“We Want to Survive”: Afghans Warily Anticipate Trump’s Withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. Troops

***Award winning Sipa photographer Sebastiano Tomada spent several weeks inside the Afghan National Army - traveling to the combat outpost in the Laghman Province, living with the troops and witnessing the start of the fighting season 2013***A Afghan National Army soldier overlooks a valley in eastern Afghanistan.Afghanistan has seen a very active start to its fighting season in 2013.The Afghan National Security Forces in particular the ANA(AfghanNationalArmy) has been at the fore front of the fight, while the NATO led International Security Assistance Force has largely disengaged and transitioned into a supporting,advising and training role while preparing for its exit from the country. (Photo by Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA)

An Afghan National Army soldier overlooks a valley in eastern Afghanistan in October 2013.

Photo: Sebastiano Tomada/Sipa USA via AP

There’s been a lot of talk from politicians and world leaders about President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that the U.S. will pull about 7,000 troops out of Afghanistan, reducing the American military presence there by half. But little has been heard from those with the most at stake: Afghans themselves.

The Intercept spoke with Afghan men and women from cities and rural areas about what the troop drawdown could mean for them and their families. The withdrawal announcement comes at a perilous moment for Afghanistan’s government, which has been fighting an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency that controls more territory than ever before. Afghan security forces, most of whom come from villages and rural areas, suffered a record number of casualties during last year’s fighting season, and few are signing up to replace them. The country is also enduring its worst drought in a generation, leading to severe food shortages, especially in rural areas.

News of the pullout drew a range of responses, from trepidation to cautious optimism. Interviews in Kabul were conducted in person, while people in other parts of the country were reached by phone. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Wais Azamkhel, 27, medical student, Jalalabad

If the Americans and foreign forces leave and there is peace, then it will be a good thing. I think the only pretext for the Taliban and other countries to keep fighting here is the presence of the foreign forces. If foreign forces leave, the Taliban won’t be able to provoke or recruit people to come and fight against Afghans. Like many Afghans, I favored the American presence. But look, we have more insecurity, we have more bloodshed, and we have more graveyards. I worry for the next generation.

I was 10 when the Taliban were removed from power. We could play. There was more security. There were no bombs or explosions. Today, we have some freedoms, but there is no guarantee in cities or villages that one cannot get killed anytime, whether by Afghan forces or the Taliban. There was a wedding in my home district a few years ago. The Taliban came in by force, someone tipped off the local government, and suddenly the wedding turned into a bloodbath. This is not an isolated story. Massacres and funerals are the new normal in Kabul and in the provinces.

We want peace, an end to the bloodshed. We want to end the killings of Afghans by Afghans. Maybe we will be poorer, but we want to survive.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN - SEPTEMBER 9: A member of the United States Air Force keeps watch over the runway on September 9, 2017 at Kandahar Air Field in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Currently the United States has about 11,000 troops in the deployed in Afghanistan, with a reported 4,000 more expected to arrive in the coming weeks. With an increase in troops, American trainers hope to expand the capability of the Afghanistan Air Force. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)

A member of the U.S. Air Force keeps watch over the runway on Sept. 9, 2017, at Kandahar Air Field in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Photo: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Sadya Mahboobyar, 38, private school teacher, Kabul

I was 12 years old when the Taliban were forced from power in 2001. Before that, we couldn’t go to school, we couldn’t go shopping alone, television and music were banned. Today we live in a different Afghanistan. I finished my education, I work, and I’m an independent woman.

I am not sure I trust the Taliban. Will they be able to tolerate all the changes and the transformations that have occurred? Will they accept me as an equal human being? All I have seen are bloodshed and attacks against civilians in Kabul and other cities. What if they come back and start fighting like the mujahideen did in the 1990s? So I have my fears. I think the Americans and other will leave and when they do, everything, including the women’s rights, will be compromised in the name of peace and politics.

Nazaka Bibi, 69, grandmother, Deh Rawood District, Uruzgan Province

We need an end to the war, an end to bloodshed. Our areas have been raided many times by government and foreign forces, and we also come under pressure from the Taliban. I have seen over the last many years how many Taliban have been killed. They are mostly younger men from rural areas. I once attended a funeral for a Taliban fighter who was killed in Helmand. He left behind a young widow and two children.

I traveled to Kabul for treatment last year, and I found that people were also dying from attacks in the city. Sometimes when there is a wedding, people are scared because of helicopters and planes. Once there was celebratory gunfire, and people were so scared because of the hovering helicopters. So I think if foreign forces leave, it will be peaceful. Afghanistan needs peace.

TOPSHOT - An Afghan wounded girl receives treatment at the Ali Abad hospital after an attack by gunmen inside the Kart-e- Sakhi shrine in Kabul on October 11, 2016. Gunmen targeted Shiite pilgrims in Kabul late Tuesday, killing at least 14 people as they gathered to celebrate Ashura, one of the most important festivals on the Shiite calendar, officials said.The attack in the Afghan capital marked unravelling security as the resurgent Taliban continued to pressure Afghan forces, with hundreds of commandos sent to reinforce the provincial capital Lashkar Gah in the south.Some 36 people were wounded and at least one attacker killed in the Kabul attack, interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said. / AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

A wounded Afghan girl receives treatment at the Ali Abad hospital after an attack by gunmen inside the Karte Sakhi shrine in Kabul on Oct. 11, 2016.

Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Mohammad Ibrahim, 50, shopkeeper and father of four, Kabul

The Taliban have taken control of major cities a few times. They are stronger, more brutal. I heard on the radio that Trump said he wouldn’t take troops out soon, then the withdrawal was announced in the night. I have a son serving as a commando in the Afghan National Army in Helmand and he is worried. American jets and support are why Afghan commandos are successful. Everyone knows Afghanistan still doesn’t have an air force. We are still fully dependent on the Americans for logistics, intelligence, air support, and money.

The Taliban are now attacking mosques, clinics, and wedding halls. They don’t care if women or children get hurt. My son told me that the Taliban and Pakistani militants burned the whole city of Ghazni. Homes were targeted. People fled.

My son has lost so many of his friends. Every time he leaves home, I am afraid. His mother is worried. His wife and children are worried. Sometimes we want to keep him from doing his job, but he loves his job. I always pray for his safety and well-being.

One day the Americans will leave like the Russians did. But I fear that if the Americans leave now, the Taliban will take over and we will have a civil war. I have been watching Trump on TOLO [TV news channel] and he is a crazy man. With him, anything is possible.

Alam Yar, 54, carpet trader, Mazar-i-Sharif

The announcement about American forces leaving is worrying. It suggests that the U.S. is done with Afghanistan. Now they want to work with the Taliban, to hand Afghanistan over to the Taliban. In fact, the Americans have been defeated by the Pakistanis and the Taliban. They are now making a deal with the people who killed Americans, first in New York and then in Afghanistan, for the last 17 years. The U.S. withdrawal could embolden the Taliban and the terrorists from many foreign countries who are still here and who have not been defeated.

People have bad memories in Mazar. I myself remember the street-to-street bloodbath in this city in 1998. I saw how Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum’s fighters battled the Taliban here. If that situation repeats itself, we will have a massacre. What Afghans want is a guarantee that there will not be street-to-street fighting. No one wants a single day of war.

I can’t flee from this city. This is my home. This is where my five children live. The Taliban are in the countryside in Balkh Province, not far from Mazar. I think the decision to withdraw so many U.S. troops has scared many people.

Shazia, 35, high school teacher, Andarab District, Baghlan Province

In our district, most of the men are in the Afghan National Security Forces, most people are armed, and there are rivalries. There is hardly a day, a week, or a month without funerals in the district. There are many widows and many people have lost their family members. I am not sure what the Taliban would do to people in Andarab and other places. I am also worried what would it be like to live under the Taliban. Before, they governed very strictly, so I hope that foreign forces can stay in Afghanistan forever, as a guarantee that we don’t go back to the Taliban days or, God forbid, have a civil war. Look what happened when the Russians left Afghanistan. The Afghan government collapsed, and we had chaos and fighting.

Afghan boys play football at at the Kart-e-Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on December 30, 2018. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP) (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan boys play football at at the Karte Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on Dec. 30, 2018.

Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

Maj. Gen. Manan Farahi, 51, former head of intelligence for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, Kabul

This decision will have a negative impact. A self-serving transition was the consideration, not the interest of Afghans. Terrorism and extremism have not finished here. The position of Afghans is 1,000 times worse than in 2001.

The first negative impact of this decision will be casualties and fatalities within the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces — both lives and equipment. From the government’s point of view, there is disorganization and instability, and we are heading toward more instability. Pakistan, Iran, Arab nations, the Russians, and others are interfering. If this is implemented in a hurry, we will lose more capabilities and we won’t be able to provide security.

The post “We Want to Survive”: Afghans Warily Anticipate Trump’s Withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. Troops appeared first on The Intercept.

See No Evil: Pentagon Issues Blanket Denial That It Knows Anything About Detainee Abuse in Yemen

In a previously unpublished report to Congress, the Department of Defense said that it has found no evidence of detainee abuse by U.S. allies in Yemen, contradicting reports from journalists, human rights groups, and a U.N. panel of experts that documented torture by U.S.-backed forces.

The carefully worded report sent to the House and Senate Armed Services committees last month denied that U.S. forces had ever observed or reported detainee abuse by allies and partner forces fighting in Yemen. The report, which was required by an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for this fiscal year, contained a classified annex not seen by The Intercept.

“DoD takes detainee abuse allegations and the investigation of detainee abuse very seriously, whether it occurs in U.S. or foreign partner custody,” said the two-page report. “Based on information to-date, DoD has not developed any independent, credible information indicating that U.S. allies or partners have abused detainees in Yemen.”

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An Associated Press investigation last year into a network of 18 secret prisons across south Yemen found evidence of forced disappearances and torture, including beatings, sexual abuse, and a torture device called “the grill,” where Yemeni men were tied to a spit and spun over a fire. The prisons were run by local forces controlled by the United Arab Emirates, a key U.S. counterterrorism ally and a member of the U.S.-backed, Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The Pentagon told the AP at the time that U.S. forces had interrogated detainees in those prisons in an attempt to get intelligence about Al Qaeda, but denied witnessing any abuse or mistreatment. The AP’s sources also alleged that U.S. armed forces provided questions for allies to ask detainees and later received transcripts of interrogations, raising questions about whether U.S. forces were deliberately ignoring torture.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both published reports documenting torture in many of the same prisons and a U.N. expert panel found that detainees in prisons run by UAE-controlled forces were beaten, electrocuted, hung upside down, and raped.

