Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

detainee-photos-3The Pentagon today released 198 photos related to its investigations into abuse of detainees by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The photos are mainly close-up shots of arms, feet, heads, hands, or joints, sometimes showing bruises or scabs. Faces are redacted with black bars. It’s not always clear where each of the photos was taken, but they come from internal military investigations and have dates ranging from 2003 to 2006. Sometimes the marks on the prisoners’ skin are labeled with tape measuring the size of the wound, or a coin or pen for comparison.

These photos appear to be the most innocuous of the more than 2,000 images that the government has fought for years to keep secret. Lawyers for the government have long maintained that the photos, if released, could cause grievous harm to national security because they could be used for propaganda by groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The legal case has stretched on for more than a decade, since 2004, when the American Civil Liberties Union firstsued to obtain photos beyond the notorious images that had been leaked from the prison at Abu Ghraib.

It has been reported that some of the 2,000 imagesshow soldiers posing with dead bodies, kicking and punching detainees or posing them stripped naked next to female guards. The 198 photos that were released today do not show any of this.

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Did Hillary Lie About Her Iraq War Vote? Interview with Stephen Zunes

Jessica Desvarieux talks to Professor Stephen Zunes about Hillary Clinton’s explanation of her Iraq War vote, along with Bernie Sanders‘ plan to mobilize countries like Saudi Arabia to take on ISIS. (The Real News)

Obama and the Pentagon Plan Massive Military Escalation and the Media Barely Seem to Care

Adam Johnson writes for AlterNet:

Almost five years after the United States and its NATO allies launched a campaign in Libya to overthrow Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the United States is on the verge of massively escalating its military operations in the war-torn country. According to the New York Times, the new effort is “expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops.” It is unclear how long this newest effort will last.

The announcement comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announcing combat troops were going back to Iraq last week. While U.S special forces have been conducting “clandestine reconnaissance missions in Libya to identify militant leaders and map out their networks” over the past year, the New York Times report marks the first time overt combat troops will be deployed in the North African nation.

The 2011 campaign was itself something of a bait and switch. What was originally sold as simply a no-fly zone quickly became regime change. A few weeks after the UN-sanctioned bombing of Libya’s infrastructure and air capacity, the scope of the campaign pivoted when President Obama, along with Presidents Sarkozy and Cameron of France and the UK respectively, announced the entirely new objective: NATO airstrikes, in concert with ongoing CIA support of rebels, to overthrow the Qaddafi government.

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4409 Killed in Iraq During January

Margaret Griffis reports for Antiwar:

Culling numbers from media reports, Antiwar.com found that 931 people, mostly Iraqis, were killed, and 580 more were wounded. The Islamic State, Naqshbandi Army, and other militant groups lost 3,478 in fighting or by execution. Another 261 were reported wounded.

The United Nations also released its casualty figures for January. They estimate that 849 Iraqis were killed and 1,450 were wounded. At least 490 of those killed and 1,157 of the injured were civilians. They do not count casualties in Anbar nor among the militants. However, the numbers from Anbar province’s health department are 56 killed and 248 injured.

Combining the two counts, at least 4,409 were killed, and another 1,959 were wounded. In light of the fighting in Anbar province and the recapture of Ramadi, it stands to reason that these numbers are low. They should be considered conservative estimates at best. The Iraqi government appears to be concealing the number of security casualties, while at the same time over-estimating militant deaths. The actual figures may never be known.

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Hugh Wilford on America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East

John Batchelor talks to Hugh Wilford, a historian at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and the author of several books on the CIA and British intelligence during the Cold War. In this interview Wilford discusses information found in his 2013 book America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East. (The John Batchelor Show)

Examining the Syria War Chessboard: Interview with Dr. Vijay Prashad

The war in Syria is an unparalleled crisis. Having gone far beyond an internal political struggle, the war is marked by a complex array of forces that the U.S. Empire hopes to command: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and more. To simplify this web of enemies and friends in the regional war, Abby Martin interviews Dr. Vijay Prashad, professor of International Studies at Trinity College and author of several books including The Poorer Nations, A People’s History of the Third World and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. (The Empire Files)

