< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: September 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

Poll Says Most Iraqis Want U.S. Out

From the New York Times:

September 29, 2006
Poll Says Most Iraqis Want U.S. Out

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 — About three-quarters of Iraqis believe that American forces are provoking more conflict than they are preventing in Iraq and that they should be withdrawn within a year, according to a poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, a group from the University of Maryland.

The poll of 1,150 people, conducted Sept. 1 to 4, had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. It found growing support for attacks against American-led forces, with a majority of Iraqis now favoring them.

The poll was released Wednesday, a day after President Bush declassified portions of a national intelligence report that asserted the Iraq war had become a “cause célèbre” that was breeding deep resentment in the Muslim world and helping Islamist militants cultivate supporters.

The poll found that 78 percent of Iraqis believe that the American military presence causes more conflict than it prevents, including 97 percent of Sunnis, 82 percent of Shiites and 41 percent of Kurds.

Among Iraq’s three main communities, only Kurds tended to see the American military presence as a stabilizing force, with 56 percent agreeing with that statement versus 17 percent of Shiites and 2 percent of Sunnis.

Most Iraqis — 71 percent — said American soldiers should be withdrawn within a year, but only 37 percent favored an American withdrawal in the next six months. Only Sunnis wanted American forces out within six months, and only Kurds favored a longer United States presence, as much as two years or more.

The poll also found growing support for attacks on American forces, with 61 percent of the respondents saying they approved, compared with 47 percent in January. Support for the attacks was strongest among Sunnis, at 92 percent. But support among Shiites rose to 62 percent in September from 41 percent in January. Only 16 percent of Kurds favored attacks on American troops.

The poll used face-to-face interviews and a complicated methodology to try to obtain a representative sample.

Legal Battle Over Detainee Bill Is Likely

From the LA Times:

The Senate on Thursday approved President Bush's plan to question and try foreign terrorism suspects before military judges — without oversight by the federal courts.

Bush is expected to receive a bill he can sign into law in the next few days, but legal challenges almost assuredly will be pursued against the prosecution process, which the administration considers a key element in its war on terrorism.

The measure's most disputed provision would block foreign prisoners held by the military from turning to the federal courts to end their imprisonment. By preventing detainees from challenging their confinement in court, it sets up a potential constitutional conflict before the Supreme Court.

Click here to read the article.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Senate Passes Bill on Detainee Interrogations

From the Washington Post:

The Senate today passed a bill, backed by the White House, that sets the rules for interrogating and prosecuting detainees in the war on terrorism, allowing the CIA to continue a formerly secret program to extract information from key suspected terrorists and establishing special military tribunals to try them.

The bill, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by a vote of 65 to 34 after senators rejected four amendments supported mostly by Democrats.

The bill is nearly identical to a bill passed yesterday by the House, which will vote on adopting the Senate language Friday.

Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

UN Relief Coordinator Calls Israel's Actions in Final Days of War With Hezbollah "Outrageous"

Last Wednesay, in an article titled "Israel Hopes to Complete Its Withdrawal From Lebanon on Friday," the New York Times published the following on comments by the UN relief coordinator:

In Beirut on Tuesday, the United Nations relief coordinator, David Shearer, said Israeli artillery had scattered at least 350,000 unexploded cluster bomblets over southern Lebanon toward the end of the fighting. “The outrageous fact is that nearly all of these munitions were fired in the last three to four days of the war,” Mr. Shearer said.

If Mr. Shearer's comments are true, they are further evidence that the Israeli Defense Forces acted with a callous disregard to innocent civilian lives. It is truly criminal that Israel, knowing full well that a cease-fire was imminent, would scatter so many cluster bomblets over southern Lebanon.


Monday, September 25, 2006

In Tiny Courts of N.Y., Abuses of Law and Power

In today's edition of the New York Times, the paper begins a three part series looking at "justice" administered by small courts in New York state. The first part of the series is unbelievable and I never thought I would read about these types of "justice" occurring in present day America. I'm sure all of the articles in the series will be interesting, but you can click here to read the first part of the series. I'm sure there will be a link to the next two articles once they are available, but this is definitely worth reading. Here is just a small portion of the first article:

The New York Times spent a year examining the life and history of this largely hidden world, a constellation of 1,971 part-time justices, from the suburbs of New York City to the farm towns near Niagara Falls.

It is impossible to say just how many of those justices are ill-informed or abusive. Officially a part of the state court system, yet financed by the towns and villages, the justice courts are essentially unsupervised by either. State court officials know little about the justices, and cannot reliably say how many cases they handle or how many are appealed. Even the agency charged with disciplining them, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, is not equipped to fully police their vast numbers.

But The Times reviewed public documents dating back decades and, unannounced, visited courts in every part of the state. It examined records of closed disciplinary hearings. It tracked down defendants, and interviewed prosecutors and defense lawyers, plaintiffs and bystanders.

The examination found overwhelming evidence that decade after decade and up to this day, people have often been denied fundamental legal rights. Defendants have been jailed illegally. Others have been subjected to racial and sexual bigotry so explicit it seems to come from some other place and time. People have been denied the right to a trial, an impartial judge and the presumption of innocence.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

United States Detains Associated Press Photographer Without Charge

From the Associated Press:

