TBR News June 21, 2016

Jun 21 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. June 21, 2016: “The main reason the FBI does not wish to release the Mateen taped conversations is that he expresses a good deal of what the FBI, and others above them, consider rank Muslim extremist propaganda. If all of what he said were made public, there would unquestionably be a strong anti-Muslim reaction in the United States and considering the large American Muslim population, the government has decided to put a lid on this. Perhaps the FBI is unaware that the Mateen conversations were intercepted and taped at the time and eventually, all of this will leak out, via the Internet, into the public. In actuality, there are very few secrets any more but perhaps the government is unaware of the degree and extent their secret memos, conferences and situation papers have been culled. The release of some of these prior to the coming election would have a devastating effect on the voting public.”

 The Müller Washington Journals   1948-1951

At the beginning of December, 1948, a German national arrived in Washington, D.C. to take up an important position with the newly-formed CIA. He was a specialist on almost every aspect of Soviet intelligence and had actively fought them, both in his native Bavaria where he was head of the political police in Munich and later in Berlin as head of Amt IV of the State Security Office, also known as the Gestapo.

His name was Heinrich Müller.

Even as a young man, Heini Müller had kept daily journals of his activities, journals that covered his military service as a pilot in the Imperial German air arm and an apprentice policeman in Munich. He continued these journals throughout the war and while employed by the top CIA leadership in Washington, continued his daily notations.

This work is a translation of his complete journals from December of 1948 through September of 1951.

When Heinrich Müller was hired by the CIA¹s station chief in Bern, Switzerland, James Kronthal in 1948, he had misgivings about working for his former enemies but pragmatism and the lure of large amounts of money won him over to what he considered to be merely an extension of his life-work against the agents of the Comintern. What he discovered after living and working in official Washington for four years was that the nation¹s capital was, in truth, what he once humorously claimed sounded like a cross between a zoo and a lunatic asylum. His journals, in addition to personal letters, various reports and other personal material, give a very clear, but not particularly flattering, view of the inmates of both the zoo and the asylum.

Müller moved, albeit very carefully, in the rarefied atmosphere of senior policy personnel, military leaders, heads of various intelligence agencies and the White House itself. He was a very observant, quick-witted person who took copious notes of what he saw. This was not a departure from his earlier habits because Heinrich Müller had always kept a journal, even when he was a lowly Bavarian police officer, and his comments about personalities and events in the Third Reich are just as pungent and entertaining as the ones he made while in America.

The reason for publishing this phase of his eventful life is that so many agencies in the United States and their supporters do not want to believe that a man of Müller¹s position could ever have been employed by their country in general or their agency in specific.

 Sunday, 7. January 1951

Today Bunny and I drove to Washington in the morning. She wanted to hear the Vienna Boy’s Choir at Constitution Hall later in the afternoon so I went to the office and then to Mass while Bunny visited auntie. The Choir sang Rameau, among others, and was very beautiful. Such clear voices, soon to change. The Italians used to castrate young boys so their voices wouldn’t change but we have grown away from such practices. Wisner said that the best way to silence an Italian is to tie his hands together and this is at least one thing I can agree with.

Thursday, 11. January, 1951

The President gave a speech to Congress on Monday in which he asked for more funds for the war, an increase in the draft requirements, more cash aid to countries we can bribe to support us and other cosmetic requests such as more medical doctors for poor people, monetary aid to schools and, of course much more in taxes. Senator (Robert A. ed.) Taft of Ohio, whom we all know wants to run for President in 1952, is making noises about the U.S. getting out of Korea (wars are never popular, especially in election years) and so on. He wants a meeting with Truman and the Secretary of State but they see through this and want nothing to do with it. They know about his speech on Friday about how much he dislikes communists but is afraid Truman might provoke Russia to attack in Europe! Such an idiot after all. Russia is not going to attack anyone. Grombach showed me a paper in which the Soviets are actually removing railroad facilities in their Zone and have been doing so for some time. Of course we are not to talk about things like that because the CIA’s toad, Gehlen, made his report that this was not the case and as Gehlen is the puppet of the CIA and the military here, no one dares to question him.


Sunday, 14. January, 1951.

I had planned to drive up to Washington with Sam Cummings today. We had business at the office and I wanted to attend Mass but the weather was quite nasty. Cold and we had a very unpleasant, wet snow so decided to remain at home in front of the fireplace.

Cummings has been very helpful to Bunny and myself about the house here so in spite of the fact that he is English, we are very decent to him

 Wednesday, 17. January, 1951.

General (Matthew, ed.) Ridgeway has notified all and sundry that his Eighth Army is making progress and is now going over to the offensive in Korea. This has buoyed up the President who was feeling the political effects of the constant retreats.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have been bombarding Truman to permit MacArthur to drop “hundreds of atom bombs” on mainland China, to blow up their hydroelectric systems and so on. Truman has said, in my presence, that he has no intention of doing this. First of all, I know that we do not have “hundreds” of atomic bombs. Second of all, I have personally advised the President that in my experience, such an atomic attack would force Stalin to action and no one wanted that. I do not personally believe that he has the bomb or that if he did, he could deliver it to this country. At least not at this point.

The debate raging at the Pentagon now is that we should obliterate Russia and China at this very moment before they get more weapons to attack us with. This is exactly the reason why soldiers should never be allowed to conduct foreign policy.

I remember what happened when the Kaiser turned the running of things over to Hindenburg and Ludendorff in the 1914 war. Soldiers are trained only to think along strictly military lines and von Tirpitz and his unrestricted submarine warfare were addressing an international situation in purely military terms. Simply because a thing makes military sense does not mean that it will not have disastrous political and diplomatic repercussions.

Truman fully understands this and is determined not to let the military get control of the situation. They and the CIA do not like him and want to get rid of him.

My stocks are doing very well because it looks like a long war. Truman is calling for more housing for defense workers and this always is good for some stocks.

How long the war will last anyone can guess but I would give it a year or so longer. Then, I suppose, another limited war somewhere else to keep up the economic momentum that is now doing so well.

Marx makes some sense when he talks about the economic basis for national ill- will.



From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 52

June 20, 2016


The jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) would be restricted for the second year in a row by the Senate Intelligence Committee version of the FY2017 Intelligence Authorization Act (S.3017). Section 603 of the Act would specifically limit the scope of PCLOB’s attention to the privacy and civil liberties “of United States persons.”

