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THE INDEX — November 16, 2009

U.S. officials unveiled a new detention facility at Bagram air field in Afghanistan, promising greater openness and better living conditions for inmates. The existing facility at Bagram has been shrouded in secrecy, garnering criticism for human rights abuses after two of its inmates died last year following interrogations. The prison, which holds its roughly 700 detainees without charges, will close by the end of the year, and the U.S. military plans to move its inmates to the new $60 million housing complex. "The new facility...provides improved detainee living conditions...as well as vocational, technical, and other programs to assist with peaceful reintegration of released detainees," Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, head of the detention facilities at Bagram, told international journalists on a tour of the new facility, tentatively named Detention Facility in Parwan, on Sunday. "You are here because transparency certainly benefits the effort." Human rights groups have praised some aspects of the new facility, including the separation of hard-core insurgents from those who may be reconciled with society and the move to open administrative hearings, in which detainees are assessed for their readiness to be released, to outsiders as well as to the detainees themselves. But many critics still call for President Barack Obama to further reform the U.S.' Afghan detention policies. "All detainees in Afghanistan are entitled to minimum protections, including the right to legal counsel, and to be able to challenge the legal and factual basis for the detention before an independent and impartial tribunal," rights groups Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement. "The U.S. reforms still fall short of providing detainees with those rights." Transfers of prisoners to the new facility are expected to begin within the next two weeks.

A new report from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reveals that Iran’s Fordo nuclear enrichment facility was constructed in 2002, seven years before Iran revealed the existence of the plant this September and five years before Iran stated it had begun the project. The disparity further heightens the international community’s concerns about Iran's intention to conceal illicit nuclear enrichment activity. The report adds that Iran is “is fully cooperating” but that the IAEA needs “further clarification” about the intentions of the Fordo plant, which could be operational in 18 months. Iran has yet to respond to the UN plan, led by the United States, which would allow the export of Iran’s uranium to Russia and France for enrichment into medical isotopes and then return the fuel to Iran. But the IAEA’s report hints at concern that even if Iran agreed, it might still hold some amount of its supply rather than reveal it for export. After a one-hour meeting in Singapore with President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday, “we are not completely happy about [Iran's] pace [in responding to the UN proposal]. If something does not work, there are other means to move the process further.” On Monday, President Obama will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao of China, which wields a UN Security Council veto power and has been reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran. They will discuss, among other things, increasing pressure on Iran’s nuclear compliance. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the Obama administration has imposed an internal deadline of the end of 2009 for Iran to cooperate. Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director general (set to retire at the end of the month), will officially present the report, which leaked to the press on Monday, on November 26 in Vienna.

Israeli officials on Monday continued to denounce the Palestinian Authority’s intention to unilaterally declare statehood and seek formal recognition from the United Nations. Senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, announced the gambit on Saturday and, on Sunday—the twenty-first anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s declaration of statehood—President Mahmoud Abbas added, “God willing, we will soon have an independent state with its capital in [East] Jerusalem” under 1967 borders. Many observers consider the proposal a political tactic to force Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reengage peace negotiations, stalled since the Gaza war last December, and restrict further settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. An Al Jazeera reporter in Ramallah relayed, “What [Palestinians] want [now] is something a lot more concrete. They know it won't immediately result in the withdrawal of Israeli occupation troops from their territory, but they want the Israelis to stand in front of an international collective will that says this is what needs to be done in order for peace to be realized.” The statements incited a furor of criticisms from the Israeli government. Netanyahu declared, "Any unilateral action will undo the framework of past accords and lead to unilateral actions from Israel.” Transport Minister Yisrael Katz later added, “Let them not threaten us with unilateral measures; we can also take unilateral measures such as annexing the settlement blocs." Without U.S. support, the Palestinian proposal is not likely to be approved by the requisite two-thirds of the UN General Assembly. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull offered a landmark apology to hundreds of thousands of "forgotten Australians" and former child migrants who were abused or neglected in state facilities. In an emotional ceremony in the capital of Canberra, Rudd apologized for what he called "an ugly chapter" in Australia's history. "The truth is this is an ugly story, and its ugliness must be told without fear or favor if we are to confront fully the demons of our past," he said to a crowd at Parliament House. "We are sorry. Sorry for the tragedy—the absolute tragedy—of childhoods lost," he continued. Between 1930 and 1970, approximately 500,000 children were abused or neglected in orphanages or homes in the Australian institutional care system. Of these, many were part of the Child Migrants Program, a scheme designed to bring "good white stock" to Commonwealth countries like Australia and Canada. Under the program, the United Kingdom sent poor children to these countries promising a "better life." But, in many cases, families were never notified that their children had been sent away, the children were falsely informed that they were orphans, and, once they arrived, they faced extreme cruelty and neglect while in state care. "You were failed by the system of care," Turnbull added, choking back tears. "Today we acknowledge that, already feeling alone, abandoned and left without love, many of you were beaten and abused, physically, sexually, mentally—treated like objects not people—leaving you to feel of even less worth...For far too long, your stories were not believed when they should have been, and for that too we apologize, and we are sorry." Roughly 7,000 survivors of the program currently live in Australia, including Laurie Humphreys, who attended Rudd's apology. "The word 'sorry' doesn't mean much. You can't say sorry for a lost childhood," the former child migrant worker told Time magazine. "But you can acknowledge it, and that's what I needed." U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to offer a similar apology sometime in the new year.

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