Friday, May 29, 2009

Twitter's risks

Those risks appear when in fact the MPs are turning themselves in journalists, at least when it is about the readiness to share as soon as possible information to "readers". The rules, written or unwritten agreements, or any kind of procedures are irrelevant. But reaching the information could be a matter of chance or will compulse you to be "on-line" as much as possible.

Stasi, 20 years after

20 years after the end of the Wall, the question regarding the amplitude of Stasi (the former communist Germany secret service) is still haunting the reunited Germany. This time, the case in question is the current chancelor, Angela Merkel, who according to her declarations refused any collaboration. And, as in many others Central and Eastern European countries, the history is a constant exercise of writing and writing again, as new documents and information are able to change completely the perception and understanding of certain moment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Practical Implications of the WHTI

Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On June 1, 2009, the land and sea portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will go into effect. The WHTI is a program launched as a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and intended to standardize the documents required to enter the United States. The stated goal of WHTI is to facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors while reducing the possibility of people entering the country using fraudulent documents.
Prior to the WHTI, American travelers to Mexico, Canada and several countries in the Caribbean needed only a driver’s license and birth certificate to re-enter the United States, while American travelers to other regions of the world required U.S. passports to return. This meant that immigration officials had to examine driver’s licenses and birth certificates from every state, and since the driver’s licenses and birth certificates of all the states change over time, there were literally hundreds of different types of documents that could be used by travelers at points of entry. In practical terms, this meant there was no way immigration officers could be familiar with the security features of each identification document, thereby making it easier for foreigners to use counterfeit or fraudulently altered documents to enter the country by claiming to be returning U.S. citizens.

The air portion of the WHTI went into effect in January 2007 and required that all international air travelers use passports to enter the United States. However, the land and sea implementation of WHTI will be a little different from the air portion. In addition to passports, travelers can also use U.S. passport cards (a driver’s license-sized identification document), an enhanced driver’s license (which are currently being issued by Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington) or “special trusted” traveler identification cards such as Nexus and Sentri to enter the country by land or sea.
The WHTI will greatly simplify the number of travel documents that immigration officials have to scrutinize. It will also mean that the documents needed to enter the United States will be far harder to counterfeit, alter or obtain by fraud than the documents previously required for entry. This will make it more difficult for criminals, illegal aliens and militants to enter the United States, but it will by no means make it impossible.
An Evolutionary Process
Identity document fraud has existed for as long as identity documents have. Like much sophisticated crime, document fraud has been an evolutionary process. Advancements in document security have been followed by advancements in fraud techniques, which in turn have forced governments to continue to advance their security efforts. In recent years, the advent of color copiers, powerful desktop computers with sophisticated graphics programs and laser printers has propelled this document-fraud arms race into overdrive.
In addition to sophisticated physical security features such as ultraviolet markings and holograms, perhaps the most significant security features of newer identification documents such as passports and visas are that they are machine-readable and linked to a database that can be cross-checked when the document is swiped through a reader at a point of entry. Since 2007, U.S. passports have also incorporated small contactless integrated circuits embedded in the back cover to securely store the information contained on the passport’s photo page. These added security measures have limited the utility of completely counterfeit U.S. passports, which (for the most part) cannot be used to pass through a point of entry equipped with a reader connected to the central database. Such documents are used mostly for traveling abroad rather than for entering the United States.

Likewise, advancements in security features have also made it far more difficult to alter genuine documents by doing things like changing the photo affixed to it (referred to as a photo substitution or “photo sub”). Certainly, there are some very high-end document forgers who can still accomplish this — such as those employed by intelligence agencies — but such operations are very difficult and the documents produced are very expensive.
One of the benefits of the WHTI is that it will now force those wishing to obtain genuine documents by fraud to travel to a higher level — it has, in effect, upped the ante. As STRATFOR has long noted, driver’s licenses pose serious national security vulnerability. Driver’s licenses are, in fact, the closest thing to a U.S. national identity card. However, driver’s licenses are issued by each state, and the process of getting one differs greatly from state to state. Criminals clearly have figured out how to work the system to get fraudulent driver’s licenses. Some states make it easier to get licenses than others and people looking for fraudulent identification flock to those states. Within the states, there are also some department of motor vehicles (DMV) offices — and specific workers — known to be more lenient, and those seeking fraudulent licenses will intentionally visit those offices. In addition to corrupt DMV employees and states that issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, an illegal industry has arisen devoted entirely to producing counterfeit identification documents, compounding the problem.

