Tag Archives: Obama

US Drone Strikes Not as “Limited” as Obama’s UN Speech Claims

In his address to the UN last night in the 68th Session of the General Assembly, President Barrack Obama claimed much in support of his country’s human rights efforts.

However much of what he claimed was either disingenuous or simply untrue. Putting aside the fact he claims that his administration is “working” to close Guantanamo Bay (05:00) which after 5 years of promises seems quite a stretch, or the bizarre statement that the international coalition had “achieved its mission” in Afghanistan (04:25), though I am not certain what war President Obama has been watching or even how he brought up reviewing how the US gathers intelligence, ie mass surveillance by the NSA, (05:20) as though this was their idea not something they were forced into by the Snowden revelations.

I could even overlook the insane and baseless claim that the world is “more stable” now than it was 5 years ago (05:32) and lump it and all those other claims in with the usual American political rhetoric that we have grown to disdain quietly if he had not attempted to downplay and justify the American use of drone strikes in the middle east.

Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013
Screen grab of Live Address 24/9/2013

“We have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing imminent threat to the Unite States, where capture is not feasible and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.” – Barrack Obama (04:40 )

This statement concerns me because this is apparently the limited stance. Does that mean that they were used in situations outside of these perimeters before? Even aside from that, how do you define a “threat”? What gives the US the right to kill indiscriminately those they consider a “threat” without any trial in a court of law.

And those legal and ethical concerns are only under the assumption that it is true that the US work not to injure civilians in their drone strikes which is not supported by the evidence, particularly in Yemen and Pakistan which have born the brunt of US drones.

August 1st on the very day that President Obama sat down in talks with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Washington, four Yemeni citizens were killed in Hadhramout providence who appear to have been civilians. One of the victims was 21-year-old Saleh Saed bin Ishaq, who was survived by his wife and a young daughter, on his way home from buying his family new clothes for Eid.

These attacks occur within weeks of the anniversaries of two high profile civilian deaths by US drone strike from August 2012. One of them, Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber, was a prominent anti-al-Qaeda preacher. Just two days before his death he denounced the group publicly. The other was his nephew, a young policemen Waleed Abdullah bin Ali Jaber. They were also killed in Hadhramout province.

Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber

Many commentators, including Baraa Shiban, a writer for al Jazeera from whom I got the dates and names above, argue that these strikes rather than curbing al-Qaeda’s activities simply grow their support base by giving them legitimate grievances to cite against the US.

Abdul-Ghani Al Iryani who founded Tawq, Yemen’s Democratic Awakening Movement two years ago is also a political analyst. He said in a statement to Alternet journalists:

“In the fight against al-Qaeda and the extremism it represents, we can do it the easy way, by killing, and thus have to do it again and again, or the hard way and really solve the problem. To truly fight al-Qaeda and similar groups, we must deal with the root causes of its growth – poverty, injustice, lack of rule of law…and drone strikes.”

Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference, a group of diverse political opinions brought together to work on a new Yemeni constitution voted 90% in favour of banning drone strikes. Delegates said that the US were violating Yemeni sovereignty and undermining the rule of law which was completely counter-productive in combating militant groups such as al-Qaeda.

Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)
Yemen protest Feb 2011 Washington DC (Colin David Anderson/ Flickr)

Pakistan has seen 110 people killed by US drone strikes in this year alone despite the Pakistani government’s numerous protests to Washington that this was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

It is difficult to really know how many civilians are killed in drone attacks as the US government has proven in the last year that they feel no obligation to disclosed such information. The cover up of the deaths of the Reuters journalists in Iraq uncovered through WikiLeaks begs the question how we can trust the US military to disclose accurate information.

During the election campaign in 2012 PolicyMic reported that the CIA wanted to increase the use of drones despite independent reports stating that: “estimates as high as 98% of drone strike casualties being civilians (50 for every one “suspected terrorist”). The Bureau of Investigative Journalism issued a report detailing how the CIA is deliberately targeting those who show up after the sight of an attack, rescuers, and mourners at funerals as a part of a “double-tap” strategy eerily reminiscent of methods used by terrorist groups like Hamas.” This tactic of killing those who arrive after the initial attack was also seen in the WikiLeaks video.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism then released a leaked CIA document which estimated that civilians killed in Pakistan since drone strikes began there were much higher than previously realised. The document details 75 drone attacks carried out in Pakistan between 2006 and 2009 by the CIA and a further 5 attacks by Nato or other unspecified forces.

Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.

Which begs the question how and why we should trust the assurance of an administration that has continuously disregarding international law, executes foreign citizens without trial or cooperation from the nation in question and yet use the rhetoric of human right while aping a grotesque pantomime of diplomacy.

Iran Ending Isolationism: What would be the Consequences?

The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been outspoken recently on the need for social reform in his country and with promises not to build nuclear weapons.

