Monthly Archives: September 2012

US Special Forces in Iraq to Stop Russia

The civil war in Syria is testing Iraq’s fragile society and fledgling democracy, worsening sectarian tensions, pushing Iraq closer to Iran… just nine months after American forces ended their long and costly occupation here.  Fearing that Iraq’s insurgents will unite with extremists in Syria to wage a two-front battle for Sunni dominance, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki recently ordered guards at the western border to block adult men…along with thousands of refugees seeking to escape the grinding war next door.  Farther north, Iraqi officials have another concern, also related to the fighting across the border. Turkish warplanes have stepped up attacks on the mountain hide-outs of Kurdish insurgents galvanized by the war in Syria, underscoring Iraq’s inability to control its own airspace.

The hardening of the antagonists’ positions in Syria — reverberating across Iraq — was made clear Monday at the United Nations when the new special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, gave a bleak appraisal of the conflict to the Security Council and said he saw no prospect for a breakthrough anytime soon.

The Syrian war’s spillover has called attention to uncomfortable realities for American officials: despite nearly nine years of military engagement, an effort that continues today with a $19 billion weapons sales program, Iraq’s security is uncertain and its alliance with the theocratic government in Tehran is growing. Iraq’s Shiite-dominated leadership is so worried about a victory by Sunni radicals in Syria that it has moved closer to Iran, which shares a similar interest in supporting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.,,,

In response, the United States has tried to secure its interests in Iraq. It has unsuccessfully pressed Iraq to halt flights from Iran that traverse Iraqi airspace to ferry weapons and fighters to the Assad government, although The Associated Press reported that over the weekend a government spokesman said Iraq would begin random searches of Iranian aircraft.  While some Congressional leaders have threatened to cut off aid to Iraq if the flights do not stop, the United States is trying to speed up weapons sales to Iraq to secure it as an ally, said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the American commander in charge of that effort. As regional security deteriorates, the United States is finding it hard to deliver the weapons — especially antiaircraft systems — quickly enough to satisfy the Iraqis, who in some cases are looking elsewhere, including Russia.

“Although they want a strategic partnership with the United States, they recognize the vulnerability, and they are interested in going with the nation that will be able to provide them, and meet their need, their capabilities gap, as quickly as possible,” said General Caslen, who oversees a Pentagon office here, under the authority of the American Embassy, that brokers weapons sales to Iraq.  The United States is providing Iraq with refurbished antiaircraft guns, free of charge, but they will not arrive until June. In the meantime, the Iraqis have collected cold war-era missiles found in a junkyard on an air base north of Baghdad, and they are trying to get them in working order. Iraq is negotiating with Russia to buy air defense systems that could be delivered much more quickly than those bought from the United States.

“Iraq recognizes they don’t control their airspace, and they are very sensitive to that,” General Caslen said. Each time Turkish fighter jets enter Iraq’s airspace to bomb Kurdish targets, he said, Iraqi officials “see it, they know it and they resent it.”  Iskander Witwit, a former Iraqi Air Force officer and member of Parliament’s security committee, said, “God willing, we will be arming Iraq with weapons to be able to shoot down those planes.”

The American military withdrew at the end of last year after negotiations for an extended troop presence collapsed because the Iraqis would not agree to extend legal immunities to any remaining force. Once the Americans left, Iraq celebrated its sovereignty, even as military officials in both countries fretted about the deficiencies of Iraq’s military and sought ways to work together that would not require a public debate about immunities.  Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

Excerpts from TIM ARANGO, Syrian War’s Spillover Threatens a Fragile Iraq, NY Times, Sept. 24, 2012

Drones: the Politics of Fear and Complacency

Excerpt from the Executive Summary Living Under Drones Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan (Stanford and NYU, Sept. 2012)

In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false…

The US publicly describes its drone program in terms of its unprecedented ability to “distinguish …effectively between an al Qaeda terrorist and innocent civilians,” and touts its missile-armed drones as capable of conducting strikes with “astonishing” and “surgical” precision. First, while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians. In public statements, the US states that there have been“no” or “single digit” civilian casualties.” It is difficult to obtain data on strike casualties because of US efforts to shield the drone program from democratic accountability, compounded by the obstacles to independent investigation of strikes in North Waziristan. The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization.

TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid- September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children. TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals….

US drone strike policies cause considerable and under-accounted for harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves….

Publicly available evidence that the strikes have made the US safer overall is ambiguous at best. The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised. The number of “high-level” targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low—estimated at just 2%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks…..

Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani relations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.

Current US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and may set dangerous precedents. This report casts doubt on the legality of strikes on individuals or groups not linked to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, and who do not pose imminent threats to the US. The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy. US practices may also facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments….

In light of these concerns, this report recommends that the US conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of current targeted killing practices, taking into account all available evidence, the concerns of various stakeholders, and the short and long-term costs and benefits. A significant rethinking of current US targeted killing and drone strike policies is long overdue. US policy-makers, and the American public, cannot continue to ignore evidence of the civilian harm and counterproductive impacts of US targeted killings and drone strikes in Pakistan….

The US should fulfill its international obligations with respect to accountability and transparency, and ensure proper democratic debate about key policies. The US should.

–Release the US Department of Justice memoranda outlining the legal basis for US targeted killing in Pakistan;

–Make public critical information concerning US drone strike policies, including as previously and repeatedly requested by various groups and officials: the targeting criteria for so-called “signature” strikes; the mechanisms in place to ensure that targeting complies with international law; whichlaws are being applied; the nature of investigations into civilian deathand injury; and mechanisms in place to track, analyze and publicly recognize civilian casualties;

–Ensure independent investigations into drone strike deaths, consistent with the call made by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism in August 2012

–In conjunction with robust investigations and, where appropriate,prosecutions, establish compensation programs for civilians harmed by US strikes in Pakistan.

–The US should fulfill its international humanitarian and human rights law obligations with respect to the use of force, including by not using lethal force against individuals who are not members of armed groups with whom the US is in an armed conflict, or otherwise against individuals not posing an imminent threat to life. This includes not double-striking targets as first responders arrive.

–Journalists and media outlets should cease the common practice of referring simply to “militant” deaths, without further explanation. All reporting of government accounts of “militant” deaths should include acknowledgment that the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants,” absent exonerating evidence. Media accounts relying on anonymous government sources should also highlight the fact of their single source information and of the past record of false government reports

Excerpt from the Executive Summary Living Under Drones Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan (Stanford and NYU, Sept. 2012)
See also http://livingunderdrones.org/

The iPhone, radioactive waste and rare earths: the Lynas case

Lynas Corporation, an Australian based mining company are constructing a rare earth processing plant, known as the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng industrial estate in Kuantan, Malaysia. The LAMP will process lanthanide concentrate which will be trucked from the mine site in Mt Weld Western Australia to the Port of Fremantle where it will be shipped to Malaysia. This report provides an assessment of the emissions from the LAMP plant rather than Lynas Corporation‟s activities in Western Australia. The LAMP plant will have significant atmospheric, terrestrial and waterborne emissions of toxic chemicals and radionuclides including uranium, thorium and radon gas.

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A Malaysian high court put on hold until October 4 a temporary operating license granted to Lynas Corp Ltd’s controversial rare earth plant near the eastern city of Kuantan, prompting an 8 percent fall in the Australian firm’s shares on Tuesday (Sept. 24, 2012).  The rare earth plant – the world’s biggest outside China – has been ready to fire up since early May, but the company has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago [regarding the handling of radioactive waste at the plant].

The plant is considered important to breaking China’s grip on the processing of rare earths, which are used in products ranging from smartphones to hybrid cars.

Lynas confirmed the Kuantan High Court’s decision on Tuesday, but said it would not affect production at the plant and that it plans to strongly assert its rights at the next court hearing…Lynas shares plunged more than 8 percent after the court order to A$0.795, their lowest close in almost three weeks as investors closely track each move in the sensitive case. Earlier this month they rose up to 50 percent when Malaysia approved the license.

