الخميس، 28 فبراير 2013
No evidence Congressional committee does ‘utmost’ to follow up drone civilian death claims
by Chris Woods
|Are Congressional oversight bodies really doing their ‘utmost’? (Photo L’ennnui/ Flickr)|
February 27, 2013
Claims by a powerful Senate oversight committee that it is doing its 'utmost’ to verify claims of civilian casualties from covert US drone strikes have been undermined by the discovery that it has made no contact with any group conducting field studies into civilian deaths in Pakistan.
On February 7 the CIA’s director-designate John Brennan was questioned by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In her opening remarks, chair Dianne Feinstein insisted that civilian deaths from US covert strikes 'each year has typically been in the single digits’.
Feinstein also said that 'for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes’ and had done its 'utmost to confirm’ civilian casualty data provided by the executive branch.
However, the Bureau can find no indication that either the House or Senate intelligence committees have sought evidence from beyond the US intelligence community, when following up claims of civilian deaths.
While public estimates of civilian deaths vary, all monitoring groups report higher than 'single digit’ fatalities for most years. The Bureau presently estimates that at least 411 civilians have been killed by the CIA in Pakistan since 2004, for example.
Professor Sarah Knuckey, who co-led the recent field investigation by New York and Stanford universities into the Pakistan strikes, confirmed that her team has never been contacted by any US government official, or Congressional committee member or aide.
'US officials have stated that they have done their utmost to verify civilian casualty numbers, and that they investigate and take seriously reports of civilian harm. These public commitments are welcome,’ Knuckey told the Bureau.
'But if the commitments are serious, why haven’t officials followed up with the organizations and journalists who investigated strikes and collected information relevant to determining any civilian harm?’
Those concerns were echoed by Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict. Thirty months after it issued its ground-breaking report into civilian deaths, Holewinski said this week that 'we have never been contacted by Administration officials about our research and analysis on the covert drone program.’
Lawyer Shahzad Akhbar, who heads Reprieve’s team in Pakistan, again confirmed that no contact had been made, though he recalled a meeting in late 2012 with then-acting US ambassador Richard Hoagland:
'I give him further details of some other strikes that killed civilians, and without looking at what I was giving him Hoagland insisted that he checked the figure that morning and it was still in single digits,’ said Akhbar.
Associated Press, which interviewed more than 80 civilian eyewitnesses in the tribal areas for a major report in early 2012, confirmed that no US officials had ever sought follow -up.
The Bureau’s managing editor Christopher Hird also noted that 'We have always been happy to share and discuss our findings with others researching this subject, but in the two years of our work we have never heard from either of these committees, or their staff."
|Center for Civilians|
in Conflict (Civic)
|2010||Extensive eyewitness reports of civilian deaths|
|Ongoing field work and legal cases|
|The Bureau||2011 -|
|Three field investigations into reported deaths|
|Associated Press||2012||Major field study of recent high-casualty|
|2012||Detailed eyewitness reports of civilian deaths|
and broader impact of CIA campaign
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have committees tasked with overseeing the vast US intelligence community – including the CIA, which carries out the majority of covert drone strikes.
Most oversight is carried out in secret. However, some details have recently emerged of how the two committees seek to hold the CIA to account on the drone programme.
Senator Feinstein first revealed the process in a letter to the Los Angeles Times in May 2012.
She implied that monthly oversight had begun in January 2010, a year after Obama took office, noting that her committee 'receive notification with key details shortly after every strike’. She added that her staff ’has held 28 monthly in-depth oversight meetings to review strike records and question every aspect of the program including legality, effectiveness, precision, foreign policy implications and the care taken to minimize noncombatant casualties.’
Shortly after Brennan’s public confirmation hearing in February 2013, Feinstein added more details about the process, which she said also looked at video footage of strikes. Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are understood to view the footage at the same time.
According to a Los Angeles Times report on the process, oversight committee staffers gathered in a secure room at CIA headquarters 'also sometimes examine telephone intercepts and after-the-fact evidence, such as the CIA’s assessment of who was hit.’
One senior staffer told the paper: 'I don’t know that we’ve ever seen anything that we thought was inappropriate.’
Sarah Holewinski of the Center for Civilians in Conflict is now urging the Congressional oversight committees to be far more pro-active in their approach – and far less dependent solely on the word of the CIA.
She noted that unlike in Afghanistan, investigations into reported civilian deaths in US covert drone operations 'are limited to overhead surveillance, not collecting witness statements and digging in the dirt for evidence of what happened or who exactly was killed.’
