Category Archives: Middle East & North Africa

Over half of US drone strike victims may be civilians: Interview with Marjorie Cohn

Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Execs Remain Free as Guards Convicted for Killing 14 Iraqis in Massacre

‘A federal jury has returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. On Wednesday, the jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were convicted of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts. The operatives were tried for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit opened fire. We speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the best-selling book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” His most recent article published by The Intercept is “Blackwater Founder Remains Free & Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges.”’ (Democracy Now!)

Noam Chomsky at United Nations: It Would Be Nice if the United States Lived up to International Law

The Descent of Libya: From Africa’s Richest State Under Gaddafi to Failed State After NATO Intervention

Garikai Chengu writes for CounterPunch:

‘This week marks the three-year anniversary of the Western-backed assassination of Libya’s former president, Muammar Gaddafi, and the fall of one of Africa’s greatest nations.

In 1967 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; however, by the time he was assassinated, Gaddafi had turned Libya into Africa’s wealthiest nation. Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.

After NATO’s intervention in 2011, Libya is now a failed state and its economy is in shambles. As the government’s control slips through their fingers and into to the militia fighters’ hands, oil production has all but stopped.

The militias variously local, tribal, regional, Islamist or criminal, that have plagued Libya since NATO’s intervention, have recently lined up into two warring factions. Libya now has two governments, both with their own Prime Minister, parliament and army.’

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Libya’s government holed up in a 1970s hotel

Tim Whewell reports for BBC News:

Hotel Dar al Salam, Tobruk, Libya‘Three years after Western military intervention helped topple Col Muammar Gaddafi, many believe Libya is rapidly turning into a failed state. There are two rival governments, and the parliament elected in June has been forced to flee from hostile militias – to a grey concrete 1970s hotel near the Egyptian border.

They’ve been chosen to rule a vast country that holds Africa’s biggest oil reserves.

They represent the democratic future of a land the world helped free from tyranny.

But three years after the fall of Gaddafi, Libya’s new members of parliament can’t get on with the job. They’re trapped in a grey, concrete hotel in a remote port 1,000km (620 miles) from the capital, Tripoli – fighting a lonely battle, they believe, against the forces of militant Islamism.’

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Libyan Parliament Pairs Up With General Hifter: Attack Planned on Tripoli

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘A sign of the growing desperation of the official Libyan parliament, the cabinet has announced a deal with General Khalifa Hifter, who only months ago was trying todepose the pre-election parliament in a military coup, hoping Hifter’s forces can actually install them back in power.

Gen. Hifter managed to successfully recruit much of Libya’s military, such as it is, over to his side, but the capital has since fallen to the Misrata militia, which has installed its own pretender government in power there, and the elected parliament is stuck running out of a hotel in the border town of Tobruk.’

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ISIS Allies Carving Out Territory in Eastern Libya

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Would-be ISIS affiliate the Jaish al-Islam has been carving out a territory of its own along the eastern Libyan coast over the past few weeks, and admonishing residents of their largest city, Derna, to throw their weight behind the ISIS Caliphate.

Libya is falling apart with a collection of rival militias both Islamist and secular taking over various cities and regions, and the government itself controlling little more than a hotel at the town of Tobruk.’

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Egypt Leader: ‘Foreign Hands’ Behind Sinai Attack

Maggie Michael and Maamoun Youssef report for the Associated Press:

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, responding to attacks in Sinai, 25 October 2014‘Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Saturday that an assault on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 31 troops was a “foreign-funded operation” and vowed to take drastic action against militants.

In thundering remarks delivered before cameras ahead of a military funeral for the slain troops, el-Sissi said there are foreign powers that want to “break the back of Egypt,” without elaborating. He vowed to take drastic measures to uproot the militants and said Egypt is engaged in an “extensive war” that will last a long time.

“There is a big conspiracy against us,” he said while standing with army commanders ahead of the funeral.’

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Ottawa Killings: Who Wins?

Iranian Photojournalist Reportedly Detained After Covering Protest Against Acid Attacks

Robert Mackey reports for The New York Times:

‘An Iranian photojournalist was reported to have been detained on Friday, two days after his images of protesters deploring acid attacks on women in the city of Isfahan were published by news organizations around the world.

[...] Mr. Jafari had covered the demonstration on Wednesday outside the gates of a local judiciary office for the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency, which still features 20 of his images on its website. His photographs were also distributed internationally by Getty Images.’

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Iraqis react to Blackwater verdict: ‘I’m surprised they were convicted at all’

Martin Chulov reports for The Guardian:

‘[...] The scene of the attack, Nissour Square in the west of the capital, where a Blackwater convoy killed 17 people and wounded 20 more in August 2007, was a bustling hub on Friday. Drivers stopped at a traffic light nearby shrugged when asked about the verdicts, which saw three guards convicted of manslaughter and another of first degree murder for opening fire on civilians.

