Sunday, March 25, 2012

Afghanistan Update

This is the third editorial I have written on Afghanistan. You can read the first here and the second here. I also wrote about Afghanistan in my editorial on reducing the deficit.

Coalition forces stopped transferring detainees to the NDS Kandahar prison in July due to torture concerns. The facility is run by the Afghan intelligence service. Coalition forces stopped transferring detainees to 15 other Afghan-run prisons shortly before a UN report documenting torture at those facilities. The UN report also documented torture at NDS Kandahar. Since then NATO has instituted inspections and training at Afghan prisons in an attempt to stop the torture there. A recent report by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Open Society Institute documents what it calls 11, “recent, credible cases” of coalition transfers of detainees to NDS Kandahar. The report details several instances of torture at Afghan prisons before the NATO reforms were instituted. It also found that, “Monitors received 10 credible allegations of abuse in NDS Kandahar as recently as January 2012.”

In November 2010 negotiations with an Afghan claiming to be a senior-level Taliban leader ended after coalition officials determined he was an imposter. NATO had given him a lot of money before the round of talks was over.

In September 2011, another round of peace talks came to an end after the Taliban assassinated the chairman of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani.

On January 3, 2012 the Taliban announced that they were opening an office in Qatar that would be the site of another round of negotiations with NATO. On February 27, the Taliban took credit for the poisoning of food at NATO’s Forward Operating Base in Torkham. Traces of bleach were found in coffee and fruit at the base. No coalition troops were killed or sickened from the attempted poisoning. In March the Taliban called off negotiations. The Obama administration insists that it is still committed to negotiation with the Taliban.

Negotiations with the Taliban are futile. It always ends with them trying to kill whoever they are negotiating with, if in fact they are even Taliban at all. If this is how they act while they are in negotiations, there is no way they will abide by any agreement afterward.

In 2010 a group of US soldiers formed what they called a “kill team,” that intentionally murdered Afghan civilians for sport. They cut off body parts from murdered Afghan civilians as trophies. Soldiers involved were charged and tried by the military.

In January 2012 a video surfaced showing American troops urinating on the dead corpses of Taliban fighters.

In February 2012 US commanders at an Afghan detention center in Parwan worried that Afghan prisoners were organizing an uprising by writing messages to each other in library books. Two Afghan-American interpreters sifted through the books to determine which of them contained writing that might constitute a security risk. They chose 1,652 books they thought should be removed. American military officials then decided that the books should be burned because they felt they didn’t have the space to store them. US soldiers then transported the books to an incinerator and began to burn them. Afghan laborers working nearby extinguished the flames once they realized Korans were among the books being burned and retrieved them from the pile.

To Muslims the Koran is not just the word of god, it is god. It is sad that after 10 years of occupying a foreign country our military officers understand so little about Afghan culture. Afghan leaders are now calling for those involved in the burning to be tried in Afghanistan. By all accounts this was an accidental, unintentional act. Those involved will not be tried in Afghan courts, nor should they. Afghan courts would sentence those involved to death. I do not believe that anyone should be given a serious punishment for this accident and at the end of the day, the Koran is just a book.

6 US troops have been killed in retaliatory attacks in response to the Koran burning. Two US troops were killed by an Afghan soldier at a base in Eastern Afghanistan. Two US officers were killed in the Afghan Interior ministry, one of the most heavily guarded places in Afghanistan. A ministry worker is believed to be behind the deaths. Two more US soldiers were killed at their base in Kandahar by an Afghan soldier and an Afghan hired to help teach Afghan soldiers to read. None of the US soldiers killed were involved in the Koran burnings. These deplorable murders were done because the assailants merely wanted to kill Americans.

These are merely the latest attacks on NATO forces carried out by Afghan soldiers. Nearly one in five coalition deaths that have occurred since the start of the year have been carried out by Afghan soldiers who are part of the military we are training to take over after we leave.

Over 40 Afghans were killed in riots that resulted from the Koran burnings.

On March 11, a US soldier went from house to house in Kandahar and systematically massacred 17 Afghan civilians. Three were women. Nine were children. These Afghans had committed no crime. The soldier merely wanted to kill Afghans. The soldier suspected of the murders has been transferred to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

In light of these incidents, it is hard to argue that we are making the situation in Afghanistan better by our presence there.

It is important we don’t view the massacre in Kandahar and the kill team as the inevitable results of PTSD. Many of our troops leave the battlefield with PTSD and similar conditions and would never commit murder. The overwhelming majority of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have served admirably, and we must recognize that.

