Nearly 300 dead in Somalia Terrorist Attack (largely ignored by US TV News)

TeleSur | – –

“In our 10-year experience as first responders in Mogadishu, we haven’t seen anything like this,” the Aamin Ambulance service posted on Twitter.

Somali officials say the death toll from Saturday’s truck bombing in Mogadishu has risen to 276, with another 300 people injured. Medical personnel in the Somali capital have described horrific scenes of bodies burnt beyond recognition.

“In our 10 year experience as first responders in Mogadishu, we haven’t seen anything like this,” the Aamin Ambulance service posted on their Twitter account.

Security official Mohamed Adan told AFP that the blast resulted from “a truck loaded with explosives.” Police Captain Mohamed Hussein said the explosion appeared to target a hotel and destroyed several other buildings and vehicles.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has declared three days of mourning for the victims, calling on citizens to aid victims in any way they can.

“Today’s horrific attack proves our enemy would stop nothing to cause our people pain and suffering. Let’s unite against terror,” he tweeted.

“I call on our citizens to come out, extend help, donate blood and comfort the bereaved. Let’s get through this together,” Mohamed said.

A second attack took place in Madina district. “It was a car bomb. Two civilians were killed, ” Siyad Farah, a police official told Reuters. A gun battle between security forces and armed men followed the blast.

“The fighters first detonated a bomb outside the hotel’s gate, and then about four gunmen on foot gained entry into the hotel and started shooting at the patrons and also the security of the hotel,” Farah said, according to Al Jazeera.

“The hotel’s security staff, together with the police, are engaging in a gunfight inside and outside the hotel,” he added.

“It was a normal day. Very quiet and not much work to do,” Abdulkadir Abdirahman, director of Mogadishu’s ambulance service, told Al Jazeera.

“All of a sudden, I heard a very big blast. Everything shook. I have never heard anything that loud before. Within a few minutes, the sky was covered with very dark smoke that covered even the sunlight,” he said.

The blast occurred two days after the head of the U.S. Africa Command was in Mogadishu to meet with Somalia’s president. It also came 48 hours after both the defense minister and army chief left their posts without giving any reasons.

The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “sickened” by the attack, and tweeted that the world must show “unity in the face of terrorism.”

While the International Committee of the Red Cross posted, “We’re mourning the loss of 5 Somali Red Crescent volunteers, also killed in this attack.”

The U.S. military recently increased drone strikes targeting the al-Shabaab group, which have increased attacks on army bases across south and central Somalia.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, although the Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which is allied to al-Qaida, stages regular attacks in the capital and other parts of the country.

The group is waging an insurgency against the U.N.-backed government and its African Union allies in a bid to topple the weak administration and impose its own strict interpretation of Islam.

The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and have been steadily losing territory since then to the combined forces of African Union peacekeepers and Somali security forces.

But al Shabaab retains the ability to mount large, complex bomb attacks. Over the past three years, the number of civilians killed by insurgent bombings has steadily climbed as al Shabaab increases the size of its bombs.

Via TeleSur

——–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Somalia: Mogadishu rocked by twin bomb blasts, dozens killed”

Singer Marc Anthony to Trump: You will be held Accountable for needless American Deaths in Puerto Rico

TeleSur | – –

Singer-songwriter, Marc Anthony took to Twitter to decry the U.S. administration’s “tone-deaf, idiotic, callous and disrespectful approach” to Puerto Rico.

Marc Anthony took to social media to decry the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

The Washington Post reports, “President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.”

U.S. President Donald Trump posted on Twitter that the “electric and all infrastructure was a disaster before the hurricanes,” and that a financial crisis is looming after the devastation.

The administration has been widely criticized for providing inadequate aid and response to the natural disaster which has caused billions of dollars in damage and taken over 40 lives.

The Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosello said that support from U.S. federal agencies will remain until the needs of the island are met following Hurricane Maria.

In a telephone call, White House Chief of Staff Sarah Sanders confirmed to the Governor of Puerto Rico that federal agencies will remain on the island.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains claims that at least 12,000 military personnel and members of different U.S. departments are stationed on the island to assist in recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria.

“There is a federal law that says that FEMA must remain until the emergency is over,” Rosello said.

On Twitter, Trump said that FEMA aid cannot be permanent. “The congress will have to decide how much it will spend. We can not keep FEMA, the military and the first response teams, who have worked in an amazing way, in Puerto Rico forever,” the President said on Twitter.