“They should have all been executed,” said one man, before driving off.

“I’m surprised they were convicted at all, said another, Haithem al-Samarie. “These sorts of attacks have happened many times since, mostly caused by militias. And they will never be prosecuted.

A Baghdad-based lawyer, Ahmed al-Azzawi, said the verdicts were an important milestone for the many victims that had lost family members during the occupation.’

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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai Tells Obama to Stop Arming the World

NBC News reports:

‘Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize — and was shot in the head by the Taliban — for advocating girls’ education, told President Barack Obama he could “change the world” if only he’d send books instead of guns to other countries, she said Tuesday.

“My message was very simple,” Malala, who is now 17, said Tuesday at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia, speaking of her recent meeting with the president. “I said instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of sending weapons, send teachers.” Asked by the host, Ronan Farrow of MSNBC, how Obama reacted, she said simply that his response was “pretty political.”‘

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Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges

Jeremy Scahill writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges‘[...] The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.’

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US jury convicts Blackwater security guards in deaths of Iraqi civilians

Dan Roberts reports for The Guardian:

Three security guards working for the private US contractor Blackwater have been found guilty of the manslaughter of a group of unarmed civilians at a crowded Baghdad traffic junction in one of the darkest incidents of the Iraq war.

A fourth, Nicholas Slatten, was found guilty of one charge of first-degree murder. All face the likelihood of lengthy prison sentences after unanimous verdicts on separate weapons charges related to the incident.

The Nisour Square massacre in 2007 left 17 people dead and 20 seriously injured after the guards working for the US State Department fired heavy machine guns and grenade launchers from their armoured convoy in the mistaken belief they were under attack by insurgents.’

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Surprise: U.S. Drug War In Afghanistan Not Going Well

Ryan Devereaux writes for The Intercept:

‘A new report has found the war on drugs in Afghanistan remains colossally expensive, largely ineffective and likely to get worse. This is particularly true in the case of opium production, says the U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In a damning report released Tuesday, the special inspector general, Justin F. Sopko, writes that “despite spending over $7 billion to combat opium poppy cultivation and to develop the Afghan government’s counternarcotics capacity, opium poppy cultivation levels in Afghanistan hit an all-time high in 2013,” hitting 209,000 hectares, surpassing the prior, 2007 peak of 193,000 hectares. Sopko adds that the number should continue to rise thanks to deteriorating security in rural Afghanistan and weak eradication efforts.’

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Carter Center shuts Egypt office over rights concerns

BBC News reports:

Former US President Jimmy Carter observes Egypt's presidential election in Cairo on 24 May 2012‘A human rights group founded by former US President Jimmy Carter has closed its office in Egypt because of the restrictions on democratic rights.

The Carter Center also said it would not send a mission to observe this year’s parliamentary elections. It cited the “crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms”.

The organisation opened an office in Cairo after the 2011 uprising. It sought to support the country’s democratic transition after President Hosni Mubarak was deposed.’

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In Egypt, an authoritarian regime holds sway again

Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian novelist and political commentator, writes for The Guardian:

‘Since 30 June 2013, some 40,000 people have been arrested and 16,000 of them remain in prison. The majority probably belong to the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, of whom some will have committed acts of violence; most will not. The rest, maybe 8,000 or 9,000, are split between revolutionary activists and bystanders caught up in police dragnets and used to make up required figures.

The state is commandeering every resource to establish control over the country. And even establishments that had their own intifadas during Mubarak’s time – for example, the judiciary, the universities, the media – have scampered into the fold. It’s not quite that they’re toeing the government line, but more that they have identified their own interests with “stability” and against “revolutionary change”.

A shocking manifestation of this confluence of interests is how judges and prosecutors work seamlessly with the ministry of the interior. Police drag people into custody, prosecution charges them from a now famous menu of “destructive” activities, judges decree their imprisonment on remand, postpone their trials month after month and then pass ridiculous and patently unjust sentences.

Most of the political prisoners are young. An estimated 1,000 minors, for example, across nine governorates, are in prison. And an estimated 2,000 students. Every case has its individuality, its absurdity, its heartbreak. Together, it adds up to a war on the young.’

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Egypt’s U.S-Backed Military Regime is Brutalizing Student Protestors

Murtaza Hussain writes for The Intercept:

Just a few short months after John Kerry disingenuously congratulated Egypt’s military junta for “transitioning to democracy”, the young students who helped galvanize the 2011 Egyptian Revolution are back protesting its increasingly draconian rule. Campus protests have broken out in several major cities calling for the release of imprisoned student activists and for the removal of new limits on academic freedom imposed by the regime.

