An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United States, quietly floated the idea of organizing a U.N. peacekeeping force to help stabilize Mali after France puts down the Islamist insurgency there.
Rice made the remarks in a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday evening, though she noted that the Obama administration had not yet officially decided to back a force of blue helmets. But she said that the existing plan to send an African-led force to the country to train the Malian army to retake control of northern Mali from the Islamists had been overtaken by the French intervention.
Rice said that the original U.N. plan -- which envisioned the Malian army as the "tip of the spear" in a military offensive against the Islamists -- is no longer viable, according to an official present at the meeting. She said the mission would likely shift from a combat mission to a stabilization mission, requiring a long-term strategy to hold territory and build up local institutions. French combat forces are unlikely to remain in Mali to do that job. "We need to be open to a blue-helmeted operation," she said, according to another official at the meeting.
The French action has sent U.N. diplomats and military planners back to drawing board to try to fashion a long-term security strategy for Mali. Several African countries, including Benin, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, and Togo, that were planning to train the Malians to fight are now mustering forces to support the French combat operation.
The African forces lack many of the basic necessities, however, including fuel and transport. The Nigerian force commander of the African troops had to borrow a vehicle from the Nigerian embassy in Bamako, according to a U.N. official . A contingent from Togo arrived in Bamako with only enough rations to last about three days, the official said.
At a Jan. 19 summit, leaders of a West African coalition of states called for the urgent deployment of African forces and urged the United Nations to "immediately furnish the logistical support" for the African countries. The United Nations agreed to send a senior military advisor to Bamako to help coordinate the African's military planning, but it stopped short of supplying logistical support to the African forces on the grounds that it would compromise the U.N.'s impartiality.
"The United Nations must consider with the utmost care the issue of supporting offensive military operations in the light of the overall global mandate of the Organization," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a letter to the Security Council this week. "I am obliged to bring to the attention of the Security Council the assessment of the Secretariat that, if the United Nations were to provide logistics support to military forces engaged in an offensive operation, it would place civilian United Nations personnel at grave risk, and undermine their ability to carry out their current tasks in the region."
U.N. officials say they expect Ban to get an earful from African leaders over his refusal to supply forces. African leaders are meeting at an AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday and Monday. These officials have noted that the U.N. provided military support to African-led military operations in Somalia, and that U.N. peacekeepers have backed up offensive military operations by the Congolese government. Herve Ladsous, a former French official who serves as the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, favors more active U.N. support for the Africans.
"The house is still divided; some feel we need to help the Africans," said one U.N. official. "We already do it in Somalia; how do you explain to the Africans why you can't do it in Mali?"
The debate over the future of Mali is playing out just as France has declared an initial victory in their effort to drive back the Islamist offensive, which had seen fighters move south from their northern stronghold and capturing the town of Konna on Jan. 10. The insurgents put up a far tougher fight than the French had initially anticipated, extending their control over southern towns of Diabaly and Douentza.
"This operation has been a success so far," said France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud. "Its primary goal has been met: the terrorist offensive against the south has been stopped thanks to the joint action of the Malian and French forces. The towns of Diabaly, Konna, and Douentza have been retaken by the Malian forces, with French support."
But senior U.N. diplomats believe that the fight has only begun, and that armed insurgents have simply beat a tactical retreat, and are likely to begin using traditional guerrilla tactics, launching targeted raids on the allied forces remaining behind to hold towns recently abandoned by the rebels. Despite public claims that the Malian army has been engaged in the fighting, some Western diplomats have acknowledged that the Malian army had all but collapsed into total disarray, leaving it to France to do the fighting. With the first phase of the French counteroffensive concluded, France will now trying to train the Malians and other African forces to hold the towns they have captured.
"It appears that in the western area, armed elements have moved closer to the Mauritanian border," Jeffrey Feltman, the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, told the Security Council on Tuesday. "The risk of infiltration and further attacks by these groups on southern towns, including Bamako, remains high."
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France's President Francois Hollande today announced plans to increase the number of French troops in Mali, marking an escalation in France's intervention in its former colony.
Despite the socialist president's efforts to mark a break with a history of French meddling in Africa's affairs, Paris finds itself back in a familiar role in Africa.
