not worry, Egypt has already received a windfall of $1.3 billion in arms from the US and has an arms deal with Russia as well. He can spare some of that weaponry to help out his buddy in Libya, Haftar. Egypt is already thought to have carried out bombing raids for Haftar and allowed planes from the UAE that bombed Tripoli to use Egyptian bases. The UN does nothing about Haftar continually thumbing his nose at them but the UN can act:The UN Security Council asked the Sanctions Committee (established in 2011) to consider requests for arms and equipment for use by the Libyan Government, (although it does not refer to which of the two current governments this request is designed to support). It refers to "use by official Armed Forces to combat ISIL and similar organisations".Of course the reference is to the internationally recognized government not the Tripoli government and the official forces are those under the control of Haftar.
The US and the EU have continually expressed their support for dialogue and formation of a unity government. There is not one word from them about the lack of progress in having Haftar meet up with Libya Dawn the main militia associated with the Tripoli. Why is this? Haftar has made it clear multiple times he would not agree to a ceasefire with the militia. Is it because the whole peace process is not really taken seriously but is simply meant as a side show to indicate that these countries are for dialogue and a political solution rather than the type of military action that Haftar wants? So far they have done nothing to reign him in and it seems less and less likely that they will or even can. However, if they do not, no political solution is possible unless the Tripoli government decides to surrender. The only slight ray of hope is that locally cease fires have been arranged.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Eurogroup demands its reforms before it releases cash to Greece

The Eurogroup of finance minister meeting in Riga Latvia had harsh words for Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis as they refused his bid to find a shortcut to get badly need financial aid.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chair of the euro-zone finance ministers, ruled out any partial aid payment, such as Varoufakis has requested, in exchange for fewer and narrower reforms:“It was a very critical discussion and it showed a great sense of urgency around the room,” Dijsselbloem said at a press conference after the meeting. Asked if there was any chance of a partial disbursement, he said, “The answer can be very short: No.”Also, Dijsselbloem told reporters at the end of the Riga meeting: "I'll be quite frank - it was a very critical discussion. We had hoped to hear a positive result..we are still far from that."Varoufakis was severely criticized for not bringing forward and implementing the "reforms" demanded of creditors including to pensions and the labor market even though such changes are termed by the Greek government as "red lines" that cannot be crossed. Perhaps the government is intending to show the Greek public that any reform is impossible within the EU. However, there seems to be little or no planning by the government for a possible Grexit or exit from Greece. Given the situation, and the positions of each side, it is hardly surprising that no agreement was reached at the meeting in Riga Latvia yesterday. The discussion on Greece at the meeting lasted little more than an hour. Dijsselbloem made it crystal clear that no funds were forthcoming unless Greece delivered on the reforms demanded: "A comprehensive and detailed list of reforms is needed. A comprehensive deal is necessary before any disbursement can take place ... We are all aware that time is running out."He also warned that if there were no deal completed by the end of June, the 7.2 billion euros in the loan would no longer be available and that creditors would not talk about longer term funding until a full interim agreement was reached.
An anonymous person familiar with the talks said that the finance ministers described Varoufakis as behaving irresponsibly in the talks, and being a gambler, time-waster, and amateur. In spite of this, Varoufakis himself said the two sides were now "much closer together" and that Greece was intending to achieve a deal as soon as possible. The president of the European Central Bank(ECB), Mario Draghi, threatened to even increase the pressure on Greece and warned that ECB policy makers might review the conditions set for emergency funding of Greek banks. The council governing the regulations is said to meet as early as May 6.Some ministers accused Varoufakis of backtracking on commitments he had made and failing to understand the deep differences that divide the Greek government from the position of Greece's creditors. Many eurozone officials believe that without new funds, Greece could default on debt by the middle of May. However, no one seems to know for sure.
The finance ministers were angry that the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday a day before their meeting in an attempt to get her to approve financial aid and bypass them. He also met with French President Francois Hollande as well. Merkel said that she is not prepared to override the controls requiring that the finance ministers approve any release of funds. Greek Finance Minister Varoufakis also irritates the finance ministers by sending contradictory messages and little detail about the Greek financial situation. Varoufakis described the Friday talks as "intense" and told reporters after the meeting: “The cost of no solution would be enormous, not only for us but also for all."
The situation is becoming so critical that some finance ministers including from Germany and Slovenia have said that the group is considering plans as to what should be done if no deal can be reached with Greece by the end of June when the present bailout loan expires but large Greek debt repayments become due over the summer.