Birth certificates are also relatively easy to obtain illegally. The relative ease of fraudulently obtaining birth certificates as well as driver’s licenses is seen in federal document-fraud cases (both documents are required to apply for a U.S. passport). In a large majority of the passport-fraud cases worked by Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) special agents, the suspects have successfully obtained fraudulent driver’s licenses and birth certificates, which are submitted in support of a passport application. It is not uncommon for DSS special agents to arrest suspects who possess multiple driver’s licenses in different identities from the same state or even from different states. Such documents could have been used to travel across the U.S. border via land prior to the implementation of the WHTI.
For those able to afford the fees of high-end alien smugglers, who can charge up to $30,000 for a package of identification documents that contains a genuine U.S. passport with genuine supporting documents (birth certificate, social security card and driver’s license), or $10,000 to $15,000 for a genuine U.S. visa (tied to a database, the newer machine-readable visas are very difficult to counterfeit), the WHTI will not make much difference. These high-end document vendors obtain legitimate identification documents by paying corrupt officials who have been carefully cultivated.
That said, the WHTI should succeed in causing the vast majority of criminal aliens, illegal economic immigrants and even militants — people who have not traditionally patronized high-end document vendors — to change the way they enter the United States. Of course, perhaps the simplest way is to take the low road. That is, get to Canada or Mexico and then simply sneak across the border as an undocumented alien — something that hundreds of thousands of people do every year. Once inside the country, such aliens can link up with lower-level document vendors to obtain the driver’s licenses, social security cards and other identity documents they need in order to live, work and travel around the country.
But there are other ways that the WHTI measures can be circumvented. For example, the crush of passport applications the WHTI is now causing will create a distinct vulnerability in the short term. Although the U.S. Department of State has hired a large number of new examiners to process the flood of passport applications it is receiving (and also a number of new DSS special agents to investigate fraud cases), the system is currently overwhelmed by the volume of passport applications.
Historically, passport examiners have had their performance evaluations based on the number of passport applications they process rather than on the number of fraudulent applications they catch (which has long been a source of friction between the DSS and the Bureau of Consular Affairs). This emphasis on numerical quotas has been documented in U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that have noted that the quotas essentially force examiners to take shortcuts in their fraud-detection efforts. As a result, many genuine passports have been issued to people who did not have a legitimate right to them. The current overwhelming flood of passport applications as a result of WHTI, when combined with a batch of new examiners who are rated on numerical quotas, will further enhance this vulnerability. Unless a passport application has an obvious fraud indicator, it will likely slip through the cracks and a fraudulent applicant will receive a genuine U.S. passport.
Stolen passports are another area to consider. In addition to being photo-subbed, which has become more difficult, stolen passports can also be used as travel documents by people who resemble the owner of the document. All the holograms, microprinting and other security features that have been placed on the laminates of passport photo pages tend to make it difficult to clearly see the photo of the passport holder. Also, people change over time, so a person who was issued a passport eight years ago can look substantially different from their passport photo today. The passport process and the laminate can also make it especially difficult to see the facial features of dark-skinned people. This means it is not at all uncommon for a person to be able to impersonate someone and use his or her passport without altering it. This problem persists, even with digital photos being included with the information embedded electronically in the memory chips of newer electronic passports.
Because of these possibilities, stolen passports are worth a tidy sum on the black market. Indeed, shortly after U.S. passports with green covers were issued, they were found to be extremely easy to photo-sub and were soon fetching $7,000 apiece on the black market in places like Jamaica and Haiti. In fact, criminal gangs quickly began offering tourists cash or drugs in exchange for the documents, and the criminal gangs would then turn around and sell them for a profit to document vendors. The problem of U.S. citizens selling their passports also persists today.
On the flip side, many Americans are unaware of the monetary value of their passport — which is several times the $100 they paid to have it issued. They do not realize that when they carry their passport it is like toting around a wad of $100 bills. Tour guides who collect the passports of all the people in their tour group and then keep them in a bag or backpack can end up carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in identification documents — which would make a really nice haul for a petty criminal in the Third World.
But U.S. passports are not the only ones at risk of being stolen. The changes in travel documents required to enter the United States will also place a premium on passports from countries that are included in the U.S. “visa waiver” program — that is, those countries whose citizens can travel to and remain in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. There are currently 35 countries in the visa waiver program, including EU member states, Australia, Japan and a few others. The risk of theft is especially acute for those countries on the visa waiver list that issue passports that are easier to photo-sub than a U.S. passport. In some visa waiver countries, it is also cheaper and easier to obtain a genuine passport from a corrupt government official than it is in the United States.
While there are efforts currently under way to create an international database to rapidly share data about lost and stolen blank and issued passports, there is generally a time lag before lost and stolen foreign passports are entered into U.S. lookout systems. This lag provides ample time for someone to enter the United States on a photo-subbed passport, and it is not clear if retroactive searches are made once the United States is notified of a stolen passport in order to determine if that passport was used to enter the United States during the lag period. Of course, once a person is inside the United States, it is fairly easy to obtain identification documents in another identity and simply disappear.
There have also been cases of jihadist groups using the passports of militants from visa waiver countries who have died in order to move other operatives into the United States. On Sept. 1, 1992, Ahmed Ajaj and Abdul Basit (also known as Ramzi Yousef) arrived at New York’s Kennedy Airport. The two men had boarded a flight in Karachi, Pakistan, using photo-subbed passports that had been acquired from deceased jihadists. Ajaj used a Swedish passport in the name Khurram Khan and Basit used a British passport in the name Mohamed Azan.
Ultimately, the WHTI will help close some significant loopholes — especially regarding the use of fraud-prone driver’s licenses and birth certificates for international travel — but the program will not end all document fraud. Document vendors will continue to shift and adjust their efforts to adapt to the WHTI and exploit other vulnerabilities in the system.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

MKs support arrest over denial of Israel's existence

Bill calling for one year in prison for anyone speaking against Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state passes preliminary reading. Bill's initiator MK Orlev: This is our lesson from Bishara affair. Meretz: Government is losing it
Amnon Meranda

'Nakba law' not alone: The Knesset on Wednesday morning approved in a preliminary reading a bill introducing one year in prison for anyone speaking against Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state, should the call contain a reasonable possibility "that it may lead to acts of hatred, scorn or lack of loyalty to the State or its government authorities or law systems which have been established legally."
Forty-seven Knesset members voted in favor of the motion, 34 voted against it, and one MK abstained. The bill was initiated by MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), chairman of the Knesset's Education Committee.
Orlev explained the bill by saying that "the Azmi Bishara affair teaches us that statements can quickly turn into actions."
Following the vote, a harsh argument erupted between MKs Jamal Zahalka (Balad) and Arie Eldad (National Union), leading to Zahalka's removal from the auditorium.
A heated discussion erupted at the Knesset before the vote. Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron slammed the government, saying, "Have you lost your confidence in the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? This crazy government – what exactly are you doing? Thought Police? Have you lost it?

"Israel's citizens have the right to say that they believe Jewish and democratic is an incorrect wording. I think they are wrong, but what does this have to do with the criminals area? Enough with this story." MK Orlev replied, "You used very shallow demagogy."

'You want to punish people for thinking?'
MK Zahalka said before the vote, "Many intellectuals in the academia who talk about a country belonging to all its citizens belong in prison, according to MK Orlev. Arab and Jewish leaders who seek real democracy in Israel also belong in jail, according to Orlev… He wants to put anyone who doesn’t agree with him in jail.

"This is the proposal: Whoever says 'death to the Arabs' should not be put in prison, but whoever says 'a country of all its citizens' should not be put in prison. This is a crazy law aimed at managing the political discourse according to laws."

Knesset Member Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) said that his movement opposed the bill in principle for the simple reason that "a democratic Jewish state is performed, not talked about. We want to do this, and you with your remarks are thwarting the matter once and again.
Turning to Orlev, Bar-On asked, "What is there in your proposal that it not covered in Basic Law: The Knesset or in the Penal Law? You want to punish people for speaking? Soon you'll want to punish people for thinking."

MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said in response to the bill, "We will not recognize a Jewish and Zionist Israel despite the draconian law, even if we pay a personal price. This coalition will soon propose a low banning 'expressing shock over the occupation' and calling for a penalty of five years in prison for anyone expressing such shock."

