Posts Tagged ‘ President Obama ’

In Sign of Normalization, Pentagon to Reimburse Pakistan $688 Million

By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER for The New York Times

Kerry Panetta

The Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.

The biggest proponent of putting foreign aid and military reimbursements to Pakistan on a steady footing is the man President Barack Obama is leaning toward naming as secretary of state: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has frequently served as an envoy to Pakistan, including after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and was a co-author of a law that authorized five years and about $7.5 billion of nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan.

The United States also provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.

Until now, many of these reimbursements, called coalition support funds, have been held up, in part because of disputes with Pakistan over the Bin Laden raid, the operations of the C.I.A., and its decision to block supply lines into Afghanistan last year.

The $688 million payment — the first since this summer, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — has caused barely a ripple of protest since it was sent to Capitol Hill on Dec. 7.

The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials say, underscores how relations between the two countries have been gradually thawing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July after an apology from the Obama administration for an errant American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.

Mr. Kerry’s nomination would be welcomed in Pakistan, where he is seen as perhaps the most sympathetic to Pakistani concerns of any senior lawmaker. He has nurtured relationships with top civilian and military officials, as well as the I.S.I., Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency.

But if he becomes secretary of state, Mr. Kerry will inherit one of the hardest diplomatic tasks in South Asia: helping Pakistan find a role in steering Afghanistan toward a political agreement with the Taliban. As the United States, which tried and failed to broker such an agreement, begins to step back, Pakistan’s role is increasing.

For a relationship rocked in the past two years by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis, the Navy SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden and the accidental airstrike, perhaps the most remarkable event in recent months has been relative calm. A senior American official dealing with Pakistan said recently that “this is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “Pakistan-United States relations are settling down to a more stable trajectory.”

The interlude has allowed the United States to reduce the huge backlog of NATO supplies at the border — down to about 3,000 containers from 7,000 when the border crossings reopened — and to conduct dry runs for the tons of equipment that will flow out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports when the American drawdown steps up early next year.

Moreover, the two sides have resumed a series of high-level meetings — capped by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting this month with top Pakistani officials in Brussels — on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, concurred. “There’s greater convergence between the two countries than there has been in eight years,” she said. “It’s been a fairly quick kiss and make up, but it’s been driven by the approaching urgency of 2014, and by their shared desire for a stable outcome in the region.”

The one exception to the state of calm has been a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. United States officials have told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons creates a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted. A delegation of American nuclear experts was in Pakistan last week, but found that the two countries had fundamentally divergent views about whether Pakistan’s changes to its arsenal pose a danger.

The greatest progress, officials say, has been in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of mutual recrimination. A high-level Afghan delegation visited Pakistan in November, resulting in the release of several midlevel Taliban commanders from Pakistani jails as a sign of good will in restarting the peace process.

The United States, which was quietly in the background of those meetings, approved of the release of the prisoners, but has still held back on releasing five militants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a key Taliban demand.

One American official said there was a “big push” to move the talks process forward during the current winter lull in fighting. The United States is quietly seeking to revive a peace channel in Qatar, which was frozen earlier this year after the Taliban refused to participate.

Despite the easing of tensions in recent months, there are still plenty of sore spots in the relationship.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who heads the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing last week that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.

“Our Pakistani partners can and must do more,” General Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven.

“Pakistan’s continued acceptance of sanctuaries for Afghan-focused insurgents and failure to interdict I.E.D. materials and components continue to undermine the security of Afghanistan and pose an enduring threat to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces,” a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, concluded last week.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Kerry for Secretary is a great choice now that Susan Rice did not work out. We love Hillary Clinton and as a Democrat and Liberal through and through, as much as we wish Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery and look forward to voting for her as the first woman President of the United States, it is high time to have a man in there as a Secretary working together with Secretary Panetta. John Kerry is a good and honorable soldier who is a patriot and will uphold American interests but will be a person who is very familiar with Pakistan and the need to have a dialogue with the men who man the barracks in Rawalpindi, regardless who happens to be the Prime Minister in Islamabad. We hope he has a speedy confirmation and no obstructionism by the Do Nothing GOP~

Massacre of the Innocents: Chilling Details About the Gunman in the Schoolhouse

By Olivia B Waxman for TIME

 

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Barbara Sibley was being a good mom—but she did not know she would have to walk into hell to prove it. Her eight-year old had left something at home and so she drove over to the Sandy Hook School to deliver it. But something was odd about the compound when she got there at around 9:30. “It’s an elementary school,” she recalls to TIME. “There are usually kids outside or something. It was very quiet.”