Brutal Repression in Egypt Exceeds Conditions Under Mubarak: Interview with Noha Radwan

Sharmini Peries talks to Noha Radwan, an associate professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at UC Davis. Radwan discusses the conditions facing political prisoners, where as many as seventy people are crammed into 15×15 spaces, while calling on the international community for assistance. (The Real News)

Egypt, five years later: A human-rights catastrophe of America’s making

Ganzeer writes for Creative Time Reports:

Egypt, five years later: A human-rights catastrophe of America's makingFive years ago this month, thousands of Egyptians filled Tahrir Square and ignited a mass uprising that lasted 18 days and drove strongman president Hosni Mubarak from office. It seemed to augur a bright future for freedom and democracy in Egyptbut five years, multiple referendums, two parliaments, two presidents, and scores of dead bodies later, Egypts present looks just like its past. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisis crackdown on dissidents spreads: at the end of last year the Interior Ministry raided cultural institutions, including a publishing house and art gallery. Sisi, as well as his minister of religious endowment, have both warned citizens against taking to the streets on the January 25 anniversary. Yet nobodyat least not in the White Houseseems to care.

Even before assuming office, Sisi was already responsible for an estimated death toll of at least 817 during the brutal clearing of a peaceful sit-in in Rabaa Square on August 14, 2013. And under his administration the Egyptian Armed Forcesoperations in Sinai have reportedly killed more than 2,000 people so far, including an unknown number of civilians (the Egyptian government acknowledges virtually no civilian deaths). The Egyptian people are so disillusioned that hardly anyone showed up to vote in the most recent parliamentary elections. Not even fatwas could get people to the pollsand why should they vote, when Sisis actions have made it clear that their votes do not matter? But none of that is stopping the United States from supporting him.

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Is America about to sleepwalk into a war in Libya? We need a debate now

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

You wouldn’t know it from the presidential campaign, but the US is preparing to start military action in Libya … again. And given that Hillary Clinton was the leading proponent inside the Obama administration for bombing Libya and regime change the first time around, this should have a direct bearing on the presidential debate. Should, but hasn’t.

Libya has devolved into chaos since the US decided to launch airstrikes and overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and has increasingly become a base for Isis operations in recent months thanks to infighting among the new government and its inability to control its own territory – a result that the advocates of the first Libyan intervention who hailed the move four years ago are conspicuously silent on now.

And instead of discussing the havoc military campaigns can wreak and the blowback they often engender, Republicans and Hillary Clinton have all been arguing about who is going to increase military action in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

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The West’s return to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya proves the warmongers wrong

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle East Eye:

Despite an almost total lack of public debate, Western military escalation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya is on the rise.

Renewed military interventionism has been largely justified as a response to the meteoric rise of Islamic State networks, spreading across parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

Missing from government pronouncements, though, is any acknowledgement that the proliferation of Islamist terrorism is a direct consequence of the knee-jerk response of military escalation.

Discarded to the memory hole is the fact that before each of the major interventions in these three countries, our political leaders promised they would bring security, freedom and prosperity.

Instead, they have done precisely the opposite.

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New Film Reveals History and Consequences of Israeli Settlements on Palestinian Land: Interview with Shimon Dotan

Amy Goodman talks to Shimon Dotan, an award winning filmmaker and director of a new film, The Settlers, which has just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. (Democracy Now!)

Genocide Scholar Blasts Israel’s ‘Racist’ Teaching of the Holocaust

Ofer Aderet reports for Haaretz:

A memorial to the murdered European Sinti and Roma who were persecuted as 'Gypsies,' designed by Dani Karavan , in Berlin, 2012.The cover of the new book by historian and genocide scholar Prof. Yair Auron features a drawing of five different-colored patches: red for political prisoners; black for asocial and work-shy prisoners; pink for homosexuals; brown for Gypsies; and purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Only one color is missing – the yellow patch for Jews. The book’s title, “The Non-Jewish Victims of the Nazi Regime,” explains why.

Auron, 70, professor emeritus at the Open University, specializes in genocide studies and has devoted the past few decades to a politically charged and sensitive issue: the attempt to introduce into the Israeli education system a recognition of the suffering of other peoples who were decimated, both in the Holocaust and other historical circumstances.