In a press conference, the island’s Governor responded to Trump: “I have asked this commission to establish a single message to Washington that equal treatment be given to Puerto Rico, such as aid grants that were granted to Florida and Texas.”

Puerto Rico’s requested aid from the White House includes US$4.5 billion to address immediate emergency situations, which has already been approved, and another US$4.9 billion for what it called “liquidity relief” for public accounts and a “package” of definitive aid to mitigate damages caused by Hurricane Maria.

In the past, Trump has remarked that Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States that was forcefully invaded in 1898, had proven to be problematic for the federal budget which features the largest military fund allocation in U.S. history.

Via TeleSur

——–

Marc Anthony Tweet added by Juan Cole:

———

Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC: “Marc Anthony announces relief effort for Puerto Rico”

Under Trump, Gitmo continues to Gnaw away at tattered US Rule of Law

By Karen J. Greenberg | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Eight years ago, when I wrote a book on the first days of Guantanamo, The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days, I assumed that Gitmo would prove a grim anomaly in our history.  Today, it seems as if that “detention facility” will have a far longer life than I ever imagined and that it, and everything it represents, will become a true, if grim, legacy of twenty-first-century America.

It appears that we just can’t escape the perpetual pendulum of the never-ending war on terror as it invariably swings away from the rule of law and the protections of the Constitution.  Last month, worries that had initially surfaced during the presidential campaign of 2016 over Donald Trump’s statements about restoring torture and expanding Guantanamo’s population took on a new urgency.  In mid-September, the administration acknowledged that it had captured an American in Syria.  Though no facts about the detained individual have been revealed, including his name or any allegations against him, the Pentagon did confirm that he has been classified as an “enemy combatant,” a vague and legally imprecise category. It was, however, one of the first building blocks that officials of George W. Bush’s administration used to establish the notoriously lawless policies of that era, including Guantanamo, the CIA’s “black sites,” and of course “enhanced interrogation techniques.“ 

Placing terrorism suspects apprehended while fighting abroad in American custody is hardly unprecedented. The U.S. government has periodically captured citizen and non-citizen members of ISIS, and fighters from the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab, as well as from al-Qaeda-linked groups.  To those who have followed such matters, however, the Trump administration’s quick embrace of the term “enemy combatant” for the latest captive is an obvious red flag and so has elicited a chorus of concern from national security attorneys and experts, myself included. Our collective disquiet stems from grim memories of the extralegal terrorism policies the Bush administration institutionalized, especially the way the term “enemy combatant” helped free its officials and the presidency from many restraints, and from fears that those abandoned policies might have a second life in the Trump era.

Guantanamo’s Detainees

What, then, is an enemy combatant? After all, memories fade and the government hasn’t formally classified anyone in custody by that rubric since 2009. So here’s a brief reminder. The term first made its appearance in the early months after 9/11.  At that time, then-Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo — who gained infamy for redefining acts of torture as legal “techniques” in the interrogation of prisoners — and others used “enemy combatant” to refer to those captured in what was then being called the Global War on Terror. Their fates, Yoo argued, lay outside the purview of either Congress or the courts. The president, and only the president, he claimed, had the power to decide what would happen to them.

“As the president possess[es] the Commander-in-Chief and Executive powers alone,” Yoo wrote at the time, “Congress cannot constitutionally restrict or regulate the president’s decision to commence hostilities or to direct the military, once engaged. This would include not just battlefield tactics, but also the disposition of captured enemy combatants.”

The category, as used then, was meant to be sui generis and to bear no relation to “unlawful” or “lawful” enemy combatants, both granted legal protections under international law. Above all, the Bush version of enemy-combatant status was meant to exempt Washington’s captives from any of the protections that would normally have been granted to prisoners of war.

In practice, this opened the way for that era’s offshore system of (in)justice at both the CIA’s black sites and the prison camp at Guantanamo, which was set up in Cuba in order to evade the reach of either Congress or the federal court system.  The captives President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent there beginning in January 2002 fell into that category.  In keeping with the mood of the moment in Washington, the U.S. military personnel who received them were carefully cautioned never to refer to them as “prisoners,” lest they then qualify for the legal protections guaranteed to prisoners of war. Within weeks, the population had grown to several hundred men, all labeled “alien enemy combatants,” all deemed by Yoo and his superiors to lie outside the laws of war as well as those of the United States, and even outside military regulations.