Internal disagreements over the move were highlighted in the Committee report published last week to accompany the text of the bill, which was reported out of Committee on June 5.

“While the PCLOB already focuses primarily on U.S. persons, it is not mandated to do so exclusively,” wrote Senators Martin Heinrich and Mazie K. Hirono in dissenting remarks appended to the report. “Limiting the PCLOB’s mandate to only U.S. persons could create ambiguity about the scope of the PCLOB’s mandate, raising questions in particular about how the PCLOB should proceed in the digital domain, where individuals’ U.S. or non-U.S. status is not always apparent. It is conceivable, for example, that under this restriction, the PCLOB could not have reviewed the NSA’s Section 702 surveillance program, which focuses on the communications of foreigners located outside of the United States, but which is also acknowledged to be incidentally collecting Americans’ communications in the process,” they wrote.

“Over the past three years, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has done outstanding and highly professional work,” wrote Sen. Ron Wyden in his own dissent. “It has examined large, complex surveillance programs and evaluated them in detail, and it has produced public reports and recommendations that are quite comprehensive and useful. Indeed, the Board’s reports on major surveillance programs are the most thorough publicly available documents on this topic. My concern is that by acting to restrict the Board’s purview for the second year in a row, and by making unwarranted criticisms of the Board’s staff in this report, the Intelligence Committee is sending the message that the Board should not do its job too well.”

In support of the provision, the report said that “The Committee believes it is important for the Board to consider the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. Persons first and foremost when conducting its analysis and review of United States counterterrorism efforts.”

But the PCLOB already considers U.S. person privacy “first and foremost.” And the language of the Senate bill does not appear to permit even “secondary” consideration of the privacy of non-U.S. persons. Last year, the FY2016 intelligence authorization bill barred access by the Board to information deemed relevant to covert action.

On June 16, Sen. Patrick Leahy paid tribute to retiring PCLOB chair David Medine on the Senate floor. “[PCLOB] reports and Mr. Medine’s related testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee have been tremendously beneficial to Congress and the American people in examining government surveillance programs,” he said.


The number of vacancies in U.S. district courts around the country increased by a hefty 71% from the beginning of the Obama Administration (when there were 41 vacancies) until June 1 of the Administration’s eighth year (when there were 70 vacancies), according to a new analysis from the Congressional Research Service.

By contrast, the number of district court vacancies decreased in both the GW Bush and Clinton Administrations during comparable periods, CRS found. See U.S. District Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016.

However, the number of circuit court vacancies during the Obama Administration did decrease from 13 in January 2009 to 9 in June 2016, a separate CRS analysis found. See U.S. Circuit Court Vacancies: Overview and Comparative Analysis, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service last week include the following.

The governor of Florida asked President Obama to declare an emergency under the Stafford Act in response to the June 12 Orlando shooting. “The governor’s request is the first instance of [such] a request being made for a mass shooting event,” CRS said. See Stafford Act Assistance and Acts of Terrorism, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016.

Orlando Nightclub Mass Shooting: Gun Checks and Terrorist Watchlists, CRS Insight, June 16, 2016Declining Dynamism in the U.S. Labor Market, CRS Insight, June 15, 2016

North American Leaders’ Summit, CRS Insight, June 16, 2016

Judiciary Appropriations, FY2017, June 16, 2016

Trends in Child Care Spending from the CCDF and TANF, June 16, 2016

1st Circuit Green Lights Suit against Mobile App for Violating Video Privacy Law, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 16, 2016

Energy Tax Policy: Issues in the 114th Congress, updated June 15, 2016

Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress, updated June 16, 2016

Trolling for War With Russia

June 21, 2016

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Some 50 State Department officials have signed a memo calling on President Obama to launch air and missile strikes on the Damascus regime of Bashar Assad.

A “judicious use of stand-off and air weapons,” they claim, “would undergird and drive a more focused and hard-nosed U.S.-led diplomatic process.”

In brief, to strengthen the hand of our diplomats and show we mean business, we should start bombing and killing Syrian soldiers.

Yet Syria has not attacked us. And Congress has not declared war on Syria, or authorized an attack. Where do these State hawks think President Obama gets the authority to launch a war on Syria?

Does State consider the Constitution to be purely advisory when it grants Congress the sole power to declare war? Was not waging aggressive war the principal charge against the Nazis at Nuremberg?

If U.S. bombs and missiles rain down on Damascus, to the cheers of the C-Street Pattons, what do we do if Bashar Assad’s allies Iran and Hezbollah retaliate with Benghazi-type attacks on U.S. diplomats across the Middle East? What do we do if Syrian missiles and Russian planes starting shooting down U.S. planes?

Go to war with Hezbollah, Iran and Russia?

Assume U.S. strikes break Syria’s regime and Assad falls and flees. Who fills the power vacuum in Damascus, if not the most ruthless of the terrorist forces in that country, al-Nusra and ISIS?

Should ISIS reach Damascus first, and a slaughter of Alawites and Christians ensue, would we send an American army to save them?

According to CIA Director John Brennan, ISIS is spreading and coming to Europe and America. Does it make sense then that we would launch air and missile strikes against a Syrian regime and army that is today the last line of defense between ISIS and Damascus?

Does anyone think these things through?

Wherever, across the Middle East, we have plunged in to wage war – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria – people continue to suffer and die, and we are ensnared.

Have we not fought enough wars in this Godforsaken region?

Last week, Russian planes launched air strikes on the rebels in Syria whom we have been arming and training to overthrow Assad.

Said John Kerry, “Russia needs to understand that our patience is not infinite.” But why are we arming rebels to overthrow Assad?

Who rises if he falls? Moscow’s alliance with Damascus goes back decades. Syria provides Russia with a naval base in the Mediterranean. Vladimir Putin’s support for the embattled Syrian regime in the civil war being waged against it is legal under international law.

It is our policy that appears questionable.

Where did Obama get the right to arm and train rebels to dump over the Damascus regime? Did Congress authorize this insurrection? Or is this just another CIA-National Endowment for Democracy project?

Why are we trying to bring down Assad, anyhow?

U.S. foreign policy today seems unthinking, reactive, impulsive.

Last week, 31,000 NATO troops conducted exercises in Poland and the Baltic republics, right alongside the border with Russia.

For the first time since 1945, German tanks appeared in Poland.

Now we are planning to base four NATO battalions – one U.S.-led, one British, one German, and perhaps one Canadian, as the French and Italians are balking at being part of a tripwire for war.

