Moral Low Ground

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Video: Israeli Soldiers Drag Shoeless 8-Year-Old Palestinian Boy Through Hebron Streets

Israeli soldiers dragged a shoeless child through the streets of occupied Hebron in the West Bank in search of other children who allegedly threw stones and a Molotov cocktail at a nearby Jewish settler colony.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published a YouTube video showing Israel Defense Force troops surrounding 8-year-old Sufian Abu Hitah before force-marching the terrified boy through the streets of the illegally occupied city with only socks on his feet. As soldiers point their service rifles at the child, courageous residents attempt to come to his aid. A group of women follow the troops as they take the boy on a house to house search. Eventually some women manage to momentarily wrest the child away from the soldiers, who quickly move to grab him again.

The troops accused children of throwing stones and a Molotov cocktail at Kiryat Arba, a Jews-only settler colony on the outskirts of Hebron. Like the occupation, the settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this. According to B’Tselem, Amani Abu Hitah, Sufian’s mother, forbade the boy to leave his grandparents’ home to retrieve a lost toy because she had heard there were soldiers patrolling the neighborhood. Sufian defied her and slipped out of the house before he was detained.

Amani recalled how she “saw more than 15 soldiers surrounding Sufian. Two of them were holding him by both arms and dragging him towards the gate of Kiryat Arba.” She said:

“I went up to one of the soldiers and asked him to give me back my son. He refused and said: ‘If you want to get him back, convince him to tell us the names of the children who were throwing stones.’ I tried to explain that we don’t live in the neighborhood and were just visiting my parents. I told the soldier that Sufian doesn’t know the names of the neighborhood kids. He ignored me, and the soldiers kept on dragging Sufian by the arms. Sufian was shaking with fear. I saw him talk to the soldiers and tell them that he doesn’t know anything, but it didn’t help.”

An IDF spokesperson denied Israeli troops forced the boy to point them to the settlement assailants. “Following initial review of the incident, it was concluded that a Molotov cocktail was thrown towards the community of Kiryat Arba,” IDF told Ma’an News Agency. “Forces who were called to the scene caught a suspect. Due to the fact the suspect was a minor, he was taken to his parent’s home. It was noted in the initial review that the forces did not ask the minor to direct them to any other suspects.”

Palestinian children as young as 7 years old have been arrested in the occupied territories, with an increasing number of minors prosecuted by juvenile military courts there. According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, 422 Palestinian children were in the Israeli prison system at the end of 2015, with six children held without charge or trial in what Israel calls administrative detention. Children report ill treatment and torture in efforts to obtain coerced confessions. Scores of children have been imprisoned in solitary confinement for as long as 45 days, a widely recognized form of torture. According to the report:

Throwing stones — the charge against the vast majority of Palestinian children detained in Israeli military detention — can carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison, depending on the age of the child, plus fines. Many children maintain their innocence, but plead guilty in order to avoid prolonged detention before trial. Most receive plea deals of less than 12 months, and are ordered to pay fines averaging US$400. If families are unable to pay this amount, the child is detained longer.

Some children are lucky to only be detained. According to the United Nations, “30 Palestinian children (25 boys and 5 girls) were killed and at least 1,735 injured (1,687 boys and 48 girls), predominantly in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem” in 2015. Often these minors commit far more serious assaults on Israelis, including sometimes fatal stabbing attacks. Sometimes stone-throwers are shot dead on the spot.

Ma’an News Agency reports clashes erupted in the al-Jalazun refugee camp near Ramallah on Friday after Israeli forces fatally shot 17-year-old Palestinian teen Muhammad Mahmoud Ibrahim al-Hattab and critically wounded three other teens after the group allegedly threw firebombs at the nearby Beit El Jewish settler colony.

Humiliating Defeat for Trump, Ryan as Republican Bill to Repeal and Replace Obamacare Dies

Humiliated: President Donald Trump was unable to persuade Republican lawmakers to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. (Photo: John Pemble/Flickr Creative Commons)

The repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, arguably President Donald Trump’s most popular promise to his supporters, was indefinitely delayed Friday as House Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew the proposed American Health Care Act from consideration.

The New York Times reports Ryan rushed to the White House shortly after noon to deliver the humiliating news to President Trump that his first legislative effort — which was widely believed to be easily achievable thanks to total Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches of government — had failed. “I spoke to the president… and I told him the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan announced. “I will not sugar-coat this, this is a disappointing day for us.”

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) was doomed by great discord among the GOP ranks, widespread public outrage and the president’s own inexperience in governing. As a result, Obamacare — by far the most loathed legacy of the Obama era among conservatives — will remain the law of the land until Republicans can regroup and try again to dismantle a law that has saved lives and brought the ranks of the nation’s uninsured to their lowest-ever levels even as it has raised health insurance premiums for millions of Americans.

