Friday, May 6, 2011

UN urges Bahrain to free detained activists

The United Nations human rights chief has called for Bahrain to free activists it has seized since crushing anti-government protests and for an independent probe into allegations of torture.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay's remarks on Thursday were the sharpest international criticism yet of the crackdown in Bahrain where the Sunni-led government has arrested hundreds from its Shia Muslim majority since the protests began.

"All political detainees must be immediately released and all detainees must have prompt access to legal counsel," Pillay said in a statement.

"My office has also received reports of severe torture against human rights defenders who are currently in
detention... There must be independent investigations of these cases of death in detention and allegations of torture."

At least four people have died in detention, and rights groups have criticised death sentences handed out last week to four men accused of killing policemen in March during protests that began with calls for more political liberties in the kingdom.

The defendants in that case were accused of running down two policemen with a car in March.

Also on Thursday, one man was sentenced to at least five years in jail and another was acquitted. State media earlier said they were accused of trying to kill security personnel by running them over.

At least 13 protesters and four police died in the unrest. Bahrain has said about 400 of those detained will face prosecution, some in a military court that last week handed down the first death sentence to a Bahraini citizen since the mid-1990s, also a period of sectarian-tinged political turmoil.

'No legal defence'

Families of the condemned men and rights groups say the court, which also sentenced three men to life in prison, kept the defendants from meeting lawyers and mounting any defence.

"The application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacepptable," Pillay said.

The UN statement said more than 1,000 may have been detained, and the whereabouts of 50 of them are unknown.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Wednesday that it had received credible reports that a detained human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, had been hospitalised following beatings while in custody.

Amnesty International also appealed on Wednesday to Bahrain's rulers to bring an end to a campaign of arrests against its opponents while denouncing the extension of emergency rule in response to protests.

"The Bahraini authorities must stop detaining anyone who opposes them and release protesters who have been locked up for peacefully demanding reform," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Even since the protests on the streets were violently crushed in mid-March the government's persecution of dissidents has not abated, while the renewal of the so-called 'State of National Safety' will only exacerbate this human rights crisis."

Pak Govt. ‘high levels’ knew whereabouts of Bin Laden: Carl Levin

Sen. Carl Levin said 'high levels' of the Pakistani government knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding, must know where Mullah Omar is too.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, Levin said, has already started a preliminary investigation into Pakistan's involvement and, depending on the results of that investigation, will decide whether to hold public hearings to investigate further.

"We need these questions answered about whether or not the top level of the Pakistan government knew or was told by the ISI, their intelligence service, about anything, about this suspicious activity for five years in a very, very centralized place," Levin said.

Beyond his suspicions about Pakistan's role in harboring bin Laden, Levin said he has "no doubt" that the highest levels of the Pakistani government are protecting other terrorist targets -- such as Taliban leader Mullah Omar and the leaders of the Haqqani terror network -- who have been responsible for the deaths of American troops in Afghanistan.

"These people are killing us. Killing our Afghan allies. Killing our coalition partners by crossing the border," Levin said. "They're being given a safe haven in Pakistan. So the government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn't know bin Laden was there. It's kind of hard to believe that higher-level people didn't know, but they'll continue to say that. But what they won't say is that they don't know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they've told us they know."

'Bahraini women sexually assaulted'

Saudi-backed forces in Bahrain have sexually assaulted women during attacks to arrest human rights activists in the country, a new report reveals.

A Bahraini woman identified as Fatima, a close relative of prominent Bahraini rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, said she was sexually assaulted by Saudi-backed forces in her house, Press TV reported.

The regime forces assaulted Fatima after storming into her house to arrest her husband, she said in an interview accompanied by rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja.

Zainab, the daughter of Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, ended a 10-day hunger strike after international activists said they needed her to speak up for those detained in the crackdown.

Her father was arrested earlier in April.

Bahraini forces have arrested hundreds of activist so far during the clampdown on peaceful protests.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has voiced "deep concern" about the continued detention of activists in the country.