How would we react if 31,000 Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Iranian and North Korean troops conducted military exercises across from El Paso and Brownsville, Texas?

How would we react if each of those countries left behind a battalion of troops to prevent a repeat of General “Black Jack” Pershing’s intervention in Mexico in 1916?

Americans would be apoplectic.

Nor are some Europeans enthusiastic about confronting Moscow.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the NATO exercises “warmongering” and “saber-rattling.” He adds, “Anyone who believes that symbolic tank parades on the alliance’s eastern border will increase security is wrong. We would be well-advised not to deliver any excuses for a new, old confrontation.”

Not only is Steinmeier’s Social Democratic Party leery of any new Cold War with Russia, so, too, is the German Left Party, and the anti-EU populist party Alternative for Germany, which wants closer ties to Russia and looser ties to the United States.

This month, we sent the USS Porter into the Black Sea. Why? Says Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, “to deter potential aggression.”

While there is talk of a NATO Black Sea fleet, Bulgaria, one of the three NATO Black Sea nations, appears to want no part of it.

The European Union also just voted to extend sanctions on Russia for annexing Crimea and supporting separatists in Ukraine.

Donald Trump calls the NATO alliance a rip-off, a tripwire for World War III and “obsolete.” Hillary Clinton compares Putin’s actions in Ukraine to Hitler’s actions in Germany in the early 1930s.

Looking for a four-year faceoff with a nuclear-armed Russia?

Hillary’s the one!

Man charged for attempting ‘to kill Trump’

A British man has been charged with trying to snatch a police officer’s gun in a bid to shoot presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The man allegedly told investigators he wanted “to kill Trump.”

June 20, 2016


Michael Steven Sandford, 19, was arrested Saturday as he tried to grab a gun from a police officer’s holster at a Trump rally at the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas, according to court documents filed in Nevada.

Sandford, a British national, said he had driven from California to Las Vegas to kill Trump and had been to a firing range the day before to practice as he had never shot a gun, court documents said.

“Sandford acknowledged that he would likely only be able to fire one to two rounds and stated he was convinced he would be killed by law enforcement during his attempt on Trump’s life,” the documents said.

He had apparently also bought tickets to another rally in Phoenix in case his bid to kill Trump in Las Vegas failed.

“Sandford further stated that if he were on the street tomorrow, he would try this again,” according to the complaint. “Sandford claimed he had been planning to attempt to kill Trump for about a year but decided to act on this occasion because he finally felt confident to do it.”

The 19-year-old had been in the United States for 18 months. He is charged with committing an act of violence on restricted ground.

Campaign shake-up

Separately on Monday, Trump announced he had fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski following reports of disagreements and infighting.

Lewandowski had long been seen as a controversial figure in Trump’s campaign but benefitted from his proximity to the presumptive Republican nominee, traveling with Trump to nearly every campaign stop.

Throughout his time as campaign manager, Lewandowski dismissed the idea that Trump needed to hire more experienced staff to help with his bid and endorsed Trump’s divisive rhetoric – despite calls among Republicans for more moderation.

Lewandowski led the campaign from the beginning and was credited with Trump’s initial success in the primaries. More recently, however, he appeared to have been sidelined, with more experienced political operatives starting to take over in the run-up to the November 8 election.

The Big One: ‘Large scale motion’ detected along San Andreas fault

June 21, 2016


Large scale motion has been detected along the San Andreas Fault line, thanks to new analysis of existing data that could help predict ‘The Big One’ in the future.

Previously uninterpreted data showing vertical movement of the fault’s crust detected several millimeters of uplift and subsidence in surface areas as large as 125 miles.

While these hotspots were predicted in models before, this is the first time scientists were able to block out white noise and other diluting factors such as precipitation and local surface geology.

Published in the Nature Geosciences journal, researcher Samuel Howell said they were able to use the new modeling technique to “break down the noisy signals to isolate a simple vertical motion pattern that curiously straddled the San Andreas fault.”

The San Andreas Fault is the tectonic boundary between the Pacific and North American Plates and runs close to major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco as well as nuclear power plants

‘The Big One’ is expected to produce a game-changing earthquake within the next 30 years causing massive devastation to California.

Federal, state, and military officials have been working on contingency plans for the looming disaster, which could see 14,000 dead and 30,000 injured, according to AP

A 2005 study published in the journal Nature found the fault had reached a sufficient level of stress for an earthquake of a magnitude greater than 7.0, with the risk concentrated on the area of the fault near Los Angeles.

According to the new research, scientists will be able to study and understand the behavior of faults, even when dormant, using the vertical readings in the hope of predicting activity.

Emergency services will also benefit from more accurate seismic hazard estimates, predicting where on the surface movement is more likely to occur when ‘The Big One’ eventually strikes.

San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake of magnitude 7.8 left more than half of the city’s residents homeless and killed between 700 and 3,000 people.

New wildfires erupt in California as heatwave strikes west coast

Fires miles apart devoured hundreds of acres of brush by Los Angeles

Officials warned of extreme fire danger in region as heatwave peaked

June 20, 2016

Associated Press

New wildfires erupted Monday in southern California and chased people from their homes as an intensifying heatwave stretching from the west coast to New Mexico blistered the region.

Towering columns of smoke rose from the San Gabriel mountains behind Los Angeles as the fires several miles apart devoured hundreds of acres of brush on steep slopes above foothill suburbs.

Police in the city of Azusa and parts of Duarte ordered hundreds of homes evacuated. Others were under voluntary evacuations.

“It’s crazy. It’s super close,” said 17-year-old Tawni Atencio, whose family was evacuating their home in Bradbury.

She said the flames were just a couple miles away and were making the house hot despite air conditioning. She watched as smoke from the fire billowed outside and helicopters dropped retardant on the flames.

“It looked like a bomb exploded,” she said. “It’s scary. We’re just praying it doesn’t get to our house.”

The two fires had grown to a combined five square miles. The first and largest of the two was sparked by a car accident, the California Highway Patrol said.

Helicopters sucked water out of a reservoir to drop on flames while air tankers bombarded the flanks of the fire with retardant.

Officials had warned of extreme fire danger in the region as the heatwave peaked. Temperatures surpassed 100 degrees across much of southern California well before noon, while some desert cities sizzled in the 120s.

Elsewhere, crews made progress against a nearly week-old blaze in rugged coastal mountains west of Santa Barbara, where overnight winds had pushed flames into previously burned areas, allowing firefighters to boost containment to more than 50%.

