Thursday, December 02, 2010

Someone’s Not Telling the Truth

By William Fisher

A diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks corroborates images released earlier by Amnesty International (AI) showing that the U.S. military carried out a missile strike in south Yemen in December 2009 that killed dozens of local residents, including women and children, AI charged.

In the secret cable, written in January 2010, Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh is reported to have assured U.S. General David Petraeus that his government would “continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours”.

According to the cable, this prompted Yemeni Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-‘Alimi “to joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament that the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa were American-made but deployed by the ROYG [Republic of Yemen Government]”.

Amnesty International is calling on the U.S. government to investigate the serious allegations of the use of drones by US forces for targeted killings of individuals in Yemen and clarify the chain of command and rules governing the use of such drones

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, claims, “The cable appears to confirm [our] finding that the Abyan strike was carried out by the U.S. military, not Yemeni government forces.”

An alleged al-Qa’ida training camp at al-Ma’jalah, Abyan, was hit by a cruise missile on 17 December 2009. A Yemeni parliamentary inquiry found that 41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children, and 14 alleged al-Qa’ida members were killed in the attack. In the 4 January cable, General Petraeus is recorded as saying that the attack had caused the deaths of “only” three “civilians”.

Amnesty International provided the media with photographs of the aftermath of the Abyan strike in June this year, including remnants of U.S.-sourced cluster munitions and the Tomahawk cruise missiles used to deliver them.

The organization had requested information from the Pentagon about the involvement of U.S. forces in the al-Ma’jalah attack, and what precautions may have been taken to minimize deaths and injuries.

The US government did not respond to Amnesty International, but a press report the day after the images were released quoted a Pentagon spokesman as saying that the U.S. declined to comment on the strike and that questions on operations against al-Qa’ida should be posed to the Yemeni government.

“There must be an immediate investigation into the dozens of deaths of local
residents in the Abyan air strike, including into the extent of US involvement,” said Amnesty’s Luther. “Those responsible for unlawful killings must be brought to justice.”

The “Arhab” strike referred to in the secret cable was carried out on 17
December 2009 and the “Shebwa” strike on 24 December 2009. The Yemeni government insisted at the time that their forces had carried out all three attacks, which were meant to target al-Qai’da in the Arabian Peninsula.

In the leaked cable, President Saleh is said to have suggested that targeted
aerial attacks were preferable to those by cruise missiles, which were “not very accurate”, and to have expressed anxiety about the level of civilian casualties caused.

President Saleh agreed to have US fixed-wing bombers circle outside Yemeni territory ready to engage targets “should actionable intelligence become available”, according to the cable, and also requested that the USA provide 12 armed helicopters and train and equip three new Republican Guard brigades, totaling 9,000 soldiers. He complained that Yemeni forces had not yet received the necessary training to operate 17 “Iraqi” light armored vehicles provided by the US government in 2008.

The leaked cable says that US security assistance to Yemen would substantially increase from US$67 million in 2009 to U.S.$150 million in 2010, including $45 million to equip and train an aviation regiment under the Yemeni Special Operations Forces. The USA told President Saleh that two fully equipped 87-foot patrol boats destined for the Yemeni coastguard were under construction and would arrive in Yemen within a year.

US forces are also alleged to have used unmanned aerial drones in Yemen in
efforts to kill suspected leading al-Qa’ida members. An attack in May 2010 which apparently killed in error a key mediator between the Yemeni government and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula was said by some sources to have been carried out from an unmanned drone. Yemen’s Foreign Affairs Minister later said the government would investigate whether drones were used in the attack and, if so, whether they were used by Yemeni security forces or others, such as the USA.

Amnesty International is not aware that any outcome to the investigation has
been disclosed.

Amnesty International has called on the U.S. government to investigate the serious allegations of the use of drones by US forces for targeted killings of individuals in Yemen and clarify the chain of command and rules governing the use of such drones; ensure that all US military and security support given to Yemen, and all US military and security operations carried out in Yemen, are designed and implemented so as to adhere fully with relevant international human rights law and standards, and that such human rights standards are made fully operational in training programs and systems of monitoring and accountability.