“Whether or not DoD personnel personally observed or participated in abusive conduct or disappearances, ongoing U.S. support for UAE forces, which the U.S. now has strong reason to believe are engaging in these abuses, could make the U.S. legally complicit,” Daphne Eviatar, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security with Human Rights Program, told The Intercept by email. “The U.S. has an obligation to ensure its partners are not ‘disappearing’ detainees or engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. DoD’s blanket denial is just a way of denying its own international and legal responsibilities.”

In response to the investigations, Congress overwhelmingly passed an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., requesting a thorough accounting of the Defense Department’s interrogation policy in Yemen. The amendment directed the department to produce a report on whether U.S. armed forces have conducted interrogations in Yemen, “whether any United States coalition partner committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights,” and whether U.S. armed forces have provided their allies with lists of questions for detainees.

The report confirmed that Defense Department personnel have been in Yemen since May 2016 “supporting operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula” and an Islamic State affiliate. It said that while U.S. forces do not themselves conduct detention operations in Yemen, they have conducted “intelligence interrogations of detainees held in partner custody,” adding that department personnel “have not observed any indications of detainee abuse by foreign partners.”

“The Secretary of Defense requires all DoD personnel to comply with law and policy and to conduct themselves in the most ethical manner at all times,” the report said. “The Secretary [of Defense] also expects U.S. allies and partners to uphold their responsibilities under international law regarding the humane treatment of detainees … including prohibitions against abusive interrogation techniques.”

The report also says that “DoD has not assessed any violations of [the Leahy law] in Yemen, to date,” referring to a human rights law that prohibits certain types of military assistance and training to foreign military units that are credibly accused of human rights violations.

The unclassified portion of the report does not say whether U.S. forces provided questions to allied partners, and it is unclear whether the classified portion answers that question. A Pentagon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Civil liberties and human rights advocates said the Department of Defense was shirking its legal responsibilities by ignoring the results of the independent investigations.

“It is concerning that the only public information the military is releasing is a blanket denial of any knowledge of abuse,” said Dror Ladin, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union involved in litigation about the CIA’s now-defunct torture program. “There is no indication that the military even investigated the abuses reported by independent organizations, nor that it checked to make sure that any intelligence it received from partners in Yemen was not unlawfully obtained through abuse. The law requires that the military not whitewash or turn a blind eye to detainee abuse, including when committed by allies.”

The Defense Department has been criticized for not defining when allegations of human rights violations by allied forces are deemed “credible.” After the New York Times reported in 2015 that the U.S. military ignored sexual abuse by Afghan allies, the Defense Department Inspector General found that “there is no DoD guidance for determining … when credible information [about human rights violations] exists.”

The UAE has long said that it does not have operational control of the forces running the prisons. “Yemeni authorities are in complete control of local and federal governance, judicial and prison systems,” the UAE mission in Geneva tweeted last year. “The UAE has never managed or run prisons or secret detention centers in Yemen.”

The UAE is a close U.S. counterterrorism partner in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. Since 2015, it has also been part of the coalition military campaign aimed at removing a rebel group from the capital and restoring the former president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to power.

By organizing, funding, and assisting local forces across Yemen, the UAE has reshaped the military and political landscape of the southern part of the country. In addition to allegations of disappearances and torture, UAE-backed forces have been accused of assassinating political opponents and activists, especially people sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement that is despised by Saudi and UAE leadership.

The post See No Evil: Pentagon Issues Blanket Denial That It Knows Anything About Detainee Abuse in Yemen appeared first on The Intercept.

Tulsi Gabbard Is a Rising Progressive Star, Despite Her Support for Hindu Nationalists

Long before the Indian strongman Narendra Modi became prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, he was a prominent leader of the Hindu right. He rose as a public figure through the nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, whose ideology includes a desire to carve out a Hindu nation in which Muslims and Christians are considered second-class citizens. It was a well-known activist who once had links to the RSS who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, accusing him of appeasing Muslims during the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent.

That anti-Muslim sentiment has been a major driving force of Modi’s political career in the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP. In 2002, when Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat, he oversaw an outbreak of violence by Hindu nationalists against the minority Muslim population that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people. Local and international fact-finding groups accused Modi of complicity in the killings, charging that he did not do enough to contain the violence. Indian courts eventually exonerated him for a lack of evidence, but his image was pilloried. The United Kingdom and some European countries refused to deal with him and in 2005, the United States barred him from entering the country.

Modi’s ascent has normalized nationalist rhetoric, the silencing of dissent, and violence against religious minorities in India — and it’s also had global implications. Elected prime minister in 2014, he was one of the first of a class of populist autocrats who’ve risen to power in recent years. That group includes Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was elected in the same month as Modi; Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s been in office for more than a decade but has been increasingly consolidating power; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose war on drugs has killed thousands of people; Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected in October despite his pro-military dictatorship stance; and, of course, America’s Donald Trump.

In the United States, Modi’s reputation has been helped by a group of Hindu-American supporters with links to the RSS and other Hindu nationalist organizations, who’ve been working in tandem with a peculiar congressional ally: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu in Congress.

Gabbard — a member of the House committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services, and co-chair of the India Caucus — is an oddity in American politics. Ever since her 2016 resignation from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders for president, she has been a rising star in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Last year, she racked up endorsements from groups like Progressive Democrats of America and Our Revolution, and she sailed to re-election.

But she has also become a polarizing figure. Her progressive domestic politics are at odds with her support for authoritarians abroad, including Modi, Sisi, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. As right-wing nationalism rises across the globe, it is beginning to be recognized as an existential threat to a world order rooted in liberal democratic values, and Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, is now being pushed to choose sides. (Gabbard did not respond to The Intercept’s multiple requests for comment.)

Gabbard was embraced early on by pro-Modi elements of the Hindu-American diaspora in the U.S., who have donated generously to her campaigns. But as she flirts with the idea of running for president, she has publicly cut ties with those fervent supporters on at least one occasion, while continuing to court them in private.

JAMMU, INDIA - JULY 4: (R- L) Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Railway Minister Sadananda Gawda and Minister of State Jitender Singh during the inauguration ceremony at Katra railway station on July 4, 2014 in Katra, about 45 kms from Jammu. Prime Minister Narendra Modi today flagged off Shri Shakti Express, the first train on Katra-Udhampur line from Katra railway station, facilitating pilgrims to visit Mata Vaishno Devi shrine. (Photo by Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda, and Minister of State Jitender Singh during the inauguration ceremony at Katra railway station on July 4, 2014 in Katra, India.

Photo: Nitin Kanotra/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

In June 2014, after Modi won the election, nearly 700 of his supporters gathered at a Hindu temple in Atlanta to celebrate and plan their path forward. To mobilize their community, the speakers laid out a plan that included a call for donations to Gabbard’s re-election campaign. They described the Hawaii Democrat as an “American Hindu” who “has fought against the anti-Modi resolution introduced recently by some members” of Congress.

The event was organized by the Overseas Friends of the BJP, the American chapter of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Gabbard had landed on the group’s radar as one of America’s few pro-Modi lawmakers. In December 2013, she had voiced her opposition to House Resolution 417, which chided India to protect “the rights and freedoms of religions minorities” and referred to incidents of mass violence against minority Muslims that had taken place under Modi’s watch. Gabbard later told the press that “there was a lot of misinformation that surrounded the event in 2002.”

Also in 2014, Gabbard attended an OFBJP event, where Vijay Jolly, a senior politician of Modi’s government, was present. He took to the stage and told Gabbard that “with the support of … non-resident Indians … your victory later this year is a foregone conclusion.” She cruised to re-election.

Hindu-Americans have supported Gabbard since the start of her political career, and that support has increased substantially since Modi’s election, much of it coming from Hindu nationalists.

Dozens of Gabbard’s donors have either expressed strong sympathy with or have ties to the Sangh Parivar — a network of religious, political, paramilitary, and student groups that subscribe to the Hindu supremacist, exclusionary ideology known as Hindutva, according to an Intercept analysis of Gabbard’s financial disclosures from 2011 until October 2018. We cross-checked the names of Gabbard’s donors against open-source materials linked to Sangh organizations, such as event announcements and the groups’ websites.

According to our analysis, at least 105 current and former officers and members of U.S. Sangh affiliates, and their families, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Gabbard’s campaigns since 2011. (Nearly one-third of Gabbard’s overall donations — $1.24 million — came from more than 800 individual donors with names, according to an expert consulted by The Intercept, that are of Hindu origin, many of whom made repeat donations. Of that amount, nearly $1.12 million was donated during the 2013-2014 election cycle and beyond, according to our analysis.) Gabbard’s ties to Hindu nationalists in the United States run so deep that the progressive newspaper Telegraph India in 2015 christened her the Sangh’s American mascot.

The Sangh’s U.S. affiliates are led by Hindu-American professionals and businesspeople from around the country. Historian Vijay Prashad refers to their collective movement as “Yankee Hindutva,” which he defines as a political ideology whose adherents are successful Hindu-Americans with nostalgia for India and a fantasy of a Hindu state. “This fantasy came at a time when the Hindu right rose in India, and it was this Hindu right that was able to capture the sentiments of this diasporic population,” Prashad told The Intercept.

ALLAHABAD, UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA - 2016/05/18: Indian Hindu-nationalist Vishwa and hindu Parishad activists tossed offerings into a sacred fire and recited hymns in Sanskrit to pray for Trump's victory. (Photo by Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad activists toss offerings into a fire and recite hymns in Sanskrit to pray for Donald Trump’s presidential victory in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Phoro: Prabhat Kumar Verma/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Since 2013, Gabbard has attended conferences across the United States organized by Sangh affiliates, like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, whose counterpart in India has been linked to advocating violence against Muslims in India and was classified last summer as a “militant religious organization” in the CIA World Factbook. (The BJP has hotly contested this classification.) The Sangh organizations in the U.S. reportedly provide social and financial support for their Indian counterparts. A 2014 study by the South Asia Citizens Web found that between 2001 and 2012, five Sangh-affiliated charitable groups allocated more than $55 million for program services, funds that are largely sent to Sangh groups in India.

Gabbard’s allies are committed to their efforts. “Why should the Hindus not have their own political organization [in the United States]? The Jews have it, the Muslims have it, the Christians have it too,” said Bharat Barai, a Chicago-based oncologist. In 2014, Barai organized a fundraiser for Gabbard, and he has donated almost $16,000 to her campaigns since 2013. He is known to have ties to the Indian prime minister, and just last year, Modi’s government awarded Barai the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the annual civil honor given to a nonresident Indian for meritorious achievement. In 2019, Gabbard is slated to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas ceremony, at which the Indian government hands out this award, as a guest of honor.

