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DRONE WATCH: Drone Attack Kills Seven.

A U.S. drone attack on Sunday killed at least seven suspected militants in Pakistan. The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reported that the seven were Uzbek nationals living in the compound that was hit by six missiles.

This latest attack comes just before Pakistan’s head of intelligence is to visit Washington.  CBS News reported drones will be a topic of the discussions:

“Pakistan will press the U.S. at a top-level intelligence summit this week to end unilateral drone strikes aimed at suspected militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Though the Thursday meeting in Washington between Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus is meant to ease the tension between the two allies, Pakistani and Western officials warn the issue of drone strikes may yield little common ground.”

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DRONE WATCH: This Week in Drones

In drone news this week:

The British Ministry of Defense acknowledged that Royal Air Force pilots flew U.S. Predator drones in Libya last year. According to The Guardian, “It is not known how many missions were flown by the British, or how many targets were destroyed by them.”

The Washington Post reported: “The skies over Somalia have become so congested with drones that the unmanned aircraft pose a danger to air traffic and potentially violate a long-standing arms embargo against the war-torn country, according to United Nations officials. In a recently completed report, U.N. officials describe several narrowly averted disasters in which drones crashed into a refu­gee camp, flew dangerously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital.”

Concern over the privacy implications of domestic drone use is growing, reports the Washington Times. From the report: “This week, Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and former judge, will introduce the Preserving American Privacy Act, which sets strict limits on when, and for what purpose, law enforcement agencies and other entities can use unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.”

As many as six missiles were fired from drones on a “militant hideout” in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 12 “suspected militants.” Read stories in DAWN, CNN, Reuters, AFP.

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Colombian Indigenous Elders Try Alleged Guerrillas

More about the efforts of the Nasa people in Cauca, Colombia to free their territory of armed actors:

"Indigenous leaders in Colombia's conflict-scarred southwest say they will put on trial before tribal elders four alleged leftist rebels they accuse of attacks on civilians."

"Nasa Indian leader Marcos Yule tells The Associated Press the four could face such punishment as floggings or exile if convicted in this weekend's trials."

"The 115,000-strong Nasa say they are fed up with being in the crossfire of Colombia's long-running conflict. They have been trying since last week to force government troops and leftist rebels to leave their territory."

The rest of the short news item is here.

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Billy Graham's Team Prays with Colorado Shooting Victims, Families

According to Cathy Lynn Grossman in USAToday:

Five chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team, already in Colorado and New Mexico ministering to victims of the ravaging wildfires, redeployed to Aurora by 8 a.m. mountain time,

Dealing with mass trauma isn't something taught in seminary, says Jack Munday, director of the team.

The BGEA is now headed by Graham's son, Franklin, who also leads Samaritan's Purse, which rushes in aid in natual disasters.

Munday says the chaplains went directly to Gateway High School in Aurora where the survivors and victims friends and family are gathered. They're also on call with local authories to go to other locations such as area hospitals.

Munday described how the team -- sent to mass shootings, natural disasters and other major tragic events -- approaches people who may be angry, grieving, in shock or simply in need of help reaching their own family or clergy.

Read the entire report HERE.

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Obama, Romney on Colorado Massacre

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney cancelled campaign events Friday in the wake of the unfolding tragedy in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater early today, killing at least a dozen people (members of the military among them, according to news reports), and wounding dozens of others. Both men made statements reacting to the massacre.

In a statement released early Friday morning, Romney said and his wife were "deeply saddened" by news of the shooting."We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice," Romney wrote.

Speaking at an event in Florida, Obama said in part:

Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled. 

And if there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

It’s what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That’s what matters.  At the end of the day, what we’ll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That’s why we’re here.

I’m sure that many of you who are parents here had the same reaction that I did when I heard this news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I’m sure you will do the same with your children. But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation.

So, again, I am so grateful that all of you are here. I am so moved by your support. But there are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection.

So what I’d ask everybody to do, I’d like us to pause in a moment of silence for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover, and for all the victims of less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities every single day. So if everybody can just take a moment.

(Moment of silence.)

Thank you, everybody. I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today. May the Lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come.

I am grateful to all of you, and I hope that as a consequence of today’s events, as you leave here, you spend a little time thinking about the incredible blessings that God has given us.