Activists linked to the environmental group, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, want the court to suspend the temporary license until two judicial review cases challenging the government’s decision allowing the plant to operate are heard.  “It’s a small victory, but there is still a long way to go,” Tan Bun Teet, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters after the court decision. “We will fight tooth and nail. We have a lot at stake,” he added.  The group’s previous attempts to legally stop the plant had failed.

Lynas received a temporary operating license for its long-delayed $800 million rare earth plant earlier this month, enabling it to start production as early as October.  The Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued the permit following an earlier recommendation from a government committee.  Protests over possible radioactive residue have drawn thousands of people and the project has become a hot topic ahead of an election that must be held by early next year.

Sources

Lee Bell, Rare Earth and Radioactive Waste: A Preliminary Waste Stream Assessment of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, Gebeng, Malaysia, National Toxics Network. April 2012

Siva Sithraputhran, Malaysian court puts license on hold for Lynas rare earth plant, Reuters, Sept. 25, 2012

Nuclear Protests in India and Foreign-Funded NGOs

This week police in Kudankulam, in southern Tamil Nadu, fired at thousands of anti-nuclear protesters on the beach, killing a fisherman. The locals were opposing a new, Russian-designed, 2,000MW nuclear plant, India’s biggest, which is now being filled with fuel. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed over 10,000 Indians. Now fears grow of another big wave that could bring a Fukushima-style disaster.  Protesters also claim harassment, saying officials have slapped sedition notices against 8,000 who have dared speak out. Opposition has flared before. The state’s chief minister, Jayaram Jayalalitha, once backed the protests but has now swung in favour of the plant—perhaps betting that anger over power shortages trumps anti-nuclear outbursts.

The reaction of the national government, under the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has been mixed. Committees of investigation called the plant safe. The High Court in Chennai heard, and ruled against, a petition by locals over safety. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal.  The government’s argument that politicians not protesters should decide the country’s energy mix is reasonable. But, twitchy at criticism, it veered off in suggesting opponents merely did the bidding of a foreign hand. Mr Singh, in an interview with a science magazine in February, blamed protests on NGOs, “mostly I think based in the United States”. A tough new law is in force, severely restricting foreign money going to local NGOs.  Mr Singh’s frostiness is best understood in the context of America’s moans that a civil-nuclear deal signed with India has not led to American investors getting energy contracts. Strict liability laws scare its private investors, whereas government-backed ones, such as Russians, feel more secure. Could Mr Singh be implying that American activists are stirring the trouble in Kudankulam because the plant is Russian-built?

Nuclear Power in India: The Kudankulam conundrum, Economist, Sept. 15,2012, at 39

The Swiss Nuke Smugglers, CIA and Libya

Three Swiss engineers are set to escape jail for nuclear smuggling, in part because they helped the CIA bust a global ring that was supplying Libya’s atomic weapons program.  Urs Tinner, his brother Marco, and their father Friedrich are accused of aiding the smuggling network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.  But according to Swiss prosecution documents released Tuesday setting out a plea bargain deal, the three also cooperated with U.S. authorities who were able to seize a shipment of nuclear equipment destined for Libya in 2003.  The CIA operation ultimately destroyed the Khan network and Libya gave up its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Prosecutors say their work was hampered by the Swiss government’s decision to destroy key evidence in the case.  The plea bargain will be put before a Swiss court for approval next week.

Swiss nuke smugglers who helped CIA to escape jail, Associated Press, Sept. 18, 2012

How to Avoid the Carbon Tax

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),  a Climate of Corporate Control, statements and actions on climate science and policy by 28 U.S. companies, shows how these contributions can be problematic, and suggests steps that Congress, the public, the media, and companies themselves can take to address the problem.  Corporations have the right, of course, to weigh in on public policy issues that affect their interests. But too often they do so irresponsibly, misrepresenting and misusing science at the public’s expense, and in recent years their influence has grown.

