Monthly Archives: December 2012

The CIA Drone Program in Yemen: cover up

A rickety Toyota truck packed with 14 people rumbled down a desert road from the town of Radda, which al-Qaeda militants once controlled. Suddenly a missile hurtled from the sky and flipped the vehicle over.  Chaos. Flames. Corpses. Then, a second missile struck.  Within seconds, 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds.

The Yemeni government initially said that those killed were al-Qaeda militants and that its Soviet-era jets had carried out the Sept. 2 attack. But tribal leaders and Yemeni officials would later say that it was an American assault and that all the victims were civilians who lived in a village near Radda, in central Yemen. U.S. officials last week acknowledged for the first time that it was an American strike.  “Their bodies were burning,” recalled Sultan Ahmed Mohammed, 27, who was riding on the hood of the truck and flew headfirst into a sandy expanse. “How could this happen? None of us were al-Qaeda.”

More than three months later, the incident offers a window into the Yemeni government’s efforts to conceal Washington’s mistakes and the unintended consequences of civilian deaths in American air assaults. In this case, the deaths have bolstered the popularity of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s Yemen affiliate, which has tried to stage attacks on U.S. soil several times.

Furious tribesmen tried to take the bodies to the gates of the presidential residence, forcing the government into the rare position of withdrawing its assertion that militants had been killed. The apparent target, Yemeni officials and tribal leaders said, was a senior regional al-Qaeda leader, Abdelrauf al-Dahab, who was thought to be in a car traveling on the same road.

U.S. airstrikes have killed numerous civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world, and those governments have spoken against the attacks. But in Yemen, the weak government has often tried to hide civilian casualties from the public, fearing repercussions in a nation where hostility toward U.S. policies is widespread. It continues to insist in local media reports that its own aging jets attacked the truck.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has kept silent publicly, neither confirming nor denying any involvement, a standard practice with most U.S. airstrikes in its clandestine counterterrorism fight in this strategic Middle Eastern country.  In response to questions, U.S. officials in Washington, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said it was a Defense Department aircraft, either a drone or a fixed-wing warplane, that fired on the truck. The Pentagon declined to comment on the incident, as did senior U.S. officials in Yemen and senior counterterrorism officials in Washington.

Since the attack, militants in the tribal areas surrounding Radda have gained more recruits and supporters in their war against the Yemeni government and its key backer, the United States. The two survivors and relatives of six victims, interviewed separately and speaking to a Western journalist about the incident for the first time, expressed willingness to support or even fight alongside AQAP, as the al-Qaeda group is known.  “Our entire village is angry at the government and the Americans,” Mohammed said. “If the Americans are responsible, I would have no choice but to sympathize with al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda is fighting America.”…

After Osama bin Laden’s death last year, Yemen emerged as a key battlefield in the Obama administration’s war on Islamist militancy. AQAP members are among those on a clandestine “kill list” created by the administration to hunt down terrorism suspects. It is a lethal campaign, mostly fueled by unmanned drones, but it also includes fixed-wing aircraft and cruise missiles fired from the sea.  This year, there have been at least 38 U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, according to the Long War Journal, a nonprofit Web site that tracks American drone attacks. That is significantly more than in any year since 2009, when President Obama is thought to have ordered the first drone strike.

The Radda attack was one of the deadliest since a U.S. cruise missile strike in December 2009 killed dozens of civilians, including women and children, in the mountainous region of al-  Majala in southern Yemen. After that attack, many tribesmen in that area became radicalized and joined AQAP.,,,

“The government is trying to kill the case,” said Abdul Rahman Berman, the executive director of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, or HOOD, a local human rights group. “The government wants to protect its relations with the U.S.”  After the 2009 strike in al-Majala, the Yemeni government took responsibility for the assault. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Saleh told Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then the head of U.S. Central Command, according to a U.S. Embassy e-mail leaked by the anti-secrecy Web site WikiLeaks…

On extremist Web sites and Facebook pages, grisly pictures of the attack’s aftermath, with bodies tossed like rag dolls on the road, have been posted, coupled with condemnations of the government and the United States. In Sabool and Radda, youths have vowed to join al-Qaeda to fight the United States.