By William Fisher

As the government investigates the possibility of prosecuting WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, under the Espionage Act for publishing classified government documents The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) voiced skepticism that prosecuting WikiLeaks “would be constitutional, or a good idea.”

Hina Shamsi, Director of the ACLU National Security Project, said in a statement, “The courts have made clear that the First Amendment protects independent third parties who publish classified information. Prosecuting WikiLeaks would be no different from prosecuting the media outlets that also published classified documents. If newspapers could be held criminally liable for publishing leaked information about government practices, we might never have found out about the CIA’s secret prisons or the government spying on innocent Americans.”

She added, “Prosecuting publishers of classified information threatens investigative journalism that is necessary to an informed public debate about government conduct, and that is an unthinkable outcome.”

“The broader lesson of the WikiLeaks phenomenon is that President Obama should recommit to the ideals of transparency he invoked at the beginning of his presidency. The American public should not have to depend on leaks to the news media and on whistleblowers to know what the government is up to,” she said.

She was not alone. Another human rights leader, Chip Pitts, today weighed in on the controversy. Pitts is former board president of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and a former president of Amnesty International USA. He told IPS, “ If the US government goes beyond the current ridiculous rhetoric and actually attempts to prosecute Assange or Wikileaks for violations of the Espionage Act, ‘treason’, ‘material support’, or being a designated ‘terrorist organization’, they would have to take great pains to distinguish the activities of other journalists and news outlets who publish such information on the operations of our government – and it would mean the effective end of American press freedom.”

Meanwhile, something of a conflict is brewing between usually-agreeable members of the human rights community regarding whether Wikileaks disclosures placed human rights defenders in authoritarian countries at risk.

Groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Human Rights First (HRF) believe it was a mistake for Wikileaks to publish the names of foreign human rights activists and organizations that receive support from the U.S. Government.

But Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has a different view. He told IPS, “This claim by some human rights groups, whomever they are, is not supported by the facts. So far as I know, the names of human rights activists have not been disclosed in any of the documents released by Wikileaks; nor have any such activists been put in danger.”

And Chip Pitts told IPS, “Amnesty and other rights organizations were indisputably correct to express concerns previously that human rights defenders or e.g. Afghans working for the US could be at risk from the disclosures.”

However, he continued, “It is now clear that Wikileaks has learned from the past and is acting more responsibly (and in fact taking its lead from the major news organizations as to information and names redacted).”

He said the US government has confirmed that “even the more casual approach of the past has not resulted in the deaths or harms that alarmists claimed would occur.”

Pitts opined that “On balance, these disclosures -- this new level of global transparency that is here to stay -- are a good thing in foreign relations and authentic national security, just as it has been the main positive driver in the related global governance field of corporate social responsibility.”

He added, “Most of the catastrophic foreign and domestic policies in recent years have resulted from secret and unaccountable decision making – often by public sector governing elites benefiting from unseemly collusion with private elites (e.g. Dick Cheney’s energy task force, the distortion of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, the distortion of debt ratings in the recent financial crisis). Those secret actions resulted in criminal human rights violations yet still no accountability.”

“I find it more than despicable that the US government is now threatening to prosecute as “spies” or “terrorists” those who’ve revealed this information instead of those who’ve committed, as Assange says, “human rights abuses and other criminal behavior,” Pitts said.

“And I find it more than despicable that the bipartisan establishment is joining in that historically discredited witchhunt chorus of “let’s kill the messenger.”

He continued: “The leaks thus far at least confirm the lamentable double standards of the US administration and the Department of State under Hillary Clinton – publicly claiming to be concerned about human rights but doing so very little behind the scenes to aggressively push these vital issues and, instead, actively seeking to undermine human rights accountability by covering up violations by CIA or other US personnel (as in the German investigations into the El Masri torture case, and the Spanish investigations into rendition, Guantanamo torture, and the killing of a Spanish journalist in Iraq) and foreign allies (as with the hundreds of extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military in the SWAT valley or similar killings of civilians in Yemen).”


By William Fisher

Some of the nation’s leading human rights organizations are concerned for the safety of human rights advocates in countries with repressive regimes, where disclosure by Wikileaks could put them in deadly harm.

Groups including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Human Rights First (HRF) believe it would be a mistake for Wikileaks to publish the names of foreign human rights activists and organizations that receive support from the U.S. Government.

