Tuesday, November 24, 2009

U.S. won't join landmine ban, administration decides

Washington (CNN) -- The United States won't join its NATO allies and many other countries in formally banning landmines, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said during his midday briefing Tuesday.

"This administration undertook a policy review and we decided our landmine policy remains in effect," Kelly said in response to a question. "We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention."

Opponents of the U.S. landmine policy said they were surprised.

"It is a disturbing development," said Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch. "The administration never said a policy review was under way."

Goose said the decision to leave the policy in place is at odds with the administration's professed commitments to international agreements and humanitarian issues.

"The international treaty against landmines has made a a huge difference and it is a very strong deterrent," Goose said. "It has to have been a very fast and cursory review."

The United States will attend an international conference on landmines next week in Cartagena, Colombia, sending an inter-agency delegation from the State and Defense departments as observers.

Kelly said the United States continues to work with governments as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help remove landmines.

"The U.S. is proud to be the world's single largest supporter of humanitarian mine action," Kelly said. "Since 1993 the U.S. has provided more than $1.5 billion worldwide dedicated to building new partnerships with more than 50 post-conflict countries and supporting efforts by dozens of NGOs to promote stability and set the stage for recovery and development through mine clearance and conventional-weapons destruction programs."

The United States is the only member of NATO that will not sign the landmine treaty, Goose said. Russia and China also have not joined the 156 nations that have endorsed the ban, he said.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lowering the Bar: Kindergarten Recruitment

by: Jon Letman, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

How old is old enough for students to be approached by military recruiters?
High school? Junior high? Fourth grade? How about ten weeks into kindergarten?
Last week at the dinner table, my five-year-old son announced blithely, "Soldiers came to school today." He then added, "They only kill bad people. They don't kill good people."

He made the announcement with the same levity he uses in recalling the plot line of Frog and Toad or a Nemo video.
My wife and I looked at each other incredulously.
"Soldiers came to school? What do you mean?" I asked.
He repeated himself and then I remembered - it was "Career Day" at school. My son mentioned a bus driver too, but it was the soldier who stuck out in his mind. When my wife asked if the soldier was cool, he nodded yes.
The soldier had given my five-year-old a gift. From his yellow backpack, he produced a six-inch, white, plastic ruler with big, bold, red letters reading "ARMY NATIONAL GUARD" next to a waving American flag and below that www.1-800-GO-GUARD.com.
So, now we know the answer to the above question.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died

WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.
Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Iraq oil prize for Exxon, Shell

Martin Chulov, Baghdad
November 7, 2009 - 12:05AM
AMERICAN energy giant ExxonMobil and Europe-based Shell have won the right to develop one of the world's most prized untapped oil reserves.
The $US50 billion ($A55 billion) deal will place them among the largest players in postwar Iraq.
The energy companies were awarded the contract to extract oil from the West Qurna reservoir near Basra in Iraq's south in an extended tender process that has seen the Iraqi Government partner foreign companies in a bid to get its reserves of oil out of the ground as quickly and cheaply as possible. West Qurna was considered the jewel among the nine Iraqi oil and gas fields up for grabs, with verified reserves of 15 billion barrels and a strong chance that exploration will reveal significantly more.
Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani said the contract stipulated a $US25 billion investment and $US25 billion more in operating fees. It is expected to yield up to 100,000 jobs in the impoverished deep south of the country that has been heavily blighted by insurgency in the past five years.