The vote on the AHCA, which would have replaced Obamacare subsidies with mainly age-based refundable tax credits, was delayed earlier this week as it became increasingly apparent Republicans wouldn’t be able to muster enough votes to pass it. More than 30 House Republicans had threatened to reject the bill; its supporters needed at least 21 GOP votes for passage. Following news of the delayed vote, Trump issued an ultimatum to divided GOP lawmakers — vote for the AHCA or let Obamacare continue and deal with the political fallout.

However, for many of the more conservative legislators, particularly members of the Freedom Caucus, the AHCA was too generous. In addition to dropping Obamacare’s detested individual mandate, they demanded deep cuts to the core of the nation’s social safety net. Trump summoned Freedom Caucus members to the White House Thursday and promised to meet some of their demands, including dropping requirements that health insurance corporations cover basic services, including mental health, mammograms, maternity and newborn care. A photo of the all-male meeting stoked further outrage among many Americans and derision from Democrats.

The president’s ultimatum didn’t work — neither the Freedom Caucus hardliners nor more moderate Republicans wary of the electoral consequences of 24 million Americans losing their health insurance were moved. More and more Republicans voiced their opposition, and by Friday Ryan knew the bill was dead. Some Democrats mocked the president for rushing to a vote without securing sufficient support for the measure. “You don’t find a day and then say you’re going to pass a bill, you build a consensus in your caucus and when you’re ready you set the date to bring it to the floor,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on Thursday. “Rookie’s error, Donald Trump. You may be a great negotiator, but rookie’s error for bringing this up… when clearly you’re not ready.”

AHCA critics say there is much to oppose in the bill, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who campaigned for president last year on a platform advocating single-payer universal health care, called “an absolute disaster” that “has nothing to do with health care… and everything to do with… a massive shift of wealth from working people and middle-income people to the very richest people in this country.” The bill contained a tax break for insurance company CEOs and an estimated $144 billion in collective tax savings for Americans with annual incomes over $1 million. Meanwhile, millions of uninsured people would be unable to obtain coverage and the nation’s most vulnerable populations — poor people, people of color, the mentally ill, chronically ill and the elderly — would likely suffer the most. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called the bill “fundamentally cruel” and said it would ‘‘work great for those at the top and just kick dirt in the faces of everybody else.’’

Millions of Americans — including many Trump voters — agreed. They angrily packed town-hall style meetings with Republican lawmakers, with many passionately, and sometimes desperately, stressing how Obamacare was literally a life-saver for them or their loved ones. In the most recent national polls, support for the Republican bill had dropped to as low as 17 percent. Thousands of people in cities across the nation rallied and marched in support of Obamacare and against the AHCA on Thursday, the latest of many such protests. As Friday’s ultimatum deadline loomed, it grew increasingly apparent the AHCA had little chance of passing.

“We were very close, and it was a very, very tight margin,” a disappointed Trump said on Friday following the bill’s withdrawal. “We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t gonna give us a single vote so it’s a very difficult thing to do.” Pelosi, meanwhile, called the bill’s defeat “a victory for the American people.”

For seven years, Republican lawmakers have made destroying Obamacare their top priority. They have voted more than 60 times since 2011 to repeal all or part of the law. Getting rid of it was supposed to be easy with the GOP firmly in control of all the necessary levers of power. During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump promised “insurance for everybody,” insisting “everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now” and that “the government’s gonna pay for it.” However, for now Obamacare is the closest thing to “insurance for everybody” Americans will know.

Fleeing Mosul, Parents Sedate Children to Avoid Islamic State Fighters

Women and children recount their harrowing escape from IS-held western Mosul in a refugee camp. (RT screen grab)

Terrified parents fleeing fierce fighting between US-backed Iraqi forces and Islamic State (IS) in Mosul, Iraq are drugging their children with sedatives or taping their mouths shut in a desperate bid to avoid detection by the Islamist militants.

“Families often leave at night and in the early hours of the morning and have to walk with their children,” Hala Jaber of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told Reuters. “The kids get tired and if they cry it’s very difficult. Families are sometimes putting duct tape on their children’s mouths or even giving them Valium or tranquilizers just to keep them quiet so that they are not found out by IS and captured or shot.”

The United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday that some 157,000 Mosul residents had reached a refuge center away from the fighting. However, as many as 600,000 people are believed to be trapped inside the city, where Iraqi troops backed by US-led air strikes have been engaged in a fierce, building-by-building battle for the city. The coalition is winning — but at a terrible cost of innocent life. In addition to forcing males to fight, IS fighters have been using civilians as human shields. Snipers, who have been targeting civilians attempting to escape, are deliberately taking up positions on the roofs of residential buildings in the hope that the presence of women and children will slow the Iraqi army advance and stymie US bombing.

