Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This article, by Mark Welsbrot, was published by The Guardian, October 26, 2009
What kind of a public debate can we have on the most vital issues of the day in the United States? A lot depends on the media, which determines how these issues are framed for most people.
Take the war in Afghanistan, which has been subject to major debate here lately, as Barack Obama has to decide whether to take the advice of his commanding officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and send tens of thousands more troops there, or heed public opinion, which actually favours an end to the war.
This month, one of America's most important and most-watched TV news programmes, NBC's Meet the Press, took up the issue. The lineup:
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, former army general and drug tsar (under Bill Clinton) turned defence industry lobbyist. In a news article on McCaffrey titled "One man's military-industrial-media complex", the New York Times reported that McCaffrey had "earned at least $500,000 from his work for Veritas Capital, a private equity firm in New York that has grown into a defence industry powerhouse by buying contractors whose profits soared from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." McCaffrey has appeared on NBC more than 1000 times since 11 September 2001.
Retired General Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under George Bush (2002-2005). He is currently on the board of directors of Northrop Grumman Corporation, one of the largest military contractors in the world, and also of United Technologies Corporation, another large military contractor.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, a pro-war spokesperson that is one of the most regular guests on the Sunday talkshows.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, was apparently intended to represent the "other side" of the debate. Here is what he said: "Clearly we should keep the number of forces that we have. No one's talking about removing forces."
"No one" in the above sentence refers to the American people, whom Levin understandably sees as nobody in the eyes of the US media and political leaders. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 32% of those polled wanted US troops out of Afghanistan within one year or right now. That was the largest group. Another 24% wants the troops "removed within one to two years". For comparison, the leadership of the Taliban is willing to grant foreign troops 18 months to get out of their country.
In other words, a majority of 56% of Americans wants US troops out of Afghanistan about as soon as is practically feasible or even sooner. Yet Meet the Press – a mainstream network news talkshow since 1947 – does not see fit to find one person to represent that point of view. The other major TV and radio talkshows that the right also labels "liberal" in the US make similar choices almost every day.
When asked whether the US should set a timeline for withdrawal, Levin answered "no".
I know, if you have enough time you can still find an anti-war, public-interest viewpoint and the facts to support it – on the internet and even among some of the news stories in major media publications. But most Americans have other full-time jobs.
If the media's influence stopped there, the damage would be limited. After all, Americans can often still overcome the tutelage of the media's opinion leaders, as the above poll demonstrates. But the media also defines the debate for politicians. And that is where the life-and-death consequences really kick in.
If you want to know why Obama has not fought for a public option for healthcare reform, why he has caved to Wall Street on financial reform, why he has been Awol on the most important labour law reform legislation in 75 years (despite his campaign promises), just look at the major media. Think for a moment of how they would treat him if he did what his voters wanted him to do. You can be sure that Obama has thought it through very carefully.
Obama's whole political persona is based on media strategy, and on not taking any risk that the major media would turn against him. That is how he got where he is today and how he hopes to be re-elected. Many analysts confuse this with a strategy based on public opinion polling. But as we can see, these are often two different things.
Seventy-five percent of Americans support a public option for healthcare reform. (A majority would support expanding Medicare to cover everyone, but over the years the media, insurance and pharmaceutical companies made sure that this option didn't make it to the current debate.)
Obama has the bully pulpit. He could say to the rightwing Democrats in the Senate: "Look, you can vote against my proposals, but if you do not allow your president to even have a vote on this reform, you are not a Democrat." In other words, you can't join the Republicans in blocking the vote procedurally.
He could probably force Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, to join him in enforcing this minimal party discipline that would come naturally to Republicans, which would allow the healthcare bill to pass the Senate even if conservative Democrats voted against it.
But to do that would risk losing some of Obama's post-partisan, non-ideological aura that guarantees his media support. Of course, the media is not the only influence that hobbles healthcare reform. The insurance, pharmaceutical and other business lobbies obviously have more representation in Congress than does the majority of the electorate. But Obama does not feel this direct corporate pressure nearly as much. After all, he was the first president in recent decades to get 48% of his campaign contributions from donations of less than $200 – a very significant change in American politics, made possible though internet organising.