For that reason, HRF President and CEO Elisa Massimino wrote to WikiLeaks head Julian Assange several days before last Sunday’s document release. She said publishing the names of “individuals or organizations from repressive or authoritarian countries (such as Iran, China, Russia, Cuba etc.) is extremely reckless as it will increase their risk of persecution, imprisonment and violence.”

Her letter continued: “Human rights advocates in repressive and authoritarian countries face many dangers, as governments in those countries regularly harass, mistreat and imprison them. Not least among these dangers is being charged with receiving foreign support or ‘cooperating’ with foreign governments, as that can make them even more vulnerable to attack by governments and their agents.”

She said, “At the same time, many activists in repressive countries have very few options for financial support, as avenues of domestic support are effectively blocked. To protect themselves from the increased risk that comes with foreign support, many activists remain quiet about it.”

Massimino said, “We support freedom of expression and greater transparency in government. Yet, in releasing the information in the circumstances we describe above, the very real dangers to the health and well-being of human rights activists would outweigh the benefits.”

She urged Assange to remove any identifying information of human rights activists from the documents that Wikileaks will be releasing.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, confirms that “no names of human rights activists have been disclosed in any of the documents released by Wikileaks; nor have any such activists been put in danger.”

“In the recent disclosure, Wikileaks has only posted cables that were reviewed by the news organizations and in some cases redacted. The news organizations showed them to the Pentagon and agreed to some of the government’s suggested redactions. The U.S. claimed in the past that the release of the documents could endanger people, but now concedes that they have no knowledge that anyone was killed as a result of the prior releases,” Ratner told IPS.

In a related development, CNN is reporting that The State Department has offered to provide protection to human rights activists who may be in jeopardy after their identities were revealed in the latest publication of diplomatic cables by the website WikiLeaks.

That protection may include the temporary relocation of some people, the department said.

Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the State Department has reached out to human rights advocates around the world to warn them of the potential fallout from the publication by WikiLeaks of diplomatic cables that may contain their names or information about their organizations that could put them at risk.

"We have great concern," Crowley said. "There are clearly sources identified in these documents, particularly in authoritarian states, that have talked to us and we believe the release of these cables definitely puts real lives at risk. We have taken steps, in anticipation of this release."

Crowley said U.S. embassies have been in touch with both civil society and human rights activists.

“We have seen the negative, sometimes deadly ramifications for those Afghans identified as working for or sympathizing with international forces,” they wrote to Assange, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites an anonymous source. “We strongly urge your volunteers and staff to analyze all documents to ensure that those containing identifying information are taken down or redacted.”

Sleepwalking or Nightmare?

By William Fisher

As immigrant advocate groups held marches, demonstrations and hunger strikes across the U.S., and feverishly lobbied lawmakers in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, announced he would file a motion today to permit the Senate to take up the DREAM Act, thus setting up a showdown over the controversial immigration bill.

The DREAM Act would provide many thousands of young people with a path to citizenship, which could be granted to those who were brought to the U.S. when they were children and graduated from U.S. high schools. The requirement for citizenship would be earning a college degree or volunteering to serve in the U.S. military for two years.

The faith community is among constituencies advocating for passage of the law during the current so-called “lame duck” session of Congress.

Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders and organizations are ramping up the pressure on their Senators and Representatives to vote ‘yes’ on this legislation, which could come to the Senate floor as soon as this week.

Today the faith community plan s to bury Capitol Hill in telephone calls in support of the act and hold vigils and other public events in numerous states across the U.S.

In a telephone news conference, Rabbi Jack Moline, Director of Public Policy for the Rabbinical Assembly and rabbi of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, said, “Every faith community in this country includes young men and women who are thoroughly American in everything but name, and every one of those communities understands the need to affirm in law what is true in fact.”

He added that DREAM “can make that happen and is an important step.” He asked for the active support of Virginia Senators James Webb and Mark Warner.

But passage promises to be an uphill fight. For example, Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas said they will not vote for cloture on the bill.

But Republican Sens. Dick Lugar of Indiana and Bob Bennett, who was defeated in his Utah primary race, have signaled they will vote for the act. The bill’s supporters are counting on a handful of other moderate Republicans, including Sens. George Lemieux (Fla.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Scott Brown (Mass.).

