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News in Brief: US military investigates 'death squad' accused of murdering Afghans

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  • Zafar Khan
    US military investigates death squad accused of murdering Afghans Brigadier general to conduct review of 5th Stryker brigade as evidence emerges of
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2010
      US military investigates 'death squad' accused of murdering Afghans
      Brigadier general to conduct review of 5th Stryker brigade as evidence emerges of widespread complicity in deaths


      The US military is investigating the leadership of an army brigade whose soldiers are accused of running a "kill team" that murdered Afghan civilians, as further evidence emerges of widespread complicity in the deaths.

      A brigadier general is conducting a "top to bottom" review of the 5th Stryker brigade after five of its soldiers were committed for trial early next year charged with involvement in the murders of three Afghans and other alleged crimes including mutilating their bodies, and collecting fingers and skulls from corpses as trophies.

      Among the issues under investigation is the failure of commanders to intervene when the alleged crimes were apparently widely spoken about among soldiers.

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      US drone attacks are no laughing matter, Mr Obama
      The president's backing of indiscriminate slaughter in Pakistan can only encourage new waves of militancy


      Speaking at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in May, Barack Obama spotted teen pop band the Jonas Brothers in the audience. "Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but, boys, don't get any ideas," deadpanned the president, referring to his daughters. "Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming." The crowd laughed, Obama smiled, the dinner continued. Few questioned the wisdom of making such a tasteless joke; of the US commander-in-chief showing such casual disregard for the countless lives lost abroad through US drone attacks.

      From the moment he stepped foot inside the White House, Obama set about expanding and escalating a covert CIA programme of "targeted killings" inside Pakistan, using Predator and Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles (who comes up with these names?) that had been started by the Bush administration in 2004. On 23 January 2009, just three days after being sworn in, Obama ordered his first set of air strikes inside Pakistan; one is said to have killed four Arab fighters linked to al-Qaida but the other hit the house of a pro-government tribal leader, killing him and four members of his family, including a five-year-old child. Obama's own daughter, Sasha, was seven at the time.

      But America's Nobel-peace-prize-winning president did not look back. During his first nine months in office he authorised as many aerial attacks in Pakistan as George W Bush did in his final three years in the job. And this year has seen an unprecedented number of air strikes. Forget Mark Zuckerberg or the iPhone 4 – 2010 was the year of the drone. According to the New America Foundation thinktank in Washington DC, the number of US drone strikes in Pakistan more than doubled in 2010, to 115. That is an astonishing rate of around one bombing every three days inside a country with which the US is not at war.

      And the carnage continues. On Monday, CIA drones fired six missiles at two vehicles in a "Taliban stronghold" in north Waziristan, on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan, killing 18 "militants". Or so said "Pakistani intelligence officials", speaking under condition of anonymity to the Associated Press. Today another round of drone strikes is thought to have killed at least 15 "militants" in the same area.

      These attacks by unmanned aircraft may have succeeded in eliminating hundreds of dangerous militants, but the truth is that they also kill innocent civilians indiscriminately and in large numbers. According to the New America Foundation, one in four of those killed by drones since 2004 has been an innocent. The Brookings Institute, however, has calculated a much higher civilian-to-militant ratio of 10:1. Meanwhile, figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities suggest US strikes killed 701 people between January 2006 and April 2009, of which 14 were al-Qaida militants and 687 were civilians. That produces a hit rate of just 2% – or 50 civilians dead for every militant killed.

      The majority of Pakistanis are against the use of drones in the tribal areas on the Afghan border. Their own government, however, despite public opposition to the bombings, has in private expressed support for America's drones. "I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people," Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is quoted as saying, in a 2008 cable released by WikiLeaks. "We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it."

      This is not a left/right issue; criticisms of the drone strikes have come from figures as diverse as Sir Brian Burridge, the UK's former air chief marshal in Iraq, who has described the aerial slaughter inflicted from afar by unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft as a "virtueless war"; and Andrew Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert and former adviser to General David Petraeus, who says that each innocent victim of a drone strike "represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased".

