Foreign Policy

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Destruction of Syria’s Chemical Weapons-Related Materials Completed Weeks Ahead of Schedule

One of the two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed on the Cape Ray. I'll take the value of that over a crate of MANPADS any day. (US Army photo)

One of the two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems installed on the Cape Ray. I’ll take the value of that over a crate of MANPADS any day. (US Army photo)

As militarized local police riot in Ferguson, Missouri, Iraq continues its meltdown and Afghanistan can’t even agree on how to recount votes, the world has been overdue for the tiniest morsel of good news. Good news is what we got yesterday out of the situation regarding the destruction of chemical weapons-related materials from Syria:

The United States said Monday that it had completed the destruction of the deadliest chemical weapons in Syria’s arsenal, a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil.

/snip/

On Monday, Mr. Obama said that the destruction of the weapons, several weeks ahead of schedule, “advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons provided more details in a press release from their Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü:

The Cape Ray’s consignment included the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal: 581 metric tonnes of DF [methylphosphonyl difluoride], a binary precursor for sarin gas, and 19.8 metric tonnes of ready-to-use sulfur mustard (HD). They were neutralised with two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems (FDHS) on the Cape Ray, which reduced their toxicity by 99.9 percent in line with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Furthermore, the operation was successfully completed weeks ahead of the 60-day schedule the U.S. had estimated would be needed, and OPCW inspectors aboard the ship verified that no chemicals of any kind escaped into the sea or otherwise impacted the environment. The Cape Ray will now transport the effluent from the hydrolysis operations to Finland and Germany, where it will be offloaded for disposal at land-based facilities.

Recall that the initial US response to the chemical weapons attacks of August, 2013 in Syria was supposed to be missile strikes and a ramping up of support for “moderate” rebels fighting Assad. But John Kerry achieved some accidental diplomacy and Assad agreed to hand over his chemical arsenal for destruction. Since then, war hawks have been castigating Obama for the very low level of support for Syrian rebels despite the fact that US air strikes in Iraq are now aimed at destroying major weaponry that the US provided to Iraq’s army before it melted away in the face of opposition.

There now is substantial evidence to support the decision not to provide increased support for the moderates, as many of these moderate groups have now shifted their alliance directly into IS support. This terrific Monkey Cage blog post written by Marc Lynch and hosted at the Washington Post, provides very good background on the shifting alliances among the rebel groups: Continue reading

Pakistan Revolution Fizzling Out

Last week, I noted that two opposition parties in Pakistan were organizing what they said would be massive marches on Islamabad aimed at bringing down Pakistan’s government. While crowd size estimates vary widely, it is clear that the hoped-for participation of a million demonstrators fell far short, probably hitting at best 5% of that total. With the turnout so low, Reuters reports that most Pakistani newspapers this morning are running editorials critical of Imran Khan and his PTI party:

The government’s offer of talks followed a call from Khan on Sunday for his supporters not to pay taxes or utility bills. His appeal met with widespread ridicule since most Pakistanis who can get away without paying taxes and utility bills already do so – a major contributor to the country’s economic woes.

In a veiled threat, Khan also warned that he may not be able to stop his supporters from marching on parliament and the fortified enclave where most foreign embassies are located.

Such a move would be a recipe for violence given the heavy deployment of riot police and paramilitary forces.

On Monday morning, most newspapers published critical editorials of Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party.

“Were Mr. Khan’s threats not so risible they would be worthy of the severest condemnation,” said Dawn, one of the country’s most respected papers.

But it appears that the marchers will be given access to the Red Zone around parliament:

The Supreme Court has rejected the federal government’s plea seeking to restrain protesters from moving toward the Red Zone area of the capital.

“That is something for the government to handle,” Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk said, while rejecting the attorney general for Pakistan’s (AGP) plea to pass an order stopping protesters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) from entering the area.

Perhaps because his proposal about boycotting taxes and utility bills has been met with ridicule, Khan’s party is trying to clarify somewhat:

Speaking to Dawn, Ghani said provincial taxes will be collected as per routine but the public will not be paying any federal taxes along with electricity and gas bills.

