Sunday, December 7, 2014
Britain is to open a new £15 million naval base in Bahrain, the country’s Foreign Office announced Friday, which will be the first permanent UK military presence in the Middle East in more than 40 years.
Raif Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 and has been detained since then in a prison in Saudi Arabia.
© Juan Osborne for Amnesty International
Badawi is serving a 10-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia, mainly for setting up a website. We talk to another local blogger – who has to remain anonymous for their own safety – about different tactics the authorities use to silence people online.
1. Gagging anyone with an independent opinion
“Overall, the situation in Saudi Arabia is very bad, particularly from the point of view of people with independent opinions who go against the grain. Recently, there have been investigations, arrests and short-term detentions of journalists, athletes, poets, bloggers, activists and tweeters.”
2. Blaming everything on terrorism
“The authorities are fragile. They seek to gag and stifle dissent using various means, including the shameful Terrorism Law that has become a sword waved in the faces of people with opinions. Courts issue prison sentences of 10 years or more as a result of a single tweet. Atheists and people who contact human rights organizations are attacked as ‘terrorists’.”
3. Personal attacks on bloggers
“I have been harassed in many ways. The authorities approached the internet providers hosting my personal website and asked them to block it and delete all the content. They also dispatched security officers to tell me to stop what I was doing in my own and my family’s best interests. I was later officially banned from blogging and threatened with arrest if I continued. I succumbed and stopped in order to protect my family.”
4. Bans, false accusations and being fired from your job
“There are many cases of bloggers being restricted or banned. Some of them – whom I know – are still being investigated about blogs they wrote in 2008, even though they aren’t involved in blogging anymore. Saudi bloggers can also be fired from their jobs and prevented from making a living. Many face false allegations that they are ‘atheists’or ‘demented’. Restrictions are imposed on almost every aspect of the blogger’s life.”
5. Far-reaching online surveillance and censorship
“Censorship is at its maximum, especially after passing the Terrorism Law. A poet was arrested as a result of a single tweet which indirectly criticized King Abdullah using symbolic language. With millions of web users in Saudi Arabia, this means the authorities are keeping an eye on everything that’s being written. We have also received reports through international newspapers that Saudi Arabia uses surveillance to hack and monitor activists’ accounts.”
6. Deploying an electronic army
“The authorities have powerful cyber armies which give a false impression of the situation in Saudi Arabia to deceive people overseas. They launch websites, YouTube channels and blogs to target activists and opponents, and depict them as atheists, infidels and agents who promote disobedience of the Ruler. By contrast, these websites, channels and blogs often praise the state and its efforts. I have personally been the victim of such state orchestrated campaigns that harmed my reputation.”
7. Brutal punishments
“Raif Badawi’s case further demonstrates the brutality of a state that still rules through punishments from the Middle Ages, like flogging, hefty fines and exaggerated prison terms. The Saudi government needs to know that it doesn’t own the world and that it can’t silence the world’s voice with its money.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Two Saudi women detained nearly a week ago for violating the kingdom's female driving ban were ordered held for 25 more days on Sunday, a relative said.
The women, who were arrested Dec. 1 after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, are supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban. The two women have a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000.
Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.
The kingdom's hardline interpretation of Islam holds that allowing women to drive encourages licentiousness. No such ban exists in the rest of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia's conservative Gulf neighbors.
In a video uploaded to YouTube Nov. 30, al-Hathloul filmed herself driving toward the Saudi border in what she said was "an effort to sustain the campaign for women's driving."
"She wanted to highlight the absurdity" of not being allowed to drive into her own country, an activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.
Saudi border guards confiscated al-Hathloul's passport and kept her at the border for nearly 24 hours.
Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, arrived the next day to deliver food, water and a blanket to al-Hathloul, Maysa's sister Hannah al-Amoudi said.
Human Rights Watch said both women were then detained apparently for driving, though it is not clear if they will face criminal charges.
Hannah said authorities notified the family on Sunday that they were extending her sister's detention for another 25 days. They did not provide the legal reasons for holding her.
Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles, and al-Amoudi is in a prison. The women have been interrogated without the presence of an attorney, but were allowed to see relatives and speak to relatives on the phone.
There was no official Saudi comment on the arrests.
In October, Saudi Arabian women got behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers; the demonstrations marked the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo proof online.
Last month, the Saudi king's advisory council recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers. Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive, and they would still need permission from a male relative. Women would also have to be off the road by 8 p.m., and would be prohibited from wearing makeup while driving.
NOVEMBER 2016 is still a long way off, but it’s hard to imagine that the presidential campaign will provide any bit of advertising as strangely entertaining and revealing as a video put online recently by Stand With Hillary, a new “super PAC.” Haven’t seen it? Oh you must. Right now. I give you leave from this column to go take a look, but hurry back. There’s a lot to talk about. It spotlights a man in a cowboy hat who croons in a country-and-western twang about how darned much he adores that there Hillary Clinton. “Hindsight’s always right,” he sings, a clear dig at Barack Obama, the candidate chosen over her in the Democratic primaries. There are images of construction work, a welder, a pickup truck, a tractor, a big red barn, cows. It’s the unveiling of Hard-Hat Hillary. Rodeo Hillary. Hillary, Patron Saint of the Prairie.
But it positions her first and foremost as all woman. The references are incessant. The chorus goes like this: “Thinking about one great lady like the women in my life. She’s a mother, a daughter and through it all, she’s a loving wife.”
A man with a sledgehammer shatters a panel of glass — twice. And the cowboy exhorts his brethren: “Put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.” Just in case there was any doubt about what that glass meant.
The video wasn’t produced by Clinton or her aides. But the people who did put it together clearly followed the cues that they felt they were getting, and they read her intentions right. If she runs, she’ll do so with more focus on her gender and a greater emphasis on making history than she did in 2008.
And that’ll be the smart move, because her gender is precisely what offsets certain of her weaknesses as a candidate. To double down on the double X may be her best way to mitigate several otherwise big vulnerabilities.
Back in 2008, “Clinton seemed to develop a tortured approach toward her gender on the campaign trail, sometimes embracing it, sometimes dismissing it, sometimes appearing to overcompensate for it — but rarely appearing at ease with it,” wrote Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post in her 2009 book about that race, “Notes From the Cracked Ceiling.”
She observed that some of Clinton’s key advisers felt that partly because of her gender, she had to routinely assert toughness and be America’s own Iron Lady. There were boxing gloves at her events, along with music from “Rocky.”
Kornblut recalled the time when she was told by a proud Clinton adviser that it was “as though his boss were running with a penis.” And at one campaign event, a labor leader introduced her as “the candidate with ‘testicular fortitude,’ ” Kornblut wrote.
Clinton never gave a gender speech that rivaled Obama’s race speech.
Additionally, “When Obama won the Iowa caucuses, everybody wrote and talked about it as historic,” Kornblut told me last week. “But Jesse Jackson had won primaries. When Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire, it was historic. But the coverage was, ‘Hillary made a comeback. She’s the comeback kid, just like her husband was.’ ”
Kornblut said that, belatedly, a few members of Clinton’s inner circle came to believe that her frequently gender-neutral approach wasn’t just “a big mistake of the campaign. That was the big strategic mistake.”
But with an even longer résumé now, Clinton could emphasize her trailblazing womanhood for 2016 without the worry that many voters would misinterpret it as the main qualification that she’s claiming. And after four years as a secretary of state more hawkish than the president she served, she wouldn’t have to push the image of a dauntless world leader.
Americans’ economic anxieties will almost surely be at the center of the race, and with the right language, Clinton might have “the ability to talk as mom and grandmom about the need to make sure government is on the side of our families,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who recently addressed the group Ready for Hillary, told me.
“Being a woman translates into great politics,” he said.
Clinton seemingly agrees. Over the last year she has weighed in strongly on issues like equal pay and child care. She has done women-themed events galore.
In a speech at Georgetown University last week, she said: “We know when women contribute in making and keeping peace, entire societies enjoy better outcomes. Women leaders, it has been found, are good at building coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines and speaking up for other marginalized groups.”
