Category - USA: Foreign Relations

US, Cuba to announce embassy openings after 50-year stalemate

RT, July 1

US President Barack Obama will announce on Wednesday that the United States has reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen embassies in their respective capitals of Washington and Havana, according to American officials.

The United States severed political ties with Cuba in 1961 after imposing an embargo on the island nation just 90 miles south of Florida a year before. Tourism to Cuba for Americans has been banned since that time. Though Cuba is still under communist rule, the Cold War mentality that has defined the relationship between the two countries over the last 50 years at last seems to be thawing.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the US interests section in Cuba, will meet Cuba’s Interim Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina in Havana on Wednesday to deliver a letter from President Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro regarding the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations, Cuba said in a statement on Tuesday.

Obama’s fast-track trade bill poised to clear final Senate hurdles

Los Angeles Times, By Lisa Mascaro, June 22

President Obama’s fast-track trade bill is poised to clear a procedural hurdle Tuesday in the Senate, all but ensuring it will win final passage this week and be sent to the White House for his signature.

Despite deep reservations from many in the president’s party, enough Democratic senators appear ready to join most Republicans to finish the legislation, which has sputtered in Congress but is a top White House priority.

“With just a little more trust, a little more cooperation, and simply voting consistently, we’ll get there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday. “We shouldn’t let this opportunity for significant bipartisan achievement slip past us.”

[…]

Fast-track, or trade promotion authority, would allow the president to assure potential trade partners that the deals they negotiate with the U.S. will be presented to Congress for a yes-or-no vote without amendment.

The administration is wrapping up talks on the emerging 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest deal of its kind, and fast-track authority would cover it and future pacts for the next president.

Fourteen Senate Democrats voted for the fast-track bill last month as part of a broader package that also included funding to continue a worker retraining program for employees who lose their jobs to overseas trade.

But their support is no longer guaranteed after the worker retraining legislation was split off by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who faced resistance from Republicans who view the Trade Adjustment Assistance program as government waste.

Harpers: Nonsense Brokers, June 12

U.S. Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in East Europe

New York Times, By Eric Schmitt & Steven Lee Myers, June 13

Riga, Latvia — In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.

The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have caused alarm and prompted new military planning in NATO capitals.

The CIA Just Released Declassified Documents Related to the 9/11 Attacks

VICE News, June 12

The CIA has released declassified versions of five internal documents dealing with the 9/11 terror attacks, according to a press release sent to reporters on Friday afternoon. The documents are described as being “related to the Agency’s performance in the lead-up to the attacks.”

The release comes just before the weekend, a time when many organizations tend to “dump” news in an attempt to minimize coverage. VICE News is currently reviewing the documents in detail. The CIA describes them as including “a redacted version of the 2005 CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report on Central Intelligence Agency Accountability Regarding Findings and Conclusions of the Report of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.”

The executive summary of the OIG report was released in 2007, and the CIA says it released the full report in response to Freedom of Information Act requests. The 500-page document reportedly underwent “an extensive review… in order to release information that no longer needed to be protected in the interests of national security.”

[…]

PDF versions of the documents can be found at the CIA’s online reading room.


CIA Report Says No Evidence Saudi Arabia ‘Willingly Supported’ al Qaeda Leading up to 9/11

Vice News, By Jason Leopold & Samuel Oakford, June 12

A newly declassified CIA watchdog report that probed the agency’s intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks reveals that investigators on the CIA’s 9/11 review team “encountered no evidence” that the government of Saudi Arabia “knowingly and willingly supported” al Qaeda terrorists.

Moreover, the June 2005 CIA Inspector General report’s, released Friday, said the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 “‘had made no final determinations as to the reliability or sufficiency’ regarding Saudi issues raised by its inquiry.” (A separate report released in 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly known as the 9/11 Commission, found no evidence that the government of Saudi Arabia or Saudi officials individually provided funding to al-Qaeda.)

