US claims authority to kill American-born terrorists without trial

(By Deutsche Welle) After a two-year manhunt, the Obama administration ordered the targeted killing of Islamic extremist Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen. The case has ignited a debate over the reach of constitutional protections.

As part of its on-going global campaign to wipe out the leadership of the terrorist group al Qaeda, the United States has targeted and killed an American citizen via drone strike for the first time in the politically volatile Arab nation of Yemen.

The man targeted for death, Anwar al-Awlaki, was accused of both inciting and planning a series of attacks against the United States in recent years. As a Muslim cleric infamous for violent anti-American rhetoric, Awlaki allegedly inspired the Fort Hood massacre in 2009 as well as the failed attempt to detonate a truck bomb in New York’s Times Square in 2010. And he reportedly played a direct role in planning the aborted attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane two Christmases ago.

A second American citizen, Samir Khan, was also killed in the drone strike. Khan, who grew up in Queens, New York and lived for a time in North Carolina, was the editor of al Qaeda’s English-language online magazine Inspire.

Although US President Barack Obama did not mention Awlaki’s citizenship during his public statement hailing last Friday’s drone strike as a victory, the president stated that the New Mexican native was the head of “external operations” for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), thereby making him a legitimate target for elimination.

“The death of Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates,” President Obama said during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen.

But civil libertarians and constitutional experts have sharply criticized the Obama administration for denying Awlaki due process rights guaranteed to citizens under the 5th amendment of the United States’ Constitution.

“Absent that kind of a hearing it is unprecedented and illegal to simply assassinate a human being in that way, a US citizen,” Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Deutsche Welle.

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Little sign of progress on US debt deal

(By Deutsche Welle) Negotiations in Washington to raise the nation’s debt limit have faltered on the partisan political divide. Credit rating agencies and Asian countries have warned the US to adopt responsible fiscal policies.

Republicans and Democrats have reached an impasse in an escalating ideological battle over raising the US debt ceiling, with the rating agency Moody’s threatening to downgrade Washington’s credit worthiness if the two sides fail to find a compromise by August 2 – a move that could destabilize the global economy.

“It’s the foundation of our financial system,” US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said during a recent congressional hearing. “The notion that it would become suddenly unreliable and illiquid would throw shock waves through the entire global financial system.”

Tax increases versus spending cuts

Both political parties agree in principle that the US must increase its $14.29 trillion (9.8 trillion euros) debt ceiling in order to continue paying its bills and avoid a short-term default on its financial obligations. Negotiations, however, have reached a stalemate due to a partisan divide over the appropriate balance between taxes and spending cuts.

Republicans have preconditioned any debt limit increase on parallel cuts in spending while at the same time rejecting tax increases across the board. Democrats, meanwhile, have been reluctant to make cuts in social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid that could alienate their electoral base, proposing instead to raise taxes on wealthier Americans.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama appeared on track to bridge the divide through a “grand bargain” that would have included a $3 trillion reduction in spending and $1 trillion in tax increases. Rank-and-file Republicans led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, however, rejected the deal due to the tax hikes.

In lieu of the politically risky “grand bargain,” Cantor reportedly called for a short-term solution rooted in spending cuts. Cantor’s proposal prompted Obama to dig in his heels against Republican demands in what has become a volatile game of political brinkmanship.

“The problem is that there is no party discipline,” Josef Braml, an expert on American politics at the German Council on Foreign Relations, told Deutsche Welle.

“Obama can’t get his liberals on board. On the other side, it’s difficult for Republicans to get the Tea Party guys involved because they would commit electoral suicide if they agreed to tax increases.”

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Growing US war-weariness defies traditional partisan divide

(By Deutsche Welle) Conservatives and progressives in the US have become odd bedfellows as they begin to question America’s costly military interventions in the Muslim world. But Congress remains unlikely to force an end to the conflicts.

For 10 years, the United States has waged war in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq without a conclusive victory. The military interventions in Central Asia and the Middle East have cost America nearly $4 trillion (2.8 trillion euros) and the lives of over 6,000 troops. Around 225,000 people have died directly from the wars, according to a recent study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The high cost and low return on these conflicts has worn down the political will among many members of Congress who represent an increasingly war-weary public. In May, a congressional resolution calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan narrowly failed in the House of Representatives in a 204 – 215 vote.