IT’S possible that Clinton has noticed polls. In one by Gallup early this year, when Americans were asked what about a Clinton presidency would be most exciting, the answer given more than any other was that she would be the first woman in the job.
It’s her “unique selling proposition,” wrote Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, in an analysis of those results.
And that proposition is potentially an inoculation.
Yes, she’s been around forever and isn’t a fresh face. But she can’t be yesterday’s news when she’s tomorrow’s precedent.
Yes, there’s a whiff of dynasty about her. But maybe she gets some of the“new car smell” that Obama said voters were looking for by promising a new altitude of female accomplishment.
Yes, a contest between her and Jeb Bush would be one of two surnames from the past. But only she can claim to represent an uncharted future, at least in one sense.
Yes, detractors will say that she’s a third term of Obama: business as usual. Her supporters can answer that she’s history’s unfinished business.
Yes, she’s now wealthy and well-connected, and would be starting the race with titanic advantages. But if she’s willing to talk about her experience as a woman, she can talk about what it’s been like to make her way in a man’s world. She’s a leader of the pack who can make some underdog noises, an ultimate insider who can potentially connect with outsiders — thanks to gender.
Lehane called it “a sword and a shield.”
When she ran the last time around, Rush Limbaugh asked, “Will Americans want to watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?” It was a sexist question, but this can be a sexist country, and even some Democrats had that concern.
It’s more than six years later, and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post recently noted Clinton’s “full-on embrace of grandma-hood, tweeting out pictures of her new granddaughter despite the twin pitfalls of gender andage.” For Clinton 2016, gender might not be a pitfall at all.
By Joe Davidson
President Obama, a.k.a. the boss-in-chief, decided to give federal employees a holiday present a little early. He issued an executive orderFriday giving them the day after Christmas off.
“All executive branch departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall be closed and their employees excused from duty on Friday, December 26, 2014, the day after Christmas Day,” the order says. Exceptions may be made “for reasons of national security, defense, or other public need.”
There was no indication if Obama was swayed by an online White House petition urging him to make the day a holiday. The petition said:
“Federal Employees have dealt with pay freezes and furloughs over the past few years. Giving federal employees an extra holiday on Dec. 26th, 2014 would be a good gesture to improve morale of the federal workforce. Some bases are forcing their employees to take leave or LWOP because of base shut-downs on this day. This is also consistent with past practice. President Obama provided a full-day Monday Dec. 24, 2012 and a half-day off on Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009. President George W. Bush provided a half-day holiday on Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2002, as well as several full days off the day before or after Christmas: Tuesday, December 24, 2001, Thursday, December 26, 2003, Tuesday, December 24, 2007, and Thursday, December 26, 2008. We urge President Obama to issue an executive order.”
No one has sounded more determined to extricate the United States from Afghanistan than President Obama. It is “time to turn the page,” he said in May when he announced plans to reduce American forces to 9,800 troops by the end of December, with a full withdrawal by the end of 2016. That goal appeared to be on track — until now. Mr. Obama’s recent turnabout and other developments seem to be sucking America back into the Afghan war, a huge mistake.
First, Mr. Obama authorized a more expansive mission for the American military in 2015 than originally planned. His order would put American troops right back into ground combat by allowing them to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militants. He had previously said that the residual force would be engaged only in counterterrorism operations aimed at remnants of Al Qaeda. The new order also permits American jets and drones to support Afghan military missions.
The decision by Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, to lift the ban on night raids imposed by his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, could also push American troops into direct fighting. The Afghan special operations forces, which are to resume night raids in 2015, could bring along American advisers, backed by American air support. While military officials say night raids are an effective tactic, enabling the Taliban to be seized in their homes, such intrusions are offensive to many Afghans and likely to provoke a new wave of anti-American sentiment.
Already, the number of American troops to remain in Afghanistan after December has been increased by 1,000, up to 10,800. NATO allies are supposed to provide 4,000 troops next year, bringing the total of foreign forces to 12,000 to 14,000. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that any additional American troops above 9,800 are temporary and are merely covering for NATO allies that are still trying to decide how many forces to contribute.
