Libyan Security Chief Assassinated in Benghazi

Colonel Farag al-Dersi, Benghazi’s chief of security, was killed by three gunmen in the same eastern Libyan city where US ambassador Chris Stevens and three fellow diplomats died after the US consulate was overrun this past September 11th. The Libyan security chief led an anti-militia crackdown in the wake of the attack.

There has been a string of killings and car bombings in the city, most of which targeted officials who had high-profile roles in the former administration of Muammar Gaddafi.  Libya’s new cabinet, which was sworn-in last week, is facing a vast security vacuum. Police and army functions remain distributed among a patchwork of militias.

The assassination of Dersi also highlights the lack of progress made in catching the killers of Stevens, who died when the consulate was stormed and set ablaze by several dozen militiamen. Libya has yet to give details of any investigation into the death of what was the first killing of a US ambassador since 1979, or bring any suspects to trial.

 

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Worldwide U.S. Arms Sales Hit New High

Last year overseas weapons sales by the United States tripled to a new record high of $66.3 billion, more than three-quarters of the global arms market, according to a new study for Congress. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The U.S. sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of American arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

Increasing tensions with Iran drove Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman to purchase American weapons at record levels. These Gulf states do not share a border with Iran, and their arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile defense systems.

The agreements with Saudi Arabia included the purchase of 84 advanced F-15 fighters, dozens of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, a variety of ammunition, missiles and logistics support, and upgrades of 70 of the F-15 fighters in the current fleet.

The United Arab Emirates purchased a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, an advanced antimissile shield that includes radars and is valued at $3.49 billion, as well as 16 Chinook helicopters for $939 million.

Oman bought 18 F-16 fighters for $1.4 billion.

Other significant weapons deals by the United States last year included a $4.1 billion agreement with India for 10 C-17 transport planes and with Taiwan for Patriot antimissile batteries valued at $2 billion, an arms deal that outraged officials in Beijing.

 

U.S. Military Developing Anti-Suicide Spray

The U.S. Army has awarded a grant to Dr. Michael Kubek of the Indiana University School of Medicine to develop a nasal spray designed to suppress thoughts of suicide. 116 U.S. soldiers are suspected of committing suicide in 2012, and the army currently has the highest recorded rate of suicide in its history.

The spray would deliver an extra dose of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which causes a “euphoric, calming, antidepressant effect.” TRH has been used to treat severe depression and bi-polar disorders. The chemical has a quick-acting effect and may be able to stop people from killing themselves on the spot.

TRH isn’t effective when taken in pill form or by blood injection and is currently only able to be administered with an injection directly into the spine.

 

Former President Jimmy Carter “The US is abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights”

Former President Jimmy Carter’s scathing Op-Ed piece for the NY Times about the current state of our countries foreign policy:

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues

Read more at NYTimes.com

Suicides at 10-year High in US Military

According to statistics there has been nearly one suicide every day in the US military this year. It is the highest rate in a decade.

In the first 155 days of 2012 there was 154 suicides among active troops, about 50% more than the amount of soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan, according to Pentagon statistics obtained by Associated Press.

The military is also struggling with increased sexual assaults, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and other problems.

Combat exposure, post-traumatic stress, misuse of prescription drugs and personal financial problems have been listed as possible reasons for the increase.

Army data suggest soldiers with multiple combat tours are at greater risk of killing themselves, although a substantial amount of deaths occurred among soldiers who have never been deployed.

The Afghanistan war is set to wind down by the end of 2014, but this year has seen a record number of soldiers killed, and there also have been several scandals involving military misconduct.

The total of 154 suicides so far this year compares to 130 in the same period last year, an 18% increase. This year’s January-May total is up 25% from two years ago, and it is 16% greater than in 2009, which ended with the highest yearly total so far.

Suicide totals also exceeded US combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009.

Kim Ruocco, widow of John Ruocco, a helicopter pilot who killed himself in 2005 between Iraq deployments, said he was unable to seek help.

