Other Sources

Alicia Diaz Gonzalez: Fifth Mexican journalist killed in 2018

Al Jazeera - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 6:29am
Alicia Diaz Gonzalez was found dead at her home in Monterrey, having apparently been severely beaten.

Yours for a pound: The firms sold on the cheap

BBC News - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 6:28am
As the owner of Homebase sells the troubled DIY chain, what other firms have been bought for £1?

How Peak Hype crashed Trump’s N Korea Summit/ Nobel Peace Prize

Informed Comment - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 5:58am

Trump’s petulant letter to North Korean President Kim Jong Un cancelling the planned Singapore summit between the two leaders was all but foreordained. The entire endeavor was poorly conceived and badly planned, and attended with fantastic, typical Trump snake oil and hype.

North Korea does not have the slightest intention of renouncing its nuclear weapons. Its leadership might be willing to scale back some programs and act less provocatively in some ways, but denuclearization is a fantasy. Those who point to past successes in this regard neglect one key variable: No country that has ever actually developed a bomb has ever given it up. Countries have given up programs which had the potential ultimately to produce a weapon. Iraq renounced its experiments with nuclear enrichment in 1991. Argentina and Brazil pulled back from the brink when civilian governments replaced the old military juntas. South Africa mothballed its small, ineffective program with the coming of a post-Apartheid democracy. Libya traded some old blueprints and a few rusty pieces of equipment for sanctions relief in 2004.

The Republican Party’s ridiculous exaggerations, then and now, about what actually happened in Libya, fed into the current hype. National Security Adviser John Bolton suggested the 2004 process with Libya as a model for the negotiations with North Korea. He was misunderstood by everyone, including Trump and North Korea, as having referred to the very different 2011 Libya Revolution, backed by the United Nations and NATO, in which dictator Moammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed. The latter was not relevant to Bolton’s comments. Having a nuclear bomb would not have protected Gaddafi from a popular revolution, though it might have forestalled a UN no-fly zone of the sort the Security Council imposed at the instance of the International Criminal Court.

In fact, Libya was never within a light year of having a nuclear weapons capability (the nearest solar system to earth, Alpha Centauri, is four light years away). The old false claims of 2004-2005 that George W. Bush’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq had scared Libya and Lebanon straight was not true then, and is not true now. Bolton put his foot in his mouth by living with the lies of the last decade instead of the present one.

But given what ultimately happened to Gaddafi, Pyongyang at least feigned to be extremely offended at the comparison, one that was repeated by vice president Mike Pence when he said that if North Korea did not give up its nukes, Kim Jong Un might end up like Gaddafi. North Korea responded by calling Pence a “political dummy,” thus angering Trump.

It may be that the two sides misunderstood the rules of permitted political rhetoric. In authoritarian regimes, it is often allowed to criticize officials below the president. Pence violated that rule by comparing Kim Jong Un to the very dead and disgraced Gaddafi. North Korea responded by criticizing Pence, not Trump, which they may have believed was a way to deliver a message without causing Trump to lose face. Trump, however, took the attack on Pence as a sign of disrespect. Trump doesn’t have the slightest idea what he is talking about.

The petulant tone of Trump’s letter to Chairman Kim, for all the world like a jilted lover (“you still have my phone number if you, like. . . wanted to call..”) itself demonstrates how personalistic and unserious the whole affair was.

A successful summit with North Korea would have required recognition that Pyongyang routinely engages in cartoonish agitprop. It would have had realistic goals, not denuclearization and a Nobel prize for Trump. It would have been carefully planned by senior state department officials (hundreds of whom have already fled the department in horror at Trumpism and fear for their jobs, which Trump is abolishing.)

It was all vapor, like Trump himself. If it weren’t for the Murdoch press and television and the army of Russian, United Arab Emirates, Saudi and Israeli internet robots, and if it weren’t for the pusillanimous character of the Republican Party, which is afraid to call out Trump on his horse manure, no one would ever have taken this thing seriously to begin with.

Bonus Video

CBC: “Trump calls off North Korea summit in letter to Kim Jong-un”

Aboriginal Youth Are Disproportionately Jailed, Report Finds

World News (NY Times) - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 5:17am
The number of Indigenous Australian juveniles in detention or on parole is increasing, even as the total number of children accused of crimes is decreasing.

To Fight Talibanism, Pakistan finally gives Rights to People in Tribal Areas

Informed Comment - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 4:46am

Islamabad (AFP) – Pakistan passed legislation Thursday paving the way for its restive tribal areas, long a focal point in the global war on terror, to enter the political mainstream, ending a colonial-era arrangement that endorsed collective punishment and fuelled militancy.

The constitutional amendment would see the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan officially merged into neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

It will extend the writ of Pakistani courts to its districts, and increase development assistance to residents of the region which Washington has long insisted provides safe havens to militants including the Taliban and Al Qaeda — an allegation that Islamabad denies.

