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Archive for June, 2009

Posted by Russ Wellen on June 8th, 2009

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The Obama administration has just come up with another way to sweep torture under the rug — allowing detainees facing the death penalty to plead guilty without a full trial. What’s the point of that? The New York Times explains:

The provision could permit military prosecutors to avoid airing the details of brutal interrogation techniques.

If you’re thinking that’s as self-serving as it is transparent, never fear — the administration also has the interests of detainees at heart:

It could also allow the five detainees who have been charged with the Sept. 11 attacks to achieve their stated goal of pleading guilty to gain what they have called martyrdom.

Expediting martyrdom — never let it be said the United States isn’t a full-service detainer.

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Posted by Chris Bowers on June 6th, 2009

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Thursday, Democrats pulled supplemental funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. They did this because a combination of progressive opposition to the war itself, and Republican opposition to the IMF funding in the bill, would have sent it to defeat in the House.

Now, they are looking to pass the bill by attaching a popular program creating $4,500 vouchers for new, fuel efficient vehicles when people they trade in older, less-efficient vehicles. From Reuters:

U.S. congressional Democrats are considering fast-tracking legislation to boost auto sales by offering Americans vouchers to trade in older, less fuel-efficient vehicles for ones that get better mileage, a congressional aide said on Thursday.
The legislation, known as “cash for clunkers,” would be added to a pending war funding measure in Congress, but “no final decisions have been made” despite wide support for the voucher program, said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The war funding bill is a must-pass spending bill that is largely for U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. Adding the car program would speed the voucher measure’s enactment into law.

Perhaps the author of the article is unaware of the actual politics taking place here. The final line should read “Democratic lawmakers likely hope that adding the car program would speed the passage of the supplemental funding bill.” After all, this move is not designed to help pass the popular voucher plan, but to pass the war supplemental.

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Posted by MajorMatthew on June 5th, 2009

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For those looking for a concrete example of how President Obama’s speech in Cairo makes us safer, let me offer one. His quoting of the Quran was monumental in bridging the divide between Western and Muslim cultures and ensuring our cooperation against extremists.

While conducting interrogations of high-level Al Qaida leaders in Iraq, my team and I often sat down face-to-face with some of the most hardened terrorists — the men behind the waves of suicide bombings. Instead of using waterboarding, we got to know our detainees and discovered that the key to securing cooperation starts with dialogue.

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Posted by Chris Bowers on June 4th, 2009

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In President Obama’s big speech today, he offered up the following rationale for continued American military presence in Afghanistan (hat-tip: David Mizner in Quick Hits):

Make no mistake: we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

If we are keeping troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan until there are no violent extremists bent on killing Americans, then it is highly likely that we will be keeping a large military presence in the region during the entirety of President Obama’s administration. And probably beyond then, too.

Are we really going to root out every last Afghani and Pakistani who wants to kill Americans? The refugee crisis in Pakistan has now displaced over two million people, and the American drone attacks in the region are part of cause. Further, thousands of Afghani civilians have been killed during the war, and it seems unlikely that none of the survivors will become violent extremists determined to kill Americans.

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Posted by TheNation on June 4th, 2009

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At a the forum “Obama at 100: A Progress Report from The Nation” held on April 21, 2009 in Washington DC, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed the refreshing rhetorical change the Obama presidency had brought to American foreign policy. However, quoting the president, vanden Heuvel pointed out that “the greatest test is ‘not only words, but also deeds’” and, in his conduct of the war in Afghanistan, she feared Obama may not be passing the test.

“I do see parallels with Vietnam,” vanden Heuvel warned. “If we are interested in seeing a successful Obama presidency… we as allies do a service to the nation and this administration by speaking out and offering smart alternatives” such as an Congressional hearings, an exit strategy and visibility to antiwar efforts.

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Posted by ZP Heller on June 3rd, 2009

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Just who is Dr. Roshanak Wardak? She is a member of Afghanistan’s parliament--one of 68 women in the lower house–committed to women’s rights issues, as well as rebuilding schools and hospitals. Before turning to politics, Dr. Wardak was a gynecologist who practiced for 30 years, during which time she worked with Afghan women in refugee camps in Pakistan. She has witnessed the devastation this war has wrought upon innocent Afghan civilians; she has even experienced it firsthand. Six months ago, a Predator drone bomb landed 200 meters from her house.

As The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim reported, “The blast, [Dr. Wardak] says, lifted her house off the ground and woke up the village. The curious went to see what happened. That’s when the second drone struck, killing roughly 15 civilians.”

We need to hear from experts like Dr. Wardak who understand the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, particularly as our country is sending more troops and more airstrikes, which, as we saw last month, result in rampant civilian deaths that fuel anti-American sentiment. That’s why Brave New Foundation brought her to Washington, DC this week for the America’s Future Now! conference and to meet with members of Congress.

