Latest Developments, February 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Media silence
The Washington Post reports that it was one of a number of major news organizations that granted a request not to reveal the existence of a drone base in Saudi Arabia:

“The base was established two years ago to intensify the hunt against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the affiliate in Yemen is known. Brennan, who previously served as the CIA’s station chief in Saudi Arabia, played a key role in negotiations with Riyadh over locating an agency drone base inside the kingdom.
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

Extraordinary practices
A new report released by the Open Society Foundations reveals the scope of international cooperation with the CIA’s rendition program, a program that was never shut down:

“At least 136 individuals were reportedly extraordinarily rendered or secretly detained by the CIA and at least 54 governments reportedly participated in the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition program; classified government documents may reveal many more.

President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order repudiating torture does not repudiate the CIA extraordinary rendition program. It was specifically crafted to preserve the CIA’s authority to detain terrorist suspects on a short-term, transitory basis prior to rendering them to another country for interrogation or trial.”

Targeting corruptors
The Globe and Mail reports that the Canadian government is introducing legislation to crack down on companies that pay bribes to foreign officials:

“In addition to allowing prosecutors here to go after Canadian companies for bribes they pay abroad, the new law will outlaw so-called ‘facilitation payments’ – the grease money paid to foreign officials even if it’s not directly linked to gaining a business deal or advantage. Those payments, technically different from a bribe, will not be immediately made illegal, but the government will outlaw them at a later date, presumably to give companies warning of the changing rules.

Although Canada signed an international convention on combating bribery in 1998, it has long been criticized for doing too little to enforce anti-bribery measures. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which reviews countries’ action to combat bribery, has repeatedly issued reports calling Canada’s enforcement weak, most recently in 2011.”

Counting the dead
Agence France-Presse reports that France has released its first official, if somewhat vague, death toll from its offensive in Mali, though there was no mention of civilian casualties:

“Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the 26-day military intervention has killed ‘several hundred’ Islamist militants as its air and ground forces chased them from their northern strongholds into remote mountainous terrain in the far northeast.

France’s sole fatality so far has been a helicopter pilot who was killed at the start of the military operation, while ‘two or three’ soldiers have suffered light injuries, Le Drian said.
Mali said 11 of its troops were killed and 60 wounded after the battle at Konna last month but it has not since released a new death toll.”

More guns
Reuters reports that the US is calling for a resumption of arms sales to Somalia where a UN embargo has been in place since 1992:

“Diplomats said Britain and France have been reluctant to support ending the arms embargo. The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group, which monitors compliance with the sanctions regime, has also opposed the idea of lifting it, U.N. envoys said.
Those who oppose getting rid of the arms embargo say Somalia’s security sector still includes elements close to warlords and militants, an allegation the Somali government rejects.”

Good times, bad times
Reuters also reports that Tanzania, Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, has said it favours a flexible approach to taxing mining companies in order to compensate for fluctuating global prices:

“ ‘If [the mining companies] are making losses, will they keep quiet? When they are going to make huge losses they are going to approach the government,’ [minerals minister Sospeter] Muhongo told Reuters on the sidelines of an African mining conference in Cape Town.
‘If they are going to make huge profits, we will also approach them,’ he said.
Asked if this meant windfall taxes could be introduced, he replied ‘yes’.
Many African governments say they need to extract more revenue from their mining and oil industries to spread the benefits of resource wealth more widely.”

The world according to Fisk
The Tyee reports on a recent talk given by veteran journalist Robert Fisk, in which he expressed his views that so-called Arab Spring protesters sought dignity over democracy and that journalists must be “neutral and unbiased on the side of those who suffer”:

“And why not democracy? Because the western democracies are precisely the countries that have imposed their will, and installed dictators, in the Arab lands since the end of World War I. The West, he said, thinks it has a right and a duty to do so.
‘But these are not our people,’ Fisk said; they have a different history and culture from the West, and we have no business”

Fighting transparency
Global Witness’s Simon Taylor calls on aerospace/defense giant Boeing to stop opposing US legislation requiring companies to monitor their supply chain for conflict minerals from DR Congo:

“The Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable have filed a lawsuit against the SEC to overturn the conflict minerals rule.

Boeing, which has a seat on NAM’s board and whose representative is the executive committee chair of the Business Roundtable, appears to be at the forefront of the fight to overturn the rule.

In comments submitted to the SEC, Boeing indicated that the final rule on 1502 would be too costly and burdensome to comply with, given ‘the complexity of modern supply chains.’
As the world’s largest aerospace company, Boeing’s influence within the industry — let alone over its own supply chain — is considerable. Boeing’s attempt to kill Section 1502 through anonymous corporate lobby groups is misguided and irresponsible.”

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Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Reforms held up
Inter Press Service reports that the International Monetary Fund has warned of delays in reforming its voting system which is currently weighted heavily in favour of the US and European members:

“According to the IMF, based here in Washington, these reforms are aimed specifically at ‘enhancing the voice and representation of emerging market and developing countries, including the poorest’, and are supposed to be formally agreed upon by January 2013 to be officially integrated the following year.