Barai is on the advisory board of the VHPA, which on its website says that it is independent of the VHP and that its vision is to “build a dynamic Hindu society.” Asked about his association with the VHPA, given the VHP’s violence in India, Barai maintained that the groups are separate and that Sangh outfits in America are very careful in “trying to work within the bounds of law.”

Hindu-Americans, Barai believes, are finally making a name for themselves in U.S. politics.

“We have been enslaved for 800 years — first by the Islamic rulers, then by the British,” he said, referring to India’s history under Muslim kingdoms and British colonizers.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 17: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, attends a rally held by labor, environmental, and consumer groups in Upper Senate Park featuring an address by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to call for economic and social justice, November 17, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, attends a rally held by labor, environmental, and consumer groups in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 17, 2016.

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images

The Hindu American Foundation is a prominent, not-for-profit advocacy organization of Hindu-Americans with strong ties to Gabbard. In a 2014 Atlanta speech, Gabbard said she and her team are in touch with HAF on a weekly, if not daily, basis. HAF co-founder and former VHPA activist Mihir Meghani has donated $18,500 to Gabbard’s campaigns and has organized several fundraisers for her. Meghani, a California physician, did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment. In the 2017-2018 election cycle, individual board members of HAF collectively donated $24,000 to Gabbard’s campaign, the news outlet Sludge reported.

In 2016, the HAF lobbied against the replacement of the word “Indian” with “South Asian” in middle-school history textbooks in California, arguing that the change was essentially an erasure of India itself. These efforts were protested by South Asian academics and activists belonging to India’s minority groups, who said that those on the side of the HAF sought to whitewash California’s history textbooks to present a nativist, blemish-free view of how the Hindu caste system was enforced in India. They also argued that the term “South Asia” correctly represents India’s collective history with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. A letter to the California State Board of Education about this issue, which garnered thousands of signatures, was spearheaded by the HAF and signed by more than 100 people who have the same names as donors to Gabbard.

Gabbard’s ties to VHPA members have seeped over from the professional to the personal. Rishi Bhutada, a former director of the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp and officer of the Hindu Students Council — both projects of the VHPA — was invited to Gabbard’s intimate Hawaii wedding. (Also present was prominent BJP strategist Ram Madhav, who delivered a gift from Modi.) Bhutada, who runs a business in Houston, has donated $15,200 to Gabbard’s campaigns. He did not respond to a request for comment on his donations to Gabbard.

Like Barai, Meghani, and Bhutada, most of Gabbard’s Sangh-affiliated donors are not from Hawaii. This is reflective of a broader trend in her donor base. Since the 2014 election cycle, California residents have given her campaign $725,520, Texans have contributed $215,060, and New Yorkers have donated $215,810. In the most recent cycle, Gabbard’s campaign received $692,198 — 80.2 percent of her total contributions — from individuals outside Hawaii. Out-of-state contributions are normal for politicians with national ambitions, but Gabbard’s political opponents frequently point to this as one of her weaknesses.

Shay Chan Hodges, Gabbard’s 2016 primary opponent, said that Gabbard skews the political dynamics of Hawaii by not paying attention to the small state. “I say, whatever she thinks about Syria or the Indian prime minister, how does that affect us?” Hodges said. “She’s our congresswoman. We have our own problems.”

Amid growing scrutiny of Gabbard’s sympathies for authoritarian world leaders, something that would be a huge liability in a potential presidential run, Gabbard has begun to distance herself from the Sangh affiliates — at least publicly.

In a November 2017 video message, Gabbard announced that she would be chairing the 2018 World Hindu Congress, a conference held once every four years organized by the VHPA and RSS that has drawn other Hindu groups, in addition to Hindu nationalists. She described the event as a “global platform where Hindus will be able to come together, share ideas and inspiration, as we seek ways to positively impact the communities around us and around the world.”

Five months later, she quietly withdrew from the event. But questions about Gabbard’s association with Hindu nationalists persisted, and on September 3 — four days before the event — her campaign released her April letter informing organizers that she would no longer be attending. She ascribed her decision to “ethical concerns and problems that surrounded my participating in any partisan Indian political event in America.” Her recusal marked a significant shift in her rhetoric, as she has attended and spoken at numerous events organized by affiliates of India’s political parties, like the OFBJP.

Abhaya Asthana, the VHPA president to whom Gabbard’s letter was addressed, said his organization was not bothered by her withdrawal, even if she was “misinformed about who would be participating.”

Barai, for his part, initially described Gabbard’s recusal from the event as a “blunder.” “She will be re-elected in Hawaii, but if she wants to run for national office, she will need continued support from Indian-Americans,” he said prior to the midterm elections. Barai anticipated that many Hindu-Americans would be less inclined to donate to Gabbard moving forward. “It is not going to become zero,” he said. “But earlier, if people were giving $5,000, they will give $500, until she clarifies her position and apologizes.”

Displeasure with Gabbard’s recusal from the World Hindu Congress was widespread.

“Gabbard is playing to certain galleries hoping not to attract their ire and their wrath,” wrote Ramesh Rao, a professor of communication at Columbus State University, in a column for Swarajya, a pro-Hindu nationalist publication in India. “It is easy to distance herself from Hindus and Hindu organizations because she knows they are the easy-going, let’s forget the past, let’s join hands together kind of folks who will continue to send her money in support of her election campaigns, and write about her potential of becoming President of the United States. May be not.”

After her re-election, however, Barai had a change of heart and asked Gabbard for a meeting. On November 14, he met with her at her Capitol Hill office, along with Suhag Shukla, who is on the executive board of HAF. They spoke about the World Hindu Congress, ultimately reaching a “happy consensus to put that episode behind us,” said Barai, who chaired the WHC Finance Committee and raised $1.5 million for the conference. Within a couple weeks of that meeting, Barai said, Gabbard held a conference call with about 50 of her Hindu-American supporters, including Asthana, the VHPA president. They talked about her consideration of a presidential run.

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U.S. Ramps Up Bombing of ISIS in Eastern Syria Following Trump Withdrawal Announcement

After President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria last month, the U.S. military ramped up its bombing campaign against the Islamic State’s remaining territory in the eastern part of the country, according to sources on the ground and photographs we obtained.

The fiercest attacks in the past week have occurred in Al Kashmah, a village on the Euphrates River near the border with Iraq, according to three sources in eastern Syria. Amid U.S. airstrikes and artillery fire by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, civilians and family members of ISIS fighters fled to villages to the south, the sources said. While Al Kashmah has not yet fallen, the only people remaining there are fighters representing what has become the front line of the war against ISIS in Deir al-Zour province.

The ISIS fighters are clustered in villages along the Euphrates, from the border with Iraq to south of Hajin, a former ISIS stronghold that fell to the SDF, a Kurdish-led militia, in mid-December. There are about 50,000 to 60,000 people who remain in those areas, according to a civilian activist in Deir al-Zour who documents rights abuses and asked not to be named out of safety concerns. “The civilians in these areas have no place to go or hide from the U.S. bombardment of their villages,” the activist said, noting that the residents have been harmed at the hands of the Syrian government, the United States, and ISIS alike.

The ISIS-held villages along the Euphrates have been the targets of U.S. bombing sorties since November as part of Operation Roundup. In addition to military targets, Operation Roundup bombed civilian areas, including a hospital, The Intercept and Al Jazeera reported last month.

Trump’s abrupt December 19 decision to quickly withdraw U.S. ground troops involved in the fight against ISIS in Syria took even the Defense Department by surprise. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the president declined to give a timeline for the pullout and said instead that it would happen “over a period of time.” The increased intensity of the bombings, however, belie claims by Trump and others that ISIS has been defeated or that the U.S. war in Syria, which has largely been carried out from the skies, is over. It remains unclear whether U.S. airstrikes will continue once the troops leave.

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The aftermath of the U.S. bombing campaign in Al Kashmah, from where civilians have fled due to
relentless attacks.

Photo: Obtained by The Intercept

During the final days of 2018, the U.S. campaign bombed villages up and down the Euphrates, focusing primarily on Al Kashmah. On the night of New Year’s Eve, the bombs relentlessly assaulted Al Kashmah, leaving the village largely destroyed by the next morning, according to an ISIS fighter who was there. (We interviewed members of ISIS and the SDF, as well as a tribal leader, for this article via messaging services, and we’ve granted them anonymity because they all stand to be targeted by the various warring factions for speaking to journalists.)

The coalition against ISIS appears to be targeting internet cafes, according to two sources on the ground. Internet cafes in the villages are used by civilians and ISIS fighters alike. They are not part of ISIS’s tactical communications infrastructure, according to sources, but the militants typically use them to communicate with the outside world, especially their families in other countries.

“They just like to disrupt and mess everything up,” an ISIS fighter said in an interview. “They bombed the places where they sell gasoline for the motor, or they sell cooking oil, or where they filter the water — they bomb all these places. Not just the ‘net, they bomb everything just to make your life horrible.”

The risk of civilian casualties from bombings in Deir al-Zour is high because the rural villages have become densely populated with the families of ISIS fighters and civilians fleeing in recent months from more densely populated cities and towns that have fallen to Kurdish-led forces. “No building is empty here,” the ISIS fighter said, referring to the remaining ISIS-controlled villages in Deir al-Zour. Fighters and civilians in the villages have reportedly been describing the U.S. bombing campaign as a scorched-earth policy, using an Arabic term that translates to “burn the ground.”

On Sunday, the U.S. military admitted that it’s killed 1,139 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of its campaign against ISIS in 2014. That number is significantly smaller than the estimates of civilian casualties put out by monitoring groups, like Airwars, which says that between 7,308 and 11,629 civilians have been killed.

In response to a list of questions about the bombings in Syria, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense said in a statement that the coalition dictates “the pace of our strikes against ISIS targets deliberately and with careful consideration of their impact to civilians. The increase in strikes in late December were selected specifically to degrade ISIS capabilities and were unrelated to any other variable.”

Following Trump’s withdrawal announcement, the Kurds, who lead the on-the-ground forces that had partnered with the United States in fighting ISIS in Syria, reached out to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for protection. Feeling betrayed by the United States, the Kurds are concerned about a possible attack by Turkey, which has long feared that its own minority Kurdish population might be emboldened by the existence of a Kurdish state or autonomous region south of Turkey. (In March 2018, Turkish Armed Forces and allied militia seized control of the Syrian city of Afrin from the Kurds.)