But 270 homes and other buildings still were threatened by the blaze, which has charred more than 12 square miles since Wednesday.

Another wildfire was growing near a small desert town close to the Mexico border. It surged to nearly 3 square miles amid triple-digit temperatures and forced the evacuation of about 75 people from Potrero, a ranching community a few miles north of Tecate, Mexico, and about 40 miles south-east of San Diego.

Three firefighters suffered heat-related injuries and were taken to a hospital for evaluations.

“We’re expecting to have pretty significant fire activity today,” said Capt Kendal E Bortisser of the California department of forestry and fire protection.

Other blazes burned wide swaths across Arizona and New Mexico, where firefighters also faced blistering temperatures Monday.

In central New Mexico, a 28-square-mile fire that erupted last week and destroyed 24 homes in the Manzano mountains south of Albuquerque was largely uncontained. But higher humidity overnight allowed crews to strengthen lines around the fire.

Farther north, a small blaze ignited in a popular recreation area, and Santa Fe National Forest officials considered some youth camps and campgrounds threatened. Both camps posted social media updates saying the facilities were fine and there was no immediate threat.

In eastern Arizona, a fire doubled to nearly 42 square miles and led officials to warn a community of 300 residents to prepare to evacuate. But the blaze on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation south-west of Show Low was not moving quickly toward the community of Cedar Creek because of sparse vegetation and shifting winds.

Leaked Guide Shows Clinton Staffers How to Solicit for Super PAC Without Breaking Pesky Rules

June 20, 2016

by Jon Schwartz

The Intercept

Let’s say you’re running a huge campaign to elect Hillary Clinton president. Citizens United made it possible for Super PACs to raise unlimited amounts of money from incredibly rich people. You want them to give as much money as possible to Priorities USA, the main Super PAC supporting Clinton.

Sadly, however, there are still rules forbidding campaign staffers from explicitly asking the incredibly rich to give more than $5,000 to Super PACs like Priorities USA. They are loose rules, and rarely enforced rules, but they are rules nonetheless.

So what can you, a Clinton operative with a Cleveland Park mortgage and irritatingly expensive children, do to avoid paying defense lawyers half a million dollars in the very unlikely event that the Federal Election Commission decides to open an investigation into what you did?

Fortunately, a 2015 memo evidently written by Marc Elias, now general counsel for the Clinton campaign, explains it all. Very precisely.

The memo, found among the trove of documents from the Democratic National Committee apparently stolen by the hacker who goes by the name Guccifer 2.0, includes rules and sample statements that will keep you on the right side of America’s barely existing campaign finance laws.

All the rules quoted below are taken directly from that memo. The sample statements are an artistic extrapolation.

Rule: “All conversations that refer to a Preferred Super PAC should include a hard ask for $5,000.”

Statement: “The law allows us to ask our supporters to give $5,000 to the Priorities USA Super PAC. I legally cannot ask you to give more than that, even though, given your enormous fortune, you could easily afford it. You are very handsome and/or pretty.”

Rule: “Do not specifically earmark the funds for [Hillary Clinton]’s election.”

Statement: “We do not control how Priorities USA spends its money. Anything is possible! Anything at all! All the people making the decisions have been employed by Bill and Hillary Clinton since 1995.”

Rule: “As long as a hard money solicitation is made, you may speak freely about the campaign’s support for that Super PAC’s work.”

Statement: “We hope you will give $5,000 to Priorities USA! We can’t win this election without them! Of course, we are not asking you to give them more than $5,000! That would be a violation of obscure campaign finance regulations and we care about upholding those far more than winning even though if we lose to Trump the earth will be covered in a pestilential darkness!”

Rule: “You may make the hard money solicitation after the statement(s) of support. … If you inadvertently forget before hanging up, you should call the campaign donor immediately and make the hard money solicitation.”

Statement: “We just want to emphasize that Priorities USA is fantastic and the only thing that can stop Trump from feeding your kids to his herd of giant man-eating hogs.” [HANG UP, CALL BACK] “Sorry, I forgot to mention that we are only asking you to give $5,000 to Priorities USA and not some greater amount reflecting the value you place on your children’s lives.” [MAKE OINKING SOUNDS]

Rule: “If a donor provides you with an amount of money that s/he wants to give and asks where it should go, you should reply with a hard money ask. If a donor says to you, “I have $1 million I want to spend on this election” and asks where it should go, you should reply with a hard money ask.”

Statement: “I want the first $5,400 to go to the campaign. The next $33,400 should go [to] the DNC’s main account. The next $70,000 should go to the following seven state party federal accounts (then list them). The next $100,200 should go to the DNC’s building fund account. Finally, you should support [Preferred Super PAC A] and [Preferred Super PAC B]. We cannot win without them. The law allows us to ask our supporters for $5,000 each for [Preferred Super PAC A and B]. That is what we are doing.”

(OK, that one was actually word-for-word from the memo.)

Rule: “You may provide contact information of Super PAC personnel, but you may not lean on the donor to take a call or meeting from Super PAC personnel.”

Statement: “You can contact the president of Priorities USA to learn more. Here is his work phone, cellphone, home phone, email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Skype, Snapchat, Instagram, mailing address and he just texted me that he is standing outside your front door right now dressed as George Washington. But no pressure.”

Europe worries Brexit vote could trigger a stampede of exits

June 20, 2016

by Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola

The Washington Post

BRUSSELS – Days ahead of Thursday’s British referendum on whether to break free from the European Union, many here fear the decision could lead to the destruction of one of the most ambitious political projects since the Holy Roman Empire.

Euro-skeptics across the continent are salivating at the prospect of Britain’s departure, hoping to sever their own territories from a map that stretches from the sunny coasts of Portugal to the frigid taiga of Finland. With populist parties surging across the continent, the Brits could be only the first to leave.

The region has been dramatically tested in recent years, by the Greek debt crisis, renewed Russian aggression and, more recently, a historic migration crisis. Britain’s exit, officials and experts say, could provide the biggest challenge yet.

Britain’s departure could also damage the union’s relationship with Washington, robbing it of its British bridge to the United States. Britain remains one of the biggest advocates of globalization in Europe, and its exit could give new voice to trade protectionists across the region. Among the casualties, critics fear, could be plans for a massive free-trade deal between the United States and Europe.