As part of wide-ranging campaign to stifle popular dissent, the government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has recently given itself broad powers to directly appoint university heads, dismiss faculty without the possibility of appeal, and force students to sign documents promising “not to participate in political activities” in their housing applications. Private security firms have also been hired to enforce order on campus and monitor activists.

Predictably, these measures have led to outrage among students – and equally as predictable, their protests have been met with harsh retribution from the military regime.’

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Venezuela, Malaysia, Angola, New Zealand and Spain win U.N. Security Council seats, Turkey bid fails

Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau report for Reuters:

‘Venezuela, Malaysia, Angola, New Zealand and Spain won seats on the United Nations Security Council on Thursday for two years from Jan. 1, 2015. The 193-member U.N. General Assembly elected Venezuela with 181 votes, Malaysia with 187 votes, Angola with 190 votes.

All three countries campaigned unopposed for their seats after being chosen as the candidates for their respective regional groups, but still needed to win the votes of two-thirds of the General Assembly to secure their spots.

The only contest was between New Zealand, Spain and Turkey for two seats given to the Western European and others group. New Zealand won a seat during the first round of voting with 145 votes. Spain beat Turkey in a third round of run-off voting.’

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George W. Bush was still completely wrong about Iraq’s WMDs

Matt Purple writes for Rare:

‘Yesterday the New York Times published a major scoop: American troops had uncovered chemical weapons during the Iraq war, and on at least six occasions were injured by chemical agents. The government then frantically tried to conceal the WMDs, keeping the information classified and, in some cases, denying soldiers care for chemical-related injuries.

There are plenty of conclusions to draw from the Times story.

That the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq is vindicated is not one of them.

The Times reports that many of the chemical weapons were empty, most were unusable, and all were manufactured before 1991. This fits with the current wisdom that Saddam Hussein abandoned his chemical weapons program after the First Gulf War.

As the Times concludes, “The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.”

Still that hasn’t stopped many conservatives from engaging in a little hackneyed told-you-so. “Put that ‘Bush lied, kids died’ in your pipes and smoke it!!!” went today’s typical Tweet.’

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Dutch and German biker gangs join the Kurds in the battle against ISIS

David Charter reports for The Australian:

Biker gangs join the fight against ISIS‘It is not just air strikes that the jihadists of Islamic State have to watch out for. Kurdish forces have received a boost from an unlikely source — Dutch and German Hell’s Angels.

Western governments avoided putting boots on the ground but that has not deterred Ron from the Netherlands, one of several members of the No Surrender biker gang who have joined the anti-Isis struggle.

A group has reportedly also travelled to the region from the Cologne-based Median Empire biker gang, made up of Kurdish Germans.’

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British hostage John Cantlie says ‘third Gulf war coming’ in latest ISIS propaganda video

Josie Ensor reports for The Telegraph:

British hostage John Cantlie held by Islamic State militants at an undisclosed location‘The Islamic State has released the latest propaganda video delivered by captured British journalist John Cantlie, in which he warns of a “third Gulf war”.

In the fourth video from the Lend Me Your Ears video series posted online by the jihadists, the abducted photojournalist said media rhetoric was whipping up support for a “full-blown war” and that Isil was prepared.

Mr Cantlie warned that Isil has “grown exponentially until not even the US military, the policemen of the world, are able to contain them”.

He said the media had learnt nothing from previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the mujahideen were happy to “sit back and watch them (the West) waste trillions more (dollars) to avoid the spectre of another 9/11.”’

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Ex-chief of CIA’s bin Laden unit says Islamic State needs U.S. to intervene

Will Porter reports for Antiwar:

‘In recent media appearances, ex-chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, came out strongly against the latest American military campaign in Iraq. Echoing past criticisms, thoroughly voiced in his books Through Our Enemies Eyes, Marching Toward Hell, and Imperial Hubris, Scheuer offers a case against the new Iraq intervention based on his 20+ years of experience as a US intelligence officer, as well as an intimate and detailed knowledge of Islamic extremism.

In Scheuer’s view, another US military intervention in the Middle East against groups such as the Islamic State (IS) will not meet its stated objectives, and will fall into the same errors made in past operations of a similar character. Continuing this policy, he says, will only help to motivate and radicalize Muslims the world over, and will provide exactly the impetus IS needs to step up their drive to establish a long-sought Islamic caliphate in the Levant region.’

