JFP 7/31: Romney insults Palestinians; LAT slams drone strikes; Julian's mom appeals to Ecuador
Just Foreign Policy News, July 31, 2012
Romney disses Palestinians; LAT slams drone strikes; Julian's mom appeals to Ecuador
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Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
RootsAction: Campaign Targets New NBC War "Reality" Show
"'Stars Earn Stripes' is a reality show cohosted by retired U.S. General Wesley Clark, co-starring Todd Palin, and with no apparent role for reality," said RootsAction campaigner David Swanson. "The ads brag about the use of real bullets, but depict war as a harmless sport. Celebrities paired up with soldiers competing at 'long-range weapons fire' is not a continuation of the Olympics. It's a normalization of war that erases the death and suffering." A petition to NBC urges them to air an in-depth segment showing the reality of civilian victims of recent U.S. wars.
Stephen Walt: What I'd like to ask Mitt Romney about his foreign policy
How, exactly, would Romney differ on Afghanistan, on Iran, on Israel/Palestine?
654 days of cholera in Haiti
654 days, 7,495 dead, 587,209 ill since the UN brought cholera to Haiti. Still there is no apology, no compensation, no implementation of an effective plan to eradicate the disease.
1) Turkey has set up a secret base with allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar to direct vital military and communications aid to Syria's rebels from a Turkish city that is home to a a large Turkish/U.S. air force base, Reuters reports. It was not clear from the sources whether the anti-Syrian "nerve centre" was located inside Incirlik base or in the city of Adana, Reuters says.
2) Opponents of any cuts to military spending are fuming after the Labor Department yanked the teeth out of a strategy that likely would have helped them politically in the fight to stave off military cuts, Politico reports. Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors have said they plan to send widespread notices to employees right before Election Day alerting them they're at risk of being laid off if automatic cuts take effect in January. But the Labor Department moved to block the plan, issuing guidance that says firms are not required to issue such notices. In fact, the guidance says, federal contractors forced to lay off employees as a result of sequestration would be exempt from a federal law that requires companies to provide 60 days of notice to workers at risk of being let go.
3) In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, Mitt Romney sought to turn the Arab Spring into an issue in the US presidential race, the New York Times reports. Romney discussed the Arab Spring revolts as a problem rather than progress. Romney characterized even the most moderate and Western-friendly Islamists – those in the political parties leading legislatures in Tunisia and Morocco – as political opponents. The last runs counter to the Obama administration's strategy, endorsed by some Republicans in Congress, of building alliances with moderate Islamists where possible.
4) In November, voters in three states could approve ballot measures to legalize marijuana, Rolling Stone reports. The prohibition on marijuana has done an impressive job of racking up racially-biased arrests; throwing people in jail; burning up police time and money; propping up a $30 billion illegal market; and enriching psychotic Mexican drug lords, Julian Brookes writes. Of the three states where legalization is up for a vote in November – Colorado, Washington, and Oregon – Colorado "is definitely the best shot so far," says Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, a national lobby group that's kicking in about $1 million to support the measure.
5) Bradley Manning is seeking to call several military psychiatrists to testify that he was held in custodial conditions likened to torture against their professional advice, the Guardian reports. The defense team is trying to have all 22 charges against Manning thrown out of court on grounds that he was subjected to illegal pretrial treatment in violation of the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Witnesses will testify, a defense motion states, that when the psychiatrists objected to the conditions, they were told by the military chiefs in the brig: "We will do whatever we want to do." Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, if a judge decides that a member of the armed forces has been illegally punished before trial, the judge can grant the prisoner credit on the amount of time they have already served in custody, or can even dismiss all charges outright.
6) The Constitution's guarantee of due process means the president can't act as judge, jury and executioner of suspected terrorists, especially when they are U.S. citizens, argues the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. If the U.S. is going to continue down the troubling road of state-sponsored assassination, Congress should, at the very least, require that a court play some role, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does with the electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists.