Iran's Presidential Election Campaign Heats Up

Edward Yeranian, Cairo
May 26

The four contenders in Iran's presidential election campaign have been criss-crossing the country in an effort to gain support ahead of the June 12 vote. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears to be the favorite going into the final stretch.
A large crowd of students cheered Iran's top reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi at Tabriz University, during a stump speech, just over two weeks before Iranians are due to go to the polls to elect a new president.Mousavi is running neck and neck with incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and despite the support of former reformist President Mohammed Khatami, many analysts say he is fighting an uphill battle, because Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is tacitly supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad.An Iranian prime minister during the 1980s, Mousavi is still remembered by many Iranians for guiding the country through the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq War and for his even-handed economic policies during tough times.Mousavi told students in Tabriz, Tuesday, that he supports free-speech, since that was a key goal of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution:"The revolution," he says, "was aimed at guaranteeing us freedom of speech. It is not in our best interest to not tolerate opposition, because this would make it impossible for us to be part of the modern world."President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, gained the support, Tuesday, of the largest bloc in Iran's parliament. Two hundred members of Iran's "Principlist Front" coalition of conservatives signed a letter, pledging to vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad on June 12th.Mr. Ahmadinejad also used a 30 minute national campaign ad to defend his handling of the economy, insisting that "Iran's economy is stable, despite the global economic crisis." He also claimed to have defied outside enemies by his wise handling of foreign policy.During a campaign gathering in Tehran, the hardline head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, threw his support to Mr. Ahmadinejad, as well.
A third candidate for president, hardliner Mohsen Rezaei, who headed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards for 16 years, campaigned in northern Iran, saying he would form a coalition government which includes "efficient people that abide by the law."Rezaei went on to threaten Israel, claiming that he was capable of neutralizing the Jewish state with "one strike," a possible allusion to an attack on Israel's Dimona nuclear complex.Trailing the other three contenders, candidate Mehdi Kharroubi, one-time speaker of Iran's parliament, complained that his campaign ad, calling for the change of Iran's constitution, had been censured.Karroubi has gained some notoriety among the four candidates for proposing a novel economic plan which would grant shares in Iran's oil wealth to all Iranian citizens.
FACTBOX: Issues in Iran's presidential election race
May 26
Iranians vote on June 12 in a presidential election that will test the popularity of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against rivals who criticize his combative stance on the nuclear issue and his handling of the economy.
Following are some of the campaign issues and positions of the four candidates cleared to run by the Guardian Council:
The candidates have promised no major change in Iran's nuclear policy, saying such matters of state are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but they have signaled subtle differences in approach. Moderates, such as former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi and former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karoubi, have faulted Ahmadinejad for isolating Iran by denying the Holocaust and making fiery anti-Western speeches. However, no candidate has suggested that Iran could address the West's concerns over its nuclear program and halt sensitive work.

As in the 2005 presidential election, all candidates have said they are open to the idea of resuming relations with the United States. This reflects how popular such a move would be among Iranians weary of a rift that has lasted almost three decades. But nearly all the candidates demand "fundamental" changes in U.S. policy toward Iran. These could include removing the Islamic Republic from the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors or unfreezing billions of dollars in Iranian assets seized in the United States after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Candidates have offered few detailed ideas on how to improve the economy in Iran, which has the world's second biggest oil and gas reserves. Critics say the government did not save enough when oil prices were high to maintain spending after they fell below $40 a barrel in February from a July peak of $147. Prices have since firmed to almost $60 a barrel. Many Iranians complain of inflation, which hit almost 30 percent last year but which dipped to 12.5 percent in April, and rising unemployment.
Karoubi has said he will distribute shares of oil income to all Iranians aged over 18. He advocates greater privatization.
Mousavi, who administered a relatively efficient state rationing system when he was prime minister during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, now favors more liberalization of the economy.
Ahmadinejad's spending policies have been criticized as inflationary and wasteful of windfall oil revenue earned by the world's fifth biggest crude exporter. He has promised to alleviate poverty and reduce dependence on oil income, which accounts for 80 percent of hard currency earnings. His power base rests on poorer segments of Iran's 70 million people.
All candidates have promised to uphold freedom of speech and improve women's participation in government and decision-making in Iran, often criticized abroad for its human rights record. Karoubi and Mousavi have opposed Ahmadinejad's drive to enforce what hardliners define as Islamic dress and social behavior.

North Korea's bomb test seen as troubling progress

Pamela Hess
May 27
Based on what appears to be a successful test of an atomic bomb more powerful than the one North Korea detonated in 2006, former U.S. government and independent analysts say the North's technical skills are improving slightly.

Of greater concern, according to national security adviser James L. Jones, is the possibility that North Korea could sell or share its nuclear technology with others. He would not say whether the U.S. intelligence community judged the test to be a significant step forward.
"The fact that they have this kind of technology and are obviously willing to export it is very troubling," Jones told reporters Tuesday.
The U.S. government remains officially mum on technical details about the underground blast that took place Monday in North Korea. It could be days or weeks before radioactive gases from the underground test are detected and analyzed by U.S. and allied intelligence.
North Korea appears to be marginally closer to having both a nuclear warhead and the means of delivering it to the United States or U.S. allies in the Pacific. In April, Pyongyang launched a long-range missile in what represented a modest improvement over earlier missile tests. The government reported launching a series of short-range missiles on Tuesday.
The nuclear test proves that North Korea's basic warhead design works, said Charles Vick, a missile expert with Global The next challenge is reducing its weight by about half, and then integrating the warhead onto a missile.
North Korea has said it has begun harvesting plutonium from spent fuel rods at its main nuclear plant to build up its atomic arsenal. It is thought to have enough weaponized plutonium to make more than a half-dozen atomic bombs.
In its official announcement of the test, North Korea said the explosion was larger than its 2006 test. Publicly available information supports that.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded a seismic event — equivalent to an earthquake with a roughly 4.6 on the Richter scale — near the test site. The 2006 test registered roughly 4.1, according to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, an arms control group.
Martin Kalinowski, a Hamburg University professor, says that corresponds to an explosive yield of about 3 to 8 kilotons of TNT, with a yield most likely of 4 kilotons.
That would be considerably higher than the half-kiloton yield in 2006. One kiloton is the equivalent of exploding 1,000 tons of TNT. For comparison, the U.S. nuclear bombs detonated in Japan during World War II ranged between 15 to 21 kilotons.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of nuclear strategy initiative at the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, cautioned that "it's really hard to know what the yield actually is." He said it might be as low as 1.5 kilotons.
Lewis described the range as "somewhere between what you wouldn't want dropped on your neighborhood, but it's nowhere near what was dropped on Hiroshima."
Discussions about yield and capability are somewhat beside the point, he added. The fact that North Korea has a weapon, and its intentions for it are unclear, are the true concerns.
"What's frightening is that they have a nuclear weapon, the uncertainty that comes from having a nuclear weapon, not the capability itself," said Lewis.
North Korea's nuclear test forced the Pentagon to scrap much of its planning for a meeting Saturday in Singapore among Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
"Undoubtedly, the developments in North Korea over the weekend will be a focus of that conversation," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters. He said it was believed to be the first discussion among the three nations' defense chiefs.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Lara Jakes contributed to this report.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Anti-Globalization Clashes Continue in Turin

Voice of America
19 May 2009

Students, wearing black helmets, and police clash outside the site of a meeting of university rectors from throughout the country, in Turin, northern Italy, 19 May 2009
Students, wearing black helmets, and police clash outside the site of a meeting of university rectors in Turin, northern Italy, 19 May 2009
At least 19 police officers were injured in clashes with anti-globalization protesters in Turin. Thousands of students protested against the economic crisis on the sidelines of a G8 meeting of international university clergymen.

Demonstrators hurled rocks and fire extinguishers at police in Turin while over 40 university clergymen from G8 nations and 19 from industrialized and developing nations were holding a summit at the Castle of Valentino.

