Jair Bolsonaro Wants Brazilian Cops to Kill More. So Why Are Victims of Police Violence Voting for Him?

“I will give the police carte blanche to kill.” “Let’s clog up the prisons with criminals.” “Police that kill thugs will be decorated.” These are all campaign trail statements from Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right Brazilian presidential candidate who will likely win second round elections on October 28. A cornerstone of his platform, his hard-line public security proposals include legalizing mass arrest warrants, permitting police to shoot without warning or prior engagement, building more prisons, allowing minors to be tried as adults, and easing restrictions on gun ownership for “good citizens.”

In an extremely violent, unequal, and racist society such as Brazil, where militarized policing of poor communities of mostly black and brown people is already the norm, it’s unsurprising that conservative, white elites would agree with these ideas. Bolsonaro’s support is strongest among men, whites, evangelicals, the wealthiest, and the most educated.

However, that’s not the whole story. In the most recent polling, 47 percent of self-defined black and brown voters support Bolsonaro. That’s 6 percentage points more than his opponent, the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad, whose traditional base is among the poor. Bolsonaro has 38 percent support among voters who make minimum wage or less ($3,090 per year) and 48 percent among voters who make between $3,090 and $6,180. These numbers are consequential and, at first glance, perplexing: If police violence and abuse is endemic in Brazil, why would the principal victims of this problem support a candidate who wants those same police to be more violent and abusive? My field research as a social scientist offers some insight.

Maycon, 23, is a young black man from a poor neighborhood in Brazil. He has a brother in jail, dreams of being a police officer, and strongly defends implementing the death penalty, which he sees as the population’s defense against what he calls “homie rights,” a play on human rights. An ardent supporter of imprisoned ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party, he would also like to see stricter laws for “bandits,” a central position of far-right candidates like Bolsonaro.

In the conversations I have had with teenagers from the poor outskirts of Brazil’s major cities, Bolsonaro voters follow the same punitive orientation and show solidarity with the police, who, they believe, should have the right to kill. Paradoxically, these same boys report daily humiliations at the hands of abusive police officers. “If I am not dressed as a humble worker and do not lower my head … I mean if I hold my head up high and with a name-brand hat, it makes me look like a thug to them, so they stop me, beat me up, and throw me on the floor,” said Pepe, 17.

The number of deaths with police involvement has increased dramatically in Brazil. So far this year in Rio de Janeiro, police have killed nearly 128 people per month, nearly triple the rate from five years ago. Across the country, 4,424 people were executed by police in 2016, according to the latest edition of the Atlas of Violence. This is a marked increase. If 71.5 percent of homicide victims are black or brown, and young men and the poor are drastically overrepresented, you can safely hypothesize that the same dynamic plays out among victims of police violence, despite the lack of available data.

With this in mind, Maycon and Pepe’s conservatism doesn’t appear to make sense. All it takes is one cop making the wrong split-second judgement — perhaps mistaking the umbrella in their hand for a rifle — and they could be the next casualty.

First, it must be pointed out that the degree of solidarity with the police varies according to the context. The situation is exceptional in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, which are characterized by genocidal police action, and in most of the poor neighborhoods of São Paulo, where one-fifth of police killings occur. As a reaction to this, particularly strong citizen activism exists in both cities.

Maycon and Pepe, however, are from the outskirts of the southern city of Porto Alegre. Beyond the city’s activist and hip-hop circles, their views are quite common. By talking with public school teachers in the northeastern city of Fortaleza and reading Juliano Spyer’s book “Social Media in Emergent Brazil,” about an impoverished region of the northeastern state of Bahia, I increasingly have the feeling that, throughout the country’s urban poor and working-class neighborhoods and deep into the heartland, this apparent contradiction is much more prevalent than outsiders may have previously imagined.

Since colonial times, our collective consciousness has erected an imaginary partition, dividing the country into two separate Brazils: one white, civilized, and secure, and another black, barbaric, and dangerous.

Since colonial times, our collective consciousness has erected an imaginary partition, dividing the country into two separate Brazils: one white, civilized, and secure, and another black, barbaric, and dangerous. With the feminist theorist bell hooks and the researcher Teresa Caldeira, we learned that our dominant mythologies understand danger as “the other,” something from the outside. But Brazilian social thought theory warns that the construction of “marginality” — rife with projections of fear and risk — produces a central figure in our imaginations: that of the “vagabond” or “thug,” deviant and destabilizing to social order and therefore criminalized and dehumanized.

There are many ways that the vagabond figure perpetuates itself. Popular, sensationalist afternoon crime shows like “Urgent Brasil” do this with their strong, pro-police bias, but that hardly compares to the new genre of violent spectacle that has taken root: home videos that circulate on WhatsApp among lower and working-class communities. As Spyer explains, it is a separate universe, a class indicator in which real-life blood, brutal sex, gunshots, and stabbing are turned into brutal spectacle: an ostentation of violence, filmed and gossiped about in communities.

As I choose the words to write, I’m trembling as I remember the tightness in my chest and the sick feeling I had after watching a video that was sent to me of a man’s coldblooded execution, shot 29 times by drug traffickers. Then I received another, this time of drug dealers firing rifles into the air.

As Spyer notes, these images circulate as an expression of indignation with impunity, but also as a disciplining and moralizing power. It is also worth noting that the execution videos are almost always of cavalier and audacious traffickers operating within a lawless, Wild West environment. Executions by police, by contrast, are rarely filmed (for obvious reasons) and therefore less present in the popular imagination.

This type of ordinary violence creates a sense of impunity and insecurity that affects the poorest, who run the daily risk of losing what little they have managed to scrape together.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21: A boy waits as Brazilian soldiers search adults during a 'Mega Operation' conducted by the Brazilian Armed Forces along with police against gang members in seven of Rio's most violent 'favela' communities on August 21, 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The children were waiting for adults to be searched nearby as many 'favela' residents were searched both entering and departing the communities during the operation. Brazil has deployed 8,500 members of the armed forces to Rio in an attempt to increase security amidst a spike in violence and crime. In the first six months of 2017 there were 3,457 homicides in Rio state, the highest level of violence seen there since 2009. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Brazilian soldiers search Rio de Janeiro favela residents as they attempt to enter and exit their community during a security operation on August 21, 2017.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Beto, an Uber driver and passionate Bolsonaro voter, saw half of his teenage friends die at the hands of traffickers or the police. Recently, while driving a passenger, he was held up at gunpoint. The robber took not only his money and cellphone, but also his dignity, forcing him to get down on all fours and beg for his life. He showed me and my research partner, Lúcia Scalco, a video of his “mooch” cousin in prison: He was playing soccer and watching Netflix. “He’s better off than I am: He’s got food and TV shows.” Stories like this of bad guys who have it easy in jail and then return to the streets to rob and steal are always circulating. “Is it fair that I work 15 hours a day and these bums have everything handed to them?” he asked.

Beto’s feeling of injustice makes logical sense when we remember that a youth from a marginalized community who manages to study and has a decent job is a person who managed to overcome a series of obstacles, through great individual effort and the help of family support networks, plus some luck. They had to face down the appeal of drug trafficking on the one hand, and absolute state neglect on the other. To build your personal narrative as an “honest, law-abiding person” in this context is a radical tale of survival.

It is therefore not at all exceptional that many marginalized people reproduce unpopular ideologies to be accepted socially. It is extremely useful for them to blame the bad guys to justify their own predicament in life.

For intellectuals from W.E.B. Du Bois to Cornel West, the notion of “double consciousness” attempts to account for a conflicting identity of (black) subjects who suffer from prejudice, but seek to fit into the norm. Young men who back more hard-line policing live this existential dilemma: They know they may be the next victims, but they deny the statistics of mass incarceration and police brutality.