7) Members of Congress are pushing the administration to explain why it believes it's legal to kill American terror suspects overseas, Mother Jones reports. Congress is considering two measures that would compel the Obama administration to show members of Congress what Sen. Chuck Grassley calls Obama's "license to kill": internal memos outlining the legal justification for killing Americans overseas without charge or trial. Legislators have been asking administration officials to release the documents for nearly a year. But the new proposals, including one and another in a separate intelligence bill, aren't requests—they would mandate disclosure.
8) As evidence mounts that foreign Islamists are fighting alongside Syria's increasingly radicalized rebels, Christians in Aleppo and elsewhere are taking up arms, GlobalPost reports. In Qseir, a town of some 60,000 people southwest of Homs, mosques recently rang out with the call for all Christians, who numbered around 10,000, to leave. Abu Ali, a military intelligence officer who defected to the rebels, now leads Qseir's Wadi Brigade, one of the town's largest and strongest rebel groups. Abu Ali said he supported the call for Christians to leave Qseir, accusing them of collaborating with the regime.
Almost all Qseir's Christians have now fled, with many taking shelter in makeshift tents in the northern Bekaa valley. "I used to work as a legal consultant, but now I live like a beggar here in Lebanon," said a woman who said her husband had been kidnapped. She said her home in Qseir had been taken over by rebels and destroyed.
9) Palestinian - and some Israeli - critics say Romney overshot by seeming to snub the Palestinians' president, dismiss their claims to Jerusalem, and suggest their culture is inferior to Israel's, AP reports. Romney's statement "reflects a clear racist spirit," said Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani. "If Romney came here to rally Israeli and Jewish support in the U.S. election, he can do that without insulting the Palestinian people." Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said Romney's comments are hurting U.S. efforts to restore Washington's standing in the Muslim and Arab world. Romney's statements "will only serve as ammunition in the hands of extremists in this region," Erekat said. Romney's remarks also managed to offend some Jews, who thought the talk about Jewish prosperity played into an anti-Semitic stereotype, AP says.
10) Julian Assange's mother said she handed evidence to Ecuador's government on Monday indicating Washington is bent on extraditing her son to the U.S., where she fears the WikiLeaks founder could face torture and even execution, Reuters reports. "As a mother I'm terrified for what would happen to my son if he's extradited to the United States," Christine Assange said.
1) Secret Turkish nerve center leads aid to Syria rebels
Regan Doherty and Amena Bakr, Reuters, Fri Jul 27, 2012 8:12am EDT
Doha/Dubai - Turkey has set up a secret base with allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar to direct vital military and communications aid to Syria's rebels from a city near the border, Gulf sources have told Reuters.
"It's the Turks who are militarily controlling it. Turkey is the main coordinator/facilitator. Think of a triangle, with Turkey at the top and Saudi Arabia and Qatar at the bottom," said a Doha-based source.
The centre in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 100 km (60 miles) from the Syrian border, was set up after Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Saud visited Turkey and requested it, a source in the Gulf said. The Turks liked the idea of having the base in Adana so that they could supervise its operations, he added.
Adana is home to Incirlik, a large Turkish/U.S. air force base which Washington has used in the past for reconnaissance and military logistics operations. It was not clear from the sources whether the anti-Syrian "nerve centre" was located inside Incirlik base or in the city of Adana.
Qatar, the tiny gas-rich Gulf state which played a leading part in supplying weapons to Libyan rebels, has a key role in directing operations at the Adana base, the sources said. Qatari military intelligence and state security officials are involved.
"Three governments are supplying weapons: Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia," said a Doha-based source. Ankara has officially denied supplying weapons.
"All weaponry is Russian. The obvious reason is that these guys (the Syrian rebels) are trained to use Russian weapons, also because the Americans don't want their hands on it. All weapons are from the black market. The other way they get weapons is to steal them from the Syrian army. They raid weapons stores."
The presence of the secret Middle East-run "nerve centre" may explain how the Syrian rebels, a rag-tag assortment of ill-armed and poorly organized groups, have pulled off major strikes such as the devastating bomb attack on July 18 which killed at least four key Assad aides including the defense minister.