Police in anti-riot gear responded with baton charges and volleys of tear gas. Clashes were violent but lasted only a half hour. Thousands of demonstrators, mainly students, took to the streets of Turin to protest the summit.

Foreign students joined Italians and came in from Greece, The Netherlands and Britain. Some tried to attack a number of banks. At least 19 people police officers were injured and some demonstrators when the clashes broke out. A couple of Italian demonstrators were taken into custody.

It was the second day of protests in central Turin. More than 1,000 police officers were deployed. This Italian student explained why the protests were taking place.

He said, we are denouncing the illegitimacy of this summit and also the decisions that are being taken by those participating. We think that training over the years has increasingly become a market and global decision-making has been exploiting the world of knowledge.

Another student said she had come to Turin because she is unhappy with the way the universities are being run.

She said: "This is a demonstration to call for a different type of university, to call on those who are responsible for the economic crisis to take on their responsibilities and not unload them on the weaker subjects of society, like students, those without full-time employment and families."

The Turin clashes have raised concerns about security in view of the G8 summit of world leaders to be hosted July 8-10 by Italy. Initially the chosen summit venue was an island off Sardinia but since the earthquake struck in central Italy on April 6, the venue has been changed to l'Aquila with the aim of attracting funds to the area.

'Victory' holiday in Sri Lanka

May 20

Sri Lanka is marking a holiday on Wednesday to celebrate the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.

"The government has also asked all state institutions to fly the national flag for one week," an official said.

However state security forces said that they were on a state of high alert against revenge attacks from any remaining rebels.

On Tuesday pictures of the body of the man who is believed to be rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran were released.


The BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo says that officially the holiday has been called as a mark of respect to troops who have defeated the Tamil Tigers.

There are still some delighted youths rushing into the roads waving the red, yellow, green and saffron national flag, our correspondent says, but with businesses firmly shut and stormy monsoon weather descending on the city, the streets are much quieter than they were.

The state English-language daily has the word "triumph" in huge blue letters on its front page, but Rajiva Wijesinha, one of the government's regular spokesmen, writes that he is glad that "vulgar triumphalism" has not broken out.

Mr Wijesinha wrote there was a need to plan for the future and bear in mind Tamil suffering.

The US, the UN and China - a key and growing ally of Sri Lanka - have all urged ethnic reconciliation on the island, with Washington calling for "new power sharing arrangements".

'Best of cowards'

The government has said that renegade Tamil Tiger leader Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, also known as Colonel Karuna, has positvely identified Mr Prabhakaran's body.

Col Karuna defected from the rebels in 2004 and is now a government minister.

  • Born November, 1954
  • 1972: Founded Tamil New Tigers (TNT), forerunner of LTTE
  • Reputation as fearless and ruthless leader
  • Pioneered use of suicide bombings in guerilla warfare
  • Wanted in Sri Lanka and India
  • The defence ministry website has also released more details of Mr Prabhakaran's death. It said that he was found with no cyanide capsule, but with his identity card and the dog tag.

    "He was certainly not man enough to fight a single battle against army, but instead tried to save his life until the last moment," it said.

    "Not for a single second did he he want to commit suicide, but tried to escape betraying his most loyal followers before a soldier shot him down.

    "We are not going to comment on how he died... simply, he was the best of the cowards."

    The ministry said that Mr Prabhakaran's body was found on Tuesday morning, contradicting earlier reports that it was discovered on Monday.


    The army also says it has found the body of one of the last rebel leaders still unaccounted for. It said that the bullet-riddled head of the rebels' Sea Tiger wing, Soosai, was found by troops in marshy land on Tuesday evening.

    "Our motherland has been completely liberated from separatist terrorism," President Rajapaksa told jubilant lawmakers in a nationally televised victory speech to parliament on Tuesday.

  • 1976 - LTTE formed
  • 1983 - First attacks by Tamil Tiger rebels; start of 'First Eelam War'
  • Feb 2002 - Government and rebels sign ceasefire
  • 2004 - 2008 - Violence mounts
  • Jan 2008 - Government pulls out of ceasefire agreement
  • Jan 2009 - Government captures Tigers' Kilinochchi headquarters
  • May 2009 - Government declares victory against Tigers
  • The president reached out to the mainly Hindu Tamil community - comprising about 20 million people - pledging that everyone in Sri Lanka should be able to live "in safety without fear and suspicion".

    "All should live with equal rights. That is my aim," he said, briefly speaking in the Tamil language.

    The president said that he would negotiate some form of power-sharing deal following the war and stressed the need for an agreement.

    "We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all the communities," he said.

    Our correspondent says that it is expected the government will devolve more power to the provinces giving Tamils more political say in some parts of the island.

    Tamil politicians have said the government must address the causes of the long-running conflict.

    The pro-rebel TamilNet website has not commented on reports of Mr Prabhakaran's death since it denied he was dead on Tuesday - before the release of photos depicting his body.

    The Tigers had been fighting for a separate state for Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka since the 1970s.

    About 80,000 people have been killed in the conflict and thousands displaced.

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    An Israeli Prime Minister Comes to Washington Again

    George Friedman
    May 18

    Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting Washington for his first official visit with U.S. President Barack Obama. A range of issues — including the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli-Syrian talks and Iran policy — are on the table. This is one of an endless series of meetings between U.S. presidents and Israeli prime ministers over the years, many of which concerned these same issues. Yet little has changed.

    That Israel has a new prime minister and the United States a new president might appear to make this meeting significant. But this is Netanyahu’s second time as prime minister, and his government is as diverse and fractious as most recent Israeli governments. Israeli politics are in gridlock, with deep divisions along multiple fault lines and an electoral system designed to magnify disagreements.

    Obama is much stronger politically, but he has consistently acted with caution, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Much of his foreign policy follows from the Bush administration. He has made no major breaks in foreign policy beyond rhetoric; his policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Europe are essentially extensions of pre-existing policy. Obama faces major economic problems in the United States and clearly is not looking for major changes in foreign policy. He understands how quickly public sentiment can change, and he does not plan to take risks he does not have to take right now.

    This, then, is the problem: Netanyahu is coming to Washington hoping to get Obama to agree to fundamental redefinitions of the regional dynamic. For example, he wants Obama to re-examine the commitment to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. (Netanyahu’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has said Israel is no longer bound by prior commitments to that concept.) Netanyahu also wants the United States to commit itself to a finite time frame for talks with Iran, after which unspecified but ominous-sounding actions are to be taken.

    Facing a major test in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama has more than enough to deal with at the moment. Moreover, U.S. presidents who get involved in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frequently get sucked into a morass from which they do not return. For Netanyahu to even request that the White House devote attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem at present is asking a lot. Asking for a complete review of the peace process is even less realistic.

