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Obama signs law barring Gitmo trials in US

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* Bill includes sections blocking funding for transfer of suspects from Gitmo to US

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama, in a setback to hopes for the quick closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison, reluctantly signed a bill on Friday barring suspects held there from being brought to the United States for trial.

Making plain he would fight to repeal language in the law obstructing civilian US trials for Guantanamo terrorism suspects, Obama said he was left with no choice but to sign the defence authorisation act for fiscal 2011.

“Despite my strong objection to these provisions, which my administration has consistently opposed, I have signed this act because of the importance of authorising appropriations for, among other things, our military activities in 2011,” Obama said in a statement. Obama has vowed to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which has drawn international condemnation for the treatment of detainees, but has met stiff resistance at home.

The bill includes sections blocking funding for the transfer of suspects from the Guantanamo prison to the United States. It also restricts the use of funds to ship them to other countries, unless specified conditions are met.

“The prosecution of terrorists in federal court is a powerful tool in our efforts to protect the nation and must be among the options available to us,” Obama said. “Any attempt to deprive the executive branch of that tool undermines our nation’s counter-terrorism efforts.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the legislation Obama signed into law showed there was overwhelming bipartisan opposition to bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States for trial and detention. “When it comes to terrorism, we should err on the side of protecting the American people,” McConnell said in a statement.

The provisions expire on September 30, at the end of the current fiscal year.

‘Betrayed Pakistan doesn’t trust us’

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WASHINGTON: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said US and Pakistan can resolve issues that led to the closure of a major supply route for US and Nato operations in Afghanistan, and he hasn’t yet seen any major impact from the closure.

The US military has analysed the situation to determine what the effects would be if the route was closed for a longer period, the Admiral told reporters between speaking engagements this week in Tucson, Arizona, but officials are hoping such a closure can be averted, the Pentagon reported on Sunday.

“I believe we will figure a way to work our way through this,” Mullen said, emphasising Pakistanís importance as a strategic partner. Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 20 times since taking the top military post in 2007, said the United States had been working to rebuild Pakistani trust. How thatís resolved, hesaid, will go a long way towards shaping the future US-Pakistani relationship.

Pakistan closed the crossing at Torkham Gate along its northwestern border with Afghanistan after Nato helicopters ‘mistakenly’ killed several Pakistani border guards September 30, the Pentagon news report said.

“We left them in a dark hole from about 1990 to 2002, and they donít trust us,” the US military leader said. “We are trying to rebuild that trust. And itís basically coming, but you donít rebuild it overnight,” Mullen remarked.

This effort, Mullen noted, comes at a time of enormous challenge for Pakistan, whose border with Afghanistan, he claimed, is the epicenter of terrorism. This summer’s unprecedented monsoon flooding – that submerged one fifth of the country’s land and affected around 21 million people – has compounded Pakistanís struggles.

They have just been devastated, said Mullen, who toured flood-stricken areas of Pakistan last month with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff. Meanwhile, the American military continues to provide relief to flood victims in northwestern Pakistan. US military aid operations began August 5 with Army helicopters from Afghanistan delivering supplies and rescuing those trapped by flooding.

Marine helicopters from the USS Peleliu replaced the Army aircraft, and together they have delivered more than 8 million pounds or relief supplies, reported Department of Defense spokesman Marine Col. David Lapan.

Air Force C-130s and C-17s have been delivering aid since Aug. 16. As of last week, airmen have delivered more than 5.5 million pounds of aid. This brings the total to almost 13.7 million pounds of aid, Lapan said.

The US military aircraft have rescued more than 20,000 displaced Pakistanis, the Pentagon said. Flood relief efforts continue, Lapan said. It has not been curbed, but there are ongoing discussions about what the need is, because there are now roads open that were not previously.

Investigators claim US money is funding Afghan Taliban

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Investigators say the US military has been giving tens of millions of dollars to Afghan security firms who are channelling the money to warlords.


