What the GOP Gets Wrong About ISIS

48376511.cached
Mike Blake/Reuters

Seen from the ground in Syria, the positions staked out by Republican politicians are crazy. And that’s because they have no real alternative to Obama’s policies.

By Patrick Hilsman

As we come to the end of a year of terror—actually, of horror—and we enter a year of terrible campaigning by some horrible candidates for the presidency of the United States, one might wish the Republican frontrunners would step back from the path of religious zealotry, racist paranoia, and torture envy. But … no.

As the debates in mid-December and the sparring since have showed us, they are detached from many realities, but especially the reality on the ground in Syria, which I have been covering firsthand with frequent trips there since 2012.

So, now, back in the United States, I watch in consternation the nauseating spin about Radical Islam, carpet bombing, waterboarding, surveillance of everyone, blaming refugees. The Republican “strategies” for dealing with the so-called Islamic State sound like a laundry list of the monumental failures from the 9/11 decade.

Was it “political correctness” that knocked down the twin towers and kidnapped and tortured my friends? No, it was something much more sinister, and something much more sophisticated than these candidates seem to realize, or to be.

There is a reason, of course, for them to deflect questions about military tactics against ISIS. There are no easy answers, and even the difficult options are severely limited. No realistic proposal for tackling the jihadi group will play well with primary voters and all of the candidates know it. Presumably, this is why the Republican candidates have taken the discussion into the realm of paranoid fantasy and insinuation, where they seem much more comfortable.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Why Obama Should Stand Up to the Saudis

Saudi-princes2_1-510x339

By Dana E. Abizaid

With much of the US press focused on the daily images of barbarity coming out the lands occupied by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the brutal practices of the real Islamic State, Saudi Arabia, receive scant attention. The reasons for this are as sickening as they are obvious: a major oil supplier to the West and a nation that casts itself as the mortal enemy of Shia Iran has been courted and coddled by the US since the end of WWII to keep domestic gas prices low.

The United States maintains a special relationship with the Saudi Dynasty that contradicts every ideal America stands for. Nobody should hold his breath waiting for the US media or government to finally and thoroughly expose the draconian policies of the desert kingdom, but President Obama does have the opportunity in one case to pressure the Saudis into granting amnesty to Ali-Mohammad al-Nimr and thereby earn a small part of his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. In a recent interview with the Guardian, al-Nimr’s mother pleaded that Obama has the power to “interfere and rescue my son.”

The Saudi government convicted al-Nimr – 17 at the time – of possessing firearms while protesting for Shia rights in 2012. But it is clear that is not the only reason the young man is sentenced to be beheaded and crucified. His uncle is the prominent dissident Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr who has also been sentenced to death for criticizing the Saudi State.

If the United States is ever to devise and implement an effective Middle East policy a reevaluation of its relationship with Saudi Arabia will be essential. Standing up for al-Nimr is vital in this regard. By pressuring the Saudis to pardon al-Nimr, Obama can win three immediate victories important to this reevaluation. First, he could portray himself as a seeker of justice in the spirit of his Nobel. Second, he could win some goodwill amongst those Shia the Saudis have repressed for generations. Lastly, his actions could open a dialogue in the US media that might educate the American public to crimes that are committed with its tacit support.

Since the US media and government rarely reprimand the Saudis, the American people have little understanding of the grave human rights abuses that take place daily in the kingdom. According to Amnesty International, the Saudis executed 102 people in the first six months of 2015. Death by sword beheading – often public – is the preferred punishment for adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft (basically, not having radical Sunni Wahhabi beliefs). Children and the mentally handicapped do not escape the sword.

Read more at CounterPunch

Dana E. Abizaid teaches European History at the Istanbul International Community School.

Why Saudi Arabia Gets Away With Murder

The kingdom is set to execute a young man for participating in the Arab Spring as a 17-year-old—and the Obama administration has admitted it’s not going to do a thing about it.