He said the civil disobedience movement was against the corrupt and incompetent federal government and not the government managing the province.

And it turns out that PTI believes it has some leverage in this move:

Responding to a question, Ghani said that if the centre dared to disconnect power supply to KP, the province will have the right to stop supply from Tarbela which falls within the provincial jurisdiction.

That is quite a threat, since the generators at Tarbela dam supply 16% of Pakistan’s electricity. The dam sits only about 30 miles from Islamabad.

Meanwhile, both Khan and PAT leader Tahirul Qadri have given the government 48 hours to respond to their latest demands, and Qadri has outright rejected the idea of talks with a government-appointed committee.

I will keep an eye out for further developments, but it looks now as though Nawaz Sharif and his government will survive this challenge.

As Expected, Kerry’s Power Sharing Agreement in Afghanistan Falling Apart

Well, that didn’t take long. On Friday, John Kerry made a second pass at getting Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani to make nice. This time he even produced a signed document (probably) to go along with the happy photos. And then yesterday the Washington Post announced that Ghani already is backing down on the whole shared power concept:

Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates competing to become Afghanistan’s president, said Tuesday that the deadline to finish a vote recount is slipping and that a U.S.-brokered agreement for the rivals to form a joint government afterward does not mean the winner will fully share power with the loser.

Speaking to foreign journalists at his fortified compound in the capital, Ghani appeared to be trying to tamp down a surge of discontent among his supporters and allies, many of whom are reportedly upset that he agreed under U.S. pressure to a full recount of ballots from the troubled presidential runoff in June and the formation of a “unity” government with his rival.

On Friday, Ghani restated those pledges during a visit by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. But on Tuesday, he sought to clarify that he has not agreed to a power-sharing agreement with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Ghani said the winner will appoint the loser “by decree” as a chief executive to serve “at the discretion of the president.” Abdullah has demanded more authority if he loses.

After a false start earlier, the work on developing the real power sharing agreement was slated to start today:

The joint committee assigned by the two presidential candidates and expected to hash out the details of their power-sharing agreement is expected to begin its work on Wednesday, according to representatives of both campaigns.

The joint committee was initially expected to start work last Saturday, a day after the three article declaration about the broad structure of the national unity government was signed by both candidates. However, disagreements over the join committee were said to have stalled the start of negotiations until now.

Abullah Abdullah’s First Vice President, Mohammad Khan, has said on that the committee will have a total of thirty members representing both candidates. According to Fizullah Zaki, a spokesman for Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai’s team, both teams nominated 15 representatives on Tuesday.

With 15 negotiators on each side, I would expect that the first week or two of the negotiations will resolve such crucial issues as the shape of the table and the length of the breaks between sessions. They might also want to make a “no punching” rule, as there appears to have been another fight today while ballots were being reviewed.  It’s hard to see how Kerry could make a third trip to put the power sharing back on course since the first two have been such spectacular failures.

Combining the poor outlook for a power sharing agreement with the continued disruptions in auditing ballots puts the next “deadline” in a huge amount of doubt:

The NATO coalition will be forced to make a decision on its continued role in Afghanistan without a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in place if the Afghan presidential election does not meet a conclusion soon, NATO Secretary-General Andres Fog Rasmussen warned on Monday.

The senior NATO official indicated continued military support, including a post-withdraw troop presence for training and advising purposes, as well as broader financial aid to Afghanistan, would likely be impossible if the BSA is not signed by a new Afghan president before the NATO summit begins on September 4.

“Soon we will have to take tough decisions, because if there is not a legal basis for our continued presence in Afghanistan, we will have to withdraw everything by the end of this year and to do that we will have to start planning … very soon,” Rasmussen told Reuters on Monday.

