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7 Things the United States Can Do to Help Reach the MDGs

In the next few weeks the Obama administration will unveil its plan for the Millennium Development Goals.  As I write, diplomats at the UN are putting together an “outcome document” for an MDG summit of heads of state in New York in September.  How can the United States make the most of this global moment for the MDGs? At a hearing on Capital Hill this morning, John McArthur from the Millennium Promise sketched out seven items that the United States ought to bring to the UN as a part of a “U.S. action plan” for achieving the MDGs.

• Fully fund the Feed the Future strategy, in particular through the new multilateral Global Agriculture and Food Security Program.

• Support a new Global Fund for Education, as proposed by President Obama and Secretary Clinton, and include secondary education in its mandate, with special focus on the needs of girls.

• Continue to scale-up the U.S. global health leadership by focusing on the problems that still need to be solved rather than pausing based on the achievements of the past decade. This has two parts:

First, commit full financing for the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief and the President’s Malaria Initiative; and increase the U.S. annual contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria from $1 billion to $2 billion, recognizing that $1 dollar from the U.S. leverages $2 dollars from other advanced economies.

Second, endorse the U.N. Secretary-General’s proposed Joint Action Plan for child, maternal and newborn health, and launch a new multilateral effort on maternal and child health anchored in the Global Fund, with initial U.S. financing of $2 billion per year that again leverages the 1-to-2 ratio.

• Support a major scale-up of African economic infrastructure, as recommended by the MDG Africa Steering Group, with U.S. funding of at least $5 billion per year, including allocations through the World Bank’s International Development Association and African Development Bank’s African Development Fund.

• Work with African countries to support holistic rural development scale-up strategies like the Millennium Villages.

• Launch a new MDG Innovation Fund to scale-up successful programs that present new delivery mechanisms for MDG achievement in low-income countries.

• Set a 12-month timetable for the proposal and adoption of a proper international mechanism to achieve the water and sanitation MDG targets.

The list is a little wonky, but the basic idea is that there are a number of discreet things the Obama administration can do in the near term to achieve the MDGs by the 2015 target date. 

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Did Israel Violate the Laws of War When It Fired Mortars Near a UN School?

The Israeli government just released an update to its internal review of the Israeli Defense Force’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead. The review was a response to the Goldstone Report which contained allegations that the IDF committed war crimes during its Gaza operations in Winter 2008-2009.  So how does this internal review compare to the Goldstone Report?  The blog Hybrid States says that the Israeli review confirms the report’s main findings. I am not so sure. 

One incident I have been following is the al-Fakhura street bombing. Here is what both reports agree occurred:

1) On January 6, 2009, the IDF launched four mortars into an area known as Al-Fakhura junction.

2) The IDF claims (and the Goldstone Report does not dispute) that Israel fired in response to Hamas rocket fire coming from the area.

3)This was adjacent to a UN school that was serving as a temporary shelter for over 1,000 Gazans. 

4) Civilians, including children, were killed in the attack.  The Israeli report acknowledges that the incident resulted in the “regrettable loss of civilian life.” The Goldstone report puts the number of civilians killed at 35.

In other words, everyone agrees that there was an attack that took the lives of civilians and that this attack occurred in a civilian area.  The central question of both the Goldstone Report and the Israeli review is whether or not the Israeli mortar fire violated the laws of war.  The Goldstone report concludes that it did. Specifically, the report argues that the Israeli response did not satisfy the principle proportionality.

In drawing its legal conclusions on the attack against al-Fakhura junction, the Mission recognizes that for all armies proportionality decisions, weighing the military advantage to be gained against the risk of killing civilians, will present very genuine dilemmas in certain cases. The Mission does not consider this to be such a case. The firing of at least four mortar shells to attempt to kill a small number of specified individuals in a setting where large numbers of civilians were going about their daily business and 1,368 people were sheltering nearby cannot meet the test of what a reasonable commander would have determined to be an acceptable loss of civilian life for the military advantage sought. The Mission considers thus the attack to have been indiscriminate in violation of international law, and to have violated the right to life of the Palestinian civilians killed in these incidents.