There are other powerful elite groupings, such as the foreign policy establishment – which is more ideologically driven, like the medieval church, than a collection of lobbying interests – that thwart reform on issues of war and peace. But the major media remain one of the biggest challenges to progressive reform in the 21st century.
This article, by Jonathan Adams, was published by The Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2009
The two helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, which officials do not think were from enemy fire, come as the US mulls its Afghan war strategy.
Fourteen Americans were killed and more injured in two separate incidents of helicopter crashes Monday in Afghanistan, underscoring the risks of the increasingly controversial US-led war.
Neither incident involved hostile fire, according to statements from NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The latest casualties come as Afghanistan prepares for a Nov. 7 runoff vote for the presidency, and as President Obama is believed to be near the conclusion of an intensive, month-long review of the US-led coalition's Afghanistan strategy.
CNN reported that the first incident occurred in western Afghanistan. "Seven U.S. service members and three U.S. civilians were killed," an ISAF statement said. "Those injured include 14 Afghan service members, 11 U.S. service members and one U.S. civilian."
The other incident occurred when two helicopters crashed into each other in mid-air over southern Afghanistan, killing four Americans, the New York Times reported. Both incidences are being investigated.
"These separate tragedies today underscore the risks our forces and our partners face every day," said Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. "Each and every death is a tremendous loss for the family and friends of each service member and civilian. Our grief is compounded when we have such a significant loss on one day.
"I can never truly express in mere words our condolences for the families for their loss and sacrifice."
The Associated Press reported Sunday that the total number of US military personnel killed since the US invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago was at least 807, with 624 dying by hostile fire. Four CIA officers have also been killed.
Monday's accidents bring that number to 821.
Separate statistics compiled by icasualties.org show that 2009 has been the most deadly year so far for coalition forces overall, with a total of 435 coalition military fatalities. (The site lists 1,480 total coalition military fatalities since the invasion in 2001.)
The surge in casualties ups the pressure on Mr. Obama, who is still mulling his overall Afghanistan strategy and has not decided whether to move ahead on a request from the top commander in Afghanistan for 40,000 more troops, the Agence France-Presse reported.
Some of his closest aides, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, have said it would be irresponsible to take a decision before a scheduled run-off election between [Afghan President Hamid Karzai] and his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah on November 7 which follows a first round tainted by fraud.
According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon ran secret war games this month to test what are believed to be the two main options under debate by Obama's national security staff since late September. In the first, the US would send 44,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, as requested by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, in a massive effort to stabilize the country and roll back the Taliban insurgency.
In the second, much more limited option, dubbed "counter-terrorism plus," only 10,000 to 15,000 more soldier and Marines would be sent, and would focus on al Qaeda, rather than the Taliban insurgents.
The Pentagon war game did not formally endorse either course; rather, it tried to gauge how Taliban fighters, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and NATO allies might react to either of the scenarios. Mullen [Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], a key player in the game, has discussed its conclusions with senior White House officials involved in the discussions over the new strategy.
The last of five review sessions on Afghanistan strategy, running altogether 15 hours, was held last week in the Situation Room, the Washington Post reported.
This letter, from Sgt. 1st Class Glen Tilson, was published in the Army Times, September 28, 2009
Letters To The Editor
I just read the article in the Sept. 14 issue (“Plan would shrink raises to pay for other programs”).
I do not see how the Congressional Budget Office can even entertain a thought of reducing the pay raises of our soldiers.
They state that they are trying to cut pay raises to overstrength military occupational specialties and increase pay to critical MOSs. Most of us in the Army only get the yearly 3.4 percent raise (or whatever they give us).
How can anyone think about not giving the soldiers (all soldiers) a higher or at least the same type of pay raise our civilian counterparts are getting? I don’t see anyone in Congress getting shot at every day for their pay. And they get to go home at night.
I think it should be criminal for anyone to try to save money by taking it away from the soldiers. Stop some of the overspending or stop one or two of the new programs, but do not take money from the troops.
Sgt. 1st Class Glen Tilson, Fort Benning
This article by Devlin Barrett andf Pamela Hess, was posted to Yahoo News, August 24, 2009
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush's war on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators' threats to kill one suspect's children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted.