“He was so afraid of how people would view him once he went for help,” she said in an interview at her home in Boston. “He thought that people would think he was weak, that people would think he was just trying to get out of redeploying or trying to get out of service, or that he just couldn’t hack it. In reality, he was sick. He had suffered injury in combat and he had also suffered from depression and let it go untreated for years.”

Jackie Garrick, head of the newly established Defence Suicide Prevention Office at the Pentagon, said the increase in suicides was worrying, adding that the weak economy could also be to blame.

Dr Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and psychiatrist, said the suicides reflected the level of tension as the US gradually leaves Afghanistan.

“It’s a sign of the stress the army has been under over the 10 years of war,” he said. “We’ve seen before that these signs show up even more dramatically when the fighting seems to go down and the Army is returning to garrison.”

Afghan Civilians Under Fire From All Sides, Suicide Bombers Strike Market/Civilians Claim NATO Bombed Wedding

Three suicide attackers blew themselves up in the largest city in southern Afghanistan Wednesday, killing 22 people and wounding at least 50 others in a marketplace.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack on innocent civilians, saying it proved the “enemy is getting weaker because they are killing innocent people.”

The explosion occurred about three miles from the main gate of the massive military installation run by the U.S.-led coalition and roughly 500 yards from an Afghan military base.

One suicide bomber detonated a three-wheeled motorbike filled with explosives first, said Rahmatullah Atrafi, deputy police chief in Kandahar province. Then, as people rushed to assist the casualties, two other suicide bombers on foot walked up to the site and blew themselves up.

Eight private security guards were among the 22 killed along a main road on the east side of the city, he said.

Not to be outdone,  a pre-dawn NATO air strike aimed at militants in eastern Afghanistan killed civilians celebrating a wedding, including women and children said Afghan officials and residents, though provincial Police Chief Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Roogh Lawanay said it wasn’t a wedding party but a meeting of Taliban commanders.

An Associated Press photographer saw the bodies of five women, seven children and six men piled in the back of vans that villagers drove to the capital of Logar province to protest the overnight strike on a house in volatile Baraki Barak district. Raeis Khan Abdul Rahimzai, deputy provincial police chief, estimated that there were 18 bodies in the vans, including women and children. He said seven key local Taliban officials were killed in the strike.

NATO spokesman, Maj. Martyn Crighton said the coalition was aware of the allegations of civilian deaths, but did not have any reports of civilians being killed.

He said troops were trying to capture a Taliban commander and called in an airstrike when they came under fire.

“During the follow-on assessment, the Afghan and coalition security force discovered two women with non-life-threatening injuries,” Crighton said in an email. He said both women were taken to a military base for treatment.

“I do not have any operational reporting that would allow me to confirm civilian deaths,” Crighton said.

It must be difficult to decipher whether civilians are killed in an airstrike when you label every military age male killed in said strike as a militant before even confirming their identities.