And Holewinski pointed to the risk of reliance on the Agency’s own definitions of those it is killing which may not accord with international law. Noting the CIA’s use of so-called signature strikes against alleged militants, whose identity is unknown and who appear to fit certain patterns of behaviour, Holewinski told the Bureau: ’There’s every reason to want to believe claims of such low civilian casualties caused by drone strikes.’
'But given obstacles to knowing precisely who was killed on the ground and without real evidence to back up the claims, to believe officials’ claims would be an act of blind faith that isn’t fair to the civilians suffering losses.’
At the time of writing, Senator Feinstein’s office had not responded to requests for comment.
Qatar's influence in Egypt runs deeper than its pockets
The Qatari republic of Egypt" by an Egyptian cartoonist
February 27, 2013
It is difficult to separate fiction from reality when it comes to how much influence Qatar's deep pockets may carry beyond assisting Egypt's efforts to restore its diving economy. Stories that raise questions about Egypt's ability to maintain autonomy over its resources are denied as fast as they are published.
But there is little question that the two are forging a friendship that is rooted in a large part to the financial largesse of the Gulf state and the fiscal plight of the region's most populous Arab nation.
Beyond that, other factors appear to be at play. One is Doha's compelling desire - some would say obsession - to wield a regional influence disproportionate to its small size. Another is the election in Egypt of an Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, whose victory marked a landmark in Qatar's longtime support for Islamists across the region.
Qatar was an anathema to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who had made no secret of his contempt for the super-rich state and what he saw as its propaganda tool, Al Jazeera television.
But all that changed with the fall of the Mubarak regime in 2011 and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as Egypt's most powerful political group.
Qatar has since poured billions of dollars into Egypt, mostly as bonds to bolster the country's fast-dwindling coffers. Top Qatari officials, from the emir down to the head of his intelligence agency and the powerful prime minister, have been frequent visitors to Cairo in recent months.
On the Egyptian side, the Brotherhood, rather than the foreign ministry, controls the country's dealings with Qatar. Khairat El Shater, a wealthy businessman and arguably the Brotherhood's most powerful figure who was disqualified from running in the country's 2012 election for president, has been the regime's point man on relations with Qatar, frequently flying there on unannounced visits.
Top Qatari officials say they are helping Egypt because they do not want to see the country's economy continue to sink.
However, Qatar, with its massive surplus of petrodollars, also appears keen to invest in Egypt on preferential terms not available to others, if recent media reports are to be believed.
Mr Morsi has denied that his government was offering preferred treatment to the Qataris and insisted in a television interview aired early on Monday that his country's relations with the Gulf nation were on par with those with countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Mr El Shater has repeatedly made similar assertions, but Egypt's media reports on the "special" relationshipcontinue.
The perception that Qatar enjoys a special status in Islamist-ruled Egypt was reinforced during the Islamic summit hosted by Cairo in this month, when organisers set aside an entrance for the exclusive use of heads of delegations - the emir in the case of Qatar. The only exception to the rule was the Qatari prime minister.
The latest of the media reports on Egypt's "special" relations with Qatar was published by the independent Al Watan newspaper this week. It claimed that Egypt's information minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, a leading Brotherhood figure, intended to sell or lease to Qatari investors the massive state TV and radio building in central Cairo as part of a development project to turn the relatively poor area around the Nile-side structure into an upscale residential and commercial complex.
Mr Abdel-Maqsoud denied the report, although he did say in an interview with the same newspaper a few days earlier that he would like most TV and radio operations to move to "media city", a cluster of studios and sets on the outskirts of the city.
More importantly, media reports have speculated on a secret deal to lease the Suez Canal to Qatar, something that Mr Morsi and Qatari leaders have described as "laughable". In the interview on Monday, Mr Morsi insisted that the international waterway would remain in Egyptian hands, but did not deny reports that Qataris wanted to invest in the area along the banks of the canal, possibly as a giant free industrial zone.
On Wednesday, an independent Cairo daily, El-Yum El-Sabea, or the Seventh Day, said Qatar was offering the Egyptians huge sums to lease key antiquity sites and run them as investment ventures.
On the surface, the idea appeared far-fetched. But the Supreme Council for Antiquities felt compelled to issue a statement yesterday describing as "baseless" the media reports that said an unidentified "Gulf state" wanted a five-year lease on the sites.
With the lack of transparency on the part of the Morsi government and the marginalisation of the foreign ministry by his foreign relations aides, it is difficult to gauge with any accuracy how much leverage Qatar has over Egypt's Islamist leaders and its plans for Egypt.
