US panel seeks accountability after Benghazi attacks

Updated 06 December 2012

US panel seeks accountability after Benghazi attacks

WASHINGTON: After a car bomb struck the US ambassador's residence in Lima in 1992, the State Department convened a special panel to answer the same questions now hovering over a review of the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya: How much security is enough? What is the right role for U.S. diplomats?
The Lima panel, known as an Accountability Review Board, issued a final report "that didn't find anybody had been delinquent," former U.S. Ambassador to Peru Anthony Quainton said. That report was never made public.
Whether the report by the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, expected to be completed in mid-December, comes to the same conclusion, could affect the arc of a controversy that has seen the Obama White House subjected to withering criticism over security arrangements in Libya and the administration's shifting explanations of the violence.
The attacks on the diplomatic mission and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, in eastern Libya, killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, and raised questions about the adequacy of security in far-flung posts.
The panel, led by veteran diplomatic heavyweight Thomas Pickering, is expected to consider whether enough attention was given to potential threats and how Washington responded to security requests from U.S. diplomats in Libya.
A determination that top State Department officials turned down those requests, as Republican congressional investigators allege, could refuel criticism - and possibly even end some officials' careers.
Also in the balance, is the future of funding for embassy security and a policy known as "expeditionary diplomacy," under which envoys are deployed to conflict zones more often than in the past.
Central questions raised after the Benghazi attack include why the ambassador was in such an unstable part of Libya on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The board, which meets at the State Department, could determine whether security was at fault or whether Stevens and the State Department emphasized building ties with the local community at the expense of security concerns in a hostile zone.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has pledged to make some of the report's findings public.
NO. 19
Benghazi is the 19th accountability review board convened by the State Department since 1988 to investigate attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities. Until now, only the report on the deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania has been made public.
Attacks in Pakistan and Iraq triggered the most review boards - three each - followed by Saudi Arabia with two.
The five-person independent board usually includes retired ambassadors, a former CIA officer and a member of the private sector. It has the power to issue subpoenas, and members are required to have appropriate security clearances to review classified information.
"The board is meeting and is hard at work. We have decided to keep the deliberations confidential to preserve the integrity and objectivity of the board's work, in accordance with the statute providing for its activity," Pickering said in a statement.
ARBs, as they are known, are not expected to take cookie-cutter approaches but to review issues specific to each diplomatic post.
"In the case of Lima, the issue that arose above other issues was what was the purpose of the attack? I guess this is also a Benghazi question," Quainton said.
"Was it an attempt to assassinate the ambassador or was it an attack on one of the official symbols of U.S. power? These are partly intelligence questions," he said.
Quainton added that he "happily was some distance away" at the time of the Lima attack, which killed three Peruvian policemen. Stevens, by contrast, was in the lightly defended Benghazi post, separated from his security men, and died of apparent smoke inhalation.
The Africa accountability boards did not single out any U.S. government employee as culpable, but found "an institutional failure of the Department of State and embassies under its direction to recognize threats posed by transnational terrorism and vehicle bombs worldwide."
The report recommended improving security and crisis management systems and procedures.
Philip Wilcox, a member of the Nairobi board, said the State Department took its recommendations to heart.
"Security is never something that can be absolutely achieved. And to provide absolute security for American embassies and American diplomats abroad would be to shut down our overseas operations," said Wilcox, now president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.
"There is no way to enable diplomats to do their work, to meet with foreign officials, foreign citizens, to move around the country, with total security," he said.
Lawmakers and administration officials have praised Stevens for being the type of diplomat who ventured out to meet with Libyans of all walks of life.

The job, diplomats say, is always a balancing act between trying to forge local ties and heeding security concerns.
One former U.S. diplomat, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said the underlying concept of accountability review boards from the beginning was a belief that it had to be somebody's fault and to assign blame.
But Wilcox sees value in the process.
"As a result of the accountability review board that I served on, more money was appropriated, and a great many steps were taken to fulfill the recommendations in the report," he said. "So it's not true these are vain, useless exercises."