His thesis is clear: Israel prefers to avoid, repress and minimize the suffering of other peoples in the Holocaust and other circumstances, to perpetuate victimization and isolationism.

“It must be asked if, in Israel in 2016, instead of also shaping Holocaust commemoration through humanist and democratic values, it is unknowingly – and, perhaps for many, knowingly – fostering racism and xenophobia,” Auron told Haaretz in an interview marking the book’s publication. “Ignoring the non-Jewish victims is perhaps the most concrete manifestation of this trend,” he added.

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The U.S. Intervention in Libya Was Such a Smashing Success That a Sequel Is Coming

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

The immediate aftermath of the NATO bombing of Libya was a time of high gloating. Just as Iraq War advocates pointed to the capture and killing of Saddam Hussein as proof that their war was a success, Libya war advocates pointed to the capture and brutal killing of Muammar el-Qaddafi as proof of their vindication. War advocates such as Anne-Marie Slaughterand Nicholas Kristof were writing columns celebrating their prescience and mocking war opponents as discredited, and the New York Times published a front-page article declaring: “U.S. Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.” It was widely expected that Hillary Clinton, one of the leading advocates for and architects of the bombing campaign, would be regarded as a Foreign Policy Visionary for the grand Libya success: “We came, we saw, he died,” Clinton sociopathically boasted about the mob rape and murder of Qaddafi while guffawing on 60 Minutes.

Since then, Libya — so predictably — has all but completely collapsed, spending years now drowning in instability, anarchy, fractured militia rule, sectarian conflict, and violent extremism. The execution of Saddam Hussein was no vindication of that war nor a sign of improved lives for Iraqis, and the same was true for themob killing of Qaddafi. As I wrote the day after Qaddafi fled Tripoli and Democratic Party loyalists were prancing around in war victory dances: “I’m genuinely astounded at the pervasive willingness to view what has happened in Libya as some sort of grand triumph even though virtually none of the information needed to make that assessment is known yet, including: how many civilians have died, how much more bloodshed will there be, what will be needed to stabilize that country, and, most of all, what type of regime will replace Qaddafi? … When foreign powers use military force to help remove a tyrannical regime that has ruled for decades, all sorts of chaos, violence, instability, and suffering — along with a slew of unpredictable outcomes — are inevitable.”

But the much bigger question was when (not if, but when) the instability and extremism that predictably followed the NATO bombing would be used to justify a new U.S.-led war — also exactly as happened in Iraq.

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The Five Lamest Excuses for Hillary Clinton’s Vote to Invade Iraq

Professor Stephen Zunes writes for Foreign Policy In Focus:

hillary-clinton-hard-choices-foreign-policyFormer senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton is the only candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination who supported the invasion of Iraq.

That war not only resulted in 4,500 American soldiers being killed and thousands more permanently disabled, but also hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, the destabilization of the region with the rise of the Islamic State and other extremists, and a dramatic increase in the federal deficit, resulting in major cutbacks to important social programs. Moreover, the primary reasons Clinton gave for supporting President George W. Bush’s request for authorizing that illegal and unnecessary war have long been proven false.

As a result, many Democratic voters are questioning — despite her years of foreign policy experience — whether Clinton has the judgment and integrity to lead the United States on the world stage. It was just such concerns that resulted in her losing the 2008 nomination to then-Senator Barack Obama, an outspoken Iraq War opponent.

This time around, Clinton supporters have been hoping that enough Democratic voters — the overwhelming majority of whom opposed the war — will forget about her strong endorsement of the Bush administration’s most disastrous foreign policy. Failing that, they’ve come up with a number of excuses to justify her October 2002 vote for the authorization of military force.

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What’s Britain’s Role in the Carnage in Yemen? Interview with Dr. Lisa Cameron

Afshin Rattansi speaks to Dr. Lisa Cameron, a member of the UK parliamentary committee investigating evidence against David Cameron and his government in regards to the mass slaughter in the Saudi Arabian war in Yemen. (Going Underground)

How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2015?