Pillay also cited the prosecution of scores of medical professionals, and the death sentence handed down to four protesters after a closed-door military trial, said UN spokesperson Farhan Haq.

Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February, calling for an end to the over-40-year rule of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

On March 14, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates deployed police and military forces in the kingdom at Manama's request to help quell the nationwide protests.

According to local sources, scores of people have been killed and hundreds arrested so far during the clampdown on peaceful protests.

The foreign deployments are reported to have contributed to a rise in the violence against the protesting public.

Recent reports say Riyadh is sending more troops to Bahrain ahead of planned anti-government rallies there.

Syria protests: Baniyas fear amid Deraa pullout reports

Syrian activists are preparing to take to the streets on Friday for what they are calling a "day of defiance".

Tanks are reported to have withdrawn from the city of Deraa, where a human rights groups says the government has carried out a 10-day "massacre".

But security forces are reported to have gathered in other urban areas, including the coastal town of Baniyas.

More than 500 Syrians are thought to have been killed during attempts to quell seven weeks of protests.

At least 2,500 others have been detained as part of a violent crackdown that the US has described as "barbaric".

'Total disgust'

In cities across Syria protesters are calling for greater political rights and personal freedoms. Some are calling for the downfall of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

People are expected to gather again after prayers on Friday, which have become a regular focal point for protests in the Arab world in 2011.

The unrest in Syria poses the most serious challenge to four decades of rule by the Assad family in one of the Arab world's most tightly controlled countries.

Foreign journalists are not allowed to enter the country, so it is difficult to verify the reports of deaths.

One doctor, who said he planned to join those demonstrating, said the "indiscriminate killings and inhumane arrests have generated total disgust among the average Syrian".

"Soldiers with rifles no longer deter people. The propaganda that this regime is the only guarantor of stability no longer washes," he was quoted as telling Reuters.
'Preparing to attack'

Military units were reported to be deploying elsewhere on Thursday, including around the coastal town of Baniyas, home to one of Syria's two oil refineries.

Four armoured personnel carriers, several tanks and a bus carrying soldiers were seen by one eyewitness quoted by the Associated Press.Hundreds of families were said to be fleeing the area, fearing that Banias - like the city of Deraa - could come under siege.

"It looks like they are preparing to attack the town, like they did in Deraa," one activist told the AFP news agency by telephone from the town.

A UN humanitarian team is expected to visit Deraa in the coming days, the organisation's deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said on Thursday, following an appeal to President Bashar al-Assad by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Over the past two days there has also been an increased military presence also in the coastal towns of Homs and Rastan. Troops have also gathered in the Damascus suburbs of Erbin, Saqba, Douma and in the town of Tel, north of the capital.

In Washington, state department spokesman Mark Toner said the US continues to "press Assad's regime to desist in its violent behaviour".

"We abhor the violence there," Mr Toner said. "I think I called it barbaric, the measures that were taken the other day against the citizens of Deraa, and we urge Syria to end these kinds of actions against innocent civilians who are simply expressing their aspirations for a democratic future."

The Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies says snipers and anti-aircraft machine guns were used to fire on unarmed civilians in the southern city and recent amateur video appears to show dozens of unarmed protesters being shot and bleeding to death on the streets.

It has labelled the killings in Deraa a "massacre".

The government says it is taking action against "elements of terrorist groups... to restore security, peace and stability".

CIA watched bin Laden from nearby safe house inside Pakistan

Extensive surveillance of Osama bin Laden's hideout from a nearby CIA safe house in Abbottabad led to his killing in a Navy SEAL operation, U.S. officials said, a revelation likely to further embarrass Pakistan's spy agency and strain ties.

The U.S. officials, quoted by the Washington Post, said the safe house was the base for intelligence gathering that began after bin Laden's compound was discovered last August, and which was so exhaustive the CIA asked Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars to fund it.

"The CIA's job was to find and fix," the Post quoted one U.S. official as saying, using special forces terminology for locating a target. "The intelligence work was as complete as it was going to be, and it was the military's turn to finish the target."