Saudi with UK residency likely to be released from Guantanamo soon

Shaker Aamer, a Saudi with residency status in Britain, is expected to be released from Guantanamo in June. He has a British wife and four children in London.
The UK has made repeated requests for Aamer's release. The 48-year-old Aamer is accused of having been a key recruiter and financier for Al Qaeda while in Britain and to have worked for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. However, he has been held in Guantanamo for 13 years without charge. A US government officialtold AFP that Aamer would be released along with up to 10 other detainees.
A new commander Rear Admiral Fernandez Ponds will take over the command of the facility in July. There are still 122 men held prisoner. 57 have been classified as "releasable" by a review committee, including Aamer. Obama promised to close the prison even during his first presidential campaign. Congress has continually blocked Obama's attempts to take actions that could lead to closing the base. The base is technically Cuban territory but has been leased from Cuba since 1903 at a cost of just over $4,000 annually but the Cuban revolutionary government has refused to cash the checks. Cuba considers the lease arrangement not binding. Recent normalization of relations with Cuba do not include the return of the base to Cuba. Recently considerable investment and upgrades to the base have been made indicating the prison is not likely to close for some time even if the plan is to transfer the 57 cleared for release out of the facility Lieutenant Colonel Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesperson said: "The goal is to transfer all 57. We're going to support the president's mission of closing Guantanamo through transfers of detainees and prosecutions through military commissions,"The transfer of the ten in June would be after a thirty day notice period to the US Congress and then Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, would sign off on the transfer.
48 of those to be transferred are Yemenis who will not be repatriated in spite of continual protests for them to be returned to Yemen. With the present conflict in Yemen, the US will be even less likely to allow them back to Yemen. The US has had trouble finding host countries but Uruguay accepted a number and Oman, Estonia, Slovakia, and Georgia have also accepted prisoners. The one place you can be sure will not accept them is the United States which jailed them in the first place.
Campaigners in the UK for Aamer's release were heartened by the news but noted that Aamer had been cleared for release eight years ago by the Bush administration and then again under Obama in 2009 but nothing has happened. Karla McLaren, of Amnesty International in the UK, noted: ‘These reports are obviously encouraging but we’ve been here before.There have been so many false dawns over the release of Shaker that we won’t believe it until a plane bringing him back actually touches down here in Britain. Guantanamo has always been a complete travesty of justice and whoever is in government must ensure... Shaker is returned to his family as soon as possible if he’s not going to be charged.’
Supporters of Aamer claim that he was detained in Kabul in 2001 while doing volunteer work for an Islamic charity. They say he was handed over to US military in exchange for money and then tortured at a secret "black site" prison. He denies accusations he helped finance Al Qaeda. Aamer wants to return to the UK but Washington wants to send him to Saudi Arabia. He fears he would be tortured there. Given that he has a wife and four children in the UK it surely makes sense to send him there. Aamer's lawyer say UK and US authorities want to silence Aamer who claims to have witnessed abuse in the presence of UK security official.The Daily Mail in the UK has long campaigned on behalf of Aamer. Aamer's family says that if he comes to the UK he will be quite willing to face a UK to answer any charges he is a dangerous extremist. Apparently, Washington does not want that either.
The Mail discovered documents that showed, David Milliband, when foreign secretary in the Labor government, had plotted to hand Aamer over to Saudi authorities if he were released while leading his UK family to believe he was trying to have him returned to them in Britain. It will be interesting to see where Aamer ends up, in the UK, or Saudi Arabia. Given past experience he may even end up staying in Guantanamo. The appended video deals with another detainee in Guantanamo who wrote and published a diary about his experiences in the facility well over 12 years.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Pentagon cannot account for $1.3 billion sent to US commanders in Afghanistan