      Kilcullen is spot on. The cold-blooded killing of Pakistani civilians in a push-button, PlayStation-style drone war is not just immoral and perhaps illegal, it is futile and self-defeating from a security point of view. Take Faisal Shahzad, the so-called Times Square bomber. One of the first things the Pakistani-born US citizen said upon his arrest was: "How would you feel if people attacked the United States? You are attacking a sovereign Pakistan." Asked by the judge at his trial as to how he could justify planting a bomb near innocent women and children, Shahzad responded by saying that US drone strikes "don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody."

      But the innocent victims of America's secret drone war have become "unpeople", in the words of the historian Mark Curtis – those whose lives are seen as expendable in the pursuit of the west's foreign policy goals. Killed via remote control, they remain unseen and unremembered. Forgive me, Mr President, for not seeing the funny side.

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      An education in conflict
      In conflict-affected states, children are being left behind by state and private schooling networks.


      Despite widespread commitments on paper to the second Millennium Development Goal - the provision of universal primary education by 2015 - 72 million children remain out of school. More worryingly, 39 million (54 per cent) of these children reside in conflict-affected fragile states (CAFS), where they face multiple pressures in terms of lack of access to basic rights, and an accompanying unwillingness on the part of international donors or even local governments to place an emphasis on providing education.

      As a result, one in three children in CAFS do not go to school, compared to one in 11 in other low-income countries, according to data compiled by the UK-based charity Save the Children (STC).

      "It is obviously practically difficult, both logistically and in terms of safety for students and staff," says Tove Romsaas Wang, the head of STC's worldwide Rewrite the Future (RTF) campaign, which aims to prove that primary education can be provided even in the difficult circumstances presented in CAFS.

      "But our starting point is that every child, whether you live in a conflict area or not, has the same right to education.

      "Conflicts today may last 10 or maybe 30 years - if you don't provide education in conflict situations, you may miss out on five or six generations of primary school children."

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      Return to the Valley of Jews


      From her crumbling fourth floor apartment, Lisa Nahmoud gazes at the opulent palace of her new neighbour, Lebanon's billionaire prime minister, Saad al-Hariri. The multi-level complex with beige granite facades and Ottoman style arcades lies only metres from Lisa's shrapnel pierced building.

      "Doesn't he ever see me," she wonders, before lighting another cigarette. It is late August, and smoking seems to be the only relief from the sweltering heat of her bombed-out flat.

      Lisa is alone in her building - all the other apartments have been crudely sealed with cement and breeze blocks. And except for the Hariri mansion, ringed by multiple layers of heavily armed security agents, she is also alone in her neighbourhood, once known as the Valley of Jews.

      What had been a dense cluster of red roofed homes has been almost entirely bulldozed. In its place, under a collection of construction cranes, a new district is steadily rising - one of luxury towers and gated condominiums.

      As Hariri, the first high profile resident moves in, Lisa, the last surviving link to Jewish Beirut, has been asked to leave.

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      Persian Gulf or Arabian Gulf?
      By Teymoor Nabili in
      Middle East
      on December 12th, 2010.


      There has been an enormous backlash against the US government's attempt to promote the term "Arabian Gulf" in preference to the historic norm of "Persian Gulf".

      After an alert by the National Iranian American Council, the US navy's Facebook page was swamped by a tide of complaints demanding an explanation as to why the navy's official "styleguide" has been amended to remove "Persian" and adopt "Arabian Gulf" as the official term.

      The Navy has been forced to post an explanation, of sorts, insisting:

      We certainly haven’t done anything out of malice or disrespect for your proud heritage that has existed long before we were even a navy.

      Perhaps not, but the navy rather glaringly fails to offer any reason or logic for renaming the waterway between the Iranian Plateau and the Arabian Peninsula. It has instead blocked access to the webpage by people posting complaints, with the excuse:

      Our intent is not to remove your voice so much as it is to allow others to have theirs.

      The term "Arabian Gulf" has been in casual but inconsistent use by various members of the US navy and government, and by many Arab states, for a few decades now.

      But the debate appears to have gained new momentum with the publication of this new styleguide and by the recent specific use of the term by the US assistant secretary of political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro, when announcing the recent massive sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.
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