Archive | April 2013

US drones was targeting unidentified militants who posed no threat

Top secret documents show that half of those killed in a year were ‘unknown extremists’

The US government was accused of hiding the truth about its drone programme after leaked intelligence files revealed that it was targeting unidentified militants who posed no immediate threat to the United States.

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Despite President Barack Obama’s public promise that the CIA’s armed Predators and Reapers were only firing on those suspected of plotting against America, top-secret documents show that in one year alone almost half of those killed were simply listed as “unknown extremists”.

The documents, obtained by US news agency McClatchy, also reveal Pakistan’s intelligence agency was co-operating with the US at the same time as its government was condemning drone strikes on its soil.

“There is now mounting evidence that the Obama administration is misleading the American public – and the world at large – about the drone war it is waging in Pakistan,” said Jennifer Gibson, a lawyer working with the British human rights charity Reprieve.

“The reports show a significant number of the strikes have nothing to do with al-Qa’ida. Instead, they may have been a quid pro quo exchange between two countries’ spy agencies. The result  is that the US often doesn’t know who it is killing.”

The US has come under increasing international pressure to open up its decision-making process to scrutiny following claims that the drone programme has killed hundreds of civilians among an estimated death toll of 2,500, predominantly in Pakistan and Yemen. Preparations are in place to transfer more control of the programme from the CIA to the Pentagon, in a move said to herald greater transparency.

The US intelligence reports leaked to McClatchy covered, its reporters said, most of the drone strikes in Pakistan during 2006 to 2008 as well as 2010 to 2011. Most of the attacks targeted al-Qa’ida but many were aimed at the Haqqani network and factions of the Pakistani Taliban.

At least 265 of the 482 people killed by the CIA programme in the 12 months up to September 2011 were listed as Afghan, Pakistani or “unknown extremists”.

This contrasts sharply with US administration’s claim that drones are only used to target “senior operational leaders” in al-Qa’ida, those involved in the 11 September 2001 attacks or individuals plotting imminent attacks on the US.

Last night a spokesman for the US Department of Defence said neither they nor the CIA commented on intelligence matters.

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Clashes as Chilean students stage protests

Tens of thousands take to the streets in one of the largest demonstrations demanding free education.

Tens of thousands of students flooded the streets of Chile on Thursday in one of the largest demonstrations demanding free education.

After two years of student marches that have paralysed Chile’s major cities and generated expectations of change to a troubled system, the crisis over education reform remains a key electoral issue ahead of November’s presidential election.

Thursday’s protests were mostly peaceful. Students waved flags, chanted slogans and danced in the streets in a festive atmosphere recalling the creative marches of 2011, when thousands dressed as superheroes, staged mass kiss-ins and danced like zombies to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

But the marches, which are often infiltrated by violent anarchist groups, also ended with clashes between police and hooded vandals. Police arrested 109 people, including 24 minors, and at least six police agents were injured.

Student organisers estimated the crowd in the Chilean capital on Thursday at about 150,000 people. City officials said the number was closer to 80,000.

Local media called it one of the largest marches in Santiago in more than two decades.

‘Here to stay’

The size of the protest showed the strength of the student movement in an election year, said student leader Camila Vallejo.

“This symbolises that the student and social movement didn’t go home and that that the movement is here to stay,” Vallejo told local ADN radio.

The protests began during the 2006-2010 government of Michelle Bachelet and grew into strikes and school takeovers that forced her to shuffle her Cabinet. Bachelet tried unsuccessfully to calm the movement by naming a committee to discuss student demands.

The protests have turned into a bigger headache for president Sebastian Pinera, whose government is focusing a chunk of the 2013 budget on financing school loans at lower rates.

But students say it’s not enough because the system is still fails them with poor public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and unaffordable loans.

Chile’s higher education burden is the toughest of nearly any nation surveyed by the multi-nation Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or the OECD. While families in Scandinavian countries pay less than 5 percent of the costs and U.S. families pay more than 40 percent,

Chilean households must pay more than 75 percent from their own pockets. The government’s share has been enough to provide only the brightest and poorest students with scholarships and grants.

