The admission by Great Britain's Defense Minister, John Hutton, that the UK participated in the US practice of extraordinary rendition has outraged for UK human rights activists and policy makers. After denying for five years that UK captures were transferred to third countries for interrogation, the Ministry of Defense has now acknowledged two men captured in Iraq in 2004 were transferred to the United States and "rendered" to Afghanistan. The men are still in US custody there. The Ministry of Defense maintains that it was not complicit in rendition, but it did violate as US-UK agreement by handing over suspects captured in Iraq to the Americans.
A quick read of comments by Representative John McHugh (R-New York) following a White House conversation with Obama, Biden, defense secretary Gates, and joint chiefs head Mullen, suggests internal politicking, with potentially partisan implications, over the plan to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq by August 2010. McHugh's statements that "[the president] assured me that he will revisit his plan if the situation on the ground deteriorates and violence increases," and that "our commanders must have the flexibility they need in order to respond to ... challenges" and that "the security situation in Iraq is fragile" are all indications of strong efforts among some to sustain the possibility of changes to the current plan in public discourse.
- Related reading:
- U.S. Troop Withdrawal Plans Multiply
- Guide to the Iraq War
- Iraq War Results and Statistics (Deborah White)
Image: Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images. A Marine places dog tags on the rifle of a fallen comrade during a memorial service February 6, 2009 at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. Regimental Combat Team 1 held a memorial service to honor Marines who were killed in action during their 13-month deployment to al Anbar, Iraq.
The FBI has made public the news that a Somali-American man participated in a suicide attack in Somalia in 2008. The attack killed at least 30 people. As reported in the New York Times, Shirwa Ahmed immigrated to Minneapolis, home to the country's largest Somali population, in the mid-1990s. He, as well as a number of other of young Somali immigrant men, returned to Somalia after their recruitment by Islamist militants.
The FBI identifies the recruiters as members of Al Shabab, who gained ground when fighting against Ethiopian troops who backed a U.S. supported transitional government installed in early 2007. In the U.S. press, Al Shebab is almost always identified as being linked to Al Qaeda. Al Shebab, however, is far from a unified group in Somalia, as Human Rights Watch pointed out in December 2008: "Al Shabaab is...plagued with internal divisions and even more radical groups have splintered off from it. It has also spawned a broad range of localized imitators who claim to be Al Shabab fighters even though they are operating largely on their own." Somalis themselves are reported to be uninspired by the strict form of Islam advocated by Al Shebab; most would prefer a moderate Islamist government.
In Minneapolis, the families of other young men who appear to have departed to fight have expressed deep concern and puzzlement over their missing young. The FBI estimates that from a dozen to up to twenty men have returned to Somalia to do battle, according to the LA Times. Although it is clear from the little evidence there is that recruitment takes place in an Islamic idiom, headlines announcing systematic "radicalization" of these Somali immigrants are overstated.
The exact motivations that prompt action is likely to include a mix of loyalties to clan and nation, as well as Islam. The men who have left are immigrants who may have minimal education or anchoring in their new communities. They are in late adolescence. It is unlikely that their motives are entirely clear to themselves. Preventing further recruitment may be less a matter of either counterterrorism tactics or focusing on Islamic centers or mosques, than one of encouraging better integration of vulnerable immigrants into American communities.
The Muslim community in Minneapolis, along with American Islamic organizations, has responded quickly to the news by seeking to strengthen ties with the local law enforcement and with the rest of the community.
Sri Lanka's 25-year war between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), may be coming to an end, according to Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapakse. For a couple of weeks, Rajapakse has been announcing that the Tamil rebels, who seek an autonomously ruled area in the country's north, are on the edge of defeat. The former control of around 7,000 square miles by the LTTE has been reduced to a negligible piece of land.
The intense battling between the army and the militants has produced a civilian crisis. Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have fled the north. Another 250,000 - 300,000 are reported to be trapped between the two fighting forces who are battling not only over geographic territory, but also the information landscape. Depending on who you listen to, either the LTTE or the Sri Lankan government is to blame for harming civilians.
The United Nations accuses the LTTE of preventing civilians from leaving the war zone and shooting some, as well as recruiting child soldiers. Much of this charge has been repeated in India by External Affars minister, who charges that the LTTE are using civilians as human shields and have killed some attempting escape. India has a substantial Tamil population and has pledged to support civilians, as has nearby Australia. Al Jazeera reportage cites witnesses who also clain the LTTE is shooting at civilians.
The LTTE has denied the child recruiting charges on its website, as well as charging the Sri Lankan Army with killing hundreds using cluster bombs, in recent days.
Tamils in the United States are charging the Sri Lankan government with having cut off humanitarian aid to the north to such a degree that it amounts to genocide. The group, Tamils against Genocide, will hold a demonstration in Washington DC on February 20 with the hope of alerting the Obama administration of their view.
A Pakistani news source today suggests that Indian intelligence is giving tacit aid to the Tamil Tigers, by spreading disinformation as well as through more direct support. Pakistan, of course, may have its own reasons for discrediting India.
As with all conflicts, the actual situation is more complex than either side would have us believe. Ahilan Kadirgamar, spokesperson for the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum explained how LTTE control, civilian fear and Sri Lankan Army's disgregard combine to trap civilians Democracy Now:
The immediate concern ... is the humanitarian situation in the district of Mullaittivu. While the LTTE is on its last legs, there are about 250,000 people trapped in that area. And the government is going forward with the offensive. The LTTE is not allowing the civilians to leave. There is a designated safe zone; however, the shelling, in particular, is continuing to kill civilians. There’s also concerns that many of the civilians trapped in that territory are perhaps unwilling to come out of that territory also because of a lack of internationally mandated rehabilitation camps. The rehabilitation camps are currently controlled by the security forces, and there’s a lot of fear for the civilians to also come out of the territory.