Most of our research participants have attempted a military career. Many do not pass and follow other paths, such as Maycon, who is now taking a course to become a private security guard and dreams of the day he receives his permit to carry a firearm (a privilege that is tightly restricted at the moment, but which Bolsonaro wants to loosen). In this universe of multiple violences, having a weapon means “not having to get on all fours.” It’s the promise of being able to defend yourself. In the daily struggle of life, death is always more present than for his more privileged peers. Guns are a language learned from childhood in games of traffickers and robbers that simulate bloody executions. Guns also represent virility: Those rifles raised high by drug dealers are there, phallic, to reassert male power.

Before we reproduce biases about the “right-wing poor,” we should make the effort to put things in perspective and remember that, in most cases, protection comes only from religion, family, collective action, and social movements — rarely from the state. For many, their entire lived experience is marked by violence, from the beating they received from their father to the regular, humiliating encounters they endure from the police. It’s hardly the most fertile soil to sprout democratic and defiant souls.

If we elect a fascist president and if part of that vote comes from the popular classes, the responsibility for this lies, firstly, in class hatred, racism, and decades of state neglect.

If we elect a fascist president and if part of that vote comes from the popular classes, the responsibility for this lies, firstly, in class hatred, racism, and decades of state neglect. Those who are beaten by the real police, but cheer for the ideal police, are only expressing the very contradictions of the Brazilian nation as it has always existed.

Bolsonaro speaks to the core of a part of popular and masculine culture. When the candidate says live on the evening news that if “thugs” have rifles, then policemen and good citizens need even bigger ones and “not flowers,” the call for increased violence shocks some viewers, but not all. For many, he is speaking directly to their deepest fears and desires. They have experienced violence and demand that violence be inflicted upon others in equal measure.

Top photo: Jair Bolsonaro attends an interview for Correio Braziliense, a Brazilian newspaper, in Brasilia on June 6, 2018.

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Why Israel’s — and America’s — Legal Justifications for Assassinations Don’t Add Up

The expansion of legal rules around targeted killings by the United States is one of the most consequential legacies of the post-9/11 era. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, the U.S. government arrogated itself broad rights to kill individuals far from any battlefield. The legal reasoning that former President Barack Obama used to publicly justify the ramped-up drone warfare program had its origins in a similar past effort by Israeli military lawyers to justify Israel’s targeted killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Noura Erakat, Assistant Professor, School of Integrative Studies. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services/George Mason University

Photo of Noura Erakat.

Photo: Courtesy of Noura Erakat

This month, The Intercept published an article about the history of this Israeli legal effort. In the story, Harvard law professor Gabriella Blum explained how, when she was a young lawyer working for the Israel Defense Forces, she and her team sought to give a legal justification for Israel’s burgeoning assassination program. Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney and author of the forthcoming book “Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine,” spoke with The Intercept to discuss the ethical and political implications of military legal scholarship, particularly around these justifications for Israel’s targeted killings in the occupied Palestinian territories and beyond.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s the real-world impact of academic legal scholarship, as it pertains to armed conflict?

There is a direct relationship that we can trace between knowledge production in the academy and what states seek to legally justify during armed conflict. What legal scholars publish contributes to an aspect of opinio juris, or what states believe is legal, which together with state practice constitutes something called international customary law. This is a form of international law, which, in contrast to treaties, is effectively a form of tacit consent. Effectively, legal scholars publish opinions which indirectly help shape customary law. If there is robust objection to what states do based on these opinions, then it falls into the realm of illegitimacy. But if, in contrast, the practice and the legal concepts gain traction, it can become the seed for new customary law, which can develop overnight or over a long period of time. If it crystallizes into a new norm, then it not only applies to the state proposing the law, but will be applicable to other states in the international community as well. This is certainly the story of the use of lethal force against enemy combatants not recognized as legitimate belligerents.

“The whole reason they needed to create these new legal concepts is because they were rejecting existing laws that were created during the 20th century, specifically to regulate this kind of irregular combat.”

How have the Israeli government and military lawyers employed international law to justify the use of targeted killings?

During the Second Intifada, Israel created an entirely new set of laws of war to govern their relationship with the Palestinians. As Daniel Reisner, former head of the [Israel Defense Forces]’s International Law Department, himself stated in this article, Israel developed the concept of “armed conflict, short of war” to give itself the ability to legally justify its targeted killing policies in the occupied territories. The issue is that there exists a body of international law that dealt with situations of guerrilla warfare, namely the 1977 Additional Protocols I and II, which Israel has simply refused to recognize. The whole reason they needed to create these new legal concepts is because they were rejecting existing laws that were created during the 20th century, specifically to regulate this kind of irregular combat.

What were those laws, and in what context were they created?

During the period of decolonization in Africa and Asia, there were two protocols added to the Geneva Convention at the behest of countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, in order to recognize their wars of national liberation as legitimate. These protocols elevated guerrilla warfare to a form of legal armed conflict, meaning that guerrilla fighters received the status of legal combatants, giving them the right to both legally kill and be targeted themselves, as well as the protections afforded to prisoners of war if they were captured.

The first of these protocols was meant to regulate guerrilla wars fought against colonial domination, alien occupation, and racist regimes, while the second protocol regulated civil wars. When in 2000 Israel found itself fighting lightly armed Palestinian security officers in the occupied territories who had turned their arms against the Israeli army, they did not want to look at this existing body of international law to regulate their response. The first protocol, regulating irregular combat, would have required them to recognize the Palestinians as a nascent state living under colonial domination, foreign occupation, and a racist regime. But this would mean recognizing Palestinian militants as legitimate combatants with the right to use force, while Israel insisted that they were all criminal terrorists regardless of whether they targeted Israeli military installations or civilians. Meanwhile the second protocol governing civil war would’ve required them to acknowledge Palestinians in the occupied territories as a part of Israeli society, thus disrupting its Jewish demographic majority and acknowledging Israel’s governance of an apartheid regime.

So how did they legally maneuver around this issue in order to justify targeted killings?

To avoid either recognizing Palestinians as a nascent sovereign nation or a people subject to apartheid within Israel, Israeli military lawyers came up with an entirely new concept of “armed conflict short of war,” a new category of legal reasoning that never existed before. They didn’t want to call their conflict with the Palestinians a “war” since that would recognize the inevitability of a Palestinian state and trigger a number of requirements under the laws of war. But they also didn’t want call it an “occupation,” since then they would be subject to the laws that govern occupiers. Among other things, occupation law would mandate them to use policing powers instead of offensive military tactics like targeted killing. So to avoid doing either, they simply created a new and unprecedented legal category that is, in effect, a new law for colonial dominance.

“To avoid either recognizing Palestinians as a nascent sovereign nation or a people subject to apartheid within Israel, Israeli military lawyers came up with an entirely new concept of ‘armed conflict, short of war,’ a new category of legal reasoning that never existed before.”

The United States has used similarly expansive legal reasoning to justify its targeted killing operations in the war on terror. Is there a relationship between the Israeli legal efforts and those used in the American global counterterrorism campaign?

There is a synergy, in the sense that U.S. and Israeli arguments to expand the use of lethal force have been building off each other. As per the U.N. Charter, the use of force is generally prohibited, with a few exceptions, including individual and collective self-defense or when specifically authorized by a Security Council resolution under its Chapter VII authority. After 9/11, there was a shift under the Bush administration toward the use of preventive force, as opposed to pre-emptive self-defense, under customary law, or a response to an armed attack under treaty law. This shift becomes the basis of legal justification for extrajudicial assassinations, or targeted killings, outside of hot battlefields.