But if NATO fails to contribute sufficient troops, then what?
Mr. Obama seems to be having second thoughts about his Afghan strategy after the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the sudden collapse of the Iraqi army. He may be trying to avoid blame if something similar happens in Afghanistan, where Taliban attacks are on the rise.
But he should resist the advice of military commanders, who are again pushing for broader involvement. They were unable to defeat the Taliban when more than 100,000 American troops were in the country; there is no reason to think that a very limited American force will be more effective now.
That is not to say that Mr. Ghani, a former World Bank executive, should not be supported. He shows more promise, energy and purpose in dealing honestly with his country’s staggering challenges — including the insurgency and a weak, corrupt economy — than Mr. Karzai did.
Since Mr. Ghani was declared the winner in September of the disputed election and formed a power-sharing deal with Abdullah Abdullah, the new chief executive, there has been progress, including the signing of a security agreement with the United States, a reopened probe into the corrupt Kabul Bank and an initiative to repair relations with key countries, including Pakistan. Last Thursday, Mr. Ghani laid out a thoughtful, if incomplete, vision for reforming the economy and tackling corruption to a conference in London of Afghanistan’s international donors, including the United States and Britain.
Still, Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah have struggled to make other important decisions, including the appointment of a cabinet, which they promised would be done before the conference and now say will take several weeks more. Given Afghanistan’s perilous security situation, the country’s leaders and political factions might be expected to put aside their differences, but that hasn’t happened yet.
One lesson learned over the last 13 years is this: No amount of foreign assistance — not tens of thousands of troops, billions of dollars or unlimited amounts of military equipment — will make any real difference if the Afghans cannot or will not pull together a functioning, relatively uncorrupt and competent government, and take primary responsibility for themselves and their country.
Administration officials are still insisting “the combat mission ends” by the end of this year, but that’s simply not credible. Mr. Obama should stick to his original plan to have the remaining troops focus on training and advising the Afghan army and going after Al Qaeda. Realistically, that seems the most the American-led military coalition can achieve.
BY KAY JOHNSON AND SAUD MEHSUD
The United States has handed to Pakistan three prisoners including a senior Taliban militant held in Afghanistan, as Washington rushes to empty its Afghan prison before losing the legal right to detain people there at the end of the year.
U.S. forces captured Latif Mehsud, a top deputy in Pakistan's faction of the Taliban, in October 2013, in an operation that angered then Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
Mehsud, a Pakistani, and his two guards were secretly flown to Pakistan, two senior Pakistani security officials told Reuters. The U.S. military confirmed it transferred three prisoners to Pakistan's custody on Saturday, but would not reveal their identities.
"TTP senior commander Latif Mehsud who was arrested was handed over to Pakistani authorities along with his guards," one Pakistani security official said. "They reached Islamabad."
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said three prisoners had been held at a detention centre near Bagram airfield, the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.
The facility is believed to house several dozen foreign prisoners who the United States will no longer be allowed to keep in Afghanistan when the mission for the U.S.-led force there ends later this month.
"We're actually just going through and returning all the third-country nationals detained in Afghanistan to resolve that issue," a U.S. embassy spokeswoman said.
Taliban militants fired two rockets into the Bagram base on Saturday, damaging a building and a road, a spokesman for international coalition forces said.
Recognisable by his curly locks and youthful looks, Mehsud was a senior deputy in the Pakistani faction of the Taliban when U.S. forces snatched him last year, not far from Kabul.
At the time, Karzai's spokesman told the Washington Post Mehsud was travelling with a convoy of Afghan intelligence officials who wanted to recruit him for peace talks, and that the U.S forcibly removed him.
The arrest enraged Karzai, who saw it as a challenge to Afghan sovereignty. In a statement, the U.S. military said Afghanistan "was not involved" in the transfer.
"We are working on gathering information on how this took place," said Nazifullah Salarzai, the spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Relations between the two neighbours were rocky because each suspects the other of harbouring Taliban insurgents. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are separate but allied and both work alongside al Qaeda.
The strained ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan improved slightly after Ghani got a warm welcome from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a state visit last month.