The question is whether a British exit — or Brexit — could spark a stampede for the door in other countries where the Brussels-seated body remains highly unpopular. At the moment, the list of countries that might consider bolting is relatively short: France, Denmark, the Netherlands and a handful of others. But that could change quickly, experts warn.

Even if nations defuse their own burgeoning Euro-skeptic movements, the days in which leaders convened in Brussels to hand ever more sovereignty to the E.U. may be over if Britain departs, diplomats say. That would be a major blow to a project that started after World War II to bind nations together so tightly that they could never battle each other.

Some of those who have occupied the E.U.’s highest offices now say they were mistaken to think that if they knocked down economic barriers among countries, a feeling of political unity underneath the blue-and-gold E.U. flag would follow.

“We have the flag and the anthem. We don’t have much of what supports the flag and the anthem,” said Pascal Lamy, who was the chief of staff to Jacques Delors, the leader of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995 and considered one of the main architects of the modern E.U.

The turmoil “is extremely disappointing to the founding fathers, who thought they were like medieval alchemists,” Lamy said. “They thought they could transform the stone of economic integration into the gold of political integration.”

As “leave” started to beat “remain” in British opinion polls in recent weeks, E.U. diplomats say that their sense of complacency was replaced by deep nervousness. Already, pressure to hold E.U. referendums is leaping across the English Channel toward the rest of Europe. An Ipsos Mori poll last month found that 55 percent of French voters and 58 percent of Italian voters wanted plebiscites of their own.

In France, where the far-right, Euro-skeptic National Front has surged in the polls ahead of 2017 presidential elections, one center-right presidential hopeful suggested holding a referendum as a way of reaffirming France’s commitment to European values.

Bruno Le Maire, who was France’s agriculture minister during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy, last month proposed giving “the floor back to the sovereign people about the European question.”

But many analysts are not confident that French voters would choose to remain in the E.U. if presented with the choice. French views of the E.U. are even worse than Britons’, according to a poll this month from the Pew Research Center. The center found that 61 percent of French people have negative views of the E.U., compared with 48 percent in Britain.

Growing anger at the E.U. is also a product of what its critics see as its many failings: Running Greece into the ground in exchange for the right to remain in the euro zone. Failing to solve massive unemployment rates across southern Europe. Miscalculating the Russian response to the E.U. bid to bring Ukraine closer to Brussels. And the E.U.’s fractured handling of the refugee crisis — including forging a deal with a man increasingly seen as an emerging dictator at Europe’s doorstep, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Proponents of the E.U., meanwhile, have sometimes struggled to mount arguments that appeal to the heart, not just the pocketbook. Part of the difficulty is that the bloc is now so large and diverse that there is no single, unifying selling point.

“There is no European ideal that is clearly defined and on which all members would agree,” said Latvia’s ambassador to the E.U., Sanita Pavluta-Deslandes. Latvia joined the E.U. in 2004, in part as a shield from its former rulers in the Kremlin.

In Vienna on Friday, leaders of right-wing and nationalist parties across Europe gathered for a show of force ahead of the British vote, calling it a step toward what Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, described as “Europe a la carte.”

Marcus Pretzell, a German member of the European Parliament from the anti-E.U., anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party, told reporters at the gathering that “if Great Britain should leave the European Union . . . one will perhaps see that, contrary to all prophecies of doom, there’s life after the European Union.” Pretzell’s party recently made sweeping gains in local elections, exploiting many of the same frustrations as in Britain.

Many European leaders say they will impose tough divorce terms on Britain if it votes to leave, in part because they fear that making it too easy would embolden their own Euro-skeptic voices.

The E.U. “has become far less Francophone, far more Anglophone, far more globalized,” said Michael Leigh, a British citizen who left the European Commission in 2011 as director general for enlargement, one of the highest civil-service positions in the system.

Now Leigh is a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, watching the turmoil from outside the system.

“If you actually look at policy and substance, a great deal of what the E.U. does today bears the mark of the British,” he said.

James McAuley in Paris and Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report.

“In is in, out is out,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in a recent interview in Der Spiegel. He seemed to rule out the possibility that Britain could retain tariff-free access to E.U. nations if it decided to leave the bloc, contradicting a key argument of Britain’s E.U. opponents.

Still, even if Britain opts to leave, Germany and the rest of the E.U. have massive incentives to find a way to maintain a close economic relationship with London, and vice versa. In a recent op-ed piece in the Euro am Sonntag weekly, Matthias Wissmann, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, noted that almost a third of all new cars sold in Britain — or 810,000 — were manufactured in Germany. And of the almost 1.6 million cars manufactured in Britain in 2015, 1.2 million were exported.

For the thousands of British citizens in Brussels who have devoted their careers to the E.U., the razor-thin poll numbers are a painful counterweight to the influence they feel they have had since Britain joined the bloc’s predecessor in 1973.

How Israel Is Inciting Palestinian Violence

Inside the oppressive and far-reaching occupation designed to give Palestinians the “feeling of being chased.”

June 14, 2016

by Ben Ehrenreich


The news was familiar but no less alarming for the ugly déjà vu: four Israelis killed on Wednesday night by Palestinian gunmen in the heart of Tel Aviv. Israel’s government, the most right-wing in the country’s history, responded with measures that the UN promptly warned might count as collective punishment: flooding the West Bank with troops, sealing off the West Bank and Gaza, and revoking entry permits that had allowed 83,000 Palestinians to cross into Israel for work, worship and medical care.

On Thursday, the day after the shootings, Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai found the courage to state the obvious—that violence will persist until the occupation ends. Israel “is perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights,” Huldai said. Such frankness counts as bravery these days, but even Huldai was understating the truth. It’s not the mere fact of a military occupation, of Israeli troops on Palestinian territory, that provokes such attacks. It can be difficult to comprehend from across the Atlantic, or even from usually tranquil Tel Aviv, but the occupation, as I have observed while reporting from the West Bank since 2011, functions as a massive mechanism for the creation of uncertainty, dispossession and systematic humiliation. It is not just soldiers and guns, but a far-reaching structure that affects all aspects of Palestinian life—a complex web of checkpoints, travel restrictions, permits, walls and fences, courts and prisons, endless constraints on economic possibilities, home demolitions, land appropriations, expropriation of natural resources, and, too often, lethal force.

No amount of preventive repression or collective punishment will bring an end to the bloodletting in Tel Aviv or elsewhere. As long as this oppressive system stands, and the United States continues to support it with billions of dollars a year in military aid, despair will spread, and with it death.