China, for instance, today the world’s second-largest economy, only has voting rights on par with Italy. Under the new setup, China’s weight within the Fund would effectively double, along with that of several other emerging economies, while the voting rights of several developed countries would be curtailed.”

iPhone problems
The New York Times reports on fresh allegations of labour abuses at Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn just as the world’s richest company is set to unveil its latest phone:

“Foxconn has acknowledged using student ‘interns’ on manufacturing lines, but says they are free to leave at any time. But two worker advocacy groups said Monday that they had spoken with students who said they had been forced by their teachers to assemble iPhones at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, in north-central China.
Additionally, last week Chinese state-run news media reported that several vocational schools in the city of Huai’an, in eastern China, required hundreds of students to work on assembly lines at a Foxconn plant to help ease worker shortages. According to one of the articles, Huai’an students were ordered to manufacture cables for Apple’s new iPhone 5, which is expected to be introduced on Wednesday.”

Egyptian assets
The BBC reports that the British government is offering a lawyer to Egypt to help it recover assets held in the UK by allies of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak amid allegations London is dragging its feet on the matter:

“In February 2011, [British Foreign Secretary William] Hague told Parliament the UK had agreed to Egyptian government demands to freeze the assets of several former Mubarak officials.
But it took more than a month before Britain and 27 other EU states applied the sanctions. Egypt said the delay allowed the accused officials to move their money elsewhere.
A BBC Arabic and Newsnight investigation found that property and companies linked to key figures in the Mubarak regime have been largely unaffected by the sanctions.

Speaking earlier this month, Assem al-Gohary, head of Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority, said: ‘The British government is obliged by law to help us. But it doesn’t want to make any effort at all to recover the money. It just says: “Give us evidence”. Is this reasonable?’ ”

Guantanamo death
The Toronto Star reports on the history of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, the Yemeni man who has become the ninth detainee to die at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which US President Barack Obama had promised to close down in 2009:

“According to court records, Pentagon officials first recommended Latif be transferred out of Guantanamo in 2004, when it was determined he was “not known to have participated in combat/terrorist training.” Again in 2006 and 2008, the Bush administration authorized Latif’s transfer home to Yemen, according to his assessment file made public by WikiLeaks.
In 2010, the U.S. District Court in Washington agreed, ruling that the government had failed to prove its case and ordering Latif’s immediate release. But the court’s decision was overturned in appeal, and in June, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.”

Fracking fight
Waging Nonviolence reports that the South African government’s decision to lift the moratorium on natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing is not going unchallenged:

“The industry’s argument that natural gas could diversify their energy supplies while creating jobs, all at a lower carbon cost than oil or coal, are particularly potent in those countries that suffer high unemployment, though African countries may also be especially skeptical due to their history of resource exploitation by outsiders. [Treasure the Karoo Action Group’s Jonathan] Deal noted that Shell’s reputation in Africa in terrible, particularly as a result of accusations of orchestrating the execution of environmental activists in Nigeria. Because of this, he explained, ‘Poor people are not that keen to trust.’ ”

Axing the tax?
Reuters reports that Ghana is reconsidering its proposed windfall tax on mining profits:

“The West African nation, the continent’s second-largest source of gold, proposed the 10 percent windfall tax on mining companies’ profits in its 2012 budget as part of measures to boost income to state coffers.
The government also raised the corporate tax rate on miners from 25 to 35 percent for this year.

The International Monetary Fund last year recommended that Ghana, which is also the world’s number 2 cocoa grower and an oil producer, consider raising taxes or introducing new ones to increase revenues.”

Silicosis suit
The Independent reports that nearly 3,000 South African miners are taking “FTSE 100 giant” Anglo American to court in the UK, claiming that working conditions destroyed their health:

“The latest court filing comes as Anglo is required to disclose information that will effectively decide the jurisdiction of the cases. Anglo argues that any hearings should take place in South Africa, but [British law firm] Leigh Day is examining whether a corporate restructuring in 2009 means that most operational direction now comes from the UK head office.”

Bases, bases everywhere
TomDispatch’s Nick Turse writes about what happens to US military infrastructure when wars end:

“Of those 505 US bases in Iraq, some today have been stripped clean by Iraqis, others have become ghost towns. One former prison base – Camp Bucca – became a hotel, and another former American post is now a base for some members of an Iranian “terrorist” group. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. But while a token number of US troops and a highly militarised State Department contingent remain in Baghdad, the Iraqi government thwarted American dreams of keeping long-term garrisons in the centre of the Middle East’s oil heartlands.
Clearly, US planners are having similar dreams about the long-term garrisoning of Afghanistan. Whether the fate of those Afghan bases will be similar to Iraq’s remains unknown, but with as many as 550 of them still there – and up to 1,500 installations when you count assorted ammunition storage facilities, barracks, equipment depots, checkpoints and training centres – it’s clear that the US military and its partners are continuing to build with an eye to an enduring military presence. ”