In a 200-page report released on Monday, the three-member panel estimated that some 40,000 civilians were killed in the civil war–the first UN estimate of the death toll.
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, said that he could not order an international investigation into the deaths but he has decreed an inquiry into United Nations’ actions during the conflict following criticism by the panel.
The UN panel was set up following a visit by Ban to Sri Lanka shortly after the end of the conflict.
Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from UN headquarters in New York, said that the report also criticised the UN “for failing to protect civilians” by reporting the death toll during the waning days of the war.
“If the UN had been forthcoming in providing death toll during the war, perhaps lives could have been saved,” Saloomey said.
She added that Ban was trying to use the report as a leverage against the Sri Lankan government, so that it would permit full-fledged investigation into the conflict, “but it appears that no deal was reached.”
Five myths about church and state in America
By David Sehat, Friday, April 22, 2:42 PM
Liberals claim that the founding fathers separated church and state, while conservatives argue that the founders made faith a foundation of our government. Both sides argue that America once enjoyed a freedom to worship that they seek to preserve. Yet neither side gets it right. As we mark Passover and Easter, let’s end some misconceptions about religion and politics in America.
1. The Constitution has always protected religious freedom.
Many Americans believe that the First Amendment’s separation of church and state safeguards religious liberty. But when the First Amendment was ratified in 1791, it did not apply to the states and would not until well into the 20th century. As a result, the First Amendment did not prevent states from paying churches out of the public treasury, as Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and South Carolina did when that amendment was written. And those states that did not fund churches still favored Christianity. Blasphemy was forbidden in Delaware in 1826, and officeholders in Pennsylvania had to swear that they believed in “the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments.”
American federalism gave states enormous power to regulate the health, welfare and morals of their citizens. Because many thought religion was the foundation of American society, they used their power to imprint their moral ideals on state constitutions and judicial opinions for much of American history. Even today, these laws linger on the books. I still can’t buy beer on Sundays in Atlanta.
2. The founders’ faith matters.
Christians who consider the founders saintly won’t have much luck backing that up. Thomas Jefferson wrote a version of the New Testament that removed references to Jesus’s divinity. Ben Franklin was a deist. And George Washington may not have taken Communion.
But whatever the founders’ religious beliefs were, the First Amendment merely preserved the church-and-state status quo. There had never been an official religion in the 13 colonies, and the new states favored different faiths. The South was traditionally Anglican but had a growing Methodist and Baptist population. New England was traditionally Congregationalist, but evangelicals moved there nonetheless. The middle colonies mixed Lutherans, Catholics (in Maryland), Presbyterians and Quakers. A small number of Jews lived in early America, as well.
So the framers punted the issue of religion to the states, promising only that the power of the federal government would not be used to advance, say, Congregationalist beliefs over Presbyterian ones. This was a pluralistic vision of sorts but one that still allowed states to declare official religions and grant privileges to specific denominations.
3. Christian conservatives
have only recently taken over politics.
Christian partisans mobilized early in U.S. history, seeking to impose an interdenominational — but still Christian and, more specifically, Protestant — moral order on the new nation.
Initially, Christians were more successful in exercising political and legal control at the state level. They passed blasphemy laws. They required Sabbath rest on Sundays. In Massachusetts, they mandated devotional exercises in public schools, a practice that spread to every state with public education.
In time, however, the faithful found a federal audience for moral reform with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919, a national experiment in prohibition. These moral campaigns anticipated many of the political disputes over religion that have emerged in recent decades, and they weren’t any less divisive than debates about the death penalty, abortion or gay marriage.
4. America is more secular
than it used to be.
The American Revolution was actually a low point in American religious adherence. Sociologists have shown that no more than 20 percent of the population in 1776 belonged to a church. Then, under the influence of evangelical expansion during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century, church membership grew rapidly until, by 1850, more than one-third of Americans belonged to a church. In 1890, after another round of Protestant evangelization and Catholic immigration from Ireland, Italy and elsewhere, the proportion rose to 45 percent. And in 1906, church members became a majority — 51 percent of the population.
The trend continues. In 2000, 62 percent of the populace belonged to religious institutions, if not specifically Christian churches. Evangelical Christians still lead this expansion, and their influence has become more pronounced, not less, over the past two centuries. The presidency of George W. Bush — the most evangelical commander in chief — testifies that Americans are becoming more religious, not less.
5. Liberals are anti-religious.
In 1947’s Everson v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court demanded a more thorough separation of church and state. States could no longer endorse specific religions, and prayer and Bible reading in schools and blasphemy laws went on the chopping block. This led religious conservatives to accuse the high court — as well as liberals in general — of, well, irreligion.
But liberals such as Justices Robert H. Jackson and William Brennan argued that they sought to honor the multiple religious traditions that had been repressed in the United States. They pointed out that Catholics had been made to recite the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments in public schools; that observant Jews labored at an economic disadvantage because they had to close their shop on the Sabbath; that Buddhists, who could not swear that they believed in God, were banned from office in several states; that Jehovah’s Witnesses were made to say the pledge of allegiance in violation of their religious beliefs; and that secular humanists could be drafted without regard to their conscientious objection.
Liberals on the court sought to do away with this heritage of official discrimination, but they did not seek to do away with religion. As Jackson wrote in 1952: “My evangelistic brethren confuse an objection to compulsion with an objection to religion. It is possible to hold a faith with enough confidence to believe that what should be rendered to God does not need to be decided and collected by Caesar.”
Amen to that.
David Sehat is an assistant professor of history at Georgia State University and the author of “The Myth of American Religious Freedom.” He will be online on Monday, April 25, at 11 a.m. ET to chat. Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.
By Una Galani
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.