The amendment received broad support from across the political spectrum in the National Assembly, with 229 voting to approve the measure and one voting against it.

Another 10 abstained, according to state media.

The legislation still needs final approval from the senate and the signature of the president — a formality that is all but guaranteed after receiving overwhelming support in the lower house.

“Today this house has approved a historic bill, which will have very positive effects for Pakistan. I thank the opposition for their support,” Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told legislators after the vote.

“We need to provide (FATA residents) with all those facilities which are available to the people in the rest of Pakistan,” he added.

“Pakistan’s tribal areas have long been neglected. The government has taken this decision very late,” Rahimullah Yusufzai, a regional analyst and an expert on the tribal areas, told AFP.

Yusufzai predicted that implementation of the amendment could take months as Pakistan prepares for elections due this summer, which would leave the reforms in the hands of the incoming government.

– ‘A historic day’ –

Since the days of the British Raj, the territory has long been seen as a backwater ruled by hostile tribesmen and kept as a buffer zone between Afghanistan and the settled territories that became Pakistan.

Following the 9/11 attacks the tribal belt along the Afghan border became a notorious terrorism flashpoint, with Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters operating in the area with impunity.

The US has repeatedly accused Pakistan of allowing the tribal areas to host safe havens for militants fighting in Afghanistan — an allegation Islamabad has consistently denied.

The Pakistani military has carried out multiple operations in the region and insists it has eradicated militancy. It is also building a fence along the border with Afghanistan.

But FATA residents have long complained its development has been overlooked by authorities, while appointed administrators were able to punish whole tribes for the crimes of an individual under draconian colonial-era laws.

The move was largely welcomed across the FATA.

“It’s a historic day, I am more than happy,” said Malik Zarnoor Afridi of Khyber tribal district.

Samiullah Jan, from South Waziristan district, said he hopes the tribal areas will see an increase in development aid.

“They will get quality education, quality health care, roads, electricity, gas and economic opportunities,” said Jan.

However small pockets of resistance remained, with some calling for FATA to become its own separate province.

“We will lose our cultural norms and traditions because of this merger,” Ahmed Saeed, local leader of a religious party in North Waziristan, told AFP.

The vote was also trending on Twitter in Pakistan, with social media users lauding the decision.

“Salute the political leadership for coming together on this. Proud moment!,” wrote Nizamuddin Khan.

The seven tribal districts — Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, North Waziristan, Orakzai and South Waziristan — are home to some five million residents, mainly ethnic Pashtuns.

The decision comes as a new rights movement emanating from FATA has accused Pakistan’s military establishment of using the territory to nurture militant groups fighting in Afghanistan, while overseeing a campaign of extrajudicial killings and abductions targeting tribesmen.

Featured Photo: AFP/File / AAMIR QURESHI. Since the days of the British Raj, the territory has long been seen as a backwater ruled by hostile tribesman that was kept as a buffer zone with Afghanistan.

International Herald Tribune: 1893: Uprising in Nicaragua

World News (NY Times) - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 4:00am
A battle between government forces and revolutionists resulted in deaths on both sides, and defeat for the Nicaraguan leadership.

Why the Youth of Gaza Protest: It is their Squalid Open Air Prison, not Hamas

Informed Comment - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 3:57am

San Francisco (The Progressive) – On my most recent reporting trip to Gaza, I stayed with a family living just a short walk from the Israeli border. At dusk we watched a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean and could forget the ongoing conflict for just a few minutes.

Living conditions for the family have gotten much worse since my visit. They have electricity four hours a day, medicine is in short supply, and they have to get all their water delivered by truck. Overall unemployment in Gaza is 27 percent, with youth unemployment at a staggering 60 percent, according to the World Bank.

That high unemployment presents the biggest problem, said one of my hosts, family member Jihad Mosalami, an English professor. “People can’t survive,” he told me in a phone interview.

Many of Mosalami’s students were among the tens of thousands who have gathered to demonstrate at the fence separating Gaza and Israel of the past several weeks. “A few went to the fence to throw stones,” he said. “Others went to the fence to pray.”

It didn’t matter to Israel Defense Forces soldiers, who shot tear gas and live ammunition at the gathering Palestinians.

“It was like hell,” said Mosalami.

From March 30 to May 15, Israeli security forces killed over 100 Palestinians and wounded more than 10,000, according to the Palestinian health officials. No Israeli soldiers were killed or even seriously injured during this same period.

Palestinians organized the “Great March of Return,” to protest the Israeli military blockade of Gaza. Israeli soldiers control all food, medicine, building supplies, and other goods that enter or exit Gaza. The Israeli military frequently holds up essential goods to pressure Hamas, the ruling party of the Palestinian enclave.

Israeli authorities claimed they were protecting their border from hordes of Palestinians, some armed, intent on crashing through the fence. In reality, no one got though the double fence or the large “no man’s land” buffer zone created by Israel. The soldiers shot civilians to intimidate them—not out of self-defense.

But these tactics backfired. Palestinians won the political battle by gaining renewed sympathy for their struggle around the world.