She ran into another mom at the front entrance, where visitors had to be buzzed in. That’s when it became clear something was amiss: the window next to the door had been shattered. “There was glass everywhere,” she says. “And that’s when we heard gunfire.”

 

The school, in the well-to-do town of Newtown in Connecticut (median income $111,506), had become the stage for the latest manifestation of American civic terror: the sudden appearance of a heavily armed assailant bent on mass murder. The setting was perverse: Newtown reported only one violent crime in 2010 and was considered one of the more attractive places in the country to raise a family. By the end of the onslaught, as many as 20 families would be bereft of their children—and the nation, led by a mournful and teary President Obama, would once again be confronted with the issue of guns in a free society.

The instant Sibley heard the gunfire, she ran for cover, sprinting across the parking lot to where dumpsters stood, hiding there while the carnage took place. Within the school, the gunman was stalking the halls. Rebecca Cox related to TIME what her mother, Sarah Cox, the school nurse, saw: “She heard a loud popping sound, so she got under her desk in her nurse’s office. She did see the gunman’s feet. He walked into her office. She saw his legs and the bottom of his feet and just held her breath. He didn’t know she was there and then he turned around and walked out.” Sibley would later be told that students could hear what was going on over the PA system as one two-section class seemed to take the brunt of the invasion. “All of the kids heard everything going on,” she says. “They heard the gunshots. They heard the cries for help. The whole school heard it.”

When sirens blared in the background, Sibley knew help was on the way. Firetrucks from the station down the block pulled up and, when the authorities gave a signal to Sibley and the other moms hiding out with her, the women ran, keeping low, to a shielding fire truck as an officer covered them with his weapon. About 10 or 15 minutes later, authorities started to release students one class at a time. She saw her child and went down to the fire house to await instructions and head counts. And that was when the horror became apparent—not with visible carnage but by absence. “It was apparent,” says Sibley, “that there was one particular class of students that was not coming out of the building.” She says, “Those parents were just devastated and hysterical, and it was awful.” In the street outside the firehouse, which was bedecked with wreaths and Christmas trees, one woman collapsed into another woman’s arms, screaming “Oh my God. Why did they take my baby?”

 

The killer gunned down 20 children—18 of whom perished in the school, two dying in the hospital; six adults were among the dead as well. The massacre’s toll makes it the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history, surpassed only by the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University in which 33 people were killed. Officials said the assailant took his own life; the police reportedly did not fire a single shot. Adam Lanza, as the alleged gunman was identified in several press reports, was 20-years old, a year under the legal limit for gun ownership in Connecticut. The weapons he used, including the two 9 mm handguns reportedly found by his body, were allegedly registered to his mother Nancy. She was reported to be a teacher at Sandy Hook, and it may have been her class that was attacked. She too was listed among the dead—but it was not yet clear whether her body was found at the school or elsewhere.

The personal tale of the assailant is likely to take a familiar narrative arc. Already there is speculation of untreated mental illness or incapacity. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, his brother Ryan, 24, was apparently misidentified as the shooter until web denials came flooding through, not an hour after the wrong information emerged—and spread all over. Ryan lived in a second-floor apartment with three roommates in Hoboken, New Jersey. He had been taken in for questioning in the early afternoon — but by Friday evening had been cleared of any involvement in the massacre. Well into the night, reporters remained positioned with a line of cameras across the street, aimed directly at the five-story brick building

The police officers of Newtown were dispatched to another crime scene, away from the school, and speculation immediately focused on a house on Yogananda Street in Newtown where Adam Lanza reportedly lived with his mother. There were reports her body was found there.