    Obstacles to the Two-State Solution

    The foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for years has been the assumption that there would be a two-state solution. Such a solution has not materialized for a host of reasons. First, at present there are two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank, which are hostile to each other. Second, the geography and economy of any Palestinian state would be so reliant on Israel that independence would be meaningless; geography simply makes the two-state proposal almost impossible to implement. Third, no Palestinian government would have the power to guarantee that rogue elements would not launch rockets at Israel, potentially striking at the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor, Israel’s heartland. And fourth, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have the domestic political coherence to allow any negotiator to operate from a position of confidence. Whatever the two sides negotiated would be revised and destroyed by their political opponents, and even their friends.

    For this reason, the entire peace process — including the two-state solution — is a chimera. Neither side can live with what the other can offer. But if it is a fiction, it is a fiction that serves U.S. purposes. The United States has interests that go well beyond Israeli interests and sometimes go in a different direction altogether. Like Israel, the United States understands that one of the major obstacles to any serious evolution toward a two-state solution is Arab hostility to such an outcome.

    The Jordanians have feared and loathed Fatah in the West Bank ever since the Black September uprisings of 1970. The ruling Hashemites are ethnically different from the Palestinians (who constitute an overwhelming majority of the Jordanian population), and they fear that a Palestinian state under Fatah would threaten the Jordanian monarchy. For their part, the Egyptians see Hamas as a descendent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the Mubarak government’s ouster — meaning Cairo would hate to see a Hamas-led state. Meanwhile, the Saudis and the other Arab states do not wish to see a radical altering of the status quo, which would likely come about with the rise of a Palestinian polity.

    At the same time, whatever the basic strategic interests of the Arab regimes, all pay lip service to the principle of Palestinian statehood. This is hardly a unique situation. States frequently claim to favor various things they actually are either indifferent to or have no intention of doing anything about. Complicating matters for the Arab states is the fact that they have substantial populations that do care about the fate of the Palestinians. These states thus are caught between public passion on behalf of Palestinians and the regimes’ interests that are threatened by the Palestinian cause. The states’ challenge, accordingly, is to appear to be doing something on behalf of the Palestinians while in fact doing nothing.

    The United States has a vested interest in the preservation of these states. The futures of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are of vital importance to Washington. The United States must therefore simultaneously publicly demonstrate its sensitivity to pressures from these nations over the Palestinian question while being careful to achieve nothing — an easy enough goal to achieve.

    The various Israeli-Palestinian peace processes have thus served U.S. and Arab interests quite well. They provide the illusion of activity, with high-level visits breathlessly reported in the media, succeeded by talks and concessions — all followed by stalemate and new rounds of violence, thus beginning the cycle all over again.

    The Palestinian Peace Process as Political Theater

    One of the most important proposals Netanyahu is bringing to Obama calls for reshaping the peace process. If Israeli President Shimon Peres is to be believed, Netanyahu will not back away from the two-state formula. Instead, the Israeli prime minister is asking that the various Arab state stakeholders become directly involved in the negotiations. In other words, Netanyahu is proposing that Arab states with very different public and private positions on Palestinian statehood be asked to participate — thereby forcing them to reveal publicly their true positions, ultimately creating internal political crises in the Arab states.

    The clever thing about this position is that Netanyahu not only knows his request will not become a reality, but he also does not want it to become a reality. The political stability of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is as much an Israeli interest as an American one. Indeed, Israel even wants a stable Syria, since whatever would come after the Alawite regime in Damascus would be much more dangerous to Israeli security than the current Syrian regime.

    Overall, Israel is a conservative power. In terms of nation-states, it does not want upheaval; it is quite content with the current regimes in the Arab world. But Netanyahu would love to see an international conference with the Arab states roundly condemning Israel publicly. This would shore up the justification for Netanyahu’s policies domestically while simultaneously creating a framework for reshaping world opinion by showing an Israel isolated among hostile states.

    Obama is likely hearing through diplomatic channels from the Arab countries that they do not want to participate directly in the Palestinian peace process. And the United States really does not want them there, either. The peace process normally ends in a train wreck anyway, and Obama is in no hurry to see the wreckage. He will want to insulate other allies from the fallout, putting off the denouement of the peace process as long as possible. Obama has sent George Mitchell as his Middle East special envoy to deal with the issue, and from the U.S. president’s point of view, that is quite enough attention to the problem.

    Netanyahu, of course, knows all this. Part of his mission is simply convincing his ruling coalition — and particularly Lieberman, whom Netanyahu needs to survive, and who is by far Israel’s most aggressive foreign minister ever — that he is committed to redefining the entire Israeli-Palestinian relationship. But in a broader context, Netanyahu is looking for greater freedom of action. By posing a demand the United States will not grant, Israel is positioning itself to ask for something that appears smaller.

    Israel and the Appearance of Freedom of Action

    What Israel actually would do with greater freedom of action is far less important than simply creating the appearance that the United States has endorsed Israel’s ability to act in a new and unpredictable manner. From Israel’s point of view, the problem with Israeli-Palestinian relations is that Israel is under severe constraints from the United States, and the Palestinians know it. This means that the Palestinians can even anticipate the application of force by Israel, meaning they can prepare for it and endure it. From Netanyahu’s point of view, Israel’s primary problem is that the Palestinians are confident they know what the Israelis will do. If Netanyahu can get Obama to introduce a degree of ambiguity into the situation, Israel could regain the advantage of uncertainty.

    The problem for Netanyahu is that Washington is not interested in having anything unpredictable happen in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The United States is quite content with the current situation, particularly while Iraq becomes more stable and the Afghan situation remains unstable. Obama does not want a crisis from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. The fact that Netanyahu has a political coalition to satisfy will not interest the United States, and while Washington at some unspecified point might endorse a peace conference, it will not be until Israel and its foreign minister endorse the two-state formula.

    Netanyahu will then shift to another area where freedom of action is relevant — namely, Iran. The Israelis have leaked to the Israeli media that the Obama administration has told them that Israel may not attack Iran without U.S. permission, and that Israel agreed to this requirement. (U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went through the same routine not too long ago, using a good cop/bad cop act in a bid to kick-start negotiations with Iran.)

    In reality, Israel would have a great deal of difficulty attacking Iranian facilities with non-nuclear forces. A multitarget campaign 1,000 miles away against an enemy with some air defenses could be a long and complex operation. Such a raid would require a long trip through U.S.-controlled airspace for the fairly small Israeli air force. Israel could use cruise missiles, but the tonnage of high explosive delivered by a cruise missile cannot penetrate even moderately hardened structures; the same is true for ICBMs carrying conventional warheads. Israel would have to notify the United States of its intentions because it would be passing through Iraqi airspace — and because U.S. technical intelligence would know what it was up to before Israeli aircraft even took off. The idea that Israel might consider attacking Iran without informing Washington is therefore absurd on the surface. Even so, the story has surfaced yet again in an Israeli newspaper in a virtual carbon copy of stories published more than a year ago.