But it hasn’t always worked. In addition to artillery bombardment and cross-fire, air strikes have claimed and maimed many civilians. On Thursday, Iraqi and international news outlets reported a US-led air strike killed some 230 people, mostly women and children, sheltering in two homes IS fighters had entered in the Jadida neighborhood. Earlier this month, the UK-based monitor group Airwars said hundreds of innocent civilians had been killed in coalition attacks in Mosul in the first week of March alone. It is not known how many civilians have been killed by IS forces.

The situation has left the hungry, cold and terrorized people of Mosul with two perilous options — hunker down and hope IS fighters, Iraqi shells and bullets and US bombs miss them, or run for their lives and face the same dangers out in the open in hope of escape to safety in a cold, crowded camp. For many, the latter has become the only choice as food, water and safety dwindle. “We had no food. That’s why we decided to risk escaping,” 43-year-old Bashar Hazem, who fled with two of his brothers, one of them shot in the leg, told Reuters. Hazem said the trio was part of a larger group who fled in the early morning darkness on Friday, and that IS snipers shot three women in his group in their legs. “Even if you are injured, they shoot at you,” Hazem’s 29-year-old brother Ali said.

Under such harrowing conditions, parents are turning to pharmaceutical sedatives to calm their traumatized children. “My family gave drugs to the young children,” teenager Noor Muhammed, who escaped in a group of 27, is quoted by Reuters. “Parents gave sleeping medicine to their children so they wouldn’t be horrified by the fighting; also, so that when they ran at night under the darkness they wouldn’t be found because of the children.”

“The things the children have seen and been through are beyond what any human being should see,” Jaber of IOM told Reuters. “They’ve witnessed hands being cut off, beheadings and killings. A lot of them are in shock.” Still, there is hope. Jaber said that when children arrived, “they were drawing tanks with IS flags.”

“Now they’re drawing flowers and happy faces,” she said.

JFK Diary Calls Hitler ‘Stuff of Legends’ Who ‘Will Emerge From Hatred’

US Navy Lieutenant John. F. Kennedy aboard his patrol boat, PT-109, in 1943. (Wikipedia)

John F. Kennedy wrote in his diary in 1945 that the genocidal Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler “had in him the stuff of which legends are made” and would “emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived.”

CBS News reports JFK’s only diary will be sold to the highest bidder by auction house RR Auction on April 26. But it’s not the one-of-a-kind sale that’s raising eyebrows, but rather what’s penned in the pages of the slain president’s private journal.

It was the summer of 1945, just months after Hitler killed himself shortly before the arrival of the triumphant Soviet Red Army in Berlin. Kennedy was traveling Europe as a journalist in the wake of Germany’s surrender when he paused to contemplate the life and legacy of the man whose actions brought about the deadliest war in human history, and the near total extermination of the Jewish people in the nations he conquered.

“He had in him the stuff of which legends are made,” Kennedy wrote of the recently deceased tyrant. “Within a few years Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived.”

Kennedy added that Hitler “had boundless ambition for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him.”

Later, while serving as a U.S. senator, Kennedy handed his diary off to research assistant Deidre Henderson, who published it as a book titled Prelude to Leadership in 1995. “There is a misty quality about these lines that makes them seem removed from the squalor nearby,” Henderson wrote in her book in an attempt to explain her mentor’s words. “Is Kennedy just drifting and dreaming?… Had he not heard of the death chambers yet?” Henderson writes that perhaps Kennedy “was in some manner trying to view the scene with cosmic detachment, perhaps as a historian.”

“When JFK said that Hitler ‘had in him the stuff of which legends are made,’ he was speaking to the mystery surrounding him, not the evil he demonstrated to the world,” Henderson explained in the auction notes. “Nowhere in this diary, or in any of his writings, is there any indication of sympathy for Nazi crimes or cause.”

However, in 2013, the leading German newsweekly Der Spiegel reported on earlier JFK writings from previous trips to the Third Reich in which the future U.S. president called fascism “the right thing for Germany.” As a 20-year-old Harvard undergrad visiting Germany in 1937, Kennedy was apparently “very taken” with the Nazis and even wrote that the “Nordic races appear to be definitely superior to their Latin counterparts.” The Jerusalem Post noted Kennedy’s controversial past statements in a 2013 article but concluded he later became a staunch supporter of Israel.

JFK’s diary is expected to fetch around $200,000 at auction.

US Air Strike Kills 230 Iraqi Civilians, Mostly Women and Children, in Mosul

Fierce fighting for control of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, has killed or injured thousands of civilians there so far this month. (Photo: Democracy Now!)