In a speech delivered six hours after the tragedy, the visibly shaken President of the United States wiped away several tears, saying “As a country, we’ve been through this too many times, we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Later, a subdued demonstration by gun control advocates was held outside the White House. The day before the massacre, the National Rifle Association’s twitter feed had claimed that the organization’s Facebook page had notched a record 1.7 million “likes.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Our hearts are broken by this unspeakable tragedy and our thoughts and prayers are with the parents and families of the deceased during this deeply tragic time in the United States.

Why I Plan to Vote for President Obama Again…as an American Muslim

By Irfan Rydhan for Patheos

There have been a lot of discussions going on lately online among Americans, including American Muslims on whether to vote in this year’s presidential elections. Many people, especially Muslims feel that President Obama has disappointed them, thus they will not vote to help re-elect him for a second term. Still others believe that it is no use for us to vote because either party will not help us American Muslims out and a few people also think that it is Haram (unlawful in Islam) to even vote in the first place.

To those Muslims who say that voting is Haram, I will just respond by saying that you are Stupid. Period.

As an American Muslim, I was happy to vote for Obama in 2008, because I wanted a change from the failed policies of G.W. Bush, like most everyone else. I was also happy to hear that Obama, who had a Pakistani roommate, grew up in Indonesia and had Muslims in his family, although he himself is a Christian, was much more aware and knowledgeable about different cultures around the world – which was (and still is) needed for the leadership of America in this very small world we live in today. I was also happy to hear that Obama would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and would try to work for a two state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Of course Obama won the election against John McCain with a safe margin (although some states were very tight and every vote was needed to win in those battleground states – just like this year) and was elected to President of United States of America in November of 2008. This was a historic election, since Obama is the first African-American to be elected as President. This was one of the moments I was most proud to be an American, since no other western country has elected a minority race or ethnic group to the highest position of government before this.

Now 4 years later, many people, especially American Muslims are disappointed that President Obama was not able to keep all his promises. To those people, I will give you some reasons why this happened and also why we should give President Obama a second term in order to continue a lot of the good work he has done to help our country get back on its feet and move in the right direction.

Before President Obama took office in 2009, the economy was already losing 800,000 jobs a month. Now we have seen steady job growth for 30 consecutive months. Obama also saved the US Auto Industry, while his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, wanted to let it die. Although this was a very unpopular move to give federal money help the Auto Industry, Obama stuck with it and in turn saved 1 million Auto jobs in the US and all the government loans made to US Auto Companies were paid back ahead of time.

President Obama decided to take on one of the major problems in the US: The American Healthcare System. The last time a US President was able to successfully pass major healthcare reform was in 1965 with President Johnson’s introduction of Medicare and Medicaid. Since then, most political experts consider major Healthcare reform as political suicide, but President Obama still decided to take it head on and was able to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). It is not perfect by any means, but definitely a step in the right direction for America, where healthcare costs are some of the highest in the Western world. With “Obamacare,” health insurance companies cannot charge women more than men for the same coverage. Parents can keep their children on their family health plans until the age of 26. Seniors on Medicare will have free preventive services and also lower prescription costs. Romney said he will repeal the Affordable Care Act, and most likely allow Health Insurance companies to go back to running wild and abusing people who have pre-existing conditions (such as being a woman)!

President Obama and the Democrats, although far from perfect, are an inclusive party. Anyone who watched the conventions of the Democrats and Republicans could see with their own eyes, the GOP convention attendees were monolithic and not very diverse. The Democratic convention on the other hand, was the exact opposite. It featured people of all colors, backgrounds, and religions – including American Muslims. Unfortunately, the Republican party, over the past 12 years have moved to the extreme right and have now openly attacked American Muslims who serve in the US Military, Congress and other government positions. People such as Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman and others who are deeply involved with the current direction of the GOP, are self proclaimed Islamophobes who flaunt their Anti-Muslim hysteria. President Obama on the other hand appointed several American Muslims to his administration including Farah Pandith, the first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the United States and Rashad Hussain, who serves as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group representing 57 nations.