American citizens were excluded from detention there. Some were nonetheless labeled enemy combatants. One — Jose Padilla — was arrested in the United States.  Another — Yaser Hamdi — was initially brought to Gitmo after being captured in Afghanistan, only to be flown in the middle of the night to the United States as administration officials hoped to escape public attention for their mistake.

Padilla had been born and raised in the United States; Hamdi had grown up in Saudi Arabia. To avoid the federal detention system, both would be held in a naval brig in South Carolina, deprived of access to lawyers, and detained without charge.  For years, their lawyers tried to convince federal judges that keeping them in such circumstances was unconstitutional. Eventually, the Supreme Court weighed in, upholding Yoo’s position on their classification as enemy combatants, but allowing them lawyers who could challenge the grounds for and conditions of their detention.

Although the government defended the use of enemy combatant status for years, both Padilla and Hamdi were eventually — after almost three years in Hamdi’s case, three and a half for Padilla — turned over to federal law enforcement. Never charged with a crime, Hamdi would be returned to Saudi Arabia, where he promptly renounced his U.S. citizenship, as the terms of his release required. Padilla was eventually charged in federal court and ultimately sentenced to 21 years in prison.

By the time Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, both cases had been resolved, but that of another enemy combatant held in the United States, though not a citizen, was still pending. Ali Saleh al-Marri, a Qatari and a graduate student at Bradley University in Illinois, was taken from civilian custody and detained without charges for six years at the same naval base that had held Padilla and Hamdi. Within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, however, he would be released into federal civilian custody and charged. Meanwhile, in June 2009, for the first and only time, the Department of Justice suddenly transferred a Guantanamo prisoner, Ahmed Ghailani, to federal custody.  A year later, he was tried and convicted in federal court for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The message seemed hopeful, and was followed by other potentially restorative gestures. On the day Obama entered the White House, for instance, he signed an executive order to close Guantanamo within the year. In March, he abandoned the use of the term enemy combatant for the detainees there.  Aiming to release or try all who remained in that prison camp, he appointed a task force to come up with viable options for doing so.

In other words, as his presidency began, Obama seemed poised to restore rights guaranteed under the Constitution to all prisoners, including those in Guantanamo, when it came to detention and trial.  The pendulum seemed potentially set to swing back toward the rule of law. In the years to come, there would, nonetheless, be many disappointments when it came to the rule of law, including the failure to close Guantanamo itself.  There was, as well, the Obama administration’s 2011 reversal of its earlier decision to take the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators — including the “mastermind” of those attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — into federal court rather than try them via a Gitmo military commission.

In reality, that administration would even end up preserving an aspect of the enemy-combatant apparatus. In 2011, before bringing Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali defendant, and in 2014 before bringing Abu Khattala, the alleged mastermind in the deaths of an American ambassador and others in Benghazi, Libya, to the United States and putting them in federal custody, and in 2016 before bringing two Americans found fighting in Syria court here, the Obama administration would carve out a period for military detention and interrogation prior to federal custody and prosecution.

In each case, the individuals were held in military custody and first interrogated there.  Warsame, for instance, was kept aboard a U.S. Navy vessel for two months of questioning before being charged with, among other things, providing material support to the Somali militant group al-Shabaab and to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (In December 2011, he would plead guilty in a federal court in New York City.) Khattala was held for 13 days. Once U.S. intelligence agents had the information they felt they needed, they turned the detainees over to those who would help prosecute them — to the “clean team.”

Until the recent Trump administration designation, however, no one in the ensuing years would be newly labeled an enemy combatant and sent to the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility or held without charge on U.S. soil. In fact, a number of individuals who, in the Bush years, would undoubtedly have become detainees there landed in federal court instead, including bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, and Abu Hamza al-Masri, an al-Qaeda operative accused of trying to build a terrorist cell in the United States.

As a result, this fall there are a surprising number of terrorism trials taking place, including that of the alleged Benghazi mastermind, of the two Americans who were fighting alongside ISIS in Syria, and of U.S. citizen Muhanad Mahmoud al-Farekh, who was just found guilty in a federal court in Brooklyn, New York, of conspiring to aid al-Qaeda and bomb a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. 