Student leaders want to change the tax system so the rich pay more. They also want the state back in control of the mostly privatised public universities to ensure quality. They say change will come when the private sector is regulated and education is no longer a for-profit business.

Bachelet, 62, returned last month to Chile following a two-year stint heading the UN women’s agency in New York. She has announced her presidential bid and says if she wins a second term in office, she will try to end for-profit education.

“I believe the education effort must be infinitely more integrating, more inclusive and take care of the quality, of the barriers that block access to financing, of the segregation,” Bachelet told the weekly newspaperThe Clinic in an interview published on Thursday.

Internal debate within Hezbollah is intensifying over its role in Syria

So far, Hezbollah fighters killed in Syria number at least 20. The last two died a few days ago in an engagement against the Free Syrian Army in the al-Qassir region of Homs’ countryside, close to the Lebanese border.

Within the social base of the party, there now exists a debate that is expected to gain momentum with time, concerning the usefulness of sending young Shiite men to die in Syria, in defense of a cause that has nothing to do with the party’s declared purpose of protecting Lebanon from Israel.

Day by day, this debate is growing more and more into a protest movement that grows in intensity with the rising involvement of Hezbollah in Syria’s internal war, and the increase in the number of its dead there. It should be noted here that the party’s fighting force is almost entirely composed of Lebanese Shiites who primarily hail from two main areas: South Lebanon’s border region with Israel, and the Bekaa region adjacent to Syria.

While the party’s political leadership is primarily comprised of southerners, the Bekaa provides the majority of its fighters, for the Bekaa is known as at the “human reservoir” of the resistance movement. Each of these regions possesses its own psychological makeup that emanates from their social, cultural and economic peculiarities.

The south, for example, is more encouraging of education, with its sons accumulating political experience gained through their involvement in left-wing Lebanese movements during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as their high level of affiliation with Palestinian organizations at that time. Economically, the south traditionally lived off of agriculture — primarily tobacco and citrus fruits. Yet with the rise of Imam Moussa al-Sadr (the founder of the Amal movement), and then the ascent to power of Amal under the leadership of Speaker Nabih Berri, southern society underwent a period of social and economic development. This led to the growth of a middle class composed of business people and employees of various governmental institutions. Furthermore, a large proportion of the south’s expatriate sons working in Gulf countries and Africa have garnered success, to varying degrees.

On the other hand, the Bekaa was only marginally affected by the rise of the Shiite star on the Lebanese political scene. The reason for that is that educational levels in the region remained low, or even all but nonexistent in the more clan-oriented parts of the Bekaa.

In truth, the broader clan affiliation of Bekaa Shiites played a part in hindering their social and civic ascension towards modernity. The area long relied on the agriculture of cannabis. But, once the civil war ended, the Lebanese state destroyed the inhabitants’ cannabis crops, prevented them from re-growing such crops, and promised to provide them with an alternative, which it never did. This thus exacerbated the degree of poverty in the region.

Hezbollah, from its end, never adopted a policy of development towards the region, preferring to spread its authority there through the enlistment of thousands of the Bekaa’s sons as fighters drawing monthly wages. The aid provided by the party and Iran to the Bekaa’s Shiites is therefore nominal more than productive, which renders the economic and social crises even worse in a region that has always lacked a systematic and scientific plan to combat such problems.

The majority of Shiite militants who chose to fight alongside the Syrian regime came from the Bekaa.

Initially, Hezbollah gave members not belonging to its military wing the freedom to go to Syria without benefiting from party support. And so, Shiite fighters volunteered to go fight in Syria for three main reasons: The first was due to a fatwa (religious edict) issued by Hezbollah proclaiming that fighting in Syria was a form of Jihad (holy war). The second reason to fight resulted from the inflamed sectarian Shiite feeling of having to protect their religious shrines in Syria (the Sayyidah Zainab Shrine in Damascus and the Sayyidah Rouqayya Shrine in Douma, among others) from supposed Sunni usurpers. And the third emanated from financial need and Hezbollah’s ability to invest in the conflict as a result of its considerable and wide-ranging ability to mobilize people.