Obama has a very easy way out here. If there still is no resolution to the election by the time of the NATO summit, he can paint the decision to withdraw completely from Afghanistan as a NATO decision rather than a US decision. Yes, a number of earlier deadlines in this process have been ignored, but it is very hard to see how NATO would agree to remain in Afghanistan without a BSA signed by a new president. Although the neocons likely would return to Iraq-era “no permission slip needed” rhetoric urging Obama to keep troops there even without any other NATO allies, I don’t seen how he would do that.

We are less than a month away from what almost certainly will be a decision to withdraw fully from a war that has been one of the most badly managed efforts in our country’s history. We have squandered about a trillion dollars, killed untold numbers of civilians, lost far too many troops and will leave a country that is wracked by devastation and a huge increase in corruption. Obama will be blamed for losing Afghanistan just as surely as he is now being blamed for losing Iraq, but in both cases, the entire country should share the blame for empowering amoral leaders who know only death, destruction and corruption.

Why US Wants BSA With Criminal Immunity: Amnesty Reports US War Crimes in Afghanistan Not Prosecuted

Barack Obama faces a huge amount of pressure during the current meltdown of Iraq because he withdrew all US military forces from the country. As I have pointed out in countless posts, the single controlling factor for that withdrawal was that Iraq refused to provide criminal immunity to US troops who remained in Iraq past December 31, 2011.

A very similar scenario is playing out now in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that will provide criminal immunity to US troops remaining beyond the end of this year. Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have stated that they will sign the BSA immediately upon taking office, but the recount of their runoff election remains mired in dysfunction over how to eliminate fraudulent votes. John Kerry has visited twice to get the candidates to cease sparring, but dysfunction has quickly ensued after both visits. Meanwhile, the clock ticks ever closer to expiration of the current agreement providing immunity.

All along, the US framing for insisting on criminal immunity for troops is based on avoiding the chaos of soldiers facing false charges that might be brought through a court system that lacks the safeguards of the US court system or even the US military courts. But a report (pdf) released Friday by Amnesty International provides solid evidence that the US has failed, on multiple verified occasions, to take any action to pursue those responsible for clear war crimes in Afghanistan. That stands out to me as the real reason the US insists on criminal immunity.

Amnesty sums up their findings in the press release accompanying the report:

Focusing primarily on air strikes and night raids carried out by US forces, including Special Operations Forces, Left in the Dark finds that even apparent war crimes have gone uninvestigated and unpunished.

“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress. The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Director.

“None of the cases that we looked into – involving more than 140 civilian deaths – were prosecuted by the US military. Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored.”

The description continues:

Two of the case studies — involving a Special Operations Forces raid on a house in Paktia province in 2010, and enforced disappearances, torture, and killings in Nerkh and Maidan Shahr districts, Wardak province, in November 2012 to February 2013 — involve abundant and compelling evidence of war crimes. No one has been criminally prosecuted for either of the incidents.

Qandi Agha, a former detainee held by US Special Forces in Nerkh in late 2012, spoke of the daily torture sessions he endured. “Four people beat me with cables. They tied my legs together and beat the soles of my feet with a wooden stick. They punched me in the face and kicked me. They hit my head on the floor.” He also said he was dunked in a barrel of water and given electrical shocks.

Agha said that both US and Afghan forces participated in the torture sessions. He also said that four of the eight prisoners held with him were killed while he was in US custody, including one person, Sayed Muhammed, whose killing he witnessed.

Of course, the US claims that while it wants troops immune from prosecution in Afghanistan under trumped up charges, crimes will be investigated by US authorities. The Amnesty report puts that lie to rest. Again, from the press release:

Of the scores of witnesses, victims and family members Amnesty International spoke to when researching this report, only two people said that they had been interviewed by US military investigators. In many of the cases covered in the report, US military or NATO spokespeople would announce that an investigation was being carried out, but would not release any further information about the progress of the investigation or its findings – leaving victims and family members in the dark.

“We urge the US military to immediately investigate all the cases documented in our report, and all other cases where civilians have been killed. The victims and their family members deserve justice,” said Richard Bennett.