Nearly two years ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy led international campaign to intervene in Libya to oust Muammar al-Qaddafi. He also ordered French forces to help U.N. peacekeepers take down Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivoirian leader who refused to accept step down after losing his presidential election.
So, was France's intervention in Mali a return to its past or is it something different? "I don't think this is more of the same; I think this is part of an emerging model of intervention where counterterrorism is the core," said Bruce Jones, director of NYU's Center on Global Cooperation. He said the Mali operation bears more similarity with Somalia -- where U.S. forces target suspected terrorists while African troops provide security -- than it does with historical efforts to intervene to shore up African leaders.
Whatever the similarities, France's role in Africa was supposed to look different from this under Hollande.
In a recent visit to the continent, the French leader assured African audiences that the era of Franceafrique, a period marked by frequent French military intervention on behalf of Africa's post colonial autocrats, was done with.
"I didn't come to Africa to impose my way, or deliver a lesson on morality," Hollande told Senegal's parliament in October. "The era of Franceafrique is over. There is now a France and there is an Africa. And there is a partnership between France and Africa, based on relationships that are founded on respect," he added during the visit.
But others recalled that Sarkozy had initially vowed to end the era of Franceafrique, only to find himself responding to the French urge to act in Libya and Ivory Coast. That urge reflects the enduring influence of Africa’s traditional interventionists in French politics, and in the case of Mali, the fact that 6,000 French nationals live in Mali, most of them in Bamako.
“If we go back to when Sarkozy came into office and talked about the end of Franceafrique and surrounded himself with a new generation of French Africa advisors those guys lost out and within two years the old guard reasserted itself,” said Todd Moss, an expert on West Africa at the Center for Global Development. “I’m sure the old French guard is very, very powerful if they were able to maintain their influence under Sarkozy. I wouldn’t’ be surprised if it is strong under Hollande.”
But other diplomats say France’s calculation was simpler, noting that one of the Islamist factions fighting in Mali, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, already holds eight French hostages captured in Mali and neighboring states.
“You can’t neglect the fact that the French have a large population in Bamako,” said one European diplomat. “The Islamists were moving towards those people, raising the threat that hundreds more could have been taken hostage. I’m sure the French government felt it had a responsibility to them.”
Still, Mali was supposed to be a model of that new relationship.
When separatist Tuareg fighters, backed by armed Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda, seized control of northern Mali last year, France vowed to keep its expeditionary forces in their barracks. They turned to regional leaders, backed by the United Nations, to help Mali's troubled army confront the Islamists.
Last month, France championed a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a European-backed, African-led force to train the Malian army and help it reconquer its northern territories. But the effort has been complicated by a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that Mali's army came to power by staging a military coup against the country's elected leader.
The planned force was plagued by delays, making it unlikely that it would even arrive in Mali until September or October, providing the rebels with a window of opportunity to strike. Last week, they seized it, and began marching towards the south, capturing the town of Konna, and threatening the strategic town of Mopti. Mali's U.S.-trained military collapsed.
France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud on Monday told reporters outside the U.N. Security Council that France had reluctantly entered Mali.
"Our assessment was that they were totally able to take Bamako," he said. "So, we decided that what was at stake was the existence of the state of Mali and beyond Mali was the stability of all West Africa."
While France's military action has its critics inside France and beyond (former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced it), the strike has drawn widespread diplomatic, if not military, support.
The Group of 8 political directors today issued a statement welcoming the French military action. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. envoy and a vocal critic of the Western interventions in Libya, said Monday that France's intervention -- which followed a request for assistance from the Malian government -- was perfectly legal and that its operation enjoyed unanimous support in the 15-nation Security Council.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier cautioned that military intervention in Mali should be considered a last resort, backed the French move. The reaction from within the U.N. ranks could best be described as "quiet applause," said one senior U.N. official. "So many of us are so relieved, even though we don't know how this will end."
Jones said that the U.N.'s reticence about military action was driven primarily by concerns about "the limitations of their own capacity" to play a supporting role in an African-led war against Islamists in Mali. "I don't think the U.N. had any difficulty with having someone deal with al Qaeda in the Maghreb. They just didn't want to be in a position of doing it themselves. They were worried about taking on more than they could chew."
