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Entries tagged "State Department"
July 13, 2012 · By Phyllis Bennis
The State Department, reporting on the latest U.S.-Israel "Strategic Dialogue," was very proud of the "productive, wide ranging discussion of issues of mutual concern." (Apparently the recommended legalization of all the illegal and expanding settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory is not an issue of "mutual concern" to the U.S. deputy secretary of state and his Israeli counterpart).
No, the focus was only on the regional situation. Regarding Iran, the State Department made odd allusions to facts about the crisis of which nobody else in the administration seems to be aware. To begin, State noted that the U.S. and Israel had addressed their concern that Iran is engaged in a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons." There was no explanation of why the conclusion of this U.S.-Israeli dialogue seems to fly in the face of the US intelligence agencies' actual position with regard to Iran's nuclear program, which is that Iran not only does not have any nuclear weapons, and is not building a nuclear weapon, but that Tehran has not even made the decision about whether to build a nuclear weapon.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked his own rhetorical question about Iran: "Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon?" He then answered with an unequivocal "No."
It was General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who made clear that the U.S. does not even know "if Iran will eventually decide to build" a nuclear weapon.
Is that what a "continued quest to develop nuclear weapons" looks like? Or is State running its own intelligence agencies these days?
And then they discussed Syria. Of course it's widely known that the Syrian regime has assisted Hezbollah, a political and paramilitary organization that happens to be the strongest party in Lebanon’s parliament. But State's view, following its strategic dialogue with Israel, is apparently the other way around – that it is Hezbollah that is somehow shoring up a reprehensible neighboring regime. And apparently, the reprehensible killings it is assisting in that neighboring state are being carried out by a heretofore unknown regime led by someone named "Asad." Perhaps State's note meant to reference the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the brutally repressive government that has reigned over Syria for the past 12 years. But we can't be sure.
When dangerous regional escalations are at stake, when Israel is threatening war against Iran, and the U.S. and its allies are threatening to join and thus further escalate the civil war in Syria, one would hope for a bit more consistency in U.S. policy – whether or not policymakers are talking to Israel. Not to mention a bit of attention to spelling.
June 12, 2012 · By Sanho Tree
The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has launched an investigation into a raid on a remote Honduran village that killed four people including two pregnant women. Four others were also injured in the operation in May.
In the waking hours of May 11, a group of indigenous villagers travelling by canoe in the Mosquita region came under helicopter fire. Four of them including two pregnant women and a child died. US officials said the killings followed a sighting of men unloading cocaine onto a truck nearby. The US State Department-owned helicopters were sent to investigate.
Read more, and watch the entire video, on Al Jazeera.
February 17, 2012 · By Adil E. Shamoo
Two recent reports appearing on the same day last week in The New York Times and The Washington Post illustrate U.S. intentions in Iraq. What they reveal is that despite the heralded "end" of U.S. participation in the war there, U.S. policy continues to depend on our security apparatus to influence Iraq, at the expense of Iraqis' sovereignty and dignity.
The Times report informed us that the U.S. State Department decided to cut the U.S. embassy staff by 50 percent from its current 16,000 personnel. This is a good decision; the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world. The reason given for the decision is primarily to reduce the American footprint in Iraq with the hope of reducing Iraqi hostility toward these evident remnants of occupation.
The second report, in the Post, informs us that the U.S. is significantly ramping up the number of CIA personnel and covert Special Operations forces in order to make up for reducing the American military and diplomatic footprint. These added covert personnel will be distributed in safe houses in urban centers all across the country. This represents a new way to exert U.S. power, but it is betting on the Iraqis not noticing the increased covert personnel. Really? This is a bad decision as it contradicts the reasons for the decision to reduce embassy staff.
The Iraqis have suffered for nine years as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. The economic, educational and political systems in Iraq have been destroyed. Sectarianism, contrary to the belief of many in the U.S., has become the order of the day since the invasion. A significant percentage of Iraqis do not like us and do not want us to stay in Iraq. No Iraqi politicians want to openly be identified as pro-American.
Animosity toward the U.S. is on the rise because of the heavy U.S. presence in Iraq. Our projects in Iraq function to serve our interests, such as building and training security forces to keep the Iraqis in check (building the infrastructure for the promotion of democracy has taken a back seat). We have made sure that Iraq, for the foreseeable future, will depend on us for security equipment and spare parts, heavy industrial machinery, and banking. We built Iraq's security forces but made sure it has no air force. And the half-hearted democracy we built is a shambles; graft and corruption are still rampant.
Iraqis can tell the difference between mutually beneficial programs and those that create the impression that the U.S. is powerful and can do what it wants in Iraq.