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Posted by alexthurston on June 3rd, 2009

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Yesterday Jason Rosenbaum and I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Roshak Wardak, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament who is attending the America’s Future Now conference in Washington DC this week. Dr. Wardak will speak later this morning on a panel with Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films and Anand Gopal of the Christian Science Monitor. Following the panel, the same presenters will hold a congressional briefing this afternoon entitled “Rethink Afghanistan: A View from the Ground.”

Our conversation with Dr. Wardak began centered on politics and violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We began by discussing the upcoming presidential elections this August, when Hamid Karzai will face some forty challengers from across Afghanistan, very few of them serious. Dr. Wardak seemed to think an upset of Karzai was possible, but not likely.

When I asked whether the elections would bring an uptick in violence, Dr. Wardak said that much depends on the trajectory of the fighting between Pakistan’s government and the Pakistani Taliban. That conflict, she said, is keeping Taliban forces busy in Pakistan when otherwise they would be continuing to cross the border and reinforce their compatriots in Afghanistan. Dr. Wardak believes in the short term that the Pakistani military will overwhelm the Pakistani Taliban, but warned that the Taliban have enduring appeal in tribal regions, possibly making them a long-term threat. Her greatest fear, she said, is that the Pakistani Taliban would gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal – in which case, she believes, nuclear weapons would not be used against India or Israel, but rather against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, she seemed to view the collapse of Pakistan as unlikely, and only foresaw a military coup in the event that the situation in Pakistan began to completely unravel.

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Posted by Siun on June 2nd, 2009

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On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the confirmation of Lt. General Stanley McChrystal to take over command of Afghanistan – but as Spencer has reported, the hearings are being stage managed to generate a swift confirmation by combining it with the hearings for two others.

While the media focuses on McChrystal’s involvement with the Tillman case (in which he was cleared of wrongdoing), there are other questions that need to be answered.

All too conveniently, the recent decision by President Obama to block the publication of the torture photos may also be a way to smooth his appointment.

At the least, an uproar caused by the release of those photos would likely lead the Senators to ask some pointed questions about actions under McChrystal’s earlier command – at most, those very photos might contain direct documentation of the abuses uncovered by Human Rights Watch and others at Camp Nama, the detention center he commanded in Iraq.

But even without that photographic evidence, there are serious grounds to question this appointment.

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Posted by Ralph Lopez on June 2nd, 2009

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A city full of formidable-looking men with automatic weapons posted at gates and doors. There is no hostility in the dark-eyed gazes under thatches of jet-black hair as you pass by them to walk inside a restaurant or hotel. They respond politely in kind when you say “salaam” and place your hand over your heart, in the warm greeting meaning “peace.” These are your guards against the bad guys, whoever they are, and they look like swell fellows. They can be a bit disheveled in threadbare tan uniforms or street clothes. What not disheveled is the alertness in their eyes and the easy and expert manner with their weapons. I’ll sleep well knowing ours is posted at the door of the hotel compound tonight. No one’s getting past this guy.

Other than a couple of military helicopters overhead once or twice, not much of an American military presence. Smart. Put on jeans and a tee-shirt and mind your own business, and in many parts of the you’ll have no problem. Putting on a foreign uniform and carrying a weapon, though, is a challenge to the blood of all Afghans

The image of the little starving girl on the Youtube video haunts me. How can that be after the U.S. had a full five years to stabilize the country, with the run of the countryside while there was no real insurgency to speak of? IEDs against U.S forces were almost non-existent until 2005. Journalist Ann Jones says that after the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban, people were full of hope and ready to work, to build their country, finally, after 30 years of war of one kind or another. And then…nothing.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on June 1st, 2009

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(Cross-posted on TomDispatch.com)

It might be terrible times for so many companies suffering through a global economic meltdown, but in the war zone, there seems to be no recession in sight. In fact, with “Obama’s war” in the expanding Afghanistan/Pakistan theater of operations revving up, there’s likely to be money to the horizon, bases to build, and ever more troops to supply. As it happens, the management of KBR, formerly a part of Halliburton and the main builder and supplier of American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, is feeling in the pink.

KBR is, of course, little short of notorious. The darling of the neocons and Dick Cheney’s baby — in his pre-Vice Presidential days he was the CEO of its then-parent corporation, Halliburton — it was one of the prime winners of the Bush administration’s privatization sweepstakes. Think of it as the Blackwater of construction companies. But somehow, despite hatfuls of charges against the company for a laundry list of alleged misdeeds as well as for war profiteering, it recently announced that revenues in the first quarter of 2009 were actually up 27% — to a hefty $3.2 billion. Moreover, according to the Financial Times, “KBR’s backlog of projects grew 8% last year and sales rose 33%. KBR has $1 [billion] in cash, no debt, and is looking for acquisitions.” Its stock is doing swimmingly; it’s managing to make the transfer from Republican to Democratic Washington; and its CEO William Utt states confidently, “We know we can withstand any length of this crisis — or depth.”

Journalist Pratap Chatterjee knows KBR intimately. He’s checked out its military dining halls, spent time with some of its 50,000 workers, and interviewed its officials. He’s also written a remarkable book on KBR and its former parent, Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. Now he follows both companies into a strangely cleansed future of oil and war. Tom

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