DUBAI — Western powers have strongly condemned the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters, but they have so far refrained from anything more than tough talk. That might reflect doubts about the effectiveness of economic sanctions. But it also reveals the fears other countries have of political instability in Syria.
True, years of economic sanctions and isolation imposed on the country by the United States have failed to weaken the regime’s support for Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite movement in Lebanon, or shake Syria’s alliance with Iran. And many Syrians even believe that the sanctions backfired, fueling anti-Western sentiment.
Yet old tactics refreshed could be more effective now that support for the regime is waning. The United States could toughen up the sanctions it relaxed in recent years. And if Europe took similar action, the measures could have real bite. The continent accounted for 36 percent of Syria’s total exports and 29 percent of its imports in 2008, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The West also has the capacity to freeze funds and assets belonging to President Bashar al-Assad, his family, his inner circle and the cadre of top army or security services that form the regime’s backbone. After all, similar actions were taken in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
But the lack of prompt action by governments may at heart be a reflection of their fears of undermining a regime that, though repressive, has brought a degree of predictability to a country made up of various minority groups and religions. Rightly or wrongly, Syria is considered a stabilizing presence in the region, and the West may prefer the devil they know. Assad has kept the bizarre status quo with Israel originated by his father — a state of war without combat. He has supported the Turkish government’s intransigence toward Kurdish demands for statehood. Finally Syria is counted upon to make the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as smooth as can be.
Sanctions would also risk compromising increasingly valuable economic ties. Syria last year agreed to establish a free trade zone with Turkey — a NATO member and candidate to join the European Union — as well as Jordan and Lebanon. Bilateral trade between Syria and Turkey alone reached $2.5 billion in 2010, up 43 percent from the previous year, according to Turkey’s statistics agency TurkStat. With so much at stake, it’s no wonder no one is rushing to sanction Syria.
There have been resounding murmurs of these facts for years. It is utterly shameful for our country to hold these innocent men without charges being brought against them. Either find the facts tying them to acts of terror AND charge AND try them or let them go.
The United States released dozens of so-called “high-risk” detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison facility and held more than 150 innocent men for years, according to new reports about a trove of leaked military documents.
The more than 700 classified military files, part of a massive cache of secret documents leaked to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, were made available to select US and European media outlets and made public on Sunday.
It was not clear if the media outlets published the documents with the consent of WikiLeaks – and it was not immediately possible to independently verify all of the leaked documents.
The files are reported to reveal new information about some of the men held at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including details of the more than 700 detainee interrogations and evidence the US had collected against the “terror” suspects.
The files – called Detainee Assessment Briefs or DABs – describe the security intelligence value of the detainees and whether they would be a threat to the US and its allies if released.
IF Obama was sincere and wishes to be consistent about foreign intervention the United States and its allies must move swiftly against the violence Syrian regime.
Syrian troops backed by tanks and heavy armour have stormed the southern town of Deraa and also Douma, a suburb of the capital Damascus, resulting in many deaths and dozens of arrests.
Security forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the country’s president, have also continued a crackdown in the coastal town of Jableh for a second day.
An activist late on Monday that 18 people had been killed in Deraa alone.
Al Jazeera’s Rula Amin, reporting from Damascus, said the troop deployment was an “unprecedented” offensive against the wave of dissent that has swept the country since the uprising began on March 15.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was unhurt in a NATO airstrike on his Bab al-Aziziyah compound early on Monday that left three people dead, a government spokesman said, calling it an assassination attempt.
Spokesman Mussa Ibrahim said it appeared to have been an attempt on Gaddafi’s life, but those who died were office workers and security guards while 45 people were wounded. He said the building housed political offices. “How is this act of terrorism protecting civilians in Libya?” he said to visiting journalists at the compound, where books spilled from an office into twisted metal and crumbled concrete. “This is a cowardly attempt to pursue one person.” (Reuters)
As the countdown begins for the scheduled Friday launch of space shuttle Endeavour, Cmdr. Mark Kelly, along with his twin brother and fellow astronaut, Scott Kelly, sat down for his last interview before the big day, with “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric.
Mark Kelly spoke at length about his wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head during a public forum in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8.
During the interview, Couric said to Kelly, “Earlier this month, it was announced that Gabby, your wife, may be able to attend the shuttle launch. Have you gotten any word on whether Gabby will, in fact, be able to attend the launch?
He responded, “Yes — I’ve met with her — her doctors, her neurosurgeon and her doctors. And they’ve given us permission to take her down to the launch.”
Couric said, “Wow.”
Kelly replied, “I’m excited about that, yes.”
“I’ll bet you are,” Couric said. “What was her reaction when she got the final go-ahead?”
“I think she said, ‘Awesome,’ and she pumped her fist one more time!” Kelly said.
WASHINGTON: The US government is preparing sanctions against senior officials in the entourage of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who are overseeing a violent crackdown against protesters in the country, The Wall Street Journal reported late Sunday.
Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper said the administration of Barack Obama was drafting an executive order empowering the US president to freeze the assets of these officials and ban them from any business dealings in the United States.
The report came as Syrian security forces shot dead four people and made arrests across Syria on Sunday.
At least 120 people were killed in the two-day crackdown, the Committee of the Martyrs of the 15 March Revolution said.
It issued an updated list of names of 95 people it said were killed on Friday in massive protests which swept across Syria. And the death toll for Saturday has risen to 25 people killed by gunfire, it said.
Unilateral sanctions by Washington on Syrian officials wouldn’t have much direct impact on Assad’s inner circle, as most regime members have few holdings in the United States, the Journal said.
But countries in Europe, where the Assads are believed to have more substantial assets, will be pressured to follow Washington’s lead, according to the report.
The legal order is expected to be completed by the US Treasury Department in the coming weeks, the paper said.