In these years, the belief that terrorism suspects belong within the federal criminal justice system was reestablished. In addition, Obama appointed two consecutive special envoys to take charge of transferring detainees cleared for release from Guantanamo, which Congress refused to close.  As a result, a total of 197 were released during the Obama years, leaving only 41 in indefinite detention as Trump came into office.

Meanwhile, during the tenures of Attorneys General General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, the federal courts would handle an increasingly wide array of terrorism cases, ranging from the Boston Marathon attack to the attempts of a woman in Colorado to travel abroad to marry an ISIS member and serve the caliphate. Taken together, these developments seemed to signify an end to the era of indefinite detention and of detention without charge. Or so we thought.

Back to the Future

Now, it seems, the term “enemy combatant” is back and who knows what’s about to come back with it? Was the Trump administration’s very use of that label meant to get our attention, to signal the potential Guantanamo-ish future to come, to quash any cautious hopes that the modest gains realized during the Obama years might actually last? Remember that, during the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump swore that he would add some “bad dudes” to Guantanamo and insisted that even American citizens could end up in that persistent symbol of American injustice.

In the meantime, in August it was revealed that the Pentagon was already requesting from Congress $500 million dollars to build new barracks for troops, a hospital, and a tent city for migrants at Gitmo.  In other words, the United States now stands at a worrisome and yet familiar crossroads in its never-ending war on terror and the signs point to a possible revival of some of the worst policies of the national security state.

In reality, so many years later, enemy combatant status should be a nonstarter, a red flag of the first order, as should indefinite detention. In the past, such policies produced nothing but a costly quagmire, leaving George Bush to personally release more than 500 detainees, Barack Obama nearly 200, and the government to eventually take citizens declared to be enemy combatants out of military custody and transfer them to federal court. Meanwhile, the hapless military commissions tied directly to Gitmo that were to replace the federal court system have yet to even begin the trials of the alleged co-conspirators of 9/11, while such courts have already tried more than 500 terrorism defendants.

Is this really what the Trump years have in store for us?  A return to a policy that never worked, that brought shame to this country, cost a fortune in the bargain (at the moment, nearly $11 million annually per Gitmo detainee), and undermined faith in the federal court system, even though those courts have proved so much more capable than the military commissions of dealing with terrorism cases?

For those of us who thought this country might have learned its lesson, the use of the term “enemy combatant” for new detainees and for an American citizen is more than a provocative gesture, it’s the latest attack on the rule of law. It represents a renewed attempt to dismantle yet another piece of the fabric of American democracy and to throw into doubt a founding faith in the importance of courts and the judicial system.  It’s another reminder that the rise of the national security state continues to take place outside the bounds of what was once thought of as fundamental to the republic — namely, institutions of justice.  Suitably, then, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a habeas petition on October 5th challenging the detention of the newest enemy combatant, asserting, among other things, “John Doe’s” right to an attorney and calling for him to be transferred into civil custody and charged or released.  

Though the future is so often a mystery, if the Trump administration goes down this same path again, it should be obvious from the last decade and a half just where it will lead: toward a renewed policy of legal exceptionalism in which the American scales of justice will once again be decisively tipped toward injustice. 

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days. Her most recent book is Rogue Justice: the Making of the Security State. Rohini Kurup, an intern at CNS, helped with the research for this article.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Karen J. Greenberg

Via Tomdispatch.com

Yes, White Supremacists, some Vikings were Muslims & Thor was Brown

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The archeological identification of stylized Arabic text for God (Allah) and Ali (the prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law) in burial garments of the Vikings in Sweden has thrown white supremacists into a tizzy. While the garments could just be the result of trade with the Middle East, it can’t be ruled out that there were some converts to Islam. This possibility drove the Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, the Breitbart staff, and other losers bonkers, since Vikings for them are the ur-Whites.

There was a similar controversy over Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 movie “Thor” from Marvel Studios, inasmuch as it cast Idris Elba as a Black guardian of the Bifrost bridge between earth and Asgard. As usual, the white nationalists were just being brain dead. First of all, they might have noticed that this version of Norse mythology is the brainchild of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, two Jewish American giants of story-telling.

The biggest problem with white supremacy is how hateful it is. But its second biggest problem is how stupid it is. That is not to say that intelligent people cannot be members (Steve Bannon, e.g.). It is that they are captive of moronic premises. If you buy a stupid premise (global heating is not caused by humans, e.g.), then all your further statements will be false because they are built on a rotten foundation.