It was during the Obama-era drone warfare campaign, however, that these changes were really institutionalized. Whatever public hostility there was to Bush administration activities almost disappeared under Obama, though what he did in terms of targeted killings far exceeded what Bush did. It was liberal lawyers like Harold Koh and Martin Lederman who wrote the legal memos justifying these policies. Their efforts ultimately also helped legitimate previously unprecedented Israeli legal arguments in favor of expanding the range of circumstances when lethal force can be legally used.

What’s the cumulative impact on international law of these kinds of innovations? And how have they impacted our understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict?

Because Israel wants to keep the land that it is occupying, they have perverted existing law to regulate their operations in the territories under their control. Normally speaking, they should be regulated by occupation law and thus, limited to using policing powers. Instead, they’ve created whole new categories of law that have blurred the lines on the acceptable use of force and allowed them to carry out targeted killings of Palestinians, while denying them the rights normally afforded to combatants. Israeli military lawyers are right to point out that their situation is unprecedented; there is no other occupation that has lasted over five decades. No other state has invoked the concept of “armed conflict, short of war” in any other scenario, which Israel’s military lawyers admit they made up. Israel wants to be an occupying power in the Palestinian territories, but also claim that those territories are not occupied as a matter of law so that it can facilitate its settler-colonial territorial expansion. That is why Israel has remained in the territories for so long — it has never intended on withdrawing from them. And now it is invoking the law of self-defense to use force to protect its colonial holdings. But a state cannot invoke self-defense to wage war on a people [whose land] it already occupies, while insisting that those people are neither a nascent sovereign nation nor a population under its control.

There’s also been an ongoing effort to try and collapse the Israel-Palestine conflict into the same category as the U.S. war on terrorism, both morally and legally. The fact is that Israel’s confrontation with Palestinian armed groups is analytically and legally distinct from the U.S. confrontation with non-state actors like Al Qaeda and ISIS. No one is highlighting that distinction, and this is the most dangerous thing about the relationship between the U.S. and Israeli efforts on targeted killings. Given that most national liberation movements ended in the 20th century, the question of Palestine today stands out. It’s a unique situation, though its one that international law has contemplated before.

What are some of the frustrations that exist with the way that matters of Israeli targeted killing policy are discussed, particularly with regard to legal rationales?

Even in contrast to the United States, Israel attempts to frame itself as the more humane face of war because they’ve been legally regulating their war. But what articles like this don’t really mention is that even when defining rules around civilian harm and proportionality, as the PCATI v. Government of Israel decision does, Israel’s military lawyers, ethicists, and practitioners are able to legally redefine who counts as a civilian or not. With regard to principles like proportionality, they are redefining what is appropriate to fit their irregular circumstances. What may have been disproportionate in conventional combat becomes proportionate under these “new” circumstances. Thus, the Israeli army can claim to be abiding by their Supreme Court decisions, but in the end, Israel’s military has changed the relevant definitions in the first place. They are not even saying that there is an exception for them in their targeting killing practices; they are literally just creating new law to justify their activities.

Top photo: Palestinians mourn the bodies of Al Qassam general leaders’ wife and son, Mohammed Al Deif, after a failed attempt of assassinating him in his home in Gaza in August 20, 2014.

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Upheaval: Brazil on the Brink. The Saudi Regime Under Fire.

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A far-right government led by the authoritarian Congressman Jair Bolsanaro is highly likely to win the presidency in Brazil when the October 28th run-off is held. This week on Intercepted: Glenn Greenwald is host and he breaks down the rise of the most extreme right-wing candidate in the democratic world and explains why Brazil’s young and fragile democracy leaves it far more susceptible to a return of military rule than the older and more established democracies of Europe and North America. Glenn is joined by the Vice Presidential candidate on the Worker’s Party ticket running against Bolsonaro, Manuela d’Ávila, for a wide-ranging interview about Bolsonaro, the campaign she and the Worker’s Party are running, and the severe dangers posed to Brazilian democracy. He asks d’Ávila whether the democratic institutions in place will be enough to guard against a president who advocates returning to military dictatorship, and they discuss the neoliberal economic crisis that is likely to come. Journalist Sarah Aziza gives an in-depth analysis of the alleged brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that has rocked the journalistic world and started a debate over the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. She breaks down the Saudi government’s explanations of events in Khashoggi’s disappearance, and gives the context of other disappeared and jailed Saudi critics at the hands of the government before, and after, Mohammad bin Salman seized and consolidated power in the Kingdom.

Transcript coming soon.

Top image: The main portrait in this photo illustration shows the Brazilian presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party, Jair Bolsonaro, during the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association’s Unica Forum 2018 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on June 18, 2018.

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Outraged Lawmakers Want to End the U.S.’s Cozy Relationship With Saudi Arabia

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the leading Democrat on the powerful House Rules Committee, on Tuesday introduced a bill that threatens to sever the decades-old security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The bill, which is co-sponsored by six Democrats and two Republicans, is the latest outraged response from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to the disappearance and suspected murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Specifically, McGovern’s bill would ban all arms sales and military cooperation with Saudi Arabia, unless the secretary of state certifies that the Saudi government and its agents “did not order or direct” Khashoggi’s disappearance or killing. It would also suspend the security relationship between the two countries, except to protect or evacuate U.S. citizens and diplomatic personnel in the kingdom. The bill would also require a detailed report from the secretary of state about Khashoggi’s status.

“If the United States stands for anything, we need to stand out loud and foursquare for human rights,” McGovern said in a Friday statement announcing his intent to introduce the legislation. “Our values are our strength, and we cannot be indifferent or complicit when those values are undermined or attacked.”

Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen October 2, entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul for documents he needed in order to get married. Since then, a steady stream of sometimes conflicting leaks from Turkish officials has led to the widespread belief that Khashoggi, who lived in self-imposed exile in Virginia, was assassinated and dismembered by the Saudis. The Saudi government has vehemently denied these accusations, but it has not presented a credible explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018. Turkey said Tuesday it will search the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a missing Saudi contributor to The Washington Post, a week after he vanished during a visit there. (CCTV/Hurriyet via AP)

This image, taken from closed-circuit TV footage obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet and made available on Oct. 9, 2018, appears to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018.

Photo: CCTV/Hurriyet via AP

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, defended the U.S.-Saudi relationship this weekend, saying he didn’t want to endanger future arms sales over allegations that Saudi agents killed a Washington Post columnist. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance, but the response from the Trump administration has been relatively muted. On Capitol Hill, however, the kingdom’s relationship with Congress is in free fall.

“I’m hearing, on both sides of the aisle, a questioning of the Saudi relationship, more so after the Khashoggi incident than after 9/11,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California who has been highly critical of the Saudi war in Yemen. “It’s the final straw that has broken the U.S.-Saudi relationship.”

Last week, 11 Democratic and 11 Republican senators sent Trump a letter invoking the Global Magnitsky Act, a 2016 law that requires the president to make a determination about whether to sanction human rights violators. All but one member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee signed the letter, which directs Trump not to spare “the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.” (Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was the sole committee member who did not sign the letter; he has, however, indicated that he’ll be pushing to stop U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.)

In an interview with “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday morning, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham — one of the signatories of the letter, and historically one of the kingdom’s strongest defenders in Washington — called for the crown prince’s removal and said he would “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”

“I can never do business with Saudi Arabia again, until we get this behind us,” Graham said.

Saudi Arabia is the United States’s oldest ally in the Middle East, and sanctions against its king or crown prince would be unprecedented.

