Yesterday evening, reports appeared in both the New York Times and Khaama Press in Afghanistan that the final hurdle for the Bilateral Security Agreement had been cleared and that US President Barack Obama would sign a letter to be read at the loya jirga. The letter would note that the US has made mistakes in its war efforts in Afghanistan. Further, the letter would convey an apology along with a pledge to avoid repeating the mistakes in which innocent Afghan citizens suffered.
But for the endless war faction within the US military and government, an apology just won’t do (even if there was one to Pakistan that finally reopened the supply routes after the US killed 24 Pakistani border troops). National Security Advisor Susan Rice immediately got time with Wolf Blitzer on CNN to nip the idea of an apology in the bud:
“No such letter has been drafted or delivered. There is not a need for the United States to apologize to Afghanistan,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on CNN’s “Situation Room.”
“Quite the contrary, we have sacrificed and supported them in their democratic progress and in tackling the insurgents and al Qaeda. So that (letter of apology) is not on the table.”
Rice said she has seen news reports but has no idea where they are coming from, describing the claims as a “complete misunderstanding of what the situation is.”
Here’s the video:
I’m surprised she didn’t go all the way to insisting on an apology from Afghanistan for being ungrateful for all the freedom we’ve unleashed on them.
The Times version of the story has been through a number of changes. Note that the url retains the early headline for the story “Key Issue Said to be Resolved in US-Afghan Security Talks”. The story now reflects the push-back from Rice, but it also shows that diplomats are focusing on a letter anyway (but of course now can’t call it an apology):
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss continuing negotiations, was more noncommittal, saying that a letter acknowledging past issues like civilian casualties was a possibility being weighed. “We will consider his request for reassurances, including the option of a letter from the administration stating our position,” the official said.
Under the Afghan description, in return for the letter, Mr. Karzai would then accept wording that allowed American Special Operations raids to search and detain militants within Afghan homes, but only under “extraordinary circumstances” to save the lives of American soldiers. That would seem to greatly hamper the American intent behind those operations, which commanders have said are critical to taking the fight directly to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
It is difficult to imagine how the situation could be any worse for the US ahead of Thursday’s opening of the loya jirga that was meant to give a stamp of approval to the Bilateral Security Agreement that would govern US troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014. Both the New York Times and Reuters are reporting a sticking point (the issue is not a new one) in the negotiations that threatens to prevent an agreement being reached. Furthermore, a suicide bomber struck on Saturday at the site where the jirga is planned. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. Finally, the UN is reporting that despite as many as 12,000 Taliban fighters being killed, wounded or captured in the last year, violence in Afghanistan is at its highest point since the US surge.
The latest sticking point in the Bilateral Security Agreement (immunity for US troops also is a sticking point that is just as likely to derail approval by the jirga) addresses US troops entering Afghan homes without permission. This is at the heart of the operations of US death squads as Special Operations forces carry out night raids. From the Times:
Offstage, however, American raids continued to be a point of deadlock, according to the Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing. In recent days, the talks have been led on the Afghan side by Mr. Karzai, and on the American side by Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the military coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
The Afghan officials said Mr. Karzai would not change his position before Thursday’s loya jirga, to which 3,000 officials, elders and notables from around the country have been invited to ratify or reject the security agreement.
So even though these negotiations are being carried out at the highest level, it appears that a serious disagreement persists, just a few days short of the critical jirga. The article notes that some on the US side feel that this is a last-minute ploy by the Afghans, but considering that Karzai has opposed the raids from the beginning, it is hard to see how that argument has any merit. The article continues to show how this disagreement could scuttle the entire deal: Continue reading
With Hamid Karzai’s loya jirga only about one week away, Reuters has published information that adds fuel to one of the major objections to the new Bilateral Security Agreement between Afghanistan and the US that the jirga is meant to bless. Despite clear evidence provided recently in full by Matthieu Aikins that US special forces were involved in the murders of a number of civilians in the Nerkh district of Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan’s security directorate has had to close their investigation into those deaths because the US will not provide access to the troops who were involved. The current status of forces agreement provides full criminal immunity to US troops and it is widely believed that criminal immunity going forward after 2014 will be the key decision point at the jirga and for Karzai signing the agreement.
For their article, Reuters came into possession of a report from Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security that was written in September:
Afghanistan’s intelligence service has abandoned its investigation into the murder of a group of civilians after being refused access to U.S. special forces soldiers suspected of involvement, according to a document obtained by Reuters.
In the report authored by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, investigators said they had asked the United States for access to three U.S. Green Berets and four Afghan translators working with them but were rebuffed.
“Despite many requests by NDS they have not cooperated. Without their cooperation this process cannot be completed,” said the report, which was originally published on September 23.
U.S. military officials were not immediately available for comment but they have long said the Green Berets did not take part in, or turn a blind eye to, illegal killings in Wardak.
Yeah, right. How can the US claim they didn’t turn a “blind eye” when, among the many things Aikins documented, it was clear that Zakariah Kandahari was in Facebook contact with the special forces unit in question while he was officially “missing”?