U.S. Holds AP Photographer in Iraq 5 Mos
U.S. Military Holds AP Photographer in Iraq 5 Months Without Charges or Public Hearing
The Associated Press
- The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing.
Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for "imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions. AP executives said the news cooperative's review of Hussein's work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.
Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on April 12 of this year.
"We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable," said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer. "We've come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure."
Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom.
In Hussein's case, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to back up the vague allegations they have raised about him, Curley and other AP executives said.
The military said Hussein was captured with two insurgents, including Hamid Hamad Motib, an alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. "He has close relationships with persons known to be responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, improvised explosive device (IED) attacks and other attacks on coalition forces," according to a May 7 e-mail from U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jack Gardner, who oversees all coalition detainees in Iraq.
"The information available establishes that he has relationships with insurgents and is afforded access to insurgent activities outside the normal scope afforded to journalists conducting legitimate activities," Gardner wrote to AP International Editor John Daniszewski.
Hussein proclaims his innocence, according to his Iraqi lawyer, Badie Arief Izzat, and believes he has been unfairly targeted because his photos from Ramadi and Fallujah were deemed unwelcome by the coalition forces.
That Hussein was captured at the same time as insurgents doesn't make him one of them, said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor.
"Journalists have always had relationships with people that others might find unsavory," she said. "We're not in this to choose sides, we're to report what's going on from all sides."
AP executives in New York and Baghdad have sought to persuade U.S. officials to provide additional information about allegations against Hussein and to have his case transferred to the Iraqi criminal justice system. The AP contacted military leaders in Iraq and the Pentagon, and later the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad.
The AP has worked quietly until now, believing that would be the best approach. But with the U.S. military giving no indication it would change its stance, the news cooperative has decided to make public Hussein's imprisonment, hoping the spotlight will bring attention to his case and that of thousands of others now held in Iraq, Curley said.
One of Hussein's photos was part of a package of 20 photographs that won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography last year. His contribution was an image of four insurgents in Fallujah firing a mortar and small arms during the U.S.-led offensive in the city in November 2004.
In what several AP editors described as a typical path for locally hired staff in the midst of a conflict, Hussein, a shopkeeper who sold cell phones and computers in Fallujah, was hired in the city as a general helper because of his local knowledge.
As the situation in Fallujah eroded in 2004, he expressed a desire to become a photographer. Hussein was given training and camera equipment and hired in September of that year as a freelancer, paid on a per-picture basis, according to Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography. A month later, he was put on a monthly retainer.
During the U.S.-led offensive in Fallujah in November 2004, he stayed on after his family fled. "He had good access. He was able to photograph not only the results of the attacks on Fallujah, he was also able to photograph members of the insurgency on occasion," Lyon said. "That was very difficult to achieve at that time."
After fleeing later in the offensive, leaving his camera behind in the rush to escape, Hussein arrived in Baghdad, where the AP gave him a new camera. He then went to work in Ramadi which, like Fallujah, has been a center of insurgent violence.
In its own effort to determine whether Hussein had gotten too close the insurgency, the AP has reviewed his work record, interviewed senior photo editors who worked on his images and examined all 420 photographs in the news cooperative's archives that were taken by Hussein, Lyon said.
The military in Iraq has frequently detained journalists who arrive quickly at scenes of violence, accusing them of getting advance notice from insurgents, Lyon said. But "that's just good journalism. Getting to the event quickly is something that characterizes good journalism anywhere in the world. It does not indicate prior knowledge," he said.
Out of Hussein's body of work, only 37 photos show insurgents or people who could be insurgents, Lyon said. "The vast majority of the 420 images show the aftermath or the results of the conflict blown up houses, wounded people, dead people, street scenes," he said.
Only four photos show the wreckage of still-burning U.S. military vehicles.
"Do we know absolutely everything about him, and what he did before he joined us? No. Are we satisfied that what he did since he joined us was appropriate for the level of work we expected from him? Yes," Lyon said. "When we reviewed the work he submitted to us, we found it appropriate to what we'd asked him to do."
The AP does not knowingly hire combatants or anyone who is part of a story, company executives said. But hiring competent local staff in combat areas is vital to the news service, because often only local people can pick their way around the streets with a reasonable degree of safety.
"We want people who are not part of a story. Sometimes it is a judgment call. If someone seems to be thuggish, or like a fighter, you certainly wouldn't hire them," Daniszewski said. After they are hired, their work is checked carefully for signs of bias.
Lyon said every image from local photographers is always "thoroughly checked and vetted" by experienced editors. "In every case where there have been images of insurgents, questions have been asked about circumstances under which the image was taken, and what the image shows," he said.
Executives said it's not uncommon for AP news people to be picked up by coalition forces and detained for hours, days or occasionally weeks, but never this long. Several hundred journalists in Iraq have been detained, some briefly and some for several weeks, according to Scott Horton, a New York-based lawyer hired by the AP to work on Hussein's case.
Horton also worked on behalf of an Iraqi cameraman employed by CBS, Abdul Ameer Younis Hussein, who was detained for one year before his case was sent to an Iraqi court on charges of insurgent activity. He was acquitted for lack of evidence.
AP officials emphasized the military has not provided the company concrete evidence of its claims against Bilal Hussein, or provided him a chance to offer a defense.
"He's a Sunni Arab from a tribe in that area. I'm sure he does know some nasty people. But is he a participant in the insurgency? I don't think that's been proven," Daniszewski said.
Information provided to the AP by the military to support the continued detention hasn't withstood scrutiny, when it could be checked, Daniszewski said.
For example, he said, the AP had been told that Hussein was involved with the kidnapping of two Arab journalists in Ramadi.
But those journalists, tracked down by the AP, said Hussein had helped them after they were released by their captors without money or a vehicle in a dangerous part of Ramadi. After a journalist acquaintance put them in touch with Hussein, the photographer picked them up, gave them shelter and helped get them out of town, they said.
The journalists said they had never been contacted by multinational forces for their account.
Horton said the military has provided contradictory accounts of whether Hussein himself was a U.S. target last April or if he was caught up in a broader sweep.
The military said bomb-making materials were found in the apartment where Hussein was captured but it never detailed what those materials were. The military said he tested positive for traces of explosives. Horton said that was virtually guaranteed for anyone on the streets of Ramadi at that time.
Hussein has been a frequent target of conservative critics on the Internet, who raised questions about his images months before the military detained him. One blogger and author, Michelle Malkin, wrote about Hussein's detention on the day of his arrest, saying she'd been tipped by a military source.
Carroll said the role of journalists can be misconstrued and make them a target of critics. But that criticism is misplaced, she said.
"How can you know what a conflict is like if you're only with one side of the combatants?" she said. "Journalism doesn't work if we don't report and photograph all sides."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures


Bush Administration Refuses to Cooperate with Chile in 1976 Assassination Investigation Involving Pinochet

From the New York Times:

September 21, 2006
Chile Seeks U.S. Files on 1976 Assassination
SANTIAGO, Chile — Thirty years after a Chilean-organized hit squad assassinated former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and an American colleague on the streets of Washington, investigators here are drawing closer to implicating this country’s former dictator, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in the killings.
But they say their efforts are being hindered by a parallel investigation in the
United States that has been stalled since President Bush took office and that is withholding potentially important documents.
Mr. Letelier, one of the most visible leaders of the opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt were killed on Sept. 21, 1976, when a bomb planted under his car exploded as they were riding to work.
Even after 9/11, the Letelier assassination remains the most audacious act of state-sponsored terrorism committed on American soil.
“Every day it is clearer that Pinochet ordered my brother’s death,” said Fabiola Letelier, a prominent human rights lawyer here. “But for a proper and complete investigation to take place we need access to the appropriate records and evidence.”
General Pinochet was detained in London in 1998 by prosecutors seeking to bring him to justice for abuses committed during his 17-year rule.
Afterward, the Clinton administration came under new pressure from the Letelier and Moffitt families, and it released more than 24,000 declassified diplomatic and intelligence cables. It also reopened an investigation of the assassination, sending an
F.B.I. team to Chile in 2000 to interview more than 40 witnesses.
That mission resulted in a recommendation that the United States indict General Pinochet, but Attorney General
Janet Reno decided to leave the decision to her successors in the Bush administration.
The case remains politically delicate in Washington, where previous Republican administrations supported the Pinochet dictatorship as a bulwark against leftist encroachment in Latin America during the cold war.
Though President Bush, whose father was director of central intelligence at the time of the assassination, promised to “direct every resource at our command” to defeating terrorism, the American investigation continues to languish, Ms. Letelier and Chilean officials say.
They and others complain that hundreds of secret documents are being kept out of Chilean hands.
“It’s been six years, three times longer than the original investigation that fingered the hit team, and nothing has happened,” said Peter Kornbluh, a Chile specialist at the National Security Archive, which obtained the release of the original trove of documents. “I’ve filed Freedom of Information Act requests, but the documents that come closest to Pinochet are still being withheld, ostensibly as evidence.”
No one in the Bush administration would comment on the case. William Blier, head of the unit in the office of the United States Attorney in Washington that is in charge of the case, declined a request for information on the status of the investigation. He referred the question to a press spokesman, Channing Phillips, who also would not discuss any aspect of the case.
Other lawyers involved in the case on the victims’ side said the Bush administration’s performance contrasted with promises made after Sept. 11 to put pressure on states that sponsored terrorism.
“It is stunning to me that with all the energy being put into the war on terror,” the Bush administration “has been completely unresponsive to our queries,” said Sam Buffone, a Washington lawyer representing Ms. Moffitt’s husband, Michael Moffitt.
“The most basic lesson of that war is that anyone responsible for an act of domestic terrorism will never get away with it, no matter how long it takes,” Mr. Buffone said. “But that rule seems to have been honored in the breach for Augusto Pinochet.”
General Pinochet, now 90, ailing and discredited here, ruled Chile from Sept. 11, 1973, to March 1990. Since mid-2004, investigations in the United States and in Chile have uncovered an illicit fortune of more than $27 million that he hid abroad.
He is now facing tax fraud and forgery charges, two indictments for human rights violations and several other investigations of murders, kidnappings and disappearances that occurred during his rule.
John Dinges, co-author of “Assassination on Embassy Row” and a professor at Alberto Hurtado University here, said, “The evidence against Pinochet is as strong in the Letelier case as any of the other cases he is facing.”
He noted that the dossier now included damning testimony from central officials. Among them are Gen. Manuel Contreras, the former chief of the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA, General Pinochet’s secret police, and Michael Townley, an American-born former DINA agent.
Facing intense diplomatic pressure, the Pinochet government handed Mr. Townley over to the United States in 1978. He admitted organizing and carrying out the assassination with Cuban exiles recruited for the task. He served a short prison term and was enrolled in the witness protection program.
General Pinochet refused to extradite other officials of the intelligence directorate who were Chilean citizens. But in 1995 General Contreras was convicted here of the Letelier assassination and sentenced to seven years in prison.
In interviews, including one with The New York Times in November 2004, General Contreras, currently serving a prison term here for the disappearance and torture of political prisoners, said General Pinochet had known and approved of all the actions he took.
But he has not specifically said that General Pinochet, whom American diplomatic cables show as irate about Mr. Letelier’s activities in exile, ordered the killing.
Most recently, Chilean courts agreed to consider a request that General Pinochet be stripped of his immunity in a related case: the murder of Eugenio Berrios, a DINA agent nicknamed Pinochet’s Mad Scientist, whose headless body was found on a beach in Uruguay in 1995.
Mr. Berrios had been spirited into exile there in 1992, in anticipation that he would soon be called to testify in an investigation of the Letelier and other assassinations.
In March, Chile asked that three senior Uruguayan military officers said to be involved in the Berrios killing be extradited here. Uruguayan courts complied, and the men were recently interrogated by a Chilean investigative judge, Alejandro Madrid, whose inquiry into the Berrios case inevitably led him to the Letelier assassination.
“The Chileans have been remarkable, exemplary, in going forward on Pinochet,” E. Lawrence Barcella, the lead prosecutor in the original trial of Mr. Letelier’s assassins in 1980, said in a telephone interview from Washington. “In my view, outliving those you kill is not a defense, and I hope nobody stops trying” to build the case against General Pinochet.