In addition, after the evacuation of civilians from Al Kashmah, ISIS negotiated a three-day ceasefire with the Kurds, according to three sources on the ground. On Monday, seven trucks carrying food and humanitarian aid entered ISIS-controlled areas under the agreement, according to one ISIS and one SDF source. The ceasefire was initially scheduled to end December 31, but ISIS officials are discussing a possible six-month extension, according to an ISIS fighter familiar with the talks but who is not directly part of the effort. During the temporary ceasefire, some ISIS fighters and defectors fled Deir al-Zour to other parts of Syria, according to two sources who made such journeys themselves.

A lasting cease fire would allow badly needed supplies to reach civilians in the villages, and ISIS would also use it to regroup. The Kurds would receive a safeguard from a two-front war if the Turks attack.

A ceasefire between ISIS and the Kurds, coupled with the Syrian government’s potential protection of the Kurds from Turkey, would largely undercut part of  Trump’s public rationale for withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. In a tweet, Trump described how Turkey could “easily take care of whatever remains” of ISIS. In a subsequent tweet, the president spoke of his conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

But the prospect of Turkey’s completion of a clean-up job against ISIS in Syria seems increasingly unlikely given the rapidly shifting alliances there.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military continues to drop bombs on Deir al-Zour, despite the fact that the Kurds, freshly abandoned by the United States, are not currently engaging ISIS fighters.

“They’ve backstabbed all their allies and they’re killing the people here,” the ISIS fighter said, referring to the United States. “Eventually the Islamic State will survive and spread or it will fall, but there will be people here who will remember what happened here, and they will carry on this information and it will spread throughout the Middle East.”

The post U.S. Ramps Up Bombing of ISIS in Eastern Syria Following Trump Withdrawal Announcement appeared first on The Intercept.

The Long Hand of U.S. Intervention: The Intercept’s 2018 World Coverage

Many of the world’s troubles are legacies of American intervention. In Iraq, there is the continuation of a war that began with the U.S. invasion in 2003. One of the casualties is an American citizen imprisoned in Iraq for more than a decade, a victim of torture, secret evidence, and witnesses who later recanted. Decades of U.S. meddling in Central America, and support for repressive dictatorships there, have undermined social fabrics; gangs are rampant, and if joining them is easy, getting out is not. In Yemen, where the Saudi-led war has been supported by the U.S. military, children are dying of starvation.

“Still in Solitary Over Here in Baghdad”: A Forgotten American’s 14-Year Nightmare in Iraq

Photo: Nadia Bseiso

Shawki Omar’s story began as an embodiment of the American Dream. Today, it shows how the so-called war on terror has turned sadistic and extralegal.
By Cathy Scott-Clark, Murtaza Hussain

What Happens When a Barrio 18 Soldier Tries to Leave the Gang

Illustration: Clay Rodery

There are an estimated 60,000 gang members in El Salvador. Benjamin knew many who wanted to leave, but they were afraid. He wanted to show them they could.
By Danielle Mackey

How Ahed Tamimi Became the Symbol of Palestinian Resistance to Israeli Oppression

Photo: Samar Hazboun

Ahed Tamimi’s story highlighted the plight of Palestinian children in Israeli military jails. Hundreds more remain behind bars.
By Alice Speri

 
 

A U.S. Journalist Took Thousands of ISIS Files Out of Iraq, Reigniting a Bitter Dispute Over the Theft of Iraqi History

Photo: David Guttenfelder/AP

An article in the New York Times has reopened the wound created when the U.S. seized 120 million pages of documents from Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
By Maryam Saleh

Saudi Women Who Fought for the Right to Drive Are Disappearing and Going Into Exile

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Despite promises of reform, Saudi Arabia is escalating its assault on civil society — and, for the first time, women have become its primary targets.
By Sarah Aziza

How an Army of Trolls Protects Guatemala’s Corrupt Elite

Photo: Johan Ordonez/Getty Images

Inside the booming business of online disinformation campaigns in Guatemala.
By Cora Currier, Danielle Mackey

El Salvador Is Trying to Stop Gang Violence. But the Trump Administration Keeps Pushing Failed “Iron Fist” Policing.

Photo: Salvador Meléndez

The U.S. government is funding important new gang rehabilitation programs with one hand, and punitive policing with the other.
By Danielle Mackey, Cora Currier

A Rare Look at Yemen’s War, Where Children Starve and Hospitals Are on Life-Support

Photo: Alex Potter

Photojournalist Alex Potter chronicles the suffering of Yemenis after three years of fighting and near famine.
By Alex Potter

In Uganda, Groups Offering Contraception and Family Planning Have Lost Millions in U.S. Aid Thanks to Trump’s Global Gag Rule

Photo: Alex Potter

The rule bars U.S. aid money from going to international groups that provide abortions or support the right to have them, and its impact is far-reaching.
By Laura Kasinof

How the Assad Regime Tracked and Killed Marie Colvin for Reporting on War Crimes in Syria

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Syrian regime documents and testimony from defectors reveal that Marie Colvin and others were hunted as part of a policy to eliminate journalists.
By Johnny Dwyer, Ryan Gallagher

Iraq’s Courts Have Rushed to Convict Thousands of ISIS Fighters. This Is One Family’s Struggle for Fairness, Truth, and Reconciliation.

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Illustrations: Matt Rota

Rather than mending intercommunal rifts to pave the way for reconciliation, the ISIS trials risk further polarizing Iraq’s fractured society.
By Simona Foltyn

ISIS Has Not Vanished. It Is Fighting a Guerrilla War Against the Iraqi State.

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Photo: Jan Kuhlmann/AP

Iraqi security forces lack the training, local knowledge, and community trust to defeat the militants.
By Simona Foltyn

Brazil’s Media Is Trying to Whitewash and Exploit Marielle Franco’s Political Radicalism

Photo: Mídia Ninja

Brazil’s most influential media outlet is trying to turn Marielle into an unthreatening symbol of political clichés — much like how the U.S. portrays MLK.
By Glenn Greenwald

Brazil’s Bolsonaro-Led Far Right Wins a Victory Far More Sweeping and Dangerous Than Anyone Predicted. Its Lessons Are Global.

Photo: Fabio Teixeira/AP

The standard establishment reaction in the face of rising demagogues is to denounce and malign those who support them. That only serves to further exacerbate the dynamic.
By Glenn Greenwald

 

 

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Seeing Is Believing: The Intercept’s 2018 Visual Journalism

Visual journalism, in its many forms, is a vital part of news: It can provide evidence that allows us to hold people and institutions accountable, and it can help us build empathy for the plight of others. This year, The Intercept sent photographers and video journalists into the field to bring viewers to places they might not otherwise see, and to move them with human stories — from the release of Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi to the reunification of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. Our illustrations and data visualizations helped elucidate complex issues, from the scope of sexual abuse in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention to the National Security Agency’s hidden network of spy hubs around the country.

Murderville, Georgia

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Photo: Ryan Christopher Jones

A brutal murder rocked a small Southern town. Cops quickly closed the case. Then came another murder. And another. Did putting the wrong man in jail let a real killer go free? Welcome to Murderville.
By Liliana Segura, Jordan Smith

Inside a Sleazy FBI Sting Involving Diet Clinics, Fitness Models, Money Laundering, and a Supposed Plot to Hire a Hitman

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Illustration: Cun Shi

Emile Bouari was an unprincipled businessman who’d been accused of ripping people off. But it would take Operation Bo-Tox to get him to launder money.
By Trevor Aaronson

Farmers at Gaza’s Edge Try to Make Ends Meet Between Economic Squeeze and Israeli Sniper Fire

Photo: Matthew Cassel

Palestinians work their fields for a pittance — thanks to the economic woes caused by Israel’s blockade.
By Matthew Cassel

In Uganda, Groups Offering Contraception and Family Planning Have Lost Millions in U.S. Aid Thanks to Trump’s Global Gag Rule

Photo: Alex Potter

The rule bars U.S. aid money from going to international groups that provide abortions or support the right to have them, and its impact is far-reaching.
By Laura Kasinof

1,224 Complaints Reveal a Staggering Pattern of Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention. Half of Those Accused Worked for ICE.

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Illustration: Nicole Rifkin

Immigrants sexually abused in ICE detention have been saying #MeToo for years. They faced retaliation and a system unwilling to hold itself accountable.
By Alice Speri

How Nicaragua Uses Anti-Terror Laws Against Protesters to Suppress Dissent

Photo: Carlos Pérez Osorio

The barricades have been cleared and there is a veneer that the crisis is over, but over 200 Nicaraguans involved in protests face trial for terrorism.
By Sarah Kinosian, Carlos Pérez Osorio

In South Texas, Border Residents Struggle to Cope With the Latest Military Surge

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas

Border communities still remember when a U.S. Marine assigned to a drug interdiction task force mistakenly shot and killed an 18-year-old boy.
By Melissa del Bosque

Iraq’s Courts Have Rushed to Convict Thousands of ISIS Fighters. This Is One Family’s Struggle for Fairness, Truth, and Reconciliation.

intercept1_layers-SH-1-1529086432-1545853302

Illustrations: Matt Rota

Rather than mending intercommunal rifts to pave the way for reconciliation, the ISIS trials risk further polarizing Iraq’s fractured society.
By Simona Foltyn

Lacking Birth Control Options, Desperate Venezuelan Women Turn to Sterilization and Illegal Abortion

Still: Lou Marillier and Daisy Squires

The extreme lengths people will go not to have children illustrate the depth of Venezuela’s economic crisis, and its disproportionate effect on women.
By Lou Marillier and Daisy Squires

How Ahed Tamimi Became the Symbol of Palestinian Resistance to Israeli Oppression

IMG_0531-1532976408-e1532976527956-1545853532

Photo: Samar Hazboun

Ahed Tamimi’s story highlighted the plight of Palestinian children in Israeli military jails. Hundreds more remain behind bars.
By Alice Speri

Undocumented Immigrant Faces a Choice: Become an Informant for ICE or Be Deported

Photo: Joel Angel Juárez

ICE told Carlos Rueda Cruz to focus on “illegal aliens” with criminal histories. He would need to produce one name per month or be sent back to Mexico.
By Ryan Katz

My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror

Photo Illustration: The Intercept

As I took the stand, I thought about how much press freedom had been lost and how drastically national security reporting had changed in the post-9/11 era.
By Jim Risen

Puerto Ricans and Ultrarich “Puertopians” Are Locked in a Pitched Struggle Over How to Remake the Island

Six months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are designing a recovery that defends their island. Politicians and bitcoin billionaires have other ideas.
By Naomi Klein

A Father Took His 10-Year-Old Fishing. She Fell in the Water and Drowned. It Was a Tragic Accident — Then He Was Charged With Murder.