    Netanyahu has promised that the endless stalemate with the Palestinians will not be allowed to continue. He also knows that whatever happens, Israel cannot threaten the stability of Arab states that are by and large uninterested in the Palestinians. He also understands that in the long run, Israel’s freedom of action is defined by the United States, not by Israel. His electoral platform and his strategic realities have never aligned. Arguably, it might be in the Israeli interest that the status quo be disrupted, but it is not in the American interest. Netanyahu therefore will get to redefine neither the Palestinian situation nor the Iranian situation. Israel simply lacks the power to impose the reality it wants, the current constellation of Arab regimes it needs, and the strategic relationship with the United States on which Israeli national security rests.

    In the end, this is a classic study in the limits of power. Israel can have its freedom of action anytime it is willing to pay the price for it. But Israel can’t pay the price. Netanyahu is coming to Washington to see if he can get what he wants without paying the price, and we suspect strongly he knows he won’t get it. His problem is the same as that of the Arab states. There are many in Israel, particularly among Netanyahu’s supporters, who believe Israel is a great power. It isn’t. It is a nation that is strong partly because it lives in a pretty weak neighborhood, and partly because it has very strong friends. Many Israelis don’t want to be told that, and Netanyahu came to office playing on the sense of Israeli national power.

    So the peace process will continue, no one will expect anything from it, the Palestinians will remain isolated and wars regularly will break out. The only advantage of this situation from the U.S. point of view it is that it is preferable to all other available realities.

    Biblical Quotes Said to Adorn Pentagon Reports

    A series of cover sheets for intelligence reports written for Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials during the early days of the war in Iraq in 2003 were adorned with biblical quotations, and appeared Sunday, six years later, on the Web site of GQ magazine.

    The daily briefings were called the “Worldwide Intelligence Update,” one of several intelligence reports compiled overnight and presented in a folder for Mr. Rumsfeld and other officials as they came to work.

    In the selection of the cover sheets that GQ placed on its Web site, photographs of soldiers praying or in action on the sands of Iraq were overlaid with quotations like this one from Isaiah: “Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels are like a whirlwind.”

    Another, showing a tank at sunset, had this quotation from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

    The accompanying article, written by Robert Draper, the author of a book about George W. Bush that was published in the last year of his presidency, suggested that Mr. Rumsfeld often delivered the briefings “by hand, to the White House.” But several former officials said Sunday that they doubted that Mr. Bush regularly saw the Pentagon briefing, which was considered both less complete and less sensitive than the president’s daily brief, the compilation of overnight and long-term intelligence assessments prepared for the president, and delivered every morning.

    Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman during Mr. Rumsfeld’s time as secretary of defense, said that he had no recollection of the biblical briefs, but that he doubted the famously acerbic and sometimes cranky secretary would have tolerated them for long, much less shared them with Mr. Bush.

    “The suggestion that Rumsfeld would have used these reports to somehow curry favor over at the White House is pretty laughable,” Mr. Di Rita said. “He bristled anytime people put quotes or something extraneous on the reports he wanted to read.”

    Mr. Rumsfeld’s reputation at the Pentagon was as a strong ideologue, but not as someone motivated by religious convictions.

    The GQ article reports that the cover sheets were thought up by a general who worked on the Joint Staff, and that they replaced humorous covers that had been created in the prelude to the war.

    The magazine reported that some Pentagon officials were concerned that, if the cover sheets — which were marked “Top Secret” — were ever leaked, they could be interpreted as a suggestion that the war was religiously driven, a battle against Islam. But those officials were not named in the article, and a number of former Pentagon officials interviewed Sunday said they had no memory of seeing the illustrations or quotations.

    Still, the publication of the cover sheets may raise more questions about the proper role of religion in the military, and whether a Christian-influenced culture, rather than a neutral one, permeated some corners of the military.

    The issue flared at the Air Force Academy four years ago, when the football coach posted a locker room banner for “Team Jesus,” and there have been lawsuits against the Pentagon concerning military retreats at off-base churches, or the displays of crucifixes at military chapels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    In 2005, the Pentagon’s inspector general recommended “corrective action” against Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence, who, in appearances before evangelical groups, likened the war against Islamic militants to a battle against Satan.

    U.S. urges Sri Lanka to reach out to Tamils

    May 18

    Sri Lanka should reach out to Tamils and build a political accommodation that protects the rights of all its citizens, the United States said on Monday after Colombo declared victory against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

    Sri Lanka said it had militarily defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and taken control of the entire country for the first time since 1983, apparently ending one of the world's most intractable civil wars.

    U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly declined to say whether the United States still opposed the International Monetary Fund giving Sri Lanka a $1.9 billion loan, seen as vital to helping it recover from the global financial crisis and rebuild after the war.

    U.S. officials told Reuters in late April they were seeking to delay the loan to pressure the government to better protect civilians caught in the fighting and do more to forge a political settlement with the Tamils.

    "This is an opportunity for Sri Lanka to turn the page on its past and build a Sri Lanka rooted in democracy, tolerance and respect for human rights," Kelly told reporters.

    "Now is the time for the government to engage the Tamils, Sinhalese and other Sri Lankans to create a political arrangement that promotes and protects the rights of all Sri Lankans," he added.

    The Sri Lankan government has to provide basic assistance and services to the estimated 280,000 people who fled the fighting in the northern part of the country, Kelly said.

    Myanmar's democracy leader goes on trial

    May 18

    Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was put on trial behind closed doors Monday, police ringing the prison where the proceedings were held to deter supporters who claim she is being prosecuted to keep her out of politics.

    Despite the closed nature of the trial, a U.S. consular official was allowed in because an American, John W. Yettaw, is also a defendant. He prompted the charges by swimming to her property and sneaking into her home.

    Suu Kyi, her two companions under house arrest, and Yetta are being tried together for violating the conditions of her restriction order, which bans visitors without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

    Last week's arrest of the Nobel Peace laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 or the past 19 years, reignited criticism of Myanmar's military junta, and led to renewed calls by world leaders for her immediate release.

    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris, one of several cities where activists rallied, called Suu Kyi's trial a "scandalous provocation." Demonstrations were planned Monday in about 20 cities, including London, Rome, Boston and San Francisco.

    Until now, 63-year-old Suu Kyi was detained under the State Protection Act, which allows the miltary regime to hold people without a trial if they are considered a threat, said Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. The new charges of violating the terms of her house arrest could lead to imprisonment under much harsher conditions.

    Suu Kyi had been scheduled to be freed May 27 after six consecutive years of house arrest, but it was expected the military government would try to find reason to hold her, as has happened in the past.

    The new charges are widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep Suu Kyi out of elections it scheduled for next spring as the culmination of its "roadmap to democracy," which has been criticized as an attempt to legitimize continued military control. Many other prominent dissidents received long jail terms last year, which could hurt any opposition effort to contest the polls.

    The ambassadors of Britain, France, Germany and Italy as well as an Australian diplomat were barred from entering the prison compound for the trial, but U.S. consular chief Colin Furst was allowed in.

