Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why is US backing force in Libya but not Bahrain, Yemen?

By Andrew North
BBC News, Washington
18 March 2011 Last updated at 18:49 ET

What's the difference between Libya and Yemen or Bahrain?

All three states have been using violence to crush pro-democracy protests.

But only against Libya are the US and its Western allies planning a military response.

Yemen and Bahrain's crackdowns have so far been met only with words, not action.

On one level the answer is obvious.

Bahrain and Yemen are US allies - especially Bahrain with its large US naval base. Libya is not.

The US response to Bahrain is further complicated by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Washington's number one Arab ally.

Sunni 'red line'

The Saudis were not happy to see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak go.
Losing the Sunni monarchy in its neighbour is a red line - that's why it took the unprecedented step of sending 1,000 troops over the border into Bahrain, after which the crackdown began.

But what happened to the "universal values" US President Barack Obama cited when he eventually backed protesters in Egypt?

His decision to abandon an old US ally there - Mr Mubarak - gave some the impression he was preparing to apply those values universally and to break with the past US policy of cosying up to other Middle Eastern regimes.

Critics say it was a dangerous impression, raising protesters' expectations as well as Gulf monarchs' blood pressure.

'Interests come first'

"The US always preaches values that it cannot live up to," says Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

"In the end, its interests come first."

As the uprisings have spread out of North Africa to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, those interests have come to the fore again, with Washington taking a more cautious, country-by-country approach.

For the US, stability in those oil-rich states now appears to trump the hopes of their protest movements.

Yemen is crucial to Washington for its battle with al-Qaeda - which makes the Obama administration cautious in how hard it pushes Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"The US is very afraid that if Saleh goes, Yemen will fall apart," Ms Ottaway says.

Mr Obama condemned the latest violence in Yemen, in which at least 30 protesters were killed.


But he would only call for "those responsible... to be held accountable", without directly laying it at Mr Saleh's door.

Washington has had a low-key response as well to violence used by Iraqi security forces against protesters there.

Even with Libya, the new caution is on display. The administration was reluctant for some time to back a no-fly zone, fearing it could lead to a third US war on a Muslim country, after Afghanistan and Iraq.

It only did so only after it got support from Arab states and European allies.

And it is still not clear how much the US will contribute militarily to the UN-backed no-fly zone or what will happen if Col Gaddafi succeeds in hanging onto power.

With recent history in mind and the tide of protest still sweeping through the region, caution arguably looks a sensible policy from a US point of view.

But it also risks giving conservative Arab leaders the breathing space they need to stall the push for reform and hang on.

Having watched Tunisia and Egypt go, other Arab leaders are following Libya's lead in drawing a line in the sand and opting for force rather than dialogue.

It's not clear if Mr Obama can do anything about it.

Hillary Helps US Mercenary Escape Justice

Getting Away with Murder

By Mike Whitney

March 18, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- There was never any doubt that CIA contractor and killer, Raymond Davis, would be freed by Pakistani authorities. The only question was how much political capital the Obama administration would have to spend to secure his release. As it happens, the price turned out to be quite high. Not only were the family members of the men who Davis gunned down awarded a $2.3 million settlement, but, more importantly, a constellation of US powerbrokers were forced to step out of the shadows and reveal their tacit support for a covert war that is inciting widespread social unrest, fueling terrorism, and destabilizing US-ally Pakistan. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Admiral Mike Mullens, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and Sen John Kerry all came to the defense of a career mercenary who shot two men (allegedly Pakistan Intel-agents) in broad daylight on a crowded street in Lahore and then calmly photographed their bullet-riddled bodies for his records. Naturally, the public wanted Davis to stand trial for his crimes and explain what he was doing in Pakistan. But that's not going to happen, because Washington invoked its prodigious powers of coercion to derail the course of justice and whisk its venerable agent to safety.