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman

Wendell Lindsey is serving life in a Texas prison, but his conviction relied on dubious drowning science and a key witness with secrets of her own.
By Jordan Smith

What Happens When a Barrio 18 Soldier Tries to Leave the Gang

Illustration: Clay Rodery

There are an estimated 60,000 gang members in El Salvador. Benjamin knew many who wanted to leave, but they were afraid. He wanted to show them they could.
By Danielle Mackey

The NSA’s Hidden Spy Hubs in Eight U.S. Cities

Photo: Steven Day

These fortress-like AT&T buildings are central to a secret NSA program that has monitored billions of communications, documents and sources reveal.
By Ryan Gallagher, Henrik Moltke

ICE Defied a Court Order in Vendetta Against Deportee

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Photo: Ariel Zambelich

Danny Michel was wrongfully deported in 2016. After fighting for two years to return, ICE defied a court order and detained him.
By Alice Speri

Secretly Taped Audio Reveals Democratic Leadership Pressuring Progressive to Leave Race

Art: Matt Lubchansky

In a frank and wide-ranging conversation, Steny Hoyer laid down the law for Levi Tillemann. The decision, Tillemann was told, had been made long ago.
By Lee Fang

A Rare Look at Yemen’s War, Where Children Starve and Hospitals Are on Life-Support

Photo: Alex Potter

Photojournalist Alex Potter chronicles the suffering of Yemenis after three years of fighting and near famine.
By Alex Potter

Camp America Comes Home: Debi Cornwall’s Photos Capture the Eerie Aftermath of Guantánamo.

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Photo: Debi Cornwall

The lawyer-turned-photographer shows life on the periphery of the prison camp — and the former detainees who carry its scars with them.
By Siddhartha Mitter

 

 

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In Syria, U.S.-Backed Kurdish Fighters Face Trump’s Withdrawal — and the Legacy of Their Own Mistakes

Khalil was shopping in the Hasakah marketplace in Syria when Kurdish military police arrested him last March. He was 19 and had papers that showed he was in high school, but that didn’t matter. The Kurdish militia, which feeds troops to the U.S.-led war in Syria, was way short of volunteers. They ordered him into a minibus and drove through the northeast Syrian city, abducting others along the way.

The force that conscripted Khalil calls itself the People’s Protection Units, or YPG in Kurdish. The militia it supplies calls itself the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a mixed Kurdish-Arab formation. But conscripts quickly learn who is really in charge in the proxy war against Islamic State extremists. It’s the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Marxist guerrilla movement that’s been at war with neighboring Turkey for 35 years.

Khalil’s boot camp lasted six weeks, one-third of which was political indoctrination about the Kurds — including the works of Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the PKK, which is the Kurdish acronym for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — and the rest was weapons familiarization. His cohort was 15 Kurds and about 350 Arabs, all conscripted at gunpoint, he told me. The course was taught in Kurdish with translators for the Arabs. (Khalil, who’s from Syria’s Yazidi minority, speaks Kurdish).

When the training ended in May, Khalil received orders to deploy to Deir Ezzor on the frontline near an ISIS-held pocket of territory. Instead, he fled with his sister to Kurdish territory in Iraq. He was lucky, for his parents are refugees in Europe — if his family had lived in the area, he wouldn’t have been able to quit, knowing that military police would seize a brother, a cousin, or even their father in his place.

U.S. reliance on the PKK and its Syrian affiliate has driven these militias to conscript at gunpoint and stirred ethnic tensions. The PKK may be sorry to see the Americans go, but a lot of Arabs are not.

This is everyday reality for the force that the U.S. military, politicians, and pundits have lionized as the most capable and reliable ground partner the U.S. could find in Syria. It’s run by a group that the State Department has declared to be terrorists; it conscripts at gunpoint and utilizes police state methods in its operations and governance that are completely antithetical to U.S. values, according to deserters interviewed by The Intercept.

This is also the force that will soon be left hanging and exposed to retribution if President Donald Trump carries out his apparently impulsive decision last week to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria as fast as possible. Turkey, which views the PKK as an existential threat, says that it will go on the offensive against fighters from the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the YPG, in key areas of its border with Syria. ISIS may also target them, and the Assad regime will no doubt try to regain control of lands the Kurds now control. A bigger foe may be Syrian Arabs from areas formerly controlled by ISIS, who bitterly resent the Kurdish militia bossing them around.

“They are not able to do anything today,” Khalil said of the Arabs who constitute the majority of the population in the provincial capital. “But if they come to power in the future, they will do everything they can against the YPG.” Also, a large number of Kurds have fled north Syria rather than live under the YPG and the economic hardship of war, and more will leave with the YPG, especially in Manbij, where they’ve been given special privileges by the YPG.

The U.S. military first linked up with the Kurdish militia in Syria in late 2014 when ISIS was attacking the town of Kobani, but the U.S. ground partner has not had close scrutiny until now, just as U.S. presence is about to end. In part, it’s because the Kurds run what a State Department official told me is a “mini-totalitarian state,” where criticism isn’t allowed; in part, it’s because the U.S. military has refused to discuss PKK practices, insisting that its partner is the Syrian Democratic Forces, not the PKK or the YPG. One way to circumvent this closed circuit is by seeking out deserters, who’ve been fleeing to territory controlled by Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government for several years. With KRG assistance, I interviewed four deserters in the northern Iraqi town of Dohuk last month. I have changed their names to protect them from PKK retribution.

My overall conclusion is stark: U.S. reliance on the PKK and its Syrian affiliate has driven these militias to conscript at gunpoint and stirred ethnic tensions between Arabs and Kurds. The PKK may be sorry to see the Americans go, but a lot of Arabs are not.

Desertions are the bane of the PKK, according to Ali, a senior officer who defected in October and spoke to me in Dohuk. “We know this is a big problem. What can we do?” he said. “If someone wants to leave, all I can do is threaten to throw him in jail.”

Draconian rules provoke many desertions. To join the PKK or its Syrian affiliate, the YPG, is to enlist for life; to be conscripted, according to three of the deserters I interviewed, is a ticket to frontline duty. It’s no surprise that tens of thousands of young Kurds have fled to the KRG rather than serve in the guerrilla force, nor that dozens of PKK members flee into KRG every day, according to KRG officials.

Spokespersons for the YPG and SDF did not respond to requests for comment. The PKK has consistently denied that it uses forced conscription or police-state methods.

In the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq, where the PKK has its main base, members spend the winter in caves, tunnels, and bunkers to avoid Turkish air force. Except for senior officers, members have no cellphones or cars and no access to media and films other than those produced by the PKK. Sexual relations with women, who are recruited, trained, and deployed as a separate force, are prohibited.

Violations of the social code, deserters say, occur a lot more on the flatlands of Syria, where civilians around them date, marry, and have families, than in the highlands of Iraq, where conditions are spartan. But in either location, punishment is decided by “platform,” a court martial where there’s no due process, no legal representation, no law, and no appeal.

Deserters also say the PKK has lost its way politically and cannot deliver on its promises to unite Kurds from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria into one state — or to promote Kurdish cultural rights and spread democratic rule.

The movement may have missed its political moment three years ago in Turkey, when the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, headed by Selahattin Demirtas, a charismatic leader, achieved a major breakthrough in parliamentary elections.

Instead of capitalizing on the political opening, the PKK unilaterally ended a ceasefire with Turkey— and in Syria, buoyed by American backing in the fight against ISIS, declared that it would set up a contiguous Kurdish entity along the border with Turkey. Turkey views that as a threat to its territorial integrity and intervened twice in Syria to prevent it, seizing ISIS-occupied in 2017 and 2018. That dream is now dead, and as the result of a Turkish crackdown following the PKK’s abandonment of the ceasefire, Demirtas sits in a Turkish jail.

Ali deserted the PKK after 20 years of service. He’d commanded 3,500 SDF forces in the Deir Ezzor area of Syria — where Khalil was to be sent — but had a run-in with the PKK leadership over his private life. “I had fallen in love with a woman in the YPJ,” the women’s branch of the YPG, he said. “They put me in jail for four months” and then ordered a “platform,” in which the accused is charged before a gathering of his peers, who then call for punishment. There is no defense.

“Do you know what the main aim of a platform is?” Ali said. “Just to insult and abuse the person in front of the people. Everyone gives an opinion. One will say, ‘Let him be killed.’ Another says, ‘Hang him.’ Another says, ‘Jail him for life.’”

“They used to call it a people’s democracy. In reality, they don’t uphold democracy. They don’t care about human rights.”

Ali was released from jail, suspended from the PKK for six months, and later reinstated to his command position. But the experience scarred him.

“They used to call it a people’s democracy,”Ali told me. “In reality, they don’t uphold democracy. They don’t care about human rights.”

Ali joined the PKK at its redoubt in Qandil and said he was based there for 15 years until he was deployed to Syria in 2013. He had joined “to protect our nation” and support Kurdish self-rule, but now he sees no prospect of that happening.

“Reality has appeared,” he explained. “We know we have gone the wrong way.”

The armed interventions by Turkey, in particular the capture of the Afrin region in northern Syria last spring, punctured the dream of setting up a Kurdish political entity that would have autonomy in a weakened federal Syrian state. “What the PKK lost in Afrin was the federalism project. There’s no way they can force the Syrian regime to accept the project,” he said.

NUSAYBIN, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 25: AK-47's of armed group Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), a youth division of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK, stand under jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan's pictures in a house in southeastern Turkish city of Nusaybin on February 25, 2016, Turkey. Since mid-December, the Turkish security forces placed to several predominantly Kurdish cities in Turkey under 24-hour martial law and curfew on the premise of restoring public order. (Photo by Cagdas Erdogan/Getty Images)

AK-47s of a youth division of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK, stand under a picture of the jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan, in a house in the southeastern Turkish city of Nusaybin on Feb. 25, 2016.

Photo: Cagdas Erdogan/Getty Images

The malaise goes still deeper, according to Osman Öcalan, 60, a co-founder of the PKK. He’s the brother of PKK founder Abdullah “Apo” Öcalan who’s being held in an Istanbul jail. Osman Öcalan broke with PKK leadership in 2003 and now lives in Erbil, in the northern part of Iraq controlled by Kurds. He criticizes current leaders for seeking a military solution to the Kurdish nationalist issue. He calls their ideology “Marxist-Stalinist,” because like the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, they refuse to accept any other political parties.

