Foreign Policy

  Just 9 Months And Hicks FreeMarch 31, 2007 10:40 ONFESSED terrorist David Hicks will be free on December 30 despite a claim by senior intelligence sources he was being groomed as a top al-Qaida spy.

Hicks, 31, was yesterday sentenced by a military commission at Guantanamo Bay to nine months' jail to be served in an Australian prison.

He has been held for more than five years at the US detention centre after being captured in Afghanistan in December, 2001.

In a plea bargain, a seven-year sentence was reduced by six years and three months.

But Australian intelligence sources yesterday said al-Qaida was training Hicks to infiltrate countries such as Israel and the US and scout for terror targets.
  Hicks' Sentence To Be Limited To 7 YearsMarch 30, 2007 08:58 The prison sentence of an Australian detainee who pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorism would be limited to seven years under terms of a plea bargain, a military judge at Guantanamo Bay said Friday.

The judge, Marine Corps. Col. Ralph Kohlmann, revealed the terms of the agreement at a hearing Friday on whether to accept David Hicks' guilty plea. It was not immediately clear whether the maximum sentence accounts for the five years Hicks has already spent at Guantanamo Bay. Under an agreement between the U.S. and Australia, Hicks will serve any sentence in his own country.

Hicks, 31, was dressed for the hearing in a gray suit with a dark tie and with his hair newly cut short. The former outback cowboy and kangaroo skinner who aided al-Qaida during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan showed little emotion as he confirmed to the judge that he carried out surveillance work on the former American Embassy in Kabul.

Hicks said he believed the government could prove its case against him. Asked what evidence he had seen, he said: "Notes taken by interrogators from me." The judge listened to Hicks' testimony as he considered whether to accept the Australian's guilty plea, which he made Monday.
  Dems Press Iraq Vote Despite Veto ThreatMarch 27, 2007 11:32 Senate Democrats said Tuesday the White House's latest veto threat would not dissuade them from pushing ahead on legislation calling for combat troops to come home from Iraq within one year.

As the Senate debated the bill Tuesday, the White House issued another stern warning to Congress that the president would reject any legislation setting a timetable on the war.

"That's not surprising from a White House that has stubbornly refused to change course even in the face of dwindling support from American people whose sons and daughters are dying" said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The administration contends that setting a timetable on the war assumes failure in Iraq.

  U.N. Expert To Visit U.S. For Assessment Of Human Rights In Counterterrorism EffortsMarch 26, 2007 12:29 The U.N. investigator on human rights in the fight against terrorism will visit the United States in May to make sure that the country is following international rights standards in its counterterrorism efforts, he said Monday.

Martin Scheinin, a legal expert from Finland appointed by the Human Rights Council, said he had received a formal invitation from the U.S. government.

"The visit to the United States is scheduled for the second half of May," he said.

Scheinin, who will report back to the 47-nation council in Geneva, criticized the U.S. and a number of other countries in his latest report for so-called terrorist profiling based on national or ethnic origin, or religion.

The assumption that people of a certain race or nationality are particularly likely to commit crimes is discriminatory and in breach of basic rights such as the right to privacy and freedom of movement, he told the council.
  Democrats Set Iraq Deadline In War BillMarch 21, 2007 18:49 Senate Democrats on Wednesday revived legislation urging President Bush to bring combat troops home from Iraq in a year, attaching the plan to a $122 billion measure needed to fund the war.

The move puts Democrats on track for another confrontation with Bush over the increasingly unpopular war and with Republicans, who are expected to try to block the measure.

House Democratic leaders are pushing a similar measure that would require that troops leave by the fall of 2008. Party officials predicted the House would pass it on Friday, albeit by a razor-thin margin.

"United States troops should not be policing a civil war, and the current conflict in Iraq requires principally a political solution," says a draft Senate bill circulated to lawmakers in anticipation of a committee vote Thursday.

  Iraq 4th AnniversaryMarch 19, 2007 22:18 Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq.

With public support at an all-time low and pressure from Democrats to bring troops home President Bush issued a plea to Americans today: give us more time.