So, now the public is in an uproar and protests have broken out across the country. On Friday, students, lawyers, religious groups and political organizations will join in mass demonstrations in Pakistan's largest cities to rail against Davis, the "Great Satan" (guess who?) and Pakistan's corrupt political/judicial system. The Davis affair is still front page news in most of the nation's newspapers and hundreds of articles have been written venting the public's spleen over the outcome. Here's an excerpt from an article by Dr. Mahjabeen Islam which sums up the frustration felt by many Pakistanis:

"As a democratic nation, the people are entitled to transparency in every governmental and judicial proceeding. Despite all past disappointments, there was still hope in the judicial system. And now that hope lies in tatters....our self-respect as a nation has been destroyed.

Even Raymond Davis probably can't believe that he actually got away with cold-blooded murder....

Pakistan receives a large amount of American aid and has not always accounted for it honestly. But its sacrifices in the war on terror have been greater than anything it has been given. Its leaders had a chance to improve Pakistan’s diplomatic and strategic stature had they handled the Davis affair correctly, but because they were corrupt and greedy, they took the money and smashed the nation’s self-respect to smithereens." ("A National Sellout", Dr Mahjabeen Islam, Daily Times)

The so-called "blood money" that was awarded to the families of the two men who were killed by Davis, has drawn much more attention than it deserves. What's more important are the concessions the Obama administration had to make to get its hired gun out of Pakistan. According to Reuters, the ISI is "claiming major gains from a deal which resulted in the freeing of a CIA contractor and dismissal of murder charges against him"....."the CIA agreed to cut back on U.S. spying in Pakistan and to keep Pakistani authorities better informed of CIA activities."

This could be significant. In the last few weeks, the CIA has pulled many of its assets out of Pakistan and back to the United States. That means that the ISI has regained its dominant role in the country while Washington's eyes and ears have been shut. It's a major setback for US warplanners and could end up reducing the number of drone attacks in the North. (which will save the lives of many civilians.) The public furor has made it impossible for the US to operate as it did in the pre-Davis era. The CIA no longer has carte blanche to carry out its missions with impunity. And, that's good news.

Still, that doesn't explain what Davis was up to or why his camera was loaded with "photos of Pakistani military installations, mosques, and madrassas", or why, according to his cell phone records, he made nearly 30 calls to terrorists in a banned organization called Laskhar-e-Taiba. This information has fueled speculation that the CIA is directly involved in the rash of bombings around the country. Here's an excerpt from an article in the Wall Street Journal which sums it up pretty well:

"Most Pakistanis already viewed the CIA with skepticism. The agency is extremely unpopular for its use of drone strikes against militants in Pakistan's Waziristan tribal lands bordering Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis also believe that both the CIA and its private contractors are trying to coerce Pakistan by sponsoring attacks on targets such as Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) installations or police stations.

This may seem far-fetched, but the fear has some basis in reality. In his book Obama's Wars, Bob Woodward revealed the existence of a secret 3,000-strong army of paramilitary Afghan fighters created by the CIA to target Taliban and al Qaeda commanders inside Pakistan through "false flag attacks."

For the majority of Pakistanis, particularly the religious-political right as well as hardliners within the security apparatus, the Davis case proved what they had long suspected: Americans are a rogue force within Pakistan." ("Perfidious America", Imtiaz Gul, Wall Street Journal)

Now, it appears the "rogue force" may have had its wings clipped, perhaps, more than most people realize. In fact, Pakistan may just experience a period of unanticipated calm now that foreign agents and their "for-hire" hit-men have rolled up their operations and moved on. Surely, that would be welcome. But what about the charges leveled at Davis? Is there any proof that he had a hand in the sporadic bombing incidents?

No proof at all, but that doesn't mean that US-instigated terror is without precedent. Far from it. The US has trained death squads in Iraq, Nicaragua and El Salvador. In Iraq, the US trained the Interior Ministry's Security Forces which then carried out mass executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods where hundreds of men were taken from their homes at night, shot dead, and left in ditches to rot. The "death squads" plan was first uncovered in an article by Seymour Hersh in January 2005. Hersh reported that the Pentagon was intending to trigger "The Salvador Option", a strategy to execute a bloody secret war against alleged insurgents.

