Foreign Policy

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  Bush Involved In Torture PlotApril 28, 2008 20:08 The U.S. Justice Department sought to expand the legal boundaries of harsh interrogation tactics against alleged terrorist suspects, a letter indicates.

"The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act," said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, said in a letter obtained by The New York Times.

Staff from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee leaked the letter to the press in seeking more information from the Justice Department.

The Geneva Conventions ban "outrages upon personal dignity" but the Benczkowski letter implies interrogation methods should be weighed against the threat to national security by considering the Geneva Conventions on a "sliding scale," The Washington Post said Sunday.

U.S. President George Bush signed an executive order in 2007 outlining new guidelines for interrogations, but while it bans practices such as sexual degradation, it does not specify what techniques are permissible.

Lawmakers passed a measure last year that restricted interrogation methods further, but Bush vetoed the bill arguing harsh interrogation tactics thwarted several undisclosed terrorist attacks.
  Admin. Asserts Limits On Geneva ProtectionsApril 28, 2008 20:05 Six and a half years after the September 11th attacks, the debate over the treatment of terrorist detainees continues In Washington, D.C. The latest development features the release of letters to Congress written by the Justice Department outlining the Bush Administration's belief that terrorists captured in the war on terror are not deserving of the protections of the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. That is a position taken by the Administration consistently since at least early 2002 that all of the debates in the media and all of the hearings in Congress have failed to alter.

The latest controversy centers on the Justice Department's opinion that a specific section of the Geneva Conventions barring "outrages against personal dignity" does not apply to terrorist detainees. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), an opponent of the Administration's detainee policies, released the letters after their content was made public. Wyden's spokesperson said that the Administration's position was "stunning." But it is no more stunning now than it was six years ago when it was first taken. Furthermore, the Geneva Conventions themselves limit the classes of combatants entitled to their protection, and the Administration's policy seems in line with those limitations.

Democrats and civil liberties activists generally make two types of arguments against the Bush Administration's detainee policy. The first is that the policy undermines America's status as the world's primary human rights champion. The second is that the policy makes it more likely that Americans captured overseas will not receive good treatment from their captors in retaliation. In his statement on the letters, Wyden's spokesman makes reference to both lines of argument.
  Us 'War On Terror' Backfiring, Says ThinktankApril 23, 2008 11:39 The US "war on terror" has backfired, strengthening extremists in Afghanistan and Somalia and turning them into legitimate political actors in the eyes of their local populations, a thinktank said today.

The Senlis Council, which has strongly criticised US policy in Afghanistan in the past, is particularly scathing of the Bush administration's "abject policy failures" in Somalia.

It said air strikes, support for Ethiopian troops that attacked Somalia last year and the ill-timed designation of a radical Islamist group, al-Shabab, as a terrorist group had been successfully exploited by the insurgency to boost recruitment.

"The lack of strategic acumen present in the 'war on terror' in Somalia and Afghanistan is in fact enabling the spread of the insurgencies present throughout both countries," said Norine MacDonald QC, the council president.

"The US is the common denominator in both countries – instead of containing the extremist elements in Somalia and Afghanistan, US policies have facilitated the expansion of territory that al-Shabab and the Taliban have psychological control over."

Aid groups say Somalia, wracked by anarchy and violence for decades, is suffering its worst humanitarian crisis since 1993.

Militias linked to the former Islamic Courts authority, which controlled Mogadishu in the latter half of 2006, are waging a guerrilla war against the occupying Ethiopian troops and the weak central government. With a small African Union peacekeeping force reduced to the role of bystander, several thousand civilians have been killed in the crossfire since early 2007.

The UN, which considers a wider peacekeeping mission too dangerous, says 700,000 people fled Mogadishu last year. A 10-mile stretch of road outside the city now hosts more than 200,000 people, humanitarian groups say - perhaps the biggest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world. According to Phillippe Lazzarini, the UN head of humanitarian affairs for Somalia, 2.5 million people are in need of food or other aid.

Against this grim backdrop, the Senlis Council, in its 79-page report, directly accused the US of undermining reconciliation efforts by backing the hardline president, Abdullahi Yusuf, instead of the more moderate prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein.

According to the security thinktank, the US government in February disrupted negotiations with opposition parties - including hardline Islamists - by exerting pressure on the prime minister to exclude certain groups and individuals from a reconciliation process, particularly those on a US list of designated terror suspects.

