A COALITION of Jewish and Arab human rights groups have criticised as inadequate an Israel Defence Forces investigation into its activities during the battle in Gaza in January.
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The IDF's internal investigation found that no Palestinian civilians were harmed intentionally by its soldiers during the 23-day invasion that killed more than 1300 Palestinians and wounded more than 4000.

Israel's Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, hailed the report as proof once again “that the IDF is one of the most moral armies in the world”. Mr Barak said: “The IDF is not afraid to investigate itself and in that, proves that its operations are ethical.”

When civilians were killed by IDF fire, the report found that the deaths were regrettable, but had resulted from operational mistakes that were “bound to happen during intensive fighting”.

But a coalition of Israeli human rights groups, which includes B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, Yesh Din, The Public Committee Against Torture and Rabbis for Human Rights, described the IDF report as problematic and said the only way to truly investigate alleged war crimes was through an independent external inquiry.

“Military investigation results published today refer to tens of innocent Palestinian civilians killed by 'rare mishaps' in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“However, data collected by Israeli human rights organisations shows that many civilians were killed in Gaza not due to 'mishaps' but as a direct result of the military's chosen policy implemented throughout the fighting.

“If the military claims that there were no major deficiencies in its conduct in Gaza, it is not clear why Israel refuses to co-operate with the UN investigation team, led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone, which requests an investigation of alleged violations of international law by both Israel and Hamas.”

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza also called on Israel to co-operate with the UN investigation team.

The IDF inquiry was conducted by five senior officers who were not involved in Operation Cast Lead and focused on reports of civilians who been targeted intentionally, and also attacks on civilian infrastructure, UN facilities and the use of white phosphorous.

The chemical is used to create a smoke screen but can cause serious burns and death.

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A HIGH-LEVEL US Senate report published yesterday directly implicates senior members of the Bush administration in the extensive use of harsh interrogation methods against al-Qaeda suspects and other prisoners around the world.
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The 232-page report, the most detailed investigation yet into torture by US military and intelligence personnel, undercuts the claim of Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy defence secretary, that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq was the work of “a few bad apples”.

The report adds to the debate in the US since President Barack Obama, who regards the techniques as torture, opened the way for possible prosecution of members of Bush's government.

Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate armed services committee, which ordered the inquiry, said: “The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots.”

The report says the paper trail goes from Donald Rumsfeld, who was defence secretary at the time, to Guantanamo and to Afghanistan and Iraq. “The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own,” the report says. “The fact is that senior officials in the US government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees.”

Pressure to adopt more aggressive interrogation came from the uppermost reaches of the Bush administration, the report says. Mr Rumsfeld authorised the use of 15 interrogation techniques. A handwritten note from him, attached to a memo of December 2002, says: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”

The report condemns the techniques adopted: “Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.” It says the methods were lifted from a military program called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (Sere).

The report says Sere instructors trained CIA and other military personnel early in 2002 in the use of harsher interrogation techniques but warned that information obtained that way might be unreliable.

The internal debate suggests the definition of what was “acceptable” was flexible.

The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said yesterday that the former vice-president Dick Cheney, who claimed valuable information was obtained through harsher interrogation techniques, should not be viewed as a “reliable source” on torture.

Guardian News & Media

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AUSTRALIA and New Zealand were engaging in “nasty accusations” against Fiji and were “acting with a heavy hand” in trying to force elections, the US representative for American Samoa, alleged during a committee hearing with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
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The accusations were made by Eni Faleomavae, a non-voting member of Congress who represents the Pacific territory of American Samoa.

The accusations came as the Pacific Islands Forum was poised to suspend Fiji on May 1, the deadline forum leaders gave Fiji to set a date for elections.

“Having just returned from Fiji for discussions with the interim prime minister of Fiji and with other community leaders of Fiji, I submit that the situation in Fiji is more complex than it appears,” Mr Faleomavae said.

“For too too long … we've permitted Australia and New Zealand to take the lead even when Canberra and Auckland operate with such a heavy hand that they are counterproductive to our shared goals,” he said.

“I totally disagree with the nasty accusations that the leaders of New Zealand and Australia have made against Fiji … it makes no sense … for the leaders of New Zealand and Australia to demand early elections for the sake of having elections in Fiji when there are fundamental deficiencies in Fiji's electoral process which gave rise to three military takeovers and even a civilian-related takeover within the past 20 years. These people are having to live with three separate constitutions.”

Mrs Clinton neither supported his criticism nor rejected it. “With respect to Fiji, I would welcome your advice about Fiji, because our coverage of what's going on … from Australia, New Zealand in particular, does paint a picture of turmoil and chaos and anti-democratic behaviours by the ruling parties,” Mrs Clinton said. But she added: “What we want is to restore democracy …. and if you have advice as to how we can pursue that, I would welcome it.”