Micah Zenko reports for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Sources: Estimate based upon Combined Forces Air Component Commander 2010-2015 Airpower Statistics; Information requested from CJTF-Operation Inherent Resolve Public Affairs Office, January 7, 2016; New America Foundation (NAF); Long War Journal (LWJ); The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).The primary focus—meaning the commitment of personnel, resources, and senior leaders’ attention—of U.S. counterterrorism policies is the capture or killing (though, overwhelmingly killing) of existing terrorists. Far less money and programmatic attention is dedicated to preventing the emergence of new terrorists. As an anecdotal example of this, I often ask U.S. government officials and mid-level staffers, “what are you doing to prevent a neutral person from becoming a terrorist?” They always claim this this is not their responsibility, and point toward other agencies, usually the Department of State (DOS) or Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where this is purportedly their obligation internationally or domestically, respectively. DOS and DHS officials then refer generally to “countering violent extremism” policies, while acknowledging that U.S. government efforts on this front have been wholly ineffective.

The primary method for killing suspected terrorists is with stand-off precision airstrikes. With regard to the self-declared Islamic State, U.S. officials have repeatedly stated that the pathway to “destroying” the terrorist organization is by killing every one of its current members. Last February, Marie Harf, DOS spokesperson, said, “We are killing them and will continue killing ISIS terrorists that pose a threat to us.” Then in June, Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, Combined Forces Air Component commander, stated, “We kill them wherever we find them,” and just this week, Col. Steve Warren, Operation Inherent Resolvespokesman, claimed, “If you’re part of ISIL, we will kill you. That’s our rule.”

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How to Succeed at Failing, Pentagon-Style

Nick Turse writes for TomDispatch:

466079040_1ca358901e_bThere’s good news coming out of Iraq… again. The efforts of a 65-nation coalition and punishing U.S. airstrikes have helped local ground forces roll back gains by the Islamic State (IS).

Government forces and Shiite militias, for example, recaptured the city of Tikrit, while Kurdish troops ousted IS fighters from the town of Sinjar and other parts of northern Iraq. Last month, Iraqi troops finally pushed Islamic State militants out of most of the city of Ramadi, which the group had held since routing Iraqi forces there last spring.

In the wake of all this, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter touted “the kind of progress that the Iraqi forces are exhibiting in Ramadi, building on that success to… continue the campaign with the important goal of retaking Mosul as soon as possible.”  Even more recently, he said those forces were “proving themselves not only motivated but capable.”  I encountered the same upbeat tone when I asked Colonel Steve Warren, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, about the Iraqi security forces.  “The last year has been a process of constructing, rebuilding, and refitting the Iraqi army,” he explained. “While it takes time for training and equipping efforts to take effect, the increasing tactical confidence and competence of the ISF [Iraqi security forces] and their recent battlefield successes indicate that we are on track.”

“Progress.”  “Successes.”  “On track.”  “Increasing tactical confidence and competence.”  It all sounded very familiar to me.

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The Drone War Goes Awry in Africa

Geoff D. Porter reports for Foreign Policy:

Three years ago this month, a previously unknown Islamist group, the Mourabitoun, launched an unprecedented attack on a natural gas facility near the eastern Algerian town of In Amenas. But after its dramatic opening salvo, the group went strangely quiet. Some argued the In Amenas attack was as irreproducible as it was unprecedented — and those voices gained strength after Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Mourabitoun’s leader and founder, was reported to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike last summer.

The doubters have now been quieted. After three years of inactivity, the Mourabitoun has abruptly reappeared. The Jan. 15 attack on a restaurant and hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, which left at least 28 people dead, was the second deadly incident involving Belmokhtar’s group in less than two months. The first, some 500 miles away in neighboring Mali on Nov. 20, was a joint operation with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It involved three assailants, armed with AK-47s and grenades, who rampaged through the Radisson Blu hotel in downtown Bamako, sparking an hours-long siege during which 27 people were killed. It remains unclear whether the assailants were trained and equipped by AQIM or by the Mourabitoun — or even whether the distinction is still valid.