A conversation I had two summers ago with a former Israeli soldier named Eran Efrati opened one small window onto how the occupation works. We met in Jerusalem at the beginning of a war on Gaza that would leave more than 2,000 Palestinians dead. Efrati had long since left the army and become an anti-occupation activist, but he spent most of 2006 and 2007 stationed in the southern West Bank city of Hebron. He was 19 when he arrived there and at the time saw little reason to question the Israeli military’s presence in the city. At his first briefing, he recalled an officer asking the troops what they would do if they saw a Palestinian running at a settler with a knife.

“Of course the answer was you shoot him in the center of his body,” Efrati said. The officer posed the question in reverse: What if it was the settler with a knife? “And the answer was you cannot do anything. The best you can do is call the police, but you’re not allowed to touch them. From day one the command was, ‘You cannot touch the settlers.’” This made sense to him, Efrati said. Palestinians were the enemy. The settlers seemed a little crazy, but they were Jews.

A few days later, thousands of settlers arrived from all over the West Bank to celebrate a religious holiday. The army imposed a curfew to keep Palestinians off the streets. Efrati’s first task as a soldier in Hebron was to throw stun grenades into an elementary school to announce the beginning of the curfew. “I just did it, like everyone else,” he said, “and within seconds, hundreds of kids ran outside. I was standing at the entrance and a lot of them looked at me in the eyes—that was the first time that it hit me. All of a sudden I understood what I was doing. I understood what I looked like.”

That weekend, Efrati recalled, settlers filled the central city. He was assigned to escort a group of them into the Patriarchs’ Tomb, a site holy to both Islam and Judaism, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah are believed to be buried. The settlers were allowed into the Palestinian side of the site, into the mosque. What he saw there shocked him: Israeli children were peeing on the floors and burning the carpets. Their parents were there—the mosque was packed with settlers—but no one was stopping them. He and another soldier grabbed one of the children and took a cigarette lighter from his hand. “He started screaming at us,” Efrati said. “We laughed at him.” Five minutes later, “one of our very, very high-ranking officers came inside the mosque and said, ‘Did you steal something from the kid?’” They tried to explain, but the officer only repeated the question. “We said yes.” The officer ordered them to give it back and apologize. They found the child, apologized and returned the lighter. The boy ran right into the next room, Efrati said, and resumed setting fire to the carpets.

Things got weirder. Efrati was put in charge of a checkpoint separating the area of Hebron inhabited by settlers from the larger Palestinian city. He described it as grueling, mind-numbing work, standing in the cold for as long as 16 hours, usually hungry and always sleep-deprived. Inflicting humiliation was part of the assignment. Schoolteachers would cross dressed in suits and ties. The soldiers would make them strip in front of their students. “Sometimes we would make them wait for hours in their underwear,” Efrati said.

The pretext was to check them for weapons. “Nobody thought that anything would happen to them,” he said, but the troops were told again and again by their officers that all Palestinians were potential threats, that anyone might stab them if they dropped their guard for a moment. That notion, Efrati said, “made us very, very aggressive. So you would push them against the wall, undress them, take your weapon and hit them a few times.

“If he’s saying something, hit him. If he turns around, hit him. Just make sure that you’re completely in control.”

His conscience began to nag at him. He started bringing bags of Bamba—a popular Israeli snack food, like Cheez Doodles, only peanut flavored and not phosphorescent orange—to the checkpoint and offering them to children. After a few days, “the first brave kid came up, grabbed a bag of Bamba and ran away.” Efrati was thrilled. Not long after, a Palestinian boy of about eight years old asked him for a treat. This boy didn’t run.

He opened the bag, and offered some to Efrati. They sat and ate the chips together. When the boy walked off, Efrati felt ecstatic. He could finally be the man he wanted to be, a soldier who was loved for his kindness and who at the same time, as he put it, “was protecting my country from a second Holocaust.”

When he got back to the base that night, he was ordered to eat quickly and prepare for another shift, not at the checkpoint but on a “mapping” expedition into into the section of the city governed by the Palestinian Authority. He was still so high from his success with the Bamba that he didn’t mind the extra work. The routine was simple: “You go into houses in the middle of the night, get everybody outside, take a photo of the family, and start going around the house, destroying things.” The idea was to search for weapons, “but we also needed to send a message,” Efrati said, to make sure the residents never lost “the feeling of being chased.” (It’s awkward in English, but it’s a single word in Hebrew. His officers used it a lot, Efrati said.) His job was to draft maps of each house, charting the rooms, the doors and the windows. “If at some point there was a terror attack from that specific house,” the army would be ready.

That night, they searched, trashed and mapped two houses in the neighborhood of Abu Sneineh. It was snowy and cold. When they were done, the sun had not yet risen, so their officer chose one more house, apparently at random. They forced the family outside and into the snow and went in and started searching. Efrati opened the door to a child’s room—he remembered seeing a painting of Winnie-the-Pooh on one wall—and had begun sketching when he realized that there was someone in the bed. A young boy leaped out from under the covers. He was naked. Startled, Efrati raised his gun, aiming at the child. It was the kid from the checkpoint that afternoon. “He started peeing himself,” Efrati said, “and we were just shaking, both of us, we were just standing there shaking and we didn’t say a word.” The boy’s father, coming down the stairs with an officer, saw Efrati pointing a rifle at his son and raced into the room. “But instead of pushing me back,” Efrati said, “he starts slapping his kid on the floor. He’s slapping him in front of me and he’s looking at me saying, ‘Please, please don’t take my child. Whatever he did, we’ll punish him.’”

In the end, the officer decided that the man’s behavior was suspicious, that “he was hiding something.” He ordered Efrati to arrest him. “So we took the father, blindfolded him, cuffed his hands behind his back and put him in a military jeep.” They dumped him like that at the entrance to the base. “He stayed there for three days in a very torn-up shirt and boxer shorts. He just sat there in the snow.” Eventually, Efrati summoned the courage to ask his officer what would happen to the boy’s father. “He didn’t even know what I was talking about,” Efrati said. “He was like, ‘Which father?’” Efrati reminded him. “You can release him,” the officer said. “He learned his lesson.”

After cutting the plastic ties that bound the man’s wrists, untying the blindfold and watching him run off barefoot in his underwear through the streets, Efrati realized that he had never given his commander the maps he had drawn. He hurried back to the officer’s room. “I really fucked up,” he told him, apologizing for his negligence.