Meanwhile, Toke Talagi, the chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum and Premier of Niue, described Fiji as a “lost cause” in an interview with the Herald. He added: “In my mind Fiji is a lost cause that we must continue to engage but there are limits to what we can do.”

Mr Talagi said the suspension of Fiji from the forum would go ahead. “The leaders have resolved in Papua New Guinea that if on May 1 Fiji does not name a date this year for an election then it will be suspended,” he said.

“The only variation to this that I have sought from leaders is whether given the recent events if we need to act earlier. The answer to this is to wait until the deadline.”

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AMID growing international anger over the plight of Sri Lankan civilians caught up in fighting as government troops close in on the Tamil Tigers, the President has ruled out any pardon for the rebel leader.
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Sri Lankan troops yesterday encountered “dwindling but constant resistance” as they advanced into the small area in the country's north-east still controlled by the rebels.

“They are now in a stretch of only eight kilometres along the coastline,” the army spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, told the Herald in Colombo. The military was confident the Tamil Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and commanders were trapped.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have fought for 25 years for a separate Tamil homeland. President Mahinda Rajapaksa said they could “not hold out for much longer” and promised to punish Prabhakaran.

“[He] has spurned the possibility of pardon by us,” his office said. “He must now face the consequences of his acts.”

Brigadier Nanayakkara said more than 103,000 civilians have moved from rebel territory since Monday but there are concerns tens of thousands could still be in the combat zone.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said a growing number of civilians with blast injuries and gunshot wounds were arriving at a hospital near the zone. The 450-bed hospital now had more than 1700 patients, the group said.

In a sign of the growing international concern about the conflict, the United Nations Security Council called on the Tamil Tigers to surrender.

Sri Lanka's influential neighbour, India, demanded an end to the suffering of Tamil civilians. “We are very unhappy at the continued killing of innocent Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka,” said the Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee. “These killings must stop. The Sri Lankan Government has a responsibility to protect its own citizens.”

Mr Mukherjee also demanded that the Tamil Tigers stop the “barbaric” attempt to hold civilians hostage. “There is no military solution to this ongoing humanitarian crisis, and all concerned should recognise this fact,” he said.

In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to more than 60 million Tamils, there is deep concern about the treatment of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Tamil Nadu was paralysed yesterday by a general strike, called by the Chief Minister, Dr Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi, to press the Indian Government to insist on an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, also criticised Colombo's handling of the crisis.

“I think that the Sri Lankan Government knows that the entire world is very disappointed that in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering,” she said.

Emboldened by a recent string of military triumphs, the Government has refused to stop fighting.

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Paul “Fatty” Vautin has a problem.
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The Footy Show host has attracted the ire of Mohammed Tariq, a victim of overcharging by the law firm Keddies, which the Herald has written a string of stories about. Vautin advertises for Keddies on radio 2GB, and Tariq is demanding that he desist.

Tariq suffered head injuries in a car accident in 2007 and Keddies later charged him $60 for sending him a welcome letter and $49 for reading a thank-you card he sent them.

On Wednesday Tariq emailed Vautin to outline his grievance. “Mr Paul Fatty Vatin,” Tariq wrote at 10.20am. “I believe that you are supporting Keddies lawyers to promote their business that means more Mentally ill peoples will be their victims and all will suffer,” it says.

By 1.30pm the gloves had come off in a second email. “Hi Fatty … Shame, shame Fatty … The minute I hear you promoting Kedies on 2GB, See the sign post with your Picture I get agitated, it aggrevates my medical condition … I am sick and tired of hearing your voice, seing your picture.”

When The Diary contacted Vautin late yesterday afternoon, he said he'd never seen the emails sent to The Footy Show, had never read the Herald's stories about Keddies and that he had no intention of ending his relationship with the firm because “the blokes who own it I've got a lot of respect for, they're good people”.

He knows who Tariq is now. Last night the one-man protest movement was marched from Channel Nine's Willoughby site, wearing a sandwich board with Vautin's photograph on it that said, in part, “Shame, Shame, Shame. Fatty Shame”.

A BIG DAY FOR JACOB ZUMA

His campaign anthem was “Umshini wami, umshini wami”- translated as “bring my machine-gun”- and he has a chequered history, including being charged and later acquitted of rape in 2005. But Jacob Zuma is nothing but popular in South Africa. The leader of the African National Congress, who has the support of Nelson Mandela, becomes the new president today.LINE OF WORK

Still in remand on drug charges, Richard Buttrose has secured the services of a little-known barrister, Martin Luitingh, following the mysterious termination of the services of solicitor Brett Galloway last month.

In February the 36-year-old nephew of Ita Buttrose was arrested near his Paddington pad, where police allegedly found a backpack containing $50,000 and 63.1 grams of cocaine.