Then there's the case of Luis Posada Carriles, the ex-CIA agent who "planned the bombings in Cuba between April and September 1997 that tore through the lobbies and discos of hotels and a famous tourist restaurant in Havana, as well as a resort in the beach town of Varadero." Carriles "was later arrested for planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, but escaped from prison while facing trial." ("Reporter: Ex-CIA Agent Viewed Bombings as 'Heroic'", Will Weissert, Associated Press)

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The CIA is a lawless, free-wheeling fraternity that operates beyond any ethical or moral code. (Editor's bold emphasis throughout) If Davis was colluding with terrorists or stirring up sectarian antagonism, it would be par for the course. Unfortunately, we'll never know, because Davis has flown the coop and justice has been subverted again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Search of Monsters


March 16, 2011 "NYT" -March 12, 2011 - - The Iraq war hawks urging intervention in Libya are confident that there’s no way Libya could ever be another Iraq. Of course, they never thought Iraq would be Iraq, either.

All President Obama needs to do, Paul Wolfowitz asserts, is man up, arm the Libyan rebels, support setting up a no-fly zone and wait for instant democracy.

It’s a cakewalk.

Didn’t we arm the rebels in Afghanistan in the ’80s? And didn’t many become Taliban and end up turning our own weapons on us? And didn’t one mujahadeen from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, go on to lead Al Qaeda?

So that worked out well.

Even now, with our deficit and military groaning from two wars in Muslim countries, interventionists on the left and the right insist it’s our duty to join the battle in a third Muslim country.

“It is both morally right and in America’s strategic interest to enable the Libyans to fight for themselves,” Wolfowitz wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

You would think that a major architect of the disastrous wars and interminable occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq would have the good manners to shut up and take up horticulture. But the neo-con naif has no shame.

After all, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates told West Point cadets last month, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

Gates boldly batted back the Cakewalk Brigade — which includes John McCain, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry — bluntly telling Congress last week: “Let’s just call a spade a spade. A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses. That’s the way you do a no-fly zone. And then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

Wolfowitz, Rummy’s No. 2 in W.’s War Department, pushed to divert attention from Afghanistan and move on to Iraq; he pressed the canards that Saddam and Osama were linked and that we were in danger from Saddam’s phantom W.M.D.'s; he promised that the Iraq invasion would end quickly and gleefully; he slapped back Gen. Eric Shinseki when he said securing Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops; and he claimed that rebuilding Iraq would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues.

How wrong, deceptive and deadly can you be and still get to lecture President Obama on his moral obligations?

Wolfowitz was driven to invade Iraq and proselytize for the Libyan rebels partly because of his guilt over how the Bush I administration coldly deserted the Shiites and Kurds who were urged to rise up against Saddam at the end of the 1991 gulf war. Saddam sent out helicopters to slaughter thousands. (A NATO no-fly zone did not stop that.)

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is also monstrous, slaughtering civilians and hiring mercenaries to kill rebels.

It’s hard to know how to proceed, but in his rush, Wolfowitz never even seems to have a good understanding of the tribal thickets he wants America to wade into. In Foreign Affairs, Frederic Wehrey notes that “for four decades Libya has been largely terra incognita ... ‘like throwing darts at balloons in a dark room,’ as one senior Western diplomat put it to me.”

Leslie Gelb warns in The Daily Beast that no doubt some rebels are noble fighters, but some “could turn out to be thugs, thieves, and would-be new dictators. Surely, some will be Islamic extremists. One or more might turn into another Col. Qaddafi after gaining power. Indeed, when the good colonel led the Libyan coup in 1969, many right-thinking Westerners thought him to be a modernizing democrat.”

Reformed interventionist David Rieff, who wrote the book “At the Point of a Gun,” which criticizes “the messianic dream of remaking the world in either the image of American democracy or of the legal utopias of international human rights law,” told me that after Iraq: “America doesn’t have the credibility to make war in the Arab world. Our touch in this is actually counterproductive.”