The conclusions the CIA inspector general reached in the unredacted portion of the report, and the reference to the Joint Inquiry’s own finding, appears to contrast with longstanding claims of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Suspicions about Saudi Arabia’s role have centered on a 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry, which was ordered classified by President George W. Bush prior to its release in 2002. For years, victims’ families, members of Congress, and former Senator Bob Graham, the co-chair of the inquiry, have called for the release of the pages, which are said to refer to FBI investigations into the attacks. Those investigations, according to individuals who have seen the pages, highlight elements of the financing that went into the orchestration of the attacks.

How These Stoner Kids Landed a $300 Million Pentagon Arms Contract

“Arms and the Dudes” exposes the sordid underbelly of the military’s weapons trade.

Mother Jobes, By Bryan Schatz, June 8

In early 2007, three stoner twentysomethings won a Defense Department contract to supply the Afghan military with $300 million worth of ammunition. “The dudes,” as they came to be known—a ninth-grade dropout, a masseur, and a low-level pot dealer, all with little or no experience but plenty of nerve—had begun bidding on Pentagon arms contracts and winning out over massive international conglomerates. The Afghan contract wasn’t their first, but it was by far their largest. They would have to source thousands of tons of mortar rounds, grenades, rockets, and 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and deliver all of it to Kabul at a particularly fraught time for the Afghan war effort.
Arms and the Dudes publishes June 9.

To fill the order, though, the dudes secretly repackaged millions of rounds of decades-old, surplus Chinese ammo—illegal under the contract terms—before shipping them to Afghanistan. It was all going fine until they got caught by Pentagon investigators and wound up with their mugshots spread across the front page of the New York Times.

Their story is detailed in Guy Lawson’s new book, Arms and the Dudes, a wildly entertaining saga with dual narratives. The first involves blackmail, criminals, hustlers, corrupt government officials, and three kids in way over their heads. The other, and for Lawson more important, side of the story, concerns how the Pentagon came to use private contractors like the dudes as proxies—and eventual fall guys—to secure weapons from gray market arms dealers, the only people who could supply what it needed. I caught up with Lawson to talk about Pentagon contracting, weapons proliferation, and the act of “buying up guns and pouring them into conflict zones like it’s gonna solve the fucking problem.”

Donald Rumsfeld: George W. Bush was wrong about Iraq

MSNBC, By Amanda Sakuma, June 8

President George W. Bush was wrong to try to build democracy in Iraq, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a recent interview, marking a striking admission from a key player behind the 2003 U.S. invasion.

In an interview with British newspaper The Times, Rumsfeld said that efforts to oust Saddam Hussein and replace his tyrannical regime with democracy were unworkable, and that he had concerns about the plan from the beginning.

“I’m not one who thinks that our particular template of democracy is appropriate for other countries at every moment of their histories,” Rumsfeld told The Times. “The idea that we could fashion a democracy in Iraq seemed to me unrealistic. I was concerned about it when I first heard those words.”

Rumsfeld, who served under Bush from 2001 to 2006, has previously defended the administration’s actions in the run-up to the war, which dragged on for years before formally ending in 2011.

I think I’m going to go cough up some blood, now.

Mother Jones: Donald Rumsfeld Apparently Forgot the Times He Said the Iraq War Was Good for Democracy

We are the propagandists: The real story about how The New York Times and the White House has turned truth in the Ukraine on its head

A sophisticated game of manipulation is afoot over Russia: power, influence and money. U.S. hands are not clean.

Salon.com, By Patrick L. Smith, June 3

A couple of weeks ago, this column guardedly suggested that John Kerry’s day-long talks in Sochi with Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, looked like a break in the clouds on numerous questions, primarily the Ukraine crisis. I saw no evidence that President Obama’s secretary of state had suddenly developed a sensible, post-imperium foreign strategy consonant with a new era. It was force of circumstance. It was the 21st century doing its work.

This work will get done, cleanly and peaceably or otherwise.

Sochi, an unexpected development, suggested the prospect of cleanliness and peace. But events since suggest that otherwise is more likely to prove the case. It is hard to say because it is hard to see, but our policy cliques may be gradually wading into very deep water in Ukraine.