Four years ago, on this page, I speculated that the massive U.S. embassy being built in Baghdad would be pillaged by angry Iraqis blaming the U.S. for destroying their country. In a follow-up article, I suggested that as a goodwill gesture, the embassy be converted into a university staffed primarily by volunteers from the Iraqi expatriates community in the U.S. The conversion of the embassy into a university surely would not cost a large portion of the embassy's current $6 billion budget. Such an institution, filling much of the compound's soon-to-be-vacated space, would serve the U.S. interest much better than boots on the ground (or in safe houses) and turn a new page in our relationship with the Iraqi people.
U.S. policy in Iraq is in need of a wholesale change — not a ramping up of covert operations and certainly not in urban centers. All of the ingredients of Arab awakening are alive and well in Iraq. U.S. policy needs to realize this and build on it, not implement policies that denigrate Iraqi aspirations, hopes and autonomy.
Adil E. Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. A native of Iraq, he is the author of the forthcoming book, "Equal Worth — When Humanity Will Have Peace." This piece originally appeared on The Baltimore Sun.
July 6, 2011 · By Alison Liu
Late in June, the U.S. State Department released this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), an annual report that informs the public on U.S. efforts to fight human trafficking. As usual, the 60-page report ranks countries by tiers based on how well they fight trafficking within their borders. Of the roughly 200 evaluated countries, 22 are in tier 3 (bottommost tier), most from the Middle East and Africa. However, the report includes a much richer database of information than solely rankings. Some of its contents are commendable: a focus on victim services, investigative bodies, and the private sector. Other areas of the report show weakness: no mention of diplomatic immunity, the presidential waiver for strategic countries, and comprehensive law for licensing labor brokers.
The TIP report acknowledges that due to the trauma that they have experienced and common language barriers, victims of human trafficking need intensive services. A growing number of victims are domestic workers who may have spent the entirety of their lives in America confined to their employer’s home. The report highlights that victims especially need more legal services. From 2005-2010, 19 million more people crossed borders as migrants and as abuse increases, so must punitive efforts. Second, the TIP report states that victims need more investigative efforts. The U.S. Department of Labor, which conducts investigations for labor abuses, has “not yet been funded, trained or given the mandate to focus on human trafficking cases.”
Out of the available 5,000 visas available to victims, only 447 are claimed, not because of an absence in trafficking but because law officials are under-equipped to find victims. Lastly, the report deserves a thumbs-up for recognizing the important role the private sector can play in this fight. It acknowledges that NGO’s work on the ground with victims and need more government funding and that businesses need to increase monitoring over their supply chains. The report suggests some effective ideas such as that the government can provide more funding to NGO’s and create laws to increase business transparency.
The report, however, avoids standing firm on several issues. There is no mention of diplomatic immunity. After attempted rape charges by a domestic worker at his hotel, former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn was just released from house arrest. Strauss-Kahn and other diplomats like Alan Mzengi, a Tanzanian diplomat who enslaved a teenage girl for 4 years in his home in Maryland, have immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention. When 3,500 domestic workers annually come to the U.S. to work for diplomats, the TIP report should have at least mentioned that trafficking by diplomats is unacceptable. In addition, there is no mention of the presidential waiver. The TIP report states that the U.S. will sanction tier 3 countries but usually the president waives most of these countries because they are in our national interest; in 2009, only 2 out of 17 tier 3 countries were fully sanctioned. Of course, these 2 countries were Cuba and North Korea.
Most importantly, the report falls short on mandatory licenses for labor brokers. The report continually gives examples of the power that labor brokers have over victims’ lives, like Maira, a Honduran girl whose labor brokers tricked her and sold her to a brothel instead of the promised textile factory. She was only 15 years old. The TIP report suggests countries mandate recruiting fee caps, punish abusive recruiters more harshly, establish complaint procedures, and ensure competition among recruiters. However, the most effective way to keep labor recruiters accountable would be to mandate licenses. The report praises the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which authorizes all recruitment agencies in the Philippines, as highly successful. The report must push to extend such a model internationally and keep labor recruiters more accountable.
The TIP report clearly has some ground to cover. Even though it shows the dire need for more victim services, investigations, and highlights the role of private actors, it has shied away from controversial subjects. The Strauss-Kahn case overwhelmingly shows how diplomatic abuse is hidden from the public eye and the need to protect workers from diplomats is a basic right. In addition, the report has not addressed presidential waivers for tier 3 countries, for to do so would involve limiting the power of the executive branch. The report must also keep labor recruiters in check and step into how businesses recruit their workers. In order to stop trafficking, the State Department must face the facts and push some buttons.