President Obama delivered on a campaign promise to address Muslims around the world from a Muslim capital within the first few months of him being elected by speaking at Cairo University in June 2009. Also during Obama’s first trip overseas as President, he also spoke to the Turkish parliament in April of 2009. I don’t remember the last time a US President travelled to and spoke publicly in two Muslim majority countries within their first
term, but it was a major change in US policy from the G.W. Bush era of shoot first and talk later.

President Obama ended the War in Iraq and also started to draw down troops in Afghanistan. By 2014 a majority of US troops will have left Afghanistan. He also ended the use of water boarding by US military prisons. President Obama has decimated Al-Qaida by taking out their leader Usama bin Laden – one of the worst terrorists of the 21st century. Some Muslims complain that Bin Laden should have been captured alive and tried in court. Let me respond this way: Usama bin Laden admitted to destroying the Twin Towers in NY on Sept 11th, 2001 and was the major cause of all the problems we Muslims now have here in the US (and other Western countries). We Muslims should be happy that Bin Laden is dead and that Al Qaida and other extremists are weakened around the world, especially in Pakistan, which has suffered a lot due to their extremism.

In terms of Pakistan, yes there are Drone strikes which no one, including myself likes, because they hurt and kill innocent people in the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province, but do you think that you will have a better chance to end these drone attacks with Obama as President or Romney? This is a current US Military Tactic, which will not stop if Romney is elected as President. In fact, US foreign policy, under Romney will become much worse for Muslims, because he (Romney) has already called “Jerusalem” the capital of Israel (which is Not current US policy) and he will bring the same Anti-Muslim foreign policy team, which G.W. Bush had, back into the White House. They are already pushing for war with Iran, a trade war with China and causing problems with Russia! Now, do we as a country want to move backwards or forward?

President Obama successfully fought to prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling for more than 7 million students, and capped federal student loan repayments at 10% of income. He also doubled funding for Pell Grants and established a college tax credit. As someone who started his college career at a local community college, I am happy to hear that President Obama is also investing in community colleges and career training programs. Plus, he doesn’t want to cut funding from PBS and fire “Big Bird” like Romney does!

President Obama renewed Unemployment Benefits twice. As someone who was unemployed for almost one full year, this definitely helped me and my family out. Not only that, a program called “Keep Your Home California” which was created because of the Obama Administration’s efforts to help people who lost their jobs to be able to keep their homes. This also directly helped me and my family out by helping us pay our mortgage bill while I was unemployed for 9 months.

To those who say that President Obama did not keep all his promises, such as not closing Gitmo. Let me remind them that Obama was blocked by the Republicans in Congress who did not allow the prison to be closed and the detainees to be tried in American courts (This is a reminder to everyone to vote for their local congressman as well, because the President cannot do anything if Congress is against him). See this article about the House blocking the closure of Gitmo from the Washington Post here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/dec/8/congress-deals-death-blow-gitmo-closure/?page=all

If we as American Muslims really want change in the way that we are seen and perceived in our own country, then we need to step up and get involved in the US political system. We really have no right to complain, because we haven’t really been involved in the affairs of our country’s domestic policies (we have No influence at all in US foreign policy at this point) and only became “active” for the past 12 years. We always complain about how Israel can “get away with anything” and the US supports Israel no matter what. Let me explain briefly why this is. The American Jewish community has been involved in the affairs of the United States for well over 100 years (the ZOA was established in 1897). Not only that, but American Jews have gone into every major field of influence (Media, Politics, Law, Education, etc.) and became leaders in their respective fields. This is not something to condemn, but to applaud. They spread their influence and diversified their skills. We American Muslims on the other hand are disproportionally involved in Medicine, Computer Science and Engineering, and to top it off, we do not donate any money to political campaigns or lobbyists like other minority groups do. Then we complain because we voted once or twice, forwarded some emails and donated $20 for Obama’s campaign and then expect the whole world to change in our favor!