So genetic testing of those buried in Viking grave sites have turned up some with Iranian origins, and Iran may be the origin of a significant number of Vikings.

And, Vikings ruled a maritime empire during the medieval warming period when Scandinavia could support a fair population, roughly 800-1200 CE (AD). For instance, Vikings briefly conquered Sicily in 860. But during the whole period 827-902 the island was gradually coming under Arab Muslim rule from North Africa. Their troops were Arab, Berber and Black African. If you don’t think Vikings mingled with people of color in Sicily before returning north, including having some children by local women, you don’t know much about medieval society. And that some of them converted to Islam is entirely plausible. In fact the 827 invasion was provoked by a Byzantine official who felt badly used and so converted to Islam and became an agent of the Aghlabid emirs of North Africa. A Viking woman buried with a Muslim ring has been found by archeologists. Vikings also traded with the Abbasid Empire and raided Muslim Spain (al-Andalus). Vikings were not racists, and wouldn’t have know what a race is. As for their “tribes,” tribes in medieval society were like our political parties. People joined successful ones and suddenly found an ancestor in common with the clan they joined.

The populations of empires are always mongrels, and the Vikings were just not all of one ethnic origin or religious belief.

Moreover, Norse mythology is just a version of Indo-European mythology which is shared by Iran and India. In ancient Iran, as well, there was a bridge to the next word, called Chinwat, similar to the Norse Bifrost. Thor is clearly the same as the Vedic Indra and the Midgaard Serpent is Vritra. In ancient Iran, Thor was Faridun who fought the serpentine Zohak. That is, the closest you can get to Norse mythology today is Indian religion. Yes, supremacists, there are brown Aryans.

Worst of all for the supremacists, there are no races as popularly conceived. Our outward appearance is dictated by only 2% of our genes, and no, has nothing to do with intelligence or character attributes. Irish and Chinese are genetically almost identical despite representing the easternmost and westernmost extent of homo sapiens sapiens. Skin color is an adaptation to UV rays. When a woman is pregnant, she needs enough UV rays from the sun to produce vitamin D in the embryo, but not so much that they will cause genetic damage. So in very sunny places like the Congo, nature selects for black skin. In Sweden, nature over time (13,000 years) selects for white skin. The people in Sweden came from places to the south and began by being dark.

So give us a break. Vikings were all kinds of people. And so are genuine Americans.

————

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Researchers Find ‘Allah’ Embroidered On Viking Burial Textiles

Oklahoma’s Ominous Earthquakes: the Price of Fracking (Video)

AJ+ | (Video News Report) | – –

“The earth is shaking in Oklahoma, and it’s far from normal—a recent study by Cornell University and the U.S. Geological Survey has linked the state’s exponential spike in earthquakes with a surge in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Imran Garda talks to worried Oklahomans and gets a behind-the-scenes look at how the chemical-laced water required to frack is disposed of.”

Oklahoma Is Shaking: How Fracking Creates Earthquakes | AJ+ Docs

Elbaradei: Trump Propaganda on Iran Nuclear Deal like Run-up to Iraq War

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Trump administration (actually UN Ambassador and far right Evangelical Nikki Haley) has decertified Iran from compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or Nuclear Deal of 2015. It would be interesting to know how many of Haley’s stupid and inaccurate talking points were provided by Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman.

The decertification means very little, since Iran is not actually in violation of the agreement and anyway it was concluded with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (China, Russia, Britain, France and the USA), not just with Washington. A US certification is not even mentioned in the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency is the body responsible for certifying Iranian compliance, and it has repeatedly so affirmed.

Ominously, the former head of the IAEA, Mohammed Albaradei, who pointed out in spring of 2003 that the George W. Bush administration’s case for going to war against Iraq was bogus has weighed in on this new warmongering ploy:

The JCPOA is narrowly focused on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, which Tehran has all along maintained is only for the purpose of producing fuel for its nuclear power plants at Bushehr. It denied to Iran a heavy water reactor, which is far easier to use to collect fissile material than light water reactors. It limited the number of centrifuges to 6,000. It limited the amount of uranium enriched to 19.5% for the Iranian medical reactor (which makes isotopes for treating cancer) that can be stockpiled in usable form. And it subjected Iran to the most stringent inspection regime ever imposed on any country.