Congress Being Lobbied By And Accepting Donations From Iranian Terror Group

A banned Iranian terrorist group has been lobbying Congress and winning support from politicians even though there is a government investigation into it’s legality.
Former heads of the CIA, FBI, homeland security, the US military and members of Congress of both major parties are backing the removal of the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran, known as the MEK, from the US list of terrorist organizations.
The lobbying campaign and the large amounts of money backing it, including donations to congressional campaigns and cash payments for speeches in support of the MEK, are under investigation for potential breaches of laws against financial dealings with banned organizations and possible material support for terrorism.
Among those under investigation are the former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, General Hugh Shelton, the former FBI director, Louis Freeh, and Michael Mukasey, who, as attorney-general, oversaw the prosecution of terrorism cases.
MEK has a past that includes the killing of Americans. The group was a supporter of the Islamic revolution in Iran and later allied itself with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The group was banned in 1997.
The MEK has also been described as a “cult” by a leading US thinktank for practices such as forcing members to give up their children in order to dedicate more time to the cause.
The group is now presenting itself to Capitol Hill as a democratic alternative to the present Iranian government.
Among the group’s strongest supporters is Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, a member of the House of Representative foreign affairs committee and chairman of its oversight and investigations subcommittee.
“These guys have got one of the best PR campaigns and political campaigns that I’ve seen on Capitol Hill for a long time,” he told the Guardian. “They’re a very efficient and effective lobbying effort. People on both sides here have been recruited by these people who know how to work the system here in Washington.”
The group won a court order requiring the state department to review the case and make a decision on its application to be removed. The state department said that it cannot make a decision until the MEK clears out of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where the group was once an armed military force.
Rohrabacher and others say that the state department fears that removing the MEK from the banned list would outrage Tehran during delicate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
“What we’ve got here is yet an escalation of a fundamentally dishonorable bargain that was made in the past, which should never have been made with the mullahs, and every step now they’re having to protect that mistake. Now they’re taking another step that is inconsistent with democratic government and agreeing that people can disagree,” he said. “This attempt to silence people so that the rotten deal with the mullahs won’t be disclosed somewhere along the line should indicate to the American people that somebody has done something wrong.”
Nearly 100 members of Congress have signed a resolution of support for MEK.
Reza Marashi, a former official on the US state department’s Iran desk was part of the team that reviewed evidence against the MEK. He believes the that terrorism designation is appropriate, and said he is astonished that the group is able to operate so openly.
“My former government colleagues are bewildered by the freedom of movement that a designated terrorist organization enjoys on Capitol Hill. They’re disgusted by former US government officials willing to make a quick buck by shilling for the MEK,” said Marashi, who is now research director for the National Iranian American Council. “Do we really want to open the door to other terrorist organizations to spend millions of dollars lobbying to get off the terrorist list?”
The MEK says that regardless of its past, it has not done anything that fits the US definition of terrorism for at least a decade.
Among those campaigning for the MEK to be legitimized are former CIA director James Woolsey; former New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani; ex-homeland security chief Tom Ridge; and Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, James Jones.
Former Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, called on the US government to recognize one of the MEK’s founders, Maryam Rajavi, as the legitimate president of Iran.
Military supporters of MEK include General George Casey, former chief of staff of the US army and commander in Iraq and former Brigadier-General David Phillips, who commanded the US military police in Iraq and came into contact with the MEK as commander of Camp Ashraf. They say they only receive expenses for speaking on behalf of the group.
The US treasury department has issued subpoenas to gather information on fees paid out to those who have lent their voices to support of the terror group. It has also seized records from the former Pennsylvania governor, Edward Rendell, who has received $160,000 for attending conferences in support of the MEK in the US, France, Switzerland and Belgium.
“I’ve been in politics 34 years, and I can tell you right now that I would not jeopardize my reputation for any amount of money,” Rendell told the Washington Times. “If you indict me, I hope you know, you have to indict 67 other Americans who did the same thing, including seven generals.”
Other critics say that Congress and former officials are applying a double standard in having passed anti-terrorism laws that have sent people to prison for far less direct support of a banned group than that now being given to the MEK.
David Cole unsuccessfully challenged the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, after members of a US humanitarian group gave advice on conflict resolution to two banned organizations, the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.
Cole argued that the project was promoting peace and was protected by a constitutional right to free speech. The court said even speech can amount to support for terrorism.
Cole said he believes that Americans should be free to speak in favor of the MEK, but it’s hypocritical for officials to criminalize similar actions by others.
“The MEK has demonstrated through very, very generous contracts that if you can get a lot of powerful people to speak up for you, you might succeed in getting yourself off the list,” he said. “You need only compare this to the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation in Dallas, Texas, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States prior to 9/11. By basically giving aid to build schools and provide healthcare to organizations that were not designated as terrorist, these individuals had committed the crime of supporting terrorism and are spending 65 years in prison.
“There are plenty of people sitting in jail today who were initially investigated by treasury but ultimately prosecuted by the justice department. That said, the people sitting in jail are not people with the power and the connections that Michael Mukasey, Tom Ridge, Ed Rendell, Louis Freeh and Rudi Giuliani have. The reality is that people like that are very unlikely to be criminally prosecuted, whereas people without that power and without those connections will be prosecuted and have been. There’s clearly a double standard.”