51 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year. 36 Non-US coalition soldiers have died in Afghanistan during the same time. Not only are we asking our sons and daughters to be killed in a hopeless war in Afghanistan, we are asking our allies to do the same.

It is time for an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan.

How many more of our young men and women are going to die fighting a hopeless war in Afghanistan before our politicians realize that it is a war we cannot win?

Far too many, I am afraid.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Egypt Update

Maikel Nabil Sanad was arrested in March 2011 for “insulting the Egyptian army.” The charge resulted from his blog post “The army and the people were never one hand.” He was sentenced to three years in prison. He went on hunger strike on August 22, but still consumed milk and juice. He ended his hunger strike on December 31. He was pardoned along with almost 2,000 other dissidents in January.

On December 29, the Egyptian military raided the offices of several human rights groups in Cairo including Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute, all of which are funded by the U.S. government. In January, 6 Americans who worked for human rights groups in Egypt were prevented from leaving Egypt. On February 5, 43 employees of human rights organizations active in Egypt were charged with illegally providing foreign funding to non-governmental organizations in the country. Those facing charges included 19 Americans. This was accompanied by an attempt by Egyptian state media to discredit the protestors who opposed the ruling military council as working for foreign countries, including the United States, against the interests of Egypt.

NPR’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson described the real motivation behind these charges: the Egyptian military wanted to quash the groups’ pro-democracy work.

NELSON: Well, the feeling was that U.S. aid was not being channeled through the proper ministries. It was going straight to projects and to these pro-democracy groups, and that efforts were afoot to make democracy happen in Egypt without the government's say-so. Of course, there are also a lot of protests and things going on, especially against the ruling generals and the interim government. And so this was sort of seen as a way to detract from that and to sort of raise the level of xenophobia here in Egypt.

According to Freedom House, the US provides Egypt with 300 million dollars a year in economic and social assistance. Also according to Freedom House, the ministry that receives this funding is headed by “a Mubarak holdover who has been directing the assault against civil society.” The US also provides Egypt with 1.3 billion dollars in military aid to Egypt annually.

On February 16, Rand Paul attempted to add an amendment to a transportation bill that would “end all foreign aid to Egypt if our US citizens are not released in 30 days.” You can hear Rand Paul speak in favor of his amendment at Paul was unable to pass his amendment.

Rand Paul opposes all foreign aid. I do not. I greatly support humanitarian assistance like HIV/AIDS prevention and care, famine assistance, and broadcasting news to closed societies. I oppose military aid to governments who do not respect human rights, unless I believe there is a more important strategic or security concern to justify such aid. But on this part of foreign aid Paul and I agree. We shouldn’t be providing any aid to the government of Egypt. I greatly support the work that IRI, NDI, and Freedom House do in Egypt and believe they should continue to receive taxpayer money.   

On March 1 the foreign NGO workers involved in the case were allowed to come home. 14 Egyptians who worked for these human rights organizations remain in Egypt to face the original charges, however.

As a result of the FY 2012 State and Foreign Operations Bill, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must certify that the government of Egypt is, “supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law” before Egypt can recieve US military aid.  As Egypt’s treatment of human rights organizations and dissidents makes clear, Egypt is not supporting free expression, association, or the creation of a truly democratic state. Clinton is set to make this determination in late spring.

The Egyptian military says that it plans to transfer to civilian rule by July. Only time will tell if this transfer will occur on time and how complete it will be if and when it does occur.

Post Script: The final results of Egypt’s parliamentary elections are in. The Muslim Brotherhood won 47 percent of the seats and the more conservative Islamists won around 25 percent of the seats. The ratification of a constitution and the Egyptian presidential election are both set for June.

UPDATE (7/4/12): On March 23, Hilary Clinton certified that the Egyptian government is supporting the transition to civilian government, allowing US military aid to Egypt to continue.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bahrain Update

February 14, 2012 marked the one year anniversary of the beginning of the Arab Spring protests in Bahrain. That was the approximate date that large scale protests against the Al Khalifa monarchy in Bahrain resumed after a period of relative calm. Tens of thousands of Bahraini activists rallied in Bahrain on March 9, 2012 in one of their largest protests so far.

The government of Bahrain denied human rights organizations and journalists entry into the country prior to the one year anniversary of the start of the revolution. Human Rights First and Freedom House were both denied access to the country. Journalists from Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Agence France Presse, the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and Channel Four have also been denied entry into the country. The Bahraini Information Affairs Authority stated that the BBC, Financial Times, Reuters, and Associated Press have been granted access to the country.