A young generation of Palestinians discovered they can make a difference, not least of which is bringing global attention to their cause.

The young generation of Palestinians discovered they “can make a difference, not least of which is bringing global attention to their cause,” Brian Barber told me. He’s professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington D.C. The protests gave young Palestinians “their first taste of vibrant collective action … as their parents had with the first intifada.”

Why would young people risk their lives to protest the occupation? Let’s take a look at some of the underlying political issues.

What’s the Right of Return?

Sixty-eight percent of people living in Gaza are registered with the U.N. as refugees, either expelled from Israel in 1948 or their descendants. I’ve interviewed Palestinians who still have the keys to their 1948 houses. Under international law, these refugees have the right to return to their towns and villages, according to James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

I’ve interviewed Palestinians who still have the keys to their 1948 houses.

There are 5 million Palestinians worldwide. As a practical matter, many would not want to return to Israel. Their homes and villages may no longer exist. And many Palestinians “don’t want to live as a minority in Israel,” Zogby told me.

If Israel recognizes a fully independent, viable, and contiguous Palestinian state, many refugees would return there. Years ago the Palestine Liberation Organization proposed that a limited number of Palestinians should be allowed to return to their villages in Israel while the vast majority would have the right to return to a newly independent Palestinian state.

But Palestinians won’t make any compromises on such a critical issue except in the context of an overall peace settlement. (As of press time, neither the United States nor Israel have shown any interest in peace talks.)

One state or two?

For many years the left and progressives supported the concept of one state in which all Palestinians would be free to return to Israel as equal citizens. The democratic state would champion one person, one vote with no discrimination based on ethnicity or religion.

Eighty-one percent of Israeli Jews reject the idea of a one-state solution, according to a 2017 poll, because the return of millions of Palestinians would eliminate Israel as a Jewish state. The one-state plan has little support even among progressive Israelis opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

By the 1980s, the Palestine Liberation Organization began to propose a two-state solution in which the Palestinians and Israelis would have their own states living in peace. Negotiations would determine borders based on Israel’s pre-1967 territory. Different parts of Jerusalem could serve as capitals for both countries. The two-state solution served as the basis for the 1993 Oslo peace accord.

Successive Israeli governments never implemented the Oslo agreement, however. They continued to build Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and unilaterally built a wall dividing Israel and the West Bank that doesn’t follow the 1967 border line.

In March a Palestinian poll showed 48 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza supported two states and 50 percent opposed. But only 28 percent supported one state.

“I’m not an activist or politician,” said my friend Mosalami, “but I do believe the majority of Palestinians will accept two states. It’s the practical solution.”

But doesn’t Hamas reject two states?

Actually, Hamas is willing to accept the two-state solution. Soon after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections, its leaders faced reality. Having one state was not possible and most Palestinians favored two states.

“We accepted that our state should be on the 1967 borders, but Israel rejected that,” then top Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told me. He confirmed that position with former President Jimmy Carter. I re-confirmed that view with two different Hamas ministers during a 2011 trip to Gaza.

Hamas doesn’t emphasize that position because there are no peace talks on the horizon. Hamas leaders want Israel or the United States to put forward a viable two-state option, and then it will respond.

But isn’t Hamas a terrorist organization? How could Israel trust them in negotiations?

Hamas is a political party with an armed militia that functions as Gaza’s security force. It considers itself a national liberation movement fighting occupation forces through armed struggle. Hamas has intentionally killed civilians, including bombing buses and restaurants.

Using terrorist tactics, however, does not make one a terrorist organization. Jewish militias fighting the British and Arabs in 1948 and 1949 used terrorist tactics. They murdered and tortured Arabs in the village of Deir Yassin, forcing residents to flee. They blew up the King David Hotel, killing over ninety Jews, Arabs, and British soldiers.

Some of the Jewish militia tactics parallel recent events in Gaza. Yuri Avnery, today one of the Israel’s major peace movement leaders, described how he participated in a 1948 Tel Aviv march organized by the Irgun, a militia later incorporated into the IDF.

Civilian Irgun youth marched down a street “where the offices of the British administration were located,” Avnery wrote. “There we sang the national anthem, ‘Hatikvah’, while some adult members set fire to the offices.”

I oppose the use of terrorism whatever the justification. But Hamas is fundamentally different from Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, who use terror to ethnically cleanse groups they oppose—Christians, Jews, Shia Muslims, and others. Those organizations refuse to participate in elections and use religion as the excuse to give themselves absolute power.

Hamas promotes a conservative religious agenda but it is not the Islamic State. I would not vote for Hamas if I lived in Palestine. But Hamas is a legitimate party whose views are part of the Middle East political reality.

Labeling Hamas a terrorist organization gives Israel, and the United States, an excuse to never hold peace talks. The Israeli government labelled the Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists until Israel agreed to the Oslo peace talks. Then they became peace partners.