The officer wasn’t angry. “It’s okay,” he said. “You can throw them away.”

Efrati was confused. He protested: wasn’t mapping a vital task that might save other soldiers’ lives?

The officer got annoyed. “He says, ‘Come on, Efrati. Stop bitching. Go away.’” But Efrati kept arguing. He didn’t understand.

When it became apparent that he wasn’t going anywhere, the officer told him: “We’ve been doing mappings every night, three or four houses a night, for forty years.” He personally had searched and mapped the house in question twice before with other units.

Efrati was even more confused.

The officer took pity, and explained: “If we go into their houses all the time, if you arrest people all the time, if they feel terrified all the time, they will never attack us. They will only feel chased after.”

That, Efrati said, “was the first time I understood that everything I was told was complete bullshit.” From then on, he said, “I didn’t stop doing the things I did, I just stopped thinking.”

Of course Efrati’s officer was wrong. If you terrorize people long enough, they eventually lose their fear. They hold onto the anger. This last October, after a year of relative calm, young Palestinians began attacking Israeli soldiers, police and civilians, occasionally with guns or cars but most often with household implements: knives, scissors, screwdrivers. The attacks were uncoordinated and outside the control of the Palestinian leadership or the traditional armed factions. Many occurred in or near Hebron, often at checkpoints or other sites of friction between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli military, but also on buses and trains in Jerusalem, in supermarkets and in the streets.

In November, Major General Herzl Halev, Israel’s highest ranking military intelligence officer, explained to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet that the attacks were not primarily ideological. They were, he said, motivated by rage and frustration and carried out by youth—mainly teenagers—who “felt they had nothing to lose.” In fact, they had a great deal to lose, as much as anyone, their whole lives ahead of them. But the fact that so many were willing to throw it away, and to take others with them, testifies to the depths of the despair bred by Israel’s occupation.

When I was back in Israel and the West Bank earlier this month, the violence appeared to be ebbing. Until Wednesday’s shootings, no Israelis had been killed by Palestinians since February 18. In the same period, Israeli security forces killed 34 Palestinians, including a six-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother who died when an air strike hit their family’s home in the Gaza Strip. Their names were Israa and Yasin Abu Khussa. Such deaths rarely make headlines here, but Palestinians are well aware of them. So long as they continue, and the occupation drags on, we can all expect many more opportunities to grieve.

President Erdoğan adviser says there is ‘no need for anyone else in Turkey to engage in politics’

‘Our duty is to support the leader in this country’

June 20, 2016

by Kayleigh Lewis


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s chief economic adviser has told a state television programme there is “no need for anyone else to engage in politics”.

Mr Erdoğan and his supporters say Turkey needs a strong executive presidency to help steer the country through its big security and economic challenges. However, critics say the divisive president has been behaving in an increasingly authoritarian manner.

Yiğit Bulut, who was previously a journalist but is now a senior adviser to the President, was speaking to TRT Haber last week when he said: “There is already a leader in this country and he is engaging in politics.

“There is no need for anyone else to engage in politics. He is engaging in politics both at home and abroad. Our duty is to support the leader in this country.”

The role of the president in Turkey is largely ceremonial, but Mr Erdoğan has been accused of trying to tighten his grip in the country.

The interview was aired just days before the country’s government put forward a draft bill to be debated in parliament which would see the president significantly increase his hold over the judicial system.

Last week the Turkish government announced plans to remove hundreds of top judges from the country’s courts and instead hand Mr Erdoğan more say on judicial appointments.

Under the draft law, which is being debated in parliament, all 711 judges at two of the highest courts — the Council of State, which hears cases lodged by citizens against the government, and the Supreme Court of Appeals — will be removed. Some are expected to be reappointed, but it is unclear how many.

The government claims the major overhaul would speed up courts and deal with a backlog of cases, however opponents say the move would undermine judicial independence.

Mr Erdoğan is already accused of using the courts to intimidate opponents. Since he became president in 2014 around 2,000 cases have been opened against people, including journalists, cartoonists and teenagers, who have apparently insulted him.

“This will consolidate all power into one man’s hand,” Metin Feyzioglu, the head of Turkey’s bar association warned.

Turkey arrests journalists, academic for ‘terror’ propaganda

June 20, 2016


ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish court placed two Turkish journalists — including a local representative of Reporters Without Borders — and an academic in pretrial arrest Monday over charges of disseminating “terrorist propaganda,” according to the press freedom rights group and Turkish media reports.

Reporters Without Borders’ Erol Onderoglu, along with journalist Ahmet Nesin and academic Sebnem Korur Fincanci, had participated in a solidarity campaign in support of Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish publication subject to multiple investigations and lawsuits. The private Dogan news agency said the campaign involved participants acting as chief editor for a day.

The three were ordered arrested after they testified before the public prosecutor with the state judiciary’s Terrorism and Organized Crimes Bureau.

Fincanci, chair of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, said during her testimony to the prosecutor that all of the articles on the day she acted as editor “should be covered by the principles of freedom of thought and expression,” the agency reported.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the arrests as “an unbelievable low for press freedom in Turkey.”

Later Monday the United Nations Correspondents Association said one of its members Razi Canikligil, who writes for the Turkish Hurriyet daily, was also arrested for articles and tweets on Turkish authorities. The UNCA said it “considers this a grave violation of freedom of the press.”

Press freedom advocates warn that freedom of expression has dramatically declined in Turkey, where lawsuits against journalists, academics and other public figures are common.

Since the rise to power in 2002 of the ruling AKP, several news outlets seized by the government have been handed over to businesses close to the party. Tax inspections and tax fines have served to intimidate many media outlets, which fear falling foul of the government. Journalists who are critical of the government have been fired. More than a dozen journalists are in prison, although the government insists they have been jailed for criminal activity, not journalistic work.

Last year, a group of party supporters raided the headquarters of Hurriyet newspaper, following criticism by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Soon after, Hurriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan was chased and beaten.

Turkey frequently blocks access to websites, and a pro-Kurdish television channel was recently taken off the air. Foreign journalists have been arrested and deported for reporting on Turkey’s renewed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the country’s mostly Kurdish southeast region.

German court again rejects Erdogan’s attempt to silence critical publisher

June 21, 2016


A German court has again rejected an appeal by Tayyip Recep Erdogan for an injunction against Mathias Doepfner, the head of publishing house Axel Springer. The CEO penned a letter in support of a satirist who mocked the ‘zoophilic needs’ of the Turkish leader.

