Saturday, April 05, 2008

COLLATERAL DAMAGE?

By William Fisher

Foreign lobbyists are exploiting America’s post-9/11 fear to obtain billions of dollars in U.S. military aid – and a substantial part of it is being sent to countries that routinely violate human rights, participate in ‘extraordinary renditions,’ and recruit and deploy child soldiers.

These are among the conclusions of a year-long study by a team of seasoned reporters – known as the Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) --under the aegis of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

The ICIJ report, titled “Collateral Damage”, concludes that “the influence of foreign lobbying on the U.S. government, as well as a shortsighted emphasis on counterterrorism objectives over broader human rights concerns, have generated staggering costs to the U.S. and its allies in money spent and political capital burned.”

“Deals to provide military aid to what are perceived as often corrupt and brutal governments have set back efforts to advance human rights and the rule of law,” the ICIJ report says.

Since 1950, the US government has provided over $91 billion to militaries around the world from a single fund. There are a number of additional funds, so total is substantially higher. Most of the money comes from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of State (DOS).

In their investigation, 10 ICIJ reporters on four continents explored American counterterrorism policy since the 2001 terrorist attacks. They found that post-9/11 U.S. political pressure, Washington lobbying and aid dollars have reshaped policies towards countries ranging from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, to Pakistan and Thailand in Asia, Poland and Romania in Europe, to Colombia in South America.

The ICIJ report documents substantial increases in U.S. military aid since the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The 2008 budget presented to Congress by President George W. Bush requested an increase of more than a billion dollars for military and security assistance, particularly to key ''front-line'' states in the ''war on terror".

But the ICIJ report notes that many of the recipients of this aid are countries believed to be guilty of human rights abuses.

For example, the report highlights the continued use and recruitment of child soldiers by governments and government-supported paramilitaries, militias and other armed groups in eight countries. The U.S. provides military assistance to six of those eight countries: Afghanistan, Chad, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.

It charges that countries receiving military aid from the U.S. have also participated in “extraordinary renditions” – kidnapping suspected terrorists or transferring prisoners to countries known to practice torture and other inhuman and degrading practices.

Reliable data shows that airplanes chartered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) made at least 76 stopovers in Azerbaijan, 72 in Jordan, 61 in Egypt, 52 in Turkmenistan, 46 in Uzbekistan, 40 in Iraq, 40 in Morocco, 38 in Afghanistan, and 14 in Libya. Most of these countries are recipients of U.S. military assistance.

The British Government recently disclosed, and the U.S. acknowledged, that CIA aircraft had touched down on Diego Garcia, a U.K. territory in the Indian Ocean. It is believed that CIA flights included hundreds carrying prisoners to the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Until North American and European media exposed the practice, the U.S., along with countries reportedly receiving rendered prisoners, denied that “extraordinary renditions” were part of government policy.

For example, in a meeting with Human Rights Watch in late August 2007, Jordanian officials categorically denied that it had held prisoners rendered by the United States.

Often characterized by the mainstream press as being one of the most moderate nations in the Arab Middle East, Jordan was receiving more than $2.7 billion in U.S. military aid as of 2004, and the sum has reportedly increased since then.

Jordanian officials have denied that they inflict torture in detention. But Human Rights Watch concludes, “Given the weight of credible evidence showing the opposite, their denials are unconvincing.”

Egypt -- a key U.S. ally – has long been the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid, after only Israel. Washington provides $1.3 billion in annual military aid, a sum that amounts to 80 percent of Egypt’s military’s budget. Its secret police are notorious for their brutality during interrogations.

In Uzbekistan, according to a highly critical assessment by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, torture and ill-treatment remain “widespread” and continue to occur with “impunity.” Uzbekistan currently receives well over $100 million in U.S. military aid.

Although there have been prosecutions of Uzbek police for torture -- some 42 cases, according to the ICIJ report -- representatives of human rights groups assert that most of these cases resulted in convictions based on confessions and testimony linked to torture. They contend that the Uzbek government has grown more, rather than less, repressive over time

Since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, Pakistan has become one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid – reportedly more than $10 billion.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) contends that torture is used extensively by both police and prison officials. It notes that no officials have been punished for engaging in such excesses. HRCP further alleges that instances of illegal detention occur on a relatively regular basis and that most of them go unreported.

Pakistan’s use of U.S. military assistance funds has also been the subject of serious questions raised in Congress and by human rights groups. Tim Rieser, a key adviser to Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, told the ICJ, “With the possible exception of Iraq reconstruction funds, I've never seen a larger blank check for any country.”

He added, “There is no formal auditing mechanism to verify costs apart from local U.S. embassies and military officials vouching for the accuracy of the submitted bills.” He charged that the former Republican congress "did next to nothing to track what was done with the money."

The ICJ said it “found little evidence that the U.S. government has paid signi´Čücant attention to improving the accountability and human rights practices of Pakistan’s internal security forces.”

Indonesia – not long ago banned from American help because of its conflict with East Timor -- is now another recipient of substantial U.S. military aid. To increase the flow of U.S. money, the Indonesian intelligence agency used the charitable foundation of a former Indonesian president to hire lobbyists to pressure Congress on keeping the spigots open. The ICIJ report says the Indonesian government ran a concerted lobbying effort of Congress after the 9/11 attacks using “high-powered influence peddlers”, including former Republican Senator and 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole.

The U.S. State Department reported, “Inadequate resources, poor leadership, and limited accountability contributed to serious violations by security forces. Widespread corruption further degraded an already weak regard for rule of law and contributed to impunity.”

Alleged human rights violations included extrajudicial killings, disappearances, torture, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary detentions, a corrupt judicial system, infringements on free speech, peaceful assembly, and freedom of religion, and sexual abuse against women and children.