Earlier this month Hamas offered Israel a “hudna” or ceasefire. Hamas sources told the website Al Monitor if Israel lifted the siege of Gaza, Hamas would enter into negotiations with Israel for a long-term ceasefire.

Should Israeli leaders trust Hamas? No. And Palestinian leaders shouldn’t trust the Israeli government. But there is a common need to begin serious discussions to establish a viable Palestinian state. Each side can advance partial measures and verify their implementation before moving ahead.

My Gaza friend Jihad Mosalami said, “They have to negotiate and reach a deal. People in Gaza want a decent life.”

He acknowledged that the current leadership in Washington and Tel Aviv won’t start talks anytime soon.

“We won’t have war forever,” he said with just a hint of optimism. “The war will end and there can be peace.”

Reprinted from The Progressive with the author’s permission.

Should Trump Have the Discretion to Murder at Will? His Drones Are at It

Informed Comment - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 3:48am

San Francisco (Tomdispatch.com) – They are like the camel’s nose, lifting a corner of the tent. Don’t be fooled, though. It won’t take long until the whole animal is sitting inside, sipping your tea and eating your sweets. In countries around the world — in the Middle East, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Africa, even the Philippines — the appearance of U.S. drones in the sky (and on the ground) is often Washington’s equivalent of the camel’s nose entering a new theater of operations in this country’s forever war against “terror.” Sometimes, however, the drones are more like the camel’s tail, arriving after less visible U.S. military forces have been in an area for a while.

Scrambling for Africa

AFRICOM, the Pentagon’s Africa Command, is building Air Base 201 in Agadez, a town in the nation of Niger. The $110 million installation, which officially opens later this year, will be able to house both C-17 transport planes and MQ-9 Reaper armed drones. It will soon become the new centerpiece in an undeclared U.S. war in West Africa. Even before the base opens, armed U.S. drones are already flying from Niger’s capital, Niamey, having received permission from the Nigerien government to do so last November.

Despite crucial reporting by Nick Turse and others, most people in this country only learned of U.S. military activities in Niger in 2017 (and had no idea that about 800 U.S. military personnel were already stationed in the country) when news broke that four U.S. soldiers had died in an October ambush there. It turns out, however, that they weren’t the only U.S soldiers involved in firefights in Niger. This March, the Pentagon acknowledged that another clash took place last December between Green Berets and a previously unknown group identified as ISIS-West Africa. For those keeping score at home on the ever-expanding enemies list in Washington’s war on terror, this is a different group from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), responsible for the October ambush. Across Africa, there have been at least eight other incidents, most of them in Somalia.

What are U.S. forces doing in Niger? Ostensibly, they are training Nigerien soldiers to fight the insurgent groups rapidly multiplying in and around their country. Apart from the uranium that accounts for over 70% of Niger’s exports, there’s little of economic interest to the United States there. The real appeal is location, location, location. Landlocked Niger sits in the middle of Africa’s Sahel region, bordered by Mali and Burkina Faso on the west, Chad on the east, Algeria and Libya to the north, and Benin and Nigeria to the south. In other words, Niger has the misfortune to straddle a part of Africa of increasing strategic interest to the United States.

In addition to ISIS-West Africa and ISGS, actual or potential U.S. targets there include Boko Haram (born in Nigeria and now spread to Mali and Chad), ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Libya, and Al Mourabitoun, based primarily in Mali.

At the moment, for instance, U.S. drone strikes on Libya, which have increasedunder the Trump administration, are generally launched from a base in Sicily. However, drones at the new air base in Agadez will be able to strike targets in all these countries.

Suppose a missile happens to kill some Nigerien civilians by mistake(not exactly uncommon for U.S. drone strikes elsewhere)? Not to worry: AFRICOM is covered. A U.S.-Niger Status of Forces Agreement guarantees that there won’t be any repercussions. In fact, according to the agreement, “The Parties waive any and all claims… against each other for damage to, loss, or destruction of the other’s property or injury or death to personnel of either Party’s armed forces or their civilian personnel.” In other words, the United States will not be held responsible for any “collateral damage” from Niger drone strikes. Another clause in the agreement shields U.S. soldiers and civilian contractors from any charges under Nigerien law.

The introduction of armed drones to target insurgent groups is part of AFRICOM’s expansion of the U.S. footprint on a continent of increasing strategic interest to Washington. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European nations engaged in the “scramble for Africa,” a period of intense and destructive competition for colonial possessions on the continent. In the post-colonial 1960s and 1970s, the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence in African countries as diverse as Egypt and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Today, despite AFRICOM’s focus on the war on terror, the real jockeying for influence and power on the continent is undoubtedly between this country and the People’s Republic of China. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, “China surpassed the United States as Africa’s largest trade partner in 2009” and has never looked back. “Beijing has steadily diversified its business interests in Africa,” the Council’s 2017 backgrounder continues, noting that from Angola to Kenya,

“China has participated in energy, mining, and telecommunications industries and financed the construction of roads, railways, ports, airports, hospitals, schools, and stadiums. Investment from a mixture of state and private funds has also set up tobacco, rubber, sugar, and sisal plantations… Chinese investment in Africa also fits into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s development framework, ‘One Belt, One Road.’”