Most grating is the absence of human rights.

“They are against all freedoms for the people. They don’t let fighters lead their own lives,” he said. And he criticizes them for opposing the political negotiations with Turkey that his brother had advocated. He also criticized their forced conscription. If young people fight to defend their country, “that’s OK,” he said. “But kidnapping people is not a good idea.”

Osman Öcalan said he quit the PKK for two reasons. One was his insistence that the PKK decentralize and devolve decisions to its national units. In Syria, the PKK “gives all the orders, sets all the policies, decides the training,” Osman said. He believes that Syria’s YPG should become independent of the PKK and shed itself of the PKK’s worst tendencies. “If the YPG would become a democratic group, no one would desert,” he said. “The main reason people desert is because of the policy of the PKK.” He added that Cemil Bayik, a Turkish-born PKK leader, “doesn’t agree with this idea. … He wants to rule Rojava as well” — a reference to the Kurdish name for northern Syria.

The second reason Osman left the PKK was because Bayik “was against human rights. He didn’t agree if someone gets married and has a personal life.”

Osman welcomed the U.S. offer early last month of a $4 million reward for information on the locations of Bayik and a total of $8 million for two of his senior-most colleagues, Murat Karayilan and Duran Kalkan. Osman said the U.S. move would be “perfect” if it leads “to a political solution to the Kurdish issue.” But is there a broader strategy or was this a gesture to ease tensions with Turkey? The State Department, when asked by The Intercept, said only that the rewards program was “one tool, among many” that the U.S. uses to aid Turkey in its fight against the PKK. 

Abductions in broad daylight are not the only recruitment issue for the PKK.

Hilas was 14 when she ran away from her home in Qamishli in April 2016. “I was influenced by the lyrics of their songs,” she said of the PKK. She’s the third of the four PKK deserters I interviewed in Dohuk. After three months of training, two-thirds of it devoted to political doctrine, the PKK transferred her to its base in Iraq’s Gara mountains.

She missed her family. “I tried to escape,” she said. “But they wouldn’t let me.” She was transferred across KRG territory to Makhmur, a Kurdish refugee camp, where she did guard duty for 18 months. In March, she saw the opportunity and fled to the Peshmerga, the KRG’s defense force. She was 16.

The U.S. military says it strongly disapproves of underage recruiting.

A “stringent vetting process” includes “purposefully screening for underage recruits and denying them the ability to join if found to be under the age of 18,” said Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for Central Command. He said the U.S. military is “not aware of any incidences of the Syrian Democratic Forces recruiting underage soldiers.”

But Geneva Call, a Swiss-based group monitoring the deployments of child soldiers, said the SDF this past September had acknowledged “a number of violations” of its signed obligations not to recruit child soldiers. On December 3, the Swiss group reported that the SDF had “recently” sent 56 underage boys back to their families.

Asked about forced recruitment, Urban said the U.S. is “partnered with the vetted multiethnic Syrian Democratic forces in northern Syria” but “not partnered with the YPG or the PKK.”

That’s a dodge, because the YPG rebranded itself as the SDF at the behest of Gen. Raymond Thomas, head of the U.S. Special Forces Command, who told the tale in mid-2017 at the Aspen Security Forum. “You have got to change your brand,” he urged them in late 2015. “What do you want to call yourselves besides the YPG? With about a day’s notice, they declared that they are the Syrian Democratic Forces.” He commended them for “a stroke of brilliance to put ‘democracy’ in there.”

The State Department says the U.S. has worked with the YPG in eastern Syria as part of the larger SDF and expects U.S. partners to abide “by the highest standards of conduct,” a spokesperson told me by email. “Any allegations regarding possible human rights violations would be of concern.”

In fact, the Kurdish militia has force-recruited underage fighters. Take the case of Ibrahim, a 20-year-old Kurd who defected to Iraq in mid-2017. He was forcibly conscripted in March 2017 and taken to Tal Baydar, a base in north-central Syria, where he joined a cohort of 600 young conscripts, he said in an interview in Dohuk last month.

After six weeks of training, he was sent to the front in what was then the battle for Raqqa. He and a buddy came under attack by ISIS, damaging the truck he was driving, and they drove off. Later, his commander gathered the 40 or so young men in his unit and read the riot act. “Every one of you should fight to the death to liberate the position we want to retake from ISIS,” Ibrahim quoted the commander as saying.

After seven days at the front, he deserted and fled to Iraq. Military police then went to his home and took a married older brother, age 27. After a year, when he was released from military service, they came for a younger brother, age 15. That brother wasn’t in school when the police came. Parents often don’t send their sons to school because, Ibrahim said, the PKK goes into the schools to proselytize “and then takes them into the mountains.”

Reporting for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

The post In Syria, U.S.-Backed Kurdish Fighters Face Trump’s Withdrawal — and the Legacy of Their Own Mistakes appeared first on The Intercept.

The Far Right Is Obsessed With a Book about Muslims Destroying Europe. Here’s What It Gets Wrong.

This March, Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted a photo of himself to his official Facebook page holding up a book, titled “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.” Orbán’s photo was of the book’s Hungarian translation, but author Douglas Murray, a British political commentator and journalist, wrote the volume in English. Since its release, the book has made considerable waves. Last summer, Murray was among a group of pop intellectuals collectively deemed to be members of the “Intellectual Dark Web” by the New York Times. Despite being a year old, his book continues to be cited by anti-immigrant hard-liners in the United States, as well as right-wing European politicians like Orbán.

The entire argument is helpfully summed up in the title: Europe is dying — being murdered, in fact — by hordes of Muslim immigrants.

If you’re curious what the book is about, the entire argument is helpfully summed up in the title. Europe is dying — being murdered, in fact — by hordes of Muslim immigrants, aided in their task by craven liberal politicians. As Murray describes it, insufficiently harsh border policies have opened the gates to migrants bent on committing no lesser crimes than mass rape and indiscriminate murder. Meanwhile, white Europeans, exhausted by their own history and driven into moral relativism by the decline of the Christian faith, are slowly being replaced by an implacably hostile and alien population of foreigners.

The “mass movement of peoples in Europe,” Murray writes, has led to “streets in the cold and rainy northern towns of Europe filled with people dressed for the foothills of Pakistan or the sandstorms of Arabia.” This is an early clue to the relentlessly paranoid tenor of the book: In South Asia or the Middle East — just as among the Western immigrant populations who hail from those places — many, if not most, people today dress in Western clothing, regardless of how appropriate it is for the climate.

Murray, though, is gravely alarmed by whatever foreign dress he does see. In his own hometown of London, according to a 2012 census he cites in the book, “only 44.9 percent of London residents now identified themselves as ‘white British.’” The fact that more than 80 percent of Britain is nonetheless white-skinned like him is apparently little comfort: Murray raises the specter of supporters of immigration purposely reducing the population of “white Britons” to 25 percent, 10 percent, or even zero percent in the city of London or, even more luridly, Britain as a whole.

The picture of Europe that Murray paints is nothing less than apocalyptic. Over 300 pages, he recounts a litany of crimes committed by immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, or people with European citizenship who happen to be minorities. Like far-right American publications that maintain running lists of crimes specifically committed by black people and Latino immigrants, Murray collapses all these cases together to give the impression of one gigantic, rolling crisis. Echoing President Donald Trump’s warnings about Latin American rapists flooding the United States from Mexico, Murray depicts a wave of migrants from Muslim-majority countries who are not simply fleeing violence in their homelands, but are on a mission to conquer, violate, and insult the people of Europe.

Hardback-Jacket-The-Strange-Death-of-Europe-1545248431

Photo: Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

In case it needs to be said, some migrants, particularly young people, do commit crimes. There have been violent crimes involving migrants, including some who were refugees. But Murray’s narrative of lawlessness is blinkered to the point of being propaganda. While European Union-wide statistics are not readily available, it’s worth noting that Germany, the country that took the most refugees during the peak of the crisis, reported its lowest national crime rate this year since 1992. Similar decreases have been recorded in Italy, one of the front-line states for those arriving from across the Mediterranean. Across the continent, the wave of refugees has already crested, without the breakdown of law and order claimed by far-right polemicists.

It’s not even clear that there are so many migrants. According to United Nations data, between January 2014 and March 2018, roughly 1.8 million people crossed the Mediterranean Sea to try and enter the EU. This number — which has driven Murray to such angst that he has pronounced the “death of Europe” — amounts to less than one-third of 1 percent of the EU’s population. In the meantime, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Pakistan continue to quietly host millions of refugees, many of whom were driven from their homes as a result of wars of aggression supported by Murray, whose past books include forthright tomes like “Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.”

Even if no immigrant in Europe ever committed a crime, it seems like Murray would keep moving the goal posts against them anyway. In some of the most eye-opening portions of “The Strange Death of Europe,” he waxes nostalgic about medieval European warriors like Charles Martel who battled Muslim armies in the eighth century, drawing insidious connections between this ancient episode, among others, and the people he sees on the streets of Europe today. In other words, it’s not ultimately even about what immigrants and minorities do, it’s about who they are. On a trip to Paris, Murray laments that some of the subway lines are like “taking an underground train in an African city,” asserting contemptuously that most of the people are “going to low-paid service jobs or appear to be heading nowhere.”

I recently finished reading Murray’s book while I myself was on a subway in Paris. This was a strange experience in some respects, particularly since I’m technically one of the invaders from the “foothills of Pakistan” that the book raises the alarm about. It was also strange because Murray actually begins his argument by citing my own favorite book: “The World of Yesterday” by Stefan Zweig.

Zweig was an Austrian-Jewish writer who was driven from Europe by the rise of fascism during the mid-20th century. While Murray cites him to reinforce his case about the continent’s looming mortality, the actual threat that Zweig warned about in his writings was from the xenophobic parties of the European far right. Those people eventually did destroy Zweig’s world, forcing him into a life of forlorn exile. He killed himself in Brazil in 1942.

Rather than declaring the continent “dead,” it might be worth considering that every generation faces unique challenges for which they must find new solutions.

Europe faces real challenges today, with economic austerity, political dysfunction, and, yes, migration. Rather than declaring the continent “dead” — an extremist proclamation that can only generate extremist responses — it might be worth considering that every generation faces unique challenges for which they must find new solutions. The question is whether those solutions will be ones that they can feel at ease about later, or whether they will be a source of shame that plagues the consciences of their descendants.