The House also recently refused to authorize President Obama’s intervention in Libya for one year, although representatives shied away from defunding the operation. The vote was the first such congressional rebuff of a president since the House refused to authorize the military action in Kosovo in 1999.

And for the first time since the Vietnam War, the US Conference of Mayors – which represents more than 1,000 cities with populations over 30,000 – passed a resolution calling on Washington to “end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring war dollars home to meet vital human needs.”

A war skepticism originally anchored in the respective poles of the American political spectrum is increasingly gaining ground in the moderate center.

“Support for the war is strongest in the middle and weakest on either extreme,” Stephen Biddle, an expert on US national security policy with the Council on Foreign Relatins, told Deutsche Welle.

“Left-wing Democrats are strongly against the war and so are right-wing Republicans. What’s taking shape is a left-right coalition against the center on the war.”

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US, Europe struggle to redefine partnership in a changing world

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama has called on America and Europe to renew their flagging global leadership. But the Atlantic partners first must redefine their relationship in the face of Arab uprisings and Asian strength.

In his address to the British Parliament, Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to take on a global leadership role by setting a democratic example to the rest of the world, even as the decade-long war in Afghanistan grinds on and a stubborn financial crisis worries both sides of the Atlantic.

Obama’s speech on Wednesday, the first by an American president in London’s 900-year-old Westminster Hall, was the keynote address of a European tour that led him from Ireland to Poland in a bid to inspire a renewed sense of purpose in a Western world demoralized by a wrenching start to the new millennium.

The trans-Atlantic partnership has survived the 10-year crisis that began with the September 11 attacks and ended with the near collapse of the global financial system. As a new decade dawns, Europe and the US are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their historic partnership is changing in response to revolts in the Arab world and stunning economic growth in Asia.

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Iraq contemplates US troop presence beyond withdrawal deadline

(By Deutsche Welle) Both Washington and Baghdad are hinting at the continued deployment of American troops in Iraq beyond the December withdrawal deadline. Eight years after the invasion, foreign troops may still be necessary for stability.

After battling a bloody insurgency for years, the United States is set to turn the page on the Iraq War and withdraw its remaining 45,000 troops by December, 2011. The withdrawal from Iraq is part of US President Barack Obama’s stated strategy of refocusing American military power on the fight against al Qaeda on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

But as the officially fixed deadline nears, political leaders in both Washington and Baghdad are equivocating on whether or not a full withdrawal should actually occur. The US has placed growing pressure on the Iraqi government to decide whether or not they want a residual American troop presence to remain in the country beyond 2011 to ensure security.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who oversaw the 2007 surge of US troops credited with stabilizing Iraq, has signaled to Baghdad that Washington would be willing to support a continued military presence in the country.

“We are open to that possibility,” Gates said during a surprise visit to Iraq in April. “But they have to ask and time is running out.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while claiming that Iraqi forces can maintain internal stability, has also called for stronger military ties with Washington and has stated that he will leave the question of a US troop presence up to the Iraqi parliament.

Over the course of the past eight years, the United States has become deeply embedded in Iraqi society, acting as a critical mediator between the country’s fractious religious and ethnic groups. Although domestic pressure in the US and Iraq forced both sides to agree on the December deadline, political realities on the ground may demand a continued American military presence.

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Iraq syndrome haunts Obama Administration in Libya

(By Deutsche Welle) Burdened with Iraq and Afghanistan, US President Obama clearly limited the Libyan operation. But as the ground war drags on, Washington may come under growing pressure for a military escalation to break the stalemate.

From the outset of the intervention in Libya, US President Barack Obama called for a limited American military involvement aimed at protecting civilians. NATO allies, particularly Britain and France, would take the leadership role.

However, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi remains in power and the civil war rages on, despite more than a month of allied airstrikes targeting his forces. Pressure has mounted for a military escalation as diplomats have shuffled between London, Doha, Paris and Berlin in search of a Libyan endgame.

As Britain and France argue with NATO over the intensity of the airstrikes, the Obama administration has largely taken a back seat and deferred to its divided European partners. After a decade of war, Washington has lost its enthusiasm for intervening militarily in the Muslim world.