A Turkish diplomat in the region insisted however that his country played no part in the Damascus bombing. "That's out of the question," he said. "The Syrian minister of information blamed Turkey and other countries for the killing. Turkey doesn't do such things. We are not a terrorist country. Turkey condemns such attacks."
However, two former senior U.S. security officials said that Turkey has been playing an increasing role in sheltering and training Syrian rebels who have crossed into its territory.
One of the former officials, who is also an adviser to a government in the region, told Reuters that 20 former Syrian generals are now based in Turkey, from where they are helping shape the rebel forces.
While some Gulf officials and conservative American politicians have privately suggested that a supply of surface-to-air missiles would help anti-Assad forces bring the conflict to a close, officials familiar with U.S. policy say they are anxious to keep such weapons out of the hands of Syrian rebels. They fear such weapons could make their way to pro-jihad militants who could use them against Western aircraft.
2) Labor Department: Widespread Layoff Notices 'Inappropriate'
Austin Wright, Politico Morning Defense, 07/31/12 6:06 AM EDT
LABOR DEPARTMENT: WIDESPREAD LAYOFF NOTICES 'INAPPROPRIATE' -- Defense hawks are fuming after the Labor Department yanked the teeth out of a strategy that likely would have helped them politically in the fight to stave off sequestration.
Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors have said they plan to send widespread notices to employees right before Election Day alerting them they're at risk of being laid off once the first round of automatic cuts takes effect in January. But the Labor Department moved to block the plan, issuing guidance yesterday that says firms are not required to issue such notices.
In fact, the guidance says, federal contractors forced to lay off employees as a result of sequestration would be exempt from a federal law that requires companies to provide 60 days of notice to workers at risk of being let go. The guidance is here: http://bit.ly/NRQPvc
POLS REACT --
-- McKeon: "Instead of working to bring his party in the Senate to the negotiating table to resolve sequestration, the president is focused on preventing advance notice to American workers that their jobs are at risk."
-- McCain, Graham and Ayotte: "This is a troubling turnaround that lays bare the obvious political aim of today's announcement -- avoiding mass layoff notices just days before the November 6th election."
-- Adam Smith: "This is an important and correct interpretation of the law. There is no reason to needlessly alarm hundreds of thousands of workers when there is no way to know what will happen with sequestration."
3) In Interview, Romney Brings Arab Spring into Presidential Race
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, July 28, 2012, 3:28 PM
Mitt Romney on Saturday explicitly sought for the first time to turn the Arab Spring into an issue in the United States presidential race. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper to set up his visit to Israel this weekend, Mr. Romney made several provocative statements distinguishing himself from President Obama.
Mr. Romney discussed the Arab Spring revolts as a problem rather than progress. He asserted against some evidence that the Obama administration had abandoned an agenda of pushing for democratic reform pursued by George W. Bush, and he characterized even the most moderate and Western-friendly Islamists – those in the political parties leading legislatures in Tunisia and Morocco – as political opponents. The last runs counter to the Obama administration's strategy, endorsed by some Republicans in Congress, of building alliances with moderate Islamists where possible.
4) Pot Legalization Is Coming
Julian Brookes, Rolling Stone, July 26, 4:15 PM ET
At least some able-bodied Americans may soon be able to score a bag of weed legally without having to fake a knee injury. In November, voters in three states could approve ballot measures to legalize marijuana, and not just for medical purposes – for getting-high purposes. Then again, they might chicken out, like California voters did in 2010. But sooner or later, and probably sooner, a state will go green.
About half of America will be fine with that. Support for legalization is (no other way to put it) higher than ever, and rising. That's partly demographics – the young are more into pot than their elders, who aren't sticking around. But it's something else, too: The status quo, people are starting to notice, is a total disaster.
The prohibition on marijuana – a relatively benign drug when used responsibly by adults, and a teddy bear compared to alcohol and tobacco – has done an impressive job of racking up racially-biased arrests; throwing people in jail; burning up police time and money; propping up a $30 billion illegal market; and enriching psychotic Mexican drug lords.