In retrospect, it’s not so surprising that Orbán decided to promote Murray’s book on his Facebook page this spring. Not only does the book reinforce the Hungarian demagogue’s own ethnonationalist worldview, but Murray also actually writes about Orbán favorably while criticizing his nemesis, the liberal financier and supporter of migrants, George Soros.

A few weeks ago, a Soros-linked university was driven out of Hungary, despite protests by thousands of liberal Hungarians against its closure. As the far right rears its head on the continent once again, leaders like Orbán are once again gaining strength, buttressed by the writings of ideologues like Murray. As the storm clouds gather, the rest of us can only fight to ensure that such people don’t succeed in dragging Europe down the same road of regret that it traveled just a few short generations ago.

The post The Far Right Is Obsessed With a Book about Muslims Destroying Europe. Here’s What It Gets Wrong. appeared first on The Intercept.

The Far Right Is Obsessed With a Book about Muslims Destroying Europe. Here’s What It Gets Wrong.

This March, Hungary’s authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted a photo of himself to his official Facebook page holding up a book, titled “The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.” Orbán’s photo was of the book’s Hungarian translation, but author Douglas Murray, a British political commentator and journalist, wrote the volume in English. Since its release, the book has made considerable waves. Last summer, Murray was among a group of pop intellectuals collectively deemed to be members of the “Intellectual Dark Web” by the New York Times. Despite being a year old, his book continues to be cited by anti-immigrant hard-liners in the United States, as well as right-wing European politicians like Orbán.

The entire argument is helpfully summed up in the title: Europe is dying — being murdered, in fact — by hordes of Muslim immigrants.

If you’re curious what the book is about, the entire argument is helpfully summed up in the title. Europe is dying — being murdered, in fact — by hordes of Muslim immigrants, aided in their task by craven liberal politicians. As Murray describes it, insufficiently harsh border policies have opened the gates to migrants bent on committing no lesser crimes than mass rape and indiscriminate murder. Meanwhile, white Europeans, exhausted by their own history and driven into moral relativism by the decline of the Christian faith, are slowly being replaced by an implacably hostile and alien population of foreigners.

The “mass movement of peoples in Europe,” Murray writes, has led to “streets in the cold and rainy northern towns of Europe filled with people dressed for the foothills of Pakistan or the sandstorms of Arabia.” This is an early clue to the relentlessly paranoid tenor of the book: In South Asia or the Middle East — just as among the Western immigrant populations who hail from those places — many, if not most, people today dress in Western clothing, regardless of how appropriate it is for the climate.

Murray, though, is gravely alarmed by whatever foreign dress he does see. In his own hometown of London, according to a 2012 census he cites in the book, “only 44.9 percent of London residents now identified themselves as ‘white British.’” The fact that more than 80 percent of Britain is nonetheless white-skinned like him is apparently little comfort: Murray raises the specter of supporters of immigration purposely reducing the population of “white Britons” to 25 percent, 10 percent, or even zero percent in the city of London or, even more luridly, Britain as a whole.

The picture of Europe that Murray paints is nothing less than apocalyptic. Over 300 pages, he recounts a litany of crimes committed by immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, or people with European citizenship who happen to be minorities. Like far-right American publications that maintain running lists of crimes specifically committed by black people and Latino immigrants, Murray collapses all these cases together to give the impression of one gigantic, rolling crisis. Echoing President Donald Trump’s warnings about Latin American rapists flooding the United States from Mexico, Murray depicts a wave of migrants from Muslim-majority countries who are not simply fleeing violence in their homelands, but are on a mission to conquer, violate, and insult the people of Europe.

Hardback-Jacket-The-Strange-Death-of-Europe-1545248431

Photo: Courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing

In case it needs to be said, some migrants, particularly young people, do commit crimes. There have been violent crimes involving migrants, including some who were refugees. But Murray’s narrative of lawlessness is blinkered to the point of being propaganda. While European Union-wide statistics are not readily available, it’s worth noting that Germany, the country that took the most refugees during the peak of the crisis, reported its lowest national crime rate this year since 1992. Similar decreases have been recorded in Italy, one of the front-line states for those arriving from across the Mediterranean. Across the continent, the wave of refugees has already crested, without the breakdown of law and order claimed by far-right polemicists.

It’s not even clear that there are so many migrants. According to United Nations data, between January 2014 and March 2018, roughly 1.8 million people crossed the Mediterranean Sea to try and enter the EU. This number — which has driven Murray to such angst that he has pronounced the “death of Europe” — amounts to less than one-third of 1 percent of the EU’s population. In the meantime, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Pakistan continue to quietly host millions of refugees, many of whom were driven from their homes as a result of wars of aggression supported by Murray, whose past books include forthright tomes like “Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.”

Even if no immigrant in Europe ever committed a crime, it seems like Murray would keep moving the goal posts against them anyway. In some of the most eye-opening portions of “The Strange Death of Europe,” he waxes nostalgic about medieval European warriors like Charles Martel who battled Muslim armies in the eighth century, drawing insidious connections between this ancient episode, among others, and the people he sees on the streets of Europe today. In other words, it’s not ultimately even about what immigrants and minorities do, it’s about who they are. On a trip to Paris, Murray laments that some of the subway lines are like “taking an underground train in an African city,” asserting contemptuously that most of the people are “going to low-paid service jobs or appear to be heading nowhere.”

I recently finished reading Murray’s book while I myself was on a subway in Paris. This was a strange experience in some respects, particularly since I’m technically one of the invaders from the “foothills of Pakistan” that the book raises the alarm about. It was also strange because Murray actually begins his argument by citing my own favorite book: “The World of Yesterday” by Stefan Zweig.

Zweig was an Austrian-Jewish writer who was driven from Europe by the rise of fascism during the mid-20th century. While Murray cites him to reinforce his case about the continent’s looming mortality, the actual threat that Zweig warned about in his writings was from the xenophobic parties of the European far right. Those people eventually did destroy Zweig’s world, forcing him into a life of forlorn exile. He killed himself in Brazil in 1942.

Rather than declaring the continent “dead,” it might be worth considering that every generation faces unique challenges for which they must find new solutions.

Europe faces real challenges today, with economic austerity, political dysfunction, and, yes, migration. Rather than declaring the continent “dead” — an extremist proclamation that can only generate extremist responses — it might be worth considering that every generation faces unique challenges for which they must find new solutions. The question is whether those solutions will be ones that they can feel at ease about later, or whether they will be a source of shame that plagues the consciences of their descendants.

In retrospect, it’s not so surprising that Orbán decided to promote Murray’s book on his Facebook page this spring. Not only does the book reinforce the Hungarian demagogue’s own ethnonationalist worldview, but Murray also actually writes about Orbán favorably while criticizing his nemesis, the liberal financier and supporter of migrants, George Soros.

A few weeks ago, a Soros-linked university was driven out of Hungary, despite protests by thousands of liberal Hungarians against its closure. As the far right rears its head on the continent once again, leaders like Orbán are once again gaining strength, buttressed by the writings of ideologues like Murray. As the storm clouds gather, the rest of us can only fight to ensure that such people don’t succeed in dragging Europe down the same road of regret that it traveled just a few short generations ago.

The post The Far Right Is Obsessed With a Book about Muslims Destroying Europe. Here’s What It Gets Wrong. appeared first on The Intercept.

Major Liberal Groups Sat on Sidelines as Senate Passed Historic Resolution on Yemen War

The Senate vote this month to end U.S. support for the war in Yemen marked a historic break from a bipartisan embrace of a pro-war foreign policy, yet it was accomplished without strong backing from Washington’s liberal foreign policy infrastructure.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., invokes the rights laid out in the War Powers Act of 1973 that assert Congress’s authority over war, and it was the result of many months of work by a coalition of progressive activists and anti-war lawmakers. The war is Saudi-led, but the U.S. has provided critical support, and an end to that support effectively means an end to the war.

Backers of the effort approached the Center for American Progress, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union, and all declined to specifically endorse the resolution or become members of the activist coalition. And when a procedural vote on the resolution came to the House floor, it got the same kind of half-hearted support from Democratic leadership, falling just three votes short.

The politics of war and peace in Washington are being reoriented.

As the momentum built toward the Senate victory, the lack of support from established groups in Washington became increasingly conspicuous. In the wake of the successful vote, the politics of war and peace in Washington are being reoriented, opening the possibility for a generational change that could have implications far beyond the Trump administration, potentially restraining the militaristic impulses of a future Democratic administration.

“This is an unprecedented assertion of Congress’s authority over declaring war that is an affirmation of structural checks on the presidency,” David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a progressive group that mobilized grassroots activists in support of the resolutions, told The Intercept. “It will probably constrain future presidents’ decisions about whether or not to engage in military activities all across the globe.” 

Before December 13, the Senate had never used its authority under the War Powers Resolution to force a president to end an ongoing war. (It did pass a resolution to end hostilities in Somalia in the 1990s, but U.S. troops had already left.) A previous Senate vote on the resolution was defeated back in March.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates directly intervened in Yemen in 2015 when Houthi rebels took control of the country’s capital, Sana’a, in the midst of a political dispute. The Gulf allies wrongly blamed their regional foe Iran for the takeover, and they assembled a coalition and went to war to oust the Houthis — with Iran, in turn, happy to arm and supply the rebels in order to drain resources and political capital from Saudi and the UAE. The Obama and Trump administrations both supported the war effort. The Senate’s move comes as negotiations between the warring parties in Yemen have progressed, and puts pressure on Saudi Arabia and the UAE to bring the war to an end.

The Senate’s passage of the resolution bestowed on it the kind of luster that allows liberal groups to support it without feeling as if they’re moving in too radical a direction. And, indeed, some insist that they’ve been strong supporters all along.

Before the Senate vote, CAP, Amnesty International, and HRW put out statements condemning the war in Yemen and signaling broad backing of congressional action to end U.S military support in the country. There is no question that, to varying degrees, they’ve all been critical of Saudi Arabia. Yet none of them specifically endorsed the two parallel resolutions on the Yemen war making their way through Congress — when it came to using the War Powers Resolution as a vehicle to end the war, reluctance set in.

The issue is especially sensitive to the Center for American Progress, the most prominent Democratic think tank in Washington, because it has been criticized for accepting significant funding from the embassy of the UAE, one of the Gulf countries leading the war on Yemen. The UAE gave CAP between $500,000 to $999,000 in 2017, according to the organization’s website.