But with the rebels and Gadhafi loyalists currently in a stalemate on the ground, Washington may come under growing pressure to launch a military escalation designed to bring the conflict to a decisive close.

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US government shutdown could rattle fragile economy

(By Deutsche Welle) If the US House of Representatives fails to reach a compromise over budget cuts, the federal government will go unfunded and partially shutdown. A shutdown could shake global confidence in the fragile American economy.

Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives continued to lock horns over America’s budget deficit on Friday with a shutdown of the US government looming should the two sides prove unable to reach a compromise by midnight.

Republicans, buoyed by the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement, have called for drastic budget cuts over the next decade in order to reign in Washington’s ballooning debt. For the current fiscal year, Republicans are seeking some $40 billion (27 billion euros) in budget cuts.

Meanwhile, Democrats countered the Republican demand with $33 billion in reductions, arguing that deeper cuts could send America’s fragile economy into a tailspin just as it begins to work its way out of the worst crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

President Obama met with Republican leader John Boehner and Democratic leader Harry Reid for emergency negotiations earlier this week. Although both sides of the political aisle said progress had been made toward compromise, a solution is outstanding.

“The only question is whether politics or ideology is going to get in the way of preventing a government shutdown,” Obama said in an unscheduled appearance in the White House press briefing room.

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Egyptian military’s uncertain role could decide Mubarak’s fate

(By Deutsche Welle) President Hosni Mubarak deployed the military to intimidate protestors. But it remains unclear whether the military will side with the regime or the uprising. Will Washington use its influence in Cairo to tip the scale?

As the protests in Egypt begin to look increasingly like a revolution, President Hosni Mubarak’s government has deployed the military to Cairo in a bid to intimidate a population now calling for his resignation. Where the military’s loyalty really lies is an open question that could decide the fate of Mubarak’s regime.

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama has called for calm and asked for the demands of the protestors to be addressed. Yet Egypt is one of the largest recipients of US military aid, second only to Israel. The Egyptian security apparatus is bankrolled by Washington to an annual sum of $1.3 billion (0.9 billion euros).

At least 38 Egyptians have already lost their lives in the violence. In response, the Obama administration has announced that future military aid to Cairo will be subject to how Mubarak’s regime treats the protestors. Will Washington use its influence to push Mubarak toward greater concessions?

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Obama unlikely to close Guantanamo as ‘War on Terror’ continues

(By Deutsche Welle) The politics of war and terrorism have put President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo on hold. In America, the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists remains an accepted cost of waging a global war.

Just two days into his first term, US President Barack Obama ordered the Guantanamo Bay detention camp to be closed. However, his initial earnestness has given way to a painstaking implementation process fraught by the politics of war and terrorism.

Last December, Congress blocked funding to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo. The move came a month after the surprisingly narrow conviction of Ahmed Ghailani for his role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. Ghailani’s controversial trial raised concern about the unpredictability of prosecuting terrorism suspects in civilian courts.

This politically charged environment has stalled the closure of the Guantanamo camp by a year. Although President Obama came to power promising to end what he called “a sad chapter in American history,” it appears that this chapter is still being written. Indefinitely detaining suspected terrorists without trial, a policy developed during the Bush administration, remains an accepted cost of waging a global war.

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US truce with International Criminal Court paves way for cooperation

(By Deutsche Welle) After years of open hostility, the US and the International Criminal Court have agreed to an uneasy truce. Can the only military superpower forge a partnership with the world’s most ambitious war crimes tribunal?

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the United States severed its already strained ties with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. In spite of the critical role Washington played in prosecuting crimes against humanity during the 1990s, America’s political establishment harbored a bipartisan suspicion of the ICC.

Under President Barack Obama, the US has dropped its outright hostility toward the world’s first permanent war crimes court and is re-evaluating its confrontational stance. Washington is now seeking a sort of strategic partnership with the Court – rooted in the pursuit of common interests. However, even as relations warm, the prospects of US membership are slim.

The ICC meanwhile soberly continues its task of prosecuting widely condemned war criminals. The next major trial begins on November 22 against Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s former vice-president.

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