He continued: “Qaddafi is a terrible man, but I don’t think it’s the business of the United States to overthrow him. Those who want America to support democratic movements and insurrections by force if necessary wherever there’s a chance of them succeeding are committing the United States to endless wars of altruism. And that’s folly.”

He quotes John Quincy Adams about America: “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy ... she is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

As for Wolfowitz, Rieff notes drily, “He should have stayed a mathematician.”

War Is Illegal

by David Swanson

Global Research
March 14, 2011

It's a simple point, but an important one, and one that gets overlooked. Whether or not you think a particular war is moral and good, the fact remains that war is illegal. Actual defense by a country when attacked is legal, but that only occurs once another country has actually attacked, and it must not be used as a loophole to excuse wider war that is not employed in actual defense.

Needless to say, a strong moral argument can be made for preferring the rule of law to the law of rulers. If those in power can do anything they like, most of us will not like what they do. Some laws are so unjust that when they are imposed on ordinary people, they should be violated. But allowing those in charge of a government to engage in massive violence and killing in defiance of the law is to sanction all lesser abuses as well, since no greater abuse is imaginable. It's understandable that proponents of war would rather ignore or "re-interpret" the law than properly change the law through the legislative process, but it is not morally defensible.

For much of U.S. history, it was reasonable for citizens to believe, and often they did believe, that the U.S. Constitution banned aggressive war. Congress declared the 1846-1848 War on Mexico to have been "unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the president of the United States." Congress had issued a declaration of war, but the House believed the president had lied to them. (President Woodrow Wilson would later send troops to war with Mexico without a declaration.) It does not seem to be the lying that Congress viewed as unconstitutional in the 1840s, but rather the launching of an unnecessary or aggressive war.

As Attorney General Lord Peter Goldsmith warned British Prime Minister Tony Blair in March 2003, "Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law," and therefore, "international aggression is a crime recognized by the common law which can be prosecuted in the U.K. courts." U.S. law evolved from English common law, and the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes precedents and traditions based on it. U.S. law in the 1840s was closer to its roots in English common law than is U.S. law today, and statutory law was less developed in general, so it was natural for Congress to take the position that launching an unnecessary war was unconstitutional without needing to be more specific.

In fact, just prior to giving Congress the exclusive power to declare war, the Constitution gives Congress the power to "define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations." At least by implication, this would seem to suggest that the United States was itself expected to abide by the "Law of Nations." In the 1840s, no member of Congress would have dared to suggest that the United States was not itself bound by the "Law of Nations." At that point in history, this meant customary international law, under which the launching of an aggressive war had long been considered the most serious offense.

Fortunately, now that we have binding multilateral treaties that explicitly prohibit aggressive war, we no longer have to guess at what the U.S. Constitution says about war. Article VI of the Constitution explicitly says this:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

So, if the United States were to make a treaty that banned war, war would be illegal under the supreme law of the land.

The United States has in fact done this, at least twice, in treaties that remain today part of our highest law: the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the United Nations Charter.


In 1928, the United States Senate, that same institution that on a good day can now get three percent of its members to vote against funding war escalations or continuations, voted 85 to 1 to bind the United States to a treaty by which it is still bound and in which we "condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in [our] relations with" other nations. This is the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It condemns and renounces all war. The U.S. Secretary of State, Frank Kellogg, rejected a French proposal to limit the ban to wars of aggression. He wrote to the French ambassador that if the pact, ". . . were accompanied by definitions of the word 'aggressor' and by expressions and qualifications stipulating when nations would be justified in going to war, its effect would be very greatly weakened and its positive value as a guaranty of peace virtually destroyed." The treaty was signed with its ban on all war included, and was agreed to by dozens of nations. Kellogg was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929, an award already rendered questionable by its previous bestowal upon both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

However, when the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty it added two reservations. First, the United States would not be obliged to enforce the treaty by taking action against those who violated it. Excellent. So far so good. If war is banned, it hardly seems a nation could be required to go to war to enforce the ban. But old ways of thinking die hard, and redundancy is much less painful than bloodshed.