Excerpts, Sudarsan Raghavan,When U.S. drones kill civilians, Yemen’s government tries to conceal it, Washington Post, Dec. 24, 2012

The CIA Drone Program and Right to Information

A London court  has ruled against examining intelligence-sharing by [Government Communications Headquarters] GCHQ  that leads to CIA drone strikes, claiming it would ‘imperil relations’ with the US.   The case was brought by Noor Khan, a Pakistani national whose father was killed in a drone strike in March 2011. The strike, which killed over 40 people, mostly civilians who had gathered to resolve a mining dispute, is one of the bloodiest on record. Khan has also launched court action against drone strikes in Pakistan. His UK case was supported by legal charity Reprieve and solicitors Leigh Day & Co.

Khan’s lawyers argued that in cases where the UK shared intelligence with the US security services on the location of suspects, knowing that this may be used to kill them with drone strikes, the GCHQ agents responsible may be committing crimes including accessory to murder. The case was an application for a judicial review of the UK’s intelligence-sharing policy in cases where the information might lead to drone strikes.  But Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Simon yesterday rejected the application.  ‘It is plain, from the nature of the claims, that the purpose of the proceedings in England and in Pakistan is to persuade a court to do what it can to stop further strikes by drones operated by the United States,’ said Lord Justice Moses in his written response.  He cited a legal principle whereby ‘the courts will not sit in judgment on the sovereign acts of a foreign state’; breaking with this principle would ‘imperil relations between the states,’ he added.

In order to decide whether GCHQ agents might be open to prosecution if they shared information with the CIA that was used to target drone strikes, a UK court would have to rule on whether the CIA’s campaign in Waziristan could be considered a formal war, as this would allow the agents to claim combatant immunity.  ‘I reject the suggestion that the argument can be confined to an academic discussion as to the status of the conflict in North Waziristan,’ wrote Lord Justice Moses. ‘The claimant cannot demonstrate that his application will avoid, during the course of the hearing and in the judgment, giving a clear impression that it is the United States’ conduct in North Waziristan which is also on trial.’  ‘

The government has never officially confirmed or denied sharing intelligence for drone attacks, although in 2010, a Sunday Times article quoted ‘insiders’ claiming GCHQ had shared information about the locations of al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. GCHQ told the Sunday Times all intelligence sharing was in ‘strict accordance’ with the law.

Noor Khan announced he would appeal the decision. Rosa Curling, of Khan’s solicitors Leigh Day & Co, said: ‘We are disappointed that the court has decided not to engage in this very important issue, leaving our client no option but to appeal the decision. This claim raises very serious questions and issues about the UK’s involvement in the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan. This case seeks to determine the legality of intelligence sharing in relation to GCHQ assistance in CIA drone strikes.’  Kat Craig, legal director of Reprieve, said: ‘By avoiding judicial scrutiny over drone attacks, combined with its ongoing attempts to push through secret courts, this government is showing a disturbing desire to put itself above the law… If the Government is supporting the CIA’s campaign of drone strikes which are illegal, the British public have the right to know.’

Alice K Ross, High court rejects first UK challenge to CIA’s drone campaign, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Dec. 22, 2012

What Iraq and EU have in Common? Toxic Waste

The Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology on Thursday (December 20, 2012) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the European Union (EU) to build a $2.6 million landfill for dumping radioactive nuclear waste, according to a ministry statement. During a joint press conference with Iraqi Science and Technology Minister Abdul Karim al-Sammarae, the head of the EU Delegation to Iraq, Ambassador Jana Hybášková, said the memorandum will complete joint activities and programmes that began in 2008.