But having taken charge, France will be confronted with a new challenge: ensuring that its allies in the Malian army don't follow up any military victories by launching a revenge campaign against its enemies.
"There is no doubt that the human rights situation in Mali before the intervention was already catastrophic, with civilian populations suffering abuses at the hands of all the parties to the conflicts, whether Islamist groups, separatist rebels, as well as the Malian army itself," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "But the risks and human rights challenges that come with military intervention are many. It's important that neither the French nor [African peacekeepers] empower "the Malian army] to commit more."
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The U.N. Security Council today voted unanimously to establish a U.S. and European-backed African military force to rebuild Mali's troubled military, and to begin preparing it for a possible military offensive to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Malian separatists and Islamic extremists.
The European Union plans to send military trainers to Bamako in the coming months to begin training the Malian army, which -- disgruntled by the government's inability to counter insurgent forces -- staged a military coup in March and forced the removal of the interim leader this December.
A reconstituted and reequipped Malian army is intended to lead a campaign to conquer the north. But the supporting African force -- which is expected to be made up of several thousand troops from West Africa and the Sahel -- is unlikely to be sent to Mali before September or October, 2013.
The Security Council resolution does not specify what role the United States would play in the military campaign against al Qaeda and its allies. But it provides wide legal scope for foreign governments, including the United States, to "take all necessary measures" -- including the use of lethal force -- and provide "any necessary assistance, " including military training, equipment, intelligence and logistics, in support of the Malian fight against Islamic extremists.
The Obama administration has harbored deep misgivings about the ability of a Malian-led force to prevail in combat with al Qaeda and its allies. But today's vote ended weeks of tense negotiations between France, which was determined to authorize a new intervention force before the year's end, and the United States, which wanted to wait until the country had elected a new civilian president.
Washington agreed to co-sponsor today's resolution after securing a commitment from Paris to ensure that the United States and other Security Council members would be give another shot at reviewing the military plan before the force receives a green light for offensive operations.
Following the vote, France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said a military attack on Islamic forces in northern Mali was not inevitable, however, and that his government still held out hope that the crisis could be resolved through political dialogue with Mali's moderate northern insurgents. The resolution, he said, "is not a declaration of war."
Long a model of African stability and democracy, Mali's civilian government has faced a series of existential threats to its rule this year, including a rebellion in northern Mali by an alliance of Malian Touareg's and al Qaeda linked groups, primarily Ansar Dine, followed by a military coup by soldiers embittered by the failure of President Amadou Toumani Toure to adequately supply troops seeking to put down the rebellion.
In recent months, Islamic militants -- including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement of United and Jihad in West Africa -- have seized control the uprising, driving out their erstwhile Touareg allies from key northern cities, including Timbuktu and Gao, imposing sharia law, and committing widespread human rights abuses. Their presence has raised concern in Washington, which is expected to help train, equip, and provide transport for the new force, known as the African-led International Support Mission, or AFISMA.
But the political turmoil in Mali has complicated Washington's role. U.S. law restricts financial assistance or military aid to Mali, because its democratic government was ousted in a coup in March, led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who remains the power behind a fragile transitional government. Earlier this month, the military again showed its strength and displeasure, ordering the arrest of the interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, and forcing his resignation. Django Sissoko was later named to replace him.
The United States has insisted that Mali conduct new presidential elections, preferably in April, before any final decision is made to send a Malian-led African force into the north.
The new force, which will be made up primarily of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Sahel, including Nigeria and Senegal, is intended to put military muscle behind a broader plan to restore stability and democracy in Mali.
Today's resolution urges Malian authorities to commit to a "transitional roadmap," including inclusive political talks with northern groups -- including the Touaregs -- that "cut off all ties to terrorist organizations" linked to al Qaeda. It also calls for holding elections "by April 2013 or as soon as technically possible."
The resolution aims to place a wedge between ethnic Malian rebel groups and the more hardline Islamists, threatening to impose sanctions on individuals who maintain links with al Qaeda and its associates. It also expresses its "readiness to consider appropriate measures" against Malian officers to who stand in the way of the country's transition to civilian rule.