Yeah, I’m sure the military will get right on that. Sometime in the next century or two.

The report provides three recommendations to the government of Afghanistan:

 Create a credible, independent mechanism to monitor, investigate and report  publicly on civilian deaths and injuries caused by the ANSF, and to ensure timely and effective remedies. This mechanism should include detailed procedures for recording casualties, receiving claims, conducting investigations, carrying out disciplinary measures including prosecutions where warranted, and ensuring reparation, including restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation.

 Ensure that accountability for civilian casualties is guaranteed in any future bilateral security agreements signed with NATO and the United States, including by requiring that international forces provide a regular accounting of any incidents of civilian casualties, the results of investigations into such incidents, and the progress of any related prosecutions. Such agreements should exclude any provision that might infringe upon Afghanistan’s obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

 Continue to press the US and NATO authorities to take meaningful steps to enhance civilian protection, investigate reports of civilian casualties, and prosecute violations of international humanitarian law that result in civilian casualties.

Those recommendations are terrific, but they are completely meaningless when applied to what is really happening in Afghanistan. None of the good things in that list have any chance of even making it into the language of the already negotiated BSA, and even if they did, no enforcement of it would ever be allowed. After all, the US is the country that even has passed a law allowing use of military force to “rescue” any citizen facing charges in the ICC. It doesn’t matter whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief, the US military will go wherever it wants, kill whoever it wants, and allow the vast majority of its crimes to go without consequence.

That is the particular freedom they hate us for.

No, We Aren’t All Going to Die Because Ebola Patients Are Coming to US for Treatment

image.ppat.v04.i11.g001

Scary, color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles. Creative Commons license courtesy of Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine.

With the death toll now over 700 in an Ebola outbreak that has been building since February, Americans are suddenly up in arms about the virus, but only because it was announced yesterday that up to two Americans infected with the virus may be transported to Atlanta for treatment. Yes, the virus is especially deadly, with a death rate of 70-90% of infected patients, but the virus does not spread particularly efficiently and is not airborne. Writing at CNN.com, biologist Laurie Garrett points out a disaster scenario for the virus. Rather than an outbreak in the US, which seems extremely unlikely, Garrett outlines how the virus could spread in the much more densely populated Nigeria rather than the more remote areas of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where it is now concentrated.

Before getting into the details of the current outbreak and its possible spread to Nigeria, a little background on the virus. From the World Health Organization, we have this information on how the virus spreads:

Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.

Of particular relevance to the two patients who may be transported to Atlanta for treatment (they work for Samaritan’s Purse, an aid organization) and the tragic death of Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, the information from WHO continues:

Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.

The fact that these health care givers become infected because standard infection control precautions are not strictly practiced in no way should suggest that they are uninformed or careless. Instead, Garrett points out in her article the stark realities facing health care providers in the three countries where the outbreak rages:

To show how ill-equipped these nations are to battle disease, per capita spending on health care, combining personal and governmental, amounts to only $171 a year in Sierra Leone, $88 a year in Liberia and $67 a year in Guinea, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

For those who want more detail on the virus, this succinct summary of the structure of the Filovirus family of viruses and their mode of operation is very informative.

For the panic-motivated hypochondriacs among us, initial symptoms of this virus mimic the onset of most other viral infections.

The most recent update from WHO on the outbreak can be read here. The update summarizes the assistance that is being provided to the countries where the outbreak is ongoing. Significantly, WHO is not advocating travel restrictions at this time.

Returning to Garrett’s article, she points out the factors that would lead to chaos should Ebola spread in Nigeria:

Were Ebola to take hold in that country [Nigeria], spreading from person-to-person in a densely populated, chaotic city such as Lagos, the worldwide response would swiftly spin into uncharted political and global health territory.

Consider the following: Nigerian physicians are on strike nationwide; hundreds of girls have been kidnapped from their schools and villages over the past six months by Boko Haram Islamist militants — and none has been successfully freed from their captors by the Abuja government.