In addition to demands to penalize Saudi Arabia, members of Congress are also demanding answers about what the U.S. knew about the plot beforehand.

The Washington Post reported last week that U.S. intelligence agencies had intercepted communications indicating that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s arrest, but it was unclear if Khashoggi was warned ahead of time. Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, later told CNN that “intel points directly” at the Saudis, and that he believes Khashoggi was murdered.

On Friday, Khanna and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., released the text of a letter calling on the director of national intelligence to explain what the intelligence community knew before Khashoggi’s disappearance, including “the precise date on which any arm of the U.S. intelligence community first became aware of the Saudi plan to detain Khashoggi.”

“Considering the profound ramifications of this potential crime, U.S. foreknowledge of Saudi plans to detain Mr. Khashoggi, and whether the U.S. intelligence community carried out its duty to warn, we intend to use the full force of Congressional oversight and investigatory powers to obtain these answers should they not be forthcoming,” the letter reads.

Khanna and Pocan, both members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are still collecting signatures, and they plan to send the letter later this week, according to a Democratic aide.

Traditionally, the intelligence community has a “duty to warn” people when they detect impending plots to their security, and it is unclear whether Khashoggi was told of any plot to detain him.

Despite reports about the intelligence community’s foreknowledge, Trump has expressed uncertainty about whether the Saudis were responsible. Following a 20-minute phone call with the Saudi king on Monday, Trump told reporters that the king’s denials were made “very strongly.” He added,“It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows.”

A cameraman gets into position as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday Oct. 16, 2018. Pompeo also met on Tuesday with Saudi King Salman over the disappearance and alleged slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, who vanished two weeks ago during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

A cameraperson gets into position as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, obscured at left, meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 16, 2018.

Photo: Leah Millis, Pool/AP

The alleged murder of Khashoggi would be the latest in a series of aggressive and interventionist moves by Crown Prince Mohammed, the 33-year-old de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. In June 2017, he leapfrogged his elder cousin to become next in the line for the throne.

Commonly billed as a “reformer” who has allowed women to drive and opened movie theaters, the crown prince’s tenure has also been marked by an intensive crackdown on critics and an overtly interventionist foreign policy.

Crown Prince Mohammed is the architect of Saudi Arabia’s three-year intervention in Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people and led to mass starvation throughout the country. Under the crown prince, Saudi Arabia has maintained a trade embargo on Qatar, and last November, he scooped up billions of dollars in assets by arresting his family members as part of an “anti-corruption” crackdown. That same month, the Saudi government detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and forced him to read a prewritten resignation speech on Saudi state television. (Hariri eventually returned to Lebanon and rescinded his resignation.)

On Capitol Hill, Khashoggi’s disappearance could catalyze frustration with the crown prince’s U.S.-backed intervention in Yemen, which the Trump and Obama administrations have supported with arms sales and logistical aid.

Last year, citing human rights concerns over the war in Yemen, the Senate nearly blocked an arms sale to Saudi Arabia in a 47-53 vote. Currently, Sen. Bob Menendez, the most powerful Democrat on the Foreign Relations committee, is holding up a $2 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for the same reason.

In the House, leading Democrats have joined a resolution that would direct the Trump administration to withdraw all U.S. forces who are participating in the war. Khanna said that in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance, he thought it was likely to pass.

“I think that the relationship has been permanently damaged,” he told The Intercept by phone. “I don’t think it will ever recover.”

Top photo: Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 29, 2011.

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Does Saudi Arabia Own Donald Trump?

On Tuesday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”

Is this yet another barefaced lie from the commander-in-chief?

In this video essay, Mehdi Hasan examines Trump’s long history of doing deals with Saudi royals and reminds us how the former reality TV star even bragged about his financial ties to the kingdom during the election campaign. He also highlights the controversial payments made by the Saudi government to Trump-owned properties since the Republican businessman entered the White House.

With the president refusing to take a strong stance against the Saudi government’s alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Mehdi asks: “Does Saudi Arabia own Donald Trump?”

The post Does Saudi Arabia Own Donald Trump? appeared first on The Intercept.

How Phone Scamming Has Fueled a State of Emergency in Jamaica’s Tourist Capital

The day Michael E. Little killed himself, the winning Mega Millions lottery numbers in North Dakota were 25, 32, 37, 45, and 70. In the months before his death on October 25, 2015, a smooth talker with a Jamaican accent had called Little and told him that he had won the jackpot. Little had suffered several strokes that left him physically disabled, mentally confused, and unable to work. He lived on welfare, alone and isolated in a trailer park in Bismark, North Dakota. The voice at the other end of the line seemed like his only hope.

The caller promised Little millions of dollars, a new Mercedes Benz, and a television crew at his door to record the handover of the money. But there was a small catch. In order to receive his prizes, Little needed to send the caller a clearing fee of a few thousand dollars for taxes and administration. Little’s family knew there was a problem when he asked to borrow $10,000. They changed his phone number, but he changed it back. Before Little’s brother could complete the process of applying for guardianship, Little was dead.

The person who called Little had a Jamaican accent and appears likely to have been a fraudster who was operating 2,347 miles away in the Caribbean nation, where the practice of “lotto scamming” is rife. Jamaican phone scammers are estimated to rake in at least $300 million per year, often obtaining their profits by targeting vulnerable people.

Lotto scamming has had devastating consequences – not just for its victims in the U.S. and elsewhere, but for Jamaica. The scams have helped finance gang warfare in the western part of the country, which has in turn led to a spike in the number of murders, leaving Jamaica with the sixth-highest murder rate in the world last year. Since January, a state of emergency has been declared in three of Jamaica’s major districts, with armed soldiers deployed into the streets in an effort to contain the violence.

A lower-income area of the Mount Salem neighborhood of Montego Bay, photographed on May 18, 2018, which has been greatly affected by the violence and crime due to lotto scamming.

A lower-income area of the Mount Salem neighborhood of Montego Bay, photographed on May 18, 2018, which has been greatly affected by the violence and crime due to lotto scamming.

Photo: Courtesy of Ben Toren

A billboard outside of Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport welcomes visitors to the “friendly city” of Montego Bay, the tourist capital of the island. Once a sleepy resort town for a host of international glitterati, from Marilyn Monroe to John F. Kennedy, Montego Bay has in recent years become more associated with gang warfare and fraudsters than jet-setters and rum punches. The area now has highest number of murders in Jamaica.

Montego Bay is home to most of Jamaica’s international call centers, where hundreds of employees handle inquiries for companies such as Xerox and VistaPrint. Police say the call centers are part of the reason Montego Bay has become a hub for fraud: Scammers use them to glean lists of potential targets and also to train in phone etiquette. Former hotel front desk workers and call center operators now put their hospitality training to use in telephone scamming, swapping minimum wages of $US52 a week for up to $US100,000.

“Now, any little idiot can be a scammer.”

Scamming is the latest chapter in a long history of crime and violence that Jamaica has struggled to control. In the 1970s, politicians formed relationships with criminal community leaders called “dons,” who ensured the votes of the community in exchange for political favors and government contracts. When the Jamaican economy crashed in the 1970s, politicians could no longer afford to bankroll dons, who turned to the drug trade to support themselves. After a crackdown on the drug trade in the late 2000s, the criminal world fractured. For criminals looking to diversify their portfolios, scamming was the perfect addition.

According to police, scamming took hold in Montego Bay after several high-profile drug dealers were extradited to the United States. Fitz Bailey, the former head of the Jamaican police department’s Organized Crime Investigations Division, said the extraditions created an economic void in western Jamaica — a hole that lotto scamming filled.