The nation’s ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, played a key role in elevating Mohammed bin Salman to the role of crown prince in Saudi Arabia. The UAE, according to the Associated Press, has operated torture chambers in Yemen “in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.”

Sam Hananel, a CAP spokesperson, told The Intercept, after the resolution passed, that they “fully support” the invocation of the War Powers Act that would end U.S. support for the war in Yemen, and believe that it applies legally to the hostilities there. But so far, there appears to be no specific mention of invoking war powers in any of CAP’s official statements. (There is an article on the site by CAP fellow Kate Martin, originally published by Just Security, that references the resolution.)

For years in Washington, the dominant foreign policy narrative held that conflicts like the one in Yemen are the province of the executive branch, not subject to the War Powers Act. CAP’s embrace of the opposite line of argument is in and of itself a significant victory for the left.

“It’s good that they are finally coming around. It shows that we are moving the conversation forward.”

Hassan El-Tayyab, co-director of Just Foreign Policy, a progressive advocacy group that helped coordinate lobbying for the resolutions in Congress, told The Intercept he was pleased CAP had publicly affirmed its support. “It’s good that they are finally coming around,” he said. “It shows that we are moving the conversation forward and making the use of the WPR and ending U.S. involvement in the Saudi war on Yemen a mainstream position.”  

Hananel said that the think tank worked hard behind the scenes with congressional staff to push for the resolution and referred The Intercept to Murphy, the Democratic co-sponsor, for confirmation.

But when asked by The Intercept to assess CAP’s involvement with the resolution, Murphy praised CAP in general terms, but stopped short of commenting on its role in pushing for the resolution. “This landmark resolution passed because a coalition of unlikely partners, inside in the Senate and out in the streets, came together to do the right thing,” Murphy said in a statement. “I was proud of the humanitarian and progressive organizations who rallied their members to put pressure on their Senators. CAP is an important part of the movement toward a more progressive foreign policy, and they’ve done good work on evaluating the U.S.-Saudi relationship over these past few months.”  

When reached for comment by The Intercept, congressional aides associated with the resolution said they had been in productive discussions with CAP on the issue, but their exploration of CAP’s possible endorsement of the measure did not pan out.

When asked for clarification on the organization’s posture toward the resolution, Hananel said that “the notion that CAP has been silent on Yemen is categorically wrong and disproved by facts.” He pointed to a panel discussion the organization hosted after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials, and the fact that Murphy delivered opening remarks during a presentation of a foreign policy report by CAP’s national security team. Hananel also directed The Intercept to two statements on the Yemen war, neither of which references the War Powers resolution.

Statements put out by Human Rights Watch, a leading humanitarian nongovernmental organization in D.C., also reflect a broad willingness to criticize Saudi Arabia — to condemn atrocities in the war in general terms, but to decline to specifically endorse the resolution that would end it. “US Senate vote signals that, unlike Trump, it won’t sell out the most basic human values (voiding complicity in Saudi-led bombing and starving of Yemeni civilians) for a few arms-sales jobs,” Kenneth Roth, the group’s executive director, wrote on Twitter.

HRW Washington Director Sarah Morgan similarly celebrated that the “Senate just took a big step towards greater transparency & oversight of the US role in Yemen. At 63-37 the vote is solidly bipartisan and sends a clear message to the White House: we aren’t buying what you have to offer. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”

Those statements obscure the whole truth: The resolution wouldn’t just bring “greater transparency and oversight” to the war, it would end the U.S. role in it — a notion whose radical nature has been difficult to absorb in Washington, even as it gathers steam in Congress.

The resolution wouldn’t just bring “greater transparency and oversight” to the war, it would end the U.S. role in it.

In an article for Just Security, Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s executive director of Middle East and North Africa division, touted a bill introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Todd Young, R-Ind., to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia as “the strongest effort to date for taking serious action.” She did not mention the War Powers Resolution, though she did praise it on Twitter.

When a coalition — led by the progressive group Win Without War and conservative FreedomWorks, and including 53 other groups like Demand Progress, Indivisible, and Our Revolution — sent a letter to senators ahead of the first Senate vote in March urging them to vote for the resolution, CAP, HRW, Amnesty International, and the ACLU did not sign on.

Ahead of the March vote, a spokesperson for HRW explained its absence in backing the resolution to the magazine In These Times, stating that the organization does not “take a position on the legality of armed conflicts.” An Amnesty International USA spokesperson similarly told In These Times that it did not take stances on whether countries “should go to war.”

Amnesty International USA reiterated this view when asked by The Intercept last week if it had changed its stance on Congress invoking war powers since March, especially in light of the recent Senate vote. “Our position is dictated by Amnesty’s global policy on armed intervention, and by our core values of impartiality and independence, which is that we do not take a position on armed intervention, but instead call on all parties in any conflict to respect their obligations under international law,” said Robyn Shepherd, Amnesty’s interim director of media relations. HRW declined to comment.

The ACLU, meanwhile, had objections to the approach taken by backers of the resolution. In order to win majority support, they specified in the resolution that it would not impact the U.S. war on terror in Yemen, which has included drone strikes and cruise missile attacks against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (a group that is now, ironically, on the same side as the U.S. in the war against the Houthis).

The ACLU is in the middle of a lawsuit against the administration, arguing that the war on terror in Yemen is illegal. The resolution, the group worried, would moot the lawsuit by legalizing the drone war. Moreover, lawyers at the ACLU were concerned that by explicitly condemning the war in Yemen, the resolution could be implicitly read to be an approval of other extralegal hostile actions around the globe. Backers of the resolution put the question to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan resource at Congress’s disposal, which concluded that the resolution would not in fact explicitly legalize other conflicts and did not legalize the drone war. “The language in both resolutions serves to indicate that the removal directive is limited to the subject of the two resolutions, that is to say, ending the U.S. involvement in the KSA-led counter-Houthi campaign in Yemen,” CRS concluded. “Neither resolution’s language contains any indication of legislative judgment as to whether such U.S. use of military force for counterterrorism purposes in Yemen is congressionally authorized,” the CRS report, which was obtained by The Intercept, continues.  

The historic Senate vote did not come out of nowhere — supporters of the resolution have been working over the past year to build consensus around the issue. And it’s clear that their efforts are paying off: The resolution passed with the support of every Democrat in the caucus, joined by seven Republicans.

The resolution has rapidly become one of the few issues that the entire Democratic Party — center, left, and liberal — is uniting behind.

Improbably, and despite the lack of support from the foreign policy establishment, the resolution has rapidly become one of the few issues that the entire Democratic Party — center, left, and liberal — is uniting behind. When the measure was brought up last March, the Senate blocked it by a 55-44 vote, with 10 Democrats joining with the Republican majority against it. By the end of November, when the Senate took a procedural vote on the resolution invoking war powers, the ground had shifted. Spurred in part by Trump’s hand-waving of bin Salman’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder (the CIA concluded that bin Salman ordered his assassination), the bill then had the support of every single Democratic senator, who were joined by 13 Republicans.

The day before the resolution’s ultimate passage in the Senate, victory barely eluded opponents of the war in the House. The vote on a rule that would block a resolution brought forward by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., passed 206-203 — another indication that the effort to end the war is moving forward thanks to a groundswell of energy outside Washington, with only the reluctant, half-hearted support of leaders in Congress. The No. 2 House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, had co-sponsored Khanna’s effort to end the war, but in his statement, he made clear that he didn’t believe the U.S. was actually “engaged in hostilities in Yemen”; rather, he said the purpose of the resolution was to push the U.S. to work toward a political solution in Yemen. He also took an opportunity to bash Iran and praise Saudi and the UAE for “humanitarian efforts.”

Hoyer is the Democratic whip, and his job is just that: to whip recalcitrant party members into line. The coalition of groups backing the effort sent Hoyer a letter pleading with him to leverage his power to make sure that Democrats voted unanimously against the war. He did not do so. “We weren’t whipping. We always urge a no vote on the Rule,” said his spokesperson, who also denied receiving a letter from the coalition. That prompted the groups to reiterate that yes, in fact, they had sent such a letter to both Hoyer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

When the resolution finally came up for a vote, it happened in a manner that was bizarre even by congressional standards. The House managed to cram a vote on the war in Yemen in with the farm bill, an unrelated agriculture and social policy spending bill. The move, by House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, was even blasted by some Republicans.

The Yemen resolution was tacked onto the farm bill in the form of a rule that would strip the War Powers Resolution of its privileged status, meaning that Democrats could not bring it to the floor until January.

But if war opponents were to vote the rule down, the farm bill would have had to come back to the floor again for a separate vote. That was highly likely to happen — the farm bill is a bipartisan priority — but it was too big a risk for some Democrats who had spent years negotiating the bill, which contains funding for food stamps, known as SNAP.

Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the top-ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, wanted to seize the opportunity to pass the farm bill, rather than risk it by voting down the Yemen rule, but he needed help to do it.

Toward the end of the vote, when it seemed like the doves might succeed in voting down the rule, he approached Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger on the floor, another Maryland Democrat who is part of the whip team. Peterson told Ruppersberger that he needed five Democratic votes to make sure the rule passed. Ruppersberger, a co-sponsor of Khanna’s resolution, agreed to be one of them. “We were asked to vote for the farm bill rule by the ranking member of the Agriculture Committee to advance the farm bill,” Jaimee Lennon, a spokesperson for Ruppersberger, told The Intercept.

Reps. Jim Costa of California, Al Lawson of Florida, and David Scott of Georgia joined Peterson and Ruppersberger as the five Democrats who broke with Democrats and pushed the Yemen rule on the farm bill through on a 206-203 vote. “Without a rule, the vote would not have taken place. Many Americans could have gone hungry. And the war in Yemen could have still continued,” Ruppersberger, getting hammered at home for his vote, later wrote in a Baltimore Sun column, titled “Farm bill vote broke my heart.”

The bill’s sponsors vowed to take the measure up once the new Congress is sworn in and power shifts to Democrats in January.

That the liberal foreign policy elite might be starting to come around on supporting the resolution will only help bolster the measure in the coming year. But as House leadership has showed, half-hearted approval will only get the bills so far. And in the meantime, the war has left Yemen on the brink of a famine. In September, the United Nations’s World Food Programme warned reporters at a U.N. General Assembly briefing that 18 million of the Yemen’s 29 million people are food insecure. The country tops the U.N.’s list of countries as the biggest humanitarian crisis in 2019, with 70 percent of the country in need of humanitarian assistance.

“Yemen can’t wait,” El-Tayyab said. “The suffering is on an unprecedented, biblical scale.”

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