The US military report follows a six-month investigation

Trucks carrying supplies to US troops allegedly pay the firms to ensure their safe passage in dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

The convoys are attacked if payments are not made, according to allegations on a US military document.

The congressional report follows a six-month investigation.

The document states that trucks carrying food, water, fuel, and ammunition may be supplying up to $4 million (£2.7m) per week to the firms.

A US congressional committee is expected to hear the evidence on the investigation from senior officials at the US Department of Defense later on Tuesday.

‘Vast protection racket’

The congressional subcommittee that carried out the investigation says that bribes are paid to the Taliban and virtually every governor, police chief and local military commander whose territory the convoys pass through.

One of the security companies in question is alleged to be owned by two cousins of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The report released late on Monday says the security agreements violate laws on the use of private contractors, as well as US Department of Defense regulations.

The report states that “although the warlords do provide guards and coordinate security, the contractors have little choice but to use them in what amounts to a vast protection racket”.

The document states that security companies hired under the Afghan Host Nation Trucking are the ones funneling the money.

Watan Risk management is one of the largest security providers in Afghanistan and one of the companies currently under investigation.

The military report states that representatives of the company allegedly negotiate or dictate the price of safe passage in a given area. The company then issues warnings to trucking companies who are late in paying or refuse to pay the sum.

A spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, confirmed to the AP news agency that the inquiry is taking place.

The report comes as the number of US casualties is rising in Afghanistan, and suggests not only that money from the US tax payer is being used to finance the enemy, but also to undermine international efforts towards stability in the country.

WikiLeaks to release film of US Afghan air strike

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By Chris McGreal

WASHINGTON: The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks says it plans to release a secret military video of one of the deadliest US air strikes in Afghanistan in which scores of children are believed to have been killed.

WikiLeaks announced the move in an email to supporters. It said it fears it is under attack after the US authorities said they were searching for the site’s founder, Julian Assange, following the arrest of a US soldier accused of leaking the Afghanistan video and another of a US attack in Baghdad in which civilians were killed.

WikiLeaks released the Baghdad video in April, prompting considerable criticism of the US military. It says it is still working to prepare the film of the bombing of the Afghan village of Garani in May 2009.

The Afghan government said about 140 civilians were killed in Garani, including 92 children. The US military initially said up to 95 people died, of which about 65 were insurgents. However, American officials have since wavered on that claim and a subsequent investigation admitted mistakes were made during the attack.

The video could prove to be extremely embarrassing to the US military and risks weakening Afghan support. The US said it was targeting Taliban positions when it used weapons that create casualties over a wide area, including one-tonne bombs and others that burst in the air. But two US military officials told a newspaper last year that no one checked to see whether there were women and children in the buildings.

The US commander, General David Petraeus, said a year ago the military’s video of the attack would be made public as evidence that the US assault on Garani was justified. But it was not released.

In an email to supporters, Assange said WikiLeaks has the Garani video and “a lot of other material that exposes human rights abuses by the US government”.

Last week, it was revealed that US authorities are trying to make contact with Assange to press him not to publish information the Pentagon says could endanger national security. Assange cancelled an appearance in Las Vegas last Friday.

In his email, Assange also calls on supporters to protect the website from “attack” by the authorities following the detention of a US soldier, Bradley Manning, who was arrested in Iraq after admitting to a former hacker that he leaked the Garani and Baghdad videos to WikiLeaks.

U.S. hopes to give Pakistan drones within a year

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The Pentagon aims to deliver a fleet of surveillance drones to Pakistan within a year, but weaponized versions of the unmanned aircraft are still off-limits, a U.S. military official said on Monday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced plans in January to provide Islamabad with what aides said at the time were 12 Shadow drones, aiming to boost its ability to track insurgents.

But a senior U.S. military official, briefing reporters at the Pentagon on the condition of anonymity, said Islamabad was still weighing whether Shadow drones were the model of unmanned aircraft best suited to its needs.