The second reservation, however, was that the treaty must not infringe upon America's right of self-defense. So, there, war maintained a foot in the door. The traditional right to defend yourself when attacked was preserved, and a loophole was created that could be and would be unreasonably expanded.

When any nation is attacked, it will defend itself, violently or otherwise. The harm in placing that prerogative in law is, as Kellogg foresaw, a weakening of the idea that war is illegal. An argument could be made for U.S. participation in World War II under this reservation, for example, based on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, no matter how provoked and desired that attack was. War with Germany could be justified by the Japanese attack as well, through predictable stretching of the loophole. Even so, wars of aggression have been illegal (albeit unpunished) in the United States since 1928.

In addition, in 1945, the United States became a party to the United Nations Charter, which also remains in force today as part of the "supreme law of the land." The United States had been the driving force behind the U.N. Charter's creation. It includes these lines:

"All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered."

"All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."

This would appear to be a new Kellogg-Briand Pact with at least an initial attempt at the creation of an enforcement body. And so it is. But the U.N. Charter contains two exceptions to its ban on warfare. The first is self- defense. Here is part of Article 51:

"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence (sic) if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security."

So, the U.N. Charter contains the same traditional right and small loophole that the U.S. Senate attached to the Kellogg-Briand Pact. It also adds another. The Charter makes clear that the U.N. Security Council can choose to authorize the use of force. This further weakens the understanding that war is illegal, by making some wars legal. Other wars are then, predictably, justified by claims of legality. The architects of the 2003 attack on Iraq claimed it was authorized by the United Nations, even though the United Nations disagreed.

The U.N. Security Council did authorize the War on Korea, but only because the U.S.S.R. was boycotting the Security Council at the time and China was still represented by the Kuomintang government in Taiwan. The Western powers were preventing the ambassador of the new revolutionary government of China from taking China's seat as a permanent member of the Security Council, and the Russians were boycotting the Council in protest. If the Soviet and Chinese delegates had been present, there is no way that the United Nations would have taken sides in the war that eventually destroyed most of Korea. MORE...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"The Situation in Japan is Dire. It's Grave"

By Mike Whitney

March 15, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- News of a third explosion at the Fukushima nuclear power plant sent stocks plunging on the Nikkei exchange which dropped 1,015 points on the session. After 2 days of battering, the stock index is off more than 1,600 points in its worst performance since Lehman Brothers failed in September 2008.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has ordered the evacuation of all people living within a 18 mile radius of the power station and warned homeowners to remain indoors to avoid contact with "elevated levels of radiation".

"Substantial amounts of radiation are leaking in the area," Kan said in an emergency broadcast on television at 0200 GMT.

Already, the disaster at Fukushima is the second biggest nuclear catastrophe on record, just behind Chernobyl, but reactor volatility suggests that the problem could persist for some time to come, perhaps months.

According to CBS News: "A fire at a fourth reactor in a quake-damaged nuclear plant sent radiation spewing into the atmosphere Tuesday. Earlier, a third explosion at the plant in four days damaged a critical steel containment structure around another reactor, as Japan's nuclear radiation crisis escalates dramatically....

Making matters worse, the wind over the radiation-leaking nuclear plant in northern Japan will blow inland from the northeast and later from the east on Tuesday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, according to Reuters. Harmful radiation can spread via wind and rain.

At a shelter in Sendai, workers told CBS News that everyone must avoid Tuesday's rain, as it carries nuclear radiation. Low-level radioactive wind from the nuclear reactor in Fukushima could reach Tokyo within 10 hours, based on current winds, the French embassy says. Radiation at up to 9 times the normal level was briefly detected in Kanagawa near Tokyo." ("Japan nuke plant fire leads to spewing radiation", CBS News)

The magnitude of the crisis is hard to grasp. Another two reactors saw their cooling systems breakdown late Monday increasing the probability of a meltdown. So far, there have been 4 explosions and 3 fires at various reactors following the devastating 8.9 earthquake and tsunami.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, an official with the Economy Ministry, issued this warning to people living in the vicinity of Fukushima:

"Now we are talking about levels that can damage human health....Please do not go outside. Please stay indoors. Please close windows and make your homes airtight. Don't turn on ventilators. Please hang your laundry indoors."