The Bahraini government has also hired western Public Relations agencies to clean up its image abroad. These PR agencies include Potomac Square Group, Sorini Samet & Associates, Qorvis, Joe Trippi & Associates, Sanitas International, Bell Pottinger, Gardant Communications, BCB Group, Olton, TS Navigations LLC, and Dragon Associates. In contrast to Bahrain, Western PR firms by and large ended their relationships with the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya during their revolutions.

In February, Bahrain deported 12 international human rights observers that were part of the Witness Bahrain project. Witness Bahrain sent the observers to document police mistreatment of protesters and to support Bahraini democracy activists. They also hoped that their presence would reduce the violence of the government’s response. On February 13, Amy Goodman interviewed two Witness Bahrain activists on Democracy Now!

Doctor Nada Dhaif, a mother and pro-democracy activist, was tortured with electrocution in 2011. Dhaif told Al Jazeera, “They did that for nothing. I wasn’t even asked—they didn’t even ask me a question.” She was sentenced to 15 years in prison for plotting to overthrow the state. Currently out on bail and awaiting an appeal, she has been sending letters to the king and government officials asking them to overturn her conviction.

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is the co-founder and former president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and the founder for the Gulf Center for Human Rights. He was arrested by Bahraini police in April. His family says that he was arrested in the middle of the night and beaten. In June, al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison by a military court for “organizing and managing a terrorist group.” Said Boumedouha, a researcher at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera that the government of Bahrain did not produce any evidence that al-Khawaja used or advocated violence.

On February 8, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja went on hunger strike to protest his detention and the detention of other activists. He is a diabetic and as a result of his hunger strike is now unable to sit up for very long. 45 Human rights organizations have signed a letter to the king of Bahrain asking for al-Khawaja’s release. His daughter Zainab al-Khawaja told the CBC that her father had declared that this hunger strike was, “for freedom or death.”

Abdulhadi al-Khawaja is currently on day 32 of his hunger strike.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kansas Democratic Presidential Caucus Information

The Kansas Democratic Presidential Caucus will be held on Saturday April 14th. Voters must bring a photo ID with them to their caucus site. To vote in the democratic caucus, voters must register as Democrats; registration will be available at the caucus site. The caucus is open to anyone who will be 18 years of age by the general election on November 6. Voters may only vote in the presidential primary or caucus of one political party. Caucus registration begins at 1 PM and the caucus begins at 2 PM.

The Riley County Democratic Presidential Caucus will be held at Eisenhower Middle School, 800 Walters Drive. The Saline County Democratic Presidential Caucus will be held at the Salina Senior Center, 245 N. Ninth Street, directly across Ninth Street from the Salina Public Library.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Santorum wins Kansas

On March 10 Kansas held its Republican Presidential Caucus. With all caucus sites reporting, Santorum won the state by a considerable margin.

Here are the vote totals from the New York Times website.

Rick Santorum        15,290          51.2%
Mitt Romney              6,250          20.9%
Newt Gingrich            4,298          14.4%
Ron Paul                      3,767          12.6%
Uncommitted                 122            0.4%
Herman Cain                    39            0.1%
Jon Huntsman                  38            0.1%
Rick Perry                          37            0.1%
Michele Bachmann         16            0.05%

As you can see, all eight major candidates that remained in the race before Herman Cain dropped out were on the ballot. There remain 975 provisional ballots whose legitimacy the party has not yet determined.

The Kansas Republican Party decided not to run caucus sites in 15 sparsely populated counties. Republicans who lived there had to vote in neighboring counties. Santorum received the most votes in 89 counties. Romney won one county, Lane County.

Here are the results from Saline and Riley County.

Saline County                                                         Riley County

Santorum     358     51.5%                                    Santorum     276     38.5%
Romney        147     21.2%                                    Romney        202     28.2%
Gingrich        110     15.8%                                    Gingrich        133     18.5%
Paul                72       10.4%                                    Paul                100     13.9%
Others           8          1.2%                                      Others           6          0.8%

According to the Kansas Republican Party website, there were 763, 640 registered Kansas Republicans in 2010. According to the Kansas Republican Party, 30,832 people cast their ballots in the caucus. Based on these figures, 4.04% of registered Republicans voted in the Kansas Republican presidential caucus.