U.S. officials told the New York Times that intelligence gathered from computer files and documents seized at his compound showed bin Laden had for years orchestrated al Qaeda attacks from the Pakistani town, and may have been planning a strike on the U.S. rail sector this year, the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

One U.S. official said there was no indication from the intelligence that further plans were drawn up for the railway plot or that steps were taken to carry it out. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it had no information of an imminent threat.

The fact bin Laden was found in a garrison town -- his compound was not far from a major military academy -- has embarrassed Pakistan and the covert raid by U.S. commandos has angered its military.

On Thursday, the Pakistan army threatened to halt counter-terrorism cooperation with the United States if it conducted another, similar unilateral strike.

A major Islamist party in Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islami, called for mass protests on Friday against what it called a violation of sovereignty by the U.S. raid. It also urged the government to end support for U.S. battles against militants.

A senior Pakistani security official also charged that U.S. troops had killed the unarmed al Qaeda leader in "cold blood".

The criticism from Pakistan is likely to fray a relationship that Washington deems vital to defeating al Qaeda and winning its war in neighboring Afghanistan.

A U.S. acknowledgment that bin Laden was unarmed when shot in the head -- as well as the sea burial of his body, a rare practice in Islam -- have also drawn criticism in the Arab world and Europe, where some have warned of a backlash.

Few Americans appear to have any qualms about how bin Laden was killed, and on Thursday, scores of people cheered President Barack Obama during a visit to New York's Ground Zero, site of the twin towers al Qaeda leveled on September 11, 2001, to comfort a city still scarred by attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Obama said the killing of bin Laden "sent a message around the world, but also sent a message here back home, that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.


Friction between Washington and Pakistan has focused on the role of Pakistan's top security service, the ISI or Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir denied Pakistani forces or the ISI aided al Qaeda. "The critique of the ISI is not only unwarranted, it cannot be validated," he said.

Lobbyists for Pakistan in Washington have launched an intense campaign on Capitol Hill to counter accusations that Islamabad deliberately gave refuge to bin Laden.

But many Americans are questioning how the al Qaeda leader could live for years in a Pakistani town teeming with military personnel, 50 km (31 miles) from the capital Islamabad. Two U.S. lawmakers have also complained about the billions in U.S. civilian and military aid to impoverished Pakistan.

Seeking to repair ties, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Rome on Thursday that Washington was still anxious to maintain its alliance with Islamabad.

The Pakistani army and spy agency have supplied intelligence to the United States, arrested al Qaeda figures and taken on militants in areas bordering Afghanistan.

"It is not always an easy relationship," Clinton said. "But, on the other hand, it is a productive one for both our countries and we are going to continue to cooperate between our governments, our militaries, our law-enforcement agencies."

Pakistan's army, facing rare criticism at home over the U.S. operation, warned the United States it would risk this cooperation if it conducted another assault.

Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Kayani "made it clear that any similar action violating the sovereignty of Pakistan will warrant a review on the level of military/intelligence cooperation with the United States", the army said.

It was unclear if such attacks included drone strikes which the U.S. military regularly conducts against militants along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Pakistan has denied harboring any members of al Qaeda.

The army also said it would conduct an investigation into failures by its intelligence to detect the world's most wanted man in its own backyard.


The CIA had spent several months monitoring bin Laden's hideout, watching and photographing residents and visitors from a rented house nearby, according to U.S. officials quoted in the New York Times and Washington Post.

Observing from behind mirrored glass, CIA officers used cameras with telephoto lenses and infrared imaging equipment to study the compound, and they used sensitive eavesdropping equipment to try to pick up voices from inside the house and to intercept cellphone calls, the New York Times said. A satellite used radar to search for possible escape tunnels.

The U.S. administration has refused to be drawn on details on the raid, but, in a further sign of fractious relations between the allies, senior Pakistani security officials told Reuters that U.S. accounts had been misleading.