Some Jamaicans long for the days of the drug dealer, which they say brought organization and leadership. A 70-year-old Montego Bay resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns for his safety, told The Intercept that the drug dealers needed the protection of the community and so were more community oriented than the scammers.

“Now,” he said, “any little idiot — kids as young as 13 — can be a scammer.”

Six days a week, Floyd Foster kisses his young son goodbye and then commutes to his job as a lifeguard in one of the all-inclusive resorts in Montego Bay.

Foster, in his 30s with a tall and lanky frame, permanently wears sunglasses to protect his eyes, which suffer from a degenerative condition. Each morning he drives past soldiers armed with M-6 rifles, who have patrolled his Mount Salem community around the clock since the state of emergency began in January. The soldiers were sent in to the area to check identification and enforce a 7 p.m. curfew; their presence has recently started to wane, but remains strong in other parts of the island, where they have detained more than 2,500 people, mostly young men from inner-city communities.

Flyod Foster, photographed at his job at youth center Mandingo Youth Center which he runs to keep kids away from violence and lotto scamming in Jamaica on May 17, 2018.

Floyd Foster, photographed at his job at youth center Mandingo Youth Center which he runs to keep kids away from violence and lotto scamming in Jamaica on May 17, 2018.

Photo: Courtesy of Ben Toren

Only about 5 percent of those taken into custody have reportedly been charged, mainly with minor criminal offenses, which has prompted concerns from some locals that law-abiding youngsters are being arbitrarily detained as part of an indiscriminate policy. But Foster doesn’t mind the soldiers; because of their presence, he says, the community, for the first time in years, has been able to sleep without gunshots ringing out through the night.

Foster drives down a road that splits his community in two. On his left is the “nice” area, filled with middle-class housing. On the right, he passes the lower-class “ghetto” area, where he says lotto scamming has destroyed the community with crime and violence. Four of his childhood friends have been killed in the turmoil. He has since started the Mandingo Youth Club to empower children through creative activities, encouraging them to stay away from violence, crime, and lotto scamming.

Growing up, Foster saw friends go into the scamming business, and then turn on each other in arguments over profit. The violence associated with scamming is typically over business deals gone wrong, followed by reprisal killings. Gangs become involved when the scammers need protection or assistance in collecting money.

The scammers’ ostentatious lifestyles have gained them notoriety across Jamaica. They often live in lavish mansions, and videos circulate online of scammers setting wads of cash on fire and pouring bottles of champagne on BMWs. Foster feels this reputation is what has tempted the young people in his community – particularly young males – into lotto scamming.

Scamming is an attractive source of income in a country that suffers from high youth unemployment, crippling debt, and a sluggish economy. “What else do you expect people to do when they can’t make money to help their mothers?” said Foster. Vybz Kartel, a popular Jamaican dancehall musician, refers to scamming as “reparations” and considers it Jamaica’s due from slavery. But Foster says he can never condone scamming, because of the violence he has seen it cause.

Corruption within Jamaica has made it difficult to crack down on the perpetrators. Many police officers and soldiers have been arrested for themselves profiting from the fraudulent schemes, including one former police officer who was part of a group that stole more than $5.7 million. A 2016 Amnesty International report accused Jamaican authorities of routinely committing unlawful killings, tampering with evidence, and planting weapons on victims of police killings.

One of the founding fathers of Jamaican lotto scamming exemplified the corruption. Kenrick Stephenson, otherwise known as Bebe, was facing several lawsuits for fraud while also serving as vice chair of the People’s National Party constituency in his home area of Granville. Bebe had a highly unusual lifestyle. Not only was he a lotto scammer-cum-politician – he was also openly gay in a country notorious for rampant homophobia. But he wielded the power to rearrange some of the country’s norms. He dressed femininely and threw wild drag parties, an unheard of thing to do in Jamaica. He was murdered in 2014 at the gates of his mansion in the upper-class area of Ironshore, in a suspected gang-related killing. Prominent politicians, gay rights activists, and community members all attended his funeral, where rumors circulated that his casket was made of gold.

The bloodshed reached crisis point earlier this year. On January 16, outside Sangster International Airport, next to the Friendly City billboard, three men wielding AK-47s strolled across the main road and, in broad daylight, unloaded more than 70 bullets into a silver Nissan Tiida car. One man died, and another three were injured in what was believed to have been a gang-related attack. Two days later the government declared the state of emergency.

Graffiti representing the People's National Party (PNP) in Mount Salem, Montego Bay, Jamaica on May 18, 2018.

Graffiti representing the People’s National Party (PNP) in Mount Salem, Montego Bay, Jamaica on May 18, 2018.

Photo: Courtesy of Ben Toren

The state of emergency was only supposed to last two weeks, but has now entered its 1oth month. When it was first announced, hundreds of soldiers descended on Montego Bay, and military and armed police guarded dozens of checkpoints set up at all the roads entering the area. Many residents say they don’t mind the heavily armed military presence, as they see the soldiers as more trustworthy than the police. The state of emergency has helped quell outbreaks of violence, but some residents believe that the gangs have only temporarily put aside their weapons and will resume business as usual once the soldiers leave.

Despite the crime and killings, Jamaica has continued to promote its image as an island paradise. Two weeks after the state of emergency was announced, the minister of national security, Robert Montague, renamed it “Enhanced Security Measures” to reduce the negative connotation for tourists. U.S. dollars, whether they are obtained through legitimate means or a scam, remain the lifeblood of Jamaica’s economy.

Top photo: Downtown Montego Bay, photographed on May 18, 2018, is considered to be the locus of scamming in this area.

The post How Phone Scamming Has Fueled a State of Emergency in Jamaica’s Tourist Capital appeared first on The Intercept.

Political Violence Surges in Brazil as Far-Right Strongman Jair Bolsonaro Inches Closer to the Presidency

As Brazil’s far-right presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro steams ahead to what seems a likely victory on October 28, a climate of fear is spreading amid mounting reports of violence against non-supporters and journalists — including online intimidation, physical attacks, and even murder. His rival, Workers’ Party candidate Fernando Haddad, trails by 18 points in the latest polls.

In Salvador, the country’s capital of Afro-Brazilian culture, Paulo Sérgio Ferreira Santana was jailed last week for the killing of Moa do Katendê, a master of the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira, in a bar, hours after Bolsonaro narrowly missed winning the election in the first round of voting.

Eyewitnesses said the pair argued about politics and traded insults before Santana, a Bolsonaro supporter, paid his bill, left, returned with a knife, and stabbed the capoeira master, a Workers’ Party supporter, 12 times in the back.

“Some guy with one of my shirts commits an excess. What do I have to do with it? I lament it.”

At a rally last month, Bolsonaro grabbed a camera tripod and pretended to shoot it like a rifle, telling a crowd of enthusiastic supporters, “Let’s shoot the petralhada here,” using a derogatory term for Workers’ Party voters. It was hardly an isolated comment in his decades-long career of praising torture, hate crimes, and political violence. The candidate, however, denied any responsibility for Katendê’s death. “Some guy with one of my shirts commits an excess,” said Bolsonaro. “What do I have to do with it? I lament it.”

He pointed out that, in fact, he was a victim of electoral violence, referencing a recent incident where he was stabbed by a mentally ill attacker while on the campaign trail, which landed him in a hospital for three weeks. “I ask people not to do this,” he added. “I have no control over millions and millions of people who support me.”

Since September 30, more than 70 politically motivated attacks and threats have been documented across Brazil — at least 50 of which were perpetrated by Bolsonaro supporters and six against them, according to data from the Brasil.io data lab, Agência Pública, and Open Knowledge Brasil. The numbers do not include online threats and harassment.