Nigeria is in the midst of national election campaigning. President Goodluck Jonathan’s government is, at best, weak. The nation is torn apart by religious tension, pitting the Muslim north against the Christian south. Islamists in the north have long distrusted Western medicine. They have opposed polio vaccination and have kidnapped and assaulted central government health providers.

Garrett’s plea is for an already-planned African summit on Monday to be used to develop a coordinated plan for dealing with the virus:

One way or another, Obama must take advantage of Monday’s Africa summit to press the case for calm and appropriate responses. These would include specific post-Ebola financial commitments to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The possibility that the epidemic might take hold in Nigeria must be confronted, and plans of action must be considered. The world cannot afford to make decisions in the heat of panic about such things as international airport closures, withdrawal of foreign oil workers, negotiations for outbreak responses with northern imams, hospital and clinic infection control training across thousands of Nigerian health facilities, deployment of international assistance teams for rapid diagnostics and lab assistance and countless other contingencies.

Sadly, Garrett points out important information on the damage that has already been done in this outbreak:

When this Ebola epidemic eventually ends, the health budgets of these nations [Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea] will have been bankrupted, and many of their most skilled and courageous physicians, nurses, Red Cross volunteers and hospital workers will have perished.

Let’s hope that Monday sees the beginning of stronger coordination to put more resources where they are needed to halt the spread of this ongoing disaster.

Tortured Diplomacy

The AP has a story reporting (something that was public) that Colin Powell was not briefed on torture from the start, which meant in several cases Ambassadors to affected countries got briefed and instructed not to tell their superiors.

A Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some U.S. ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to a document circulating among White House staff.

The still-classified report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, the document says.

[snip]

A former senior CIA official said the secretary of state at the time, Colin Powell, eventually was informed about the program and sat in meetings in which harsh interrogation techniques were discussed. But Powell may not have been informed when the techniques were first used in 2002, the official said.

[snip]

The former CIA official said it would be standard practice for ambassadors informed about a covert operation to be instructed not to share it with others who did not have a “need to know,” as determined by the National Security Agency. Ambassadors in countries in which the CIA set up black sites to interrogate prisoners were usually told about it, said the official, who, like others interviewed for this story, would not be quoted by name because some of the information remains classified.

This narrative — developed as part of the initial Senate Intelligence Committee effort to study torture which ultimately became the torture report — suggests Colin Powell may not have briefed on torture techniques until September 16, 2003.

According to CIA records, pursuant to a request from the National Security
Adviser, the Director of Central Intelligence subsequently briefed the Secretary of
State and the Secretary of Defense on the CIA’s interrogation techniques on
September 16, 2003.

That seems very late — but he was apparently specifically not invited to a July 2003 meeting at which Principals reauthorized torture even in light of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment. And these two comments from 2009 were awfully vague.

Remember, in January 2002, Powell and others at State tried very hard to get Bush to adhere to the Geneva Conventions they failed. Which is probably why he didn’t find out for a long time.

In any case, the implication is that Powell’s Ambassadors knew, but Powell did not.

I’ve just started looking at who the Ambassadors in question might be — especially with AP’s anonymous and probably lying CIA source claiming Ambassadors did get told (which the CIA often doesn’t do but which is a violation of protocol) but two stick out right away.

First, there’s Darryl Johnson, Ambassador to Thailand while Abu Zubaydah was being tortured. I don’t know anything about him, but note he presented his credentials on March 29, literally the day after Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan. Imagine asking your hosts to use their military base to torture people on on your second day officially on the job!

Even more interesting is Chris Hill, the lifetime diplomat who was Ambassador to Poland from 2000 through 2004, spanning the period when a number of detainees were being tortured. Hill went on to serve as Ambassador to South Korea immediately thereafter, then became Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia. In the latter two roles he played a key role in the 6-party talks with North Korea and had very significant disagreements with Dick Cheney. Hill then went on to serve as Ambassador to Iraq. I find it interesting to imagine how knowledge of Cheney’s torture might have made their principled disagreements even worse.