There has been much posturing over the jirga in recent days, with assemblies of politicians and other leaders being called to both support and oppose any approval of the bilateral security agreement. The Taliban also has weighed in, warning that any tribal leaders voting for the US to retain a presence in Afghanistan will be targets of future attacks.
Of course, the US claims that even though US forces are immune from being charged by Afghan authorities, US troops are subject to the military justice system and that crimes are investigated and prosecuted. However, given the rush to prosecute only Robert Bales on the Panjwai massacre even though it seems quite possible he had help with at least some of those killings, by blocking Afghan access to the remainder of the death squad involved prompts speculation that Kandahari will be the scapegoat for the Nerkh killings, especially since the US continues to maintain that Kandahari wasn’t even officially working for the US.
Will the blocking of Afghanistan’s investigation into these brutal murders be the final straw that blocks approval of immunity and the BSA?
Despite the happy talk in Washington during Friday’s joint press appearance by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US President Barack Obama, Karzai’s public statement today upon his return to Afghanistan illustrates that it is quite unlikely that we will ever see an agreement granting US troops full criminal immunity beyond the end of 2014. Highly disparate stories from Afghan civilians, the Afghan press and the US military surrounding the deaths of a number of Afghan civilians on Sunday serve to illustrate why no immunity agreement will ever be granted and that a full US withdrawal, just as seen in Iraq, will follow the failure to grant immunity.
In the Washington press conference on Friday, Karzai said that he would push for an immunity agreement:
Mr. Karzai also said he would push to grant legal immunity to American troops left behind in Afghanistan — a guarantee that the United States failed to obtain from Iraq, leading Mr. Obama to withdraw all but a vestigial force from that country at the end of 2011.
But now that he is back in Afghanistan, we see how Karzai plans to make his “push”:
“The issue of immunity is under discussion (and) it is going to take eight to nine months before we reach agreement,” Karzai told a news conference in the capital, Kabul, after returning from meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
The Afghan government rejected an initial U.S. proposal regarding the question of immunity and a second round of negotiations will take place this year in Kabul, he said.
Those negotiations could involve Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, a “grand assembly” of political and community leaders convened for issues of national importance, he added.
It seems virtually impossible that a Loya Jirga would vote to confer immunity, and so it appears that by including the Loya Jirga in the decision process, Karzai will be able to claim that he “pushed” for immunity but was unable to get the vote for it.
Meanwhile, a joint US-Afghan military operation on Sunday provides a perfect example of both why the US insists on immunity and why Afghans are virtually certain never to grant it.
The New York Times gives us some of the basics of what happened:
An explosion in a mountain village in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least seven civilians after a joint American-Afghan military raid killed four Taliban fighters there, Afghan officials said. But villagers said 16 civilians had been killed.
In Sunday’s raid, which occurred before dawn, a team of American and Afghan Special Operations forces detained a Taliban leader and then came under fire from Taliban gunmen who were hiding in a mosque. At least some of the Taliban were wearing suicide vests, which exploded during the fight, destroying the mosque, Afghan officials said.
“It was a joint ground operation in Hasan Khel village of Saidabad that killed four armed Taliban inside the mosque,” Major Zaffari said. “Some civilians were trying to collect the bodies or to get their weapons and other ammunition when suddenly a huge explosion took place and resulted in civilian casualties, but we don’t know the exact numbers.”
Afghan civilians claim that a US airstrike was involved. In fact, Khaama Press includes that claim in the headline of its story “NATO airstrike kill Afghan civilians in Wardak province” (it appears that subject-verb agreement was lost in translation): Continue reading
Much to the consternation of those who want all war, all the time, Iraq managed to force the US into a complete pullout of troops at the end of 2011, even though there had been efforts to develop a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have allowed a number of troops to stay on as trainers. Because Iraq would not grant criminal immunity to those remaining forces, the US finally withdrew completely. There had been great hope within the Obama administration that the agreement could be reached, especially because it suffered no consequences from its craven behavior in announcing the end of combat operations in August of 2010, which it achieved merely by redefining 50,000 combat troops as non-combat troops. There have been analyses both at the time of the negotiation failure by Josh Rogin and in September of this year by the New York Times, but the unifying theme is that when Iraq would not agree to immunity the US decided on the pullout, despite the best efforts by the Obama administration to claim that a complete withdrawal had been their plan all along.
The Obama administration began negotiations today with Afghanistan on a SOFA for the conditions under which US troops may stay behind after the handover of security control to Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Once again, the Obama administration will first play the semantics game, as the 2014 deadline is for the end of combat operations, as was the first deadline in Iraq. The US is seeking to leave behind a significant training force (that is fully capable of combat but defined otherwise, I’m sure) but is once again seeking criminal immunity for the remaining troops.