A pro-Bolsonaro media site questioned the legitimacy of the report, because Agência Pública receives funding from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, adding that it “will not go into the merits of analyzing the veracity of the cases reported in the article.”

Brazil is one of the world’s most violent countries, with nearly 64,000 homicides last year, the vast majority of which have gone unsolved. Political murders and violence are common in the country: An average of nine elected officials are killed per year, and 28 candidates were murdered nationwide in the 2016 municipal election cycle — but usually because of land, property, or economic interests.

“People didn’t kill each other before because of what another demanded from the world politically. It’s a result of this election,” said Bruno Paes Manso, a researcher at the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of São Paulo, which maps and publishes data on Brazil’s homicides.

“It’s a discourse of war.”

“It’s a different justification to kill – as much as emotion, alcohol, or provocation might be involved,” he said. “The fact that immediate interests such as land or property aren’t involved is something new,” he added.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has said that “violence can only be combated with violence,” that “minorities have to shut up and bend to the majority,” and once called for former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to be executed.

“It’s a discourse of war,” said Manso. “Against an enemy.”

Multiple incidents of women being beaten or harassed for wearing anti-Bolsonaro stickers have been reported across the country, adding to a climate of fear among social groups targeted by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric.

In Nova Iguaçu, just north of Rio de Janeiro, a transgender woman was reportedly beaten with a metal bar while her attackers yelled homophobic insults, including, “I hope Bolsonaro wins to kill this piece of trash.” Videos of soccer fans, inside and outside of stadiums, singing, “Bolsonaro will kill faggots!” have flooded social media in recent weeks.

Transexual Julyanna Barbosa shows selfies that document her injuries after she was attacked at a bus stop while making her way home in the morning in Nova Iguacu, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. According to Barbosa, a 41-year-old artist, she was attacked by four men on Oct. 6 who shouted "Bolsonaro has to win to remove this trash from the street. It's infected with AIDS," referring to right-wing presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, as they punched her body and hit her on the head with an iron bar. Barbosa added that no one helped her. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Julyanna Barbosa shows selfies that document her injuries after she was attacked at a bus stop in Nova Iguacu, Brazil, on Oct. 12, 2018.

Photo: Leo Correa/AP

As the nation went to the polls, images circulated online of a Bolsonaro supporter using a pistol to push buttons in a voting booth. Police investigated and the gun turned out to be a toy.

Last week, a video game in which a Bolsonaro character trawls the streets beating up mostly black “thugs,” feminists, transgender people, and journalists was blasted by Brazil’s electoral court for “inciting hate crimes” – a charge that Bolsonaro himself has faced in the past.

Last Wednesday night, Bolsonaro and Haddad both released notes condemning the violence. Bolsonaro went to Twitter to reject the votes of or association with those who practice violence against his rivals and asked that they cast a blank ballot or for “the opposition for consistency, and that the authorities take the appropriate measures, as against slanderers who try to harm us.”

The next day, Joice Hasselmann, a former journalist disgraced for serial plagiarism and now congresswoman-elect with Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, posted a video on her popular YouTube channel explaining that Workers’ Party militants dressed in Bolsonaro T-shirts were inciting violence.

Attacks on Journalists

The electoral violence has been accompanied by a rise in attacks on journalists and media professionals. Brazil’s Association of Investigative Journalism, or Abraji, has assembled a list of 138 attacks against journalists in 2018, 62 of which have involved physical violence.

Mistrust of Brazil’s highly concentrated and oligarchical media was already on the rise among all sectors of society, a phenomenon that Bolsonaro has stoked throughout his campaign.

During the first round vote, supporters outside Bolsonaro’s home blasted journalists from the billionaire-owned Globo network as “communists.”

Violence against journalists in Brazil was already a very real phenomenon. Since 2013, 16 journalists have been killed for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Most of the killings happen in Amazon or interior cities, targeting journalists or radio hosts who reported on local corruption. Earlier this year, there were reports of journalists being intimidated while covering the controversial jailing of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Digital threats and harassment have also become increasingly common, and the sheer volume and ferocity of attacks over this electoral period is extremely worrisome, observers say.

“When there are coordinated attacks on a person’s reputation, publishing of personal details, which we have seen a lot of, this worries us a lot. It’s a new tendency, and we have to be prepared,” said Daniel Bramatti, president of Abraji and head of data journalism at the Estadão newspaper.

Bramatti said female journalists are especially vulnerable to attacks. In northeastern Pernambuco state, a journalist reported being violently attacked by two men who brandished a knife and threatened to rape her after calling her a “leftist.” One of the men was wearing a “President Bolsonaro” T-shirt.

“Female journalists suffer much more” than their male counterparts, notes Janaina Garcia, head of the Journalists Against Harassment collective. “By calling her a slut or a whore and using threats of sexual violence,” she says, “misogyny is being used to disqualify” female reporters’ work.

The climate of violence against journalists is stimulated by constant accusations of “fake news” and attempts to delegitimize the media, Bramatti said.

In the runup to the vote, Hasselmann posted on her right-wing YouTube channel that a Brazilian magazine had received $152 million to smear Bolsonaro.

But while denouncing reports that discredit Bolsonaro as “fake news,” his supporters are responsible for a tidal wave of misinformation.

In open WhatsApp groups set up by Bolsonaro supporters, videos and pictures with titles like “Haddad’s Friend says Jesus is Gay” and “Haddad promises to take 350 thousand prisoners out of jail” are shared, as well as images linking Haddad to the sexualization of children.

Elsewhere, one of Bolsonaro’s sons was falsely depicted wearing a T-shirt with offensive remarks about Brazil’s northeastern population.

“We know the importance of freedom of the press,” Bolsonaro posted on Twitter last Thursday, after retweeting a follower claiming that the Bahia killing had not been committed by a Bolsonaro voter, as had been widely reported. The candidate added, “Trash press!”

Top photo: Jair Bolsonaro waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Taguatinga, Brazil, on Sept. 5, 2018.

The post Political Violence Surges in Brazil as Far-Right Strongman Jair Bolsonaro Inches Closer to the Presidency appeared first on The Intercept.

The Washington Post, as it Shames Others, Continues to Pay and Publish Undisclosed Saudi Lobbyists and Other Regime Propagandists

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Amazon Founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos in March 2018.

Photo: Embassy of Saudi Arabia

In the wake of the disappearance and likely murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, some of the most fervent and righteous voices demanding that others sever their ties with the Saudi regime have, understandably, come from his colleagues at that paper. “Why do you work for a murderer?,” asked the Post’s long-time Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, addressing unnamed hypothetical Washington luminaries who continue to take money to do work for the despots in Riyadh, particularly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, or “MbS” as he has been affectionately known in the western press.

Hiatt urged these hypothetical figures to engage in serious self-reflection: “Can I possibly work for such a regime, and still look at myself in the mirror each morning?” That, said Hiatt, “is the question that we, as a nation, must ask ourselves now.”

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Fred Hiatt’s column in the Washington Post.

Screenshot: The Intercept

But to find those for whom this question is directly relevant, Hiatt need not invoke his imagination or resort to hypotheticals. He can instead look to a place far more concrete and proximate: his own staff. Because it is there – on the roster of the Washington Post’s own columnists and Contributing Writers – that one can find, still, those who maintain among the closest links to the Saudi regime and have the longest and most shameful history of propagandizing on their behalf.