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr Image via Facebook
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr
Image via Facebook

By Jay Michaelson

An Islamic regime in the Middle East may soon behead a young man and hang his corpse up for display. ISIS? Iran? No—America’s ally Saudi Arabia. And because it’s the Saudis, the Obama administration’s silence has been deafening.

In 2012, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr was a 17-year-old pro-democracy activist in the Arab Spring. After harsh government crackdowns, protests turned violent, particularly in Qatif, a majority-Shiite region in majority-Sunni Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr was arrested, along with others, and charged, at first, with relatively low-level political crimes related to the protests, such as “going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state.”

But then al-Nimr’s uncle, a prominent Shiite cleric, began giving fiery sermons against the regime. He, too, was arrested, on more serious charges of inciting sectarian strife, aiding terrorists, and “insulting Gulf leaders and scholars.”

Suddenly, the younger al-Nimr’s charges were increased as well, to include the capital crimes of attacking police and sheltering criminals. According to al-Nimr’s father, the teen was tortured until he confessed, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.

Al-Nimr would, however, be the first solely political prisoner to be executed in Saudi Arabia in some time—and based on flimsy evidence, an allegedly coerced confession, and acts of political dissidence committed when he was 17. How could such a thing happen, without a peep of protest from the United States?

Because it’s Saudi Arabia.

As outrageous as killing a kid for political activism may be, al-Nimr is just the latest collateral damage in our long, troubling marriage of convenience with the House of Saud. We need the Saudis for the fight against ISIS, for oil, and for providing some semblance of stability in the most unstable region on the planet. As my colleague Michael Tomasky wrote in January, we’re stuck with Saudi Arabia, because as bad as the Saudis are, the alternatives are worse.

Adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia was just named to a UN Human Rights panel—only a subsidiary committee, and part of a regionally based rotation, but outrageous nonetheless given the country’s appalling human rights record.

Read more at The Daily Beast

Tyranny’s False Comfort: Why Rights Aren’t Wrong in Tough Times

 Displaced people from the Yezidi sect, fleeing violence from forces linked to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk towards the Syrian border in August 2014. © 2014 Reuters

Displaced people from the Yezidi sect, fleeing violence from forces linked to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, walk towards the Syrian border in August 2014. © 2014 Reuters

By Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch

The world has not seen this much tumult for a generation. The once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression. Islamist extremists commit mass atrocities and threaten civilians throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa. Cold War-type tensions have revived over Ukraine, with even a civilian jetliner shot out of the sky. Sometimes it can seem as if the world is unraveling.

Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights. Governments directly affected by the ferment are often eager for an excuse to suppress popular pressure for democratic change. Other influential governments are frequently more comfortable falling back on familiar relationships with autocrats than contending with the uncertainty of popular rule. Some of these governments continue to raise human rights concerns, but many appear to have concluded that today’s serious security threats must take precedence over human rights. In this difficult moment, they seem to argue, human rights must be put on the back burner, a luxury for less trying times.

That subordination of human rights is not only wrong, but also shortsighted and counterproductive. Human rights violations played a major role in spawning or aggravating most of today’s crises. Protecting human rights and enabling people to have a say in how their governments address the crises will be key to their resolution. Particularly in periods of challenges and difficult choices, human rights are an essential compass for political action.

Read the entire Keynote Address of the Human Rights Watch World Report 2015

Dragons, Legos, and Solitary: Ai Weiwei’s Transformative Alcatraz Exhibition

In the prison’s cramped cells, hallways, and psych wards, sounds and visuals subtly shame the unjust.

"With Wind," an installation at Ai Weiwei's Alcatraz exhibition Shane Bauer
“With Wind,” an installation at Ai Weiwei’s Alcatraz exhibition Shane Bauer

By Shane Bauer in Mother Jones

There is a question that every prisoner ponders once the realization sets in that his freedom is gone: Can the mind be liberated when the body is not? It’s been a while since I’ve asked myself such a thing—I was released from an Iranian prison three years ago—but a Chinese dragon in a former prison factory at Alcatraz makes me think about it again. Its multicolored face is baring its teeth at me when I enter the cavernous room. In this space, prisoners washed military uniforms during World War II.