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Afghanistan After America

Dexter Filkins, a former New York Times reporter who covered the war in Afghanistan, has a long and sobering but well worth reading piece in The New Yorker.  Pondering the question of whether civil war will hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves, he writes:

After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven’t worked or because there’s no longer enough time to achieve them. Even the education of girls, a signal achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, is at risk. By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.

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DRONE WATCH: Families Sue US for Drone Deaths

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit yesterday against Obama administration officials for authorizing the targeted killings of three US citizens by drone strikes in Yemen last year.  The Christian Science Monitor reports the complaint

“… charges that the US practice of maintaining “kill lists” that target suspected terrorists – including US citizens – violates the citizens’ constitutional right to due process of law and the right to be free from unreasonable seizure by the government.

“This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law,” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said.”

The suit was filed on behalf of the families of  Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born member of the militant Islamic group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Samir Khan, a US citizen since 1998; and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman.

Pardiss Kebriaei, a CCR staff attorney, said in a statement:

“The US program of sending drones into countries in and against which it is not at war and eliminating so-called enemies on the basis of executive memos and conference calls is illegal, out of control, and must end.”

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BREAKING: Russia and China Veto UN Resolution on Syria

Reported by the Washington Post:

Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of diplomatic aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 14,000 dead. …

The vote, and the increasingly bloodshed in the Syrian capital, were a clear sign that a political resolution to the conflict in Syria remains out of reach.

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Syria: "Spinning Out of Control"

As more details of this morning’s bombing in Damascus are known, the casualty list is growing.  Among those killed were  Syria’s Defense Minister, Deputy Defense Minister (who was President Bashir’s brother-in-law), and a senior general who was also a former Defense Minister. The head of the National Security Office and the Interior Minister were among those seriously wounded.

In an early afternoon story, the Associated Press quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the crisis in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control.” British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, who spoke at a press conference with Panetta, said the Assad government is suffering "probably some fragmentation around the edges" as it struggles to keep a grip on power. "There is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable," Hammond said.

A later AP report noted:

"Rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had been planning it for two months and finally decided to plant the bomb in the room where the top government security officials in charge of crushing the revolt were holding a crisis meeting."

Reuters reported this afternoon on the continuing violence:

"The government vowed to retaliate, and residents said army helicopters fired machine guns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts. Television footage showed rebels storming a security base in southern Damascus. By nightfall, activists said Syrian army artillery had begun shelling the capital from the mountains that overlook it."

As the violence escalates, let us pray for a peaceful resolution in Syria, especially for the civilians caught between the two forces.

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DRONE WATCH: U.S. Pakistan Talk Drones

Talks between the U.S. and Pakistan on drone attacks will resume this month, including a visit by the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency to Washington. The U.S. continues to see the strikes as essential to its counter-terrorism efforts, and Pakistan continues to see them as a violation of its sovereignty. Associated Press reports:

"They start at an impasse, with the U.S. already determined to reject Pakistan's demands to end CIA drone strikes. Pakistani officials will also be pushing a plan to replace the CIA drone campaign with Pakistani F-16 strikes, and eventually its own armed drone fleet — a proposal that U.S. officials say they have rejected many times before. The divergent views reflect the deterioration in U.S.-Pakistani ties over the last 18 months, and the hardening of positions on both sides."

The Pakistani newspaper DAWN adds this from a “senior Pakistani security official” via Agence France-Presse: “This visit comes against the backdrop of extensive consultations between civilian and military leadership and the general has been authorised to take a firm stand on drones issue during his talks,”

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Colombian Indigenous Peacemakers Put the "Active" in "Activist"

In an Indigenous region of Colombia's Cauca province, activists armed with ceremonial wooden staffs, moral authority, and *lot* of moxie are telling both government armed forces and guerrillas to get out of their territory. In the face of an upsurge in guerrilla-vs.-state violence, Colombian President Manuel Santos made a saber-rattling visit to the town of Toribío to hold an emergency cabinet meeting there, but indigenous activists from the Nasa ethnic group--all too aware that government troops' presence in civilian areas can paint a target on them--were not impressed with Santos' offer of more of the same.