Of course, it’s possible AP’s source is lying and none of these men — or the other Ambassadors in the black site countries — really were briefed.

Update: Here’s a 2008 story (there were many similar ones at the time) that insinuates Powell was at the torture meetings. I think it’s meant to deceive.

Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.

Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:

The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.’”

Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300″ Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.

Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.

Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:

a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.

The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.

Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:

The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.

It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988

Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.

Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.

Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

With Afghan Runoff Audit Hopelessly Mired, Clock Running Out on US Hopes for BSA

I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel.  Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass.  The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.

The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.

It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.

Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.

Kerry Castigates Putin For Using US Strategy of Training, Arming Rebels

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

Aside from the fact that the only craft beer served at the National Security Caucus session at Netroots Nation 2014 was an outdated California beer rather than a local Michigan beer, it was a session marked by interesting discussion. I received quite a bit of support during that discussion for noting that the US response to any crisis anywhere, for far too long, has been simply to ask “Which group should we arm?”. Further, I noted, as we had heard in the “Iran: Diplomacy or War?” session, there is reason for optimism among those of us who favor diplomacy over violence in the successful removal and ongoing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons rather than the missile strikes the US had been planning and in the remaining strong possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear technology issue instead of a war to destroy the technology. I illustrated that point by mentioning the tragic downing of MH17 and how that demonstrated the folly of training and arming rebel groups that often veer into extremist actions that result in atrocities. That point ties to the mad push to arm Syria’s rebels with the shorter range MANPAD antiaircraft missiles even though they are less powerful than the Buk missile that took down MH17. As I noted, will Syrian “moderates” promise us never to take the MANPADS to a site where civilian aircraft are within range, and would there be any reason to believe such a promise?

In executing his Full Ginsburg yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reached new heights of hypocrisy, as he went from Sunday morning talk show to talk show, proclaiming the evils of Russian actions in Ukraine. The evils for which Kerry is castigating Putin are precisely the evils that the US has been unleashing on the world in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and beyond. From today’s New York Times:

 In presenting the most detailed case yet alleging Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Russia had funneled large quantities of heavy weapons to Ukrainian separatists and trained them how to operate SA-11 antiaircraft missiles, the type of system that is believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.

“We know for certain that the separatists have a proficiency that they’ve gained by training from Russians as to how to use these sophisticated SA-11 systems,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Just as when CIA Director John Brennan got his panties in a wad over al Qaeda training death squads in Syria after we had trained our own death squads to send there, Kerry is now saying that Russia choosing a group to arm and train is a horrible thing even though he has been instrumental in helping the Obama administration to do the exact same thing in other areas.

And just as the US now faces problems in its upcoming training of Iraqi troops because of the previous failures in training Iraqi troops, there is reason to believe that the atrocity of MH17 may be due in part to failed training by the Russians. From today’s Washington Post:

Meanwhile, in Kiev, the U.S. Embassy said American intelligence analysts had confirmed the authenticity of recorded conversations in which rebel leaders bragged about shooting down what they thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane moments after the Malaysian jetliner was blown apart.

So even though the separatists are good at using the missiles to blow aircraft out of the sky (the Times article notes they have downed “almost a dozen Ukrainian transport planes, reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters”), it would appear that they haven’t quite worked out that whole target verification thing and that this tragedy may not have been an intentional targeting of civilians as much as it is a training failure. But yes, the Russians own a large portion of this tragedy, as the evidence seems strong that they provided the weapon along with instructions on firing it (if not the full lesson on target verification). And their tactics in doing do were taken directly from the US playbook, all the way down to the training being an abject failure.

Why Challenge the Washington Consensus Now?

A number of outlets are reporting on the BRICS move to establish a competitor to the World Bank.

The so-called BRICS countries agreed to form an international development bank with aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said Tuesday that the New Development Bank will start with $50 billion in capital and $100 billion as a currency reserve fund for liquidity crises. Operating details still need to be resolved.