Not surprisingly, the Israeli report comes to the opposite conclusion:

Ultimately, the MAG determined that the anticipated collateral damage prior to initiating IDF mortar fire was not excessive when weighed against the expected military benefit, in light of the clear military necessity of the force to protect itself from ongoing mortar fire, the force’s measured response, the relatively small area of dispersal, and the precautions taken.

The MAG also found that the IDF’s choice of weapons was appropriate under the circumstances. The Israeli forces employed a burst of four 120mm “Keshet” mortar rounds, fired in quick succession. The Keshet mortar contains advanced target acquisition and navigation systems and was the most precise weapon available to Israeli forces at that time. Air support was not available to the unit under attack at that moment, and the Law of Armed Conflict does not require commanders to await air support and prolong soldiers’ exposure to enemy fire.

Israel acknowledges that, while the strikewas effective in removing the threat to Israeli forces, it also resulted in the regrettable loss of civilian lives. Although the MAG found that the IDF had not violated the Law of Armed Conflict with respect to this incident, as part of Israel’s efforts to minimize civilian casualties under all circumstances, the MAG reiterated the recommendation of the special command investigation to formulate more stringent definitions in military orders to govern the use of mortars in populated areas and in close proximity to sensitive facilities. The IDF Chief of General Staff has ordered the undertaking of staff work to draft the required orders.

So, bottom line:  Israel believes it acted in accordance with international law.  The Goldstone Report argues the opposite.  I’m afraid we are no closer to justice or accountability either way. 

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Obama Administration’s Deportation Surge and the Legal Limbo of Migrants with Mental Disabilities

Peter Slevin takes a look at the Obama administration’s policy for dealing with illigal immigrants in custody and finds a sharp increase in the number of migrants the United States is deporting. From the Washington Post:

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency expects to deport about 400,000 people this fiscal year, nearly 10 percent above the Bush administration’s 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007. The pace of company audits has roughly quadrupled since President George W. Bush’s final year in office.

The effort is part of President Obama’s larger project “to make our national laws actually work,” as he put it in a speech this month at American University. Partly designed to entice Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform, the mission is proving difficult and politically perilous.

Most of the people deported were arrested on a criminal charge, like drug possession or tresspassing and then entered into the long and confusing deportation process.  The thing is, according to a new Human Rights Watch and ACLU report out today, a great number of migrants facing deportation are beset with mental disabilities. 

At least 57,000 detained immigrants facing deportation in 2008 – 15 percent of the total – had mental disabilities. Under current immigration law and practice, immigration detainees have no right to court-appointed lawyers or to other safeguards, such as evaluations of their ability to receive a fair hearing, when they go through deportation hearings, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. While some individuals receive pro bono representation from legal services organizations or are able to pay a lawyer with family assistance, the vast majority will never be able to afford or find a lawyer, thus risking prolonged and possibly indefinite detention.


The report also shows that people with mental disabilities not only face arrest and deportation without safeguards, but are also routinely detained by ICE during the course of their hearings. Detention often becomes unduly prolonged when immigrants with mental disabilities are unable to speak on their own behalf, leading even court officials to recognize that the hearings cannot or should not proceed. In some cases, people have been detained for as long as 10 years without resolution of their cases.

So what happens when you combine a Kafkaesque process for detaining and deporting migrants with generally abysmal public systems for providing mental health services to the indigent?  Consider this story about Alberto B, a bi-polar man facing deportation to a country in which he has never lived and does not speal the language: 

Alberto B. was one-and-a-half years old when his family moved to the United States from Portugal in 1967. He became a legal permanent resident, or “green card” holder, and grew up in Massachusetts with his parents and siblings, some of whom became US citizens. Alberto has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental impairment that causes severe shifts in mood, energy, and ability to function. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, Alberto wrote: “I’ve been on psych meds since 2004, my guess. I finally turned myself in for help, FORGET MY PRIDE, I [knew] I had a problem. SINCE A very, very, young age…”

In 2008, Alberto spent 50 days in an in-patient psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts and was homeless after his release. Alberto claims that he lost his medication  ater that year, and was arrested for theft and trespassing a few days later. Alberto’s criminal defense lawyer did not raise his client’s mental competence in court.