In what could be the deadliest wholesale American slaughter of innocent civilians in decades, some 230 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in an air strike in a crowded residential neighborhood of besieged Mosul, Iraq.

On Thursday, the United Nations warned “the worst is yet to come” as some 400,000 residents remain trapped inside the Islamic State-controlled Old City of western Mosul, facing IS snipers, land mines, food shortages and mounting panic as US-backed Iraqi national forces fight to retake the city that has been under Islamist control for nearly three years.

The worst soon came for hundreds of terrified civilians sheltering in adjoining homes in the city’s Jadida neighborhood. According to witnesses, IS snipers took up positions in the buildings, with fighters holding the civilians there as human shields. The Telegraph reports a local resident, who documents life in the embattled city under the Twitter handle MosulEye, said one of the trapped civilians desperately phoned him Wednesday to plead for help, claiming he’d been without food or water for four days.

Instead of delivering help, the coalition delivered death from above on a staggering scale. The Kurdish news agency Rudaw reports 130 people were killed in one single home, while 100 more people perished in another. YouTube channel IR Shia — which may be associated with Islamic State — posted horrific video footage of what it claimed was the deadly attack.

The Independent reports a spokesman for US Central Command (CENTCOM) said Pentagon officials were aware of the loss of life and were “researching” the situation. Iraqi News reports Iraqi military media is accusing IS of fabricating civilian casualty figures and even murdering civilians and then blaming coalition forces. According to the outlet, Iraqi military officials denied killing any civilians, as US forces often initially do in similar situations.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State and seize Iraq’s oil. “I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left,” Trump said in November 2015. “We’ll get Exxon[Mobil] to come in there and in two months… I’ll take the oil.” Trump also promised he would order the killing innocent women and children. “You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said in December 2015. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it was moving ahead with plans to make it easier for the military and Central Intelligence Agency to target enemy forces with drones, even if it means more innocent people will be killed. Changes include declaring more places “areas of active hostilities” and granting military and CIA forces greater autonomy to launch strikes without presidential approval in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. “Some of the Obama administration rules were getting in the way of good strikes,” a US official briefed on the changes told NBC News.

There has been an exponential increase in the killing of innocent civilians in nations targeted by America’s war against terrorism since Trump became commander-in-chief. This month alone, several mass casualty events have been reported, including 49 civilians killed when a US air strike hit a mosque in Aleppo province, Syria and 33 civilians killed in an air strike on a school sheltering families near Raqqa, Syria.

In the Trump administration’s first major ground raid, dozens of civilians — including an 8-year-old American girl — and a US Navy SEAL were killed in a botched assault on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen. In February, at least 18 Afghans, mostly women and children, died in a US strike in Helmand province.

But it is in Mosul where US bombs have killed the most innocent people. Earlier this month, the U.K.-based monitor group Airwars said as many as 370 civilians have been killed in at least 11 coalition attacks in and around Mosul. Thousands of Mosul residents have died in the fighting, with hundreds of thousands of more displaced.

While it is extremely difficult to confirm how many people have died in coalition attacks, details from specific events have been corroborated. One of the deadliest incidents occurred when the IS-run Omar al-Aswad mosque, in the al-Faruq district of the old city center, was repeatedly bombed, destroying it as well as nearby homes. The mosque was being used as a shelter for families displaced by the fierce fighting. Ninevah Media Center reported more than 80 civilians were killed or wounded, while Mosul Eye put the number killed at “more than 50.”

Map showing forces in control of areas in and around Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city. (Institute for the Study of War/Al Jazeera)

According to Airwars, on March 2, several outlets — including IS media — reported 20 civilians were killed in a coalition bombardment in the Shifa neighborhood of western Mosul, while another west Mosul strike, this one in the Nabi Sheet neighborhood, reportedly killed 14 civilians from three families. Two days later, coalition attacks in western Mosul’s Al Mahatta neighborhood reportedly left another 36 civilians dead, including numerous children. The deadliest reported incident in Mosul involving coalition forces prior to the Jadida massacre occurred on March 5 during an attack on a government compound in the Dawassa neighborhood in which as many as 130 civilians were reportedly killed. The following day, dozens of Iraqi police and security officers imprisoned by IS were reportedly killed in coalition air strikes near Mosul’s main train station.

The Pentagon has admitted its forces have killed hundreds of civilians since the US began bombing IS targets in 2014, but human rights and monitor groups accuse Washington of dramatically underreporting the number of Iraqi and Syrian civilians killed during the war. More than 15 years of endless US war in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa have taken an extremely heavy toll on innocent life. Estimates of the number of people killed during the ongoing war against Islamist terrorism range from the low hundreds of thousands to more than 1.3 million. 

Since the end of World War II, US military forces have killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.