Carter Eskew is a former top-level adviser to Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign and a Founder and Managing Director of Glover Park Group which, according to the Post’s own reporting, is one of the Saudi regime’s largest lobbyists. Glover Park, says the Post, has “remained silent amid growing public outrage over reports that Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.” Indeed, as the New York Times reported this week, Eskew’s firm, “which was started by former Clinton administration officials,” is the second-most active lobbying firm for the Saudi regime, “being paid $150,000 a month.”

In addition to his work as a Managing Director in one of the Saudi regime’s most devoted lobbying firms, Eskew is also a Contributing Opinion Writer at the Washington Post. His last column was published just three days ago, on October 12 – ten days after Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Turkey, and the same day that Eskew’s editor, Hiatt, published his righteous column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience could maintain ties to the Saudi regime (raising a separate but equally important ethical quandary, Eskew’s last Post column was an attack on “Medicare for All,” even though Glover Park clients include corporations with direct financial interests in that debate, none of which was disclosed by the Post).

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Worse still, according to a noble campaign promoted by Karen Attiah, the Post’s Global Opinion Editor and friend of Khashoggi – a campaign designed to keep track of and shame those who still intend to participate in the Saudi Crown Prince’s “Davos in the Desert” event – Eskew, along with fellow Glover Park Director Mile Feldman, are still scheduled to speak at that event. Given all the moral decrees and shaming campaigns the Post has issued over the past ten days, how can they possibly justify their ongoing relationship with Eskew as his firm lobbies for the Saudi regime and he attends the regime’s P.R.-building event?

That question is even more compelling when it comes to Ed Rogers, the long-time GOP operative who is currently an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post. In addition to his work for Hiatt on the Post’s Op-Ed page, Rogers himself is receives substantial financial rewards for his work as an agent of the Saudi regime. Just two months ago, the lobbying firm of which he’s the Chairman, BGR Group (headed by former RNC Chairman and GOP Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour), signed a new contract that includes “assist[ing] the Saudis in communicating priority issues regarding US-Saudi relations to American audiences including the media and policy communities.”

According to the firm’s own press release, “BGR chairman Ed Rogers” – also an Opinion Writer for the Washington Post – “handles the Saudi work.” Like Eskew, Rogers’ last column for the Post was on October 12: just two days ago, the same day Hiatt published his moralizing column demanding to know how anyone with a conscience and a soul could maintain financial ties to the Saudi regime.

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Even more awkward for the Post is that – with the possible exception of Tom Friedman – the most influential media figure who devoted himself to depicting MbS as a noble reformer was the Post’s star foreign affairs columnist, David Ignatius. Ignatius has built his career on cultivating an extremely close relationship to the CIA, whose agenda he typically parrots and rarely contradicts. It is not at all surprising that Ignatius would be a devoted propagandist to the Saudi regime, for decades one of that agency’s most cherished allies and partners.

Indeed, Ignatius did not begin his work heaping praise on Saudi tyrants with the ascent of MbS. As the media watchdog FAIR documented last year, “for almost 15 years, Ignatius has been breathlessly updating US readers on the token, meaningless public relations gestures that the Saudi regime—and, by extension, Ignatius—refer to as ‘reforms.’”

But in light of Khashoggi’s disappearance and the Post’s new posture toward the Saudis, it is two recent columns by Ignatius – touting MbS as an admirable reformer – that are now causing substantial embarrassment for the Post’s attempts to moralize on this issue. The first, published in April of 2017, was headlined “A Young Prince is Reimagining Saudi Arabia” and assured Post readers that MbS’s “reform plans appear to be moving ahead slowly but steadily.”

The second one, from March of this year, is even worse, as reflected by its headlined: “Are Saudi Arabia’s reforms for real? A recent visit says yes.” In it, Ignatius recounted his visit to the Kingdom by quoting one pro-MbS commentator after the next, and then himself gushed: “This is the door that seems to be opening in the kingdom — toward a more modern, more entrepreneurial, less-hidebound and more youth- ­oriented society. It’s a top-down, authoritarian process, for now. But it seems to be gaining momentum.”

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Then there is the even more uncomfortable fact that the Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, played host to MbS during his star-making trip to the U.S. this spring, and was photographed laughing it up with the Saudi tyrant. As the New York Times’ media reporter Jim Rutenberg noted in a hard-hitting article today on the role U.S. media and financial elites played in creating the hagiography surrounding MbS:

As the guest of honor at a Page Six-worthy dinner at the producer Brian Grazer’s Santa Monica home, the crown prince discussed Snapchat’s popularity in his kingdom with the Snap chief Evan Spiegel;Vice’s Shane Smith; Amazon’s chief — and Washington Post owner — Jeff Bezos and the agent-turned-mogul Ari Emanuel.

(While taking aim at a broad range of sycophantic elites who helped build MbS’s deceitful image as a reformer in the west, Rutenberg failed to note the key role played by his own paper’s star foreign policy columnist, Tom Friedman, who not only penned a column hailing the “Arab Spring” ushered in by MbS but lashed out in a profanity-laden attack on those who suggested he was being too gullible and sycophantic toward the young Saudi despot).

Much has been made of the glaring and truly infuriating hypocrisy that so many western elites were perfectly happy doing all sorts of business with Saudi tyrants while they murdered Yemeni civilians and domestic dissidents en masse (with the direct help of numerous administrations from both parties, led by Trump’s predecessor), and only became outraged once one of the Saudis’ victims was someone with whom they empathized. And all of that is true enough.

But the Washington Post’s particular righteous fury as expressed in words, while understandable in one sense, is very difficult to reconcile with their actual actions, including their ongoing relationship with numerous individuals who either work directly for the Saudi regime, financially benefit from propaganda and lobbying work performed on their behalf, or have a history of taking the lead in doing P.R. work for Saudi tyrants under the guise of journalism. Post Editorial Page Fred Hiatt, who oversees all of this as he tries to shame others for maintaining relationships with the Saudis, failed to respond to any of the Intercept’s inquiries regarding these multiple ethical and behavioral contradictions.

The post The Washington Post, as it Shames Others, Continues to Pay and Publish Undisclosed Saudi Lobbyists and Other Regime Propagandists appeared first on The Intercept.

Saudi Media Casts Khashoggi Disappearance as a Conspiracy, Claims Qatar Owns Washington Post

In Saudi Arabia, major media outlets have cast the disappearance and apparent murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a foreign conspiracy to denigrate the image of the kingdom. The media accounts, which come from outlets run with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies, are spinning the coverage of Khashoggi’s disappearance as a plot by rival governments and political groups to hurt the kingdom — going so far as to make false claims about the Washington Post’s owners.

The English-language arm of the news channel Al Arabiya, for instance, claimed that reports of Khashoggi’s detention inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul were pushed by “media outlets affiliated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar” — the pan-Arab Islamist political movement and rival Persian Gulf monarchy, respectively. A subsequent story on Al Arabiya casts doubt that Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, is truly who she says she is, claiming that her Twitter profile shows that she follows “critics of Saudi Arabia.”

Al Arabiya is owned by the Saudi royal family and based in Dubai, one of the Gulf monarchies that has sided closely with Saudi Arabia amid the regional row with Qatar and others. It’s among a handful of other Saudi- and Gulf-controlled outlets — such as Al Riyadh Daily, Al-Hayat, and the Saudi Gazette — that toe their governments’ line, including frequently casting a conspiratorial light on critics of the governments’ human rights records.

Saudi media outlets are kicking into overdrive to both deny any Saudi involvement and disparage Khashoggi.

In recent months, as tensions have boiled over with Qatar, Saudi Arabia is increasingly scapegoating its Persian Gulf adversary. Recent news articles in Al Arabiya blamed Qatar for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen against Houthi militia forces, a conflict that has killed over 15,000 people and brought at least 7 million to the brink of starvation.