In Washington, people familiar with the latest U.S. government reporting on the raid told Reuters on Thursday that only one of four principal targets shot to death by U.S. commandos was involved in any hostile fire.

As the elite Navy SEALs moved in on a guest house inside bin Laden's compound, they were met with fire and shot a man in the guest house. He proved to be Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, an al Qaeda courier U.S. intelligence agencies had long been tracking.

The commandos then entered the main residence, where they killed another courier and a son of bin Laden, the sources said. They finally shot and killed the al Qaeda leader in a top-floor room after having earlier fired at him as he poked his head out of a door or over a balcony.

U.S. officials originally spoke of a 40-minute firefight. The White House has blamed the "fog of war" for the changing accounts.

Obama in NY: We never forget, we mean what we say

Solemnly honoring victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, President Barack Obama hugged survivors, thanked the heroes of one of the nation's darkest days and declared Thursday that the killing of Osama bin Laden after all these years was an American message to the world: "When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say."
On a brilliant blue-sky day, one of reflection more than celebration, Obama offered New Yorkers a moment of their own. Standing at the gritty construction site of ground zero, where the towers fell and a memorial now rises, the president laid a wreath of red, white and blue flowers for the nearly 3,000 who died as he marked a turning point for the nation and this city of steely resilience.

For Obama, the day was about the importance of being in New York in the aftermath of the successful raid to find and kill bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader. Obama addressed families who have watched and wondered for nearly a decade whether the government would track down its most infamous enemy.

On this special ground, Obama never mentioned bin Laden's name.

Still, this was where the terrorist inflicted his greatest damage on a similarly sunny day in 2001 when hijacked airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center. Nearly 200 other people died when a third airliner hit the Pentagon — Vice President Joe Biden led a ceremony there on Thursday, and Bush Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended — and others were killed when yet a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.Enthusiastic, emotional New Yorkers waited on streets to see the president, but there were few displays like the more raucous exuberance of a few days earlier. There were happy faces, shouts of "USA! USA!" and flags waved in the crowd, but there also was heavy security and most people were cordoned off blocks from where the president could be seen.Referring to the daring U.S. raid to take down bin Laden in Pakistan, Obama said of all those who died on Sept. 11: "It says we keep them in our hearts. We haven't forgotten."

Days after the attacks, President George W. Bush stood here with firefighters and a bullhorn. There was a different feel a decade later as another president paid his respects. Obama met with firefighters, then police, before having a solemn moment at ground zero and meeting privately with families of those who died.

"This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day," the president said at Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9. The firehouse in New York's theater district lost 15 firefighters on 9/11. The fire crews gave him hearty applause.

Obama said the American pursuit of the terrorist leader "sent a message around the world but also sent a message here back home that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say, that our commitment to making sure that justice is done is something that transcended politics, transcended party."

Bin Laden was shot dead in a raid on his Pakistan compound early Monday in Pakistan, the result of years of painstaking intelligence work and a covert military mission in which none of the U.S. commandos was killed.

The president closed his eyes and clasped his hands at the outdoor memorial where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once dominated the Manhattan skyline.

60 stories high. Mammoth fountains and reflecting pools mark the footprints of the fallen towers. Now the nearby skyline is filled with construction machinery. The emerging skyscraper informally known as Freedom Tower is more than

Obama spoke with children who lost parents and adults who lost spouses. As he bowed his head, a jetliner screamed by, far overhead.

The president also peppered his brief comments with reminders of the challenges ahead, and his call for a new spirit of national unity.

It wasn't a moment for celebrating the military operation that killed bin Laden; that may come Friday, when the president visits Fort Campbell, Ky., home to the Army unit involved in transporting Navy SEALS in and out of bin Laden's compound. White House officials said Obama intended to privately thank participants in the raid.

Obama said Thursday he hoped the results of the raid on bin Laden's compound showed that "we did what we said we were going to do, and that Americans, even in the midst of tragedy, will come together, across the years, across politics, across party, across administrations, to make sure that justice is done."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the city in the days after the attacks, joined Obama during the day.