The council urged Bush to end all bombing operations in Somalia, back a phased withdrawal of Ethiopian troops who are shoring up Yusuf, and create a UN stabilisation force to neutralise the power of Yusuf's transitional federal government.
  Oil Gives Canada Power, Harper Reminds U.S.April 23, 2008 11:35 Prime Minister Stephen Harper waved a red flag yesterday in the debate over NAFTA's future, warning Americans who want to reopen the accord that U.S. dependence on Canadian oil gives Canada a big bargaining chip.

Mr. Harper staked out his position as he joined presidents George W. Bush of the United States and Felipe Calderon of Mexico at a joint news conference to end their three-way summit. The talk with reporters turned into a pep rally for keeping NAFTA intact in the face of threats from the Democratic presidential contenders to kill or rewrite it.

Mr. Calderon said reopening the pact would "condemn the region to complete backwardness," while India, China and the European Union are increasing their competitiveness.
  A Golden Alternative To The DollarApril 11, 2008 16:04 The UAE Central Bank is now to be saying that there is no chance of a revaluation of the dirham before a GCC currency union in 2010. Logically anybody who has been holding dirhams hoping for a revaluation to correct the 37 per cent loss in value since 2002 should now be looking for an alternative.

Step forward gold, and in particularly the timely news that the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre and World Gold Council is about to launch a shariah-compliant gold ETF. What is that some might ask?

Essentially this is a certificate backed by gold deposited in Dubai by the DMCC and in London by HSBC. The Dubai gold will be held in a giant vault under the Almas Tower in the DMMC’s new headquarters in New Dubai. It will also be the first ETF in the world to be fully Shariah-compliant, something likely to be very attractive for Islamic financial institutions and retail customers who prefer Islamic banks.

Once the Dubai Financial Services Authority has given its approval, the world’s newest gold ETF will be traded on the DIFX just like any other share. This easy liquidity and the absence of storage is a reason why gold ETFs have become popular among global savers, and the Dubai version joins nine others listed on stock markets worldwide.

The unique selling point for Dubai exchange-traded gold shares is that they will be Shariah-compliant. The DMCC has recently taken a stake in London-listed Shariah Capital that will be taking care of this compliance.

Chief Shariah Officer Shaykh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo told Emirates Business that anybody buying the Dubai gold ETF could be sure that an actual bar of physical hold was held on their account in the DMCC vault. In short, all gold will be held in physically allocated form. No other ETF can give this physical guarantee and it makes the Dubai gold ETF unique.

Other gold ETFs have been known to use futures contracts to meet sudden surges in buying, and financial techniques that would not meet strict Islamic standards. But the main reason for buying the gold ETF is for protection against the devaluation of the US dollar and, therefore, the UAE dirham.

It is a matter of statistical fact that gold and the US dollar move in opposite directions. If the dollar goes down, then gold goes up and vice-versa; and as the dollar has sunk towards $1.60 to the euro, the price of gold has recently surged above $1,000 an ounce.

Now with some analysts now seriously suggesting the US dollar will fall to $1.65 this October, and bullion experts targeting $1,200 an ounce for gold at some point this year, this might not be a bad time to be investing in gold
  House Speaker Seeks Delay On Colombia Trade PactApril 09, 2008 15:30 House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said today that Democrats will seek to delay consideration of a trade agreement with Colombia, prompting the White House to accuse Democrats of threatening the next administration's bargaining power in trade talks.

Pelosi, who worked with the administration in crafting the Colombia Free Trade Agreement last year, said the House would vote on a rule change to freeze the clock on when it must consider the pact. Under the current provisions, the House has 60 legislative days to consider the measure after President Bush sent it to Capitol Hill on Monday.

Democrats instead want the trade deal considered as part of a broader economic relief package. Bush has rejected talk of a second stimulus package.

"We're first and foremost here to look out for the concerns of America's working families. I take this action with deep respect to the people of Colombia and will be sure that any message they receive is one of respect for their country," Pelosi said.

The delayed consideration for the trade deal leaves its final approval in grave doubt, and administration officials warned that it would also handcuff any future president's bargaining power in talks.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino angrily criticized Pelosi's move during a press briefing today, saying the administration has "bent over backwards" to meet Democratic demands. She said abandoning the agreement would have a chilling effect on future trade negotiations.

"What country, after this action, will look to the trade representative . . . and think that they'll be able to count on their word?" Perino asked. "It's very, very troubling."

  Us Religious Freedom Panel Urges Bush Not To Attend Beijing GamesApril 09, 2008 15:28 An independent US federal body that monitors religious freedom is urging President George W. Bush not to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing unless there are discernible changes in China's policy towards Tibet.