But Qatar's generosity toward Egypt is widely seen by non-Islamist Egyptians as seeking to establish a foothold in countries that have been swept by Arab Spring revolts and instituting a new order. Qatar was closely linked with the Brotherhood in Libya, arming and bankrolling their militias during the 2011 civil war and now supporting its party and TV channel. In Syria, the Qataris are thought to be among the main benefactors of the rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Al Assad, particularly those backed by the Brotherhood.
In Egypt, Qatar may be taking advantage of the nation's worst economic crisis in decades to gain clout, but it may soon demand lucrative investment opportunities in return for the grants and loans it has given to help the Arab nation stay afloat.
Great Satan and the Zionist Entity: 'Arabs Swallow the Iranian Bait'
By Faris Haidar (Al-Iraq News, Iraq)
February 26, 2013
Translated By Nicolas Dagher
Congratulations Arabs. After decades of independence, thanks to the folly of our rulers and the plotting of others, we find ourselves under the hammer of a new colonialism represented by the Persian ghoul. Amazingly, under the banner of religion, it is doing the impossible: restoring the glory of the Persian Empire. Its path is a fabricated hostility toward the Great Satan (America), and virtual hostility with the Zionist entity. And its passport to infiltrating our Arab world was the closure if the Israeli Embassy in Tehran and its replacement with the embassy of Palestine.
In the beginning of what is known as the Iranian Revolution and in the name of the resistance launched by the Iranian leadership, many sons of Arabism swallowed the Persian bait, and aided Iran's organization of control and hegemony over our Arab world. They proclaimed that the road to Jerusalem led through Baghdad as if Baghdad were like Washington in its support of the Zionist entity and animosity toward the Arab nation.
Since 1979, what have the Persians ever done to help Palestine and support the opposition and resistance in our Arab world?
Let us answer the questions many people are asking with facts clear enough for anyone willing to hear. Those who are blind to the truth are either participating in the Iranian scheme or are receiving short-term benefits they will little time to enjoy.
If Tehran's rulers were honest about wanting to stand with Arabs to reclaim their rights, they would have returned the Arab lands they have taken by force. The Arab Ahvaz is still under their control and they oppress the people there day and night. And they would have returned occupied Arab lands that comprise an area many times larger than that occupied by the Zionists.
If the rulers of Persia were honest about standing against the Zionists, they wouldn't have relied on them during their war against Iraq. The on July 18, 1981 crash of an Argentine aircraft in the former Soviet Union loaded with Zionist weapons for Tehran is proof of defense cooperation between Iranian and Israeli rulers, and exposes the lie of their hostility toward the Zionist entity.
If Tehran's rulers were truthful about the animosity they claim to feel toward the Great Satan, they would never have provided support for the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Former Iran Vice President Mohammad-Ali Abtahihas said quite plainly that if it wasn't for us Iran, America would not have been able to occupy the countries. And conversely, the Americans, even as they were present in the country and after their supposed withdrawal, would never have allowed the mullahs of Qom and Tehran to control Iraq politically, economically and in terms of security.
If Iran was really truthful about its support for the Arabs and their causes, it would stop claiming Bahrain as an Iranian province, and they would stop appointing a Bahrain "representative" to the Majlis [Parliament].
Fans of Iran might argue that the Iranian-backed resistance and opposition supports Hezbullah, and see in this an example of the Qom and Tehran mullahs standing on the side of Arab rights.
Our answer is that that Hezbullah is part and parcel of Iran's system of hegemony over Arab countries. The idea of launching it was Iran's, its charter was written in Tehran, and its activities are executed through the Iranian leadership. Furthermore, all of the acrobatic operations Hezbullah has executed against the Zionist entity are part of a previously agreed-upon Persian-Zionist scheme.
Further evidence of Persia's avarice regarding our Arab world emerged a few days ago, when it came out that Iran considers Syria an Iranian province.Mehdi Taeb, a member of the supreme leader's inner circle and head of an organization fighting a "soft war," was quoted telling student members of the Basij militia, "Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks and wants to appropriate either Syria orKhuzestan Province [western Iran], the priority is that we keep Syria ... If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too; but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.
That is the truth of Iranian support for the Arabs. It is "support" is based on interests that, far from being Arab, are purely Iranian. That explains why Tehran supports the Assad regime over the legal rights of the oppressed Syrian people. Tehran considers the potential fall of the Syrian regime to be synonymous with the fall of the Persian project in the region. Its support for the resistance has nothing to do with love for the opposition, and everything to do with achieving its expansionist aims in the region, which would be imperiled by the Syrian regime's fall.
So - have Mehdi Taeb's comments reached the "deaf."