But it hasn't stopped Americans from smoking a ton of weed. We're up to 20-30 million users, 6 billion joints a year – and rising. And teenagers, who ideally shouldn't be toking up on a regular basis, say pot is easier to get than beer. "There's that Talmudic principle that a law that's not obeyed is a bad law," says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at UCLA and co-author of the new book Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know. "And I think we're pretty much at that point."
We might not have long to wait to find out. Of the three states where legalization is up for a vote in November – Colorado, Washington, and Oregon – Colorado "is definitely the best shot so far," says Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, a national lobby group that's kicking in about $1 million to support the measure. Under Amendment 64, the state would treat pot like alcohol – licenses for producers and sellers, 21-plus age restriction for buyers, and tax revenue government. Should it pass – and one poll has support up by 61-27 – "We're hoping the federal government will not impose its will," says Fox, "and that there'll be an adult conversation about what Colorado has decided to do."
A lot depends on how things play out on the ground, which is hard to predict. A few things we can assume: the price of pot will plummet, since marijuana is incredibly inexpensive to produce if you don't have to dodge the cops or schlep it up from Mexico. Consumption will surge, though by how much is hard to say (the consensus guesstimate predicts a doubling or tripling). Beyond that, nothing is clear.
Amendment 64 leaves a lot of the policy details to the state legislature, and one of its first tasks will be to figure out how big of a tax to slap on. It has to be large enough to generate revenue – Amendment 64 wisely stipulates that the first $40 million generated will go to public school construction! – but not so large that buyers prefer to take their chances on the (untaxed) black market. Another challenge: How do you do a better job than current policy of reducing teen use? Or combating abuse and dependency – a problem for only 2-3 percent of users, but not something you can ignore. And how do you prevent neighboring states, if not the entire country, from getting buried under mountains of cheap Colorado weed? If the state looks like becoming the nation's grow house, the feds will probably land hard.
Looking beyond this year, bear in mind that there's more than one way to "legalize" pot. Colorado is going with the alcohol model, but there are other approaches, some more plausible than others. At one end of the spectrum there's full commercial legalization, where anyone can freely produce, distribute, market, sell, or buy pot, just like any other commodity (think: tomatoes) subject to certain regulations. Hard to see that flying politically. At the other end, there's "decriminalization," where you eliminate or reduce penalties for possession (say, to the level of a minor traffic violation), especially for first-time offenders, but retain the ban on production, distribution, and sale; fourteen states, including California and Massachusetts, have already gone this route, and some major politicians, like Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York, have lately come around to the idea. Other options include, on the production side, restricting the industry to nonprofits, or membership-based "clubs," or allowing profit-making but limiting or banning marketing and advertising.
There are tradeoffs: Legalize commercially, whether fully or on the alcohol model, and you add to the sum of freedom and pleasure in the world, wrestle an industry away from violent criminals, generate useful tax revenue, and spare a lot of people jail time and criminal records. But brace yourself for a huge upsurge in use and, possibly, a marketing blitz aimed at teens (see tobacco) and the "heavy" users who consume most of the product and therefore supply most of the profits (see alcohol); and say hello to a well-funded pot lobby bent on blocking regulations it doesn't like (see tobacco and alcohol). Decriminalize, and you save a lot of cop time and money and, again, human misery. But you're leaving a lot of tax revenue on the table and, incoherently, nudging people to buy what's illegal to produce and sell.
Voters will have to weigh these and other factors and decide whether the (not-fully-knowable) benefits of legalization outstrip the (hard-to-anticipate) costs. No plausible scenario is all upside; but it's hard to see how we could make things worse. "We don't say there are no negative consequences to marijuana use, but there are much more effective ways of dealing with those," says Jill Harris of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates for more liberal drug laws. "It's just that the consequences of marijuana prohibition are just so much more severe that we feel it's worth the tradeoff."