San Francisco First City to Ban Participation in Muslim Registry

Surrounded by city leaders, activists and advocates, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signs into law a measure preemptively banning participation in religion-based registries like President Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim database. (Photo: Hala Hijazi/Facebook)

Responding to anti-Muslim rhetoric, policies and actions of the Trump administration, San Francisco became the first US city to preemptively prohibit participation in any religion-based registry.

Mayor Ed Lee on Monday signed the Non-Cooperation With Identity-Based Registry Ordinance, legislation which prohibits the City “from using resources to create, implement, provide investigation or information for, enforce, or otherwise assist or support any government program requiring the registration of individuals on the basis of religion, national origin, or ethnicity; or creating a database of individuals on the basis of religion, national origin, or ethnicity.”

“Basically we’re saying, ‘no registry,’” Lee told reporters as he stood with cheering city leaders and human rights advocates after signing the measure into law. “This signing today reaffirms our sanctuary city,” Lee continued. “Despite what’s happening nationally, we’ll continue the fight against discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiments.”

The new law “has reaffirmed to our entire nation what San Francisco’s values are and to what lengths we will go to protect the lives, livelihood, dignity, and the human and constitutional rights of our citizens,” Human Rights Commissioner Hala Hijazi wrote in a Facebook post announcing the measure.

A broad coalition contributed to the new ordinance, including the Asian Law Caucus, the San Francisco Bay Area of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, the National Lawyers Guild-Bay Area and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

Prior to the mayor’s signing, the ordinance, which was introduced by Lee and District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, had been approved in a unanimous 11-0 Board of Supervisors vote. “We are doing this because the Muslim community and the immigrant community in general across the United States is facing dangerous discrimination by the government of the United States,” District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen explained last month while working on the measure.

Ronen, who worked to strengthen the legislation with amendments empowering individuals and nonprofit organizations to sue violators, reminded a Board of Supervisors hearing last month that a World War II-era registry led to the wholesale roundup and imprisonment of West Coast Japanese Americans — including thousands of San Franciscans — in concentration camps. “It’s part of history that we need to learn from and not repeat,” stressed Ronen. “By creating the strongest law possible, we are sending the message that we will never participate in that type of discrimination again.”

Many San Franciscans are outraged by the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim agenda. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump called not only for a Muslim registry but also for a total ban on Muslim immigration and travel to the United States, a theme he revisited after his election with two short-lived bans on travelers from numerous majority-Muslim nations. The first of those two bans was blocked by a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals.

While campaigning, Trump also vowed to “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State militants and kill their innocent families. Since becoming commander-in-chief, reports of mass civilian casualties caused by US bombs and bullets in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have increased dramatically.

Trump’s associations and cabinet appointments have also alarmed many San Francisco residents and officials. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called Islam a “toxic ideology.” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has accused Muslim American leaders who refuse to condemn Islamist terror attacks of “complicity.” Chief White House adviser Stephen Bannon, founder of the white nationalist platform Breitbart.com, has praised white supremacist leaders. Just this week, the White House welcomed Brigitte Gabriel, founder of the nation’s largest anti-Muslim organization, ACT for America, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group.

San Franciscans are also appalled by reports of soaring anti-Muslim harassment and assaults, including deadly attacks on Indians mistaken for Muslims.

Anti-Muslim voices have undoubtedly shaped administration policy, from the attempted Muslim bans to lesser-noticed moves like a plan to rename and reshape a federal program targeting all violent extremism to focus exclusively on “radical Islam.” This, despite the fact that Americans are more likely to be killed by lightning, falling furniture, armed toddlers or right-wing extremists in the United States than by Muslim terrorists.

Residents of the famously progressive city have wasted no time in challenging Trump, from turning up by the tens of thousands to protest for women’s rights to becoming the first major US city to sue the administration over its executive order seeking to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding. Residents and officials alike point to the preemptive religion registry ban as but the latest in what will surely be many acts of resistance to come, and expressed pride that their city is fighting back.

“As a public servant for over 16 years and as Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission, this is one of my proudest days,” wrote Hijazi, who is no stranger to being targeted by right-wing, anti-Islam operatives. “Love, justice, faith, our constitution, and SF will always TRUMP hate, arrogance, ignorance, and indifference!”

Ex-Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort Paid $10M per Year to Help Putin

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort during an appearance on ABC “Good Morning America” during the 2016 Republican National Convention. (Photo: Disney/ABC/Flickr Creative Commons)

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was secretly paid $10 million annually by a Russian billionaire in the late 2000s to implement a plan that was promised to promote the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Associated Press reports Manafort proposed to aluminum magnate and close Putin ally Oleg Deripaska a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin government.” The proposal came amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow during the George W. Bush administration.