The grant allocates money to design and prepare a landfill and train Iraqi scientists in the field, she said. Al-Sammarae said the MoU is slated to take effect for a maximum of three years, during which all destroyed nuclear facilities are to be liquidate

EU to build $2.6 million radioactive waste landfill for Iraq, http://www.al-shorfa.com,  Dec, 21, 2012

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More than 40 sites across Iraq are contaminated with high levels or radiation and dioxins, with three decades of war and neglect having left environmental ruin in large parts of the country, an official Iraqi study has found.  Areas in and near Iraq’s largest towns and cities, including Najaf, Basra and ­Falluja, account for around 25% of the contaminated sites, which appear to coincide with communities that have seen increased rates of cancer and birth defects over the past five years. The joint study by the environment, health and science ministries found that scrap metal yards in and around Baghdad and Basra contain high levels of ionising radiation, which is thought to be a legacy of depleted uranium used in munitions during the first Gulf war and since the 2003 invasion.

The environment minister, Narmin Othman, said high levels of dioxins on agricultural lands in southern Iraq, in particular, were increasingly thought to be a key factor in a general decline in the health of people living in the poorest parts of the country.  “If we look at Basra, there are some heavily polluted areas there and there are many factors contributing to it,” ­she told the Guardian. “First, it has been a battlefield for two wars, the Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war, where many kinds of bombs were used. Also, oil pipelines were bombed and most of the contamination settled in and around Basra. “The soil has ended up in people’s lungs and has been on food that people have eaten. Dioxins have been very high in those areas. All of this has caused systemic problems on a very large scale for both ecology and overall health.”…

Ten of those areas have been classified by Iraq’s nuclear decommissioning body as having high levels of radiation. They include the sites of three former nuclear reactors at the Tuwaitha facility – once the pride of Saddam ­Hussein’s regime on the south-eastern outskirts of Baghdad – as well as former research centres around the capital that were either bombed or dismantled between the two Gulf wars.

Bushra Ali Ahmed, director of the Radiation Protection Centre in Baghdad, said only 80% of Iraq had so far been surveyed. “We have focused so far on the sites that have been contaminated by the wars,” he said. “We have further plans to swab sites that have been destroyed by war.  “A big problem for us is when say a tank has been destroyed and then moved, we are finding a clear radiation trail. It takes a while to decontaminate these sites.”

Scrap sites remain a prime concern. Wastelands of rusting cars and war damage dot Baghdad and other cities between the capital and Basra, offering unchecked access to both children and scavengers.

Othman said Iraq’s environmental degradation is being intensified by an acute drought and water shortage across the country that has seen a 70% decrease in the volume of water flowing through the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.  “We can no longer in good conscience call ourselves the land between the rivers,” she said. “A lot of the water we are getting has first been used by Turkey and Syria for power generation. When it reaches us it is poor quality. That water which is used for agriculture is often contaminated. We are in the midst of an unmatched environmental disaster.”

Excerpts from Martin Chulov, Iraq littered with high levels of nuclear and dioxin contamination, study finds, Guardian, Jan. 22, 2010

Nigeria and the Oil Companies: the ECOWAS Judgment

Amnesty International and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have hailed last [Economic Community of West African States] ECOWAS Court of Justice ground-breaking judgment as a “key moment in holding governments and companies to account for pollution.”  In the case, SERAP v. Nigeria, the Court unanimously found the Nigerian government responsible for abuses by oil companies and makes it clear that the government must hold the companies and other perpetrators to account.

The Court also found that Nigeria violated articles 21 (on the right to natural wealth and resources) and 24 (on the right to a general satisfactory environment) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights by failing to protect the Niger Delta and its people from the operations of oil companies that have for many years devastated the region.  According to the Court, the right to food and social life of the people of Niger Delta was violated by destroying their environment, and thus destroying their opportunity to earn a living and enjoy a healthy and adequate standard of living. The Court also said that both the government and the oil companies violate the human and cultural rights of the people in the region.

The Court ruled that the government’s failure to enact effective laws and establish effective institutions to regulate the activities of the companies coupled with its failure to bring perpetrators of pollution “to book” amount to a breach of Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitments.  The Court emphasized that “the quality of life of people is determined by the quality of the environment. But the government has failed in its duty to maintain a general satisfactory environment conducive to the development of the Niger Delta region”.