How Great is the Terrorist Threat?

In the most recent edition of Foreign Affairs, there is a roundtable discussion on how great a threat terrorism truly is to America. On one side of the debate is John Mueller, who argues that the hype of the terrorist threat is overblown by politicians for political gain. On the other side are multiple scholars arguing against such claims, but the whole things is an interesting read.

A link to the discussion can be found by clicking here, while a link to Mueller's article can be accessed by clicking here.

I thought one of the most interesting statistics came from Mueller's article when he writes:

But while keeping such potential dangers in mind, it is worth remembering that the total number of people killed since 9/11 by al Qaeda or al Qaeda­like operatives outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is not much higher than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States in a single year, and that the lifetime chance of an American being killed by international terrorism is about one in 80,000 -- about the same chance of being killed by a comet or a meteor. Even if there were a 9/11-scale attack every three months for the next five years, the likelihood that an individual American would number among the dead would be two hundredths of a percent (or one in 5,000).

Investigation Reveals Concealment of Detainee Deaths in Afghanistan

The Los Angeles Times just printed a special investigative report about the concealment of two detainee deaths in Afghanistan by an Army National Guard Unit. The report is pretty disturbing not just for the brutality, but also because it was covered up for so long. Below is part of the article:

Apparently unknown to Army officials, two detainees had died in the team's custody in separate incidents during the unit's final month in eastern Afghanistan. Several other detainees allege that they were badly beaten or tortured while held at the base in Gardez. One victim, an unarmed peasant, was shot to death while being held for questioning after a fierce firefight. The other, an 18-year-old Afghan army recruit, died after being interrogated at the firebase. Descriptions of his injuries were consistent with severe beatings and other abuse. A member of the Special Forces team told The Times his unit held a meeting after the teen's death to coordinate their stories should an investigation arise. "Everybody on the team had knowledge of it," the soldier said, insisting on anonymity. "You just don't talk about that stuff in the Special Forces community. What happens downrange stays downrange…. Nobody wants to get anybody in trouble. Just sit back, and hope it will go away." What distinguishes these two fatalities from scores of other questionable deaths in U.S. custody is that they were successfully concealed — not just from the American public but from the military's chain of command and legal authorities. The deaths came to light only after an investigation by The Times and a nonprofit educational organization, the Crimes of War Project, led the Army to open criminal inquiries on the incidents. Two years later, the cases remain under investigation and no charges have been filed.

Click here to read the full report.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Hurting U.S. Terror Fight

From the Washington Post:

The war in Iraq has become a primary recruitment vehicle for violent Islamic extremists, motivating a new generation of potential terrorists around the world whose numbers may be increasing faster than the United States and its allies can reduce the threat, U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded.

A 30-page National Intelligence Estimate completed in April cites the "centrality" of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the insurgency that has followed, as the leading inspiration for new Islamic extremist networks and cells that are united by little more than an anti-Western agenda. It concludes that, rather than contributing to eventual victory in the global counterterrorism struggle, the situation in Iraq has worsened the U.S. position, according to officials familiar with the classified document.

Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

American Democracy in Trouble?

A recent poll by the New York Times shows widespread dissatisfaction with Congress by the American people. Only 25% of people surveyed approved of the way Congress is handling their job and only a slightly higher percentage thought their congressional representative should keep their job. However, despite these dismal job approval numbers of Congress and those of President Bush and the Republican Party in general, most analysts do not predict that the Democrats will take back either branch of Congress in the upcoming elections. For example, according to the Cook Political Report there are only about 40 seats that are somewhat competitive, and of those there are 19 in the "tossup" status. Since the Democrats need a net pickup of 15 to take back the House, which would mean they would have to win 15 of those 19, while still holding all their current seats, a pretty difficult task. This lack of competitiveness is due to multiple factors such as the power of incumbency and redistricting, as well as voter turnout (which is extremely low in non-Presidential elections).

Competitive elections are vital to a healthy democracy, and creating competitive congressional districts is an important part of ensuring that elected officials remain responsive to the voters.
Taking the power of redistricting out of the hands of state legislatures--who are concerned not with creating competitive and meaningful elections, but rather with the creation of safe districts--is the first step to improving responsiveness in the U.S. Congress. A much more fair and reasonable alternative is to create independent redistricting commissions, a process that is more likely to decrease political gerrymandering by politicians.

Some other possible solutions to low turnover in Congress are:

Alternative Voting Methods
Increasing the Size of Congress
strengthening the VRA
Term Limits

Some people will respond to what I have written in this post by saying that the Democrats have just lost touch with the American people and are just a disfunctional party. While there may be some truth to this, I don't believe it explains what is happening overall, as most Americans now have a more favorable view of the Democrats than the Republicans. I do wonder, however if this shows signs of hope for a third party hoping to break through the two-party deadlock on American politics or whether American democracy is breaking (or both). Either way, it is troubling to me when few people bother to vote in elections and that when they do vote they are unable to replace the country's legislature with representatives that respond to their needs. Any questions or comments are welcome.

World Bank Profits From Poor Countries - Report

From the Inter Press Service via Common Dreams News Center:

The World Bank receives more from developing countries than what it disburses to them says a new report released Tuesday as finance ministers endorsed a controversial new Bank plan to tackle corruption in developing countries.

The Social Watch Report 2006, released here at the annual meetings of the Bank group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), stressed the need to reform the current international financial structure. Net transfers (disbursements minus repayments minus interest payments) to developing countries from the Bank and the International Bank for Reconstruction (IBRD), have been negative every year since 1991, the report pointed out.

The IBRD is now not making any contribution to development finance other than providing funds to service its outstanding claims. The International Development Association (IDA), which provides interest-free credits and grants to the poorest developing countries to boost their economic growth, is the only source of net financing from the Bank.

But these disbursements amount to only 4-5 billion US dollars a year. Taken together, the contribution of the Bank to the external financing of developing countries is negative by some 1.2 billion dollars, thus ‘‘failing to fulfil the purpose of its mission'', said Social Watch, an international network of over 400 citizens' organisations in 60 countries monitoring commitments to eradicate poverty.

Meanwhile, critics say the Bank has embarked on a public relations offensive using the good governance and poverty eradication rhetoric to mask its unpopular neo-liberal agenda of ‘deregulation', privatisation, and removal of government subsidies for essential services.

Good governance is not an end in itself, but the foundation of the path out of poverty, said Bank group president Paul Wolfowitz in his address to the annual meeting of the Board of Governors on Tuesday. ''It leads to faster and stronger growth. It ensures every development dollar is used to fight poverty, hunger and disease.'' Wolfowitz said that governance, a ‘‘much broader concept than anti-corruption'', was aimed at poverty reduction and would not be used as a new conditionality for lending.