Kashmiris slam Indian PM’s new domicile law for region as ‘obnoxious, insulting’

Updated 58 min 15 sec ago

Kashmiris slam Indian PM’s new domicile law for region as ‘obnoxious, insulting’

  • Modi announcement follows Delhi’s scrapping of Article 370

DELHI: A controversial decision by the Indian government to redefine domicile rules for people living in the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory was on Thursday branded as “obnoxious” and “insulting.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday introduced a new set of laws giving domicile rights to non-Kashmiri Indians, a move which analysts claim was aimed at altering the demographic character of India’s only Muslim-majority region.

Critics also slammed the timing of the decision when India was in the midst of tackling the “monumental” coronavirus health crisis.

Under the legislation, which comes into effect from Wednesday, any individual who has resided in Indian-administered Kashmir for 15 years will be eligible for domicile certification. Permanent residency rights will also apply to students who have studied in Kashmir for seven years and appeared in secondary or higher secondary examinations in schools located in the territory.

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs said that central government employees who had worked in the state for 10 years would be eligible too for the domicile status.

Modi’s announcement comes eight months after New Delhi scrapped Article 370 of the constitution that gave Indian-administered Kashmir special constitutional status and exclusive land and job rights to locals.

New Delhi also divided the state into two federally administered units — the union territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir — which gave local legislators very limited political roles and power. The region has been in lockdown since August last year with 3G and 4G internet services still suspended in the valley.

Harsh Dev Singh of the Jammu-based National Panthers Party (NPP) told Arab News: “It is an obnoxious piece of superimposed law. It’s a robbery committed on the youth of people by opening the jobs in Kashmir for outsiders. We will all oppose this move.”

The opposition Congress Party described the new ruling as a “betrayal of the trust of the people.”

Jammu-based Congress leader, Ravinder Sharma, said: “When the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) removed Article 370 it promised that the rights and jobs of the people of Jammu and Kashmir would be protected but now by bringing in new  domicile laws New Delhi has again insulted the people of the region.”

In a tweet on Wednesday, the region’s former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, said: “Talk about suspect timing. At a time when all our efforts and attention should be focused on the COVID-19 outbreak the government slips in a new domicile law for J&K (Jammu and Kashmir).

“Insult is heaped on injury when we see the law offers none of the protections promised.”

Kashmir’s newly formed Apni political party also condemned the move calling it an “attempt to hoodwink the people.”

Mehbooba Mufti, the detained former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, said the decision would create a “massive problem” for the region.

“The Indian government tries to manipulate a law that provides guarantees to Kashmiris. It is only further alienating people, by depriving them of their constitutional rights,” she tweeted on Wednesday.

However, the BJP said that the new law was the natural corollary to the removal of Article 370.

“What is wrong with the new domicile law? If the people of Kashmir can go to other parts of India to seek jobs and residence, why should the same rights not be extended to the people of mainstream India?” said Srinagar-based BJP leader, Dr. Hina Bhat.

“Those who welcomed the removal of Article 370 will understand the significance of the new domicile law. Those who say that the demography of the region will change are indulging in propaganda.”

Political analyst and constitutional expert, Subhash Chander Gupta, questioned the current need for change and what purpose it would serve.

“It’s not a wise political move and the domicile law attacks the identity of Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP is not demonstrating any foresight and vision in effecting such kind of change. It will not bring any development. It serves the BJP’s political agenda,” said Gupta.

Another political analyst, and former Indian air vice marshal, Kapil Kak, said: “There is a stealthy approach to what is being attempted in Kashmir. At a time when a monumental health crisis is hitting India, New Delhi has time to indulge in the humiliation of the people of the region,” he told Arab News.

“There is a mala fide intention and the intention is the violation of the Indian constitution. The fear of the people of the valley is justified that these are attempts to alter the demographic balance of Kashmir,” added Kak, who has challenged the abrogation of Article 370 in the Supreme Court.

Prof. Sheikh Showkat of the University of Kashmir, in Srinagar, said: “The domicile law is meant to alter the demographic profile of Kashmir. The political statements of the BJP’s paternal organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) say clearly that the only way to resolve the Kashmir dispute is by changing its demography.

“The series of missteps and the humiliation that New Delhi is heaping on the people of Kashmir are piling up; it might burst in time to come,” he added.