In the four months since Rouhani was elected as the 7th president of Iran he was released 11 political prisoners, sworn off nuclear weapons, temporarily lifted bans on Facebook and Twitter and expressed an interest in improving Iran’s relationship with the international community.

Photo: NBC/AP

It is the Ayatollah Khamenei, the religious leader of Iran, who has the final say on issues of the nuclear program and defense but Khamenei seems interested in supporting Rouhani’s move. Saying:

“We don’t want nuclear weapons, not because of pressure from the US or others but because of our belief that no one should have nuclear weapons. When we say no one should have nuclear weapons that means not for them and not for us either.” – Ayatollah Khamenei

All this comes ahead of Rouhani’s attendance at the UN General Assembly in New York today. In another interesting move by the new president he is bringing the only Jewish MP in the Iranian parliament, Siamak Moreh Sedgh, with him to New York. Not only this but there may be some kind of informal “accidental” meeting between President Rouhani and President Obama which would be the first time American and Iranian presidents had been face-to-face since the revolution of 1979.

The temporary lifting of the ban on social media sites on 16 September is more significant than it might appear at first. Firstly as it suggests that the Iranian government might be considering lifting its bans altogether but also because of what that would do to change the sense of isolationism within Iran, particularly for its younger generations.

Among the optimism there are many skeptics. Israel’s government is chief among them. PM Netanyahu and those close to him in parliament have been quick and vocal in dismissing Rouhani’s efforts as a “diplomatic deception” to distract international attention while they complete their work on nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday saying:  “One must not be fooled by the Iranian president’s fraudulent words. The Iranians are spinning in the media so that the centrifuges can keep on spinning.”

Iran’s parade of long range missiles capable of reaching Israel and the Gulf most likely did little to dampen these concerns. President Rouhani states that the weapons on show are for defensive purposes only claiming: “In the past 200 years, Iran has never attacked another country”.

This is unlikely to satisfy Israel. Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, a political ally to the prime minister, claimed: “If the Iranians continue to run, in another half a year they will have bomb capability”. But did not offer evidence to back this up.

Some commentators were reminded of Netanyahu’s memorable address to the UN last year with a cartoon bomb that was apparently meant to serve as evidence of Iran’s increasing nuclear research.

PM Netanyahu addressing the UN General Assembly AP Photo/Richard Drew

Israel might yet be right but, if they are not, what would a more open Iran mean for the dynamics of the region?

Well for one, if they cooperated with UN officials and demonstrated they were not pursuing nuclear weapons then at least some of the heavy sanctions against Iran could be lifted.  These sanctions have crippled the Iranian economy and have increased anti-Western/anti-American feeling among a portion of the population. The RT reported on the situation saying that:

“Doctors are also sounding the alarm: the trade embargo has caused shortages of food and medical supplies. The director of a cancer center in Iran says he has faced lots of problems getting modern equipment to treat cancer patients.”

Also if Iran was really willing to remain nuclear free and allow UN inspectors into its research facilities then it would go a long way to disarming much of the region.

Israel’s recent statements about Iran have only drawn further attention to their own nuclear activities, particularly in the wake of a summer of worsen relations between Europe and Israel. Israel is known to possess nuclear though its security forces refuse to confirm or deny this.

Last week Israel faced an attempt to censure Israel’s refusal to acknowledge  having nuclear arms and put them under international oversight at the annual conference of the U.N.’s nuclear agency, led by other countries in the region. 

“Israel says an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be reached before creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.” – AP

A more trusted Iran could also assist in negotiations with radical groups throughout the Muslim world, especially Hezbollah.

But a stable and cosmopolitan Iran would pose a problem for at least three countries, Israel, the US and Saudi Arabia. Israel would no longer be able to use Iran as an excuse for increased militarism and neither would the US. Not only that but Iran would no longer distract for the US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

While the human rights situation in the monarchy of Saudi Arabia is even worse than that in Iran, Iran has taken much of the international and media attention away from the Saudis. If this distraction was removed the media would have a greater capacity to criticise the close relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in light of its many injustices.

But at this point it is a waiting game and we here and Global Echo will keep up to date as Iran-US-Israeli relations continue to evolve.

Orla-Jo

Freedom of the Press

The internet has allowed greater freedom of the press than ever before in human history but many governments have shown tendencies to try to combat this freedom wherever they can.

Reporters Without Borders is an NGO dedicated to protecting journalists and the rights of the press.

“Every year, some 500 journalists are arrested, 1,000 assaulted or threatened, and over 500 media outlets censored. All of these violations have serious consequences which need to be tracked in order to better counteract them.” – RSF

They also campaign against internet censorship, teach about online security and provide support for online journalists.

“Netizens now play an essential role in the vanguard of news coverage worldwide. However, more and more often, they are becoming victims of threats and censorship by governments who fear this new cyberspace of freedom.”

Organisations like this are becoming increasingly necessary with the climate of censorship and harassment of the press that appears to be growing more prevalent in countries that would have previously supporting a free media.

UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The US have traditionally taken great pride in their press freedoms but in recent years have found ways to undermine any attempts at investigative journalism.

In May this year the US Department of Justice seized the calls records of the Associated Press (AP) without being given warning or told why the records were needed, no warrant was issued. Whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or Barrett Brown have all mean met with severe punishment or been forced to flee the country.

Not only that but one of the documents that Chelsea Manning is accused of having passed to WikiLeaks is a video proving that a US helicopter was responsible for the killing of two Reuters reporters as well as multiple Iraqi civilians.

Barrett Brown is facing charges that could add up to 105 years in federal prison for simply investigating the actions of a private security company. Jeremy Hammod, pleaded guilty to hacking the email account of Stratfor and released hundreds of emails that contained sensitive information including discussions of possible assassinations. Brown linked colleagues to a public URL that contained the emails. This is the reason he is being charged with “trafficking” in stolen goods.

“Barrett Brown is not a hacker, he is not a criminal…He did not infiltrate any systems, nor did he appear to have the technical expertise to do so. Above all, Barrett was an investigative journalist who was merely doing his professional duty by looking into the Stratfor emails, an affair of public interest. The sentence of 105 years in prison that he is facing is absurd and dangerous” – Reporters Without Borders General Secretary, Christophe Deloire.

In the last week, a gag order has been placed not only on Brown himself but on all his lawyers forcing them to refrain from: “any statement to members of any television, radio, newspaper, magazine,  internet (including, but not limited to, bloggers), or other media organization about this case”.

In response to trends like these, Pieter Omtzigt of the European People’s Party has tabled a motion for a resolution regulating surveillance programmes and protecting whistleblowers on July 31th in the Council of Europe. 

The proposed resolution would call on member states to regulate and control surveillance, protect whistleblowers on a national level and spark an investigation by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This committee has previously shed light on CIA inference and secret detention centres.

All over the world, journalists continue to be at risk. A month ago journalists were attacked by soldiers in Sri Lanka for covering a protest against the pollution of a local water source. Four atheist bloggers were arrested and one imprisoned in Bangladesh. Authorities in Myanmar have consisted sought to curb the media and have now banned Time magazine for it’s discussion of militantly, radical Buddhist groups.

It is the purpose and responsibility of journalists to critically report on world events but far greater protections for these reporters need to be implemented.

Tanzanian radio broadcaster Phot credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello
Tanzanian radio broadcaster Photo credit: UNESCO /Jonathas Mello

Why are chemical weapons the “red line” of intervention?

Just over a year ago at a White House press conference, American President Barrack Obama stated that:

a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Now that the use of chemical weapons has come up many feel that the president has trapped himself into responding. But the original comment does not promise military intervention and a question some journalists are asking is why were chemical weapons the ‘red line’ to begin with?

UN Photo/Marco Castro

Over 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began over two years ago with bullets and bombs. Conventional weapons are just as capable of mass death as chemical ones so why this line in the sand?

Obama defended this distinction to CNN last week:

“When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale… that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.”

Phrases such as “National interests”, “protect our allies” and  especially “weapons of mass destruction” cannot help but call some of Bush’s rhetoric to mind.

But Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official argues that chemical attacks if proven, must be taken more seriously than conventional attacks because chemical agents disperse to affect large numbers of people and “can produce horror for a lifetime.” He goes on to say that “it’s a slippery slope”, if a chemical weapons attack goes unchecked, what about some other form of weapon of mass destruction – a biological or nuclear attack?

But it can hardly be said that cluster munition or drone strikes are somehow less devastating or that they could not just as easily lead to weapons escalation.

Arguments could equally be made that intervention increases the likelihood of retaliation. Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent, Patty Culhane, questions the Obama administration’s assumptions. She writes:

“The administration says the US National Security is threatened by the possibility that the Assad regime will use chemical weapons on allies or US bases – do you have any evidence that they plan to take that step? You’ve warned chemical weapons could be given to “terrorist groups that would harm the US” – how does a military intervention make that less likely and not more?”

The US are not the only country saber rattling in the direction of Syria. British PM David Cameron however lost his parliamentary vote on military intervention. France is also threatening a military role. French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault said “France is determined to punish use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

The Arab League however issued a statement that they believed that no intervention should take place that is not UN led.

A question that should also be asked at this point is whether a military intervention by US or France or any nation’s army would reduce the suffering of the people of Syria or even reduce the risk of chemical weapons being used again.

Also another question that is not being ask is what would the US government do if it was discovered that the rebels were responsible? Will the US military still intervene in the country? Will they intervene on behalf of the government?

That seems unlikely.

“There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the “credibility” of those doing the bombing. Relatedly, it’s hard to imagine a more potent sign of a weak, declining empire than having one’s national “credibility” depend upon periodically bombing other countries.”
   —  Glenn Greenwald