Click here to read the entire article.

Leader of Coup in Thailand Sets Timetable

From the New York Times:

Thailand will probably not restore democracy for at least a year, Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, the commander who seized power in a bloodless coup, announced today.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since tanks and troops under his command took to the streets of the capital late Tuesday night, General Sondhi offered a political timetable for the country’s democratic rehabilitation. An interim government would be chosen within two weeks, he said, and the process of writing a new constitution would follow.

“Drafting a new constitution should not take more than one year,” General Sondhi said; new elections could be then expected sometime around October 2007.

As Thais awoke this morning to news of the coup, General Sondhi’s junta sought to consolidate its control, banning public gatherings, threatening to shut down or block telecommunications and urging “farmers and laborers” — many of whom are strong supporters of the ousted government — to stay out of politics.

Click here to read the full article.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Canadians Fault U.S. for Its Role in Torture Case

From the New York Times:

A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities about their plans for Mr. Arar before transporting him to Syria.

“I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada,” Justice Dennis R. O’Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference.

The report’s findings could reverberate heavily through the leadership of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which handled the initial intelligence on Mr. Arar that led security officials in both Canada and the United States to assume he was a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist.

The report’s criticisms and recommendations are aimed primarily at Canada’s own government and activities, rather than the United States government, which refused to cooperate in the inquiry.

But its conclusions about a case that had emerged as one of the most infamous examples of rendition — the transfer of terrorism suspects to other nations for interrogation — draw new attention to the Bush administration’s handling of detainees. And it comes as the White House and Congress are contesting legislation that would set standards for the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

Click here to read the full article.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Study Shows More Have Died in Darfur Than Previously Thought

From Newsweek:

Sociologist John Hagan completed his book “Justice in the Balkans,” a critical look at the Hague Tribunal and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, just as violence erupted in Sudan’s western province of Darfur in 2003. Now more than three years later, the Northwestern University professor has turned to correcting historical errors in real time. His study, coauthored with University of Wisconsin professor Alberto Palloni and to be published tomorrow in the journal Science, provides the first rigorous estimate of the death toll in Darfur. The two scientists found that 200,000 to 400,000 people have died since violence began, rather than the tens of thousands widely reported in the media.

The war-torn environment of Darfur has made accurate estimates difficult to come up with. To arrive at their tally, Hagan and Palloni drew on a wide range of previous studies and surveys performed in West Darfur. These include the World Health Organization’s survey of people in displacement camps, pulled together in 2004 with the cooperation of the Sudanese Ministry of Health, surveys from Médecins Sans Frontières and other studies by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations. The scientists estimate that 1 million people have been displaced in West Darfur alone.

Click here to read the entire article.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Overhauls Proposed in Benefits for Jobless

From the New York Times:

The nation’s unemployment insurance system, which has hardly changed since its inception in 1935, should be revamped to aid more workers displaced by a transforming economy, economists said this week as they released overhaul proposals.

Currently, because of tight state eligibility requirements and because a growing number of workers do not have long-term, full-time jobs, unemployment insurance is paid to just over a third of those who are laid off, government data show, and coverage is less likely among the lower-income workers who most need it.

“The nation’s unemployment insurance program is seriously out of date, given the changes over the last 70 years in the U.S. labor market,” said Lori G. Kletzer, an economist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Kletzer and Howard Rosen of the Institute for International Economics in Washington are the authors of one of two proposals for revamping the system that were released on Tuesday by the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The system was intended to provide workers with half their former wages during temporary periods between jobs, though it seldom reaches that level today. In 2004, some 8.8 million workers who qualified received an average weekly benefit of $262, often for up to 26 weeks, though benefits varied by state. The costs, which totaled $41 billion that year, are paid by federal and state payroll taxes paid mainly by employers.

Benefits are seldom available to the self-employed, to those working intermittently or to many of the lowest-paid workers.

At the same time, Dr. Kletzer and Dr. Rosen said, the nature of unemployment is changing. In the last six years, despite lower overall rates of unemployment, the average period of joblessness for laid-off workers was 16 weeks, compared with 12 weeks in the 1970’s.

Because of globalization and changes in the economic structure, more workers are forced to change industries and a significant minority take jobs paying less than before, indicating a trend “from temporary layoff to permanent displacement,” according to the paper by Dr. Kletzer and Dr. Rosen.

They propose stronger federal guidelines to end the wide disparities in eligibility and benefit rules among the states and to extend coverage to a broader group of workers.

They call for a new system of personal accounts for self-employed workers, allowing them to contribute pretax money, with matching grants from the federal government up to $200 a year, to help cushion income drops or pay for job training and searches.

They also propose a wage insurance program to help offset declines in income for a period of years when workers switch to jobs paying less than they had been making. This would apply only to workers making $15 an hour or less.

To help pay some $13 billion in added costs for these programs, Dr. Kletzer and Dr. Rosen suggest raising the federal unemployment tax, which for 22 years has been levied on only the first $7,000 of each worker’s income. After tax credits are counted, employers now pay a maximum of $56 a year for each covered worker, the scholars said.

In the second paper, Jeffrey R. Kling, an economist at the Brookings Institution, proposed a more radical overhaul. Dr. Kling would scrap the existing unemployment insurance system and replace it with personal accounts and loans to help people through short-term joblessness and a large program of wage-loss insurance to help low- and moderate-income workers when they are forced to take new jobs at lower salaries.

By curbing government payments to those who experience only short-term joblessness, he said, this new plan could operate with the same total money as the current system but would provide more help to the neediest.

Little Progress Made in Lobbying Reform in Congress

From the New York Times:

Nine months after Congressional leaders vowed to respond to several bribery scandals with comprehensive reforms, their pledges have come to next to nothing.

On Wednesday, leaders of the House prepared to take up a rule requiring individual lawmakers to sign their names to some of the pet projects they tuck into major tax and spending bills. As an internal House rule, the requirement would be in effect only until the end of the session, just a few weeks away.

While reform advocates denounced the proposal as nearly toothless, its bite was still too sharp for many in Congress. By Wednesday night the resolution appeared to be bogged down in a three-way squabble among Republicans, Democrats and the powerful members of the House Appropriations Committee.

“It has been a very pathetic showing,” said Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the reform group Common Cause. Even with one congressman in jail, a well-known lobbyist on the way and several other members and staff members still under investigation, she said: “The response to this has been nothing. It has been silence.”

The resolution was a chance for House Republican leaders to make good on at least some element of their pledges in January, when Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the majority leader, declared his party’s agenda at risk “because of a growing perception that Congress is for sale” and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois declared that “now is the time for action.”

The Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff had recently pleaded guilty to paying bribes to members of Congress, including treating some to a lavish golf trip to Scotland. Former Representative Randy Cunningham, Republican of California, had pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from a military contractor. Both scandals involved lobbyists paying bribes for “earmarks” — the special interest projects inserted into major spending bills by individual lawmakers, often anonymously and with little scrutiny. House Republican attempts at new rules have been dismissed as paltry by both reform advocates and Democrats. Mr. Hastert initially called for a ban on all Congressional travel at private expense and tightening the limits on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers and staff (the current limit is $50, or $250 if the recipient is considered a friend). Others pushed for doubling the one-year waiting period before departing lawmakers and staff members can lobby their former colleagues.

But the lobbying reform bill that passed the House this year was scaled back to drop all these ideas. Instead, it focused on requiring lobbyists to disclose more of their dealings with members and staffs. The Senate passed a very different bill, and aides in both chambers say they are not expected to be reconciled into a final bill this year.

The final thrust of the House reform agenda was a measure to address earmarks — a favorite idea of Mr. Boehner. He initially called for substantive restrictions on their insertion in spending bills but eventually settled for a measure to at least illuminate the murky practice by requiring the public identification of the member who sought each earmark.