Flood Baghdad with U.S. soldiers and attacks, like today's deadly bombings in Baghdad and Kirkuk will stop.

That's the plan and President Bush says given time, it'll work. "Four years after this war began, the fight is difficult, but it can be won."

But at what cost, critics ask? 3,200 Americans have lost their lives.

Around the country today, protests from Wall Street to Miami to Arizona and Utah.
  Global War On Terror™ Annual Progress ReportMarch 14, 2007 15:20 All I can say is 'WOW'. You should look at this guy's blog and charts.
  Trade Deficit Hits Record For 5Th YearMarch 14, 2007 15:18 The deficit in the broadest measure of trade hit an all-time high in 2006 and for the first time the United States even ran a deficit on investment income.

The Commerce Department reported that the imbalance in the current account jumped by 8.2 percent to $856.7 billion, representing a record 6.5 percent of the total economy. It marked the fifth straight year the current account deficit set a record.

Investment flows turned negative by $7.3 billion from a surplus of $11.3 billion in 2005. It was the first time investment income has been negative on records going back to 1929. That means foreigners earned more on their U.S. holdings than Americans earned on their overseas investments.
  Scandal Clouds Bush's Colombia VisitMarch 11, 2007 12:47 The Bush administration has no closer ally in South America than Colombia, the recipient of more than $4 billion in American aid this decade to combat drug trafficking and guerrilla insurgencies. But a widening scandal tying paramilitary death squads and drug traffickers to close supporters of President Alvaro Uribe is clouding President Bush's brief visit here on Sunday.

Since the scandal worsened in recent weeks, Democrats in the U.S. Congress have increased their scrutiny of two important measures before them: a broad trade agreement with Colombia that has already been signed by Bush and Uribe, and a request from the administration for a new $3.9 billion aid package for the country.

Claims of human rights abuses by political allies of Uribe, including the use of information from the executive branch's intelligence service to assassinate union organizers and university professors, have already resulted in the arrest of Jorge Noguera, a former chief of Colombia's secret police who was awarded that job after working on the president's campaign.
  U.S. And Iran Hold Rare Direct TalksMarch 10, 2007 10:54 U.S. and Iranian envoys spoke directly about Iraq ‘s perilous security situation on Saturday in rare one-on-one talks that could help ease their nearly 28-year diplomatic freeze.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he exchanged views with Iranian delegation "directly and in the presence of others" at the meeting, which included the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council U.N. Security Council.

Khalilzad declined to give details of the contacts — calling them only "constructive and businesslike and problem-solving" — but noted that he raised U.S. assertions that Shiite militias receive weapons and assistance across the border from Iran .

"The discussions were limited and focused on Iraq and I don‘t want to speculate after that," he said. The United States broke off ties with Iran after militants occupied the American Embassy in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
  Dems Leverage Jet Deal Against PakistanMarch 09, 2007 13:21 Senate Democrats are threatening to withhold delivery of jet fighter planes to Pakistan if it does not intensify its campaign against terrorists. The Bush administration opposed an even tougher move in the House that would condition U.S. military aid to stronger anti-terror efforts. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Wednesday the arms package should not be held out as a reward to Pakistan. Boucher said Pakistan is fighting Taliban militia for its own good and that the United States and other nations benefit as a result.

At stake is the long-delayed sale of 18 new jet fighters, an opportunity to buy 18 more and refurbishing 34 used aircraft already in Pakistan's air force arsenal.

The Bush administration objects to the House version of the legislation because it conditions sale of the aircraft to a certification by President Bush that Pakistan's anti-terror efforts were sufficient, Boucher said.

Three Democratic senators - John Kerry of Massachusetts, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware - put the threat in the form of a nonbinding resolution.
  Iran Steeled Over US Pressure TacticsMarch 08, 2007 15:34 In the light of the passing of the late February deadline imposed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and Iran's refusal to comply, Washington is abuzz with wildly diverse plans regarding how to deal with Iran. Just days after the deadline, on February 24, Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated the US administration's long-standing position that "all options are on the table" if Tehran does not suspend uranium-enrichment activities.