The Pentagon is unable to account for $1.3 billion in funds sent to commanders in Afghanistan through the years 2004 to 2014 for reconstruction projects.
These funds were sent to military commanders in order to bypass bureaucracy to speed up construction of badly needed infrastructure, including roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, and water treatment facilities. The $1.3 billion for which there is no account represents about 60 percent of funds allocated to the program. About 70 percent of the $100 billion the US has spent during its 13.5 years in aid to Afghanistan has gone through the Pentagon with the remainder distributed through the US Agency for International Development(USAID) and other civilian departments.
John Sopko, the US special investigator general for Afghan reconstruction (SIGAR), spent a year studying the $2.26 billion spent on the Commander's Emergency Response Program(CERP). Sopko's report said:"In reviewing this data, SIGAR found that the Department of Defense could only provide financial information relating to the disbursement of funds for CERP projects totaling $890 million (40 percent) of the approximately $2.2 billion in obligated funds at that time,"
The report analyzed the expenditures under 20 categories such as, transportation, water and sanitation, health care, education, etc. However, there was an added category called "unknown" that contained 5,163 projects while all the other categories together came only to 4,494 projects. The Pentagon so far has not commented on the SIGAR findings.
US Central Command, the overseer of military operations in Afghanistan as well as many other countries said that some of the money could have been redirected to other more urgent military requirements such as counterinsurgency. In a Feb. 25 email to Sopko's office Central Command said: “Although the (inspector general’s) report is technically accurate, it did not discuss the counterinsurgency strategies in relationship to CERP, In addition (to) the 20 uses of CERP funds, it was also used as a tool for counterinsurgency.”This comment hardly explains why money set aside for emergency reconstruction had to be used for counter insurgency. The bulk of the approximately $800 billion spent on the Afghan war was for military needs. "Counterinsurgency" is just not one of the 20 defined categories under this emergency response program.
Almost half of the funds under the CERP program were spent in just two provinces, Kandahar, and Helmand two areas with the most Taliban activities and bloodiest battles. Almost a third of the funds, $289 million were spent in Kandahar. Since being established in 2008, SIGAR has issued dozens of reports documenting how billions in aid has been lost through waste or corruption. One report found that tens of thousands of surplus AK-47 assault weapons and other weapons shipped to Afghanistan had simply disappeared. Another report found that the US continued to give Afghan security forces a planned $1.4 billion for gasoline purchases even though evidence showed that some of the money had been siphoned off for other unexplained uses.