“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in a 2005 memo to Deripaska. Manafort said he “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

Manafort and Deripaska continued their business relationship until at least 2009, according to the AP, whose report comes days after FBI Director James Comey confirmed his agency is investigating the possibility of collusion between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials in the 2016 presidential race. Last December, the FBI, CIA and other US intelligence agencies concluded that the Putin regime directed a cyber warfare effort to first damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and eventually to help Trump win.

The White House moved to distance itself from Manafort in the wake of the AP report. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said the president had not been aware of his former campaign manager’s work for Deripaska. “Paul was hired as I said to count delegates. That’s why he was brought in,” Spicer said. “To be clear, he got the job done on the delegates.”

“I don’t know what he got paid to do,” Spicer said of Manafort. “There’s no suggestion he did anything improper.”

Manafort told the AP that he “worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments.” However, Manafort said his work was being mischaracterized as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”

“My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests,” he insisted.

Last August, the New York Times revealed the existence of secret hand-written ledgers showing $12.7 million in undisclosed illegal cash payments designated for Manafort from the pro-Putin ruling party of then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The payments occurred between 2007 and 2012, according to Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

In 2005, Manafort told Deripaska he was lobbying on behalf of his pro-Moscow Ukrainian clients “at the highest levels of the US government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department.” He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” without naming the firm. Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, lobbyists working for foreign political leaders or parties must provide detailed reports of their activities to the Justice Department. Willful failure to do so is a felony punishable by as many as five years in prison and as much as a $250,000 fine. Manafort did not disclose his lobbying during the years he was under contract with Deripaska.

“I don’t know if he violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of Manafort, according to the AP. “But it’s something I think we all need to know more about.”

“Clearly, if he’s getting millions of dollars from a billionaire close to Putin, to basically undermine democratic movements, that’s something I’d want to know about,” Graham said. “I doubt if Trump knew about it.”

Manafort and Deripaska eventually fell out over a soured business deal. The billionaire gave the American nearly $19 million to invest in Black Sea Cable, a Ukrainian cable television company. Deripaska accuses Manafort of fraud, claiming he took the money and then stopped responding to inquiries about how the money was being spent.

After the $12.7 million payment from Yanukovich’s party was revealed last August, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign. However, serious questions had already been raised about Moscow’s influence in the campaign after Trump said he would consider recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and after the Trump campaign successfully lobbied to weaken language in the Republican party platform calling on the US to provide weapons to Ukraine to help its armed forces defeat a pro-Moscow revolt and defend against Russian aggression.

There have been increasing revelations of ties between former and current members of Trump’s team and Russia. Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page quit the campaign after it was revealed US intelligence agencies were investigating his ties to senior Russian officials, including former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Deputy Chief for Internal Policy Igor Diveykin, the latter who is believed to head Russian intelligence gathering about the American presidential election.

Last week, congressional investigators released a letter revealing disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn — who resigned last month after it was discovered he lied about previous contacts with Russian officials — was paid more than $65,000 in 2015 by companies linked to Russia. Among these were an airline implicated in a bribery scandal, a US cybersecurity company tied to Russian intelligence agencies and Russian state broadcaster RT.

White House Welcomes Brigitte Gabriel, Leader of Anti-Muslim ‘Hate Group’ ACT for America

Brigitte Gabriel, head of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America, meets with then-candidate Donald Trump in February 2016. (Photo: Facebook)

The White House welcomed a woman described as America’s most prominent anti-Muslim activist on Tuesday for a meeting she described as “very productive.”

The Atlantic reports Brigitte Gabriel posted a pair of photos of herself at the White House on Facebook on Tuesday. The previous night, Gabriel tweeted she was “In DC preparing for my meeting at the White House,” and asked her followers, “What topics would you like me to address?” Replies included:

“Please, make Prez Trump aware of indoctrination starting in our public school system. Get it out of our schools ASAP.”

“I agree! So important! If Christianity or Judaism can’t be taught in schools, then NO ISLAM!”

“Ban sharia law from US and list CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) as terrorist organization.”

“We need a National Security Advisor who sees Islam for the barbaric political system it is. Please tell Pres DJT your story.”

“Officially identify Islam as a political system and not a ‘religion.'”

“Obamas shadow government ties with Islamic colonization…”

Gabriel founded and heads ACT for America, which describes itself as “the NRA (National Rifle Association) of national security” and claims half a million members in 1,000 chapters across the nation. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), one of the nation’s preeminent extremist organization monitors, lists ACT for America as a hate group, calling it “far and away the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.”