Today's vote, said Ivory Coast's U.N. ambassador, Youssoufou Bamba, speaking on behalf of ECOWAS, "is a great message of hope and solidarity" for Malians "who can now begin to believe [there will be an] end of their nightmares."
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Libya's president Mohammed Magarief today contradicted American claims that the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic film, telling NBC's Anne Curry in an interview broadcast this morning.
"It has nothing to do with this attack," said Magarief, noting that the assailants used rocket propelled grenades and mortar fire in the attack. "It's a preplanned act of terrorism against American citizens."
The remarks came more than one week after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued that the attack, which killed four American nationals, including U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, had been triggered by popular anger from Libyan Muslims offended by the film.
"Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous -- not a premeditated -- response to what had transpired in Cairo," Rice told ABC's "This Week." "We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the...consulate...to replicate that sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons."
Rice's account has come under scrutiny in the following days as the administration's explanation for the attack evolved.
Republicans have criticized the account of the attack, suggesting that the Obama administration is seeking to mask the facts. They have seized on the fact that President Barack Obama has not characterized the attack as an act of terror, even though other senior administration officials have, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
"It is troubling that President Obama refuses to call the Libya attacks on the anniversary of 9/11 an act of terror," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. "For weeks President Obama and his administration have failed to acknowledge the facts behind the Libya attack."
Asked to explain the discrepancy, Rice's office referred Turtle Bay to White House spokesman Jay Carney's reaction to the Libyan president claim that the U,S. consulate had been targeted in a pre-planned terror attack. "Over the course of the past two weeks, this administration has provided as much information as it has been able to."
"It continues to be the case that we provided information based on what we know -- not based on speculation but based on what we know -- acknowledging that we are continuing an investigation that will undoubtedly uncover more facts, and as more facts and more details emerge we will, when appropriate, provide them to you."
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Diplomats, by trade, are not naturally funny people.
And the lofty "permanent representatives," as the most senior U.N.-based ambassadors are called, are often among the least funny.
They can come across as a bit too earnest, overly confident, even pompous, and they are usually pitching a cause that doesn't translate well into snappy one-liners. While they may possess masterful negotiating skills they're rarely quick enough on their feet to parry a lethal jab from a hardened comic. And frankly, how does one offer up a riposte when the national honor has been mocked?
But every season, there they are, lining up for appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, confident that they can take advantage of a massive audience that could never be reached through a U.N. press conference.
But they commit comedy at their own peril.
Ask Switzerland's U.N. ambassador Peter Maurer, who got skewered by the Daily Show's faux news reporter John Oliver over his country's neutrality during World War II. ("Mr. Ambassador, is that neutral anger, or real anger?") Or Nassir al-Nasser, Qatar's then U.N. ambassador, who got visibly tense when Oliver challenged his pronunciation of "Qatar" and asked him what his country was doing to de-stabilize the Middle East. ("I'll just pause now to gauge the tension. Yep, that's tense; that is very tense indeed.")
Then there's the big screen, where the South Park creators have made a habit of lampooning U.N. officials or diplomats, including Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspectors, who was thrown into a shark tank by Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police and torn to pieces for a laugh.
But you get the point.
No one is a choicer prey for a comic than a diplomat, particularly one that speaks with a foreign accent, represents a country with a funny name, and can't take a joke.
But not everyone falls victim.
Remember how the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G coaxed the former Egyptian U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali -- "the geezer" he called him -- to say, and spell out, the French word for human excrement -- "merde." But Boutros Ghali prevailed by playing along, offering his opinion on the funniest language -- "maybe Arabic" -- and patiently explaining why Disneyland can't become a U.N. member: "it's not an independent state."
Susan Rice emerged relatively unscathed in her bout with Stephen Colbert, but not before he got in a zinger about the effort to contain Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs. "Excuse me for interrupting you, but I enjoy it," Colbert said. "Iran is still working toward a nuclear weapon. [North] Korea got their nuclear weapon. I'm just as scared of both of these people. How are we stopping them? I mean, I know sternly worded letters are the bread and butter of the U.N. But maybe we should start typing them in all caps to let them know that we are really angry."
Last week, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, tried his hand at sitting with Oliver, in a skit entitled "Who wants to be a member of the U.N.?" Mansourplayed along with the jokeas Oliver set some "preconditions" for the interview. "First this entire interview must be conducted with the 1967 vocabulary. Is that groovy with you?"