Ever since the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, reality itself has come to seem up for grabs. Karl Rove, a diabolically competent political infighter but of no discernible intellectual weight, may have been prescient when he told us to forget our pedestrian notions of reality—real live reality. Empires create their own, he said, and we’re an empire now.
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The Secret History of SEAL Team 6: Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines

The unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden [*cough*] has been converted into a global manhunting machine with limited outside oversight.

The New York Times, By Mark Mazzetti, Nicholas Kulish, Christopher Drew, Serge F. Kovaleski, Sean D. Naylor & John Ismay, June 6

They have plotted deadly missions from secret bases in the badlands of Somalia. In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own. On clandestine raids in the dead of the night, their weapons of choice have ranged from customized carbines to primeval tomahawks.

Around the world, they have run spying stations disguised as commercial boats, posed as civilian employees of front companies and operated undercover at embassies as male-female pairs, tracking those the United States wants to kill or capture.

Those operations are part of the hidden history of the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, one of the nation’s most mythologized, most secretive and least scrutinized military organizations. Once a small group reserved for specialized but rare missions, the unit best known for killing Osama bin Laden has been transformed by more than a decade of combat into a global manhunting machine.

That role reflects America’s new way of war, in which conflict is distinguished not by battlefield wins and losses, but by the relentless killing of suspected militants.

Almost everything about SEAL Team 6, a classified Special Operations unit, is shrouded in secrecy — the Pentagon does not even publicly acknowledge that name — though some of its exploits have emerged in largely admiring accounts in recent years. But an examination of Team 6’s evolution, drawn from dozens of interviews with current and former team members, other military officials and reviews of government documents, reveals a far more complex, provocative tale.

The Watchdog, the Whistleblower, and the Secret CIA Torture Report

VICE News, By Jason Leopold, May 19

On June 9, 2010, a CIA employee working on a secret review of millions of pages of documents about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program contacted the CIA’s internal watchdog and filed a complaint. The employee had come to believe that the CIA’s narrative about the efficacy of the program — a narrative put forward by not just CIA officials, but also then-President George W. Bush — was false.

The CIA employee made the discovery while she was working on the Panetta Review. Named for former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the Panetta Review is a series of documents that top Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee say corroborates the findings and conclusions of the landmark report they released last December about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program — that the torture of detainees in the custody of the CIA failed to produce unique and valuable intelligence, and that it was far more brutal than the CIA let on.

Panetta ordered the review in 2009 just as the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it would probe the efficacy of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. CIA employees were tasked with evaluating the cache of documents about the torture program that the agency turned over to the committee during the course of its probe; their goal was to compile the graphic and noteworthy aspects of the torture program — like the fact that detainees were fed rectally — on which the committee might focus.

Why Is The U.S. Desperate To OK Slavery In Malaysia?

Huffington Post, By Akbar Shahid Ahmed, Ryan Grim & Laura Barron-Lopez, May 26

Washington – On Friday night, in an impressive display of dysfunction, the U.S. Senate approved a controversial trade bill with a provision that the White House, Senate leadership and the author of the language himself wanted taken out.

The provision, which bars countries that engage in slavery from being part of major trade deals with the U.S., was written by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). At the insistence of the White House, Menendez agreed to modify his language to say that as long as a country is taking “concrete” steps toward reducing human trafficking and forced labor, it can be part of a trade deal. Under the original language, the country that would be excluded from the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership pact is Malaysia.

But because the Senate is the Senate, it was unable to swap out the original language for the modification. (The chamber needed unanimous consent to make the legislative move, and an unknown senator or senators objected.) So the trade promotion authority bill that passed Friday includes the strong anti-slavery language, which the House will now work to take out to ensure that Malaysia (and, potentially, other countries in the future) can be part of the deal.

Observers are left with a deeper question: Why, in the year 2015, is the White House teaming up with Republican leaders essentially to defend the practice of slavery?

[…]

But Malaysia also borders what is effectively China’s jugular vein: the Strait of Malacca.

Via Naked Capitalism: America’s First Black President Throwing Slaves Under the Bus on TPP

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