“A practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah… who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States,” Gabriel asserted during a 2007 course at the Department of Defense’s Joint Forces Staff College. In her 2008 book “They Must Be Stopped,” Gabriel wrote that there is no distinction between the radical interpretation of Islam practiced by extremist groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban and the peaceful religion followed by nearly one in four people on Earth: “Islam has created and unleashed an uncontrollable wave of hatred and rage on the world… Going forward we must realize that the portent behind the terrorist attacks is the purest form of what the Prophet Mohammed created. It’s not radical Islam. It’s what Islam is at its core.”

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad expressed outrage ahead of Gabriel’s White House visit. “No White House official should be meeting with the leader of a hate group that is one of the main sources of growing anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation,” Awad said in a statement. “This meeting should be canceled immediately and an explanation should be offered as to why it was scheduled in the first place.”

Anti-Muslim individuals and groups have been emboldened by the rise of Donald Trump, who promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to ban all Muslim immigration and travel to the United States and who pledged to wage a ferocious war against Islamist militants. So far, Trump has attempted to deliver upon those promises by twice trying to ban travelers and even permanent US residents from numerous majority Muslim nations and by ramping up the US-led air and ground war in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of innocent civilians have been killed in missions ordered by Trump, who vowed to “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State and “take out their families.”

Many observers attribute a steep rise in Islamophobic harassment and assaults, including deadly attacks on Indians mistaken by bigots for Muslims, on the anti-Muslim sentiment stoked by Trump, his administration and its supporters.

Gabriel has been an outspoken supporter of Trump’s anti-Muslim policies. In February, she visited Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for what she called a “national security briefing.” Disgraced former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn once served on ACT’s board, while CIA Director Mike Pompeo last year accepted the group’s National Security Eagle Award. Pompeo, a former Republican congressman, has also sponsored a legislative briefing for the group. One of Trump’s senior counterterrorism advisers, the Hungarian Nazi-linked Sebastian Gorka, has also spoken at ACT for America events.

“ACT for America has a direct line to Donald Trump, and has played a fundamental role in shaping his views and suggested policies with respect to radical Islam,” Gabriel boasted last December.

US-Led Air Strike Kills 33 Civilians Sheltering in Syria School

At least 33 civilians died in an air strike on a school sheltering displaced Syrians near the de facto Islamic State capital of Raqqa. (Photo: Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered/Twitter)

A US-led air strike on a school sheltering dozens of families seeking refuge from the horrors of Syria’s 5-year civil war has killed 33 innocent civilians, according to a leading monitor group.

CBS News reports the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it believed the US-led coalition carried out the strike near the village of al-Mansoura, west of the Islamic State’s de facto capital city of Raqqa, on Monday. The human rights group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered said the school was sheltering around 50 families when it was hit. Both groups are credible sources for civilian casualties caused by all sides in the Syrian conflict.

“We can now confirm that 33 people were killed, and they were displaced civilians from Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs,” SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse. “They’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now. Only two people were pulled out alive.”

“The massacres committed by [the] US-led coalition in Raqqa is unacceptable,” Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered tweeted following the attack. “The international community must intervene to stop this.” The group also tweeted that 101 civilians have been killed in 123 US-led coalition air strikes between March 9 and March 21.

In what has long been a familiar practice throughout the ongoing 15-year war against Islamist terrorism — which has killed at least hundreds of thousands and, according to some experts, more than 1.3 million civilians, the US military has denied killing civilians in the al-Mansoura strike. “We have no indication that an air strike struck civilians near Raqqah as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims, however, since we have conducted several strikes near Raqqa we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) told the Independent.

CENTCOM recently said it was investigating a March 16 US air strike targeting al-Qaeda militants in Al Jinah, in Aleppo province, that killed 49 civilians in a mosque during evening prayers. The US initially denied striking the mosque. “We did not target, nor did we strike a mosque. We targeted an al-Qaeda gathering across the street from a mosque,” a US military spokesman said.

The US-led coalition recently admitted it has killed at least 220 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the air campaign against Islamic State militants in 2014. However, human rights and monitor groups say the actual civilian death toll is much higher, with the independent UK-based group Airwars claiming at least 2,400 innocent men, women and children have been killed by coalition air strikes. Airwars claims US and coalition air strikes are now killing more Syrian civilians than Russian bombings, although Russian-backed Syrian ground troops are killing far more civilians than their coalition counterparts. More than 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the insurgency against longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad erupted in 2011, with millions more displaced, creating Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

“Although the Coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable,” a CENTCOM spokesperson said.

The recent surge in US-caused civilian deaths comes as the Trump administration announced it will deploy a Marine amphibious task force to Syria to provide artillery fire support and other assistance aimed at ousting IS from its de facto capital of Raqqa. US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Joseph Votel recently said even more US ground troops would be needed to support the assault on Raqqa, and that more American forces are needed to assist their Afghan counterparts who have lost territory to the Taliban.