5) Bradley Manning's lawyers seek to show torturous holding conditions
Manning's lawyers move to have the 22 charges against him dismissed due to treatment during his detention likened to torture
Ed Pilkington, Guardian, Sunday 29 July 2012 15.47 EDT
New York - Bradley Manning, the suspected WikiLeaks source, is seeking to call several military psychiatrists to testify that he was held in custodial conditions likened to torture against their professional advice.
Manning's defence lawyers have lodged a motion with the military court in Fort Meade, Maryland requesting the appearance of seven medical and other experts at the next pretrial hearing scheduled for 1 October.
The defence team, led by civilian lawyer David Coombs, is trying to have all 22 charges against Manning thrown out of court on grounds that he was subjected to illegal pretrial treatment in violation of the constitutional prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Manning is accused of being responsible for the biggest leak of state secrets in US history. Hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables from US embassies around the world, as well as warlogs from Afghanistan and Iraq, were published by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
After his arrest in May 2010 at a military base near Baghdad, the young soldier was held at the Quantico marine base in Virginia.
For a period of about eight months at Quantico, Manning was subjected to extraordinarily harsh conditions. This was done, the military claimed, for his own protection under a so-called "prevention of injury" order or POI.
The unidentified witnesses that Coombs wants to call include a military psychiatrist who consistently recommended to Manning's captors at the brig at Quantico that the prisoner should be removed from restrictive conditions. But his advice was ignored and Manning continued to be subjected to solitary confinement, being stripped naked, held in a bare cell and made to wear a rough smock at night.
Witnesses will testify, the defence motion states, that when the psychiatrists objected to the conditions, they were told by the military chiefs in the brig: "We will do whatever we want to do."
The defence also wants to call witnesses from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas where Manning was moved in April 2011 following an international outcry about his treatment.
After the move, the soldier was allowed much greater freedom under medium-security arrangements. The defence argues that his successful transfer shows "he was improperly held to begin with".
The defence motion calling for the case against Manning to be dismissed is brought under Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It states that "no person, while being held for trial, may be subjected to punishment or penalty other than arrest or confinement upon the charges pending against him, nor shall the arrest or confinement imposed upon him be any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence."
Under Article 13, if a judge decides that a member of the armed forces has been illegally punished before trial, the judge can grant the prisoner credit on the amount of time they have already served in custody, or can even dismiss all charges outright.
6) When the government kills
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2012
The Constitution's guarantee of due process means the president can't act as judge, jury and executioner of suspected terrorists, especially when they are U.S. citizens.
Whether or not it succeeds in court, a lawsuit challenging the killings of Al Qaeda figure Anwar Awlaki and two other U.S. citizens clearly lays out the problems with the Obama administration's policy of "targeted killings" of suspected terrorists even outside the battle zone of Afghanistan.
Allowing the president of the United States to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence is impossible to reconcile with the Constitution's guarantee that a life will not be taken without due process of law. Under the law, the government must obtain a court order if it seeks to target a U.S. citizen for electronic surveillance, yet there is no comparable judicial review of a decision to kill a citizen. No court is even able to review the general policies for such assassinations. (Awlaki's family failed in 2010 to persuade a court to enjoin the government from killing him.)
Although it ended some of the Bush administration's abuses in the war against Al Qaeda, the Obama administration has jealously guarded what it sees as its executive prerogative when it comes to targeted killings. There is congressional oversight of the program, but Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has rejected any role for the judiciary. In a speech in March, Holder distinguished between "due process" to which Americans targeted for killing are entitled and "judicial process."
In the same speech, Holder insisted that targeted killings would take place only when there was "an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States" and when capturing the suspect was "not feasible." But Holder defined "imminently" broadly to include action that would head off "future attacks."
But if the United States is going to continue down the troubling road of state-sponsored assassination, Congress should, at the very least, require that a court play some role, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does with the electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists. Even minimal judicial oversight might make the president and his advisors think twice about whether an American citizen poses such an "imminent" danger that he must be executed without a trial.
