Obama’s foreign policy: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’

US President Obama has normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba and concluded a nuclear agreement with Iran. Is engaging adversaries the new normal in Washington? Spencer Kimball reports.

It was a surprisingly candid admission for a sitting American president: The US has, in fact, done wrong to other nations.

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” President Obama told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, hours after a historic nuclear deal was concluded with Tehran.

Obama was referencing the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democratic leader who nationalized Iran’s oil industry, ending decades of British control. But the president’s history lesson didn’t end there.

“We have had (sic) in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so, as a consequence, they have their own security concerns, their own narrative,” the president said.

The Reagan administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Iraqi dictator in 1980s, providing intelligence that facilitated Iraq’s invasion of Iran. This part of the historical record is rarely brought up in the US domestic discourse on Iran and the Middle East.

Instead, the US tends to focus on their own grievances: The 52 Americans held hostage during the Islamic revolution, the antagonism toward Israel and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some Iranian leaders.

But it’s not just Iran. For decades, the United States faced off with another revolutionary regime – the communist government in Cuba. This summer, things have changed. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic promise to end two long-standing international confrontations.

“A willingness to empathize – not sympathize, but to empathize, to see ourselves as other countries see us – is a sea change in US attitude,” Philip Brenner, an expert on US foreign policy and Cuba at American University, told DW.

“It’s very hard for us to do it, because we’re so large and others countries are so small,” Brenner said. “We have a capacity to affect them much more than they can affect us.”

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European court finds Poland complicit in torture at CIA secret prison

(By Deutsche Welle) Poland enabled human rights violations by allowing the CIA to run a secret prison on its territory, according to a European court ruling. Warsaw has been ordered to pay two suspected former al Qaeda operatives damages.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Thursday that the Polish government was complicit in human rights abuses carried out by CIA operatives at a so-called “black site,” shedding further light on a network of secret prisons built by the US in Eastern and Central Europe after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

According to the court, Poland’s government allowed the CIA to operate a secret prison, where two suspected al Qaeda operatives were subjected to torture among other rights violations. The black site was located on a Polish military facility in a village called Stare Kiejkuty, located 180 kilometers (111 miles) north of Warsaw.

Suspected al Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Zayn Al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn – also known as Abu Zubaydah – brought the case against Poland, accusing Warsaw of aiding and abetting in their rendition and mistreatment in 2002-2003. They are currently being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Although the judges said that “it was unlikely that the Polish officials had witnessed or known exactly what happened inside this facility,” they had enabled the CIA to commit human rights abuses by allowing the facility to operate, making them culpable.

“For all practical purposes, Poland had facilitated the whole process, had created the conditions for it to happen and had made no attempt to prevent it from occurring,” the court wrote in its ruling.

According to Crofton Black, who has been investigating the CIA’s now closed secret prisons in Europe, Thursday’s ruling makes attempts by the Polish government to whitewash its involvement look increasingly “ridiculous.”

“It’s the first time there’s been a ruling by any court on the CIA’s black sites in Europe, and it confirms what we and other legal organizations have been saying for years, which is the evidence that such sites existed and suspects were tortured in them is overwhelming,” Black, who works for the advocacy group Reprieve, told DW.

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Washington fuelling graft in Afghanistan

(By Deutsche Welle) Washington has long maligned Kabul for being weak on corruption. But the Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly been buying access to President Hamid Karzai’s inner circle for a decade.

The United States and its NATO allies have complained for years about rampant corruption in Afghanistan, voicing frustration with President Karzai’s inability – or perhaps unwillingness – to fight graft and improve the rule of law.

But according to a report published by the New York Times on Monday, Washington may be one of the biggest contributors to that very corruption. The Central Intelligence Agency has reportedly been dropping off suitcases stuffed full of American dollars at the office of the Afghan president for years, in an effort to buy influence in Kabul.

The British Guardian reported on Tuesday that the United Kingdom’s MI6 also may have made cash payments to Karzai’s office, in an effort to promote meetings between the Taliban and the Karzai government.

The alleged CIA bribes have supposedly amounted to tens of millions of dollars over the past decade. Much of the money was reportedly distributed to warlords and politicians, in an effort to buy their loyalty.

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Petraeus scandal shakes Washington

(By Deutsche Welle) The US national security establishment has been shaken by a sex scandal involving David Petraeus. Respected for his role in the Afghan and Iraq wars, the former general may have become a casualty of his own power.

Just days after Petraeus resigned his post as CIA director over an affair with his biographer, General John Allen’s nomination to lead US European Command has been delayed over his alleged connections to a woman at the center of the scandal.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement to reporters saying that Allen’s nomination had been delayed over alleged inappropriate communication with Jill Kelley, the woman who initiated an FBI investigation that ultimately led to the uncovering of Petraeus’ extramarital affair. A Pentagon official said the FBI had uncovered more than 20,000 pages of correspondence between Allen and Kelley, according to the Reuters and AFP news agencies.

Petraeus resigned his position as director of the Central Intelligence Agency last Friday, after National Intelligence Director James Clapper informed the White House of the general’s affair with Paula Broadwell, author of the 2012 Petraeus profile called “All In.”

Kelley had told an FBI friend that she was receiving harassing emails from an anonymous person, who accused her of pursuing Petraeus romantically. As a volunteer who helps military families in Tampa, Florida, Kelley and her husband befriended Petraeus during his tenure as the head of US Central Command, which is based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Kelley’s FBI friend helped initiate a federal inquiry, which ultimately linked the emails to Broadwell. After obtaining access to Broadwell’s email account, investigators concluded she was having an affair with Petraeus, after they discovered sexual explicit correspondence with the general. Although investigators later found that no crime had been committed, there has been concern on Capitol Hill that the scandal could have somehow compromised classified information.

The scandal comes as the CIA, Defense Department and White House have come under growing scrutiny for the handling of the response to the September 11, 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in that attack.

Petraeus, widely regarded as one of the most respected public servants in the US, was scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday regarding the role the CIA played in the response to the consulate attack. Allen’s nomination to lead the US European Command and become the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe was also originally scheduled to go before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

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