Iran is observing all four of these conditions.

The Trump-Haley fake news document that challenges Iran’s compliance does not actually deny that Iran is complying with the JCPOA. Trump incorrectly asserts that military bases have not been inspected. The IAEA inspectors visited the Parchin base in 2015. It is not part of the regular inspections because the JCPOA excludes military bases. In fact the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty excludes military bases, at the insistence of the US and the then USSR. So Washington has only itself to blame. In any case, that objection is a red herring, since the inspectors can ask to visit Parchin at any time and would be allowed to do so. They deliberately aren’t making the request these days because they do not want to give the impression that the Trumpies have a leg to stand on with this critique.

The list of grievances Trump/Haley present against Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear deal. They don’t like Iran’s ballistic missile development program. I’m not sure why, since Iran has nothing impressive to put in the warheads except dumb bombs, which it would be brain dead to launch against nuclear-armed Israel or even against Saudi Arabia, which has a US defense umbrella.

The US complaints also include Iranian support for Hizbullah and intervention in Syria, which Trump and Haley are pleased to call terrorism. But if that is such a bad thing then why not also sanction Vladimir Putin, who is doing the same things in Syria and giving air support to Hizbullah and other Shiite militias? And why is it so bad for Iran to prop up Bashar al-Assad if Trump himself said that Arabs need a strongman at the helm and it is all right with him if al-Assad stays and Putin takes care of Syria? The Haley indictment of Iran has an oddly Neoconservative ring that ill fits with Trump’s positions and ends up condemning Der Donald as much as anyone else.

Not to mention that it has come out that the US saw ISIL growing in eastern Syria and let it do so because they thought it would pressure al-Assad. So who was complicit with terrorism in Syria? Not Hizbullah and Iran, the most effective fighters against ISIL. (Trump and Haley are so ignorant that they do not know that ISIL and al-Qaeda more generally are hyper-Sunni fanatics who have a genocidal attitude toward Shiites such as Iranians, and they even try to implicate Iran in 9/11, which is Alex Jones conspiracy-theory territory).

And they want to sanction the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, escalating the covert struggle between Iran’s national guard and the US security agencies. (Though note that the US military has been de facto allied with the IRGC in Iraq in the fight against ISIL. Maybe now that ISIL is nearly over with as a state, the long knives have come out among the victors?)

The Trump decertification asks the US Congress to make foreign policy, which is not how I remember the Constitution.

As for the likely impact, it will be to bolster the hard liners in Iran like the IRGC and to isolate the US as a rogue nation.

Trump’s move immensely strengthens Khamenei and the IRGC in Iranian politics and flushes President Hassan Rouhani and other centrists down the toilet.

If the goal were to get Iran out of Syria, this way of proceeding forestalls success. Lots of Iranians are embarrassed to be supporting a Baath regime in Damascus, and as the ISIL threat receded so too might have public willingness to incur casualties for the sake of al-Assad.

But now any such calls would be branded as treason in the service of USA imperialism, and successfully so.

Regionally, moreover, the Iraqi government would collapse without IRGC support, and since it increasingly doesn’t need the US, will likely distance itself from Washington over time, increasing rather than decreasing Iranian influence. This will especially be true if Kurds declare independence and are kicked out of the Baghdad government, leaving Arab Iraq 80% Shiite. Nouri al-Maliki already has attempted a vote of no confidence against the Kurdish president. The US has powerful ties of clientelage to Erbil (the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan) and if Baghdad thinks it is insufficiently hard on Barzani, that will be another wedge. Muqtada al-Sadr and other nationalists who want the US back out will be strengthened.

Outgoing German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel observed that if Iran continues to be compliant, we’d now see Europe lining up with Russia and China against the US on the Iran issue. And sure enough, Britain, Germany and France issued a statement today standing behind the nuclear deal and declining to go along with Trump.

In short, this step profoundly weakens the United States internationally and strengthens the worst elements in Iran.

———-

Related video:

Iran nuclear deal: Trump vows not to sign off agreement – BBC News

Germany: Immediate Danger of Mideast War if Trump dumps Iran Deal

Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Foreign Minister warns that Europe will take the Russian and Chinese side on the Iran issue against the USA.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (Democratic Socialist Party: SPD) warned this week that if Trump pulls out of the Iran deal, it would provoke an immediate danger of another Middle East war.