Erdogan’s appeal was rejected by a German appeals court on Tuesday. The lawyers of the Turkish president, however, said they still were considering whether to file a separate lawsuit against the Axel Springer CEO.

The story started with the release of the now-popular poem by German comic Jan Bohmermann back in March this year. The poem implied that Erdogan was involved in alleged sex acts with goats and had a proclivity for child pornography.

Erdogan took exception to the poem, and later German Chancellor Angela Merkel also indicated she found it insulting. Bohmermann now faces prosecution under a rarely-used law that punishes those who insult foreign dignitaries.

Critics of the move said Merkel was doing everything possible in an effort not to “upset” Turkey, which has recently become crucial in an EU plan to tackle the migrant and refugee crisis.

Yet there were many who found the notorious poem amusing – including Mathias Doepfner, the Chief Executive Officer of German media group Axel Springer SE.

In a letter published by Die Welt in April, Doepfner said that he “wholeheartedly” endorsed the critical poem over which Bohmermann is facing defamation charges from Erdogan.

“For me your poem worked. I laughed out loud,” he wrote, adding that he backed the comedian.

In May the Turkish leader then requested that a lawsuit be filed against Doepfner. However, a Cologne court refused to grant an injunction against him. “The defendant has a right to free expression of opinion,” read a statement from the court, following Tuesday’s hearing.

At least 1,845 cases have been opened against those accused of insulting Erdogan since he came to office in 2014, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said back in May this year.

One of the most notable cases involved journalists from Cumhuriyet newspaper. In May, a Turkish court convicted Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief, and Erdem Gul, chief of the paper’s Ankara bureau, on charges of “revealing state secrets.” They were sentenced to over five years in prison.

Orlando shooting: Why was the gunman’s 911 transcript redacted?

June 20, 2016


The Department of Justice has re-issued a fuller transcript of one of the Orlando gunman’s 911 calls without redactions, after facing a wave of online backlash for omitting certain words.

The excerpts, released on Monday, excluded the names of gunman Omar Mateen as well as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Mateen, who killed 49 people at a gay Orlando nightclub, described himself as an “Islamic soldier” and pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi during his phone calls to authorities.

But in the first version of the transcript, any reference to IS or their leader was removed.

For example:

Police: What’s your name?

Mateen: My name is I pledge allegiance to [omitted].

The decision to omit the names sparked outrage among Twitter users including US House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Wisconsin Republican denounced the decision to redact as “preposterous” and called on the Obama administration to release the full transcript “so the public is clear-eyed about who did this, and why”.

“We know the shooter was a radical Islamist extremist inspired by Isis. We also know he intentionally targeted the LGBT community,” Mr Ryan said in a statement, referring to IS.

The Department of Justice released a statement later on Monday defending the redaction.

Officials said they wanted to remain sensitive to the victims, their families and the ongoing investigation, while also not providing “the killer or terrorist organisations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda”.

“Unfortunately, the unreleased portions of the transcript that named the terrorist organisations and leaders have caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime,” the statement said, before releasing the full transcript of Mateen’s first 50-second phone call.

The other calls he made were not released.

Mateen first called a 911 dispatcher about 30 minutes after he began shooting. During the call, Mateen spoke Arabic and praised “God the Merciful”.

In a later phone call, he told a negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that was why he was “out here right now”, according to the FBI transcript.

Mateen also told negotiators he had an explosive vest similar to the kind used by terrorists “in France,” making a reference to the November terror attack in Paris. But no vests were found.

“[Mateen] does not represent the religion of Islam, but a perverted view,” said Ron Hopper, the FBI assistant special agent in charge.

“Part of the redacting is meant to not give credence to individuals who have done terrorist attacks in the past,” he said. “We’re not going to propagate their violent rhetoric.”

Russia calls for swift resumption of Syria peace talks

June 21, 2016

by Stephanie Nebehay


GENEVA-Russia called on Tuesday for a swift resumption of stalled Syrian peace talks, saying it was the only way to halt “massive violations” of human rights perpetrated in the five-year-old conflict.

Russia, a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air strikes in September to support the Syrian army and its militia allies battling rebels and Islamic State fighters, and is backing an offensive on rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo.

It supports proposals for a political settlement under which some Syrian opposition figures would be brought into a Syrian unity government – steps which rebels and their foreign backers say do not go far enough.

“The only way to find a solution to the Syria crisis and stop the massive violations is to promptly convene talks with a broad spectrum of Syrian opposition which includes Syria Kurds,” Aleksei Goltiaev, senior counselor at Russia’s mission to UN in Geneva, told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“Only Syrians, without diktat, have the right to decide (their future),” Goltiaev said.

The main Syrian Kurdish political group, the PYD, was left out of Geneva peace talks which ground to a halt in late April without resultsGoltiaev’s comments followed an appeal by United Nations war crimes investigators for world powers to pressure the warring sides to return to the negotiating table.

Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the U.N. independent commission of inquiry on Syria, said that the Syrian government was conducting daily air strikes, while militant groups including Islamic State and the Nusra Front also carried out indiscriminate attacks.

“We need all states to insist time and time again that influential states and the (U.N.) Security Council unconditionally support the political process,” Pinheiro said.

U.S. ambassador Keith Harper did not refer to resumption of talks, but called for Damascus to release some of the “tens of thousands” of imprisoned Syrians. Many are subjected to “torture, sexual violence and denial of fair trials”, he said.

Pinheiro said schools, hospitals, mosques and water stations “are all being turned into rubble” and tens of thousands of people were trapped between frontlines and international borders.

Syria’s ambassador Hussam Aala accused regional powers of “supporting terrorism” and “causing the failure of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva”.

He said schools and hospitals in Aleppo were being destroyed and civilians killed by missiles provided by Turkey and Qatar to the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian branch.

In a report last week, the U.N. investigators said that Islamic State is committing genocide against the Yazidis in Syria and Iraq to destroy the religious community of 400,000 people through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.

“As we speak, Yazidi women and girls are still sexually enslaved in Syria, subjected to brutal rapes and beatings,” Pinheiro said on Tuesday.

Vian Dakhil, the only female Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, told a news briefing in Geneva: “We need the Security Council to bring this report to the Criminal Court.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Dominic Evans)



No responses yet

Leave a Reply