Alberto agreed to a plea bargain, was released, and hopeful that a new attorney hired by his family would be able to vacate the criminal charges against him. But in February 2009, immigration officers arrested Alberto for deportation because of his outstanding criminal convictions, and sent him to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Harlingen, south Texas. Alberto had been held for approximately 11 months when a Human Rights Watch researcher met him. In a letter to us, he wrote:

[F]riends tell me just make a plea bargain with D.A. and get out of it. I didn’t know IT would add up to all of these [things]…being taking to Immigration Holding and brought all the way from mass to texas when I need my family’s moral support. Me needing my family moral support.

Alberto spent much of his time in detention in segregated medical housing due to his mental disability. He told Human Rights Watch that he has never seen the immigration charges against him, and has been unable to obtain his medical files. Despite several hearings in immigration court before his final hearing in December 2009, Alberto said he was never represented by a lawyer, even though he made repeated efforts to find one to represent him pro bono. “I’ve been to immigration court 5 times and I keep asking for time to get a lawyer,” he said. According to Alberto, the immigration court did not take his disabilities into account, even

though they may affect the underlying charges against him, and he told the judge that he had “a lot of mental issues.”4 At his final hearing in December, a judge ordered that Alberto be deported to Portugal, where he has no family and does not speak the language. “I have no idea what I will do there,” Alberto said. At time of writing, Alberto was still at Port Isabel, hoping his appeal would be granted.

The report is called Deportation by Default.

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John Kerry, Wikileaks Bellwether?

The reactions to the massive Wikileaks document dump will be fascinating to view during the next few days.  So far, the administration’s response is to condemn the leaks while also noting that most of the revealed documents stem from the Bush era.  Specifically, the White House advised reporters:

“The period of time covered in these documents (January 2004-December 2009) is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.”

One person to watch these next few days is John Kerry, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Kerry was initially supportive of the counter-insurgency strategy Obama laid out in his West Point speech nearly one year ago. But in recent weeks, Kerry has been cautiously expressing some doubts.  

Could the Wikileak document dump be a tipping point for the Massachusetts senator?  Consider his statement released hours after the documents went public:

“However illegally these documents came to light, they raise serious questions about the reality of America’s policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

Keep in mind that 1) Kerry put his name on a $5 billion aid package for Pakistan last year and 2) these documents seem to show that the Pakistani intelligence and military liaisons with the Taliban were rather extensive.  It seems to me that Kerry might be forced to act on these revelations.  Can we expect a wikileaks doc dump inspired hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sometime soon?  Stay tuned. 

UPDATE: Steve Clemons and Glen Kessler have more along these lines. 

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“Countdown to Zero”

The people who brought you An Inconvenient Truth have set their sites on nuclear terrorism. Countdown to Zero opens in theaters across the United States today. From David Corn’s review in Mother Jones:

Countdown to Zero is a splashy and distressing look at nuclear security and nonproliferation, packed with frightening accounts of uranium smuggling and assorted near-misses. In a jailhouse interview in Russia, a former uranium worker explains why he swiped nuclear material to sell: He needed money for a new fridge and stove. (He was caught only because he was hanging out with members of a car-battery-theft ring that got busted.) A former National Security Council staffer recalls attending a meeting with a colonel who told him not to worry so much about nuclear war, since it would only kill 500 million people. A onetime nuclear launch officer relates how he and another officer could have gamed the system to fire nuclear missiles on their own. Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione notes how easy it is to smuggle highly enriched uranium; hiding it in kitty litter works well. It’s the ultimate horror movie.

Check out the trailer and the film’s website


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Everyday is a Struggle for Darfur Refugees (Video)

Life is hard for Darfur’s refugees in eastern chad.  This disturbing video from the UN Refugee Agency shows how Darfuri refugees are coping with shortages of water and cooking fuel as they fight to survive in a harsh environment.


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