He also warned that Germany and the European Union would side with Russia and China on this issue against the United States of America.

In an interview with Deutschland, Gabriel warned, “A termination of the Iran deal would turn the Middle East into a hot crisis zone.” If Iran were to turn, on the collapse of the deal, to trying to develop a nuclear weapon, it would create “the immediate danger of a new war.” He said that Israel would see such a step as a severe danger.

The SPD politician said that a US pull-out “would send a devastating signal on nuclear disarmament.” Some states, he warned, might take the cancellation of the Iran deal as a sign that they should speed up their development of an atomic bomb. It would in the aftermath be “completely illusory to hope to move North Korea to conclude a security treaty if the Iran agreement fails.”

He said that the Iran deal could become a football in American partisan politics and that unrealistic expectations, such as that Iran cease its role in Iraq, Sria and Yemen could emerge. He said you couldn’t tie that issue to nuclear non-proliferation.

Gabriel added that if Iran remained in compliance with the 2015 deal, that would “put the Europeans on the Iran issue in the same posture as Russia and China against the USA.”

——

Related video:

Wochit News: “German Official Claims That Trump’s Iran Plans Driving EU Towards Russia And China”

Trump wants 10-fold increase in Atom Bombs but is after Iran, which has none

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

As far as I can figure, the US presently has about 6,800 nuclear warheads, though it aims at going down to 4018 once it dismantles those scheduled to be decommissioned, by 2023.

The Russian Federation has about 7,000 nuclear warheads, though it aims at going down to 4,300 once it dismantles those scheduled to be decommissioned, by 2023.

This small missile gap of, practically speaking, 282 bombs appears to be sticking in Donald Trump’s craw.

Last summer he was shown a chart like this one (h/t Wikimedia Commons) in a security meeting at the Pentagon:

Nuclear_proliferation

Trump appears to have been disturbed that the US stockpile had dropped from over 30,000 in the early 1960s and to have shouted at his National Security Council that he wanted a ten-fold increase in the number of nuclear warheads the US holds. Maybe he wanted 40,180, ten times the number of actual strategic warheads in the active US arsenal. That would be over 8,000 more than the US ever had.

NBC reports that it was over this exchange that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sighed that Trump is a “fucking moron.”

Trump wants to bother poor little Iran, which does not have a bomb and has given up the possibility of getting one. But he wants to manufacture thousands of the things? Where are the sanctions on Trump?

Trump tweeted out, predictably, that the NBC story is fake news and that the National Broadcasting Corporation should have its license revoked, and that it is terrible that journalists can just write whatever they want. Never mind that under the 1st Amendment NBC does not need a license, though the FCC did grant them a perch on the limited national airwaves when people mainly got their signal via rabbit ears. Never mind that the Constitution allows journalists to write what they like, short of egregious libel (and it is really hard to libel a public figure according to US case law).

But let’s not let ourselves be distracted by this flak.

Let us take seriously that Trump did urge a ten-fold increase in nuclear weapons. Of course, that would violate numerous existing treaties and kick off a massive arms race with Russia and China, maybe with India (and Pakistan would want to keep up with India).

Today there are roughly 14,000 nuclear warheads in the world. All are much more powerful than the bombs dropped in WW II.

Let’s say a single high tonnage nuclear warhead dropped on a major city like New York or Beijing or Moscow could kill 700,000 people.

Then ten could kill 7 million. A hundred could kill 70 million. If the US and Russia let off all of their stockpile they could kill more than the entire combined population of the US and the Russian Federation. No one would survive such an exchange in either country.

Those are direct hits. There would be massive amounts of radiation affecting neighboring countries (Canada, Mexico, eastern Europe, northern China). When The Chernobyl plant melted down in 1986, we were living in London and were instructed not to drink milk because the radiation had spread on British grass from over in Ukraine and gotten into British cow udders. How many miscarriages would there be? Cases of cancer?

And of course urban infrastructure would be devastated, which in today’s complex world would also cause more deaths. Look at Puerto Rico, where there is still largely no electricity and where patients in hospitals without back-up generators are endangered.

A nuclear exchange would inevitably kick a lot of dust into the atmosphere and there’d be several bad summer growing seasons because of the cold and reduced sunlight. Millions more could die from this cause, a small nuclear winter.