At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules on tactics, and said the White House would keep its hands off the professional investigators doing the work.
Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, several Obama spokesmen declared anew — as the president has repeatedly — that on the subject of detainee interrogation he "wants to look forward, not back" at Bush tactics. They took pains to say decisions on any prosecutions would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder, not the White House.
Monday's five-year-old report by the CIA's inspector general, newly declassified and released under a federal court's orders, described severe tactics used by interrogators on terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seeking information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill and tried to frighten another with a mock execution of another prisoner.
Attorney General Holder said he had chosen a veteran prosecutor to determine whether any CIA officers or contractors should face criminal charges for crossing the line on rough but permissible tactics.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appointed by President Bush in 2006, expressed dismay by the prospect of prosecutions for CIA officers. He noted that career prosecutors have already reviewed and declined to prosecute the alleged abuses.
Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines, but the report by the CIA's inspector general said they went too far — even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited. The report also suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line.
"Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this (but) it has to be done," one unidentified CIA officer was quoted as saying, predicting the questioners would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.
The report concluded the CIA used "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices in questioning "high-value" terror suspects.
Monday's documents represent the largest single release of information about the Bush administration's once-secret system of capturing terrorism suspects and interrogating them in overseas prisons.
White House officials said they plan to continue the controversial practice of rendition of suspects to foreign countries, though they said that in future cases they would more carefully check to make sure such suspects are not tortured.
In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened al-Nashiri's mother and family, implying they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.
The interrogator denied making a direct threat.
Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "if anything else happens in the United States, 'We're going to kill your children,'" one veteran officer said in the report.
Death threats violate anti-torture laws.
In another instance, an interrogator pinched the carotid artery of a detainee until he started to pass out, then shook him awake. He did this three times. The interrogator, a CIA debriefer accustomed to questioning willing subjects, said he had only recently been trained to conduct interrogations.
Top Republican senators said they were troubled by the decision to begin a new investigation, which they said could weaken U.S. intelligence efforts. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the revelations showed the Bush administration went down a "dark road of excusing torture."
Investigators credited the detention-and-interrogation program for developing intelligence that prevented multiple attacks against Americans. One CIA operative interviewed for the report said the program thwarted al-Qaida plots to attack the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, derail trains, blow up gas stations and cut the suspension line of a bridge.
"In this regard, there is no doubt that the program has been effective," investigators wrote, backing an argument by former Vice President Dick Cheney and others that the program saved lives.
But the inspector general said it was unclear whether so-called "enhanced interrogation" tactics contributed to that success. Those tactics include waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration says is torture. Measuring the success of such interrogation is "a more subjective process and not without some concern," the report said.
The report describes at least one mock execution, which would also violate U.S. anti-torture laws. To terrify one detainee, interrogators pretended to execute the prisoner in a nearby room. A senior officer said it was a transparent ruse that yielded no benefit.
As the report was released, Attorney General Holder appointed prosecutor John Durham to open a preliminary investigation into the claims of abuse. Durham is already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and now will examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in the handling of suspects.
The administration also announced Monday that all U.S. interrogators will follow the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual. The manual, last updated in September 2006, prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.
Formation of the new interrogation unit for "high-value" detainees does not mean the CIA is out of the business of questioning terror suspects, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters covering the vacationing president on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Burton said the unit will include "all these different elements under one group" and will be located at the FBI headquarters in Washington.
The structure of the new unit the White House is creating would be significantly broader than under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects.
Obama campaigned vigorously against Bush administration interrogation practices in his successful run for the presidency. He has said more recently he didn't particularly favor prosecuting officials in connection with instances of prisoner abuse.
Burton said Holder "ultimately is going to make the decisions."
CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an e-mail message to agency employees Monday that he intended "to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the president's position, too," he said.
Panetta said some CIA officers have been disciplined for going beyond the methods approved for interrogations by the Bush-era Justice Department. Just one CIA employee — contractor David Passaro_ has been prosecuted for detainee abuse.
This article, by Hal Bernton, was posted to the Seattle Times, May 9, 2009.