With a public relations crisis erupting over Saudi Arabia’s alleged role in Khashoggi’s disappearance, these Gulf-linked outlets are kicking into overdrive to both deny any Saudi involvement and disparage Khashoggi.

In a Thursday column for the Saudi daily newspaper Okaz, Mohamed El Saad argued that Khashoggi has advanced the interests of Qatar. He then falsely claimed that Qatar has a “50 percent ownership of the Post and has influence over its editorial direction.” Qatar, notably, has no ownership stake in the Washington Post, a paper that is privately owned by American billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Another Okaz columnist, Ahmed Ajab Al-Jahrani, claimed in a column titled, “Who Liberated Khashoggi?” that the government critic was a terrorist sympathizer whose sectarian goals were designed to destabilize the Saudi government. Al-Jahrani suggests that Khashoggi’s disappearance from Turkey represented liberation, since he had been “kidnapped” by “extremist groups” while living abroad in self-imposed exile.

Other columnists echoed these frequent refrains. Jameel Altheyabi, who write for the Saudi Gazette, an English-language affiliate of Okaz, wrote that any fears about Khashoggi’s disappearance should be blamed on Qatar, not Saudi Arabia. Altheyabi also suggested that Khashoggi’s fiancée may serve the interests of foreign spies and that much of the media coverage of Khashoggi appeared orchestrated by foreign enemies. “Those involved in the drama of Jamal’s disappearance after leaving the Saudi Consulate will face severe penalties,” he warned.

Meanwhile, evidence of Saudi involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance has been steadily mounting. On Wednesday, the New York Times and other outlets published photographs of 15 men who arrived in Istanbul aboard two private planes on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance. The men included several Saudi military officials, among them Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, the chief of forensic evidence and an autopsy expert with the Saudi Interior Ministry. The group arrived in Turkey the day of Khashoggi’s scheduled meeting at the Saudi consulate and also visited the same consular building. All 15 of the men boarded private planes to quickly leave the country and return to Saudi Arabia later that day.

Saudi-affiliated outlets reacted by defending the rights of the accused hit squad. Al Yaum, a pro-government newspaper published in Saudi Arabia, reported the disclosure of the 15 men as a violation the “rights of tourists.” The photographs, the paper claimed, were defamatory. In the news section of the paper, the men were urged to seek an attorney to file a lawsuit against those who had published their photographs. Al-Riyadh Daily, in an editorial on Friday, sharply criticized foreign media for attempting “to incite international public opinion against the kingdom,” claiming that the New York Times has an “an anti-Saudi policy.”

News outlets affiliated with Saudi Arabia also toe the government’s line abroad, to an international news audience. Asharq Al-Awsat, an Arabic-language newspaper headquartered in London and owned by Faisal bin Salman, a member of the Saudi royal family, has published several columns this week claiming that foreign agents tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar were behind reports claiming that the Saudi government had a role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

This isn’t the first time the Saudi-backed outlets have sprang to the defense of the government amid a public relations fiasco over the regime’s human rights record.

After the Saudi government executed peaceful political dissident Nimr al-Nimr, a Saudi citizen from the minority Shiite sect of Islam, in January 2016, Saudi media outlets were quick to spin the execution as a decisive move to curb Iranian influence. Similarly, after the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report were declassified, revealing that Saudi government agents had provided financial support and recommendations for flight schools to some of the Al Qaeda hijackers, Saudi Arabian media outlets attempted to deflect blame on Iran.

Top photo: Protestors hold pictures of Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate on Oct. 8, 2018 in Istanbul.

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Google CEO Tells Senators That Censored Chinese Search Engine Could Provide “Broad Benefits”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has refused to answer a list of questions from U.S. lawmakers about the company’s secretive plan for a censored search engine in China.

In a letter newly obtained by The Intercept, Pichai told a bipartisan group of six senators that Google could have “broad benefits inside and outside of China,” but said he could not share details about the censored search engine because it “remains unclear” whether the company “would or could release a search service” in the country.

Pichai’s letter contradicts the company’s search engine chief, Ben Gomes, who informed staff during a private meeting that the company was aiming to release the platform in China between January and April 2019. Gomes told employees working on the Chinese search engine that they should get it ready to be “brought off the shelf and quickly deployed.”

According to sources and confidential Google documents, the search engine for China, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed to comply with the strict censorship regime imposed by China’s ruling Communist Party. It would restrict people’s access to broad categories of information, blacklisting phrases like “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize.”

The Chinese platform was designed to link people’s searches to their phone number, track their location, and then share that data with a Chinese partner company. This would make it easy to track individual users’ searches, raising concerns that any person in China using Google to seek out information banned by the government could be at risk of interrogation or detention if security agencies were to obtain copies of their search records.

In his letter to the senators, dated August 31, Pichai did not mention the word “censorship” or address human rights concerns. He told the senators that “providing access to information to people around the world is central to our mission,” and said he believed Google’s tools could “help to facilitate an exchange of information and learning.” The company was committed to “promoting access to information, freedom of expression, and user privacy,” he wrote, while also “respecting the laws of jurisdictions in which we operate.”

After The Intercept first revealed Dragonfly in early August, Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., demanded information from Pichai. They called Dragonfly “deeply troubling” and said it “risks making Google complicit in human rights abuses related to China’s rigorous censorship regime.” Launching the censored search engine would be “a coup for the Chinese government” and set “a worrying precedent for other companies seeking to do business in China without compromising their core values,” they wrote in a letter that was also signed by Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; and Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Pichai did not answer nine specific questions the senators asked, including, “Which ‘blacklist’ of censored searches and websites are you using? Are there any phrases or words that Google is refusing to censor?”

Instead, Pichai wrote, “Google has been open about our desire to increase our ability to serve users in China and other countries. We are thoughtfully considering a variety of options for how to offer services in China in a way that is consistent with our mission. … [W]e can confirm that our work will continue to reflect our best assessment of how best to serve people around the world, as set forth in our mission and our code of conduct. Of course, should we have something to announce in the future, we would be more than happy to brief you and your staff on those plans.”

Warner told The Intercept he was “really disappointed with Google’s response,” which he said “failed to provide any information” about the censored search engine plan. “Any effort to get back into China could enable the Chinese government in repressing and manipulating their citizens,” said Warner. “Google owes us some honest answers, or it risks losing the trust of Congress and the public.”

Google launched a censored search engine in China in 2006, but stopped operating the service in the country in 2010, citing Chinese government efforts to limit free speech and hack activists’ Gmail accounts. At that time, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said he was “particularly sensitive to the stifling of individual liberties,” due to his family’s experiences in the Soviet Union. Brin told the Wall Street Journal that “with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents,” he saw “earmarks of totalitarianism [in China], and I find that personally quite troubling.”

The effort to relaunch a censored search engine in China was a closely guarded secret within Google. A team of about 300 staff — 0.35 percent of Google’s 88,000-strong workforce — was briefed about the project, which began in early 2017. When details about Dragonfly were publicly exposed, the news spread through the company’s offices across the world, and many Google employees were disturbed by the details. More than 1,400 staff signed a letter demanding an independent ethics review of the plan, and at least five Google employees have since quit the company in protest, including Jack Poulson, a former senior research scientist. “I view our intent to capitulate to censorship and surveillance demands in exchange for access to the Chinese market as a forfeiture of our values,” Poulson told Google bosses in his resignation letter.

Google did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Top photo: Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., smiles during the company’s Cloud Next ’18 event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, July 24, 2018.

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