Sorry it doesn’t work like that my friends. US Foreign policy has been developed over decades and policies that were put in place over 70 years ago are still affecting decisions made today. To learn more about this, please read the book: “Obama and the Middle East” which I reviewed here: (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/almihrab/2012/09/before-you-blame-obama-for-the-problems-in-the-middle-east-read-this-book/)

In conclusion, if you want to give up on Obama because you feel that he disappointed you, then don’t vote for Obama. But keep in mind that by not voting or voting for a Third Party Candidate for President instead is basically giving your vote to Romney. Mitt will not only take your free vote, but he will not do anything at all to help American Muslims out. Romney’s foreign policy team is made up of Islamophobes, Pro-Military Extremists and War Hawks who are just waiting to attack Iran (by the way the government of Israel wants Romney to win as well because they felt Obama was too tough on them). But if you care about what is going to happen to this country that we have all either been born into or have come to for a better life, then we should not only vote, but also vote for the only candidate who can relate to us as a minority and has already listened to many of our concerns as American Muslims and has followed through on many of these items. He ended water-boarding torture which was initiated by G.W. Bush and Company. He ended the War in Iraq.

He is about to bring back the troops home from Afghanistan. He has helped to bring America back on its feet from an economic stimulus package which has helped save the US Auto Industry and bring continued job growth for the past 30 months. He has helped America take a step in the right direction by creating the Affordable Care Act which will help cover 30 million Americans, mostly children, who would not have had health insurance before. That candidate is President Barack Obama. Now go out and vote for him on November 6th.

U.S. and Pakistan Take Step to Mend Relations

By Salman Masood and Declan Walsh for The New York Times

President Obama took a symbolic step toward improving ties with Pakistan on Tuesday when he met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in South Korea.

But even as the two leaders made polite, if freighted, comments about improved cooperation, harsh debate in Pakistan’s Parliament on Tuesday made clear that there may be very little political upside for any Pakistani warming toward Washington.

Speaking in Seoul, President Obama acknowledged “strains” in the relationship and voiced his support for a parliamentary review process in Pakistan that aims to get the relationship back on its feet. “I think it’s important for us to get it right,” he said at a joint news conference.

But Mr. Obama added that Pakistan must also respect pressing American security concerns centered on “national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.”

Mr. Gilani replied that he would help work with Mr. Obama “to have all the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world.”

Relations between the two countries plunged steeply after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May, then worsened further after American warplanes fired airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan in November.

The border strikes caused Pakistan to close NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and expel American officials from a remote air based used by the C.I.A. to launch drone strikes against militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwestern Pakistani tribal belt. More recently, a Pakistani parliamentary committee on national security demanded an end to drone strikes and an unconditional American apology for the airstrikes.

In Islamabad on Tuesday, Parliament was supposed to start a long-awaited debate that would pave the way toward re-engaging diplomatically with the United States. But the opposition stalled the debate, with some lawmakers expressing fury at news reports that the government had already promised to reopen the NATO supply lines.

Ayaz Amir, an influential lawmaker with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, questioned why Pakistan even bothered blocking the supply routes if it was assumed they would start right back up again. “We are fooling ourselves, and we are also fooling the Pakistani people,” he said.

The most scathing criticism came from Maulana Fazalur Rehman, an influential religious politician, who warned that if the government failed to win broad political backing for its review of American ties, he would take his protests onto the streets.

“We will not let such a decision to be implemented in the field,” he said.

Mr. Rehman asserted that given urgent efforts by the Americans to start negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, American weapons transported through NATO supply lines could ultimately be turned back on Pakistan, earning loud applause from fellow lawmakers. And he asked how the government intended to bring covert American operations in Pakistan under the law of the land.

Raza Rabbani, a senior government lawmaker, responded that the parliamentary committee’s recommendations on American policy were “broad policy guidelines” and not a final decision.

The session was adjourned until Wednesday evening, when the formal debate is due to begin. Meanwhile, outside Parliament, a newly formed alliance of religious parties and extremist groups, the Defense of Pakistan Council, held a large street rally against the reopening of the supply routes.

“If Parliament compromises on the security and sovereignty of the country, then we cannot guarantee the security of the lawmakers,” said Maulana Sami ul-Haq, head of the alliance, as hundreds of protesters chanted anti-American slogans.