"Groovy? It is agreeable with me. Yes," Responded Mansour.
It moved onto a negotiation over who would control the studio's thermostat. (Thanks to Mondoweiss for the transcript.)
John Oliver: "...is it hot in here?"
Riyad Mansour: "It's fine."
John: "So you're not hot? Because I'm definitely hot."
Riyad: "I am not."
John: "OK, look, Ambassador, I think before we do anything, we are gonna have to come to a provisional status agreement on the temperature in this room."
Riyad: "If you want to lower the temperature, it's fine with me."
John: "But who's going to control the thermostat?"
Riyad: "The thermostat ... should be shared by all of us."
John: "Don't even think about dividing this thermostat."
Riyad: "We will not divide the thermostat, but it should be accessed by all those who cherish it and think that it is a holy place that should be accessed to everyone."
John Oliver [voiceover]: "After three and a half hours of laborious negotiations, we finally came to an agreement."
John: "We agree that at an unspecified time in the future, we will announce a summit to discuss the possibility of discussing a negotiation towards an agreement on temperature. Yes?"
John: "Shake hands for the camera. Thank you, Ambassador, this is a historic day."
Riyad: "Yes indeed."
So, how did Mansour fair for the first half of the program? He remained on message, keeping the focus on Palestine's bid for U.N. membership. And he didn't lose his temper. It helped that Oliver went a little easy on him, avoiding any awkward questions about suicide bombers or rockets from Gaza. So, let's see how he did in the game show portion of the interview.
John: "Hi Riyad where are you from, Riyad?
Riyad: "I'm from Palestine."
John: "Palestine? I've never heard of that. Ok, so question number one: What does U.N. stand for?
Riyad: [Long pause] "United Nations."
John: "That's correct. That's correct, Ryad, Congratulations. That's great. So, how do you think it's going so far?
Riyad: "We're doing good."
John: "Ok... It's the bonus round. You've come all this way. Now do you take what you've won so far ... or do you take what's inside the mystery box"
Riyad: "I take what's inside the mystery box."
John: "He's going to go for the mystery box. Ok good luck. [Opens box and removes a card with the verdict.]
John: "Riyad, oh I'm sorry it's a veto from the U.S."
Riyad: "If we're vetoed once well come back again."
John: "That's the spirit. He'll come back again, next time."
Indeed, if there's a comic willing to poke fun at him, he probably will.
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JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images
The U.N. Security Council on Friday will impose sanctions on the Pakistani Taliban, an extremist Islamic organization that American officials blame for masterminding the botched May 2010 Times Square bombing plot.
The group, which is formally named Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), will be added Friday to a U.N. blacklist of terrorist organizations linked to al Qaeda. It was already placed on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list last September, some four months after the United States accused the group of attempting to set off a car bomb in the packed New York City tourism center.
The United States proposed in recent weeks that the organization be added to the U.N. list, citing the widening reach of the organization's terrorism targets. Australia, Canada, Britain, France, and Pakistan co-sponsored the U.S. measure. Tomorrow's action reflects that the United States has now secured unanimous support from the 15-nation council, including from China and Russia, for imposing U.N. sanctions on the group.
The Obama administration claims that Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen who planted the Times Square car bomb, acknowledged that he was trained in Waziristan, a stronghold for al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban, a relatively new militant group that was formally established in 2007 and is headed by Hakimullah Mehsud, who has engaged in increasingly audacious terrorist attacks against Pakistani and U.S. targets. The group launched a December 2009 attack against a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and carried out the April 2010 bombing of the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan.
The decision to target the Pakistani Taliban comes at a time when the United Nations is seeking to encourage the Afghan Taliban to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government, a necessary prelude to a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The U.N. anti-terrorism blacklist -- known officially as the 1267 list, a reference to the U.N. Security Council resolution that established the measures -- imposes a set of financial and travel bans that are aimed at restraining extremist capacity to strike.
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Richard Falk, the U.N. rights researcher who provoked fury from the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon for saying the U.S. government and media had apparently covered up evidence challenging the official U.S. claim that the terrorist group Al Qaeda carried out the 911 terror attacks, says he was misunderstood.