There are significant complications for the negotiations. First, the training relationship between NATO forces and Afghan forces is much worse than it was in Iraq, as green on blue killings have threatened how the US has gone about its mission in Afghanistan. Further, the issue of legal standing is complicated greatly by the fact that the US insists on trying Robert Bales in the US while Afghanistan wants to try him there.
Reuters describes the beginning of negotiations:
Afghanistan and the United States have started talks that will eventually define how many American troops stay in the country after most NATO combat forces leave at the end of 2014, and the scope of their mission.
The bilateral security negotiations could take months, and are expected to be difficult. The round of talks that began on Thursday will cover the legal basis for U.S. soldiers to work in Afghanistan post-2014.
“This document is intended to provide the legal authority for U.S. armed forces and their civilian component to continue a presence in Afghanistan with the full approval of the government of Afghanistan,” said James B. Warlick, deputy special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who will be leading the U.S. delegation.
And, of course, immunity is front and center as the primary issue:
The thorniest issue in future talks will be whether U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are given immunity from prosecution under Afghan law.
This is a movie that we have seen before. It is nearly impossible to see how its ending will differ much from Iraq, although I suspect that the combination of the war-weariness of the public and the ongoing risk of trainers being killed might prompt the US to agree that the end of combat operations this time might actually coincide with a complete withdrawal rather than a redefinition of troops. If that decision can be reached quickly (and a hard line from Afghanistan on immunity could hasten it), perhaps there would then be some hope that the timetable also can be accelerated significantly. The end of 2014 is still more than two full years away. That is a long time for the Obama administration to look at ongoing deaths and huge monetary outlays at a time when most Americans (excluding defense contractors and neocons) have had enough war and debt is the largest political issue in the country.
Ronald Reagan was The Great Communicator. Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty efforts were aimed at realizing The Great Society. Barack Obama’s presidency is moving toward greatness, as well, but not in a good way. At seemingly every turn, Obama has made sure that major crimes are met not with justice but with immunity. Obama has conferred so much immunity on so many different groups that he has earned the title “The Great Vaccinator”.
Ironically, even Obama’s major “success”, the killing of Osama bin Laden, is marred by an illegal act that this time is mingled with biological rather than legal immunity. It appears that Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi, working with the CIA, pretended to be carrying out a house-to-house vaccination program so that he could gather intelligence on who was residing in the compound where bin Laden was found. This short-sighted action by the CIA has now put public vaccination programs in a very bad light and set back vaccination programs in impoverished countries significantly.
Even before becoming President, Obama began his quest of conferring immunity wherever justice is demanded. Once he had the Democratic nomination in his pocket, Obama abandoned the principled stand he took during the primaries (when he said he would filibuster any bill with retroactive immunity and would vote against it) and voted along with all Senate Republicans for cloture and then in favor of the bill that conferred retroactive immunity on the telecommunications companies that illegally wiretapped citizens without warrants.
After he won the election but prior to taking office, Obama then began his quest to confer immunity for one of the most egregious crimes committed by our country, the institutionalization of torture as a major tool in the “War on Terror”. As ABC published on January 11, 2009, Obama famously told George Stephanopoulos “we need to look forward”: Continue reading
TPMM wrote up a summary of a response Speaker Pelosi gave to a question I asked at a blogger conference call today that has caused a stir. While I don’t disagree with McJoan’s take–if the Speaker had really said immunity was the issue, it would reflect a short-sighted view of FISA (though I’d say the same about other topics, such as segregation; after all, once the government can legally use information that has been improperly collected, that’s toothpaste out of a tube, too)–I’d like to give my version of the conversation, because I don’t think that’s what Pelosi said or meant.
The call was originally supposed to be focused on contempt. So after the Speaker finished telling about the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity bill, someone (Mike Stark, I think) asked for reassurances that the Democrats would continue to pursue contempt after we win the White House and larger margins in both houses next year. Pelosi spoke at length about how important this contempt fight is because of the separation of powers issue–and stated that this is a better case than when GAO tried to get Cheney’s records on his Energy Task Force. Finally, in response to a follow-up, Pelosi stated that Democrats would continue to pursue the contempt issue after November.
Then, I piped in. I basically asked the idea laid out in this post.
Email providers argue that immunity will contribute to uncertainty. They speak of receiving "vague promises," they demand "clear rules" and "bright lines."
Given that complaints about uncertainty and unclear demands have led these email providers to strongly oppose retroactive immunity, it suggests the requests the email providers got were really murky–murky enough that the requests caused the email providers a good deal of trouble.
If the government was making such murky requests, don’t you think Congress ought to know what those requests were in more detail?
That is, since email providers just made a very strong statement against immunity, shouldn’t we be asking them why they’re opposed to it?
Pelosi, having just spoken at length about about separation of powers, then said that immunity wasn’t the only issue, exclusivity was important as well.
Note, I’m not sure I can dispute Paul Kiel’s description, though I don’t remember Pelosi emphasizing exclusivity in the way his post suggests at all. I certainly didn’t hear her say immunity is the issue, but then I was listening for my answer. Continue reading