7) Congress Wants to See Obama's "License to Kill"
But if they get it, they won't be allowed to show it to you.
Adam Serwer, Mother Jones, Tue Jul. 31, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Congress is finally standing up to President Barack Obama on targeted killing. Almost a year after three American citizens were killed in US drone strikes, legislators are pushing the administration to explain why it believes it's legal to kill American terror suspects overseas.
Congress is considering two measures that would compel the Obama administration to show members of Congress what Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) calls Obama's "license to kill": internal memos outlining the legal justification for killing Americans overseas without charge or trial. Legislators have been asking administration officials to release the documents for nearly a year, raising the issue multiple times in hearings and letters. But the new proposals, including one from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) first flagged by blogger Marcy Wheeler and another in a separate intelligence bill, aren't requests—they would mandate disclosure. That shift shows both Republicans and Democrats are growing impatient with the lack of transparency on targeted killings.
After radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, alleged American Al Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan, and Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, were killed by drone strikes in Yemen in September and October of last year, Republican and Democratic members of Congress sent letters asking the Obama administration to explain the legal justification for targeted killing of American citizens. "We got a license to kill Americans, and we don't know the legal basis for the license to kill Americans…because our letters haven't been answered," Grassley complained during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week.
The New York Times has confirmed the existence of a secret memo from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)—the branch of the government that tells the president whether what he wants to do is legal—outlining the legal basis for the targeted killing program. But the Obama administration has yet to acknowledge that any such memo exists, despite defending the targeted killing policy in speeches and public appearances, and is currently fighting an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that seeks to force the government to reveal the legal justification for targeted killing. Now Congress seems to be moving towards the ACLU's position.
Cornyn's amendment would require the Obama administration to provide the Office of Legal Counsel memo justifying the killing program to legislators on several congressional committees. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted to shelve Cornyn's proposal, but that doesn't mean the effort is dead. Cornyn could propose his amendment again later this year, and there's also a section of a separate intelligence bill that would compel the administration to share all of the Justice Department's legal opinions on intelligence matters with the congressional intelligence committees—unless the White House invokes executive privilege.
Neither Cornyn's proposal nor the intelligence bill would require the administration have to share the OLC memo with the media or the public, even in redacted form. But releasing the memo to legislators would at least allow Congress to perform more effective oversight of the targeted killing program, argues Chris Anders, legislative counsel for the ACLU. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that at the initiative of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Congress has been keeping a closer eye on the use of drone strikes. But critics like Anders argue that it's hard for oversight to be effective if legislators don't know what standard the Obama administration is using to determine whom to kill. "The key committees of Congress don't even know what the legal standard is or how they're applying it, so how can they do meaningful oversight?" Anders asks. The intelligence bill and Cornyn's proposal could fix that problem.
More oversight, though, is not enough, Anders says—regular Americans should know what kind of conduct could lead to them being blown up by a deadly flying robot. "There's a fundamental due process right to know what it is you can't do in order to avoid getting killed by the order of the president," he says. Grassley, at least, seems to be on board with that idea—a Grassley aide said the senator would "support making a redacted analysis public if possible." A Feinstein aide also suggested a push for public disclosure could follow Congress getting access to the legal analysis of targeted killing. And even if the OLC memo is only shared with Congress, broadening access to the document makes it more likely that it could be leaked to the press.
8) Inside Syria: Aleppo's Christians arm against Islamists
As foreign and local radicals rise amid the chaos of Syria's civil war, Christians are taking arms from the Assad regime.
Hugh Macleod, Annasofie Flamand & a reporter inside Syria, GlobalPost, July 31, 2012
Aleppo, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon - As evidence mounts that foreign Islamists are fighting alongside Syria's increasingly radicalized rebels, Christians in Aleppo and elsewhere are taking up arms, often supplied by the regime.
"We saw what happened to the Christians in Iraq," Abu George, a Christian resident of Aleppo's Aziza district told GlobalPost. "What is going on in Aleppo is not a popular revolution for democracy and freedom. The fighters of the so-called Free Syrian Army are radical Sunnis who want to establish an Islamic state."