The U.S. Justice Department under the Obama administration has decided to drop its appeal of a federal judge's ruling that 1st Lt. Ehren Watada cannot face a second court-martial resulting from his high-profile 2006 refusal to go to Iraq with his Fort Lewis brigade.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday granted the Justice Department's request to drop its appeal of a federal judge's earlier ruling that the second court-martial of 1st Lt. Ehren Watada on that count would represent double jeopardy and a violation of Watada's constitutional rights.
This is the latest development in the long legal battle of Watada, whose 2006 decision not to join his Stryker brigade in Iraq turned the Hawaiian-born officer into a national symbol of the anti-war movement.
But Watada's legal troubles may not be over.
He could still face a military tribunal for two other counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, according to a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Those counts were not thrown out by the federal court. They result from two interviews Watada gave in 2006, in which, among other comments, he attacked then-President George Bush for betraying the trust of the American people. He also said that Bush's conduct made him ashamed to wear his Army uniform.
"At this point the leadership at Fort Lewis is considering a full range of judical and adminstrative options, which could range from court martial to administrative actions and discharge," said Joe Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesman.
Watada's first court martial, in February 2007, ended with a mistrial.
To block a second court martial, Watada's attorneys sued in U.S. District Court. The unusual move left the U.S. Justice Department arguing the case on behalf of the Army.
In October, U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle in Tacoma ruled that Watada could not be prosecuted again by the Army on charges of missing his deployment to Iraq. He also blocked court-martial for comments made in a news conference and while speaking at a Veterans for Peace national convention.
But Settle left open the possibility that the Army could retry Watada on the two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.
The Army has consistently maintained that a second trial on all the counts would not be double jeopardy. In December, in the waning days of the Bush Administration, the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal that kept open the option of trying to overturn Settle's ruling.
After a more lengthy review, the Justice Department in the Obama administration opted to withdraw that appeal. That decision was made by the department's Office of Solicitor General, which determines what cases should be appealed, according to Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Western Washington.
Through the course of this legal battle, Watada has been assigned a desk job at Fort Lewis. Eventually, he hopes to return to civilian life and attend law school, said Kenneth Kagan, one of Watada's attorneys.
The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division that left for Iraq without Watada was deployed for 15 months. The brigade returned to Fort Lewis and is preparing to serve again in Iraq later this year.
This article, by Cameron George Halas, was posted to the IVAW website, march 25, 2009
If there was one thing that turned me against the war it was my faith in God.
After some time in Iraq, I saw that the Iraqis were regular people just like the guys in my unit. The propaganda surrounding them, like how they are a culture of hate and Islam is a violent religion, began to melt away.
Islam was originally a religion of peace, and the Iraqis had no problem practicing both their faith and friendship with us at the same time. I can never see myself as a Muslim, but how can I call myself an American if I didn't defend a Muslims right to be a Muslim. We were all brothers. Then we detained two innocent farmers, two men who had done nothing wrong.
That's when I began to question everything we were doing.
For answers I turned to my faith. Jesus taught us to love not only your neighbors but your enemies as well, turn the other cheek and that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In other words, fighting a war did not fit in with the things he taught us.
So what was I doing in a war if my faith was everything to me? Why does the religious right support this war if the man they so claim to follow is a man of peace?
The answer was that we kept making excuses. "Oh it's o.k. to go to war for this, it's o.k. to fight if they attack you." Well apart from the fact that Bush himself admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, I decided to practice my faith without excuses this time in the last 6 months of my deployment.
And you know what it worked. I started getting along with guys in my unit who I never got along with before.
I also studied why they fight us in Iraq in the first place. We occupied them and started to take over. We invaded the lives of many Iraqis unnecessarily, like those two farmers. You take someone out, and you've made a family member or friend angry at you and they join the resistance against you.
We are the ones who are creating the insurgency.
Jesus did say, "You reap what you sow." So our mere presence and fighting over their is the source of the problem. It's not a white flag of surrender if we leave, it's a victory. We do what a very wise man told us to do by leaving and we remove the main problem, the occupation.
Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace. So you can't follow God and support the war at the same time. He hates it when his children kill his children. God doesn't take the side of a war, he takes the side of peace, and if you open you scriptures (the New Testimant) you will find that to be true. "Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God" You can't keep making excuses for one or the other, it either God or the War. I choose God, what's your choice?