His mother, Elizabeth Buttrose, posted $300,000 bail, only for Richard to be rearrested the following day after police found $1.3 million in cash and almost eight kilograms of coke at an apartment they claim he owns in Darling Point. This time bail was refused, and in the Downing Local Court yesterday the first bail application was withdrawn. Working in partnership on the case with Des Fagan, SC, Luitingh does not have the same reputation for big criminal cases. He describes his line of work as “predominantly concerned with infrastructure law … transport, insurance law and commercial law.” No date has been set for the trial but the matter returns to the Downing Centre on June 18. For Buttrose, that is another eight, long weeks away.LIVE AT THE LODGE

It's enough to make you think of the words “horse” and “bolted”. Yesterday private security operatives were seen tinkering with security equipment at the gatehouse of the PM's residence. It came soon after the revelation that bikie infiltrators, mysteriously equipped with entry documents, were allowed access to the Lodge. But whether the live-cam tinkering has anything to do with that intrusion or Kevin Rudd's secret ambitions for a “Live at the Lodge” show, we cannot say. We can report that the camera appears to have been upgraded, probably to enable even more extensive monitoring of the comings and goings there. Again Rudd's spokeswoman declined to comment on prime ministerial security arrangements.LIFE IN THE OLD HOUSE

Meanwhile on the other side of the grassy hill in Canberra, the Museum of Australian Democracy is set to open at Old Parliament House on May 9 with a debate featuring ABC journalist Steve Cannane, news presenter Tracey Spicer, Australian of the Year nominee Jeffrey Robertson and social pages fixture Bianca Dye. The topic, “Does 'work/life balance' exist for Australians today?” was selected, democratically, via an online poll.

It has been noted that the venue is apt. Old Parliament House is remembered as a place were politicians were forced to confront the public – and journalists – far more than they are in their new palace. As one member of the press gallery put it last night, “There was far less shit, spin, cover-up and crap.”

GOT A TIP?Contact [email protected]南京夜網.au or 92823585.

WHAT'S ON TODAY

* South African election results to be announced

* Macquarie Airports first-quarter results for Sydney Airport to be announced

* His Holiness Sakya Trizin, second to the Dalai Lama, arrives in Sydney

* NSW Waratahs' final training session, at Moore Park, before departing for South Africa for the Super 14 rugby tournamentSTAY IN TOUCH …WITH BOOK ADAPTATIONS

ACTRESS Angelina Jolie may soon be wielding a scalpel with reports that the film studio Fox 2000 is in the process of snatching the screen rights to author Patricia Cornwell's best-selling series on Dr Kay Scarpetta. According to the film publication Variety, the studio plans to cast Jolie in the central role of the opera-loving coroner.

Cornwell has written 16 novels with Scarpetta as the heroine. Producers are doubtless hoping for a blockbuster franchise in the vein of the Bourne Identity films, which saw the character of Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon, become an action hero without being necessarily tied to the plots set out in Robert Ludlum's book series.

The final deal was secured only after Jolie agreed to the series and, along with studio representatives, met with the author to find common ground on the feature adaptation. Jolie has just finished filming on Salt, directed by Phillip Noyce.WITH RADICAL BOOKS

LIKE Che Guevera T-shirts on backpackers, Latin American revolutionary writing is back in vogue. This week the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, publicly handed President Barack Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano's seminal tome on the foreign exploitation of Latin America, Open Veins Of Latin America: Five Centuries Of The Pillage Of A Continent. The book subsequently became an overnight hit and by Monday had skyrocketed to second place on Amazon南京夜網's best-seller list.

By yesterday, Scribe Publications had bought the Australian and New Zealand rights to the book, in which the Uruguayan author and journalist examines the impact of foreign intervention in Latin America in the past five centuries. It will be released here in June.WITH WORLD WAR I DIGGERS

THE stories of endurance and bravery of nearly 300,000 Australians who fought in the trenches of France and Belgium are to be given new life in a $10 million Anzac Trail to be created on what was the Western Front.

The plan to integrate and develop as many as seven key WWI sites in a commemorative project was unveiled by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Alan Griffin, in France yesterday, reports our European trenches correspondent, Paola Totaro.

Visiting Pozieres, Mr Griffin said the plan to create an interpretive trail for the thousands of Australians – tourists and families of soldiers – who travel to the area was part of discussions with both the French and Belgian governments.

“The Anzac Trail will foster a deeper appreciation of what Australians achieved and endured in the main theatre of conflict of the First World War” he said.

The Australian Government will spend the money over the next four years with local French and Belgian authorities also likely to contribute.

Mr Griffin, who has been in Britain and France this week, will deliver the commemorative address at the Anzac Day dawn service tomorrow at the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Earlier this week, French tourism operators voiced concerns about reduced numbers of visiting Australian and New Zealanders.

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