Lately, however, the party’s involvement in the fight in Syria has turned strategic, and has transcended offering the usual limited aid. Hezbollah’s leadership thus decided to enter the internal Syrian conflict for three main strategic considerations. First, the party believes that if it did not go to defend its Syrian regime ally, it would have to fight the common enemy it has with the regime, namely the Sunni Salafists. They believe the latter won’t stop at toppling the Syrian regime, but will move on to Lebanon to accomplish their mission of striking at Iran’s influence in the country, as well as that of its main ally there, Hezbollah. The second consideration has to do with the party’s belief that improving its internal political position requires that the situation in the region be in its favor; and it views the Syrian battlefield as the proper current venue to gauge the region’s pulse. Thirdly, there exists within the party an effective movement pressuring its leadership and demanding that Hezbollah not stand idly by while the so called Sunni Gulf aggression continues against Syria and its regime, characterized as having close ties to Iran and the Shiites.

In other words, this faction believes that the war for Syria not only constitutes an existential threat for that country’s regime, but also for all Shiites in the whole of the Arab world.

Ex-Pakistani President Musharraf admits secret deal with U.S. on drone strikes

Ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf acknowledged his government secretly signed off on U.S. drone strikes, the first time a top past or present Pakistani official has admitted publicly to such a deal.

Pakistani leaders long have openly challenged the drone program and insisted they had no part in it. Musharraf’s admission, though, suggests he and others did play some role, even if they didn’t oversee the program or approve every attack.

In an interview this week in Islamabad, Musharraf insisted Pakistan’s government signed off on strikes “only on a few occasions, when a target was absolutely isolated and no chance of collateral damage.”

Still, his admission that Pakistani leaders agreed to even a limited number of strikes runs counter to their repeated denunciations of a program they long claimed the United States was operating without their approval. The drone strikes — which the nonpartisan public policy group New American Foundation estimates have killed at least 1,990 people in Pakistan, including hundreds of civilians — are unpopular in Pakistan.

 

Secret drone deal between Pakistan, U.S.

 

Former Pakistani president’s new life

 

Shoe hurled at former Pakistani president

“Today, the world superpower is having its own way, without any consent from Pakistan,” former Interior Minister Rehman Malik said last month.

Despite such pronouncements, there’s been speculation that the story might have been different behind the scenes.

In a cable sent in August 2008 and later posted online by Wikileaks, then-U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson mentioned a discussion about drones during a meeting that also involved Malik and then-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

“Malik suggested we hold off alleged Predator attacks until after the Bajaur operation,” Patterson wrote. “The PM brushed aside Rehman’s remarks and said, ‘I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’ “

Unmanned U.S. drones began launching attacks in Pakistan in 2004, by which time Musharraf had been president for five years after taking power in a bloodless coup.

He said that Pakistani leaders would OK U.S. drone strikes after discussions involving military and intelligence units and only if “there was no time for our own … military to act.”

This happened “only rarely,” said Musharraf, who left office in 2008 and spent years in exile before returning to Pakistan last month to launch a political comeback. But sometimes, he said, “you couldn’t delay action.”

“These ups and downs kept going,” he said. “It was a very fluid situation, a vicious enemy, … mountains, inaccessible areas.”

Musharraf said that one of those killed by U.S. drones was Nek Mohammed, a tribal leader accused of harboring al Qaeda militants in Pakistan’s western border region. At the time, in June 2004, Pakistan intelligence sources said Mohammed died after Pakistani forces launched a missile at a house where he was staying.

A criminal investigation has begun into the death of a diabetic woman at scandal-hit Mid Staffs hospital

HSE launches investigation into Gillian Astbury’s 2007 death after she slipped into diabetic coma in scandal-hit hospital

A criminal investigation has begun into the death of a diabetic woman at scandal-hit Stafford Hospital, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has said.

Gillian Astbury died after slipping into a diabetic coma at the hospital in 2007. An inquest in 2010 found that the failure to administer insulin to the 66-year-old patient amounted to a gross failure to provide basic care.

The HSE said the decision to pursue the investigation into Astbury’s death was deferred until the conclusion of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which found as many as 1,200 patients needlessly died between 2005 and 2009 due to “appalling” failures of care.