“This judgment confirms the persistent failure of the Nigerian government to properly and effectively punish oil companies that have caused pollution and perpetrated serious human rights abuses, and is an important step towards accountability for government and oil companies that continue to prioritise profit-making over and above the well-being of the people of the region,” said Femi Falana SAN, and Adetokunbo Mumuni for SERAP.  “This is a crucial precedent that vindicates the human right to a healthy environment and affirms the human right of the Nigerian people to live a life free from pollution. It also makes it clear that the government must hold the oil companies to account,” said Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International.  “The judgment makes it clear that the Nigerian government has failed to prevent the oil companies causing pollution. It is a major step forward in holding the government and oil companies accountable for years of devastation and deprivation.” said Bochenek.

The court affirmed that the government must now move swiftly to fully implement the judgment and restore the dignity and humanity of the people of the region.

“The judgment has also come at a time when oil is being discovered in the majority of the member states of the ECOWAS. It is vital that other states take heed of this judgement, which has laid down minimum standards of operations for government and oil companies involved in the exploitation of oil and gas in the region,” Falana and Mumuni also said.  “The time has come for the Nigerian government to stand up to powerful oil companies that have abused the human rights of the people of the Niger Delta with impunity for decades,” said Bochenek.  “We commend the ECOWAS Court for standing up for the rights and dignity of the people of the Niger Delta. We also acknowledge the important legal contribution of Dr Kolawole Olaniyan of Amnesty International, to the case,” said Falana and Mumuni.

he case was filed against the Federal Government and six oil companies over alleged violation of human rights and associated oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged: “Violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food, to work, to health, to water, to life and human dignity, to a clean and healthy environment; and to economic and social development – as a consequence of: the impact of oil-related pollution and environmental damage on agriculture and fisheries.”  SERAP also alleged “oil spills and waste materials polluting water used for drinking and other domestic purposes; failure to secure the underlying determinants of health, including a healthy environment, and failure to enforce laws and regulations to protect the environment and prevent pollution.”

The Court dismissed the government’s objections that SERAP had no locus standi to institute the case; that the ECOWAS Court had no jurisdiction to entertain it; and that the case was statute-barred. The Court also rejected efforts by the government to exclude a 2009  Amnesty International report on oil pollution from being considered. The report was based on an in-depth investigation into pollution caused by the international oil companies, in particular Shell, and the failure of the government of Nigeria to prevent pollution or sanction the companies.

The suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/08/09 was argued by SERAP counsel, Femi Falana SAN, Adetokunbo Mumuni and Sola Egbeyinka.  The judgment was delivered by a panel of 6 judges: Justice Awa Nana Daboya, Justice Benefeito Mosso Ramos, Justice Hansine Donli, Justice Alfred Benin, Justice Clotilde Medegan and Justice Eliam Potey.

Article 15(4) of the ECOWAS Treaty makes the Judgment of the Court binding on Member States, including Nigeria. Also, Article 19(2) of the 1991 Protocol provides that the decisions of the Court shall be final and immediately enforceable. Furthermore, non-compliance with the judgment of the Court can be sanctioned under Article 24 of the Supplementary Protocol of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, and Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty.

SERAP Press Release, December 2012

See also decision of the ECOWAS Community Court on Jurisdiction

The Flight of Gold: what Afghanistan, China and Iran have in common

Packed into hand luggage and tucked into jacket pockets, roughly hewed bars of gold are being flown out of Kabul with increasing regularity, confounding Afghan and American officials who fear money launderers have found a new way to spirit funds from the country.  Most of the gold is being carried on commercial flights destined for Dubai, according to airport security reports and officials. The amounts carried by single couriers are often heavy enough that passengers flying from Kabul to the Persian Gulf emirate would be well advised to heed warnings about the danger of bags falling from overhead compartments. One courier, for instance, carried nearly 60 pounds of gold bars, each about the size of an iPhone, aboard an early morning flight in mid-October, according to an airport security report. The load was worth more than $1.5 million.