“We looked at Shadows. We looked at Scan Eagles and other tactical UAVs that are out and about and what we want to do is try to find out” which model is best, the official said, referring to drones as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

Shadows are manufactured by AAI Corporation, a unit of Textron Systems, while Scan Eagles are manufactured by Boeing Co.

Islamabad has also pressed for weaponized drones, like the ones the CIA is covertly using in Pakistan to track and kill al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.

The official, asked about that request, said general U.S. policy was not to export weaponized capabilities of any drone aircraft. Washington has been reluctant to share sensitive technology so far.

The number of surveillance drones that the United States would eventually provide to Pakistan depends on the cost of the model selected, the official said.

“A key factor will be how quickly we can get the capabilities to them,” the official said.

Pressed on timing, the official said: “I would like to think that we would get them there within a year.”

Pakistan is already using some non-U.S., imported drone technology and has modified a C-130 military transport aircraft to allow some surveillance activities, the official said.

Drones have proven to be a crucial technological advantage for the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, allowing it to remotely track militants and giving commanders battleground imagery in real time.

Gates told a Senate hearing last week it was in the U.S. interest to try to help close allies get drone technology, despite limitations on exports imposed by an international pact, known as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The MTCR is a pact among at least 34 countries aimed at curbing the spread of unmanned delivery systems that could be used for weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. judge orders release of Guantanamo detainee

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A federal judge ordered on Monday that a man accused of having ties to some of the hijackers in the September 11, 2001, attacks, be released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


A guard tower of Camp Delta is seen at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba September 4, 2007.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi of Mauritania was described in the report of the 9/11 Commission that investigated the hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon as “a significant al Qaeda operative” who helped arrange for the Hamburg cell members to travel to Afghanistan for training.

The ruling by Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordering Slahi’s release from the controversial prison for foreign terrorism suspects, was classified.

A declassified version, with details of the judge’s decision, is expected to be released later. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency “was reviewing the decision.”

The ruling came as President Barack Obama’s administration has been struggling to close the Guantanamo prison. Obama has argued that anti-American militants have used it as a recruiting tool for their causes.

Some detainees are expected to be prosecuted, while others have been cleared for release, although the administration has had some trouble finding places to send them.

Obama officials have said that detainees who still pose a threat but win release through the courts could still be held under the Authorization of Use of Military Force that the U.S. Congress approved in 2001. The administration could also appeal the ruling.

In his habeas corpus petition in 2008 seeking release from the Guantanamo prison, his lawyers argued Slahi had been subject to harsh interrogation techniques authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

WELL-KNOWN TO INTELLIGENCE FIGURES

In 1999, Slahi was well known to U.S. and German intelligence officials, although they did not know he was in Germany at the time, according to the 9/11 report.

He was approached by a few individuals interested in fighting in Chechnya, including two of the hijackers on September 11, and Ramzi Binalshibh, the roommate of a third hijacker, Mohamed Atta, the report said.

Instead, Slahi recommended they go to Afghanistan for training. They took his advice, met various al Qaeda members there and the plot began to take shape, the report said, citing intelligence and interrogations.

Slahi said he turned himself in to authorities in Mauritania weeks after the 2001 attacks and was taken to Jordan where he was interrogated for several months before being sent to Afghanistan and then to the U.S. prison in Cuba, according to transcripts of his American military tribunal proceedings.

During those proceedings, he also said he had been to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, received weapons training, and had been a member of al Qaeda, although he said he broke ties when he left the country in 1992, according to the transcript.

