Thursday, April 09, 2009

Middle East in recent weeks -

By Carol Gee

The Middle East is one of the subjects I regularly visit. Today the focus is on torture, the economic side of national security, help for Pakistan and Iraq, DoD contractors, and it ends with some assorted items about detainees.

Red Cross report -- "The CIA interrogation program was 'inhuman';" a headline made the headlines recently. The Red Cross reported on active participation of medical officers, who in some cases, participated in torture. The author wondered whether the release of the report (against the wishes of the Red Cross) will add to the pressure to investigate further. From TPMMuckraker I quote,

The journalist Mark Danner has obtained the entire report on torture by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which he published excerpts from last month. The report has been posted on the website of the New York Review of Books. Danner's new writeup of it is here.

Global Financial Crisis -- The "Pentagon prepares for economic warfare," an article by Eamon Javers in Thursday's, discussed a two-day war game last month that looked at how hostile countries might try to cripple the U.S. economy. What could China do to harm us economically, for example? And how we should think about integrating any economic conflict with "kinetic" conflict. To quote further:

. . . instead of military brass plotting America’s defense, it was hedge-fund managers, professors and executives from at least one investment bank, UBS – all invited by the Pentagon to play out global scenarios that could shift the balance of power between the world’s leading economies.

. . . In the end, there was sobering news for the United States – the savviest economic warrior proved to be China, a growing economic power that strengthened its position the most over the course of the war-game.

Pakistan is problematic -- President Obama ruled out U.S. troop raids into Pakistan at the end of last month, according to Yahoo! News, saying that "he will consult with Pakistan's leaders before pursuing terrorist hideouts in that country." On CBS the President emphasized that Pakistan is a sovereign government. CQ Politics predicts "trouble ahead for the Pakistan aid Obama wants," if Oklahoma's Senator Tom Coburn renews his objections to the Kerry-Lugar bill that will be the vehicle for the increased aid appropriation. The WaPo reported recently that "Congress Moves to Set Terms for Pakistan Aid." Terms include benchmarks.

Iraq Refugees -- The Iraq Refugee problem persists, according to an April 1 article in ProPublica. "Only a fraction of Itaq refugees have begun returning home," the story says. To quote:

The number of Iraqis living outside of their homes remains in dispute; the U.N. places the figure at 4.7 million. How quickly they return is viewed by many as a bellwether of Iraqi stability, with implications for regional security and U.S. military efforts.

. . . Last month, the Obama administration announced additional funds to support displaced and conflict-affected Iraqis in Iraq, Jordan and Syria in the current budget year, bringing the U.S. commitment so far this year to roughly $150 million; in 2008 the U.S. contributed $400 million. Al-Tikriti said the U.S. has been criticized for failing to invest more robustly. "Much of the international community feels that this is primarily a U.S. crisis and the U.S. should be primarily responsible for dealing with it."

DOD Contractors -- As we know, spending for contract work surged markedly during the Bush administration. However we learned through ProPublica that, to quote:

Pentagon inspectors sent 76 percent fewer contracting fraud and corruption cases to prosecutors than those under President Clinton did, reports the Center for Public Integrity. A Pentagon spokesman blamed the drop partly on laws passed in the 1990s that require contractors to disclose less information, and IG reports have cited staffing shortages.

ProPublica's Alexandra Andrews also revealed this little blurb,

In 2005, four Blackwater guards in Iraq fired more than 70 shots at a car without justification, according to State Department investigators, and left the driver in unknown condition, reports USA Today. But in what the paper calls "another example of lax State Department oversight," documents show that the top security official at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq refused to punish them because he didn't want morale among contractors to suffer.

About Detainees --

  • A National Geographic television documentary, "Explorer: Inside Guantanamo," premiered April 5. CQ-Politics'Jeff Stein reported on "the full treatment of the issues" by the documentary.

  • Given the release of Legal Counsel memos by the DOJ, the ACLU called a couple of weeks ago for the administration to "release photos of other Abu Ghraibs." The ACLU points out that there are still-secret and mostly unknown pictures of U.S. personnel abusing detainees at overseas black sites other than Abu Ghraib. A FOIA lawsuit by ACLU is making its way through the courts.

  • The legacy of Abu Ghraib remains. On March 10 a suicide blast killed at least 32 people at the Abu Ghraib marketplace in western Baghdad.

  • Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) is detaining the nomination of Christopher Hill to be the next ambassador to Iraq. The question will come up again following the spring recess of Congress.

  • And finally, undersecretary of defense policy during the Bush administration, Douglas Feith told the New York Times that he is "shocked, simply shocked by possible torture charges" brought against him in Spain, according to TPMMuckraker (3/31/09).

The Middle East is a subject of fascination for me at this blog. Unfortunately I did not find much good news in recent days as I surveyed the blogosphere. National security will take a tremendous amount of our time and treasure as the Obama administration continues to face most everything head on. It will not be easy.

Reference: "You Can't Put Out Fire With Flames," by guest poster Amjad Atallah, is an important analysis of President Obama's major speech in Turkey when he was recently abroad. It comes from the April 6 Washington Note.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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