The gold is fully declared and legal to fly. Some, if not most, is legitimately being sent by gold dealers seeking to have old and damaged jewelry refashioned into new pieces by skilled craftsmen in the Persian Gulf, said Afghan officials and gold dealers.  But gold dealers in Kabul and current and former Kabul airport officials say there has been a surge in shipments since early summer. The talk of a growing exodus of gold from Afghanistan has been spreading among the business community here, and in recent weeks has caught the attention of Afghan and American officials. The officials are now puzzling over the origin of the gold — very little is mined in Afghanistan, although larger mines are planned — and why so much appears to be heading for Dubai.

“We are investigating it, and if we find this is a way of laundering money, we will intervene,” said Noorullah Delawari, the governor of Afghanistan’s central bank. Yet he acknowledged that there were more questions than answers at this point. “I don’t know where so much gold would come from, unless you can tell me something about it,” he said in an interview. Or, as a European official who tracks the Afghan economy put it, “new mysteries abound” as the war appears to be drawing to a close.

Figuring out what precisely is happening in the Afghan economy remains as confounding as ever. Nearly 90 percent of the financial activity takes place outside formal banks. Written contracts are the exception, receipts are rare and statistics are often unreliable. Money laundering is commonplace, say Western and Afghan officials.  As a result, with the gold, “right now you’re stuck in that situation we usually are: is there something bad going on here or is this just the Afghan way of commerce?” said a senior American official who tracks illicit financial networks.

There is reason to be suspicious: the gold shipments track with the far larger problem of cash smuggling. For years, flights have left Kabul almost every day carrying thick wads of bank notes — dollars, euros, Norwegian kroner, Saudi Arabian riyals and other currencies — stuffed into suitcases, packed into boxes and shrink-wrapped onto pallets. At one point, cash was even being hidden in food trays aboard now-defunct Pamir Airways flights to Dubai.

Last year alone, Afghanistan’s central bank says, roughly $4.5 billion in cash was spirited out through the airport. Efforts to stanch the flow have had limited impact, and concerns about money laundering persist, according to a report released last week by the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  The unimpeded “bulk cash flows raise the risk of money laundering and bulk cash smuggling — tools often used to finance terrorist, narcotics and other illicit operations,” the report said. The cash, and now the gold, is most often taken to Dubai, where officials are known for asking few questions. Many wealthy Afghans park their money and families in the emirate, and gold dealers say more middle-class Afghans are sending money and gold — seen as a safeguard against economic ruin — to Dubai as talk of a postwar economic collapse grows louder. But given Dubai’s reputation as a haven for laundered money, an Afghan official said that the “obvious suspicion” is that at least some of the apparent growth in gold shipments to Dubai is tied to the myriad illicit activities — opium smuggling, corruption, Taliban taxation schemes — that have come to define Afghanistan’s economy.

There are also indications that Iran could be dipping into the Afghan gold trade. It is already buying up dollars and euros here to circumvent American and European sanctions, and it may be using gold for the same purpose.  Yahya, a dealer in Kabul, said other gold traders were helping Iran buy the precious metal here. Payment was being made in oil or with Iranian rials, which readily circulate in western Afghanistan. The Afghan dealers are then taking it to Dubai, where the gold is sold for dollars. The money is then moved to China, where it was used to buy needed goods or simply funneled back to Iran, said Yahya, who like many Afghans uses a single name.

Excerpt, MATTHEW ROSENBERG, An Afghan Mystery: Why Are Large Shipments of Gold Leaving the Country?, NY Times, Dec. 15, 2012

Another War to Save the Rhino

Retired SA Army Major General Johan Jooste was this week unveiled as the man who will be in overall command of the Kruger national park’s (located in South Africa) efforts to for once and all stop rhino poaching.  So far this year 381 rhino have been killed by poachers in Kruger, well over half the national loss of 618.  Jooste… was his usual straightforward self when commenting on the new task.  “I am no messiah. What I am is a proven leader as well as a team player…The battle lines have been drawn and now the team and I are going to work hard to push back poachers.  It is a fact that South Africa as a sovereign country is under attack by armed foreign nationals. This can be seen as a declaration of war. We are going to take the war to these bandits and we aim to win it,” the highly decorated and respected retired two-star general said in Skukuza.  SANParks chief executive Dr David Mabunda who is on record as saying the country was engaged in “a low intensity war” against poachers, said the arrival of Jooste in Kruger was another indication of the high priority the national conservation agency was giving to the scourge of rhino poaching.  “We are fully aware we will never be able to put a ranger behind every rhino. That’s why we are developing modern and innovative ways of protecting rhino against a well-organised onslaught.”