Still, the BRICS bank, which could add more member nations, represents a bid to expand the influence of the BRICS emerging markets and act as a counterbalance to institutions run by the U.S. and other developed nations, experts said.

“This is about the consolidation of BRICS 2.0,” said Marcos Troyjo, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and co-director of the BRICLab Center. “If BRICS 1.0 was about capturing investor attention to the scale of their economic relevance, BRICS 2.0 is about embarking on institution building.”

I absolutely understand the reason for the move. These large countries have been demanding more influence over the World Bank for years, to no avail. And US policies like Quantitative Easing have been really damaging to some of the countries, particularly Brazil. Though, this move may well come too late for Brazil and certainly for Dilma Roussef.

“I don’t think that if Brazil was now to be thinking about these plans from the drawing board, it would really be thinking about a Brics development bank,” says James Lockhart-Smith, a Latin America risk analyst at Maplecroft in New York. “It would be more focused on restarting growth in the country.”

But at a time of slow growth, Brazil probably needs these economies on side more than ever. Add to that, trade with economically troubled Argentina – traditionally one of its biggest trading partners – has become more difficult in recent years.

So while I understand the move, I wonder why now — aside from the fact that the World Cup provided a handy excuse for a meeting in Rio de Janeiro. It may be too late for Dilma, and India’s new neoliberal Prime Minister Narenda Modi seems like an odd fit for the group.

Meanwhile, consider this. While Russia won’t get any of the big perks in the new bank (it will be headquartered in Shanghai, India will pick the first President, Brazil will pick the first Chairman, and the bank will be denominated in — really! — dollars), Putin was also making other interesting moves in the hemisphere, at least according to RT (definitely click through for Putin’s expression, which surely is staged to be that stern).

Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement on reopening the SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba – once Russia’s largest foreign base of this kind – which was shut down in 2001 due to financial problems and under US pressure.

[snip]

Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base since 2004 and has sealed a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation, reports Kommersant business daily citing multiple sources.

Russia shut down the base to more easily reschedule debt held by the US. Along with reopening the base, Russia will forgive a bunch of outstanding Cuban debt to Russia.

The timing of this — a year after Snowden’s disclosures, but more importantly, as the US continues to try increasingly unilateral sanctions against Russia’s involvement in Ukraine — makes a ton of sense. The US refuses to believe it can’t impose its will in Ukraine, in spite of increasing reluctance from our European partners, especially Germany, to ratchet up the pressure. Reopening a front in America’s back yard as the US bunkers down on Ukraine makes perfect sense.

For some reason, the US appears to have believed it could simply impose its will indefinitely on the rest of the world. They appear not to have considered that, at some point, such behavior would provide the rest of the world cause to fight back.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @mattapuzzo: DOJ considering whether to open broader civil rights investigation into Ferguson PD. No decision made, but DOJ's has been a…
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bmaz RT @tonymess: We already know more in the past hour about a city of St. Louis police shooting than we do about one in #Ferguson 10 days ago.
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bmaz This (and I know a couple of you at @Twitter are following)----> RT @erinscafe Twitter please stop fucking w/Twitter. http://t.co/JysxchES7x
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bmaz @LegallyErin But, if when you then get transcript (which you do here) if proffered material would have changed vot you have Motion to Remand
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bmaz @LegallyErin We have no absolute right here; but you can notice a request to either testify or have a proffer submitted. Usually they say no
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bmaz @AllThingsHLS Sage reasoning. Truly. I've made a GJ demand to testify?submitted proffer a handful of times over many years. rarely good idea
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bmaz @AlexLittleTN See why I now hate Federal court??
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bmaz @LegallyErin This says yes too http://t.co/Gfu9Rb0q8v but I don't find it in MO law (via lame ass Google search)
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bmaz @gnarlytrombone If they then do not, then you have an argument that the presentation was unfair and subject to potential remand.
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bmaz @gnarlytrombone Here there is no absolute right, but you can request and demand to either appear or they enter your written proffer.
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bmaz @AllThingsHLS See? This shit is easy!
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