For example, in a bid to corner the DRC’s cobalt and copper reserves (part of an estimated $24 trillion in mineral wealth there), two Chinese companies have formed Sicomines, a partnership with the Congolese government’s national mining company. The Pulitzer Center reports that Sicomines is expected “to extract 6.8 million tons of copper and 427,000 tons of cobalt over the next 25 years.” Cobalt is essential in the manufacture of today’s electronic devices — from cell phones to drones — and more than half of the world’s supply lies underground in the DRC.

Even before breaking ground on Air Base 201 in Niger, the United States already had a major drone base in Africa, in the tiny country of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. From there, the Pentagon has been directing strikes against targets in Yemen and Somalia. As AFRICOM commander Gen. Thomas Waldhauser told Congress in March, “Djibouti is a very strategic location for us.” Camp Lemonnier, as the base is known, occupies almost 500 acres near the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. U.S. Central Command, Special Operations Command, European Command, and Transportation Command all use the base. At present, however, it appears that U.S. drones stationed in Djibouti and bound for Yemen and Somalia take off from nearby Chabelley Airfield, as Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone reports.

To the discomfort of the U.S. military, the Chinese have recently established their first base in Africa, also in Djibouti, quite close to Camp Lemonnier. That country is also horning in on potential U.S. sales of drones to other countries. Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab emirates are among U.S. allies known to have purchased advanced Chinese drones.

The Means Justify the End?

From the beginning, the CIA’s armed drones have been used primarily to kill specific individuals. The Bush administration launched its global drone assassination program in October 2001 in Afghanistan, expanded it in 2002 to Yemen, and later to other countries. Under President Barack Obama, White House oversight of such assassinations only gained momentum (with an official “kill list” and regular “terror Tuesday” meetings to pick targets). The use of drones expanded 10-fold, with growing numbers of attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, as well as in the Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian war zones. Early on, targets were generally people identified as al-Qaeda leaders or “lieutenants.” In later years, the kill lists grew to include supposed leaders or members of a variety of other terror organizations, and eventually even unidentified people engaged in activities that were to bear the “signature” of terrorist activity.

But those CIA drones, destructive as they were (leaving civilian dead, including children, in their wake) were just the camel’s nose — a way to smuggle in a major change in U.S. policy. We’ve grown so used to murder by drone in the last 17 years that we’ve lost sight of an important fact: such assassinations represented a fundamental (and unlawful) change in U.S. military strategy. Because unpiloted airplanes eliminate the physical risk to American personnel, the United States has embraced a strategy of global extrajudicial executions: presidential assassinations on foreign soil.

It’s a case of the means justifying the end. The drones work so well at so little cost (to us) that it must be all right to kill people with them.

Successive administrations have implemented this strategic change with little public discussion. Critiques of the drone program tend to focus — not unreasonably — on the many additional people (like family members) who are injured or die along with the intended targets, and on civilians who should never have been targets in the first place. But few critics point out that executing foreign nationals without trial in other countries is itself wrong and illegal under U.S. law, as well as that of other countries where some of the attacks have taken place, and of course, international law.

How have the Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations justified such killings? The same way they justified the expansion of the war on terror itself to new battle zones around the world — through Congress’s September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That law permitted the president

“to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Given that many of the organizations the United States is targeting with drones today didn’t even exist when that AUMF was enacted and so could hardly have “authorized” or “aided” in the 9/11 attacks, it offers, at best, the thinnest of coverage indeed for such a worldwide program.

Droning On and On

George W. Bush launched the CIA’s drone assassination program and that was just the beginning. Even as Barack Obama attempted to reduce the number of U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, he ramped up the use of drones, famously taking personal responsibility for targeting decisions. By some estimates, he approved 10 times as many drone attacks as Bush.

In 2013, the Obama administration introduced new guidelines for drone strikes, supposedly designed to guarantee with “near certainty” the safety of civilians. Administration officials also attempted to transfer most of the operational responsibility for drone attacks from the CIA to the military’s only-slightly-less-secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Although the number of CIA strikes did drop, the Agency remained in a position to rev up its program at any time, as the Washington Post reported in 2016:

“U.S. officials emphasized that the CIA has not been ordered to disarm its fleet of drones, and that its aircraft remain deeply involved in counterterrorism surveillance missions in Yemen and Syria even when they are not unleashing munitions.”

It’s indicative of how easily drone killings have become standard operating procedure that, in all the coverage of the confirmation hearings for the CIA’s new director, Gina Haspel, there was copious discussion of the Agency’s torture program, but not a public mention of, let alone a serious question about, its drone assassination campaign. It’s possible the Senate Intelligence Committee discussed it in their classified hearing, but the general public has no way of knowing Haspel’s views on the subject.