Jooste’s appointment is in line with SANParks multi-pronged approach to rhino poaching including a single operations command. He brings with him experience in military intelligence, border and area protection as well as contemporary knowledge of modern military technology, its use and integration at operational level as well as conservation knowledge.

Kim Helfric, War on rhino poaching intensifies as general joins the fray, The NewAge, Dec. 13, 2012

Why UN is Failing Congo?

The United Nations said it had launched a comprehensive review of its Congo peacekeeping mission, which suffered a severe blow to its image last month after it stood aside and let rebels seize control of a major eastern city.  But U.N. Security Council diplomats and officials said any changes in the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping force would matter little if authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo did not improve their own army, and neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda continued to finance, equip and train rebel groups in mineral-rich eastern Congo.  U.N. officials have defended the U.N. Congo force, MONUSCO, for not preventing the well-equipped M23 rebels from taking the eastern city of Goma last month.  They said any attempt to have done so would have put Goma’s civilian population at risk. But they are painfully aware of the damage to the image of the mission, which U.N. officials say has been quite effective over the years, in Congo and across Africa.  “MONUSCO’s reputation has been severely damaged in the DRC and the region,” a U.N. diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “The U.N. is looking closely at MONUSCO now to consider whether there can be changes.

U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Kieran Dwyer said the United Nations was launching a comprehensive assessment of MONUSCO, and diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would present the results to the Security Council early next year…

One idea U.N. officials are considering is the creation of an “enforcement wing” of MONUSCO, that would take a more robust approach to dealing with insurgents in eastern Congo, U.N. diplomats and officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity.  “The idea would be to create a wing of MONUSCO that would do more than simply support the FARDC (Congolese army) but could take on more difficult battlefield tasks,” an envoy said.   Details are sketchy, since the review has just begun. But the idea is that the enforcement wing and the international neutral force could deploy along the Rwandan border, possibly with a separate, beefed-up mandate from the rest of MONUSCO, though they would all be part of the same overall mission.  Diplomats said the idea would have to be approved by troop-contributing countries and the Security Council.

A U.N. panel of experts has said M23 rebels are getting money, sophisticated equipment, training and reinforcements from Rwanda, as well as some additional support from Uganda. Analysts, diplomats and U.N. officials say Rwanda and Uganda have been interfering in eastern Congo for many years.  Rwanda and Uganda deny the charges….

It is not the first time Goma residents have felt let down by blue-helmeted U.N. troops. In 2008, the Security Council increased the size the peacekeeping force by 3,000 troops to help Congo’s weak army confront Tutsi rebels in eastern Congo.  At that time, angry displaced people and residents rioted and hurled stones at the peacekeepers, accusing them of failing to protect them from raping and pillaging Tutsi rebels led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda.  Despite recent setbacks sparked by the M23 rebellion and political instability in Congo, U.N. officials and diplomats say MONUSCO has done much good in Congo, which has seen five different peacekeeping forces over the last five decades…One problem in eastern Congo is that the army itself is in shambles. Not only is it widely seen as incapable of providing security in the region, it routinely faces accusations of rape and other atrocities.  Another problem is the weakness of President Joseph Kabila’s government, which has virtually no control over eastern Congo, an area the size of France. U.N. officials have spoken of Rwanda’s de facto annexation of Congo’s eastern provinces.

By Louis Charbonneau, U.N. launches review of Congo force with battered reputation, Reuters, Dec 13 2012