The radiation level in the capital, Tokyo, was recorded at 10 times normal on Tuesday evening, but the city government said there was no threat to human health. The prevailing winds have since shifted sending the radioactive material out to the Pacific Ocean.

An article in the New York Times suggests that a nuclear meltdown may be less dangerous that the spent fuel rods which are no longer submerged in water. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"The pools, which sit on the top level of the reactor buildings and keep spent fuel submerged in water, have lost their cooling systems and the Japanese have been unable to take emergency steps because of the multiplying crises.

The threat is that the hot fuel will boil away the cooling water and catch fire, spreading radioactive materials far and wide in dangerous clouds....

The bad news is that if efforts to deal with the emergency fail, the results could be worse.

The pools are a worry at the stricken reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant because at least two of the three have lost their roofs in explosions, exposing the spent fuel pools to the atmosphere. By contrast, reactors have strong containment vessels that stand a better chance of bottling up radiation from a meltdown of the fuel in the reactor core.

Were the spent fuel rods in the pools to catch fire, nuclear experts say, the high heat would loft the radiation in clouds that would spread the radioactivity.

“It’s worse than a meltdown,” said David A. Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists who worked as an instructor on the kinds of General Electric reactors used in Japan." ("In Stricken Fuel-Cooling Pools, a Danger for the Longer Term", New York Times)

Finally, here's a statement delivered via You Tube on Tuesday by Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Karzai Calls On NATO And US To Stop Operations In Afghanistan


March 12, 2011 "DPA" -- Kabul - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that NATO and US should stop their operations in the war-torn country.

"I ask NATO and US, with honor and humbleness and not with arrogance, to stop its operations on our soil," Karzai said in the eastern province of Kunar, according to a statement from the presidential palace.

Karzai visited Kunar on Saturday morning to personally express condolences to the families of nine children who were killed by US air attacks on March 1.

The children were between the age of seven and 13 and collecting firewood in the Manogay district when they came under bombardment.

"Afghans want peace and security and they cooperate with the world bring peace and security," Karzai said. "But we don't want this war to continue any longer. We don't want to repeat such bombardments and casualties."

Speaking at a ceremony held in Asadabad, the headquarters of Kunar, Karzai said the war on terrorism is not in Afghan villages.

"They know where the places are and they should fight there," he said about the international forces.

"We wish NATO officials would see our sons' injured legs and hands. See how much tolerance we have," the statement said, quoting Karzai.

The issue of civilian casualties has been a major point of contention between Afghan government and international forces, mainly the US forces.

United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates apologized last week in Kabul in a joint press conference with Karzai for the death of Afghan boys.

"It breaks our heart. My personal apologies to President Karzai and the Afghan people," Gates said. "Not only is their loss a tragedy for their families, it is a setback for our relationship with the Afghan people."

Karzai said in the press that he respected and accepted the apology, adding that civilian casualties have been a major issue of grief for Afghans and they want it to stop.

Earlier, Karzai had harshly criticized US forces for causing civilian casualties during their operations, rejecting an apology from US General David Petraeus as "not enough" and "no longer acceptable."

A United Nations report released earlier this week said at least 171 civilians were killed by NATO air strike in 2010.

Obama Defends Abuse Of Private Bradley Manning

By Patrick Martin

March 12, 2011 "WSWS" -- An otherwise desultory press conference Friday morning featured the first public questioning of President Obama about the abusive treatment of Bradley Manning, the Army private who faces 34 criminal charges, some bearing the death penalty, for allegedly leaking to WikiLeaks evidence of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as State Department cables revealing US diplomatic intrigues.

Manning is jailed at the Quantico Marine Corps base near Washington DC, under conditions that have been denounced by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations as tantamount to torture. He has been held in solitary confinement there for more than seven months. In the last week he has been deprived of all clothing during sleeping hours, then compelled to stand naked for inspection every morning.