The Washington-based Commission on International Religious Freedom, in a 4 April statement, said that if Bush should decide to attend the games, he should first visit the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, or another Tibetan area, "in an affirmation of the US commitment to religious freedom for Tibetans, as well as for China's other growing religious communities".

The August games in Beijing are becoming a symbol for human rights protesters in different parts of the world, both because of China's recent crackdown in Tibet as well as the country's close relationship with the government of Sudan, accused of widespread human rights abuses in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

On 7 April, protesters disrupted the running of the Olympic torch in Paris, the same day that US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged Bush to boycott the opening Olympic ceremonies in Beijing, citing the protests and Chinese-Sudanese ties. "These events underscore why I believe the Bush administration has been wrong to downplay human rights in its policy towards China," Clinton said.

China accuses the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibetan Buddhists, of promoting demonstrations in Tibet led by Buddhist monks in order to try to sabotage the 8-24 August games. The Dalai Lama denies this, saying he wants the games to go ahead.

In its statement, the US religious freedom body, a group supported by the two main parties in the US Congress and which is mandated to monitor abuse of freedom of religion or belief internationally, said an example of China's willingness to improve the situation in Tibet would be to hold "direct and concrete talks" with the Dalai Lama.

Other examples, the commission said, would be lifting current restrictions "that are the source of resentment and protest ... announcing that devotion to the Dalai Lama, including displaying and venerating his picture, is not a criminal act", and "unconditionally releasing all detained monks and nuns".

"China's plans to 'pacify' Tibet through religious repression alongside economic modernisation and in-migration of mostly ethnic Han Chinese have fuelled a deep and lasting resentment," said Michael Cromartie, the commission's chairperson.

  How Bush'S Treaty Power Grab FailedApril 09, 2008 15:08 When it comes to power, the Bush Administration has always firmly believed two things: first, the President should have more of it; and second, international institutions like the U.N. should have less of it. In that respect, the landmark ruling on U.S. treaty commitments handed down by the Supreme Court Tuesday seems to be both good news and bad news for Bush and his hard-line colleagues in the office of the Vice President. The court slammed the door on a provocative power grab by the White House, but it also potentially undercut a whole category of treaties, in the process exposing America's weak system for complying with international law.

From the start, the case turned conventional wisdom on its head. The Administration had argued that Jose Medellin, a Mexican national convicted of rape and murder in Texas but denied access to Mexican consular officials after his arrest, should get a retrial as ordered by the International Court of Justice in the Hague. The idea of Bush and Cheney arguing to take a foreigner off death row because the U.N. court ordered it had baffled right-wingers and internationalists alike. John Bolton, Bush's former U.N. ambassador, called the Administration's position "ridiculous," "crazy," and a "cave-in" to the State Department. But the big brains at the White House were working with an ingenious plan, or so they thought.

Back in 1969, the U.S. had joined the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, part of which requires countries to give arrested foreigners access to consular officials, as in the movies when a pin-striped diplomat soothes a worried American in some Third World dungeon. The Administration renounced that part of the treaty after the ICJ ruled Medellin should get a retrial. (The U.S. still abides by the parts of the Treaty governing immunity for embassy officials and sovereignty of embassy buildings.) Yet Bush told Texas to retry Medellin anyway — since the ICJ ruling came before the U.S. backed away from the treaty. In essence it was a double power grab: Bush wanted the right to unilaterally leave a treaty — and still order state courts to comply with obligations while the treaty was in effect. The move was supported by, among others, David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, a proponent of expanded presidential powers.
  Tibet Protesters Scale Golden Gate BridgeApril 07, 2008 13:23 Three protesters scaled the Golden Gate Bridge on Monday where four others were arrested in a likely precursor to large planned protests when the Olympic torch arrives Wednesday in San Francisco.

Those scaling the bridge, carrying a "Free Tibet" banner, are members of the group Students for a Free Tibet, said group spokesman Tenzin Dasang.

The banner reads, "One World. One Dream. Free Tibet."

Officer Julie Powell of the California Highway Patrol told CNN authorities closed one northbound lane at the bridge.

Dasang said he has heard of many people planning to protest in San Francisco against China's human rights record.

"We want it to be peaceful. But it will be large," said Dasang, 22, during a phone interview in which he said he was near the bridge. "I heard from Tibetans that now live all over the U.S. and even abroad who are coming here."

The flame is on a 130-day journey that will take it through through 23 cities on five continents and then throughout China, culminating at the Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing on August 8.

The small San Francisco protest comes the same day as a massive demonstration in Paris disrupted the torch relay many times.