Going down to as few nuclear warheads as possible is highly desirable. If Trump got his huge arsenal,maybe he would want some high megaton bombs of the sort that have been phased out, bringing back the threat of a true nuclear winter.

I now think Tillerson’s response to Trump’s tirade at the Pentagon last summer was ‘way too restrained.

Maybe everyone figures that Trump was only blowing off steam and that nothing will change. But they should take a gander at how the EPA has been turned into an evil bizarro anti-EPA dedicated to spreading around poisonous pollution and farting billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, so as to produce even more violent hurricanes.

When someone is president, you have to take them seriously, however hard it may be.

Appendix: The current state of the US and Russian stockpiles:

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimates that Russia has

7,000 nuclear warheads, with 2,700 decommissioned and being dismantled

4,300 or so nuclear weapons in its military stockpile.

1,958 are on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases.

500 are in storage.

1,850 nonstrategic warheads are in storage.

Some 2,700 warheads have been decommissioned and are awaiting dismantlement.

On the United States of America side of the ledger, Armscontrol.org estimates

6,819 total warheads, with 2800 decommissioned and being dismantled

1,393 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 660 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers.

Approximately 2,300 non-deployed strategic warheads and

roughly 500 deployed and non-deployed tactical warheads.

In a January 2017 speech, Vice President Joe Biden announced that as of September 30, 2016, the United States possessed

4,018 active and inactive nuclear warheads.

Biden also announced in January 2017 that the US is retiring 2,800 warheads

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

What Advisors Explained To President Donald Trump About Nuclear Weapons | Morning Joe | MSNBC

Corporations Shouldn’t Get to Have ‘Religious’ Objections to Your Health Care

By Martha Burk | (Otherwords.org) | – –

Expanding “corporate citizen” rights into health care could ultimately affect everybody, not just women.

When Obamacare — aka, the Affordable Care Act — became law in 2010, it mandated coverage of birth control without co-payments.

Some employers didn’t like the rule, and Hobby Lobby hated it so much that the company filed a lawsuit to stop it. Company owners said they didn’t believe in contraception and claimed that covering it for female employees violated their religious freedom.

Understand, the Obama administration went to great lengths to exempt churches and church-related institutions from the rule, while still guaranteeing their female employees the right to birth control if they wanted it.

Then the Supreme Court stepped in, siding with Hobby Lobby and ruling that “closely held” corporations with religious objections could join religious employers in excluding birth control from their insurance plans.

Now the Trump administration has gone a giant step further. They’re now allowing any and all businesses, including publicly traded ones, to also cite “religious or moral objections” in denying their employees contraception coverage.

Wait a minute.

Corporations not only have religious freedom but now moral principles, too? I didn’t even know they went to church, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen one get down on its knees and pray.

On the other hand, I know women — who are actual people — have religious freedom under the Constitution, too. What about their right not to be forced to bow to their employers’ religious beliefs or highly suspect “moral” principles?

Massachusetts, California, and the ACLU have filed lawsuits to stop the rollback. Good luck. Besides Hobby Lobby, the conservative majority in the Supreme Court ruled years ago in the Citizens United case that corporations have constitutional rights, and they’ve consistently ruled in favor of their corporate buddies over women in employment discrimination cases.

On top of that, six of the nine justices are male, and most of them of rather conservative religious persuasions. The odds look to be stacked against women.

Expanding so-called corporate citizen rights deeper into health care could ultimately affect everybody, not just women.

Christian Scientists are opposed to all kinds of medical treatment, including for diabetes, cancer, and meningitis. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in blood transfusions. There are undoubtedly other religious taboos on medical procedures.

Enterprising businesses that want to save money could cite “religious freedom” to exclude virtually any medical treatment from their insurance plans. Surgery, antibiotics, immunizations — you name it.

Where will it end? We don’t know. Even if the lawsuits are ultimately successful, a decision could take years.

All I know is that I don’t want my neighborhood corporate citizen making my health care decisions.

Via Otherwords.org

Martha Burk currently runs the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations, which started the Women on Wall Street project to investigate sex discrimination at companies associated with Augusta National Golf Club. She is a syndicated columnist, and serves as Money Editor for Ms. Magazine.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Trump Aborts Obama’s Birth Control Mandate”