Many observers fear the spike in civilian deaths since President Donald Trump took office will continue, as the president has promised to “bomb the shit out of” IS and kill the innocent families of suspected militants. “You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said in December 2015.

Last week, the Trump administration said it was moving ahead with plans to make it easier for the military and Central Intelligence Agency to target enemy forces with drones, even if it means more innocent people will be killed. Changes include declaring more places “areas of active hostilities” and granting military and CIA forces greater autonomy to launch strikes without presidential approval in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. “Some of the Obama administration rules were getting in the way of good strikes,” a US official briefed on the changes told NBC News.

Since the end of World War II, US military forces have killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.

After Initial Denial, US Military Investigating Syria Mosque Bombing that Killed 49 Civilians

US Navy F-18E Super Hornets flying over Iraq after conducting an airstrike in Syria. (Pentagon photo)

The US military is formally investigating an American air strike that Pentagon officials said targeted al-Qaeda militants but which survivors, local officials and human rights monitors said killed dozens of innocent civilians in a mosque complex.

In a pattern that has become familiar throughout its ongoing 15-year war against Islamist terrorism, the US initially denied bombing the Omar ibn al-Khatab mosque in Al Jinah, in Aleppo province. But as evidence and outrage mount, Pentagon officials are belatedly probing the strike to determine whether there is evidence that civilians were killed and to confirm that US forces are responsible.

Some 49 civilians perished in the March 16 air strike. US military officials admit carrying out the attack but have said the mosque was not the target. “We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target —  which was where the meeting took place —  is about 50ft (15m) from a mosque that is still standing,” Col. John J. Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command, told reporters, adding that “US forces conducted an air strike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.” Thomas called the attack a “precision strike.”

Human rights monitors said more than 100 people were injured in the attack. Village resident Abu Muhammed told Agence France-Presse he “heard powerful explosions when the mosque was hit. It was right after prayers at a time when there are usually religious lessons for men in it.”

“I saw 15 bodies and lots of body parts in the debris when I arrived,” he added. “We couldn’t even recognize some of the bodies.”

Longtime US enemy al-Qaeda has called on Muslims to take revenge against the United States for the mosque attack. “Do not consult with anyone in the killing of Americans, go forth with the blessing of God,” an article published by al-Qaeda’s An-Nafir newsletter implores.

More than 400,000 Syrians have been killed, and millions more displaced, in five years of civil war between the longtime ruling Bashar al-Assad dictatorship, which is backed by Russia, and various insurgent forces, including Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. The majority of Syrian civilian deaths have been caused by regime forces, who have allegedly used chemical weapons in their desperate bid to preserve Assad’s power.

The US has admitted its forces have killed hundreds of civilians since it began bombing IS targets in 2014, but human rights and monitor groups accuse Washington of dramatically underreporting the number of Iraqi and Syrian civilians killed during the war. According to the independent monitor group Airwars, US and coalition air strikes are now killing more Syrian civilians than Russian bombings, although Russian-backed Syrian ground troops are killing far more civilians than their coalition counterparts.

A recent surge in US-caused civilian deaths comes as the Trump administration announced it will deploy a Marine amphibious task force to Syria to provide artillery fire support and other assistance aimed at ousting IS from its de facto capital of Raqqa. US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Joseph Votel recently said even more US ground troops would be needed to support the assault on Raqqa, and that more American forces are needed to assist their Afghan counterparts who have lost territory to the Taliban.

More than 15 years of continuous US-led war against Islamist militants in the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa have taken a heavy toll on civilians. Estimates of the number of innocent people killed range from the low hundreds of thousands to over 1.3 million. Many observers fear the spike in civilian deaths since President Donald Trump took office will continue, as the president has promised to “bomb the shit out of” IS and kill the innocent families of suspected militants. “You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said in December 2015.

Last week, the Trump administration said it was moving ahead with plans to make it easier for the military and Central Intelligence Agency to target enemy forces with drones, even if it means more innocent people will be killed. Changes include declaring more places “areas of active hostilities” and granting military and CIA forces greater autonomy to launch strikes without presidential approval in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. “Some of the Obama administration rules were getting in the way of good strikes,” a US official briefed on the changes told NBC News.

Since the end of World War II, US military forces have killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.

Douche Du Jour
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  • White House Welcomes Brigitte Gabriel, Leader of Anti-Muslim ‘Hate Group’ ACT for America
  • Republican Florida Court Official Calls for Lynching of Black Anti-Death Penalty State Attorney Aramis Ayala
  • South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard Signs Anti-LGBTQ Adoption, Foster Care Bill Into Law
  • Mississippi Republican Andy Gipson Kills Domestic Violence Divorce Bill
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