The War on Afghan Civilians

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By DAVE LINDORFF

Three months after it initially lied about the murder by US forces of eight high school students and a 12-year-old shepherd boy in Afghanistan, and a month after it lied about the slaughter by US forces of an Afghan police commander, a government prosecutor, two of their pregnant wives and a teenage daughter, the US military has been forced to admit (thanks in no small part to the excellent investigative reporting of Jerome Starkey of the London Times), that these and other atrocities were the work of American Special Forces, working in conjunction with “specially trained” (by the US) units of the Afghan Army.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of the US war effort in Afghanistan, is he is taking over “direct charge” of Special Forces operations because of “concern” that they were not following his orders to make limiting civilian casualties a “paramount” objective. McChrystal is quoted as saying the US military “carries the burden of the guilt” for the “mistakes” made by those Special Forces.

This has to be a sick joke. These incidents were not mistakes; they were planned actions. It’s all the sicker because we know that the US is busy training the Afghan Army to take over this kind of dirty work. And besides, even if McChrystal does assume direct command over Special Forces, that would leave unaccounted for the tens of thousands of private mercenary units hired by the US who are working completely in the shadows for the CIA or other organizations. (One such group hired buy the Defense Department, which posed as an intelligence-gathering operation, was recently exposed as actually being a privately run death squad.)

McChrystal, recall, was in charge of a huge and brutal death squad operation in Iraq before he was given his new assignment in Afghanistan, and at the time he was put in charge of the Afghanistan War, it was reported that he was planning to put in place a similar operation in Afghanistan, designed to take out the Taliban leadership in the country.

What we have been seeing in Afghanistan–and this goes way back to before the appointment of McChrystal, or even the election of President Barack Obama, and his subsequent escalation of the war–has been a vicious campaign of terror against the Afghan people.

It should be no surprise that this is so. It is the way the US has always done counterinsurgency. In a war in which the insurgents (or patriots, if you will–the people fighting against foreign occupiers, or in out case, the US) are a part of the people, and American forces are the invaders, the goal is to drive a wedge between those fighters and the rest of the population.

In Pentagon propaganda, this is referred to as “winning the hearts and minds” of the people, but in reality, the US military doesn’t give a damn about hearts and minds. It simply wants the people to become unwilling to hide or support the enemy fighters it is facing. If it can accomplish that by making people afraid, then that is what it will do, and making people afraid is much easier than “winning hearts and minds.”

How do you make people afraid of supporting or hiding and protecting enemy fighters like the Taliban? You terrorize them. You bomb their homes. You conduct night raids on their homes. You bomb their weddings and their excursions to neighboring towns or markets. You shoot them when they get too close to your vehicles.

Statistics show that the US has, in both Iraq and now Afghanistan, routinely killed more civilians than actual enemy fighters. That tells us all we need to know about what is really going on. America is fighting a war of terror against the people of Afghanistan.

No amount of feigned public hand-wringing by the blood-stained Gen. McChrystal, or of assertions that he is going to assume direct control (from whom? are we to assume that they were operating without direction before?) of the Special Operations troops in the country, will alter that fact. Civilians–including especially women and children–in Afghanistan will continue to die in prodigious numbers because that is how the US fights its wars these days.

The people of Afghanistan know this. That’s why the majority of them want the US out of their country.

It’s Americans who don’t know the truth, and it’s Americans who are really the target of statements from the Pentagon and from Gen. McChrystal claiming that the US is taking steps, nine years into this war, to “reduce civilian casualties” in Afghanistan. It doesn’t help that news organizations like the New York Times propagate that propaganda, as the paper did today in a lead headline that said: “US is Reining in Special Forces in Afghanistan. General Takes Control. McChrystal has Raised Civilian Casualties as a Concern.” It simply wouldn’t do to tell Americans that their country is conducting a war of terror. We are supposed to be the good guys who are bringing peace and democracy to a benighted land.

So let’s just face the facts squarely. The US is not the good guy in Afghanistan. It is an agent of death and destruction. Just check out the town of Marjah, largely destroyed over the last few months in order to “save” it from a handful of Taliban fighters. Over 30 civilians died in that American show of force, and the message of those deaths was clear: allow the Taliban to operate in your town, and we’ll kill you–not just your men, but your wives and your children, too.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 19, 2010 at 6:55 am