The dragon is the first of many installations in the art exhibition by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, called @Large. The beast is a startling greeter—its whiskers are paper flames—but the impression softens as I look closer. The long body, shaped like a traditional Chinese dragon kite and suspended by strings from the ceiling, snakes gracefully throughout the open factory floor, illuminated by the soft afternoon light spilling in through a multitude of little windows. Bird-shaped kites are suspended throughout the room. It is quiet. This prison room feels like freedom.

There is more to it. Every segment of the dragon’s long body is painted with flowers from countries that seriously restrict the civil liberties of their citizens, such as Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. Other parts of the dragon are adorned with quotes by prominent dissidents. One is from Ai Weiwei himself: “Every one of us is a potential convict.”

Alcatraz is an appropriate place for an exhibition about political imprisonment. While the island’s tourism literature focuses on hard-core criminals like Al Capone and the Birdman, it has also held hundreds of nonviolent political prisoners. Hutterite pacifists were put in solitary confinement here for refusing to serve in the military in 1918. World War I conscientious objector and anarchist Philip Grosser spent part of his year and a half on the island in “The Dungeon” where he subsisted on bread and water in complete darkness. Jackson Leonard was sent to Alcatraz in 1919 after distributing Industrial Workers of the World literature on an Army base. World War II veteran Robert George Thompson did time there in the early 1950s after joining the Communist Party USA.

Read more at Mother Jones

Women Victims of Unmet Western Promises in Islamic Countries

Credit: Photo via Irrationally Bound

By Marianna Karakoulaki

There’s no humane way to carry out the death penalty

By Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post

No one who supports the death penalty should have the slightest problem with the way Clayton Lockett died.

Lockett, a convicted murderer, spent 43 minutes in apparent agony Tuesday night as the state of Oklahoma tried to execute him by injecting an untested cocktail of drugs. Instead of quickly losing consciousness, he writhed in obvious distress and attempted to speak. Witnesses described what they saw as horrific.

Prison authorities halted the procedure — they were going to revive Lockett so they could kill him at a later date, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing manner — but the condemned man suffered a heart attack and died.

The state postponed a second execution that had been scheduled for the same night, but I wonder why. We fool ourselves if we think there is a “humane” way to … kill someone. Sure, the second inmate, Charles Warner, probably would have suffered an equally agonizing death. But isn’t this the whole point?

When I read about the crimes Lockett committed, I wish I could support capital punishment. When I read about what Warner did, I want to strangle him with my own hands. But revenge is not the same thing as justice, and karmic retribution is not a power I trust government to exercise. The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

Lockett raped, brutalized and murdered an 19-year-old woman who had graduated from high school just two weeks earlier, shooting her and then burying her alive. Lockett and his accomplices also beat and robbed a 23-year-old man and raped an 18-year-old woman. The crimes took place in 1999; Lockett has been awaiting execution since 2000.

Warner, the other man who was to die in the Oklahoma execution chamber Tuesday, was convicted in 1999 of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child who was the daughter of his live-in girlfriend. The baby suffered unspeakable abuse.

The question is not whether Lockett and Warner deserve to die; clearly they do, as far as I’m concerned. The question is whether our society, acting through the instrument of government, should kill them. I believe there is no way to impose capital punishment without betraying the moral standards that our justice system is theoretically designed to uphold. Put simply, when we murder we become murderers.

Perhaps the most powerful argument against the death penalty is that it is irreversible. Sometimes, judges and juries make honest mistakes and innocent people may be condemned to death. Some studies have shown an apparent racial bias in the way capital punishment is meted out, with blacks who kill whites more likely than other defendants to end up on death row.

Read more at The Washington Post

Syria: the story behind one of the most shocking images of the war | World news | The Guardian

From the archives of the Pulitzer Prize winning English newspaper, The Guardian.
Originally published 3-10-2013.