The End of a Geopolitical Affair

By Pramit Pal Chaudhri for The Hindustan Times

In Pakistan’s current crisis, why is its military is so reluctant to consider simply seizing power? One reason is that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani cannot count on the US looking the other way. At a minimum, Washington would have to slap sanctions on an economically faltering country. At a maximum, it would be the last straw in a bilateral relationship at its lowest ebb since it was first woven in the 1950s.

Pakistan’s establishment claims it has been used and abused by the US, the most serious violation being that country’s stealth attack on Abbottabad that led to Osama bin Laden’s death. There has been the Raymond Davies affair, the endless drone attacks and the increasingly public accusation of double-dealing by senior US officials – the most notable being Admiral Mike Mullen’s linking of the Inter-Services Intelligence with terrorist groups.

There is some satisfaction for India in all this. It has been persistently claiming the existence of a military-terrorist nexus. Many in Washington agree. After Abbottabad, there is no one in Washington who doesn’t. The US-Pakistan relationship, says Daniel Twining of the German Marshall Fund, “was really at a historic high for the past decade but is diminishing.” But it might not matter as much to the US if relations fall apart, he says.

Other events are undermining the basis of the US-Pakistani bond. Islamabad had expected the US to totally retreat from Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan’s Taliban allies in charge. Instead, the US will leave a substantial force behind along with many drone bases. The US is talking with the Taliban, but only desultorily with groups that Islamabad patronises.

With the US Congress also pulling the plug on aid to Pakistan, what is left? The answer is nukes. “If Pakistan didn’t have nuclear weapons, with Al Qaeda almost gone, no one would care a fig about that country,” said one ex-US ambassador to the region. As they realise this, Islamabad is getting more paranoid about the security of its “strategic assets.” The more unstable they look, the more willing the US will be to try and do something risky to salvage Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

US officials are talking about a “new normal” in their Pakistan relations. This would cut ties to the bare bones: counterterrorism cooperation, limited military transit requirements, Afghan talks, narcotics and some humanitarian assistance. “We’ll have to work with the Pakistan military on a limited basis while negotiations with the Taliban proceed,” says John Schlosser, a former state department South Asia hand.

There seems to be no real understanding among Pakistanis that their leverage is dwindling or how much Abbottabad vapourised their credibility in the US. A parliamentary committee report on how to change the US relationship bizarrely demanded, for example, a civilian nuclear agreement.

It could get worse. “The relationship will fall further if the US finds [Al Qaeda chief] Zawahiri in Pakistan. Or there are terror strikes on India or the US,” says Bruce Riedel, former AfPak advisor to Barack Obama.

The worst thing is that Washington is decoupling just at a time when Pakistan, economically and otherwise, can least afford to lose their most generous international partner.

Unhappy Anniversary, Guantanamo!

By Carlos Harrison for The Huffington Post

It’s been a troubled – some might say, tragic – 10 years for the detention camps at the Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuba. And as they slouch into their 11th year on January 11, there’s no end in sight.

“We say to ourselves, in sort of gallows humor: Guantánamo will close when the last detainee there dies of natural causes,” Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, told the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

Franz Kafka himself would have been hard-pressed to concoct a more bewildering and brutal contradictory reality. Allegations over the years have included sexual humiliation, waterboarding, and the use of dogs to scare detainees. Released detainees reported being locked in in sensory deprivation cells, beaten repeatedly, and forced to race while wearing leg shackles. If they fell, they were punished.

If it sounds like Abu Ghraib, it should. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee found that intelligence teams transported the “aggressive” interrogation techniques perfected at Guantánamo to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The link between Cuba and the war zones, the New York Times reported, was Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then the head of detention operations at Guantánamo. At his insistence, the Times wrote, the Defense Department sent training teams on 90-day tours in Iraq, showing the soldiers there the techniques utilized on the island. The timing, Amnesty International points out, happened to coincide with when the worst abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib.

Thanks to reports like those, the detention camps have become an international symbol of what democracy and justice are not. They’ve been plagued by suicide attempts by desperate detainees and condemned by the United Nations, human rights groups, even former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called for the immediate closing of the camps in 2006.
“The value of holding prisoners there was unclear, but the price we were paying around the world for doing so was obvious,” Powell said.