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General Allen: ISIS has made ‘substantial gains’ in Iraq

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Former Afghan War commander and President Obama’s point-man on the new ISIS War, retired General John Allen continued to offer assessments on the ongoing conflict, insisting today that it was too soon to say whether or not the US is winning the war.

That said, Allen conceded that ISIS is continuing to make “substantial gains” on the ground in Iraq, and still has “tactical momentum” in several areas around western Iraq.

Most of ISIS territorial gains in Iraq in recent days have centered around the Anbar Province, where they are quickly mopping up the last of the Iraqi government’s territory and moving on the second largest airbase in the country. The push to Anbar’s edge leaves them only a stone’s throw from Baghdad itself.’

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Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire: Interview with Deepa Kumar

Editor’s Note: Below are parts three and four of a five part interview with Deepa Kumar, author of ‘Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire‘. You can view the other parts of the interview at The Real News.

Does Arming Rebels Ever Work? CIA Study Says No

Mark Mazzetti reports for The New York Times:

‘The Central Intelligence Agency has run guns to insurgencies across the world during its 67-year history — from Angola to Nicaragua to Cuba. The continuing C.I.A. effort to train Syrian rebels is just the latest example of an American president becoming enticed by the prospect of using the spy agency to covertly arm and train rebel groups.

An internal C.I.A. study has found that it rarely works.

The still-classified review, one of several C.I.A. studies commissioned in 2012 and 2013 in the midst of the Obama administration’s protracted debate about whether to wade into the Syrian civil war, concluded that many past attempts by the agency to arm foreign forces covertly had a minimal impact on the long-term outcome of a conflict. They were even less effective, the report found, when the militias fought without any direct American support on the ground.’

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Pakistan, U.S. appear once again to be cooperating on drone strikes

Tom Hussain reports for McClatchy:

0711162-F-9126Z-793‘A series of CIA drone strikes launched last week against Taliban insurgents in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas provide the clearest demonstration yet that the U.S. intelligence agency and Pakistani security forces are once again cooperating on defeating the insurgents.

The drone strikes – nine in all, launched daily with a day off on Friday – targeted Taliban fighters as they retreated from the country’s advancing military, which has launched an offensive in the North Waziristan tribal area. Pakistani authorities have billed the campaign as the decisive battle of a seven-year war against Pakistan Taliban insurgents.’

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Privacy Group Targets British Spyware Company over Bahrain Surveillance

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Privacy Group Targets British Spyware Company over Bahrain Surveillance‘The rights group Privacy International asked the British government this morning to investigate a surveillance company for enabling spying on Bahraini activists in the U.K.

The company in question, Gamma Group, is a U.K.-based firm that provides surveillance software and other “lawful intercept” technology to governments around the world. Among their products was FinFisher software, which lets spies remotely monitor a computer they’ve infected — accessing files, web traffic, Skype calls and more. Privacy International asked the U.K.’s National Crime Agency to investigate the company.

“Companies like Gamma have been enabling repressive states’ unlawful conduct, but then seeking to suggest that they bear no responsibility for the products that they supply,” said Adriana Edmeades, Privacy International’s legal officer.’

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The U.S. Government War Against Reporter James Risen

Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler write for The Nation:

‘Ever since New York Times reporter James Risen received his first subpoena from the Justice Department more than six years ago, occasional news reports have skimmed the surface of a complex story. The usual gloss depicts a conflict between top officials who want to protect classified information and a journalist who wants to protect confidential sources. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sterling—a former undercover CIA officer now facing charges under the Espionage Act, whom the feds want Risen to identify as his source—is cast as a disgruntled ex-employee in trouble for allegedly spilling the classified beans.

But the standard media narratives about Risen and Sterling have skipped over deep patterns of government retaliation against recalcitrant journalists and whistleblowers. Those patterns are undermining press freedom, precluding the informed consent of the governed and hiding crucial aspects of US foreign policy. The recent announcement of Eric Holder’s resignation as attorney general has come after nearly five years of the Obama administration extending and intensifying the use of the Justice Department for retribution against investigative journalism and whistleblowing.’

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Missing Malala’s Message of Peace: Drones Fuel Terrorism

Peter Hart writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

yousafzai‘On October 10, Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai–who received worldwide attention after being attacked by the Taliban for her advocacy for girls’ education–was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian activist Kailash Satyarthi.  Yousafzai’s work on educational equity is well-known. But less well-known is what she said to Barack Obama about how his wars were undermining the fight against terrorism.

Last year, Yousafzai’s White House meeting with Barack Obama received wide media coverage.  But as I pointed out  back then (FAIR Blog, 10/15/13), part of Yousafzai’s message didn’t make it into most media accounts: She told Obama that drone strikes in her country were fueling more terrorism.’

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