But the Republican leaders’ draft resolution defined earmarks only as funds for organizations outside the federal government, like cities, universities, museums or nonprofit groups. It would not apply to earmarks directing money to the Defense Department or other federal agencies to execute projects, which account for the vast majority of the federal money spent on earmarks.

Click here to read the full article.

Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance Fails

From the New York Times:

A first-in-the-nation effort to impose minimum wage regulations on “big box” stores like Wal-Mart unraveled here on Wednesday, as the Chicago City Council fell three votes short of overriding Mayor Richard M. Daley’s veto of the measure.

It was an extraordinary shift from just weeks ago, when the aldermen voted 35 to 14 in favor of the measure, which was to place Chicago at the forefront of nationwide efforts to demand more for employees of large retail stores, including Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot. The ordinance would have required the retailers to pay at least $10 an hour by 2010, well above the federal and state minimum wages, along with at least $3 an hour in benefits.

The Council’s 35 votes in July were one more than enough to block a veto by Mr. Daley, something he had never before issued. But pressure from the mayor and intense lobbying by the national retailers and local business groups scraped away enough support to uphold the veto.

Click here to read the full article.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bush Seeks to Allow Interrogation Methods Recently Forbidden by Pentagon

From the New York Times:

September 8, 2006
The Legal Debate
Interrogation Methods Rejected by Military Win Bush’s Support
Many of the harsh interrogation techniques repudiated by the Pentagon on Wednesday would be made lawful by legislation put forward the same day by the Bush administration. And the courts would be forbidden from intervening.
The proposal is in the last 10 pages of an 86-page bill devoted mostly to military commissions, and it is a tangled mix of cross-references and pregnant omissions.
But legal experts say it adds up to an apparently unique interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, one that could allow
C.I.A. operatives and others to use many of the very techniques disavowed by the Pentagon, including stress positions, sleep deprivation and extreme temperatures.
“It’s a Jekyll and Hyde routine,” Martin S. Lederman, who teaches constitutional law at
Georgetown University, said of the administration’s dual approaches.
In effect, the administration is proposing to write into law a two-track system that has existed as a practical matter for some time.
So-called high-value detainees held by the C.I.A. have been subjected to tough interrogation in secret prisons around the world.
More run-of-the-mill prisoners held by the Defense Department have, for the most part, faced milder questioning, although human rights groups say there have been widespread abuses.
The new bill would continue to give the C.I.A. the substantial freedom it has long enjoyed, while the revisions to the Army Field Manual announced Wednesday would further restrict military interrogators.
The legislation would leave open the possibility that the military could revise its own standards to allow the harsher techniques.
John C. Yoo, a law professor at the
University of California, Berkeley, and a former Justice Department official who helped develop the administration’s early legal response to the terrorist threat, said the bill would provide people on the front lines with important tools.
“When you’re fighting a new kind of war against an enemy we haven’t faced before,” Professor Yoo said, “our system needs to give flexibility to people to respond to those challenges.”
In June, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Geneva Conventions concerning the humane treatment of prisoners applied to all aspects of the conflict with
Al Qaeda. The new bill would keep the courts from that kind of meddling, Professor Yoo said.
“There is a rejection of what the court did in Hamdan,” he said, “which is to try to judicially enforce the Geneva Conventions, which no court had ever tried to do before.”
Indeed, the proposed legislation takes pains to try to ensure that the Supreme Court will not have a second bite at the apple. “The act makes clear,” it says in its introductory findings, “that the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights.”
Though lawsuits will almost certainly be filed challenging the bill should it become law, most legal experts said Congress probably had the power to restrict the courts’ jurisdiction in this way.
The proposed legislation would provide retroactive immunity from prosecution to government agents who used harsh methods after the Sept. 11 attacks. And, as President Bush suggested on Wednesday, it would ensure that those techniques remain lawful.
“As more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical,” Mr. Bush said. “And having a C.I.A. program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.”
Mr. Bush said he had never authorized torture but indicated that aggressive interrogation techniques short of torture remained important tools in the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism.
“I cannot describe the specific methods used — I think you understand why,” he said. “If I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe and lawful and necessary.”
A senior intelligence official said that the new legislation, if enacted, would make it clear that the techniques used by the C.I.A. on senior Qaeda members who had been held abroad in secret sites would not be prohibited and that interrogators who engaged in those practices both in the past and in the future would not face prosecution.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, would not discuss the techniques the agency had used or was prepared to use.
Other senior administration officials, all of whom declined to speak on the record, said there was no intention to undercut the interrogation rules in the new Army Field Manual, which does not include some of the most extreme techniques used on some suspected terrorists in American custody.
The intent of the legislation, they said, is to prevent the prosecution of interrogators under amendments to the War Crimes Act that were passed in the 1990’s.
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions bars, among other things, “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” The administration says that language is too vague.
That is nonsense, said Harold Hongju Koh, the dean of Yale Law School and a State Department official in the Clinton administration. “Outrages upon personal dignity is something like Abu Ghraib or parading our soldiers in Vietnam before the television cameras,” he said. “Unconstitutionally vague means you don’t know it when you see it.”
But the new legislation would interpret “outrages upon personal dignity” relatively narrowly, adopting a standard enacted last year in an amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act proposed by Senator
John McCain, Republican of Arizona. The amendment prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and refers indirectly to an American constitutional standard that prohibits conduct which “shocks the conscience.”
There is substantial room for interpretation, legal experts said, between Common Article 3’s strict prohibition of, for instance, humiliating treatment and the McCain amendment’s ban only on conduct that “shocks the conscience.”
The proposed legislation, said Peter S. Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University, “seems to be trying to surgically remove from our compliance with Geneva the section of Common Article 3 that deals with humiliating and degrading treatment.”
The net effect of the new legislation in the interrogation context, Professor Yoo said, is to allow the C.I.A. flexibility of the sort that the revisions to the Army Field Manual have denied to the Pentagon. The bill lets the C.I.A. “operate with a freer hand” than the Defense Department “in that space between the Army Field Manual and the McCain amendment,” he said.
Dean Koh said the administration’s new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions would further isolate the United States from the rest of the world.
“Making U.S. ratification of Common Article 3 narrower and more conditional than everyone else’s,” he said, “by its very nature suggests that we are not prepared to make the same commitment that every other nation has made.”
The bill proposed by the White House would also amend the War Crimes Act, which makes violations of Common Article 3 a felony. Those amendments are needed, the administration said, to provide guidance to American personnel.
The new legislation makes a list of nine “serious violations” of Common Article 3 federal crimes. The prohibited conduct includes torture, murder, rape, and the infliction of severe physical or mental pain. By implication, some legal experts said, the bill endorses the use of those interrogation techniques that are not mentioned.
The proposed legislation in any event represents a further retreat from international legal standards by an administration already hostile to them, some scholars said. “It’s strong evidence that this administration doesn’t accept international legal processes,’’ said Peter J. Spiro, a law professor at
Temple University.
Neil A. Lewis contributed reporting from Washington.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Is the U.S. Winning the War on Terror?

The LA Times headlining article asks the question, "Is the U.S. winning the war on terror?" I think its an important question to ask as many disturbing statistics (many of which are highlighted in the article) seem to show it is not. Here are some of the main points from the article:

‚• Al Qaeda, the initial focus of the "global war on terror," has been disrupted and dispersed. But it has been succeeded by a looser network of affiliates and homegrown terrorists — like those who carried out bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 — who could grow to be just as dangerous.

• The war in Iraq has become a training ground for Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia and other countries, and some have returned home with expertise in urban warfare and explosives. Some experts fear the Persian Gulf's oil terminals could be among their next targets.

• Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon have damaged the image of the U.S. in much of the Muslim world and made it easier for terrorist organizations to win recruits. The wars and controversies over U.S. treatment of detainees also have made it more difficult for allied governments to cooperate with American counterterrorism programs, diplomats say.