Three beheaded by Islamic State in Libya earlier deported from Israel

Three of those beheaded in Libya by IS had earlier lived in Israel where they sought refugee status before being deported.
recent video posted on line by the Islamic State shows the shooting and beheading of what were thought to be 30 Ethiopian Christians. However, three of the victims have been identified as Eritrean refugees who had earlier been seeking refugee status in Israel. Mesi Fashiya, who is a translator for The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israel-based NGO that advocates for the approximately 46,000 refugees in Israel, identified three of the victims. Fashiya told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that one of the victims was her cousin, whom she recognized by photos posted by IS on Facebook before the victims were killed.
Her cousin had been deported from Israel to Uganda or Rwanda but was not accepted and went on to Sudan and from there to Libya. The Israeli government will help refugees to leave voluntarily, by providing airline tickets and a grant that can be up to $3,500 per person. While this may seem a good deal it is meant to ensure that less people go through the process of seeking asylum. Hagar Shechter, who is head of public relations for Assaf an Israeli organization that provides legal assistance to refugees said: “During the past few years we see that government policy is becoming worse towards asylum seekers.” Refugees fear arbitrary detention as a means of pressuring the refugees to leave. She noted that the Israeli government has granted only 0.17 percent of refugee status requests. Assaf reports:47,000 refugees and asylum seekers live in Israel as of October 2014, of which 92 percent are from Eritrea or Sudan. They were forced to leave their homes and their countries to seek asylum in Israel due to persecution, civil wars, genocide and other horrors
Last year, Hagar notes the situation worsened when the Israeli government built Camp Holot located in the middle of the Negev government to house refugees: “Last year, the Israeli government built a detention camp to lock them up.About 2,000 people are imprisoned in this camp, placed in the middle of the desert, far from any public transport,” Fashiya noted that her cousin had been in the camp. The experience convinced him he should forget about seeking refugee status and he signed papers to leave without telling his relative. Fashiya said her cousin was hoping to reach Europe by boat. That too has become a very risky endeavor, with hundreds of migrants drowning before they reach Italy or the eastern islands of Greece. Many countries can always find funds to fight wars and terrorism but when it comes to humanitarian disasters such as this funds are limited and the will to at least help alleviate the problem is lacking. The situation is not helped by the backlash against immigrants in much of Europe.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Saudis claim an end to "Decisive Storm" bombing raids on Yemen

"Operation Decisive Storm" a Saudi-led bombing operation targeting Houthi rebels who control much of Yemen will be ended after nearly a month.
The old operation will replaced by a new one called "Operation Restoring Hope" according to Saudi state-run television. The Saudis are aiming to restore the former president Mansour Hadi, a staunch ally of both the Saudis and other Arab states in the Gulf Cooperation Council, and of the United States. Brigadier Gen. Ahmed Assiri, a spokesperson for the Saudi military, said the campaign had achieved its objectives "by a very good planning, very precise execution, by the courage of our pilots, our sailors, our soldiers."
Those killed and who had their houses destroyed in the bombings may question the "precise execution" of the bombings:At least 46 people are dead tonight and several hundred others wounded after Saudi warplanes launched attacks on the outskirts of a missile depot in the Yemeni capital city of Sanaa.No military casualties were reported in the strikes, which set off a string of explosions around residential neighborhoods in Sanaa. Many of the casualties were from explosions blowing out windows in people’s homes.Saudi officials responded to the heavy death toll with no military casualties by claiming the fact that the strikes had caused explosions showed that Houthi rebels had stored small arms in the area.This means that the Saudis will bomb a military target even though they know quite well it will cause multiple civilian casualties because of its location. Saudi officials claim that their airstrikes have degraded Houthi military infrastructure, including key buildings in Sanaa. This may be true but the Houthis are far from beaten and the Saudis may be degrading their support among many Yemenis opposed to the Houthis by the destruction and casualties caused by the bombings.
Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Assiri, spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition said that the "Restoration of Hope" operation would aim at protecting civilians and combating "terrorism." The month long bombings could have combated terrorism by bombing Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) as they took control of the capital of Hadramawt province Mukala and seized a huge amount of weapons from military facilities. Instead the Saudis bombed urban areas in Sanaa, Taiz, and Aden, controlled by Houthis. Operation Restoration of Hope is said to be a "combination of political, diplomatic, and military action."
As if from another planet, al-Assiri went on:"The coalition has completed the 'Decisive Storm' campaign at the request of the Yemeni government and the President of Yemen. The primary goals of the campaign have been achieved and sovereignty has been protected. We are able to confirm that the Houthis are no longer a threat to Yemenis or neighbouring countries. The Yemeni government will now undertake all necessary actions to start rebuilding the country."The sovereign leaders have not set foot in Yemen and dare not as yet. The sovereign officials are far off in the safety of the Saudi capital Riyad. A naval blockade of Yemen will continue to stop the flow of weapons to the Houthis. As with AQAP the Houthis no doubt capture many weapons supplied to the Hadi government by the US and others.
Al Jazeera correspondent, Mohamed Vall, reporting from the Saudi Yemen border noted that there had been signs that Saudi policy was changing:"Iranian officials were optimistic of a ceasefire earlier in the day with US naval ships arriving in the region and greater levels of contact between the US and the Saudi monarchy. Most likely Iran, Saudi Arabia and others have come to some kind of agreement on the conflict."
The US had been attempting to persuade the Saudis for several days to let up on their bombings of Yemeni cities.They have sent warships to help patrol the waters off Yemen.
Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Zarif, has called for dialogue with the US and Western allies to help solve the crisis in Yemen. Iran had actually advised the Houthis against seizing the capital last September. Iran hoped that a political solution could be found in which the Houthis were able to negotiate a government agreeable to them. Instead no agreement was reached even after they seized the capital back last September. Since then they have extended their reign over much of the country even though they are a minority in Yemen and cannot hope to rule on their own. However, former president Saleh and troops loyal to him have helped the Houthi advance even to the southern port of Aden possible. Some of those fighting in Aden, I notice in photos, fly the southern separatist flag of South Yemen not the national flag, an ominous sign that separatists who are fighting the Houthis may not support a return of Hadi.
There is unlikely to be a ceasefire in areas controlled by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but there could possibly be at least cessation of hostilities in most areas where the Houthis are facing others. The Houthis themselves may realize they cannot win control of the country. The World Health Organization(WHO) estimates that just between March 19 and April 17, hostilities have killed 944 people and wounded 3,487. WHO warned health services in Yemen were on the point of collapse:"Major hospitals will soon be completely unable to provide humanitarian and emergency services or to perform operations and provide intensive care to needy patients.This increases the risk of communicable diseases such as measles, which is prevalent in Yemen, as well as polio, which has been eliminated but is now at risk of reappearing,"Even a pause in the fighting would help alleviate the humanitarian situation.