If another country were meting out similarly sadistic treatment to a captured American POW, the Pentagon and the American media would be howling about war crimes. But Manning’s treatment has been largely blacked out of the corporate-controlled mass media. Friday’s question was the first time the subject has been raised by the White House press corps.

The inquiry by Jake Tapper of ABC News was the second and subordinate part of a question that began with the Japanese earthquake and its effect on Japanese nuclear power facilities. Tapper then continued as follows:

“And then, a second question--the State Department spokesman, PJ Crowley, said the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Pentagon is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid. And I’m wondering if you agree with that. Thank you, sir.”

Obama answered the question about Japan, then added:

“With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.”

This answer is a cowardly example of stonewalling, undoubtedly crafted in advance after consultation with the Pentagon brass. Obama does not actually say that Manning is being treated appropriately, only that unnamed military officials “assure me that they are.”

He then wraps the whole issue in secrecy, with the suggestion that Manning is somehow being protected from himself rather than subjected to sadistic abuse in order to break him psychologically and pressure him into becoming a government witness against WikiLeaks.

Able to follow up, Tapper went for the most trivial aspect of the issue, asking, “Do you disagree with PJ Crowley?” Obama responded, “I think I gave you an answer to the substantive issue.”

No other reporter sought to follow up the subject.

Crowley, having served as chief spokesman for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before working for Hillary Clinton in the current administration, is a veteran apologist for the crimes of US imperialism, including the Kosovo War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

At a public discussion Thursday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, before an audience of 20 people, Crowley was asked about the treatment of Manning, which the questioner described as the military “torturing a prisoner in a military brig.”

A career Air Force officer before he became a government spokesman, Crowley replied, “What’s being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” He went on, however, to defend Manning’s incarceration and condemn the WikiLeaks revelations.

Obama’s endorsement of the torture of Manning follows his order Monday to resume the drum-head military tribunals at Guantanamo and hold 48 of the 172 remaining detainees under indefinite detention without any form of legal process. He is, no less than his predecessor, an accomplice in the sadistic abuse and torture of prisoners both at Guantanamo and on the US mainland

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Accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning claims rough justice

By: The Australian

THE US army private at the centre of the WikiLeaks affair said yesterday he was being improperly subjected to unusually harsh conditions at a US military prison.

In an 11-page memorandum, Private First Class Bradley Manning said officials at the Quantico brig had abused their discretion in classifying him as at risk of injuring himself and requiring "maximum custody".

He said the prison's own records showed he had been a model prisoner and that prison psychiatrists had repeatedly recommended he be removed from "prevention of injury" status.

"Under my current restrictions, in addition to being stripped at night, I am essentially held in solitary confinement," Private Manning wrote.

"For 23 hours a day, I sit alone in my cell. The guards check on me every five minutes during the day by asking me if I am OK."

"I am required to respond in an affirmative manner."

"At night, if the guards cannot see me clearly because I have a blanket over my head or I am curled up towards the wall, they will will wake me in order to ensure that I am OK," he said.

Private Manning said he was barred from keeping any personal items in his cell, could have only one book or magazine at a time and give it back at the end of the day, and was not allowed to exercise in his cell.

"If I attempt to do push-ups, sit-ups or any other form of exercise, I am forced to stop by the guards. Finally, I receive only one hour of exercise outside of my cell daily. My exercise is usually limited to me walking figure eights in an empty room."

The former intelligence analyst in Iraq, who is suspected of passing hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables and military reports to the WikiLeaks website, was hit on March 2 with 22 charges, including the capital offence of "aiding the enemy".

He is also accused of knowingly giving "intelligence to the enemy, through indirect means".

The US military had previously announced 12 charges against him in July, accusing him of violating federal criminal and military law.

But the Pentagon has yet to explicitly link him to WikiLeaks, although the charge sheets accuse him of illegally downloading government documents and causing them to be "wantonly" published on the internet. Private Manning knew that "intelligence published on the internet is accessible to the enemy".

WikiLeaks has infuriated US officials and shaken up the diplomatic world by publishing a stream of sensitive US military files and diplomatic cables.