But the LTTE is also holding the civilians more or less hostage. And in the past, the LTTE has had no concerns about provoking violence on the civilians who have tried to gain legitimacy. At the same time, the military also does not seem to care much about the civilians at all. This war is being fought with much Sinhala nationalist propaganda. So it’s a very serious situation, probably the worst we’ve seen in the last couple decades.
John Solomon, over at his citizen-centric blog on emergency preparedness, has posted on the proposition that the Obama administration should do a better job than previous administrations educating citizens about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). John's specific point is that most of us don't know there is a difference, or don't know what is important about the difference, between nuclear and biological weapons, on the one hand, and chemical and radiological weapons, on the other. John writes:
In its report, the WMD Commission argues that the incoming Administration should make an effort to inform and engage the public on the subject of WMD’s. I agree. And, I suggest officials consider starting that process by defining (or redefining) what a WMD actually is. At present, it is most common to define a WMD for the public as a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (or “CBRN”) weapon.
The Commission report, however, focuses primarily on the dangers of biological and nuclear terrorism, both of which could be absolutely catastrophic. By contrast, a chemical or radiological (better known as a ‘dirty bomb’) weapon could be very serious but would likely not cause as much lasting damage. In fact, both a chemical and radiological attack would likely be a one-shot event seriously impacting those directly near the event, closer in result to a ‘traditional’ terrorist bombing. A nuclear bomb or biological incident, however, could have wide and long-lasting ‘mass destruction’ impact to humans, property and the society itself.
My two cents: simply focusing on information and preparedness, as opposed to the probability of attack, would be a service in the government's communications with its citizens. Statistical assessments of threat or risk are themselves generalizations that are not necessarily reliable and, in a sense, they don't matter either. Emergency preparedness skills, beginning with accurate knowledge, should help us live without fear, even in a dangerous world, and feel competent to take care of ourselves, our families and our communities when danger strikes.
The absence of the term "war on terror" from both President Obama's and Vice President Biden's foreign policy lexicon has left the media, hired and self-appointed, abuzz with the question of whether that means "the war" is over.
Newsweek diplomatically explains what's going on behind the scenes in "the search for new terror terminology" without taking sides, while Reuters contextualizes the gesture in light of other Obama foreign policy moves.
Nile Gardiner, a Washington based analyst thinks it sends the "wrong signal" to Islamist extremists. Conservative columnist David Stokes doesn't mind moving away from the phrase, but he'd like it replaced with something more like "war on Islamism."
Roger Cohen, globalist guru for the International Herald Tribune, is elated that at long last the plug's been pulled on the "with-us-or-against-us global struggle." Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, couldn't agree more; for him the "rallying cry that is the global war against terrorism" symbolized the Bush Administration's "demogogic simplification" of complex political realities.
Declaring the end of "the war on terror" doesn't make it so though; what Obama is drawing to an end is the use of a Bush-era floating signifier that could be, and was, appended to an array of practices and activities deemed to fall within its purview--including a war in Iraq, illegal surveillance of Americans and the excesses of Guantanamo, to name a few. The phrase "war on terror" is permanently tainted, in the eyes of the world, with these actions and with military aggression based on ideology, not threat.
As for the event formerly known as GWOT, it goes on, but the theory of it has changed substantially on two counts, first: who constitutes the perceived enemy, and how it should be combated. The reconstituted theory is that of a global Islamic insurgency.
Stuart Levey, who served as the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence in the Bush Administration Treasury Department, will continue in that role under Obama, according to news reports. Levey has gained recognition for an initiative designed to isolate Iran financially by pressuring international banks to refuse business with Iran until it accedes to political demands. These demands are related to financing militant groups and stopping its nuclear development. Levey joined the government after contributing to Bush's defense in the contested election of 2004.
Activists, journalists and other longtime observers of conflict zones have begun to label systematic rape a form of terrorism in the ongoing hostilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The hostilities in the DRC today are the outgrowth of two successive wars in the last fifteen years. The first culminated in the takeover of the government by Laurent-Desire Kabila in 1997 (who gave the country its current name, replacing Zaire). Kabila came to power with the help of neighbors Rwanda and Uganda. Read More...
Speaks Softly, Carries a Big Stick
Obama's inaugural address confirmed his intention to support the military's prosecution of a "global war on terror." Previous rhetoric and actions, such as his decision to keep Robert Gates at the head of the Defense Department, have suggested his desire for continuity.
What has changed is the rhetoric used to characterize the effort, and some of the practices established in support of that war, such as the creation of special military tribunals to try detainees categorized as foreign enemy combatants. The Obama administration's call for a pause in those trials while inauguration celebrations were still going on sent a clear message.Read More...
According to news reports, two Al Qaeda members were killed on New Year's Day by CIA directed unmanned airborne vehicles, commonly called "drones," on New Year's Day, in northwest Pakistan. Kenyan nationals Usama Al-Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan had long rap sheets that included substantial roles in planning bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Swedan is also said to have been responsible for the 2002 bombing of the Kikambala hotel in Kenya, which killed 12 Israeli tourists. Targeting programs led by Special Operations forces have reportedly accelerated the number of Al Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden is suspected of hiding.
The decision to target a group's leaders is based on the strategic calculation that it will weaken or even destroy the ability of a group to continue to execute attacks. This isn't necessarily true, though. Rather, it depends on how the organization is structured, and the relative role that a leader has in ensuring that an attack is executed.Read More...