But the Bamako and Ouagadougou attacks, though nearly identical, represent a marked departure from the In Amenas attack. The differences underscore how much the Mourabitoun’s capabilities, tactics, strategy, and even its geographical focus have shifted over the last 36 months. They also offer plenty of reasons to reconsider the strategy, developed by proponents of the U.S. drone war, of neutralizing terrorist groups by “decapitating” their leaders.

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Who is Really Ruling Saudi Arabia? Interview with Bilal Ahmed

Sharmini Peries talks to Bilal Ahmed of Souciant.com who says the rivalry results from the fact that the King’s nephew Mohammad bin Nayef is currently the minister of interior and also the crown prince. (The Real News)

Syria: The U.N. Knew for Months That Madaya Was Starving

Roy Gutman reports for Foreign Policy:

Until the beginning of this month, Madaya was an obscure town in southwestern Syria, overshadowed by nearby Zabadani, where opposition rebels had fought a fierce battle against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and more recently Hezbollah. But today, as international relief convoys arrive with food and medicine to lift a starvation siege, Madaya has become the focal point of Syrian aid workers’ anger at the United Nations, who accuse the international body of giving higher priority to its relationship with Damascus than to the fate of Madaya’s beleaguered residents.

Madaya was the worst off of all the besieged towns in Syria, relief workers say. As early as October, locals in the town had been raising alarms about the dire humanitarian situation there. At least six children and 17 adults starved to death in December, and hundreds more risked starvation.

U.N. officials knew this — but until shocking images of starving infants started circulating and news media sounded the alarm, it remained silent, reserving alarm for an unpublished internal memo.

The “Flash Update” issued on Jan. 6 by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which negotiates aid deliveries, spoke of “desperate conditions,” including “severe malnutrition reported across the community,” and said there was an “urgent need” for humanitarian assistance. In October, community leaders reported some 1,000 cases of malnutrition in children under the age of 1, it said.

But the general public could not have known this, because OCHA classified the bulletin as “Internal, Not for Quotation.” OCHA had no immediate comment on why the update, leaked to Foreign Policy, wasn’t published.

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US sanctions against Iran lifted after compliance with nuclear deal

Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports for The Guardian:

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has ordered that nuclear-related economic sanctions against Iran be lifted after a final report by the International Atomic Energy Agency verified that Tehran had fulfilled its obligations under last year’s nuclear agreement.

In a statement, Kerry said the sanctions termination provisions of Iran’s landmark nuclear agreement were now in effect. President Barack Obama delegated authority to Kerry to make the determination. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, told reporters in Vienna: “Today we have achieved Implementation Day of the joint comprehensive plan of action,” referring to the deal sealed last July.

The move came after the IAEA’s decision late on Saturday that Tehran had successfully complied with the terms of the deal. That announcement in turn followed the release of four dual nationals and a teenage student in a prisoner swap with the US. They included the Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was held on charges of spying for over a year. The Iranian-Americans were released in exchange for seven Iranian nationals held in US prisons, apparently for violating sanctions. The timing of the prisoner swap implies that the issue had been discussed on the sidelines of the nuclear talks despite denial from both sides.

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U.S. Radically Changes Its Story of the Boats in Iranian Waters: to an Even More Suspicious Version

Glenn Greenwald reports for The Intercept:

When news first broke of the detention of two U.S. ships in Iranian territorial waters, the U.S. media — aside from depicting it as an act of Iranian aggression — uncritically cited the U.S. government’s explanation for what happened. One of the boats, we were told, experienced “mechanical failure” and thus “inadvertently drifted” into Iranian waters. On CBS News, Joe Biden told Charlie Rose, “One of the boats had engine failure, drifted into Iranian waters.”

Provided their government script, U.S. media outlets repeatedly cited these phrases — “mechanical failure” and “inadvertently drifted” and “boat in distress” — like some sort of hypnotic mantra.

[…] The U.S. government itself now says this story was false. There was no engine failure, and the boats were never “in distress.” Once the sailors were released, AP reported, “In Washington, a defense official said the Navy has ruled out engine or propulsion failure as the reason the boats entered Iranian waters.”