• When Foreign Policy magazine surveyed more than 100 experts earlier this year, 84% said they did not believe the United States was winning the war on terrorism. In a Los Angeles Times poll, fewer than one-fourth of Americans said they believed the nation was "winning"; more than half said it was too soon to tell...
One metric that administration officials don't like talking about involves how people in other countries view the U.S. The results of a multi-country poll sponsored this year by the Pew Charitable Trusts are sobering. When people in largely Muslim nations were asked whether they approved of "U.S.-led efforts to fight terrorism," 82% in Egypt said no, as did 74% in Jordan, 77% in Turkey and 50% in Pakistan. Some European countries showed similar results: 76% of those surveyed in Spain and 57% in France said they did not approve.

Click here to access the full article, well worth reading.

While there has also been a lot recently written about the state of Iraq and whether we are "winning" there, recent polls show much disapproval of the U.S. by Iraqis as well as the fact that Iraq is proving to be a great recruiting tool for creating new terrorists.

Also check out a recent op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, "Losing the War on Terror."

Genocide in Darfur

In Sunday's edition of the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent op-ed titled "Why Genocide Matters" which appears below:

When I spoke at Cornell University recently, a woman asked why I always harp on Darfur.

It’s a fair question. The number of people killed in Darfur so far is modest in global terms: estimates range from 200,000 to more than 500,000.

In contrast, four million people have died since 1998 as a result of the fighting in Congo, the most lethal conflict since World War II. And malaria annually kills one million to three million people — meaning that three years’ deaths in Darfur are within the margin of error of the annual global toll from malaria.

So, yes, you can make an argument that Darfur is simply one of many tragedies and that it would be more cost-effective to save lives by tackling diarrhea, measles and malaria.

But I don’t buy that argument at all. We have a moral compass within us, and its needle is moved not only by human suffering but also by human evil. That’s what makes genocide special — not just the number of deaths but the government policy behind them. And that in turn is why stopping genocide should be an even higher priority than saving lives from AIDS or malaria.

Even the Holocaust amounted to only 10 percent of World War II casualties and cost far fewer lives than the AIDS epidemic. But the Holocaust evokes special revulsion because it wasn’t just tragic but also monstrous, and that’s why we read Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel. Teenage girls still die all the time, and little boys still starve and lose their parents — but when this arises from genocide, the horror resonates with all humans.

Or it should. But for whatever reason, Sudan’s decision to kill people on the basis of tribe and skin color has aroused mostly yawns around the globe. Now Sudan is raising the stakes by starting a new military offensive in Darfur — and by eliminating witnesses.

The government charged Paul Salopek, an ace Chicago Tribune correspondent, with espionage in an effort to keep foreign reporters away (on Saturday it released him after a month in prison). And even African Union peacekeepers may be forced out of Darfur by the end of this month.

Twelve aid workers have been killed since May — more than in the previous three years. These killings are forcing aid groups to pull back, and the U.N. warns that if the humanitarian operation collapses, the result will be “hundreds of thousands of deaths.” If all foreign witnesses are pushed out, the calamity is barely imaginable.

We urgently need U.N. peacekeepers, even over Sudan’s objections. (If Sudan sees them coming, it will hurriedly consent.) The U.S. should also impose a no-fly zone from Chad and work with France to keep Chad and the Central African Republic from collapsing into this maelstrom.

President Bush showed an important flash of leadership on Darfur early this year, but lately he has fallen quiet again. He should appoint a special envoy for Darfur and use his bully pulpit to put genocide on the international agenda — for starters, by employing his speech to the U.N. General Assembly this month to remind the world of the children being tossed onto bonfires in Sudan. He could also announce that the U.S. will choose candidates to support for U.N. secretary general based in part on their positions on the genocide.

You can see how your member of Congress does on Darfur at www.darfurscores.org. Information about Darfur rallies next Sunday in New York and other cities worldwide is at www.savedarfur.org.

If we don’t act, the slaughter may end up claiming more than one million lives, but this is about more than body count. This time the teenagers are not named Anne and Elie, but Fatima and Ahmed, but the horror is the same.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Iranian Leader Wants Purge of Liberals From Universities

From the New York Times:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Tuesday for a purge of liberal and secular professors from Iranian universities, the IRNA news agency reported.

“Today, students have the right to strongly criticize their president for the continued presence of liberal and secular professors in the country’s universities,” he told a group of young conservatives on National Youth Day, according to the news agency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said the work to replace secular professors had started, but “bringing change is very difficult.”

“Our educational system has been affected by 150 years of secular thought and has raised thousands of people who hold Ph.D.’s,” he said. “Changing this system is not easy and we have to do it together.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments appeared to be part of a continuing crackdown on social and political freedoms that began with his election last year.

As part of the crackdown, about 110,000 illegal satellite dishes have been confiscated in the past five months, one senior official, Ahmad Roozbehani, was quoted in the news media as saying. Opposition channels that broadcast mostly out of the United States have a large audience in Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s call to rid the universities of secular professors is reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution of 1980 to 1987, the period after the 1979 Islamic Revolution when many liberal or Western professors were fired or forced to conform to the revolutionary line. The Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, which was set up during that time and oversaw the purges, is now headed by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Revised Army Rules to Prohibit Torture

From the Los Angeles Times:

Bowing to critics of its tough interrogation policies, the Pentagon is issuing a new Army field manual that provides Geneva Convention protections for all detainees and eliminates a secret list of interrogation tactics.

The manual, set for release today, also reverses an earlier decision to maintain two interrogation standards — one for traditional prisoners of war and another for "unlawful combatants" captured during a conflict but not affiliated with a nation's military force. It will ban the use of such controversial methods as forcing prisoners to endure long periods of solitary confinement, using military dogs to threaten prisoners, putting hoods over inmates' heads and strapping detainees to boards and dunking them in water to simulate drowning, defense officials said.

The manual and its related policy directives — the legal framework for interrogations — originally were to be released in the spring. But when State Department officials and Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee raised objections, they were pulled back.

The Pentagon's decision to drop the objectionable provisions appears to mark a victory for advocates of closer U.S. adherence to the protections of the Geneva Convention, an international agreement on the treatment of prisoners and others during wartime. Human rights groups said they planned to study the manual carefully to see what parts of the international treaty it included and what it left out.

Click here to read the entire article.

Over U.S. Objections, Israel Approves West Bank Homes

From the New York Times:

September 5, 2006

JERUSALEM, Sept. 4 — The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, authorized construction bids on Monday for another 690 homes in the occupied West Bank in the face of pro forma American criticism.

The houses will be built in Maale Adumim and Betar Illit, two settlements near Jerusalem that the Israeli government says it intends to keep in any agreement with the Palestinians.

Mr. Olmert, whose Kadima Party was elected earlier this year on a promise to pull thousands of Israeli settlers out of the West Bank, beyond the route of Israel’s separation barrier, has been clear about keeping and expanding settlements inside the barrier, even though they are on land occupied since the 1967 war.

The Construction and Housing Ministry published advertisements on Monday seeking construction proposals for the largest settlement activity undertaken by this government. Israel has also promised President Bush that it will pull down more than 20 illegal outposts created since March 2001, but has not done so.

The Bush administration’s position is that Israel should not expand settlements in the West Bank, because it makes the process of a final agreement harder. In general, much of the world considers Israeli settlements in territory seized in the 1967 war, including East Jerusalem, to be illegal, which Israel disputes.

Stewart Tuttle, the spokesman for the American Embassy in Israel, said Monday that “in general it’s a principle of the road map — a foundation to reach peace in the region — that Israel not only remove illegal outposts, but also not expand settlements in the West Bank.”

The road map is the multistage peace plan supported by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations and agreed to in principle by the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestinians, in the first stage, are supposed to begin the disarming and dismantling of armed militias and terrorist groups.

The United States, Mr. Tuttle said, opposes “any actions that would prejudice final status negotiations, which would include the final borders of Israel and Palestine.”

But such criticism has had little effect on Israeli policy in the past, and is not expected to matter in this case. In general, Israel says it is not “expanding” settlements, but “thickening” them within existing built-up areas.