However, it shouldn’t be too hard to guess. It’s clear, for instance, that President Trump has no qualms about the CIA’s involvement in drone killings. When he visited the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the day after his inauguration, says the Post, “Trump urged the CIA to start arming its drones in Syria. ‘If you can do it in 10 days, get it done,’ he said.” At that same meeting, CIA officials played a tape of a drone strike for him, showing how they’d held off until the target had stepped far enough away from the house that the missile would miss it (and so its occupants). His only question: “Why did you wait?”

You may recall that, while campaigning, the president told Fox News that the U.S. should actually be targeting certain civilians. “The other thing with the terrorists,” he said, “is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” In other words, he seemed eager to make himself a future murderer-in-chief.

How, then, has U.S. drone policy fared under Trump? The New York Times has reported major changes to Obama-era policies. Both the CIA’s and the military’s “kill lists” will no longer be limited to key insurgent leaders, but expanded to include “foot-soldier jihadists with no special skills or leadership roles.” The Times points out that this “new approach would appear to remove some obstacles for possible strikes in countries where Qaeda- or Islamic State-linked militants are operating, from Nigeria to the Philippines.” And no longer will attack decisions only be made at the highest levels of government. The requirement for having a “near certainty” of avoiding civilian casualties — always something of a fiction — officially remains in place for now, but we know how seriously Trump takes such constraints.

He’s already overseen the expansion of the drone wars in other ways. In general, that “near certainty” constraint doesn’t apply to officially designated war zones (“areas of active hostility”), where the lower standard of merely avoiding unnecessary civilian casualties prevails. In March 2017, Trump approved a Pentagon request to identify large parts of Yemen and Somalia as areas of “active hostility,” allowing leeway for far less carefully targeted strikes in both places. At the time, however, AFRICOM head General Thomas D. Waldhauser said he would maintain the “near certainty” standard in Somalia for now (which, as it happens, hasn’t stopped Somali civilians from dying by drone strike).

Another change affects the use of drones in Pakistan and potentially elsewhere. Past drone strikes in Pakistan officially targeted people believed to be “high value” al-Qaeda figures, on the grounds that they (like all al-Qaeda leaders) represented an “imminent threat” to the United States. However, as a 2011 Justice Department paper explained, imminence is in the eye of the beholder: “With respect to al-Qaeda leaders who are continually planning attacks, the United States is likely to have only a limited window of opportunity within which to defend Americans.” In other words, once identified as an al-Qaeda leader or the leader of an allied group, you are by definition “continually planning attacks” and always represent an imminent danger, making you a permanentlegitimate target.

Under Trump, however, U.S. drones are not only going after those al-Qaeda targets permitted under the 2001 AUMF, but also targeting Afghan Taliban across the border in Pakistan. In other words, these drone strikes are not a continuation of counterterrorism as envisioned under the AUMF, but rather an extension of a revitalized U.S. war in Afghanistan. In general, the law of war allows attacks on a neutral country’s territory only if soldiers chase an enemy across the border in “hot pursuit.” So the use of drones to attack insurgent groups inside Pakistan represents an unacknowledged escalation of the U.S. Afghan War. Another corner of the tent lifted by the camel’s nose?

Transparency about U.S. wars in general, and airstrikes in particular, has also suffered under Trump. The administration, for instance, announced in March that it had used a drone to kill “Musa Abu Dawud, a high-ranking official in al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” as the New York Times reported. However, the Times continued, “questions about whether the American military, under the Trump administration, is blurring the scope of operations in Africa were raised… when it was revealed that the U.S. had carried out four airstrikes in Libya from September to January that the Africa Command did not disclose at the time.”

Similarly, the administration has been less than forthcoming about its activities in Yemen. As the Business Insider reports (in a story updated from the Long War Journal), the U.S. has attacked al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) there repeatedly, but “of the more than 114 strikes against AQAP in Yemen, CENTCOM has only provided details on four, all of which involved high value targets.” Because Trump has loosened the targeting restrictions for Yemen, it’s likely that the other strikes involved low-level targets, whose identity we won’t know.

Just Security, an online roundtable based at New York University, reports the total number of airstrikes there in 2017 as 120. They investigated eight of these and “found that U.S. operations were responsible for the deaths of at least 32 civilians — including 16 children and six women — and injured 10 others, including five children.” Yemeni civilians had a suggestion for how the United States could help them avoid becoming collateral damage: give them “a list of wanted individuals. A list that is clear and available to the public so that they can avoid targeted individuals, protect their children, and not allow U.S. targets to have a presence in their areas.”

A 2016 executive order requires that the federal director of national intelligence issue an annual report by May 1st on the previous year’s civilian deaths caused by U.S. airstrikes outside designated “active hostility” zones. As yet, the Trump administration has not filed the 2017 report.