This analysis, by Mohammed A. Salih, was originally distributed by IPS, March 3, 2009
COLUMBIA, Missouri, U.S., Mar 3 (IPS) - When U.S. President Barack Obama announced his plan last week to pull out all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September 2010, the news did not generate much enthusiasm among Iraqi Kurds.
A simple math operation reveals the reasons behind the Kurds' anxiety - add the withdrawal plan to the recent staggering victory of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's supporters in the country's recent provincial elections.
Kurds are now counting on Obama's oft-repeated pledge for a "responsible" withdrawal, hoping their interests will be preserved. But a review of statements by Kurdish and U.S. officials reveals the two sides are mostly talking at cross purposes when they speak of "responsibility."
Recently, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani gave his interpretation of the term "responsible."
"I restate that the role of the United States should be to help resolve the problems in Iraq such as Article 140, the oil law, and the law on the distribution of its oil wealth," Barzani told reporters in the northern city of Irbil, tallying the list of contentious issues between Kurds and Iraqi government.
Article 140 refers to a constitutional provision to settle the critical issue of disputed territories between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs, including the gold-prize contested city of Kirkuk which is afloat on some of the world’s largest oil reserves.
But for the U.S., "responsibility" appears to mean making sure Iraqi security forces can take over the task of protecting the country against rebellious forces once it leaves. To achieve that end, the U.S. is equipping and training Iraqi security forces. But this is hardly reassuring to Kurds, many of whom see a conflict with Baghdad forthcoming in some form in the future.
When asked whether the U.S. will act to resolve the problems between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds before leaving the country, U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood replied: "It's not really up to the United States to reassure anyone" and that Iraqis had to work out their differences through their "democracy."
But the balance of power in Baghdad is quickly tilting toward forces which Kurds do not perceive as amenable. Just shortly before Obama officially declared the U.S. withdrawal plan, the Kurds’ number one opponent in Baghdad, PM Maliki, found himself in a boosted position as his coalition of the State of Law scored a quite unexpected victory in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces including Baghdad, the country’s most populous city of around six million. With Kurds and Baghdad at odds over several crucial issues, Obama’s withdrawal plan would only further strengthen Maliki’s position.
Disputes between the country’s Kurds and central government go back to the early days of the foundation of modern Iraq by British colonialism in 1920s. At the heart of contention are large chunks of territory marking the separation line between Kurdish and Arab Iraq.
Iraqi governments, most notably under Saddam Hussein, expelled tens of thousands of Kurds and Turkomans from those areas and replaced them with Arab settlers. While Kurds want to annex these areas to their autonomous region known as Kurdistan, the vast majority of the country’s Arab political parties vehemently oppose such plans. Kurdish attempts to expand their federal region have sparked fierce reactions in Baghdad.
Spearheading a growing trend in Iraqi politics to abort Kurdish efforts and stalling the establishment of new autonomous regions is Shia Prime Minister Maliki. He has called for further centralisation of power in Baghdad, accusing Kurds of going overboard with their demands.
Besides strengthening Maliki’s position, the provincial elections delivered a major blow to the Kurds’ only powerful ally in Arab Iraq that advocates federalism: the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, previously known to be the most powerful Shia Arab party in the country.
With their power in Baghdad thought to be in decline, Kurdish leaders are these days loudly beating their anti-Maliki drum to draw international attention to their problems with the rest of Iraq. PM Barzani told the Associated Press last month that he thinks Maliki is seeking a "confrontation" with the Kurds.
Kurdish officials have even reportedly called on Obama to appoint a special envoy to resolve their long-standing problems with Iraqi Arabs.
One Kurdish official took it even further, telling the Associated Press that al-Maliki was a "second Saddam." The alleged statement by Kamal Kirkuki, Kurdish parliament deputy speaker, was so ill-calculated that he had to issue a statement denying that he ever gave an interview to the AP.
As tensions appear to escalate, a consensus is taking shape among many analysts that things are moving toward a possible flare-up point.