A former United States ambassador here, Daniel C. Kurtzer, tried to get Israel to agree with the United States on mapping the existing built-up areas of settlements in order to make it clear when settlements were being expanded. But Israel — which has detailed satellite maps of nearly every building in the West Bank — regularly refused.

The mayor of Maale Adumim, Benny Kashriel, said Monday that many units were under construction. “In short, it is just a matter of completing construction within a town,” he said. Maale Adumim has a population of 31,615 and looks like a Jerusalem suburb. The construction in Betar Illit is intended to house haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The government’s move was criticized in Israel as well. “Instead of dismantling outposts and freezing construction in the settlements, the Olmert government is constructing further units and plans to authorize tens of illegal outposts,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, the director of the leftist lobby Peace Now. “All these actions are in contradiction of the Israeli commitment to the road map, and the commitment of the Labor and Kadima Parties to their voters.”

Mr. Olmert is also facing tough budget pressures. He has supported more military spending after the recent war in Lebanon and his coalition partner, Labor, supports more social spending and opposes cuts proposed by the Finance Ministry. Because of the sharp criticism of tuition increases and cuts in child support, publication of the budget was delayed Monday.

Labor’s leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, is being widely criticized for his performance, and aides to Mr. Olmert believe that Labor is creating a crisis over the budget to try to restore some of its credibility as a left-leaning party.

Mr. Olmert appeared before Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Policy and Defense on Monday for the first time since the war in Lebanon. He said that a war with Syria would be handled with full force.

He also confirmed that his plan for another unilateral withdrawal from part of the occupied West Bank was being shelved for now as the government concentrates on rebuilding the north.

“What I saw as right several months ago has changed now,” Mr. Olmert said, according to an aide and Israel Radio. “At this moment, the issue of the realignment is not in the order of priorities as it was two months ago.”

The capture of three Israeli soldiers on raids into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon and the heavy use of rockets by Hezbollah have brought many Israelis around to the thinking of the Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. He argues that it would be unsafe for Israel to hand over large areas of the West Bank to a Palestinian Authority led by Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, even though it says it is prepared to negotiate a long-term “truce” with Israel in its pre-1967 borders.

In Lebanon, a Qatari airliner landed at the Beirut airport on Monday afternoon with 142 passengers, piercing an Israeli air and sea blockade that was imposed July 12, at the start of the war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas. The Israeli Army said it had given its permission.

Like almost everything in Lebanon now, the blockade is murky. Israel has recently allowed relief flights and a limited shuttle service to Amman, Jordan, where passengers can board flights for other destinations.

But the flight on Monday was the first to arrive directly from a distant country, and it was greeted by local and Arab television crews as a mild triumph.

The maritime blockade continues, however, and is viewed as much more serious by many Lebanese merchants, who complain that their supplies are running short.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Kofi Annan: Israel's cease-fire violations in Lebanon 70, Hezbollah 4

Here is an article that describes how Israel is continuing to violate human rights in Lebanon:

New York Times
September 1, 2006
Villagers See Violations of a Cease-Fire That Israel Says Doesn’t Exist
AITA AL SHAAB, Lebanon, Aug. 29 — A group of local men were unloading bags of donated food from a truck here Tuesday morning when the tok-tok-tok of heavy machine-gun fire rang out.
Men shouted; children screamed and ran. Then, as it became clear the firing was just the Israeli tanks again up on the hillside above town, they went back to their routines.
The shooting — and occasional mortar fire — goes on regularly around this village, a
Hezbollah stronghold near the border.
To local people, it is sheer provocation, and a flagrant breach of the cease-fire that ended the fighting on Aug. 14.
To the Israelis, it is legitimate self-defense. Aita al Shaab “still has many Hezbollah fighters in it,” said Miri Eisin, an Israeli government spokeswoman. “They don’t wear uniforms and are wary about showing their weapons, and we use all means to differentiate between those with weapons and those without.”
More broadly, the shooting underscores two fundamentally different views of the uneasy truce that has held in southern Lebanon for the past two weeks. Secretary General
Kofi Annan cited numbers from the United Nations forces on Tuesday indicating that Israel had violated the cease-fire nearly 70 times, while Hezbollah had done so only 4 times.
But the Israelis do not believe there is a cease-fire to violate. “We are at a cessation of hostilities in Lebanon, not a cease-fire,” Ms. Eisin said. She added that Israel had the explicit right to self-defense under United Nations Resolution 1701, which does not use the term cease-fire.
That difference is apparent every day across southern Lebanon. Israeli tanks crisscross the dry brown hills, shooting into the fields and smashing up houses and stone walls. Teams of Israeli soldiers have planted their nation’s flag atop bluffs here and sometimes detained Lebanese men, releasing them days later. No one seems to know where the mobile Israeli units are based, or how to avoid them.
Amid all that, the blue-helmeted United Nations soldiers sit in their vehicles like helpless tourists, many unable to speak Arabic or English.
Israel has made clear that its troops will not leave Lebanon until the Lebanese Army and a strengthened United Nations peacekeeping force are capable of taking over its positions.
But to many in this village — where the war began on July 12 when Hezbollah fighters crossed the border to kidnap two Israeli soldiers — Israel’s recent actions look like intimidation.
“Israel is trying to scare us and make us leave,” said Nuha Srour, a stern-faced schoolteacher in a black robe and head scarf, as machine-gun fire went on in the distance. “They were surprised we came back here after the bombing.”
Perhaps no one has witnessed the confusion of south Lebanon more vividly than Muhammad al-Hussein, a 32-year-old farmer from the village of Qantara.
Last week he and his brother were driving to a neighboring village to buy parts for a truck. They knew the Israelis had been operating a checkpoint in the area, but were told they had withdrawn and that the road — an essential link to other towns — was safe.
Instead, they found themselves passing a group of Israeli soldiers, who stopped them, Mr. Hussein recalled. The soldiers handcuffed and blindfolded the two brothers, and drove them to Israel.
For the next four days, shackled hand and foot, Mr. Hussein was interrogated about his family and village, he said. He was released Monday after United Nations and Lebanese Army officials lodged complaints with Israel.
On Monday evening, sitting on a terrace rimmed with pomegranate trees with a group of relatives and friends back home, Mr. Hussein could smile about his ordeal. He said the Israelis had fed him, and had not struck or mistreated him. But he seemed profoundly nervous about encountering them again, and unsure how to avoid it.
“Even if you gave me a truckload of gold and diamonds, I would not go back to that place,” he said of the road, just a mile or so from his village, where the Israelis had picked him up.
At the same time, Mr. Hussein also appeared to be nervous about Hezbollah. Asked whether the Israelis had asked him about the militia, he said no, and then refused to say anything about the subject.
Israel’s activities have mostly taken place at night with patrols staying clear of towns. But on occasion they have made themselves oddly conspicuous.
On Sunday, an Israeli flag could be seen flying prominently from a bluff just outside the Lebanese village of Shabaa, where a group of Israeli soldiers were posted with a military bulldozer. Photographers snapped pictures throughout the day, and Israeli soldiers warned approaching reporters to stay clear.
Lebanese Army officials complained about the flag to the United Nations, who contacted Israel about the matter. Israeli soldiers took the flag down, a spokesman for the United Nations force, Alexander Ivanko, said Monday.
But an hour after Mr. Ivanko spoke, the flag was still flying in the same spot. Another Israeli flag was raised over the weekend on a hilltop near the village of Marwaheen. On Tuesday, it appeared to have been removed.
The flags and the continuing presence of Israeli soldiers here have further angered villagers already stunned by the extent of the Israeli bombing. Even some Christians, whose villages were largely spared the destruction visited on Shiite areas, say the war has fueled their support for Hezbollah.
In Aita al Shaab, public support for Hezbollah is almost total. One street where a number of Hezbollah fighters lived — commonly known even before the war as Hezbollah Street — was almost totally destroyed. Several families have returned to the ruins anyway, defiantly insisting on staying in their charred, stinking homes. Others are living alongside the ruins in green tents donated by aid groups.
“They destroyed our school in the village, but we will teach the children under the trees,” said Ms. Srour, the schoolteacher. “And we will teach them to hate Israel and love the resistance.”
Ms. Srour said Israeli tanks had fired so close to her house on Sunday that several of her relatives — who had returned from Beirut only a week earlier — left the village again, fearing the war was on again.
As in many southern villages, the blackened and bomb-scarred ruins here are bedecked with yellow Hezbollah banners proclaiming — somewhat paradoxically — a “divine victory” for the resistance.
But not far away, Muhammad Srour, a cleric and cousin of the schoolteacher, offered a slightly different view as he poked through the shattered ruins of his house, gathering a few remaining clothes and books into plastic bags.
“We’ve been beaten so badly that we still don’t want to admit we’ve been beaten,” he said.
Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Jerusalem for this article, and Lynsey Addario from Aita al Shaab.