Corporations skew the national dialogue on climate policy in a variety of ways—making inconsistent statements across different venues, attacking science through industry-supported organizations, and taking advantage of the secrecy allowed them by current legal and regulatory structures.

Inconsistency: Having It Both Ways–Some corporations are contradictory in their actions, expressing concern about the threat of climate change in some venues—such as company websites, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings, annual reports, or statements to Congress—while working to weaken policy responses to climate change in others.  For example, ConocoPhillips has acknowledged on its website that “human activity…is contributing to increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that can lead to adverse changes in global climate.” Yet in its comments on the 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding, the company claimed that “the support for the effects of climate change on public health and welfare is limited and is typified by a high degree of uncertainty.”

Using Outside Organizations: Contrarians By Proxy–One way a company can work against effective climate policy while avoiding accountability for that work is to provide funding to outside groups that lobby against climate legislation and regulation or engage in advocacy campaigns against climate science. Such groups range from business associations such as the National Association of Manufacturers to front groups like the Heartland Institute.

Echoing the inconsistency in their other statements and actions on the issue, many companies belong to groups lobbying on both sides of the climate policy debate. For example, Caterpillar is affiliated both with the World Resources Institute and Nature Conservancy, which advocate global warming solutions, and with the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, which oppose them.  Of course, corporations may point out that the organizations they support work on many issues besides climate—but the fact remains that many of these groups take starkly anti-science positions on climate change and work aggressively to challenge science-based climate policies.

A Lack of Transparency–When business interests can hide their influence on policy-making processes from public view, it becomes easier for them to manipulate perceptions of science and skew policy discussions. There are several areas in which greater transparency is needed:  Charitable contributions. Current law only requires corporate foundations to disclose their donations to the IRS; companies can get around this requirement by making their donations directly, bypassing their foundations. This information is also hidden from shareholders: several corporations have received proposals from their shareholders demanding access to the company’s charitable contributions, and legislation to require such disclosure has been proposed in Congress.  Lobbying and political expenditures. While companies are legally required to report their total expenditures on political contributions and lobbying, they are not required to disclose the particular issues for which these contributions are targeted. So it is not possible to determine how much lobbying corporations are doing on climate issues. Business risks from climate change. Publicly traded companies are required to discuss risks that might materially affect their business in their annual SEC filings. The report shows that compliance with this requirement with regard to climate change is not consistent; some companies address climate-related risks fully, some discuss only the possible impacts of climate regulation, neglecting the physical impacts of climate change, and others ignore the issue entirely.

Good and Bad Behavior–It’s not all bad news out there: The report shows that some companies, such as NIKE, appear to be consistently constructive in their climate-related statements and actions.  At the other extreme, some companies appear to be almost uniformly obstructionist on climate issues. This list is dominated by fossil-fuel companies such as Peabody Energy and Marathon Oil.  But because of the lack of disclosure, it is impossible to say for sure whether companies are completely constructive or obstructionist.  Inappropriate corporate influence on the national dialogue on climate science and policy is a large-scale, complex problem requiring large-scale, complex solutions.

Excerpt from A Climate of Corporate Control

Right to Participate: Indigenous Peoples of Peru

Peru’s official human rights ombudsman, Defender of the People Eduardo Vega, is set to convene the first the first “prior consultation” with Amazonian indigenous peoples on oil development in their territory, under terms of a new law passed earlier this year setting terms for the process. The consultation concerns a planned new round of oil contracts planned for Bloc 1AB, currently held by Argentine firm Pluspetrol, in the watersheds of the Pastaza, Corrientes and Tigre rivers in the northeast of Loreto region. The Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of the East (ORPIO), with an office in the city of Iquitos, it to represent the impacted indigenous peoples. Vega pledged the process would be carried out “with the utmost clarity so that rights of the indigenous peoples will be respected and the same process can serve for other consultations that will subsequently be carried out.”  But after years of conflict over resource extraction in the region and accusations of broken promises by the government, many indigenous residents remain skeptical about the process.

Peru: first “prior consultations” on Amazon oil development, WW4 Report, Sept. 15, 2012