"The threat (of conflict) is real," Kirmanj Gundi, head of the Kurdish National Congress (KNC) in North America, told IPS in a phone interview from Nashville, Tennessee, where the largest Kurdish community in North America resides.
"It’s unfortunate that the Kurdish leadership became more vocal about this only recently," Gundi said. KNC is a non-profit organisation lobbying for Kurdish interests in the U.S. and Canada.
But concerns about a possible outbreak of conflict between Kurds and the Iraqi government have gone far beyond Kurdish circles.
"It is critical for the U.S. to start thinking about this now because as we proceed with the disengagement, our influence will wane in Iraq," said Henry Barkey from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of the need for the U.S. to address existing problems between Kurds and the Iraqi government before it leaves the war-torn country.
Barkey authored a report for the Washington-based think-tank on how to prevent conflict over Kurdistan. "Therefore, we need to hit the iron when it is hot. And so, it is very important to help and we haven't done this in the past, to help look at some of these issues," Barkey said on the sidelines of an event at Carnegie to discuss his report last month.
While Washington appears indifferent, at least in its official discourse, to calls for helping forge a common understanding between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, tensions are continuing to build.
In an attempt to flex its muscles, the Iraqi government recently announced it will not recognise the visas stamped by Kurdish government on the passports of foreign visitors. It also tried to send an army division to take over security tasks in Kirkuk but had to halt the plan for the time being as it met stiff Kurdish opposition.
The coming two years - from now until the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq - will be decisive in determining how the Kurds’ relations with the central government and the country’s Arabs will turn out. But all signs are that Iraq is far from a long-term stability.
This article, by Anand Gopal, was originally published by the Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2009
Frustration and fear is sparking opposition to plans that would nearly double the size of US forces there.
Kabul - Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai says she has an innovative amendment to Washington's planned injection of up to 30,000 new troops here.
"Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don't send more troops – it will just bring more violence."
Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration's stabilization strategy.
"At least half the country is deeply suspicious of the new troops," says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. "The US will have to wage an intense hearts-and-minds campaign to turn this situation around."
The lack of public support could provide fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban and hinder US operations, Mr. Muzjda says.
After a year that saw the highest number of civilian and troop casualties since the war began in 2001, officials in Washington recently pledged to send 17,000 soldiers to stem the growing violence. The move has broad support among the American public – a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64 percent back the new deployments.
Much of the Afghan opposition comes from provinces dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, which include areas that have seen the most fighting and where the new troops will be deployed. A group of 50 mostly Pashtun members of parliament recently formed a working group aimed at blocking the arrival of new troops and pushing for a bilateral military agreement between Kabul and Washington, which currently does not exist. Pashtun support is crucial
Although any proposed legislation or motion condemning the troop increase would be purely symbolic – the Afghan government does not have direct say over the operations of Western forces – observers say that the development is an important gauge of public opinion in Pashtun areas.
Dozens of interviews with tribal elders, parliamentarians who are not part of the working group, and locals in Pashtun areas have revealed similar sentiments.
"I can't find a single man in the entire province who is in favor of more troops," says Awal Khan, a tribal leader from Logar province, just south of Kabul. "They don't respect our tradition, culture, or religion."
"The majority of my people disagree with this increase," says Hanif Shah Hosseini, an MP from Khost province who is not part of the working group. "More troops won't bring more security, just an increase in the fighting." US supporters targeted
Many cite civilian casualties and house raids as the main reason for their opposition. Recently in Logar, armed locals blocked the highway into Kabul for hours, in protest of a night raid where US forces killed one and detained three others. According to local reports, the nearly 2,000 protestors burned tires and chanted anti-US slogans.
In Kandahar Province, villagers recently placed the bodies of two children who were killed by mines in front a government office, shouting anti-Western slogans. They alleged that unexploded Canadian ordnance killed the children.
Many locals also fear the reprisals of the Taliban in areas where troops operate. Recently in Wardak Province, locals saw two boys practicing their fledgling English with American soldiers who were passing by. The Taliban later executed the children, accusing them of being spies.
Some feel that the US should focus its efforts solely on reconstruction and the building of Afghan security forces. "The Americans spend thousands of dollars every month on a single soldier," says Khost MP Mr. Hosseini. "With this huge amount of money, they can train our soldiers more effectively."