-- JB

Security Forces Violate Human Rights with Impunity in Chechnya

From the New York Times:

August 30, 2006
In Chechen’s Humiliation, Questions on Rule of Law
ARGUN, Russia, Aug. 26 — The humiliation of Malika Soltayeva, a pregnant Chechen woman suspected of adultery, was ferocious and swift.
Ms. Soltayeva, 23, had been away from home for a month and was reported missing by her family. When she returned, her husband accused her of infidelity and banished her from their apartment. The local authorities found her at her aunt’s residence. They said they had a few questions.
What followed was no investigation. In a law enforcement compound in this town in east-central Chechnya, the men who served as Argun’s police sheared away her hair and her eyebrows and painted her scalp green, the color associated with Islam. A thumb-thick cross was smeared on her brow.
Ms. Soltayeva, a Muslim, had slept with a Christian Russian serviceman, they said. Her scarlet letter would be an emerald cross. She was forced to confess, ordered to strip, and beaten with wooden rods and hoses on her buttocks, arms, legs, hands, stomach and back.
“Turn and be condemned by Allah,” one of her tormentors said, demanding that she position herself so he could strike her more squarely.
The torture of Ms. Soltayeva, recorded on a video obtained by The New York Times, and other recent brutish acts and instances of religious policing, raise questions about Chechnya’s direction.
Since 2004, the war in Chechnya has tilted sharply in the Kremlin’s favor, as open combat with separatists has declined in intensity and frequency. Moscow now administers the republic and fights the remaining insurgency largely through paramilitary forces led by Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the powerful young Chechen premier.
Mr. Kadyrov’s public persona is flamboyantly pro-Russian. He praises President
Vladimir V. Putin and has pledged to rebuild Chechnya and lead it back to the Kremlin’s fold. “I cannot tell you how great my love for Russia is,” he said in an interview this year.
But beneath this publicly professed loyalty, some of Chechnya’s indigenous security forces — with their evident anti-Slavic racism, institutionalized brutality, culture of impunity and intolerant interpretation of a pre-medieval Islamic code — have demonstrated the vicious behavior that Russia has said its latest invasion of Chechnya, in 1999, was supposed to stop.
Human rights groups and Chechen civilians say that these security forces’ ambitions and loyalties are uncertain and that their actions are unchecked. The republic’s course, they say, is dangerous for Russians and Chechens alike.
Few people have yet compared the current disorder with the end of the brief period of Chechen autonomy, in the late 1990’s, when rebels and foreign Islamic mercenaries operated terrorist training camps in the forests, and when Islamic courts sentenced criminals to execution by firing squads, which were broadcast on Chechen television news. But Mr. Kadyrov’s police and security forces, known as kadyrovsty, are staffed mostly with uneducated young men, some of whom have been fighting for years, including many former rebels who have changed sides.
Recent videos of their conduct, provided to The New York Times by outraged Chechens, show an unsettling pattern.
One shows a man and a woman in the town of Shali, each married to someone else, who were suspected of flirting in a car this summer. The police swarmed around the couple, jeering at them, and directed the man to kick the woman. The couple was then forced to dance a brief lezginka, a traditional and often sexually charged dance. The police kicked the woman, too, and pulled her scarf and hair.
Although the faces of several of the officers are clear, they have yet to come under investigation by higher authorities.
Another instance of unrestrained behavior occurred in late July in Kurchaloi, when one of Mr. Kadyrov’s units killed a rebel, Akhmad Dushayev, and beheaded his body. The severed head was displayed on a pipe in the town’s center, residents said in interviews.
Videos show that, later, the kadyrovsty, many in police uniforms, casually amused themselves with the head, joking as they displayed it in a garage. Another video shows the head adorned with a cap and with a cigarette in its mouth.
Residents said the police justified the beheading by saying that Mr. Dushayev had previously cut off the head of a pro-Kremlin Chechen fighter, and that the vengeance was fair play.
Ms. Soltayeva’s own experience, much of which was captured on video, was an accumulation of terror, pain and loss.
She was seized March 19, and mocked throughout a torture session that lasted nearly two hours. “Call for Sergei!” one of the policemen said, using the name of her assumed lover as he beat her. “Sergei! Help!”
Next they told her to dress, and drove her to her husband’s courtyard and made her dance before her neighbors. “Look how ugly you are,” another policeman said.
When she staggered away, several of them kicked her with their heavy black boots. Two days later she miscarried, and has been largely out of public view since.
The episode, which took place five months ago, was not investigated, even though videos showing the torture were passed along on cellphones throughout Argun and other Chechen towns. The videos circulated widely enough that accurate details of her abuse were known by roughly half of the Chechens interviewed by The New York Times.
“It is just outrageous lawlessness,” Ms. Soltayeva said in an interview in Grozny, Chechnya’s capital.
As is common in crumbling marriages, the details of Ms. Soltayeva’s family life and behavior are in dispute. Her former husband’s family says she had an affair with a Russian serviceman she met at a store where she worked as a cashier. She says that she did not, and that she was faithful to her husband even though he beat her.
Her whereabouts in the weeks leading up to her beating are also a source of contention.
Ms. Soltayeva said she was away from home because she had been abducted by masked men who eventually released her, a phenomenon in Chechnya that is common enough that her own family says they believe her. Her husband’s family, and the police, say that she left Chechnya to try to live with her Russian lover, and that she returned when it did not work out.
Natalya Estemirova, a staff member at the Grozny office of Memorial, a private human rights group, said she tried to bring the case to the Chechen authorities, but they threatened Ms. Soltayeva with criminal charges for falsely claiming to have been kidnapped. They showed no interest in the police violence, she said.
Allegations of state-sponsored horrors, and claims that Russian and Chechen officials have allowed servicemen to commit crimes with impunity, have been a regular accompaniment to the Chechen wars.
Human rights groups have documented mass graves, extralegal executions, widespread use and tolerance of torture, illegal detention, rape, robbery and kidnapping.
Some cases have seemed a matter of policy, as when suspected rebel supporters have been abducted during police and military sweeps. Other cases appeared to flow from the rage, drunkenness or frustration of ordinary soldiers fighting a savage guerrilla war.
What has made several recent cases different is that many of the kadyrovsty, unsophisticated gunmen who have had little contact with the world beyond Chechnya, have acquired cellphones with small video cameras and have casually, even gleefully, recorded their own crimes.
The video sequences are then shared, multiplying as they swiftly pass from phone to phone.
In a long interview earlier this year, Mr. Kadyrov said that his units were being professionalized and that the armed men under his command integrated into formal government structures. He insisted that they would be able to provide security and competent policing.
[On Aug. 29, The Times provided Mr. Kadyrov’s office with four videos of Ms. Soltayeva’s torture. Mr. Kadyrov said through a spokeswoman that upon viewing them he had ordered the Chechen Interior Ministry to investigate. “Criminal charges will be brought against all responsible for this,” said the spokeswoman, Tatyana Georgiyeva.]
Ms. Estemirova said that the unit in Argun that seized Ms. Soltayeva had been formally disbanded in the spring, but that its members were simply transferred into new “professional” battalions, known as North and South.
“They were assimilated into North and South and never checked by prosecutors,” she said. “Now they are more difficult to arrest.”



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