Instead, said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at a press conference this morning, the sailors “made a navigational error that mistakenly took them into Iranian territorial waters.” He added that they “obviously had misnavigated” when, in the words of the New York Times, “they came within a few miles of Farsi Island, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has a naval base.”

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A Bad Week for Warmongers as U.S. and Iran Quickly Resolve Sailors’ Breach Just Before Nuke Deal Kicks In: Interview Trita Parsi

Amy Goodman and Narmeen Sheikh recently spoke to Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, and author of the forthcoming book: Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Legacy of Diplomacy. (Democracy Now!)

Al Jazeera America: Requiem for a News Channel

Ari Paul writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

USA Today: Is the USA ready for Al Jazeera America?Skeptics said it wouldn’t last, and they were right.

Al Jazeera America launched in the summer of 2013, a spin-off of the Doha-based channel’s English version to specifically target a United States audience. For the last decade, Al Jazeera had built what some might consider the one of the most coveted of journalistic reputations: It was considered anti-American and anti-Zionist in the US, while Arab governments saw its stories as pure Western propaganda. By the time of the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera English became indispensable for anyone in the United States who wanted to know what was going on.

Having poached English language talent from other news providers, Al Jazeera’s English-language service could no longer be ignored in North America. In a market where television news is saturated with screaming pundits and websites that spend more time on aggregation and the click-hungry hot takes, a new channel dedicated to covering US issues and the world with a cold and serious eye seemed like a worthy gamble.

On January 13, the world learned that Al Jazeera America would soon close. And while some employees could migrate into the network’s expanded digital operations, many will spend the coming days and weeks looking for new work.

The news comes as Al Jazeera’s primary patron, the Qatari government, enters a financial downturn; it will have its first budget deficit in 15 years. AJAM always struggled with low ratings; as the New York Times reported last May, “The station has been a nonfactor in news, drawing about 30,000 viewers a night.” And while its online presence has been expansive, that still isn’t what brings home the proverbial bacon. Al Jazeera English always struggled to get onto US cable service, and so too was it difficult for AJAM—not to mention that especially for younger viewers, more and more news is consumed online rather than through traditional cable. People aren’t sitting at home waiting for the nightly news anymore—they’re getting their information on their phones throughout the day.

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Al Jazeera America Terminates All TV and Digital Operations

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Executives of Al Jazeera America (AJAM) held a meeting at 2 p.m. Eastern Time to tell their employees that the company is terminating all news and digital operations in the U.S. as of April 2016, resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs. The announcement marks a stunning and rapid collapse of what, from the start, has been a towering failure.

AJAM began when Al Jazeera purchased Current TV in late 2012 from founder Al Gore for $500 million, and the channel launched six months later. From the start, the project was beset with massive failures, frombitter internal strife and employee discrimination lawsuits to minuscule ratings and distribution failures. AJAM and Gore ended up in a protracted, embittered lawsuit with one another. Ratings were so low as to be almost unquantifiable; even by 2015, the network was averaging a tiny 30,000 viewers in prime-time and at some points had literally a zero rating in the key 25-54 demographic.

From the start, employees complained vociferously that network executives were paralyzed by fear, believing they had to avoid all hints of bias and opinion in order to steer clear of what these executives regarded as the lethal stench of the Al Jazeera brand for American audiences. This turned much of the network into a diluted, extra-fearful version of CNN, which itself has suffered from remarkably low ratings for years. AJAM journalists typically blame one AJAM executive in particular, Ehab Al Shihabi, its executive director of international operations. Al Shihabi, whose background is in business and not journalism, was widely regarded as the prime author of the network’s identity problems and obsession with voiceless content.

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No more holding hands

American historian Andrew Bacevich writes for The Boston Globe:

Former President George W. Bush greets Crown Prince Abdullah in Crawford, Texas, on April 25, 2005. The photo is an iconic one: The president of the United States and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia holding hands as they stroll together at the president’s ranch in Texas. Conveying an impression of warmth and affection, the image affirms the intimate nature of the bonds between two countries. So, at least, it was intended to do.

Yet today the moment has arrived for Washington to reassess those bonds, which have long since ceased to serve US interests. Rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran provide an opportunity, and indeed further incentive, to do just that.