While the 30-year-old shopkeeper said he had not received any direct threats from Syria's Sunni Muslim rebels, he fears a repeat of Iraq's sectarian bloodletting.
Since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the UN Human Rights Council estimates around half of Iraq's 1.4 million Christians have fled the country, driven out by nearly a decade of church bombings, kidnappings and sectarian murder.
The plight of Christians in Iraq has long worried Syria's estimated two million Christians, around 10 percent of the population. The nightmare of similar persecution has led them to support the secular regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which presents itself as a defender of minorities.
With Syria now gripped by civil war and the Assad regime fighting for its survival, however, Christians like Abu George fear retribution, already occuring in some parts of the country, from the Sunni-led rebels they refused to back.
In Qseir, a town of some 60,000 people southwest of Homs, which has been under siege by regime forces for at least seven months, mosques recently rang out with the call for all Christians, who numbered around 10,000, to leave.
The breakdown of inter-communal relations in Qseir stems from both rising fundamentalism among Sunni fighters and the widespread belief that Christians had been collaborating with the Assad regime.
Just 10 miles from the border with Lebanon, Qseir Sunni fighters are increasingly radicalized. Some openly identify themselves as mujahadeen fighting for an Islamic Caliphate rather than simply the overthrow of the Assad dictatorship.
Abu Ali, a military intelligence officer who defected to the rebels and was first profiled by GlobalPost last November, and then again in a video published in March, now leads Qseir's Wadi Brigade, one of the town's largest and strongest rebel groups.
Interviewed regularly over Skype over the last six months, Abu Ali has expressed increasingly fundamentalist and intolerant views. He once called for foreign military assistance. But now he says that if international forces join the fight against Assad, "they would be the ones we target, even before the regime."
Injured by shrapnel at least twice since joining the fight in Qseir last December, Abu Ali has grown a thick beard. Increasingly conservative, he criticized a Muslim reporter for smoking during a Skype call, citing the current period as a time of "holy war."
Abu Ali said he supported the call for Christians to leave Qseir, accusing them of collaborating with the regime.
In interviews with more than a dozen Qseir residents, a Wall Street Journal reporter recently discovered a vicious cycle of murder and kidnap between Sunni and Christian families, triggered by claims that Christians were acting as regime spies. Almost all Qseir's Christians have now fled, with many taking shelter in makeshift tents in the northern Bekaa valley.
"I used to work as a legal consultant, but now I live like a beggar here in Lebanon," said a woman who gave her name as Marta and who said her husband had been kidnapped. She said her home in Qseir had been taken over by rebels and destroyed.
9) Romney angers Palestinians with pro-Israel comment
Amy Teibel and Karin Laub, Associated Press, Mon, Jul 30, 2012
Jerusalem - Mitt Romney's campaign stop in Israel left behind furious Palestinians charging that the Republican presidential candidate hasn't fully grasped the complexities of one of the world's most intractable conflicts.
Romney's sweeping embrace of Israeli government positions - especially on the Iranian nuclear program - came as no surprise. But Palestinian - and some Israeli - critics say he overshot by seeming to snub the Palestinians' president, dismiss their claims to Jerusalem, and suggest their culture is inferior to Israel's.
That came on Monday when Romney addressed the stark economic differences between Israel - a high-tech powerhouse with the per capita income of a developed nation - and the poorer Palestinians. Romney told an audience of affluent Jewish donors - including gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is pumping millions into a crusade to defeat President Barack Obama - that some economic historians have theorized that "culture makes all the difference."
"You notice a stark difference in economic vitality" between Israel and the Palestinians, Romney said, proceeding to badly flub the economic output numbers on both sides. "And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things," he said, citing an innovative business climate and the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances.
Palestinian leaders were outraged. "The statement reflects a clear racist spirit," said Palestinian Labor Minister Ahmed Majdalani. "If Romney came here to rally Israeli and Jewish support in the U.S. election, he can do that without insulting the Palestinian people."