The Progressive Democrat offers its sincerest congratulations to The Guardian.

Bodies revealed by the Queiq river’s receding waters. Photo: Thomas Rassloff/EPA

It is already one of the defining images of the Syrian civil war: a line of bodies at neatly spaced intervals lying on a river bed in the heart of Syria’s second city Aleppo. All 110 victims have been shot in the head, their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back. Their brutal execution only became apparent when the winter high waters of the Queiq river, which courses through the no man’s land between the opposition-held east of the city and the regime-held west, subsided in January.

It’s a picture that raises so many questions: who were these men? How did they die? Why? What does their story tell us about the wretched disintegration of Syria? A Guardian investigation has established a grisly narrative behind the worst – and most visible – massacre to have taken place here. All the men were from neighbourhoods in the eastern rebel-held part of Aleppo. Most were men of working age. Many disappeared at regime checkpoints. They may not be the last to be found. Locals have since dropped a grate from a bridge, directly over an eddy in the river. Corpses were still arriving 10 days after the original discovery on January 29, washed downstream by currents flushed by winter rains.

Read more atThe Guardian.

Support excellence in journalism. Subscribe to The Guardian.

The hidden history of the CIA’s prison in Poland

A car drives past barbed-wire fence surrounding a military area in Stare Kiejkuty village in Poland. (Kacper Pempel/REUTERS )

By Adam Goldman, Updated: Thursday, January 23, 11:33 AM

On a cold day in early 2003, two senior CIA officers arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw to pick up a pair of large cardboard boxes. Inside were bundles of cash totaling $15 million that had been flown from Germany via diplomatic pouch.

The men put the boxes in a van and weaved through the Polish capital until coming to the headquarters of Polish intelligence. They were met by Col. ­Andrzej Derlatka, deputy chief of the intelligence service, and two of his associates.

The Americans and Poles then sealed an agreement that over the previous weeks had allowed the CIA the use of a secret prison — a remote villa in the Polish lake district — to interrogate al-Qaeda suspects. The Polish intelligence service received the money, and the CIA had a solid location for its newest covert operation, according to former agency officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the interrogation program, including previously unreported details about the creation of the CIA’s “black sites,” or secret prisons.

The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture.

Much about the creation and operation of the CIA’s prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA’s interrogation program is about to be revisited.

The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program.

The treatment of detainees also continues to be a legal issue in the military trials of Mohammed and others at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

And in December, the European Court of Human Rights heard arguments that Poland violated international law and participated in torture by accommodating its American ally; a decision is expected this year.

“In the face of Polish and United States efforts to draw a veil over these abuses, the European Court of Human Rights now has an opportunity to break this conspiracy of silence and uphold the rule of law,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, which petitioned the court on behalf of a detainee who was held at the Polish site.

Read more at The Washington Post

Support quality journalism. Subscribe to The Washington Post

A Faceless Teenage Refugee Who Helped Ignite Syria’s War – NYTimes.com

A boy now living in Jordan, who was part of a group whose arrest and torture helped start Syria’s uprising.

AMMAN, Jordan — In a listless border town, the teenager goes unnoticed, one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war, dashing across villages and farms to land in Jordan, just five miles from home.

But this young man carries a burden — maybe an honor, too — that almost no one else shares.

He knows that he and his friends helped start it all. They ignited an uprising.

It began simply enough, inspired not so much by political activism as by teenage rebellion against authority, and boredom. He watched his cousin spray-paint the wall of a school in the city of Dara’a with a short, impish challenge to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist, about the spreading national revolts.

“It’s your turn, doctor,” the cousin wrote.

The opening episodes of the Arab uprisings are growing more distant, the memory of them clouded by fears about what the revolutions have wrought. In Egypt’s chaos, activists talk of a second revolution, and in Tunisia a political assassination this week has imperiled one of the region’s more hopeful transitions. Then there is Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled the country and the idea of the nation itself is disappearing amid cycles of sectarian bloodshed.

Read more at The New York Times.