"I wish to be absolutely clear," Falk said in a statement. "I do not endorse the theory that the U.S. government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks. What I did do, in my personal blog, in which I was discussing the differing perceptions that develop after political assassinations and deeply tragic events, including the murder of Olaf Palme, the 9/11 attacks and the recent killing in Arizona, was argue that investigations must be seen to be, transparent, exhaustive and honest.
The dispute arose over Falk's blog post on 911 on government's propensity for secrecy in the face of awkward truths. Here's the passage that got Falk into hot water:
The arguments swirling around the 9/11 attacks are emblematic of these issues. What fuels suspicions of conspiracy is the reluctance to address the sort of awkward gaps and contradictions in the official explanations that David Ray Griffin(and other devoted scholars of high integrity) have been documenting in book after book ever since his authoritative The New Pearl Harbor in 2004 (updated in 2008). What may be more distressing than the apparent cover up is the eerie silence of the mainstream media, unwilling to acknowledge the well-evidenced doubts about the official version of the events: an al Qaeda operation with no foreknowledge by government officials. Is this silence a manifestation of fear or cooption, or part of an equally disturbing filter of self-censorship? Whatever it is, the result is the withering away of a participatory citizenry and the erosion of legitimate constitutional government. The forms persist, but the content is missing.
After the post, Hillel C. Neuer, the executive director of U.N. Wacth, sent a letter to Ban Ki moon condemning the remarks, and calling for Falk's removal. "As he did again this month, Mr. Falk has repeatedly called into question the fact that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were indeed terrorist attacks," Neuer said in prepared testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee Monday. "Instead he calls for exploring the possibility that 9/11 was an "inside job"carried out by the U.S. government."
Ban quickly condemned Falk's blog posting. Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Monday, Ban said: " I condemn this sort of inflammatory rhetoric. It is preposterous -- an affront to the memory of the more than 3,000 people who died in that tragic attack."
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called for Falk's removal. "Mr. Falk endorses the slurs of conspiracy theorists who allege that the September, 2001, terrorists attack were perpetrated and then covered up by the U.S. government and media," she said."In my view, Mr. Falk's latest commentary is so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position on behalf of the UN."
Falk, who serves as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestininian Territories Occupied Since 1967, claimed "the pro-Israel group, UN Watch..deliberately distorted comment I made my personal capacity, on my blog," to have him fired from his unpaid job. In a blog post Thursday, he accused Neuer of "publicly attacking me in consistently irresponsible and untruthful ways, presumably with the intention of diverting attention from my criticisms of Israel's occupation policies in the Palestinian territories."
In response, U.N. Watch issued a statement saying "Mr. Falk's ad hominem attacks on UN Watch are a pathetic attempt to divert attention from his own action...By attempting to justify his despicable denial of Al Qaeda's carrying-out of the 9/11 attacks as a mere call for “investigations,” Mr. Falk resorts to the same transparent tactics used by Iran's Ahmadinejad and other hate-mongers who seek to deny other great atrocities of history, each with their own hateful political agenda."
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The popular overthrow of Tunisia’s former leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has served as an inspiration for protesters in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, and other Arab countries. But the Tunisian regime also emerged this week as a symbol of the excesses of the U.S.-led war on terrorism. A U.N. report revealed that the Tunisian government was practitioner of the poulet rôti (or rotisserie), the notorious torture technique which involves tying a detainee's wrists together under the knees and passing a pole between the arms and thighs.
Martin Scheinin, the U.N. special rapporteur on the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, released a damning report this week on Tunisia’s use of secret detention centers in order to coerce confessions through torture and mistreatment. The 20-page report -- which is based on a field visit to Tunisia in January 2010 -- provides a chilling, if unsurprising, look at the repressive practices that prevail in the Middle East and played no small part in stoking Tunisia’s public uprising. It also provides further evidence of how Tunisia, like other authoritarian governments in the region, has used the war on terror to pass a set of vague and sweeping anti-terrorism laws that often target nonviolent dissidents and opposition figures.
"[I]t appears that the scope of application of the terrorism provisions in the law has grown too wide and should be reduced," the report states. "Any anti-terrorism law that is not properly confined to the countering of terrorism within the limits of human rights law is problematic … because it may unjustifiably restrict the enjoyment of human rights pertaining to the exercise of peaceful activities, including dissent and political opposition through legitimate associations."