    Yettaw is also being tried separately for violations of immigration law and a statute covering swimming in the city's Inya Lake.

    Nyan Win, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party and one of four lawyers representing her at the trial, said the court, "for security reasons," rejected their request to open her trial to the public and media. The trial is expected to last about three months.

    Suu Kyi wore a turquoise-colored jacket to court with a matching longyi — a sarong — and was "very fresh and alert," he said, adding that she asked the lawyers to tell friends that her health is fine. She had recently been ill, suffering from dehydration and low blood pressure.

    Her lawyers have so far not contested the government's version of events, but insist she is not guilty.

    "We are certain that we will win the case if it goes according to law because she didn't break the law," said Nyan Win, speaking at the league's headquarters. Courts in Myanmar have rarely ruled in favor of Suu Kyi or any pro-democracy activists, who often receive the harshest sentences possible.

    In the trial's opening day, police Lt. Col. Zaw Min Aung laid out the prosecution's basic case — that Suu Kyi, two female party members who are her companions, and Yettaw violated the terms of her restriction order, which bans any visitors without official permission, said Nyan Win. The police official was the first of 22 scheduled prosecution witnesses.

    Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, swam under cover of darkness early this month to sneak into Suu Kyi's compound, where he was allowed to stay for two days after pleading that he was too ill and tired to leave. He allegedly made a similar visit last year.

    Suu Kyi's lawyers have said he was not invited to her residence, and that she told him to leave.

    Yettaw's family have described him as an as well-intentioned admirer of Suu Kyi, unaware of the problems his actions could trigger. Her supporters have expressed anger at him for getting her into trouble.

    "He has great respect for her and merely wanted to interview her," his wife Betty Yettaw said in an e-mail Monday to The Associated Press. "He has no agenda. He has no political intent."

    Security forces blocked all roads leading to the prison and police were stationed at key intersections in the city. Several hundred riot police, many armed with guns, batons and shields, guarded the perimeter of Insein, where the regime has for years incarcerated political prisoners.

    More than 100 Suu Kyi supporters were able to get through an outer perimeter of barricades around the prison, but not an inner one that was closely guarded by armed police and government supporters.

    Earlier, three groups which had helped organize 2007's mass pro-democracy demonstrations issued a statement calling for "all political forces for 'Free Aung San Suu Kyi' to mobilize peaceful protests throughout Burma, the country's name before the military takeover.

    Parliamentary rule was overthrown by a coup in 1962, and the army has been in control since then. Suu Kyi's party won elections in 1990 but the junta refused to recognize the results.

    European foreign ministers, meeting Monday in Brussels, said China, India and other Asian countries should press Myanmar's leaders to release Suu Kyi and agreed to pursue fresh contacts with Myanmar's neighbors at talks in Vietnam next week.

    "It is right the EU put on the table all the potential ways of exercising influence including engagement and including sanctions, both of which will be undertaken with real vigor," said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

    Israeli PM faces tough talks in US

    Kim Ghattas
    BBC News, Washington
    May 18

    Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama have already had one good meeting, last summer, but they were not in power yet.

    Now that they are prime minister and president, they will have to get down to business and there are concerns about a clash between the two leaders who do not see eye to eye on key issues.

    The last time Mr Netanyahu was in Washington as Israel's prime minister was almost 10 years ago and two key factors mean he will be dealing with a very different dynamic when it comes to peace talks.

    Iran's nuclear programme and regional ambitions will be topping the agenda.

    Iranian overtures

    Ten years ago, the issue was not really on anyone's radar.

    Now it is a major concern for the US and Israel, and even some Arab countries.

    Israel is worried about the Obama administration's diplomatic overtures to Tehran and Mr Netanyahu will want reassurance from Washington and may seek to tie starting talks with the Palestinians to concrete signs that Iran is being kept in check.

    But the sequencing will be key.

    On his way to Washington, Uzi Arad, Mr Netanyahu's national security advisor, seemed to signal Israel's patience on Iran was running thin.

    However, Mr Netanyahu will also have to contend with a new, popular American leader who made Palestinian statehood and peace in the Middle East one of his top foreign policy priorities, right from the start.

    Mr Obama appointed a special envoy to the region, retired Senator George Mitchell, who is credited with sealing the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland.

    The US president is also hoping he can count on support at home for this difficult mission.

    "The American public supports a two-state solution, supports America driving that process forward and increasingly understands this will require tough love for both sides, certainly with the Israeli ally," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator now with the Washington liberal think tank, New America Foundation.

    "Interestingly what we also see, what is also being expressed now is that this applies to the Jewish community. Barack Obama got 78% of the American Jewish vote and polling shows the support has remained solid," Mr Levy adds.

    During Mr Obama's visit to Israel last summer, he banked some political capital: meeting Israeli leaders, showing support and sympathy for America's top ally.

    Parallel ambitions

    He also made strong statements in support of Israel at last year's conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). So at this year's gathering of the pro-Israel lobby, there was already some of that tough love.

    "Israel has to work towards a two-state solution," said Vice-President Joseph Biden.

    "You're not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions. This is a "show me" deal, not based on faith, show me."

    In return Israel will want reassurances from Washington about containing Iran and its growing regional ambitions.

    But Hillary Clinton last month warned Israel that the Obama administration will not agree to handling with Iran first before addressing the issue of Palestinian statehood - the two issues will have to be dealt with in parallel.

    "For Israel to get the kind of strong support it is looking for vis-a-vis Iran, it cannot stay on the sidelines with respect to the Palestinians and the peace efforts. They go hand in hand," she said during a testimony in Congress on 23 April.

    Though the circumstances have changed, Mr Netanyahu's done this all before and he has proved a tough, sometimes frustrating partner.

    Setting tone

    Many officials in the Obama administration are former members of the Clinton administration and will remember the Israeli leader from those days.

    American leaders are reluctant to pressure Israel into peace and have faced a lot of heat whenever they did, whether Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or George H W Bush who in 1991 tried to block loan guarantees for Israel and tied them to Israel freezing settlement activity on occupied Palestinian territory.

    "If you want to take on Israel, you have to prepared to take the heat, it can get awfully intense," said Richard Haass, who was a senior advisor to Bush Senior from 1989 until 1991 and is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations."

    "But today the pressure would probably not be what people often think about, things like aid and so on, Israel's economy is too large, the US is not going to do anything that would endanger Israel's security," he says.

    "The real pressure would probably come in the way of words. Israel is a democracy, what the US says echoes around," Mr Haass says.

    But at the meeting on Monday, it will still be about smiles and handshakes and a showdown is unlikely, even if there might be some tension.

    The three-hour-long talks including a lunch will, however, set the tone for the weeks to come.

    President Obama is expecting to meet the Palestinian and Egyptian leader next week and he will give a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo next month.

    His talks with Mr Netanyahu will help him determine what he can expect from the Israel, how much progress he might be able to make in the Middle East and how fast.