A report by the chairman Robert Francis QC, published in February, highlighted “appalling and unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people” at the trust. The HSE confirmed their inspectors formally began an investigation on Thursday.

“Our focus will be on establishing whether there is evidence of the employer (the trust) or individuals failing to comply with their responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act.”

Astbury, from Hednesford, Staffordshire, died on 11 April 2007 while being treated for fractures to her arm and pelvis.

Jurors at the September 2010 inquest found that a contributory factor in her death was a systemic failure to provide adequate nursing facilities and low staffing levels.

The inquest heard that Astbury’s blood sugar levels were not properly monitored and insulin was not administered on the day before her death, despite being prescribed by doctors.

A police investigation was launched after her death, but the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.

The director of quality and patient experience at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, Julie Hendry, pledge to co-operate with the HSE investigation and apologised for the “appalling care” Astbury received.

‘Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms,’ said PKK commander Murat Karayilan.

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In a safe house made of cinder blocks and surrounded by grazing goats and sheep, nestled high in the remote mountains of northern Iraq, a Kurdish fighter who has waged a guerrilla war against Turkey for nearly three decades remains defiant in the face of peace.

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Murat Karayilan, military leader of the Kurdish rebels, said, “Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms.”

The New York Times

Mr. Karayilan is negotiating from a mountain redoubt in Iraq.

Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

A banner depicting Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish leader.

“Our forces believe they can achieve results through war,” said the fighter,Murat Karayilan, who commands the thousands of fighters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or the P.K.K.

For all the costs of the long war, Mr. Karayilan, his fighters and millions of Kurds believe it helped them achieve something they never would have without armed struggle: a recognition of Kurdish identity and more democratic rights.

Now, as the P.K.K. negotiates peace with Turkey to end one of the Middle East’s most intractable conflicts, it is clinging to its guns despite demands by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, that it lay them down as a condition of talks. This defiance suggests that the peace process, despite the hope it has engendered on both sides, could be longer and more arduous than at first anticipated.

“Our guerrillas cannot give up their arms,” said Mr. Karayilan, in an interview here in the safe house, which had a freezer full of ice cream and satellite television despite its remote location. “It is the last issue, something to discuss as a last issue to this process.”

The shape of a peace deal is being negotiated in the Turkish capital, Ankara, and in the island prison cell of Abdullah Ocalan, the P.K.K. leader and philosopher-king of Turkey’s Kurdish resistance. But it has fallen to Mr. Karayilan to manage the peace process from his mountain redoubt in this lawless nook of Iraq, where the only authority is that wielded by gun-toting Kurdish rebels who operate checkpoints and live in caves at remote outposts.

The skies above these mountains have gone quiet, for now, as the bombing runs by Turkish planes, their pick of targets aided by imagery provided by American drones, have ceased in order to allow the talks to proceed.

Since a cease-fire was announced in March by Mr. Ocalan, pausing a war that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since it began in 1984, Mr. Karayilan has been holding meetings and conferences with his followers to convince them of the merits of a deal that many of them are reluctant to accept for one overriding reason.

The rank and file, he said, “do not believe and trust the approach of Turkey.”

Mr. Erdogan, whose efforts at peace could establish his legacy as a peacemaker and propel him to the presidency next year, has demanded that the thousands of fighters scattered around Turkey lay down their weapons before withdrawing to safe havens in these mountains.

“We don’t care where those withdrawing leave their weapons or even whether they bury them,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent television interview. “They must put them down and go. Because otherwise this situation is very open to provocation.”

Mr. Erdogan has also resisted new legislation, demanded by Mr. Karayilan’s party, to ensure the safety of retreating rebels. Instead, he has created a so-called committee of wise men, including Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals and leaders, to promote the peace talks.

Mr. Karayilan criticized Mr. Erdogan’s tactics, saying: “It needs a serious approach. Erdogan does not approach it seriously; he doesn’t understand the deep history. Everyone has to know that our guerrilla forces have continued our struggle successfully to this day.”

But Mr. Karayilan’s defiant words are tempered by his desire for peace. The latest cease-fire is the ninth announced by the P.K.K., which was designated a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe in 1993. Years ago the party gave up its ambition to create a separate Kurdish state, and it now says it will exchange peace for the expansion of Kurdish rights enshrined in a new constitution and the release of thousands of political prisoners from Turkish prisons.