The report documents alleged crimes committed before the country’s ruler was deposed following several weeks of public demonstrations. It provides another awkward example of a trusted American ally in the war on terror using the global campaign against extremists to justify bad behavior and consolidate power at home. Indeed, the same security apparatus that collaborated with the Central Intelligence Agency, which transported suspected terrorists through Tunis, was also responsible for using intimidation and violence to stifle domestic challenges to Ben Ali's rule, according to the report.
"Human rights abuses were at the heart of the problems faced by the people of Tunisia," Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said Wednesday. She announced that she has ordered a team of human rights investigators to begin an investigation today into Tunisia's legacy of human rights. "Therefore, human rights must be at the forefront of the solutions to those problems."
Scheinin's report claims that Tunisian authorities routinely deny detainees basic due-process rights, interrogate suspect in secret detention centers, routinely postdate arrest records to circumvent rules requiring detainees be presented before a judge in a timely fashion. It also noted that custody records during the month of his visit showed that authorities at one police detention center detained at least one person each day, "support[ing] the conclusion that counter-terrorism legislation does not only apply to a small group of very dangerous individuals."
The team was allowed to visit the Bouchoucha police detention facility and the Mornaguia Prison, where they interviewed several prisoners convicted of terrorist offenses. But Scheinin was not permitted to visit the interrogation facility at the Sub-directorate for Criminal Affairs of the Police Judiciare, where the "overwhelming majority of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment [were] received by the Special Rapporteur." Here's Scheinin's account of abuse in Tunisian detention.
"The evidence brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur indicated that suspected terrorists are routinely held in secret in a building of the Ministry of Interior in Tunis," the report claimed. "According to consistent allegations, suspects are regularly subjected to severe beatings on different parts of the body, including genitals, with fists, cables and batons, kicking, slapping, often combined with stripping of their clothes and suspensions (including in the so-called poulet rôti ("roast chicken") position), even in ordinary offices of the [Interior] Ministry. Some reports also described electroshocks and mock-drowning taking place in one particular room in the basement, especially in cases, where suspects resisted to making confessions. Other methods used included extended periods of sleep deprivation, burning with cigarettes, threats with rape, threats to family members and anal rape.… The main purpose of the torture was to extract confessions, and sometimes testimonies about third persons. It normally stopped with the signing of papers that most suspects had not been allowed to read."
Tunisia has been spared some of the worst terrorist violence that has hit other Arab countries; it was the site of two major terrorist attacks in April 2002 and December 2006, which killed a total of 35 people, including foreigners. In 1992, Tunisia tried 265 alleged members of the Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement following a couple of violent incidents that were blamed on the group. Human rights organizations, according to the report, "described the 1992 trials as unfair." The Tunisian rebel group, which is allegedly linked to al Qaeda and listed on the U.N. terrorist black list, is "suspected of plotting, but not carrying out, attacks on the embassies of Algeria, Tunisia and the United States of America in Rome in December 2001."
The report says that a number of countries, including Libya, Italy, Pakistan, and Syria, have forcibly returned Tunisian terrorism suspects to Tunisia despite the prospects that they will face torture. "Several of the returnees reported having been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment during that period, but none of their allegations are known to have been investigated by the Tunisian authorities." Scheinin said he has also encountered evidence that Tunisian authorities held an Algerian national for 75 days after he was sent to Tunisia by the Central Intelligence Agency. The detainee was eventually repatriated to Algeria.
Since 2003, Tunisia imposed sweeping anti-terrorism laws that have criminalized many nonviolent activities, but provided no clear definition of what constitutes a terrorist act. For instance, it is a crime -- even for medical personnel, clergy, and defense lawyers -- to fail to immediately notify authorities "of any acts, information or instructions which may have emerged concerning a terrorist offence." Individuals can also face up to 12 years in prison for "to an organization or entity, whichever their form and the number of its members, which has, even if coincidentally or incidentally, used terrorism as a means of action in the realization for its objectives." The measure, according to Scheinin, "does not include any requirement that the person must be aware of the terrorist nature of the group."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.