The camps were created in 2002 as a deliberately “extraterritorial” place to extract information from captives in the “War on Terror.” By putting them at Guantanamo, the United States, meant to be beyond the jurisdiction of both the Geneva Conventions and U.S. courts.

That didn’t put them outside the range of public opinion. The camps sparked outrage on day one. Pictures flew around the world of shackled and handcuffed detainees on their knees on the ground with black hoods over their heads and mittens on their hands.

The indignation grew as the first 20 captives went into wire cages at Camp X-Ray, described by critics as “kennels.” Soon, though, the detainees were transferred to permanent cells, and Camp X-Ray was closed.

But the human rights complaints continued, even from some of America’s closest allies.
In 2006, speaking on BBC radio, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said:

“I am absolutely clear that the U.S. has no intention of maintaining a Gulag in Guantanamo Bay. They want to see the situation resolved and they would like it other than it is. However, that is the situation that they have.”

In all 779 detainees have been held in the camps. Eight have died there, including six suicides. One man died of colon cancer, another after an apparent heart attack.

And, in the 10 years since it opened, only six detainees have been convicted of war crimes.
The last 171 still there are caught at the conflicting conjunction where bureaucracy, politics, and military regulations collide – offering little chance, at least for the foreseeable future, of gaining their release.

Forty-six are classified as “indefinite detainees,” held without charges, but considered too dangerous to be released; 89 are eligible for release or transfer but in perpetual custody because there is no place to send them. Five more have been convicted of war crimes; and six face trial – perhaps this year – for the 9/11 attacks and the October 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing.
That makes Guantanamo, as Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald described it in a piece for Foreign Affairs, “arguably the most expensive prison camp on earth, with a staff of 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians managing a compound that contains 171 captives, at a cost of $800,000 a year per detainee.”

But even the budget conscious Congress resists closing the base. In fact, it has used its spending oversight powers to thwart the president’s efforts to do just that. It has used that authority to prevent the trial of detainees on U.S. soil and to block the purchase of a dedicated prison facility in Illinois to house transferred detainees.
And no one wants to risk having a released captive later become involved in an act of terrorism or insurgency, which happened with at least one-fourth of the 500 detainees set free under President George W. Bush.

So, the captives remain in Guantanamo. Until when no one knows.
As Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN:

“We have the right to continue to hold them as long as al Qaeda is at war with us.”

Having the right, though, doesn’t make it right, said Geneve Mantri, government relations director for national security, Amnesty International.

Speaking to The Huffington Post on Wednesday, he said the 89 cleared for release by both the Bush administration and a review ordered by President Obama, “represent little or no threat.”

“This has always been sold as a question of the worst of the worst and the reality is that a large number of the people that have been picked up, I hate to say it are in the insignificant and rather pathetically sad story category,” he said.

“There is a minority of people (in the camps) that no one doubts are truly dangerous. That minority of people should be placed in front of a US court. Because we have the most efficient system, the fastest and cheapest and best system for looking at all the evidence. You produce it all in a court of law. Have a real defense — an internationally recognized defense. And then put them away forever.”

The National Defense Authorization Act: Our Disappearing Rights and Liberties

By Alton Lu for The Huffington Post

Back in the beginning stages of the War on Terrorism, President Bush enacted the Patriot Act. This allowed the government to spy on citizens, monitoring their activities in order to discern whether or not someone is a terrorist. It brought about changes in law enforcement that allowed agencies to search phones, financial records, etc.

One of the most controversial aspects of the law is authorization of indefinite detention of non-U.S. citizens. Immigrants suspected of being terrorists would be detained without trial until the War on Terrorism finished.

On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed a law known as the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2012 fiscal year, or the H.R. 1540. Congress passes this act every year to monitor the budget for the Department of Defense. However, this year the NDAA bill has passed with new provisions that should have the entire country up with pitchforks.

Normally, this is just an act which details the monetary calls of the Department of Defense which is passed every year. However, the act passed for the 2012 fiscal year changes the bill and can be seen as an extension of the Patriot Act. Now, the indefinite detention has been extended to U.S. citizens as well. If people are spied on and suspected of being terrorists, they may be detained indefinitely without trial.