“The military can’t protect us and the guerrillas don’t represent us,” [Indigenous Guard leader] Mensa said, as he cradled the tasseled staff that identifies the volunteer guard. “All of them need to leave this area and let us live in peace.”...

"Even before Santos had finished the emergency meeting, the community had decided to take matters into its own hands. One group confronted the FARC at the roadblocks and another walked more than two hours to a barren mountaintop army battalion that overlooks Toribío.

"After a short standoff with troops, about 200 people swarmed the base and began toppling sandbagged bunkers and filling in foxholes."...

"At the FARC roadblocks, villagers shouted the guerrillas back into the jungle and seized five homemade mortars, called tatucos..."

Read more from the Miami Herald

When I visited Colombia last summer, I interviewed two members of the Indigenous Guard for an article for Sojourners magazine, and was deeply inspired by their commitment, strategy, and guts.

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Where Does the Syrian Conflict End?

 

Dr. Josef Olmert asks if, as the Syrian conflict rages in the streets of Damascus, the end is near?

"It has been in the making, as consistently predicted in this blog, and now it is finally happening. The Sunni uprising against the Alawite-dominated regime of Bashar Assad is fast approaching the point of decision. The battles are taking place in the capital Damascus, and the reports, while some may be somewhat exaggerated, are very clear: the rebels of the Free Syria Army are fighting in the very center of the city, are about to be, or already are in control of some of the headquarters of the once feared intelligence organizations, and it is all taking place minutes away from the presidential palace. By some accounts, the palace is without residents, as Bashar and his immediate family have already moved to the Alawite Mountains, something that was also predicted in this blog."

Learn more here

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Class and War

Chris Hedges has a fascinating piece for Salon on the betrayal of the most vulnerable by war:

"We condition the poor and the working class to go to war. We promise them honor, status, glory, and adventure. We promise boys they will become men. We hold these promises up against the dead-end jobs of small-town life, the financial dislocations, credit card debt, bad marriages, lack of health insurance, and dread of unemployment. The military is the call of the Sirens, the enticement that has for generations seduced young Americans working in fast food restaurants or behind the counters of Walmarts to fight and die for war profiteers and elites.

The poor embrace the military because every other cul-de-sac in their lives breaks their spirit and their dignity. Pick up Erich Maria Remarque’sAll Quiet on the Western Front or James Jones’s From Here to Eternity. Read Henry IV. Turn to the Iliad. The allure of combat is a trap, a ploy, an old, dirty game of deception in which the powerful, who do not go to war, promise a mirage to those who do."

Read the full article here

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DRONE WATCH: The Drone Caucus

Members of Congress with common interests often create a caucus to advocate for that interest. Some have become permanent institutions – think the Congressional Black Caucus – others are more short-term. One of the more recent, reported by Arizona Public Radio, is the Unmanned Systems Caucus. Its role?

“Primarily, the caucus advocates for drones — those pilot-less planes infamous for their role targeting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re used as a spy tool in Iran, a drug-fighting tool in Mexico and an anti-smuggling tool along the U.S.-Mexico border. …

The drone caucus — like the technology it promotes — is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to help save money on defense, better patrol the country’s borders and provide a new tool to U.S. law enforcement agencies and civilians.”

And that advocacy is being rewarded. The report cites Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, a D.C.-based company that analyzes lobbying data:

“Many of the drone caucus members are well supported by the industry they endorse. According to Bronstein-Moffly’s data, the 58 drone caucus members received a total of $2.3 million in contributions from political action committees affiliated with drone manufacturers since 2011.”

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DRONE WATCH: Sea Drones

Over the past several weeks, the U.S. has been expanding its military presence in the Persian Gulf, increasing its capability to act if hostilities begin with Iran. Minesweepers are intended to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, and additional fighter jets increase the ability to launch strikes into Iran.

The latest development, reported by the Los Angeles Times, sea drones.

“The Navy is rushing tiny underwater drones to the Persian Gulf to help find and destroy sea mines as part of an American military buildup aimed at stopping Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.

Only 88 pounds and 4 feet long, the unmanned, remotely guided submersibles carry a TV camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge for what amounts to a kamikaze mission: When it detects a mine, the undersea craft obliterates itself as well as the mine.

The Navy bought dozens of the little-known German-made devices, known as the SeaFox, in February after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, for more minesweeping capabilities in the region.”

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