Palestinians noted that Romney's comments did not address the stifling effect of Israel's occupation. Although Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, it continues to restrict Palestinian trade and movement there and in the West Bank. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have said repeatedly the Palestinian economy can only grow in a sustainable way of Israel lifts those restrictions.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, said Romney's comments are hurting U.S. efforts to restore Washington's standing in the Muslim and Arab world. "There are 57 Muslim and Arab countries here, and while U.S. diplomats are exerting every possible effort to explain their position, here comes Romney, with no knowledge of the region, its history and culture, and gives such statements, which will only serve as ammunition in the hands of extremists in this region," Erekat said.
"We need the U.S. as an honest broker for peace, between us and the Palestinians," said Alon Liel, a former senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official. "It's not enough being a friend. If we don't have the honest broker, we don't have peace. There are no signs that Romney understands it."
Romney's remarks also managed to offend some Jews, who thought the talk about Jewish prosperity played into an anti-Semitic stereotype. "When I heard the association between Jews and money, it really caused me some uncomfortable feeling, I must say, because that was what was said by anti-Semites all over the years," said Abraham Diskin, a political science professor at the Inter-Disciplinary Center outside Tel Aviv.
10) Assange's mother says U.S. bent on extraditing WikiLeaks founder
Eduardo Garcia, Reuters, Mon Jul 30, 2012 11:04pm BST
Quito - Julian Assange's mother said she handed evidence to Ecuador's government on Monday indicating Washington is bent on extraditing her son to the United States, where she fears the WikiLeaks founder could face execution.
Assange has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London for nearly six weeks as he awaits a decision on his asylum request by the leftist government of Rafael Correa.
The Australian anti-secrecy campaigner, who antagonized Washington in 2010 when his WikiLeaks website published secret U.S. diplomatic cables, is wanted for questioning in Sweden over sex crime allegations. He fears that if he is sent to Sweden he could be bundled off to the United States.
At a news conference after a meeting with Ecuador's Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, Christine Assange did not say exactly what evidence she had provided to substantiate her fears.
She said she had made the case for her son's asylum request and relayed her fears that the former computer hacker could face torture and even execution if deported to the United States.
"As a mother I'm terrified for what would happen to my son if he's extradited to the United States," she said, fighting back tears as she held pictures of her son as a toddler.
Christine Assange said she fears her 41-year-old son will not receive fair treatment in Sweden. Her biggest concern, she said, is that Sweden will extradite him to the United States.
"He'll then go to the United States, where he'll be possibly executed or perhaps tortured in a prison and will not face a hearing as we've seen with Bradley Manning," she said, referring to the U.S. intelligence analyst charged with leaking classified government cables to WikiLeaks.
Ecuador's foreign minister, Ricardo Patino, said that, out of respect for the United Kingdom, his government will await the end of the Olympic games in London to announce a decision on Assange's asylum application.
"Ecuador continues its thorough analysis of this case in order to take an informed decision. Our decision will seek not to endanger the life of a human being," Patino said.
Neither U.S. nor Swedish authorities have charged Assange with anything. Swedish prosecutors want to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two WikiLeaks supporters in 2010.
Assange, whose distinctive platinum hair and high-flying friends have made him a global celebrity, says he had consensual sex with the women.
Patino said Ecuador's ambassador in Sweden told Swedish authorities they are welcome to question Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, which could give Assange a chance to fight the allegations without going to Sweden.
Earlier on Monday, Christine Assange said the WikiLeaks founder is under extreme psychological stress and feels his only option is to seek safety in Ecuador.
"He is freedom-loving, he cannot run, he cannot go outside to see the sky. Outside, the UK police wait like dogs to take him. ... He cannot exercise the way he normally could and he's under extreme psychological stress," Christine Assange said in a live interview with local television.
Christine Assange is due to meet with Ecuador's President Rafael Correa later this week. She described the socialist leader as "very brave" and said she trusts that Correa will not allow his country's sovereignty to be manipulated by foreign interests.
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