Obama invited Bush to join him Thursday in New York, but the former president declined.

Obama's visit came as new details emerged of the operation on bin Laden's Pakistan compound.

A senior defense official said Thursday that only one of the five people killed in the raid was armed and fired a shot — an account that differed from original administration portrayals of an intense firefight. The White House also now says bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot, after officials initially said the terrorist was holding a gun or even firing.

Obama also addressed bin Laden's burial at sea, saying in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that: "Frankly, we took more care on this than, obviously, bin Laden took when he killed 3,000 people."

Such details perhaps mattered little to New Yorkers who suffered most grievously in the attacks and are now deeply gratified to see bin Laden's demise.

Ahead of Obama's arrival, Deanne McDonald stood at the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site waving an American flag in each hand and shouting "Obama got Osama! Obama got Osama!"

"God bless the Navy SEALS," said McDonald, 38, from Brooklyn. She took work off on Thursday to wait for the president, saying she was prouder than ever to be an American.


Bill presented in the US House to stop Pakistan aid

No US assistance can be provided to Pakistan unless the Obama administration certifies to Congress that Pakistan did not have any information about Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, says a bill introduced in the House of Representatives.

The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs but a growing number of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are urging their colleagues not to take decisions that may hurt US interests.

“Congress has already appropriated $3 billion in aid to Pakistan for this year,” said Congressman Ted Poe, a Texas Republican, while introducing the bill. “Unless Pakistan can prove that they were not providing sanctuary for America ‘s number one enemy, they should not receive any American aid.”

Co-sponsors – Congressmen Vern Buchanan, John Culberson, and Allen West, all Republicans – also want to “punish” Pakistan but many see it as a hasty move.

“It is not the time to back away from Pakistan but rather a time to strengthen ties,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “It’s premature’ to talk of cutting aid, we both benefit from having a strong bilateral relationship.”

At a hearing on Pakistan in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Thursday, Senator John Kerry urged lawmakers to think what impact their move to stop aid will have.

“Will the forces of violent extremism grow more dominant, eventually overpowering the moderate majority?” he asked. “Or will Pakistanis recommit to building a stable, moderate democracy?”

John McCain, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned: “There is a lot at stake there we need to do what we can to help that country.”

Ignoring such concerns, HR 1699 clearly states that US assistance may not be provided to Pakistan “under any provision of law” unless the Secretary of State certifies to Congress that: “(1) the government of Pakistan did not have any information regarding Osama bin Laden’s possible whereabouts on or after Sept. 11, 2001; or (2) if the government of Pakistan did have information regarding Osama bin Laden’s possible whereabouts on or after Sept. 11, 2001, it communicated such information to the United States government in an expedited manner.”

The secretary is required to submit a certification in writing and in unclassified form, but it may contain a classified annex if necessary.

This act shall take effect on the date of its enactment and shall apply to amounts allocated for assistance to Pakistan that are unexpended on or after such date.

But a Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, warned the lawmakers not to haste. “You cannot trust them and you cannot abandon them,” he said.

Co-sponsor Allen West, is not convinced. “Unless we get a clear explanation of what Pakistan knew about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, all foreign aid from American taxpayers to this nation needs to cease.”

Some Democrats also to suspend aid now. “Before we send another dime, we need to know whether Pakistan truly stands with us in the fight against terrorism,” said Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg.

Congressman Dan Burton, co-chairman of the Congressional Pakistan Caucus, urged such lawmakers to “take a breath, take a look at US interests in the long term [and] take a look at the big picture,” he said.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon said, “I think people who have been married 30 years still have some problems, but they don’t get divorced.”

Congressman Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, argued that “just like we needed Turkey to go into Iraq , Pakistan remains the primary supply route for US forces in Afghanistan .”

Senator Claire McCaskill, another Democrat, said: “We have to be really careful here. We have to go through Pakistan to supply our troops. They have nuclear capability. They are in a very dangerous part of the world.”