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    Let Them Talk

    LONDON — When it comes to interrogating prisoners, perhaps the United States and Britain could take a page from their own history — Germany did.

    The issue of human rights abuse by U.S. interrogators especially resounds in Germany. After the destruction of the Nazi regime and subsequent Allied occupation, the newly formed West German army — inspired by Britain and the United States — instituted a number of strict policies to ensure that German soldiers would be exemplary in conducting P.O.W. interrogations. One of the key decisions was to ensure that the debriefing of prisoners was carried out by specially trained civilian reserve officers.

    When I was in the West German army, I trained to become one of these interrogators. During my application interview, I was asked to elaborate on “how humanism played a part” in “my education.” (My answer — “a large part” — was apparently the one they were looking for). My training included learning to speak Russian fluently and receiving a full immersion in Russian Army life — including learning marching songs and making home-made vodka.

    The reasoning behind all this was to ensure that interrogators had the ability to understand their captives and be able to extract information through psychological and not physical means.

    When a particularly zealous professional interrogator at the National Intelligence School in Bad Ems began to elaborate on methods similar to those practiced by the U.S. Army in Iraq (and, apparently, C.I.A. officers abroad), my fellow officers and I reported him and he was reprimanded.

    At the end of my two years of service, my 30 colleagues and I all left the army to rejoin the professional and family life from whence we came. We felt then and I still feel today that prisoner interrogation is a matter for mature, grounded individuals, who are guided by the spirit of the Geneva Convention.

    Part of the impetus for the postwar German interrogation policy stemmed from the fact that many of the reconstituted army’s new leaders had been P.O.W.s recently released from Allied — especially British — custody. These men had been well-treated by the British and Americans during the war. One of them was my grandfather, Ludwig Cruewell. His experience as a P.O.W. stands in stark contrast to the stories we hear from Iraq.

    As commanding general of the Africa Corps, he reported to Erwin Rommel, head of Axis forces in North Africa. Cruewell was captured on May 29, 1942, when his reconnaissance plane was shot down over Libya. As the highest-ranking German officer in Allied hands at that point in the war, Cruewell’s capture was a key victory for the Allies. He had fought in every theater of the war, led the forces that captured Belgrade and had recently met privately with Hitler.

    However, upon his capture he was treated to a most enjoyable dinner by General Montgomery in Gibraltar, allowed to have a bath and towels of a quality he had never seen before, and was finally put on a night flight to Britain. Arriving in London, he was immediately allowed to meet with a Red Cross representative.

    Later, he was able to communicate by letter with his children in Germany and was put up in style in Trent Park, the luxurious, stately former home of a British business magnate. My grandfather and the other prisoners were allowed to take daily strolls in the expansive grounds. A captured German non-commissioned officer was designated to keep his uniform, sent from Germany, in order.

    Surrounded by luxury, these prisoners were — unbeknownst to them — wiretapped. The approach worked: The Allies studied their idle chatter, and lengthy reports of their conversations went all the way to Churchill.

    While I don’t think it is feasible (politically, if not logistically) to put up hardened terrorists in five star hotels, this old-fashioned approach to P.O.W. interrogation has a lot to recommend for itself. For Germans today, a humane approach springs from an abhorrence of our wartime record of atrocities committed by soldiers in uniform. This sensibility has been shaped by the unexpectedly decent treatment received from Allied captors.

    If we are really interested in nation-building in Iraq and other areas that are wracked by war, “doing unto others what you would have them do unto you ” is a good thing to keep in mind when implementing any interrogation policy.

    Arnold Holle is an investment banker from Germany living in London.

    Obama's Guantanamo balancing act

    James Coomarasamy
    BBC News, Washington
    May 15

    A pattern is developing.

    Barack Obama's decisions to try to block the release of photos allegedly showing abuse of prisoners in US custody, to avoid the pursuit of Bush administration officials who may have sanctioned torture and - now - to restore military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay - suggest that, on contentious national security issues, he plans to take a middle path.

    Depending on your point of view, the president should either be applauded for his responsible, pragmatic approach or criticised for reneging on one of his key campaign promises: to turn his back on many of the practices used by the Bush administration, as it prosecuted its "War on Terror".

    Of course, all US leaders encounter the same conflict, when campaign rhetoric runs up against the reality of the security briefings they are given as commander-in-chief.

    But, having been handed two wars - and a highly contentious foreign policy legacy - this was always going to cause Mr Obama particular headaches.

    Not listening

    At the heart of the balancing act he is having to perform is a conflict between, on the one hand, the desire of many of his Democratic supporters for a full - and, in their view, indispensible - accounting for what they see as past transgressions and, on the other, the advice he has been getting from lawyers and military commanders about the country's current national security challenges.

    If the president's supporters are surprised or let down by the decision to revive the military commissions, they probably have not been listening carefully to what Mr Obama has had to say.

    Yes, one of his first actions after taking office was to sign the executive order calling for Guantanamo Bay to be shut down within a year and ordering the military commissions to be suspended.

    But - while Mr Obama criticised the Bush-era system, indeed, he campaigned against it - he left open the possibility of reviving them, in a modified form.

    In narrow policy terms, this is not a U-turn.

    But in the wider political arena in which a president also operates, the decision to restore the military commissions comes at an inopportune time.

    It follows a clear policy reversal, earlier in the week: Mr Obama's decision to try to block the release of the Pentagon's prisoner abuse photos.

    That has had many liberal groups up in arms. They argue that the president's national security justification - that the photos' publication could put US troops in harm's way - had already been rejected by two federal appeals courts.

    Upping the ante

    Further complicating matters - for herself and, indirectly, for the White House - is Nancy Pelosi.

    On Thursday, at a confusing news conference, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives accused the CIA of misleading her, during a briefing she attended in 2002 about harsh interrogation techniques.

    Having previously said that she was only told about the legal framework for the methods, she now says that the briefers specifically told her that waterboarding had NOT been used.

    The CIA insists that its records suggest the opposite - and, on Friday, the agency's director, Leon Panetta, put out a strong statement denying that the CIA had misled anyone.

    So Mr Panetta - a staunch opponent of harsh interrogations - finds himself on the opposite side of this argument to Mrs Pelosi.

    Wherever the truth is to be found, Republicans have wasted no time in accusing the Speaker of a serious transgression, upping the ante at a time when the president would dearly have loved it to be lowered.

    For, when it comes to Guantanamo Bay, the future of the military tribunals is one of a number of tough choices facing Mr Obama.

    His Attorney General, Eric Holder, faced a grilling in Congress this week over the administration's plans to close the camp.

    With legislators from both parties unwilling to accept terrorist suspects in their congressional districts, it is far from clear where prisoners transferred to US soil would be housed, or how the process would be funded.

    Democrats have rejected a request from the White House for $80m to help shut down the facility, arguing that the president has yet to present them with a clear plan.

    President Obama may want to focus on the future, but - for the moment - dealing with the past is presenting him with some of his toughest political battles.