“We want to solve our problems through peace and dialogue,” Mr. Karayilan said. “That is what we believe.”

But, he said, “if they do not accept Kurds as equal citizens, this problem cannot be solved.”

As the commander of the P.K.K., Mr. Karayilan also has influence — if not outright authority — over the group’s offshoot in Syria, the Democratic Union Party, or the P.Y.D., which has taken up arms in that country’s civil war to defend Kurdish areas. He and many other Kurds believe that the close relationship between the West, including the United States, and Turkey has been at the expense of the Kurds.

“In Syria, Kurds represent more secular and democratic groups,” he said. “However, the West is not developing relations with the Kurds in Syria. Why? Because of their relations with Turkey.”

This region, high in the Qandil mountain range, is within Iraq’s territory but beyond the control of any government authority. The rubble of houses that residents say were destroyed in recent years by Turkish warplanes can be seen from the road. On the side of one steep and narrow mountain passage sits the gnarled mess of a car — a memorial, a sign posted nearby says, to a family of seven killed in a Turkish airstrike.

Civilians here say they trust the guerrillas to mediate disputes and provide services. “In the cities, if you have a problem, you go to court,” said Kadir Ibrahim, a villager who said his home had been destroyed by a Turkish airstrike. “Here, the P.K.K. solves the problems. They are very polite. It’s unfair to call them terrorists. They are very polite and peaceful. They are just asking for their rights.”

At a time of revolution across the Middle East, it is time, Kurds say, for them to seize their rights and secure a better future. Millions of Kurds are spread across Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran, and they have long dreamed of independence. “Now, the world is different,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Everything is different than before.”

With his bushy mustache and easy smile, Mr. Karayilan, who became commander of the P.K.K. after Mr. Ocalan was arrested in 1999, has an avuncular manner that belies his designation by the American government as a terrorist leader and kingpin (a label the Treasury Department applied to him in 2009 after determining that his organization raised money by smuggling drugs to Europe).

He sat in a back room of the safe house, with a yellow banner of Mr. Ocalan fastened to the wall. The air was sticky, and guerrillas carrying rifles served him tea.

If the war ends, he said, he hopes to return to Turkey to play a political role in advancing Kurdish rights. “After we put violence aside, then a democratic society has to be formed,” Mr. Karayilan said.

If the war does not end, though, he is ready to fight again.

“If this does not happen, there will be a great war,” he said.

Oliver Stone meets Julian Assange and criticises new Wikileaks films

Director visits Julian Assange at Ecuadorian embassy in London and praises the Wikileaks founder’s strength of mind

Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone has attacked two forthcoming films about Julian Assange after revealing that he met the Wikileaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last week.

Stone, a long-time supporter of Assange, tweeted a picture of himself with the political activist. He wrote: ”A sad occasion in that Julian could not follow me out the door. He lives in a tiny room with great modesty and discipline.”

In further tweets, Stone added: ”Strong mind, no sun, friends who visit, work to be done, one documentary coming out from Alex Gibney that is not expected to be kind.

”Another film from Dreamworks which is also going to be unfriendly … I don’t think most people in the US realise how important Wikileaks is and why Julian’s case needs support.

”Julian Assange did much for free speech and is now being victimised by the abusers of that concept.”

The films criticised by Stone were Alex Gibney‘s forthcoming documentary We Steal Secrets, which debuted at Sundance in January, and Dreamgirls director Bill Condon’s drama The Fifth Estate, which stars Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange alongside Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie and Peter Capaldi. It is due to be released in the US in November, which suggests an awards-season run in 2014.

Assange himself has attacked The Fifth Estate, which is based on former aide Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s book Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website, as well as Guardian writers David Leigh and Luke Harding’s WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on SecrecySpeaking via video link to the Oxford Union in January, he labelled it ”a massive propaganda attack” that told ”lie upon lie”.

Assange is living in the Ecuadorian embassy, which offered him asylum in August, and is hoping to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of rape and sexual assault. He says he fears being extradited from Sweden to the US over his WikiLeaks activism.