From its very inception during World War II, the US-Saudi relationship has been a Faustian bargain. In return for preferred access to Saudi oil, Washington promised to guarantee the security of the royal family. Let’s not kid ourselves: Reciprocity, not friendship, formed the basis of the agreement.

Implementing the arrangement required Washington to turn a blind eye toward Saudi practices radically at odds with professed American values. The United States purports to stand for democracy, freedom, and equality before the law. To put it mildly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands for none of these things.

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U.S. Media Condemns Iran’s “Aggression” in Intercepting U.S. Naval Ships — in Iranian Waters

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

News broke last night, hours before President Obama’s State of the Union address, that two U.S. Navy ships “in the Persian Gulf” were “seized” by Iran, and the 10 sailors on board were “arrested.” The Iranian government quickly said, and even the U.S. government itself seemed to acknowledge, that these ships had entered Iranian waters without permission, and were thus inside Iranian territory when detained. CNN’s Barbara Starr, as she always does, immediately went on the air with Wolf Blitzer to read what U.S. officials told her to say: “We are told that right now, what the U.S. thinks may have happened, is that one of these small boats experienced a mechanical problem … perhaps beginning to drift. … It was at that point, the theory goes right now, that they drifted into Iranian territorial waters.”

It goes without saying that every country has the right to patrol and defend its territorial waters and to intercept other nations’ military boats that enter without permission. Indeed, the White House itself last night was clear that, in its view, this was “not a hostile act by Iran” and that Iran had given assurances that the sailors would be promptly released. And this morning they were released, exactly as Iran promised they would be, after Iran said it determined the trespassing was accidental and the U.S. apologized and promised no future transgressions.

Despite all of this, most U.S. news accounts last night quickly skimmed over — or outright ignored — the rather critical fact that the U.S. ships had “drifted into” Iranian waters. Instead, all sorts of TV news personalities and U.S. establishment figures puffed out their chest and instantly donned their Tough Warrior pose to proclaim that this was an act of aggression — virtually an act of war: not by the U.S., but by Iran. They had taken our sailors “hostage,” showing yet again how menacing and untrustworthy they are.

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The Arab Spring began in hope, but ended in desolation

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

arab-spring-graphic-2.jpgArab Spring was always a misleading phrase, suggesting that what we were seeing was a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy similar to that from communism in Eastern Europe. The misnomer implied an over-simplified view of the political ingredients that produced the protests and uprisings of 2011 and over-optimistic expectations about their outcome.

Five years later it is clear that the result of the uprisings has been calamitous, leading to wars or increased repression in all but one of the six countries where the Arab Spring principally took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are being torn apart by civil wars that show no sign of ending. In Egypt and Bahrain autocracy is far greater and civil liberties far less than they were prior to 2011. Only in Tunisia, which started off the surge towards radical change, do people have greater rights than they did before.

What went so disastrously wrong?

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North Korea cites Muammar Gaddafi’s ‘destruction’ in nuclear test defence

AFP reports:

North Koreans celebrate the nuclear test in Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung square on Friday.[…] A commentary published by the official KCNA news agency late on Friday said Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test was a “great event” that provided North Korea with a deterrent powerful enough to secure its borders against all hostile forces, including the United States.

“History proves that powerful nuclear deterrence serves as the strongest treasured sword for frustrating outsiders’ aggression,” the commentary said.

North Korea said the test was of a miniaturised hydrogen bomb – a claim largely dismissed by experts who argue the yield was far too low for a full-fledged thermonuclear device.

The KCNA commentary said the current international situation resembled the “law of the jungle” where only the strongest survive.

“The Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Gaddafi regime in Libya could not escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations for nuclear development and giving up nuclear programmes of their own accord,” it said.

Both had made the mistake, the commentary argued, of yielding to Western pressure led by a United States bent on regime change.

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Could Iran Nuke Deal Help Create Way to Address North Korean Crisis? Interview with Joe Cirincione and Christine Ahn

Amy Goodman speaks to Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund and author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It is Too Late, and Christine Ahn, founder and executive director of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War. (Democracy Now!)