Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gates Calls for Mideast Reform, Recaps Message to NATO

By Karen Parrish 
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 12, 2011 - En route to Washington after leaving Bahrain today, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said while Bahrain's rulers are serious about coming to terms with the opposition, governments across the region must understand that reforms must come, and quickly.
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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates walks with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa after their discussions at Safriyah Palace in Bahrain, March 12, 2011. DOD photo by Cherie Cullen 
"In this instance, time is not our friend. Under the circumstances and with the ... political and economic grievances across the region, baby steps [are] not sufficient," he said. "Real reform [is] necessary."
Flying stateside after a weeklong series of visits to Afghanistan, Germany, Belgium and Bahrain, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates offered reporters traveling with him his perspective on a week that also witnessed horrific damage to Japan following an earthquake and tsunami.
The secretary said he had good conversations while in Bahrain with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Gates said he is confident they are ready to engage in meaningful discussions with the opposition and establish necessary reforms.
"I am convinced they both are serious about real reform," the secretary said. "I think that the concern now is that it's important that they have somebody to talk to, and that the opposition be willing to sit down with the government and carry this process forward."
Given Bahraini rulers' willingness to engage with the opposition, Gates said, he believes they can serve as a model for the entire region. The challenge for Middle East and North African governments faced with civil unrest in recent months, he said, is to maintain stability and continuity while instituting positive reforms.
Gates said he told Bahrain's king and crown prince that citizens' desire for governmental change and reform across the region was real and irreversible.
"That across the region, I did not believe there could be a return to the status quo ante. That there was change; and it could be led, or it could be imposed," Gates said he told the Bahraini leaders.
Governments leading reform and being responsive, Gates said, is what the United States would like to see in the region.
Gates said the meetings in Bahrain included much talk of Iran.
"We [have] no evidence that Iran started any of these popular revolutions, or demonstrations," the secretary said. What is clear, he added, is that Iran will exploit any opportunities popular unrest offers.
In a media session following his meetings with Gates, the crown prince was vocal about the need for opposing parties to seek common ground.
"There is ... [a] point of view in the country that a significant portion of the electoral base feels that their voice is unheard, and they want the respect due to them," the crown prince said.
"At the end of the day," he added, "we are all going to have to live in the same country together and talk to one another."
Gates said he sees no threat to the security of the Navy's 5th Fleet based in Manama, Bahrain, or to other U.S. assets, but noted the U.S. has the capacity to respond as needed to events in the region.
"One of the issues under discussion with respect to Libya, obviously, is a no-fly zone," he said.
While that would involve considerable resources, the secretary said, "If we are directed to impose a no-fly zone, we have the resources to do it."
The question is not whether the United States and its allies have the ability to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, Gates said.
"The question is whether it's a wise thing to do," the secretary said. "That's the discussion that's going on at a political level."

Turning to the recent earthquake and tsunami natural disasters in Japan, the secretary said the United States has ships and helicopters in and converging on the area to offer any rescue, humanitarian or disaster relief assistance Japan requests.
"We're working very closely with the government of Japan and with our embassy, and we'll be responsive," Gates said.
Asked about remarks he made yesterday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, urging International Security Assistance Force contributing nations to maintain their commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, Gates said he had tried to send a clear message.
The secretary said his comments were intended to prevent "a stampede for the exits, using whatever drawdowns we begin with in July as a pretext."
Gates said his message to NATO was cautionary.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves here," he said. "We've still got to [get to] 2014, and we've still got a lot of work to do."
Robert M. Gates
Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels With Gates 
State Department Background Note on Bahrain 
NATO International Security Assistance Force
Related Articles:
Gates Visits Bahrain to Urge Reform Dialogue 
Gates Sees 'Very Encouraging' Progress in Afghanistan

Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with the Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Hamad al-Khalifa at Riffa Palace in Bahrain, March 12, 2011.

DOD photo by Cherie Cullen 

Arlington Burial Planned for Last 'Doughboy'

By Jim Garamone 
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 - America will pay its respects to its last World War I veteran March 15, as former Army Cpl. Frank Buckles is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, left, talks with Frank Buckles, then age 107, the last known U.S. World War I veteran, during a Pentagon ceremony March 6, 2008. Buckles was honored during the ceremony, which included the unveiling an exhibit of veterans' portraits by photographer David DeJonge. DOD photo by R.D. Ward 
Buckles -- the last of the more than 5 million Americans who served during World War I and were known as "doughboys" -- died Feb. 22 at his home in West Virginia. He was 110.
He will lie in honor at Arlington's Memorial Amphitheater Chapel from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 15 for the public to pay its last respects. The interment will be at 4 p.m., and the corporal will be buried near the site where General of the Armies John "Black Jack" Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, is buried.
The Pentagon Channel will carry the service.
Buckles was born in Missouri in 1901. He enlisted in the Army in 1917, shortly after the United States declared war on Germany and its allies. He served as an ambulance driver on the Western Front.
In 1941, Buckles was in the Philippines, working in Manila, when Japan invaded the island nation. The Japanese captured him and confined him at the Los Banos prison with 2,200 other American civilians. U.S. forces liberated the camp in 1945.
President Barack Obama has ordered that U.S. flags be flown at half staff in Buckles' honor March 15.
Two men in Great Britain are believed to be World War I's last living veterans. Both are 110 years old.
Related Sites:
Photo Essay: World War I Exhibit Unveiled 

Related Articles: Last American WWI Veteran Dies 
World War I Vet Welcomes Celebrity of His Generation
Pentagon Honors WWI Veteran, Unveils Exhibit 

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Cpl. Frank Buckles, shortly after he arrived in Winchester, England, on his way to France in 1917. U.S. Army photo 

Release Prisoner of Conscience--Amnesty International

Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 11:16 PM
London : Amnesty International today called on Cuban authorities to release an activist on hunger strike who was detained for his human rights work three months ago and faces trial at the end of March. 
Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina, the president and co-founder of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy, was arrested last December in relation to a meeting he organized at his home in August 2010 and for anti-government banners he displayed outside his home. 

Néstor, his brother Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and three other members of the Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy - Enyor Díaz Allen, Roberto González Pelegrín and Francisco Manzanet - have been charged with public order offenses relating to an attack on his home by a mob opposed to the meeting.  The five men were arrested in August 2010 and released the following month. Only Rodriguez Lobaina was arrested again. 

“Néstor Rodríguez Lobaina has spent more than three months in prison for expressing his opinions, defending democracy and promoting human rights in Cuba. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience jailed solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and is calling on the Cuban authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, or bear the responsibility of the impact of the hunger strike on Néstor’s physical integrity,” said Gerardo Ducos of Amnesty International. "Néstor imprisonment is yet another example of the suppression of the rights to freedom of expression and association in Cuba." 

Held at Combinado de Guantánamo prison, Rodríguez Lobaina started his hunger strike on February 15. The next day he was transferred to an isolation cell and denied water for eight days. Rodríguez Lobaina’s health deteriorated during his hunger strike and on February 28 he was transferred to a health post in the prison. He was then transferred to Augustino Neto Provincial Hospital on March 1. 

Rodríguez Lobaina was arrested again by state security agents in Guantanamo on December 9, 2010. He was pepper sprayed and pushed roughly into a police car in front of his 10-year-old daughter who was left alone in the street as her father was taken into custody.  While in detention Néstor says he has suffered beatings and threats from other inmates. 

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. (Issued on--March 12, 2011)

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