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who is up for reelection in 2012, also predicted that Republicans “could take a hit at the polls if they continue to oppose immigration reform."

While a vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled, Sen. Reid has said he could bring it up for a vote as early as this week. Passage is considered a longshot, but more likely now than next year when Republicans will have a majority in the House and increased strength in the Senate.

The measure’s supporters have also been kept busy attempting to refute what they call the “lies and misinformation” being circulated by anti-immigration advocates.

For example, the measure’s critics contend that defeating the act must be, in the words of Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, “ a top priority before it provides an uncontrollable citizenship path to thousands of illegal immigrants.”

The right-wing publication Newsmax writes, “On the surface, the act would provide a road to citizenship for students who are illegal immigrants.” But it quotes the conservative Rep. King as saying “it would allow students to sponsor their extended families on that path.”

“We calculated that a single individual could bring in 357 people on a family reunification plan before we ran out of room on our spreadsheet,” King says.

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be able to push the act through the lame-duck session of Congress, King told Newsmax. But Republicans should be able to use the filibuster to kill it in the Senate, he says.

“This is an out-of-control immigration path,” King says. “We need to fence that in and limit it to direct family members.”

King also intends to introduce a bill next year making clear that babies born to illegal mothers in the United States aren’t American citizens because they aren’t subject to U.S. jurisdiction.

A rebuttal to Rep. King came from Margaret Stock, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage. .

"These are bizarre statements by Rep. King; he is apparently unfamiliar with Title 8 of the US Code,” she told IPS.

"DREAM Act beneficiaries get conditional green cards, not US citizenship; the way that the DREAM Act was drafted, most DREAM Act beneficiaries will have to wait upwards of 6 years to get US citizenship, after they get their conditional green cards.

She continued: "By law, a person with a conditional green card can only sponsor his/her unmarried children and his/her spouse. That's been the law for decades.”

Ms. Stock pointed out that "Only US citizens can sponsor their parents and siblings--and the siblings go on a waitlist that is more than a decade right now (and 20+ years for the Philippines). To sponsor one's parents to get a green card in the US, a US citizen has to be over 21--and the parents cannot have entered the US unlawfully. If the parents entered unlawfully, they must depart the US to get their immigrant visas approved, and their departure triggers a 10-year bar from the US, with no waivers available. They must wait outside the US for ten years before reentering.”

She also de-bunked another myth surrounding the act. “There are no immigrant visas at all for ‘extended family’ members, whatever that means.
I would also guess that one of Steve King's ancestors led to chain migration of a whole clan of King descendants, probably Democratic lawmakers will attempt to summon up their waning power by using the so-called “lame duck” session of Congress to pass what will likely be the closest they will get to comprehensive immigration reform.”

To provide additional ammunition for the bill’s supporters, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) released a new study, “Ineffective and Unjust: Our Broken Immigration System.”

The study says, “As Muslim Americans presenting a faith-based perspective to one of our nation’s biggest public policy challenges, we look to the Qur’an for moral guidance. In order to best satisfy the public interest, referred as maslaha in Islamic thought, we believe there are four values guiding our comprehensive immigration reform strategy. They are: Human Dignity, The Rule of Law, Enforcement, and Fiscal Responsibility.

The study says, “Those who argue against earned legalization believe it rewards undocumented individuals at the expense of those waiting to come legally, and argue it may become a magnet for future flows of unauthorized migrants. Others still, argue immigration harms native-born American workers’wages and job prospects.”

It continues: “The above perspective reflects legitimate concerns but fails to take into account three important points:

First, it misidentifies the root causes for unauthorized immigration. As noted earlier, the current legal immigration system is characterized by unrealistic quotas and bureaucratic inefficiencies. This creates perverse incentives for undocumented immigration. Additionally, legal enforcement has been insufficient and ineffective.

Second, it ignores the existing reality of 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States. Mass deportation is extremely costly.”

The study was carried out by Alejandro J. Beutel, MPAC’s Government Liaison; Aziza Hasan, Southern California Government Relations Director; and Maher Hathout, an MPAC Senior Advisor.