Bigger and Better Camels Coming Soon to a Tent Near You

This March, a jubilant Fox News reported that the Marine Corps is planning to build a fancy new drone, called the MUX, for Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System-Expeditionary. This baby will sport quite a set of bells and whistles, as Fox marveled:

“The MUX will terrify enemies of the United States, and with good reason. The aircraft won’t be just big and powerful: it will also be ultra-smart. This could be a heavily armed drone that takes off, flies, avoids obstacles, adapts and lands by itself — all without a human piloting it.”

In other words, “the MUX will be a drone that can truly run vital missions all by itself.”

Between pulling out of the Iran agreement and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Trump has made it clear that — despite his base’s chants of “Nobel! Nobel!” — he has no interest whatsoever in peace. It looks like the future of the still spreading war on terror under Trump is as clear as MUX.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, and Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead.

Copyright 2018 Rebecca Gordon

Via Tomdispatch.com

Featured Photo via defense.gov.

China Tries to Erase Taiwan, One Ally (and Website) at a Time

World News (NY Times) - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 3:32am
Can China simply wipe out Taiwan’s international identity? Taiwan says it’s trying harder than ever, bringing its leverage to bear on countries and companies alike.

Syria’s New Map: War Has Created Ethnic Cantons, Massively Displaced Communities

Informed Comment - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 3:19am

Co-author: Rouba El Husseini | – –

Beirut (AFP) – Seven years of war and massive displacement have redrawn Syria’s demographic map, erecting borders between the country’s ethnic, religious, and political communities that will be hard to erase.

Displaced Syrians, analysts, and rights defenders have described to AFP a divided country where regime opponents have been driven out, minorities stick closer together and communities generally have become more homogenous.

The demographic reshuffle is likely to last, they say, with around 11 million Syrians displaced either abroad or within the country and unsure if they can go home.

Abu Musab al-Mukasar, a 25-year-old rebel fighter, doubts he’ll ever return to his birthplace in Homs city, now fully held by Syrian troops.

“I could never go back to regime territory — or live side by side with Alawites,” he says, referring to the religious minority sect of President Bashar al-Assad.

The minority-led government has ruled a Sunni-majority population for decades, but Abu Musab says the rifts are now deeper than ever.

“Of course I’ll tell my son all this, so he’ll hate the people that did this to us, too,” says the fighter, contacted by AFP on an online messaging platform.

Abu Musab, a Sunni, first left Homs for rural rebel zones nearby in a 2014 evacuation deal.

Last week, another negotiated withdrawal saw him, his wife, three-year-old son and infant daughter bussed north to Idlib province.

Idlib has become a dumping ground for hundreds of thousands of Sunni rebels and their families transferred from areas recaptured by the regime.

“The demographics changed without us even noticing. The country has been divided,” says Abu Musab.

– Tit-for-tat –

The fighter described the broad outlines of what he saw as Syria’s new sectarian map: “The north is Sunni, the northeast is Kurdish, those in (coastal) Latakia, Tartus, and Homs are Alawite and Shiite Muslim.”


AFP/File / LOUAI BESHARA. A billboard shows pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) and his late father former president Hafez in the coastal city of Latakia, a stronghold of his Alawite sect and Shiites.

Syrian rebels pushed Alawite and Christian minorities out because they were perceived as Assad loyalists, says Fabrice Balanche, an expert on Syria’s population and politics.

Before the war erupted in 2011, Sunni Arabs made up 65 percent of the population, Kurds about 15 percent, and all religious minorities about 20 percent.

The regime has lost territory, but the consolidation of Alawites, Shiites, and Christians around it has actually granted it a stronger base, according to Balanche.

“Today, 70 percent of Syria’s population is in regime territory, and more than a third of them are minorities,” he says.

Some of those shifts were through population swaps, including the controversial “Four Towns Deal” that tied the fate of Sunni-majority Madaya and Zabadani to the Shiite villages of Fuaa and Kafraya.

Since 2015, thousands were transferred from Fuaa and Kafraya to Damascus, in exchange for similar numbers leaving Madaya and Zabadani for Syria’s north.

In a 2017 AFP interview, Assad admitted that displacement was “compulsory” but temporary.

– ‘Things are different’ –

But minorities say they cannot imagine going home.

Abbas Abbas, 36, fled Kafraya years ago for Sayyida Zeinab, a neighbourhood near Damascus that hosts a shrine revered by fellow Shiites.

“Most people from Kafraya don’t want to go back. At least I’m not afraid of being kidnapped here,” he tells AFP.

In the past, Kafrayans mixed with other villagers. “But eight years into Syria’s war, things are different,” says the sound engineer.


AFP/File / Sameer Al-Doumy. A general view taken on April 26, 2018, shows a man selling vegetables in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin that Ankara-backed forces captured from Kurdish fighters in recent months.

He expects the remaining 8,000 residents of Fuaa and Kafraya to be forced out “sooner or later.”

Not far from Abbas’s estranged hometown, another communal conflict is unfolding.

A Turkish-led assault this year displaced over 137,000 people from Kurdish-majority Afrin to nearby regime zones, or even farther to Kurdish areas in the northeast.