On the other side of the spectrum, the announcement that the US will attend the regional security conference held in Baghdad on

Saturday and is open to talks with the representatives of Iran who will also be attending has highlighted the possibility of direct negotiations between the two countries.

Meanwhile, the US administration's point man for dealing with Iran, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, insists that a military conflict is neither "desirable" nor "inevitable" and he has been publicly and confidently describing a complex strategy intent on creating a "diplomatic pincer moment - a diplomatic construct that would drive the Iranians to the negotiating table" under the terms or preconditions defined by the United States.
  Al Gore: EU Can Inspire Alternative Fuel EffortsMarch 07, 2007 14:48 Europe, which is weighing mandatory targets for biofuels and other sources of renewable energy, has a key role to play in ending the world economy's addiction to fossil fuels, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore said.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive, has implemented an emissions-trading system to curb carbon dioxide and is asking its governments to back binding minimum targets for renewable energy. Carbon dioxide acts to warm the Earth by trapping the sun's energy.

The EU ``has such an important role to play,'' Gore told reporters in Brussels today after speaking at the World Biofuels Markets conference. ``I'm trying to get my country to change its policies, but in the meantime, the EU is absolutely key to helping the world make the change it must.''

Leaders from the 27-nation EU will discuss mandatory targets for biofuels and other sources of renewable energy at a March 8-9 summit. Gore's film about climate change, ``An Inconvenient Truth,'' won an Oscar last month, and his efforts to bring about a more environmentally friendly economy put him in the running for this year's Nobel Peace prize.
  Bush To Visit Latin America, Chavez's BackyardMarch 06, 2007 09:28 President Bush, eager to counter the growing influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, declared Monday that he was heading to Latin America this week as a social reformer committed to alleviating poverty and social injustice.

The emphasis on addressing inequality marks a shift for the president, who has been assailed for stressing free trade and democracy south of the border and ignoring the social ills that continue to stymie the region.

"For too long and in too many places, opportunity in Latin America has been determined by the accident of birth rather than by the application of talents and initiative," Bush said in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Bush is set to leave Thursday on a weeklong hemispheric trek that is to include stops in Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Guatemala and Mexico.

Bush's itinerary doesn't include Venezuela, but the pugnacious Chavez, who has used his oil riches to take up the mantle of Fidel Castro and generations of Yanqui-bashers, looms large in a region Washington has historically considered its "backyard."
  U.S. Charges Australian Under New Terror-War LawMarch 02, 2007 11:44 The Bush administration filed charges Thursday against an Australian captured in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and held ever since without trial, the first terror-war suspect to face prosecution under a new system of military tribunals.
David Hicks, a 31-year-old former kangaroo skinner now held at the Guantanamo Bay military prison, was charged with providing material support for terrorism and could face life imprisonment if convicted. Court challenges are certain before any trial.
Hicks' case could well become the one that opponents of the new military tribunal system use to challenge the system at the Supreme Court. Opponents of the military commissions say they are illegal because they do not afford many legal rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
  Big Oil In, Stability Out Under New Iraqi LawMarch 01, 2007 10:35 While debate rages in the United States about the military in Iraq, an equally important decision is being made inside Iraq - the future of its oil. A draft Iraqi law proposes to open the country's currently nationalized oil system to foreign corporate control. But emblematic of the flawed promotion of "democracy" by the administration of US President George W Bush, this new law is news to most Iraqi politicians.

A leaked copy of the proposed hydrocarbon law appeared on the Internet at the same time that it was introduced to the Iraqi

Council of Ministers (cabinet). The law is expected to go to the Iraqi Council of Representatives within weeks. Yet the Internet version was the first look that most members of Iraq's Parliament had of the new law.

Many Iraqi oil experts, such as Fouad al-Ameer, who was responsible for the leak, think this law is not an urgent item on the country's agenda. Other observers and analysis share Ameer's views and believe the Bush administration, foreign oil companies and the International Monetary Fund are rushing the Iraqi government to pass the law.

Not every aspect of the law is harmful to Iraq. However, the current language favors the interests of foreign oil corporations over the economic security and development of Iraq. The law's key negative components harm Iraq's national sovereignty, financial security, territorial integrity and democracy.