NEWS ROUNDUP: February 21

U.S. urges Pakistanis to keep Musharraf, despite election defeat

The Bush administration is pressing the opposition leaders who defeated Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to allow the former general to retain his position, a move that Western diplomats and U.S. officials say could trigger the very turmoil the United States seeks to avoid.

U.S. officials, from President Bush on down, said this week that they think Musharraf, a longtime U.S. ally, should continue to play a role, despite his party’s rout in parliamentary elections Monday and his unpopularity in the volatile, nuclear-armed nation.

The U.S. is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year, Western diplomats and U.S. officials said Wednesday. If reinstated, the jurists likely would try to remove Musharraf from office.

Bush’s policy of hanging on to Musharraf has caused friction between the White House and the State Department, with some career diplomats and other specialists arguing that the administration is trying to buck the political tides in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

The President is finished, he should copy Castro and quit

To call President Musharraf a lame duck is an evasion; he is surely finished. As the results from the Pakistani elections on Monday come in, it is clear that he has almost no support in Parliament — and the few in his party who kept their seats are rushing to distance themselves from him. So is the Army, which he commanded until November and which underpinned his eight-year military rule.

Pakistan’s victors may lack strength to oust Musharraf

This week’s election will leave President Pervez Musharraf weakened in his post, but continuing returns and haggling over the new government on Wednesday showed his opponents likely to fall short of the numbers needed to impeach him. The Pakistan Peoples Party, which won the most seats in the new Parliament, said it would not move against Mr. Musharraf if it could not muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove him or change the Constitution. “Musharraf is our problem,” said Ahmad Mukhtar, who successfully contested a seat against a powerful ally of Mr. Musharraf, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein. “Today we don’t have the two-thirds majority. It is very difficult to talk about impeachment.”

U.S. payments to Pakistan face new scrutiny

Once a month, Pakistan’s Defense Ministry delivers 15 to 20 pages of spreadsheets to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. They list costs for feeding, clothing, billeting and maintaining 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistani troops in the volatile tribal area along the Afghan border, in support of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. No receipts are attached. In response, the Defense Department has disbursed about $80 million monthly, or roughly $1 billion a year for the past six years, in one of the most generous U.S. military support programs worldwide. The U.S. aim has been to ensure that Pakistan remains the leading ally in combating extremism in South Asia. But vague accounting, disputed expenses and suspicions about overbilling have recently made these payments to Pakistan highly controversial — even within the U.S. government.

Islamic stronghold in Pakistan goes secular

Hajji Ali Akbar wants his country to be governed by Islamic law. Yet in Monday’s elections in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), he and many others voted for a party that rejects religion in politics. It has led many to herald these elections as a victory for secular democracy and as a sign of the failure of Islamic parties’ governance. The religious parties that held 46 of the 96 provincial parliamentary seats won only nine this time. Moreover, they have been replaced by the secular Awami National Party (ANP).

Making Iraq disappear

Think of the top officials of the Bush administration as magicians when it comes to Iraq. Their top hats and tails may be worn and their act fraying, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Their latest “abracadabra,” the President’s “surge strategy” of 2007, has still worked like a charm. They waved their magic wands, paid off and armed a bunch of former Sunni insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists (about 80,000 “concerned citizens,” as the President likes to call them), and magically lowered “violence” in Iraq. Even more miraculously, they made a country that they had already turned into a cesspool and a slagheap — its capital now has a “lake” of sewage so large that it can be viewed “as a big black spot on Google Earth” — almost entirely disappear from view in the U.S.

Report: Barak warns Syria IDF planning Hezbollah op

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned Syria through Turkish mediation that the Israel Defense Forces is planning to escalate its military operations against Hezbollah and Hamas, the London-based daily Al-Hayyat reported on Thursday. On his visit to Turkey last week, Barak asked Turkish President Abdullah Ghoul to urge Syrian President Bashar Assad to adopt a different stance toward Hezbollah, according to Al-Hayyat.

Israel’s Mossad, out of the shadows

It’s fair to call Efraim Halevy—who served three Israeli prime ministers as chief of the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence service—a hawk. He negotiated a covert peace deal with Jordan that preceded the countries’ public treaty in 1994. Nine years later, he resigned as head of Israel’s National Security Council over policy differences with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. And when he left the Mossad, Halevy received the prestigious CIA Director’s Award from then-director George Tenet for his assistance to the U.S. intelligence service—the exact details of which Halevy cannot disclose.

Iran affirms its defiance on nuclear program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday that Iran’s determination to continue its nuclear program had brought major powers “to their knees.”

Minority Rules

For the past two years, politicians all over southeastern Turkey, along with human rights advocates, journalists and other public figures, have been sued for instances of Kurdish-language usage so minor that they are often a matter of a few words: sending a greeting card with the words “happy new year” in Kurdish, for example, or saying “my dear sisters” in a speech at a political rally. Such lawsuits have become so common that in some cases the accused is simply fined for using the letters W, X or Q — present in the Kurdish but not the Turkish alphabet — in an official capacity.

Rigged trials at Gitmo

Secret evidence. Denial of habeas corpus. Evidence obtained by waterboarding. Indefinite detention. The litany of complaints about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is long, disturbing and by now familiar. Nonetheless, a new wave of shock and criticism greeted the Pentagon’s announcement on February 11 that it was charging six Guantanamo detainees, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, with war crimes–and seeking the death penalty for all of them. Now, as the murky, quasi-legal staging of the Bush Administration’s military commissions unfolds, a key official has told The Nation that the trials have been rigged from the start. According to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for Guantanamo’s military commissions, the process has been manipulated by Administration appointees to foreclose the possibility of acquittal.

Miliband admits US rendition flights stopped on UK soil

Britain acknowledged today for the first time that US planes on “extraordinary rendition” flights stopped on British soil twice. The admission came from the foreign secretary, David Miliband, who apologised to MPs for incorrect information given by his predecessor, Jack Straw, and the former prime minister Tony Blair.

CIA confirms rendition flights to Brits

CIA Director Michael Hayden acknowledged Thursday that two rendition flights carrying terror suspects refueled on British territory, despite repeated U.S. assurances that none of the secret flights since the Sept. 11 attacks had used British airspace or soil.

Stifling online speech

The rise of Internet journalism has opened a new front in the battle to protect free speech. A federal judge last week ordered the disabling of Wikileaks.org, a muckraking Web site. That stifles important speech and violates the First Amendment. It should be reversed, and Wikileaks should be allowed to resume operations.

Misguided judge pulls plug on Wikileaks

Wikileaks.org, a whistle-blower Web site that enables the anonymous (and, in theory, untraceable) leaking of confidential government and corporate documents, has gone dark.

Although Wikileaks’ silencing was sought by anti-democratic governments worldwide – including China, whose censors work mightily to block all access to the site – Wikileak’s plug was pulled, ironically, by a federal judge in San Francisco.
[Except this is the Internet – you can still find Wikileaks uncensored here.]

Spy satellite blast, caught on tape

A Navy missile blasted a dying spy satellite just above the atmosphere late Wednesday night. Here’s the footage of the hit:

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