Some of their homes now house other displaced. Around 35,000 of those bussed out of the onetime rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus have resettled in Afrin.

Their houses either destroyed or occupied, Afrin’s original residents see return as a distant dream.

“I’m not optimistic. The more time passes, the more entrenched the demographic changes are,” says Ahmad Yussef, an academic who fled Afrin.

Kurdish authorities accuse Turkey of ethnic repopulation, and observers say Ankara wants to resettle the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in its territory into Afrin.

The accusations go both ways: Syrian Arabs accuse Kurdish fighters of preventing them from returning to their northern hometowns after ousting jihadists.

Widespread destruction and complex legislation on property restitution have compounded fears of permanent displacement.

And despite calls to include transitional justice in a political solution, real reconciliation remains unlikely, says Diana Semaan of Amnesty International.

“Because there won’t be a truth commission or public acknowledgement by the government towards the Sunnis or armed groups towards Alawites or Christians, there will be no accountability or justice,” Semaan says.

“This is why Syrian society will be polarised and disintegrated, and why all the sects will turn internally.”

Featured photo: AFP/File / Rami al SAYED. Rebels and civilians prepare to be evacuated from the southern outskirts of Damascus for opposition-held parts of northern Syria on May 3, 2018 under a negotiated withdrawal to secure the last opposition holdouts of the capital.

Rouba El Husseini’s reporting has appeared in Yahoo Singapore, Business Insider, Channel 7, France 24, Yahoo, Arab News, MSN, The Times South Africa, La Presse, Daily Star (Lebanon), The Citizen (South Africa)

G.D.P.R., a New Privacy Law, Makes Europe World’s Leading Tech Watchdog

World News (NY Times) - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 2:41am
The European Union on Friday puts the world’s toughest data privacy rules into effect. The regulations are set to have an outsize impact far beyond Europe.

Tiahleigh Palmer: The 12-year-old murdered by her foster father

BBC News - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 2:26am
Australian Tiahleigh Palmer was killed by her foster father who feared his son had got her pregnant.

North Korea’s Big Moment Is Upended by Trump

World News (NY Times) - Fri, 25 May 2018 - 1:04am
The event was captured by foreign journalists, but North Korea did not invite any independent nuclear monitors to verify the dismantlement.

Apple awarded $539m in US patent case against Samsung

BBC News - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 11:59pm
Samsung has been ordered to pay Apple damages in a long-running dispute between the tech firms.

The Papers: Uncertainty as Trump cancels N Korea talks

BBC News - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 11:40pm
Several papers feature Donald Trump's cancellation of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

CNN’s Don Lemon annihilates Trump ‘family of grifters’: They’re abusing the Constitution for personal gain

The Raw Story - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 11:28pm

The American presidency has always come with vast executive powers, but until Donald Trump much of that power has gone unused. Are we seeing a new model of the presidency where the norms that had defined the office, and the country, go out the window? CNN’s Don Lemon opened his show with an ep...

The post CNN’s Don Lemon annihilates Trump ‘family of grifters’: They’re abusing the Constitution for personal gain appeared first on Raw Story.

‘Improper and it was unprecedented’: MSNBC host explains how Trump was ‘busted’ interfering in Mueller probe today

The Raw Story - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 11:20pm

MSNBC’s Ari Melber argued Thursday that the attendance of President Donald Trump’s lawyer Emmet Flood at an intelligence briefing about the investigation into the Trump campaign was unequivocally a major violation. “As a matter of law and precedent,” Melber said, “what ...

The post ‘Improper and it was unprecedented’: MSNBC host explains how Trump was ‘busted’ interfering in Mueller probe today appeared first on Raw Story.

Watch: Rachel Maddow explains how Trump left Americans in ‘wanton danger’ when he dropped out of North Korean negotiations

The Raw Story - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 11:12pm

After a day discussing the fallout of President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull out of talks with North Korea, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted Thursday night something about the move that most accounts missed: It appears to have put American lives in real jeopardy. “When the pre...

The post Watch: Rachel Maddow explains how Trump left Americans in ‘wanton danger’ when he dropped out of North Korean negotiations appeared first on Raw Story.

Pakistan to Give Equal Rights to Millions in Tribal Areas, Ending a British Legacy

World News (NY Times) - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 10:27pm
Laws dating from the colonial era have long denied people in the region basic rights and authorized the use of collective punishment against tribes or families.

Ex-White House counsel John Dean explains exactly how Trump’s so-called ‘Spygate’ conspiracy is nothing but a distraction

The Raw Story - Thu, 24 May 2018 - 10:12pm

Former White House Counsel, John Dean tossed shade at President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani when asked about President Trump’s lasted actions. President Trump has been using the term “spygate,” and Dean said it was as if he took a page out of Giuliani’s playboo...

The post Ex-White House counsel John Dean explains exactly how Trump’s so-called ‘Spygate’ conspiracy is nothing but a distraction appeared first on Raw Story.

Syndicate content