UPDATE: Some bombing has continued. Several raids took place just hours after the end of bombing was announced.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

US quick to react to Russian opposition murder ignores those in the Ukraine

Ron Paul points out the radical differences in the response from the U.S. government when a prominent opponent of the Russian government is murdered and when several members of the Ukrainian opposition meet the same fate.
Ron Paul is a well-known former member of Congress who represented a Texas district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He retired in 2013. Wikipedia describes Paul: Ronald Ernest "Ron" Paul (born August 20, 1935) is an American physician, author, and former Republican congressman, two-time Republican presidential candidate, and the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party in the 1988 U.S. Presidential Election.

Paul notes that in Ukraine two prominent opposition figures were shot and killed in broad daylight. Ten other prominent opposition figures in the Ukraine have either committed suicide in suspicious circumstances or been killed outright. All these figures were either associated with or friendly to the Yanukovych government ousted after huge demonstrations in Maidan, but Paul terms the overthrow of the government as a "US-backed coup." This is a bit simplistic as an explanation as it was the actions of then president Yanukovych and his security forces, and the demonstrations that led to the success of the coup, but the U.S. certainly helped the matter along and as the Nuland tapes show, the U.S, managed to get their man in power. Below is a tape of an interview with Stephen Cohen from New York University,an expert on Russia and US relations with Russia, who gives some of the background to the overthrow of the then president Yanukovych:

Just last week, three opposition figures were murdered. Two were pro-Russian journalists Oles Buzina and Serhiy Sukhobov, and a former politician Oleh Kalashnikov, all killed by unknown assailants. Ukrainian security chief Vasily Vovk in response to the murders is reported to have said on television: “I think that in our time, when there is practically a war going on, Ukrainophobes, if they don’t shut their mouths, should at least stop the rhetoric. I think that in the present situation, there shouldn’t be anyone stepping out directly against Ukraine and Ukrainianness,”As Paul notes, the US government has as yet said nothing, while EU has condemned the killings. EU spokesperson, Maja Kucijancic, said: "We condemn the recent killings of the journalists Oles Buzina,, and Serhiy Sukhobov, as well as of Oleh Kalashnikov, a former MP."
In contrast was the U.S. reaction to the murder of Boris Nemtsov, a member of a minor political party not even represented in the Russian parliament, but nevertheless a prominent critic of Putin. The U.S. immediately demanded Russia conduct a thorough investigation. As Paul points out, Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce, a Republican representing California told U.S. media that "this shocking murder is the latest assault on those who dare to oppose the Putin regime."
An article in Politico, a scathing attack on Russian investigative powers when it comes to murders that might have connections to the Russian power structure, even suggests that it was up to a US investigation to find out the truth. The author of the Politico article is Bill Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management said to be the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005.
In contrast to these responses to the Nemtsov murder, Paul remarks: Neither Royce, nor Secretary of State John Kerry, nor President Obama, nor any US government figure has said a word about the series of apparently political murders in Ukraine.
Indeed, the U.S, is even sending in troops to help train Ukrainian armed forces, as Paul points out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Greece tackling impossible task of keeping election promises and pleasing creditors

Greece said it will keep election pledges to end austerity measures even as its creditors demand pension and labour market changes that go counter to those pledges.
Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis said Greece wanted a viable solution with the euro zone but still would not budge from their red lines. It is because Greece has not been willing to budge much from these red lines that the Eurogroup and the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund(IMF), the Troika, have not agreed that Greece has met the conditions of the bailout loan with the reforms presented so far.
Other Greek officials were equally defiant in refusing to countenance cuts in wages, pensions, selling state assets or increasing taxes. Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said the country won't agree to any privatizations, a position at times contradicted by other officials. It would appear the privatization of Piraeus port is going forward. Lafazanis also claimed creditors were trying to blackmail the government to force it to take measures that would hurt the working class, but the government would not betray the mandate of the people. Spokesperson for the major government party Syriza, Rania Svigou, said:“The Greek government has presented a realistic reform plan that doesn’t contain recessionary measures or burden the weaker layers of society, yet gives the economy breathing space. The government will exhaust all possibilities for a solution that respects the mandate of the Greek people.”That may be the case, but it does not meet the terms of the bailout loan Greece agreed to and as understood by their creditors and until they meet those terms there will be no further cash forthcoming from the loan.
Greek banks so far still are eligible for Emergency Liquidity Assistan according to Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank(ECB), but there has been a heavy withdrawal of funds and transfers outside of Greece as depositors worry about a possible exit of Greece from the Euro zone. However, Draghi ruffled markets and spooked some investors when he said financial buffers were sufficient to prevent any contagion should Greece default on its debt. He also warned that if Greece defaulted on its payments the EU would be entering "uncharted waters."
Draghi urged Greece to work out and implement detailed reforms that would satisfy creditors and release funds. Draghi told reporters in Washington on Friday at a meeting of the International Monetary Fund that much more work needed to be done:"It's urgent. We all want Greece to succeed. The answer is in the hands of the Greek government."Even US Treasury Secretary, Jacob Lew , joined the chorus of those urging Greece to reach a deal, and warned a default would "create immediate hardship for Greece."
Some observers, such as Der Spiegel, are suggesting Russia's Putin will come to the rescue of Greece. As Zerohedge puts it: According to Spiegel, citing a senior figure in the ruling Syriza party, Greece is poised to sign a gas deal with Russia as early as Tuesday which could bring up to €5 billion into the depleted Greek coffers.Russia needs an alternative pipeline that would bypass the Ukraine.and bring Russian gas to Europe through Turkey and Greece. Greece would not need to repay the advance until after the pipeline began to operate about 2019. While these funds may provide a temporary stopgap, Greece will still require more cash later this summer and so the Russian injection would simply be another stage of kicking the can down the road, but at least could buy Greece some further time to work issues out. The deal with Russia could be a sign that Greece is willing to begin moving away from the EU orbit into a closer relationship with Russia.

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