In a country famous for the belief that one is innocent until proven guilty, this is an upsetting change that is being foisted upon the American people with many unaware of what it means.

The provisions of the Patriot Act allow the government to spy upon U.S. citizens and the NDAA allows the government to whisk a citizen away for no reason other than being suspected of terrorism.

So why has this law been passed when it is very easily seen as unconstitutional? The Fourth Amendment grants liberty from unreasonable seizures, while the Sixth guarantees every U.S. citizen a trial in front of a jury. No matter what supporters of the bill might have said about the provisions being misunderstood, the simple fact is that it is unconstitutional.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has made arguments for this provision, stating that the law would apply for US citizens’ turncoats who have aided Al-Qaeda or other associated organization. He gave a long-winded story of how a U.S. citizen might fly to Pakistan to receive terrorist training, then return home and shoot down fellow citizens a few miles from the airport.

It’s a disgusting show that Graham is pulling. He has made an example of how a single U.S. citizen might become a turncoat and because of that possible risk, the citizen’s right to a trial and jury has been abolished.

Supporter of the NDAA, Representative Tim Griffin stated in the Daily Caller:

Section 1022’s use of the word ‘requirement’ also has been misinterpreted as allowing U.S. citizens to be detained, but this provision does not in any way create this authority. This provision must be read in the context of Section 1022’s purpose, which is reflected in its title and relates solely to ‘military custody of foreign al Qaida terrorists.’ The term “requirement” does not mean that detention of U.S. citizens is optional under this provision.

He merely states that the people have ‘misinterpreted’ the provisions within the bill.

This is a situation in which they are able to detain U.S. citizens, but they won’t because that’s wrong. I will repeat: “They are allowed through the NDAA to detain U.S. citizens, but they won’t because that’s wrong.”

Similar to Griffin’s response, President Obama has released a statement regarding the H.R. 1540
(NDAA):

Moreover, I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

President Obama says that his administration will not authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens. Yet Obama also said that he would close Guantanamo Bay. Obama also said he would recall the troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Obama also said he would end the Bush tax cuts.

It doesn’t matter the reason these promises were not kept. What matters is that they weren’t. Obama says his administration will not authorize the indefinite detention of citizens. But that could change. The interpretation of this bill can change on a dime. These politicians who say there is nothing to fear could quickly change whenever they see fit.

These implications grow larger as we know there is no single accepted definition of terrorism present in the United States. The State Department defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

Under this definition, the entire United States can be seen as terrorists. The government had planned the operations in Iraq and has resulted in over 100,000 civilian deaths. It can also be said that the U.S. is changing views of terrorism throughout the world… influencing an audience. Terrorism cannot be specifically defined as attacks against the United States; therefore, the United States might have been terrorizing parts of the Middle East.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has stated that there are laws regarding terrorist suspects in America in place by the Department of Justice. Issues such as having an armed weapon or having a food supply lasting at least seven days can be grounds for terrorism.

I look to my well-supplied pantry filled with foods my loving mother had purchased from Costco. I’m not one to count it all, but I’d say it would last my entire family over a week.

My father legally owns a handgun. There’s something about protecting his family that is important to him, so he keeps a gun nearby.

I am writing a story that is against what the politicians in Washington have voted for. Can I be seen as aiding Al-Qaeda because I am attempting to change the views of the public to something that is against government; because there is a gun in my home and we have a well-supplied pantry?

Can I be seen as a terrorist under the definition of terrorism? Yes I can. Will I? I hope not.

Alton Lu is an 18 year old high school senior. Alton Lu: I see the name as the most uncommon thing about myself. I’m just a typical teenager in a stereotypical high school residing an in un-extraordinary town. I enjoy pretending that I’m a modern-day philosopher and political activist while still living out the generic high school experience. I am now embarking on the longest, most extensive campaign to the presidency. If you agree with my views, look forward to voting for me in about thirty years. If you disagree…I hope you’ll still vote for me.

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