Others say that if the troops must come, they should coordinate with the Afghan government. "Without such coordination, I don't think sending more troops will change anything," says Kandahar tribal leader Agha Lalai Dastageri.
He adds that if troops were under the control of the Afghan government, they would be deployed near the Pakistani border and away from populated areas, diminishing the chance of civilian casualties. Many Afghans believe that the source of insecurity partly lies in Pakistan, where the leadership of the insurgency allegedly takes refuge, and that policing the border will improve security throughout Afghanistan.
American military officials say that although the goal is to eventually transfer all security responsibilities to Afghans, troops are still needed now for development and security. "Our intent is to use the troops to secure rural areas," says Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, spokeswoman for US forces in Afghanistan. "The Afghans are showing great promise, but they need us here for now." Snowmelt ups urgency
The injection of forces still enjoys support outside the Pashtun belt. Other ethnic groups, such as the Tajiks and the Hezaras, who predominantly hail from the country's relatively peaceful north and west, back the notion. "We need these troops to strengthen security in the unstable provinces," says Mirwais Yassini, chair of the Afghan Parliament and a Tajik. "We also need them [to provide security] for the upcoming presidential elections."
Support for more troops is higher in the non-Pashtun areas because residents there have experienced less violence, and because they may view US forces as a buffer between them and the Taliban, analysts say. The memory of the Taliban's harsh rule is still fresh in many non-Pashtun communities, who suffered greatly during that time.
But winning support in the rural Pashtun villages, where the war is being fought, is crucial for the plan, analysts say. Development will be a key component to this war. Military planners intend to continue focusing on projects meant to boost economic activity, which they say will show locals the benefits of US presence in the region.
"A couple of months ago Arghasan district in Kandahar was controlled by insurgents," says Kandahar provincial council member Hajji Qasim. "But ever since USAID started a road project there, the economic situation improved and the insurgency lost influence."
Military officials say that such development projects can only succeed if they are accompanied by a corresponding troop increase, since insurgents often attack reconstruction teams.
Officials in Washington and Pashtun villagers agree on one thing: They expect the violence to increase this summer as the new forces attempt to root out insurgent strongholds.
"I know once the snows melt, things will start to get much worse," Logar resident Nasar Ahmad says. "The fighting will be intense, and a lot of us villagers are talking about fleeing to Kabul."
"We are worried our families will be caught in the middle," he adds.
This article, by Pamela Hess, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the Guantanamo Bay prison meets the standard for humane treatment laid out in the Geneva Conventions, according to a report for President Barack Obama, who has ordered the terrorist detention center closed within a year.
The report recommended some changes, including an increase in group recreation for some of the camp’s more dangerous or less compliant prisoners, according to a government official familiar with the study. The report also suggested allowing those prisoners to gather in groups of three or more, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not officially been released.
Some of the hard-core prisoners are not currently allowed to meet with other prisoners for prayer or socialization and are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the prisoners who could be affected by the change. Prolonged social isolation has been known to harm mental health among prisoners.
The 85-page report by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the Navy’s second in command, was written in response to Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
As a presidential candidate, Obama criticized the detention center that human rights groups and many in the international community widely condemned for harsh treatment of prisoners during the Bush administration. The military has defended its actions, saying prisoners have been treated humanely since the center was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The report found the camp to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, the international rules that require the humane treatment of prisoners taken in unconventional armed conflicts, like the war on terrorism. The camp’s controversial force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes was also found to be compliant with the Geneva guidelines, a second government official confirmed.
Last month, the military judge in charge of deciding whether to charge Guantanamo detainees with crimes told The Washington Post at least one of the prisoners was tortured in 2002 and 2003, alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani.
About 800 prisoners have been held there, many for years and nearly all without criminal charges. There are now around 250, including 17 from China who the United States wants to set free but cannot return to China for fear they will be tortured by the government.
Guantanamo was selected for legal reasons: as a military base, it is sovereign U.S. territory but, according to Bush administration lawyers, was outside the scope of the Constitution. That would allow prisoners to be prosecuted for war crimes using evidence that would be difficult to use in the U.S. civilian court system.